Learn what motivates the restive Muslim youth from Tunis to Tehran, what political positions Islamists from Mali to Chechnya are fighting for, where the seeming obsession with Islamic law comes from, where the secularists have vanished to, and whether it makes sense to speak of an Islamic state.
Since 2009 there has been a renewed wave of popular unrest sweeping throughout much of the Muslim world. Secular, but generally repressive and inefficient autocracies have come under pressure or been swept aside entirely. At the same, the various Islamic Republics have not fared much better, but been convulsed by internal unrest, economic and social decline. Throughout the Muslim lands, existing constitutional arrangements are being challenged, often very violently.
This course is a survey of the constitutional ideas and institutions that have developed since the mid 19th century throughout predominantly Muslim countries, but its focus will lie on the actors that have dominated this discourse and shaped its outcomes. We will look at the large body of classical writings on the Islamic state only in so far as it is necessary to understand the contemporary debate, but concentrate on the legal and political developments of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Three common themes will characterise the course:
We privilege the study of the legal and social reality and seek to highlight where it is at odds with dogmatic stipulations, be they religious or constitutional.
We seek to illustrate the practical tensions posed by limited administrative capabilities and political legitimacy that resulted from the incomplete reception of modern bureaucratic statehood.
We seek to examine how popular dissatisfaction with the practical performance of Muslim governments has fuelled demands for greater accountability under the guise of cultural authenticity.
Ultimately, the course aims to equip participants to better understand Muslim contemporary discourse about the res publica, better contextualise the demands for religious law in public life, and to better ascertain the theoretical and practical feasibility of postulated religious alternatives to the still-dominant secular model of governance.
What you will learn
Overview: Presenting the Course
This week, we try to give you an overview of the themes and principles that we will focus on during the course. We look at the current state of the countries in the region and present the role of religion, the challenge of modernity and the different responses to modernity, which we will revisit thematically during the next weeks. It is highly recommend to read my article “Contested Universalities of International Law. Islam’s Struggle with Modernity” in this week’s readings to gain a better understanding of the argument put forward throughout the course.
Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey
This week, we look at Turkey and at the history of the Ottoman Empire, whose legacy continues to influence many countries in the region today. Turkey occupies a special place due to its explicit constitutional and social commitment to secularism and a self-conscious emulation of the Western model. Keep the four models of adaptation in mind while watching the lectures of this week as well as the next ones.
Egypt and Maghreb
This week concerns the region where the so-called “Arab Spring” originated: North Africa. We will focus especially on Egypt due to its historical importance, relative size and the impact its politics have had on other Arab and Muslim countries. Following the Secularism/Emulation model exemplified by Turkey last week, this region represents the second broad approach to modernity, namely Religious Modernism/Reform.
Saudi Arabia & The Gulf
This week we will look at the Gulf Monarchies, especially at Saudi Arabia. The impact of essentially free oil income defines the social and governmental structure of this sub-region, so we will focus on the character of so-called rentier economies and their socio-political impact. These countries represent the third broad approach to modernity, namely Traditionalism, that is the notion that there is no need to change inherited socio-political structures.