The Islamic Quest for Democracy, Pluralism, and Human Rights By Ahmad S. Moussalli (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001. 226 pages.)

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Amr G. E. Sabet



In a sequel to his earlier Moderate and Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: The Quest for Modernity, Legitimacy, and the Islamic State, Moussalli makes a claim to highlight and, where possible, construct the important ideological and religious arguments on democracy, pluralism, and human rights, as these principles continue to be developed by modern Islamic political discourses. He maintains that by linking classical and medieval Islamic thought with pre-­ sent political and religious debates, Islamic discourses, at least in their so­called moderate versions, have both absorbed and Islamized western values. They have come, therefore, to "constitute a theology ofliberation and an epis­temological break with the past."
The basic argument that Moussalli attempts to present is both simple and grand. Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, and theology protect individ­ual and communal rights and legitimize political, social, economic, intel­lectual, and religious differences, while providing the grounds for viewing the people as the ultimate source of political sovereignty. While the history of the highest Islamic political institution - the caliphate - is mostly one of authoritarianism, classical and medieval Islamic political thought, in con­trast, incorporated the seeds of such notions as democracy, pluralism, and human rights together with comparable doctrines of equality, freedom, and justice. Hence, Moussalli's purpose is to emphasize the distinction between Islam as a religious belief system and the Islamic state as a human con­struct. Such a distinction, he alleges, would provide for limitless possibili­ties of interpretation and reinterpretation, construction as well as decon­ struction. It would further al low for "humanizing the divine" as a means of establishing hannony and cooperation with the West.
Each of the first three chapters begin with a short introduction and analysis to the relevant classical and medieval notions of Muslim political thought. This is followed, respectively, by a review of modem moderate and radical .lslamist discourses, as developed from and beyond earlier the­oretical and nonnative Muslim thought, about the perceived compatible western notions. Chapter 1 examines the various concepts of shura (coun­sel), ikhtiyar (choice), bay>ah ( oath of allegiance), and !}ma> ( consensus of the Muslim community), which are presented as being the theoretical meth­ods that should govern in political rule ...

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