Debatte, Bildung, Vernetzung zu Migration und gegen Rassismus und Neonazismus

«The way out for Muslim societies implies neither a wholesale rejection of Western notions, ideals, and achievements, nor the dogmatic application of an outdated understanding of Islamic principles and values.»

Themen : Allgemein, Religion · No Comments · von 10. Dezember 2015

Inter­view with the Leba­ne­se scho­l­ar Karim Sadek on Islam, Demo­cra­cy and the Tuni­sian thin­ker and co-foun­der of the Isla­mic Ennah­da par­ty, Rachid Ghannouchi.

One of the main cri­ti­ques of Islam often brought for­ward is that Islam is not com­pa­ti­ble with demo­cra­cy. What is your opinion?

Let me first say that even if we accept, for the sake of the argu­ment, that the claim of the cri­tic is cor­rect, we should ask why is it a cri­tique of Islam if it is not com­pa­ti­ble with Demo­cra­cy. It is important not to take this for gran­ted, espe­cial­ly if we care about having a con­struc­ti­ve enga­ge­ment with tho­se we are cri­ti­ci­zing. Fur­ther, the terms in the ques­ti­on are not clear. Are we, for instance, tal­king about Islam and demo­cra­cy on the level of socie­ty, on the level of the indi­vi­du­al, or on the level of the sta­te? Con­si­der the sta­te level for a moment. A mea­ning­ful approach to the ques­ti­on of whe­ther Islam and demo­cra­cy are com­pa­ti­ble on the level of the sta­te requi­res us to avoid two rather unhel­pful if not empty extre­mes. If, for instance, we under­stand demo­cra­cy thin­ly enough, say in terms of demo­cra­tic elec­tions, we could easi­ly main­tain a con­cep­ti­on of an Isla­mic sta­te that is demo­cra­tic. And if, alter­na­tively, we under­stand demo­cra­cy thic­kly enough, say as having a vibrant­ly ali­ve open and free demo­cra­tic public sphe­re, we could easi­ly main­tain a frail con­cep­ti­on of an Isla­mic sta­te that is demo­cra­tic. Depen­ding on what level we are tal­king, and depen­ding on how we cash out the terms of the ques­ti­on, we will get dif­fe­rent ans­wers and the signi­fi­can­ce of our ans­wers will mar­ked­ly differ.

In my own rese­arch I draw on the work of Rached al-Ghan­nou­chi, as repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of a trend in Isla­mic revi­va­list thought and move­ments, and argue for a con­cep­ti­on of poli­tics that is cha­rac­te­ris­ti­cal­ly Isla­mic and radi­cal­ly demo­cra­tic. By radi­cal­ly demo­cra­tic I refer to con­cep­ti­ons of demo­cra­cy that put the empha­sis on demo­cra­tic will-for­ma­ti­on in the public sphe­re rather than (and without neglec­ting) elec­tions and con­sti­tu­tio­nal pro­tec­tion of rights. So, yes, in my opi­ni­on Islam and demo­cra­cy are compatible.

Why did you beco­me inte­res­ted in Rached al-Ghannouchi’s work? And what do you find inte­res­ting in his work?

When I was doing my PhD. in Phi­lo­so­phy at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty, I got intro­du­ced to Axel Honneth’s reco­gni­ti­on-based cri­ti­cal social theo­ry, which struck me as poten­ti­al­ly very hel­pful for exp­lai­ning the rise of Isla­mic move­ments in terms of strug­gles for reco­gni­ti­on. That in turn led me to look into Isla­mic move­ments, so I atten­ded a cour­se on Isla­mic thought at the Ara­bic Stu­dies depart­ment. That is when I first read Ghannouchi.

What inte­res­ted me most in Ghannouchi’s wri­tings is the cri­ti­cal atti­tu­de it exem­pli­fies. Ghan­nou­chi neit­her rejects nor indiscri­mi­na­te­ly adopts Wes­tern models of demo­cra­cy and/or moder­ni­ty. Fun­da­ment­al­ly, Ghan­nou­chi rejects the blind accep­t­ance of the Wes­tern secu­lar per­spec­ti­ve and its gui­ding assump­ti­ons as set­ting the cri­te­ria for suc­cess in deter­mi­ning whe­ther and how Islam can be demo­cra­tic and/or modern. And here I am more than sup­por­ti­ve. Fur­ther, and import­ant­ly, Ghan­nou­chi is also cri­ti­cal, and again in a nuan­ced fashion, of Isla­mic revi­va­list move­ments. While he ack­now­led­ges the dif­fe­rent achie­ve­ments of such move­ments, he is cri­ti­cal of their abi­li­ty to under­stand and con­nect with the ever­y­day rea­li­ties of Mus­lims as social mem­bers. For instance, he traces the fail­u­res of the Isla­mic move­ment (in Tuni­sia) in appe­aling to the working class and to women on its ina­bi­li­ty to con­nect to the dif­fi­cul­ties tho­se groups face in their respec­ti­ve social rea­li­ties. We could agree or dis­agree with Ghannouchi’s posi­ti­on and argu­ments, but I find his cri­ti­cal atti­tu­de to be very healt­hy, and his atten­ti­on and sen­si­ti­vi­ty to ever­y­day social rea­li­ty to be extre­me­ly important.

