Written by Sam Logan
Monday, 28 January 2013 00:00
This blog, and I suspect several following blogs (at least the one tomorrow), will follow my reading of a specific book and will chart my reactions to this book.
The book is the recently updated and re-published Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies by Nader Hashemi (Oxford University Press, 2009, 2012). Further details about this volume can be found here: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/Islam/?view=usa&ci=9780195321241
The publisher describes this book as follows:
Islam's relationship to liberal-democratic politics has emerged as one of the most pressing and contentious issues in international affairs. In Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy, Nader Hashemi challenges the widely held belief among social scientists that religious politics and liberal-democratic development are structurally incompatible. This book argues for a rethinking of democratic theory so that it incorporates the variable of religion in the development of liberal democracy. In the process, it proves that an indigenous theory of Muslim secularism is not only possible, but is a necessary requirement for the advancement of liberal democracy in Muslim societies.
But this book is about far more than Islam and democracy, as important as topic as that might be in a nation which is spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives to try to bring democracy to places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This book is really about the very nature of democracy and whether democracy and religion can EVER be compatible.
This means the book is not just about how Muslim societies treat women or whether shria law is possible in a democratic society. It is also about the basis, in a place like the United States (which claims to be a democracy), for decisions about pornography or abortion or gay marriage or divorce or appropriate care for the poor. On what grounds are decisions about matters like this to be decided?
Nor are these questions relevant only to Muslim societies and the United States. To a significant degree, these questions at the very heart of the conflict in Israel and the West Bank. Can there be a democratic JEWISH society? Or is that a contradiction in terms?
What actually is the essence of a democratic society? That is the first question that Hashemi explores and I will seek to explicate both what he says and what that might mean.
I therefore, like Hashemi, start with this question:
What is the exact definition of “democracy?” I would suggest that, if you are reading this blog, you stop and go no further until you have written out your answer to this question. I will pick up this discussion in my next blog which will be published tomorrow.
To help you as you work with this question, I provide the following quotation, which appears in the “Introduction” to Hashemi’s book and which gets at one of the key issues involved. Here is that quotation:
Secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. - Barack Obama
Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia).. He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan