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

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, David Mednicoff, Director of Middle Eastern Studies and Assistant Professor of Public Policy at University of Massachusetts Amherst, illustrates the present-day political human rights issues pertaining to Islam.

Human Rights

As a contemporary political issue related to Islam, human rights is often invoked as an international legal yardstick to which some states with Muslim majorities, particularly in the Middle East, are seen, particularly by Westerners, to fall short. Related to this, some Muslims and their governments argue that aspects of contemporary human rights law reflect a Western neoimperialist political slant. Tensions along these lines usually center on political liberties, religious freedom, and women’s rights. Looking mostly at real or alleged shortfalls in Middle Eastern governments’ enforcement of contemporary rights law, however, obscures both the fact that perceived violations may have little to do with Islam per se and the historical importance of Islam’s role in bringing varied issues of equality and justice to the fore of many premodern societies. Given Islam’s strong foundational and doctrinal strains of social and economic justice, religion has been and can be linked with providing greater equality or addressing severe poverty in Muslim-majority societies.
Early Muslim texts and legal scholars did not use the modern Western political term ”human rights‘ (יּuq╖q al- insăn), nor did they envision current core concepts of human rights, which generally are specific privileges that individuals enjoy in relation to nation- states in which they are citizens or residents. In classical Islam, individual rights came about as the duty of a divinely sanctioned ruler of a transnational community of Muslims, and of protected non-Muslims, to realize God’s will through justice, fairness, and enhanced economic equality.

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

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

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

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, Timur Kuran of Duke University and author of The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, explores the intellectual heritage and rise of “Islamic economics,” which entered a new phase during the Middle East’s oil boom of the mid-1970s. “The size of the global Islamic finance sector, estimated at $400 billion as of 2010, has prompted much empirical research aimed at evaluating its performance, as well as theorizing to explain its findings,” writes Kuran.

Economic Theory

Throughout its history, Islam has sought to regulate all aspects of life, including economics. Its holy book contains verses concerning such matters as credit, trade, resource allocation, taxation, redistribution, and inheritance. The Qur’an prohibits ribă, a pre- Islamic credit practice, which commonly led borrowers into enslavement (2:274— 80, 3:130, 4:160— 61). It prescribes an annual tax called zakat on certain forms of wealth and income in order to finance eight categories of public expenditure, including defense, the propagation of Islam, and poor relief (2:177, 2:215, 4:8, 9:60, 24:22). It entitles all surviving children of a deceased person to a share of his or her estate (4:11— 12, 176). It requires individuals to be honest and fair in commercial transactions (55:7— 9).

Intellectual Heritage

Over the ages, a wide variety of economic policies have been justified through these prescriptions and prohibitions, including ones that are mutually incompatible. Often the justifications in question have rested also on the sunna, the normative practice of the Prophet Muhammad. From the dawn of Islam to the present, the use of interest on loans has been treated as illegitimate through an expansive interpretation of the ban on ribā, understood as usury. The preindustrial guilds that regulated the activities of craftsmen were given monopolistic and monopolistic privileges out of a sense of fairness defined in Islamic terms. In certain times and places, agricultural taxes were collected according to rules prescribed by the Qur’an.

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

Exclusive Sneak Peek at the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought — Ba‘th Party

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, Keith David Watenpaugh (UC Davis) describes the origins and contemporary activities of the Ba’th party.

“Ba’thism is an amalgamation of leftist and ultranationalist ides from 1930s and 1940s Europe,” writes Watenpaugh. “To many mainstream Muslims, Baʽthism is inherently un-Islamic.” Yet, as the concise history in this entry makes clear, the Ba-th party has “exerted far-reaching political and cultural influence on the Arab world, particularly in Syria and Iraq.”


Ba‘th Party

Hizb al- Ba’th al- ’Arabi al- Ishtiraki (Party of Arab Socialist Resurrection) is a Pan- Arab nationalist party founded in the 1940s that exerted far- reaching political and cultural in‡uence on the Arab world, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Though conceived as a secular nationalist movement, its ideology considered Islam a vital part of Arab heritage but not the basis for politics. In practice, Ba’thists have been antagonistic to members of the traditional Muslim elite as well as violent opponents of Salafism and Shi’i religious movements.