The upshot of this healt­hy cri­ti­cal atti­tu­de is that the way out for Mus­lim socie­ties implies neit­her a who­le­sa­le rejec­tion of Wes­tern noti­ons, ide­als, and achie­ve­ments, nor the dog­ma­tic app­li­ca­ti­on of an out­da­ted under­stan­ding of Isla­mic princi­ples and values. What this pro­mi­ses, in my opi­ni­on, is the pos­si­bi­li­ty of simul­ta­ne­ous­ly addres­sing the worry that many Mus­lims have over the sur­vi­val of the Isla­mic iden­ti­ty in the modern world, on the one hand, and the worry that many other Mus­lims and non-Mus­lims have regar­ding Islam’s alle­ged unde­mo­cra­tic and exclu­sio­nist natu­re, on the other hand.

How in your opi­ni­on is Ghan­nou­chi nego­tia­ting the idea that the sta­te should have an Isla­mic cha­rac­ter, on the one hand, with the princip­le that all citi­zens – inclu­ding secu­lar, other reli­gious, eth­nic, sexu­al mino­ri­ties – should enjoy the same rights and free­doms, on the other hand?

Ghan­nou­chi argues for equal rights and free­doms on the basis of Islam. From the per­spec­ti­ve of the theo­re­ti­cal model of the Isla­mic sta­te he puts for­ward, all citi­zens are to enjoy equal rights and free­doms becau­se, and not in spi­te, of the Isla­mic cha­rac­ter of the state.

Ghan­nou­chi is clear that all indi­vi­du­als have the right to choo­se their reli­gi­on away from any pres­su­re or coer­ci­on. This free­dom is the result of human’s God-given respon­si­bi­li­ty and agen­cy. Drawing the impli­ca­ti­ons of reli­gious free­dom, for instance, Ghan­nou­chi argues that all indi­vi­du­als are to enjoy the free­dom to exer­cise, express, and defend their reli­gi­on and beliefs more gene­ral­ly, inclu­ding athe­istic ones. The point of such inclu­si­on is to reflect Islam’s respect for all human bein­gs as equal and free agents irre­spec­ti­ve of creed, color, eth­ni­ci­ty, etc. Con­se­quent­ly, on his theo­re­ti­cal model of the Isla­mic sta­te, the sta­te is to respect and pro­tect that open­ness and diver­si­ty. All citi­zens are equal in the eyes of the sta­te, be they Mus­lims or not.

Ghan­nou­chi also cla­ri­fies that equal tre­at­ment does not necessa­ri­ly imply non-dif­fe­ren­ti­al tre­at­ment. Some­ti­mes, trea­ting citi­zens equal­ly requi­res trea­ting them dif­fer­ent­ly. On Ghannouchi’s view, dif­fe­ren­ti­al tre­at­ment is jus­ti­fied when it rela­tes to mat­ters of creed. For instance, he illus­tra­tes, pro­hi­bi­t­ing the non-Mus­lim from drin­king alco­hol is unfair, just like pro­hi­bi­t­ing the Mus­lim to get a divor­ce is unfair. Fur­ther, and cru­cial­ly, Ghannouchi’s efforts for inclu­si­ve citi­zenship in his theo­re­ti­cal model of the Isla­mic sta­te come to the fore when we look at the impli­ca­ti­ons of accep­t­ing someone’s creed. Ghan­nou­chi notes that to accept someone’s creed implies ack­now­led­ging their right to defend it and to show its advan­ta­ges over, and the dis­ad­van­ta­ges of, what dif­fers from it. That is why he allows non-Mus­lim citi­zens to pre­ach to Mus­lims and attempt to per­sua­de them to join their creed. Citi­zens of all faiths are wel­co­me to enga­ge in public deba­tes, to defend their views, cri­ti­ci­ze others, etc. Thus, Ghannouchi’s model reco­gni­zes all groups by secu­ring the oppor­tu­ni­ty for each group to express its iden­ti­ty in public. Final­ly, and even more cru­cial­ly, Ghan­nou­chi main­tains that if such open­ness in public deba­tes under­mi­nes Mus­lims’ faith, then Mus­lims are to turn to their reli­gi­on in search for stron­ger and more cogent argu­ments. Dis­agree­ment with the dif­fe­rent other is not a thre­at but an oppor­tu­ni­ty for growth. The­re is an important les­son here to all of us living in a plu­ra­listic world.

