Anver M. Emon


Khaled Abou El Fadl has done more in his Article than simply argue the possibility of democracy in the Muslim world. He reminds us that Islam is not a monolithic idea lacking varying contours, possibilities, and dispositions. Whether in talking about an Islamic legal system or an Islamic political system, the most frequent mistake is assuming that there is an ideal vision of such systems that precludes debate, difference, and the continued search for possibilities. Another common mistake is to presume that the limits of an “Islamic political system” are inherent in the existing practice of so-called Muslim States. To generalize from the mere examples of modern Muslim Nation-States is to take away the dynamism of an intellectual tradition that has generated debate and discourse extending well beyond the existence of Muslim Nation-States in the modern world. Abou El Fadl's argument suggests that when one discusses the relationship between Islam and democracy, one necessarily argues in the expansive arena of ideas. Moreover, by positing democratic institutions as possibilities within an Islamic context, Abou El Fadl makes room for dynamism, difference, and debate within the empirical context. Central to Abou El Fadl's argument is the need for Muslims to make a premoral commitment to democracy. Such a premoral commitment is not simply a function of political expediency or opportunism. Rather, as the Islamic tradition suggests, the human agent plays a significant role in the determination of that premoral commitment on the basis of a rational investigation into the various signs of God's creation. Whether one inquires into law or political science, Shari‘ah's discourses empower the human agent to come to terms with the Divine Will in light of the totality of existence and creation. The resulting governmental structure may not necessarily be what God wills, but that is not what humanity is obligated to determine. We are charged with the search. And as Abou El Fadl rightly points out, the search for the harmony between Islam and democracy begins with a premoral commitment to democracy.