Party Origins

Upon their return to Damascus, Syria, from university studies in Europe, Michel ’Aflaq and Salah al- Din al- Bitar (1912— 80) began a discussion circle among the city’s educated young men that would form the nucleus of the Ba’th Party (1942). Both ’Aflaq, a Greek Orthodox Christian, and Bitar, a Sunni Muslim, were of solid middle- class origins and brought to the party their distrust of the elite and bourgeois nationalists of a previous generation who had failed to rid Syria of colonial rule. The party’s ranks were swelled by the addition of the followers of an embittered ’Alawi refugee intellectual from the Sanjak of Alexandretta, Zaki al-Arsuzi (1901— 68), who also brought to the party an emphasis on social justice, the cult of personality, and Arab chauvinism. The party’s social-ism and secularism held little appeal for Syria’s Sunni elite or its middle class. Nevertheless, the party proved particularly attractive to non- Sunni landowners and rural smallholders, Arab Christians, and junior officers.

View the rest of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought excerpt here: Ba’th Party


FACT:  “In 2012, the year 1433 of the Muslim calendar, the Islamic population throughout the world was estimated at approximately a billion and a half, representing about one-fifth of humanity. In geographical terms, Islam occupies the center of the world, stretching like a big belt across the globe from east to west. From Morocco to Mindanao, it encompasses countries of both the consumer North and the disadvantaged South. It sits at the crossroads of America, Europe, and Russia on one side and Africa, India, and China on the other. Historically, Islam is also at a crossroads, destined to play a world role in politics and to become the most prominent world religion during the 21st century. Islam is thus not contained in any national culture; it is a universal force.

“In creating The Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought (EIPT), our goal was to provide a solid and innovative reference work that would trace the historical roots of Islamic political thought and demonstrate its contemporary importance. The editors first met for a workshop in fall of 2007 at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where we agreed on a framework for the encyclopedia and drafted a list of entries. The EIPT was conceived as a combination of broad, comprehensive articles on core concepts and shorter entries on specific ideas, movements, leaders, and related topics. We intended to make the EIPT accessible, informative, and comprehensive with respect to the contemporary political and cultural situation of Islam, while also providing in-depth examination of the historical roots of that situation. The core articles on central themes were designated to provide the framework for the reader to integrate and contextualize the information provided by the plethora of articles on more specific subjects. It is our hope that this organizational structure will enable the EIPT to serve as a reference work of the first order for both beginners and specialists and to support undergraduate and graduate courses on Islamic political thought.”

–Gerhard Bowering, from the introduction of The Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought

We invite you to read the full introduction online: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9446.pdf

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought
Edited by Gerhard Bowering
Patricia Crone, Wadad Kadi, Devin J. Stewart, Muhammad Qasim Zaman, associate editors
Mahan Mirza, assistant editor

The first encyclopedia of Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today, this comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible reference provides the context needed for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. With more than 400 alphabetically arranged entries written by an international team of specialists, the volume focuses on the origins and evolution of Islamic political ideas and related subjects, covering central terms, concepts, personalities, movements, places, and schools of thought across Islamic history. Fifteen major entries provide a synthetic treatment of key topics, such as Muhammad, jihad, authority, gender, culture, minorities, fundamentalism, and pluralism. Incorporating the latest scholarship, this is an indispensable resource for students, researchers, journalists, and anyone else seeking an informed perspective on the complex intersection of Islam and politics.

For more information and sample entries, please visit:

Timur Kuran and The Long Divergence featured in the Boston Globe

Timur Kuran, author of Islam and Mammon and The Long Divergence is featured in a piece by Thanassis Cambanis about the effects of Islamic law on economies. Cambanis writes:

“Has the Islamic world been held back by its treatment at the hands of history? Or could the roots of the problem lie in its shared religion—in the Koran, and Islamic belief itself?

A provocative new answer is emerging from the work of Timur Kuran, a Turkish-American economist at Duke University and one of the most influential thinkers about how, exactly, Islam shapes societies. In a growing body of work, Kuran argues that the blame for the Islamic world’s economic stagnation and democracy deficit lies with a distinct set of institutions that Islamic law created over centuries. The way traditional Islamic law handled finance, inheritance, and incorporation, he argues, held back both economic and political development. These practices aren’t inherent in the religion—they emerged long after the establishment of Islam, and have partly receded from use in the modern era. But they left a profound legacy in many societies where Islam held sway.”