If the­re are con­cep­tu­al chal­len­ges in Ghannouchi’s work accord­ing to your opi­ni­on – any ide­as how to over­co­me them?

Like any other work, Ghannouchi’s work faces dif­fe­rent chal­len­ges. I will brief­ly note one such chal­len­ge by way of buil­ding on my ans­wer to the pre­vious ques­ti­on. I just said that on Ghannouchi’s theo­re­ti­cal model of the Isla­mic sta­te all citi­zens enjoy equal rights and free­doms. I argued else­whe­re that as far as we are adop­ting the per­spec­ti­ve of the sta­te (i.e. how the sta­te rela­tes and per­cei­ves its citi­zens), Ghannouchi’s model does a good job in gran­ting equal rights and free­doms to all citi­zens. Things, howe­ver, get pro­ble­ma­tic when we shift to the citi­zens’ per­spec­ti­ve (i.e. how they look at the sta­te, its foun­da­ti­ons, and laws). To see this, con­si­der the requi­re­ment that non-Mus­lim citi­zens must pay alle­gi­an­ce to the Isla­mic sta­te, i.e. ack­now­ledge, and com­mit to, the Isla­mic cha­rac­ter of the sta­te. But what exact­ly does such ack­now­ledgment and com­mit­ment mean and ent­ail? The chal­len­ge here is to give an account of the “Isla­mic cha­rac­ter of the sta­te” that is suf­fi­ci­ent­ly Isla­mic without under­mi­ning the equa­li­ty of non-Mus­lims once they pay alle­gi­an­ce to it. I have argued that one way to deal with this chal­len­ge is to seek an over­lap­ping con­sen­sus (to use John Rawls’ term) on the necessa­ry requi­re­ments of mas­laha. (I deve­lop this point in “Maṣlaḥa and Rāchid al-Ghannūshī’s Refor­mist Pro­ject,” in Maqa­sid Al-Shari’a and Con­tem­pora­ry Mus­lim Refor­mist Thought: An Exami­na­ti­on, Adis Duderi­ja (ed), Pal­gra­ve 2014.)

Ano­t­her chal­len­ge Ghan­nou­chi faces is that of squa­ring a com­mit­ment to plu­ra­lism with a com­mit­ment to Isla­mic unity, or social soli­da­ri­ty in the Isla­mic sta­te that grows out of an Isla­mic socie­ty. The chal­len­ge is that while plu­ra­lism tends towards inclu­si­on, soli­da­ri­ty tends towards exclu­si­on. It is important to note that this chal­len­ge is not par­ti­cu­lar to Ghannouchi’s poli­ti­cal thought. Soli­da­ri­ty is important for any socie­ty, and plu­ra­lism is cha­rac­te­ris­tic of modern socie­ties. So any poli­ti­cal arran­ge­ment for modern socie­ties faces that chal­len­ge. With that said, Ghannouchi’s own respon­se to this chal­len­ge is inte­res­ting and pro­mi­sing. He argues that in Islam unity is to be achie­ved through plu­ra­lism. It is unfor­tu­n­a­te that Ghan­nou­chi does not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly deve­lop this idea. But we can do this for him, and that is part of what I do in my own work.



Dr. Karim Sadek com­ple­ted his PhD in phi­lo­so­phy in 2012 with a dis­ser­ta­ti­on on Isla­mic Demo­cra­cy. Sin­ce then he ser­ved as a Mel­lon Post-Doc­to­ral Fel­low in the Arts and Huma­nities at the Ame­ri­can Uni­ver­si­ty of Bei­rut (AUB), a Rese­arch Fel­low at the Oxford Cen­ter of Isla­mic Stu­dies, and taught Phi­lo­so­phy at AUB and Boğa­zi­çi Uni­ver­si­ty, Istan­bul, Tur­key. He cur­r­ent­ly is a fel­low in the Euro­pe in the Midd­le East – The Midd­le East in Euro­pe pro­gram in affi­lia­ti­on with the Freie Uni­ver­si­tät zu Berlin.

Tan­ja Tab­ba­ra is head of the Afri­ca depart­ment at the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation.