Political Pluralism from an Islamic Perspective

Salim Al-Awa Muhammad

in Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195174304
Published online November 2007 |
Political Pluralism from an Islamic Perspective

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Born in Cairo, he studied law at Alexandria University and earned his Ph.D. from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University in 1972. He is a prominent lawyer, specializing in comparative law and Islamic law, and an activist in Egypt and the Arab world; his publications include On the Political System of the Islamic State, The Crisis of the Religious Establishment, and the award-winning Islamic Jurisprudence on the Path of Renewal, for which he was named Arab thinker of the year. Chair of the Egyptian Association for Culture and Dialogue, he has been a leading public intellectual and a founder and leader of the Wasatiya movement in Egypt since the 1980s.

Awwas purpose here is to show that pluralism, which he defines as diversity, is the natural order of the worldboth the physical world and the world of human societies. It is something embraced by the Qurn, as in verses 35:27-28, 30:22, and 49:13. That certain Muslims doubt that Islam sanctions pluralism Awwa attributes to one of three factors: the tendency to defer to ancient writings, which either avoided the issue or gave the impression that Islam was monistic; the tendency of contemporary writers to focus on the early period of Islam; the tendency to ignore issues of organization and administration by contemporary writers. Awwa cites the Hanbali jurist ibn Aqil (d. 1119) in rejecting the assertion of many Islamists today who invoke Hanbali jurisprudence, that the Qurn alone establishes the pattern of behavior and policy in Muslim society. Awwa feels this is a double error, because no warrant for this position can be found in the Qurn itself and because it delegitimizes the actions of the Prophets companions. (Awwa could have mentioned in this connection the action of Caliph Umar, who, at a time of famine, suspended exemplary punishments mandated by the Qurn against thieves.) Awwa lists six principles of the Islamic state, whose content strikes the observer as liberal in tone and invites comparisons with Ali Abd al-Raziq but contrasts with Abu al-Al Mawdudi. He concludes that political pluralism is the best guarantee for putting these six principles into operation. Awwa has little patience with the Islamist argument that pluralism contravenes Islams doctrine of the oneness of God (tawhid) and invites dissension (fitnah). Instead, he holds that tawhid relates to the religious realm. Outside that realm, the interests of the Muslims being a paramount value in Islam, the establishment of pluralist institutions to advance such interests is certainly in conformity with the principles of the faith.

Chapter.  4073 words. 

Subjects: Society and Culture ; Islam

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