The entire article is available on Boston.com.

Michael Ross interviews

Michael Ross, author of the recently published ‘The Oil Curse’ visited the UK in March and recorded a Guardian video and a podcast with VoxEU. Please follow the links to listen to either of these.

Michael Ross in the UK

Michael Ross whose new book, ‘The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations’, is published on 19 March will be visiting London later this month. He will be delivering one of the King’s Lectures in Ethics, organised jointly by The School of Law and the European Centre for Energy and Resource Security (EUCERS). The talk will be on 19 March from 6 – 8pm at the Safra Lecture Theatre, Kings College London, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS . The talk is unticketed and open to all.

Author Michael Ross discusses THE OIL CURSE tomorrow afternoon at The World Bank in Washington, DC

If you happen to be in the Washington, DC, area tomorrow afternoon and have no plans for lunch, please come out to The World Bank and hear UCLA political scientist discuss his sobering new book THE OIL CURSE: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations.  Michael will be in discussion with The World Bank’s Robert Lesnick.  The event kicks off at 12:30 PM at the following address:

Auditorium J1-050
World Bank J Building
18th Street and Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC

What’s your favourite city?

Self-confessed city flâneur Avner de-Shalit was recently interviewed by fellow Princeton University Press author Diane Coyle. Professor de-Shalit is the author of The Spirit of Cities, along with co-author Daniel A. Bell:

Which are your favourite books about cities by other authors, and why?

If it’s a sociology of cities I like coming back to Georg Simmel’s classic book, but it’s because I think the opposite — he thought it was impossible to
create a sense of community in the city and I think it’s the only place where a genuine community can rise. But my best cities book is Yehuda Amichai’s poems book on Jerusalem. I wish I could do the same: squeeze the entire city into two to three sentences.

Of all the cities you’ve visited which are the most interesting to walk around?

Well, I am biased. I am just in love with Jerusalem, and it’s such a lunatic city. Half of its inhabitants believe they have a direct line to God. But outside my city, I think Berlin is the most exciting city today. One can see that the city simply changes every day, and that people are excited about it. The combination of ultra modern architecture with the remains of the Communist architecture, and the abundance of sites of collective memory — this is just amazing. Not very easy for somebody Jewish like me, but still, terribly interesting.

Your book advocates walking to imbibe the spirit of cities. Which group is winning the battle for control of urban space – people or vehicles? Are many cities becoming unwalkable?

Well, now that Time Square NYC is walkable, there is hope. In the US there is a list of the 50 most walkable cities and the 50 which are most friendly to cyclists. While cars still dominate today’s cities, at least planners and mayors are well aware of the need to think differently.

If you had to choose another city to live in, which would it be?

Oxford, Oxford, Oxford. When I studied there one of my professors heard me saying I liked it a lot, and he said: But you know it’s not a real place. Now I know he was wrong. Oxford is a city which is full of life and energy and creativity. Only one has to get away from the colleges, to walk in the neighbourhoods. You can see artists, novelists, poets, and people who want to be artists, novelists and poets.

This interview was originally published on Diane Coyle’s blog, The Enlightened Economist

Timur Kuran: Upcoming events in Princeton and NYC!

Timur Kuran, author of The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East, has two events coming up later this month in Princeton and NYC. Kuran, a professor of economics and political science at Duke University, published The Long Divergence in 2010.  Read an extract from the book’s first chapter here!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

4:30 p.m in Jones 100 (campus map)

Free and open to the public

The Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia presents Timur Kuran:

“Structural Inefficiencies of Islamic Courts: Ottoman Justice and Its Implications for Modern Economic Life”

More information about the event here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012: The American Turkish Society, New York, NY
6:30 – 8:00 PM
305 East 47th Street, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10017

Free for members, $25 for non-members

Register for the event here, or read the full announcement!

What is the future of a new generation of European Muslims?

In Europe, the increasing presence of Islam has often provoked concerns about a threat to security and liberal democracy. Jonathan Laurence’s The Emancipation of Europe’s Muslims challenges these ideas and shows how the transformation of a new generation into European Muslims has consisted of a complex mix of achievements and tensions. The book recently received a terrific review in The Economist. Jonathan was kind enough to answer a few questions about his unique look at European Islam, the debates surrounding it, and the connection to the Arab awakening:

Q: Anders Breivik was recently declared insane by the court. His act of violence is widely condemned, but aren’t his anti-multiculturalist views fairly widespread?

For Breivik, the year is 1683 and an Islamic empire is storming the Gates of Vienna. Some of the views in his Internet-age manifesto are popular, although what he did in Oslo and Utoya is of course condemned. An Italian politician from a party in government spoke approvingly of the Norwegian’s belief that Europe had “given up on its cultural identity without a fight.” In December, a poll showed 76% of the French public thinks Islam is “progressing too much.” So the vocal concern over Islam’s growth and Muslims’ integration is no longer the exclusive domain of the far right. It has become ritual for heads of government to declare the failure of multiculturalism, a catchall description increasingly taken to mean the arrival of Muslims in Europe. Breivik may be legally insane, but he is not alone in thinking that Europe is at a turning point vis-à-vis its growing Islamic minorities.

Q: What does this mean for integration policy in European countries, and how have Muslim groups reacted? Is this what the Minaret and Burka bans were about?

On the one hand, the focus on religious fundamentalism led to several well known bans on Islamic symbols in public spaces, from headwear to architectural design. It also provoked acrimonious debate about whether Islam “belongs” and if its associated practices –in all their diversity—can be reconciled with national identity. On the other hand, history tells us this is fairly standard treatment for a new minority entering the crucible of the nation state and joining the general citizenry. Increasingly, however, Muslim communities perceive the sum total of public debate as something akin to religious persecution or a kulturkampf against Islam. It’s not just the religious conservatives or the pious, but Muslims as a “group” who increasingly feel stigmatized. Last month, community eminences in France, Germany (and the US) independently cited the Nazi era and the gradual marginalization of German Jews to describe the political environment. It is not the most encouraging sign, obviously, if the main icebreaker between Muslims and non-Muslims is whether it’s 1683 or the mid-1930s outside.

Q: How did it come to this point, and is this a dead end? Or are there trends in other directions?

The competing narratives of victimization –and self-affirmation—are not new. But Muslims and non-Muslims do seem to be talking past one another at a moment when they need to be in constructive conversation. Nonetheless, it’s important to recognize the degree of cooperation that already exists between community leaders and European governments. A recent stunt to name Europe’s “tallest minaret” (35 meters) after Nicolas Sarkozy is not as ironic as it first appears. In many ways, European Islam has flourished in the past decade. When Sarkozy was interior minister in 2002–4, he helped forge the still-running French Council for the Muslim Religion and started a trend among his European colleagues to guarantee equal religious rights to Muslims. “State-mosque” relations have advanced by leaps and bounds. A thousand Islamic prayer spaces have opened in France in the last ten years. One hundred and thirty schools in Germany’s most populous state (North Rhine Westphalia) now offer Islamic instruction alongside existing religious classes, and the first class of German Muslim theologians began their doctoral program this fall. The list goes on. European governments and Muslim organizations have gotten to know one another better, and community leaders have been brought into a context that encourages their continued adaptation to life as a minority in Europe.

Q: You argue in the book that it’s not 1683 or 1938, but that European countries are at a crucial “nation-building” moment in between. What does your book have to say about the Arab awakening?

The book shows how Europeans responded to the same questions now confronting North African governments: how to balance religious freedom and the democratic rule of law? Can Islamist movements behave “moderately and democratically”? The first generation of European Islamists fled political persecution at home, and some of the religious tension in European countries is rooted in their old political battles. Perhaps the “settling” of Islam’s status in their countries of origin will engender a new dynamic and allow integration to proceed in Europe. On the other hand, European Muslims have made their home in Europe and are not as personally involved in 2011’s events as could be assumed. Nonetheless, the image of Muslim masses protesting peacefully and organizing themselves democratically could contribute in the long run to a continuing “normalization” of how Islamic populations and societies are perceived in Western democracies.

Jonathan Laurence is associate professor of political science at Boston College.