2015 Noel Coulson Memorial Lecture, SOAS School of Law

Mar 26

It was my distinct honor to have been invited to give the 2015 Noel Coulson Memorial Lecture at the SOAS School of Law.  Noel Coulson was one of the most prominent British scholars of Islamic law in the 20th century, and he was a canonical author for those of us who studied Islamic law in the west.  As I mentioned in the introduction to my lecture, much of my own work in Islamic law — despite my numerous differences with Coulson in specifics — is motivated by similar concerns: how to reconcile fidelity to revealed law with the legitimate needs of human society, without giving in to either utopian textualism or secular absolutism.  The topic of my talk was “Islamic Reform: Democracy or Reinterpretation?

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Establishment of the Council of Wise Muslims

Sep 26

One of the interesting fall outs of the Arab Spring has been a renaissance of traditional Sunni quietism and support of authoritarianism as the proper response to political conflict.  As reported by CNN Arabic Service, the UAE (who else?) is now patronizing a group of Sunni scholars under the not so modest name of “The Council of Wise Muslims (Majlis Hukama’ al-Muslimin).” One of its goals, according to this article, is to revive basic doctrines of Sunnism, including, “obedience to the ruler” (ta’at uli’l-amr). The article also states that the wise ones are cautioning Muslims that democracy is not a good desired for itself, but rather, justice and stability are the aims, and these can be achieved, apparently, without democracy.  Indeed, if democracy is pursued in circumstances that are not appropriate, e.g., the Arab world, it will only lead to civil war.  What the wise ones have failed to explain, however, is why oligarchical rulers would be interested in pursuing, among other things, distributive justice.  Just sayin’.

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Religious Arguments, Non-Religious Arguments and Public Reason: the Special Case of Transitional Societies

Jul 06

My friend Andrew March recently published an interesting article on the use of religious arguments for public justification and their relationship to public reason.   The article is well-worth reading in its entirety for its interesting taxonomy of the different kinds of religious arguments that might be presented in political life, and crucially, how such arguments interact with different registers of political concern.  In short March argues that a much more sophisticated approach to religious argument and its relationship to a civic life in a politically liberal state is required that goes beyond the binary choice of either never admitting the legitimacy of religious arguments or always admitting them.

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Prospects for Democratization in the Arab World in Light of the Exclusion of Political Islam

May 01

The latest issue of al-Ruwaq al-`Arabi, a journal published by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, is dedicated to the question of the future of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The entire issue (in Arabic) can be downloaded as a pdf from here.

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What Killed Egyptian Democracy? — A Boston Review Forum

Jan 21

This month’s issue of the Boston Review’s Forum was dedicated the question of what went wrong in the Egyptian transition.  I had  the honor of writing the principal piece, which elicited thoughtful responses from my colleagues, Ellis Goldberg, Andrew March, Nathan Brown, Akbar Ganji, Anne Norton and Micheline Ishay. Space restraints, of course, did not allow them a full response, nor me a response to their limited responses, but nevertheless, I thought the editors of the Boston Review did an excellent job putting this forum together. I would like to thank them for inviting me to write the piece, inviting these distinguished scholars to respond, and producing an excellent final version for the public. Finally, I’d like to thank Nader Hashimi and Danny Postel for inviting me to the University of Denver to lecture on Egypt’s transition. That lecture ultimately give birth to this forum.

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Ian Shapiro and “Power-Based Resourcism”

Dec 01

I just finished reading a recent article of the Yale Political Science Professor, Ian Shapiro, “On Non-Domination,” in which he contrasts his view of “power-based resourcism” and non-domination as the bedrock of justice to egalitarian and libertarian conceptions of justice. 

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