Azmi Bishara, Conference Opening Address

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies’ Second Annual Conference on Islamic movements and democratic governance, was held in Doha from September 28-29. This year’s conference, entitled “Islamic Movements and Democratic Governance: Issues of Citizenship, State, and Nation,” featured a variety of topics and opportunities for attendees to deliberate on the presentations. Dr. Azmi Bishara, General Director of the ACRPS, opened the conference with his address, “The ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and the Predicament of Democratic Culture in Times of Revolution”.


The Concepts of State and Nation

The Islamic Concept of State

Moroccan researcher Mohammad Humam presented his paper “The Islamic Movement’s Post-Arab Spring Perspective on Legitimacy of Governance between Concealed and Visible: Toward the Deconstruction of a Theocratic Model,” in which he criticized the continuity of the Islamic Movement’s proposition that God alone is the source of legitimacy, even in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Speakers, Panel of Islamic Thought and Concept of the State

Tibi Gumari suggested, in his paper “The Confused Transition from Community of Believers to State of Citizens,” that the crisis of political Islam derives from the lack of development of its theory. He further claimed that though there are grounds to recognize some measure of success for political Islam, particularly in light of the extensive grassroots work of Islamic organizations, the failure of Islamic movements to develop a political theory that can embrace all citizens regardless of their differing allegiances, values, and affiliations has been instrumental in what he sees to be the failure of political Islam. Abdulaziz Rajel reviewed the concept of legitimacy and governorship and the textual references underpinning governance in his paper “Legitimacy of Governance between Text and Interpretation”. He indicated that the term “rule” (hukm) in Arabic has a multiplicity of connotations, but that a review of the Quran and all relevant verses confirms that the term denotes a range of meanings that do not include the strictly political meaning often ascribed to it.

Islamic Thought and Citizenship

This session, chaired by Abdul Wahhab al-Qassab, effectively amplified and expanded upon the central importance of the concept of citizenship. Tunisian researcher Murshid al-Qubbi’s paper, “Rights of the Non-Muslim in the Project of the Islamic State: Complete or Partial Citizenship?” highlights the modern era’s expansion of non-Muslims’ civil rights, in contrast to a persistent lack of political rights. Al-Qubbi opined that Islamic movements do not consider individuals in themselves to be of importance; rather, they tend to see them only as members of a group.

Panelists, Islamic Thought and Citizenship

Nael Jerjes’s presentation of “Non-Muslims in Arab Societies between Legal Reality and Modern Islamic Thought” focused on the numerous verses of the Quran that call for co-existence, tolerance, and the obligatory good treatment of non-Muslims; in the past, the treatment of minorities in Islamic realms was better than their treatment in Europe, whereas today the rights of minorities in Islamic states are insufficiently upheld.

Last in this session, researcher Al-Munji al-Serbaji presented his paper entitled “The Citizen, the Believer and the Human Being: Critical Enquiry into the Place of Citizenship in Arab and Islamic Declarations of Human Rights”. The author criticized Islamic associations’ statements on human rights because they promote a concern for the individual at the expense of the citizen, equating “individual” in the ummah or nation to a Muslim. In his view, the emphasis should be on the Muslim as a citizen rather than on the citizen as a Muslim.

Issues of Citizenship in Movements and Experience

Khalid al-Horoub chaired this session, which began with Issam Maslat’s paper “The Muslim Brotherhood’s Concept of Policy, State, and Role in the Contemporary Democratic Arena: An Example in Gaza,” in which he presents an evaluation of the political practice of Hamas, concluding that the movement makes use of religion as a cover for its political activities and objectives. Nabil al-Bakeeri presented “The Yemeni Coalition for Reform: A Reading of its Historical Experience and the Dialectic of the Religious and the Political Visions of Citizenship, State, and Nation”. He reviewed Yemen’s historical experience of reform, concluding that the Muslim Brotherhood was only of secondary importance while the Yemeni Coalition for Reform is a party fully cognizant of modern socio-political transformations with complex regional and international interactions, arising from its clear stance on reform. This can be seen in the party’s political literature, which clearly demarcates the boundaries between issues of state and nation.

Researcher Hisham Khabbash presented “The Fixed and the Variable in the Stances of Moroccan Islamists on the Civilian State: Al-Adl wa-lihsan and the Justice and Development Party,” in which he analyzes the movements observations of the political-ideological overtones that impact fixed and variable elements of the civilian state, noting that Islamic movements today have had to present these movements with a system to govern, and extract the Islamic state from its “Tower of Piety” since an Islamic system is essentially a human interpretation of religious texts: the act of interpretation can err as much as it can be accurate.

Islamic Thought In the Arab and World Context

Mahjoob Zweiri chaired this session’s discussion, which focused on the development of the relationship between political Islam and the modern nation state, and concluded that the modern state has had a deep impact upon Islamic currents, with the latter fluctuating between relations that have been severed, adapted, and integrated. Kuwaiti researcher Mashari Hamad al-Ruwaij, in his “Islamic, Realist, Liberal or Structuralist: Paths of State and Nation in the Contemporary World Order,” proposed the addition of the concept of ummah as an intermediary level between “state” and “international community,” comparable to the addition of “territory” to English textbooks on international relations; ultimately, he added, this could help achieve a better understanding of modern Islamic movements.

