Exclusive Sneak Peek at the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought — Elections

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought is the first reference to Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today. Comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible, the Encyclopedia provides much-needed context for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. In this exclusive excerpt, Bruce K. Rutherford author of Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World, explores Islamic ideas and debates about elections and popular sovereignty.


The concept that the public should participate in the selection of its political leaders and legislators became an important feature of Islamic reformist thought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries through the works of Khayr al- Din al-Tunisi (1822— 90), Muhammad ’Abduh (1849— 1905), and Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865— 1935). It was developed more fully by contemporary Islamic thinkers, including Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Muhammad Salim al-’Awwa, Tariq al- Bishri, and Ahmad Kamal Abu al-Majd. Their support for elections derived from the principle that political authority (ጃulᴃa) lies with the community (umma). In their view, the Qur’an, the sunna, and the historical experiences of the Rightly Guided Caliphs (632— 61) all confirm that the people are entitled to select their ruler. According to Qaradawi, this idea lies at the foundation of the faith. It is most clearly captured in the Prophet’s statement that Muslims are empowered to choose who will lead them in prayer. ’Awwa further argues that the public’s right to choose the ruler can be traced back to the selection of Abu Bakr as the first successor to Muhammad. Abu Bakr ascended to power through a process by which two prominent members of the community (’Umar and Abu ’Ubayda) showed their support for him by pledging an oath of loyalty (bay’a); the community in turn showed its support through its own bay’a. ’Awwa, who argues that the first bay’a constituted a nomination and the second a referendum, concludes, ”one of the most signifl-cant results of this event was the decision that a ruler can be chosen only through consultation with the community of Muslims.‘ This principle was upheld by the Rightly Guided Caliphs and serves as the foundation for Islamic government.

View the rest of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought excerpt here: Elections