In his paper “The Nation State and the International Context in the Islamic Movement’s Experience: A Look at Algeria’s Islamic Movement,” Algerian Tahir Saud discussed the way in which interrogation of the state propelled political Islam in Algeria towards pluralism and fragmentation to an extent that the country disintegrated into conflict. He then debated the experience of the “Algerianization,” a defense of highly localized thought and organization within Algeria that stands in opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, which considered itself an international and transnational organization unbound by national borders.

Moroccan researcher Mohammad el-Koukhi investigated the socio-economic and cultural background of a sampling of members of the Moroccan Justice and Development Party in his paper “Political Islam and the Crisis of the Modern State: A Study of Political Islam’s Social Roots and Changing Narrative”. He found that political Islam is a modern phenomenon generated by social and economic circumstances, such that to study the legacy of its intellectual discourse in isolation, as many have done, is not feasible.

Islamic Thought and the Concept of the State

The third session of the conference was chaired by Dr. Hassan al-Muhannadi, and began with Ashraf Othman Mohammad al-Hassan’s presentation of “The State in the Perspective of Islamic Narrative: A Reading of the Discourse of the Movement’s Break with the State”. The idea of the Islamic state occupies the central place in a narrative that refers back to scripture, and has become increasingly prominent as some Islamic movements have taken power with the Arab Spring.

Ali al-Sayed Mohammad Abu Farha presented his “On Method: Intellectual Distortions in the Construction of the Concept of the Civil State,” surveying the narrative of a full spectrum of political tendencies on the topic of the civilian state in the wake of the Arab Spring’s transformations. The entire lot, he observed, proved incapable of establishing a new, common platform among themselves outside of the opposing binary of “religious” and “civil”. He concluded that for a number of researchers the adoption of the phrase “civil [or civilian] state,” as a new formula to frame Arab post-revolution societies, betrays a lack of theoretical rigor and coherence, especially since the semantic connotations of the term madaniyah (civil/civilian) are so widely divergent.

Abdul Ghani Imad presented his paper “Islamists and the State: Determinants and Features of Renewal in the Discourse of Modern Islamic Movements,” and observed that the problematic urgently requiring attention resides in the challenge presented by the Arab Spring to effect the transition from a missionary project to a state project, alongside the integration of the requirements of such a transition into a platform of Islamic activism.

In “Islamic Currents and Issues of Citizenship, State, and Nation: Questioning the Nation,” Mohammad Habash noted that the Islamic upsurge, however much one may agree on its presence and impact, does not propose an integrated vision when it comes to discussion of the state, the nation, and citizenship. He expected that the vast majority of those who gave voice to the Islamic revolution’s slogans would find their place in the more realism-oriented political parties who believe in democratic processes of change. Though these parties may espouse contradictory political visions, they agree upon the Islamic revolutionary slogan and the glory of Islamic history.

Islamic Thought and Citizenship

Dr. Marwan Qabalan chaired this third session, which began with Zayn al-Din Kharshi’s “Citizenship in the Discourse and Practice of the Islamic Parties: Policy against Citizenship”. This paper dealt with the Islamic parties’ problematic approach to citizenship through an analysis of their discourse and practice. He found that a “generational moment” occurred in the political parties’ leadership, especially Islamic political parties, when confronting oppressive regimes and the emergence of ideas of the abrogation and removal of regimes and increasing violence and counter-violence, all of which give rise to an anxious politicized existential awareness and erect intellectual fortifications expressed in aggressive and convulsive terms.

Dalal Bajes presented her paper on “Political Empowerment of Women in the Islamic Movements: Theory and Practice as Exemplified by the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda”. Despite the many changes that have taken place in broad sectors of Arab states after their successive revolutions, women’s situations have not yet seen sufficient improvement, nor have their aspirations been realized. Following Bajes, Fouad Bou Ali delivered his paper “Identity and Citizenship in the Discourse of Amazigh Islamic Movement: Citizen, Believer, Human Being,” in which he observes that the Islamic movement distinguishes between the Amazigh movement as a language and culture that all Moroccan citizens can jointly participate in, and as a political movement that fosters allegiances that are not on the whole “patriotic”. Consequently, the clash between these two currents was a political inevitability: one of them seeks pluralism within the unit and the other seeks to lay the basis for an alternative affiliation and loyalty.

Shamseddine Daw al-Bayt spoke on “Approaches of Tradition, Renewal, and post-Salafism in Religious and Political Reform and Citizenship in Sudanese Islamist Thought,” observing that the historical events and developments that have shaped citizenship in Sudan and other Islamic Arab societies, have given rise to a perception held by Islamic movements that political reform is essential and must incorporate an approach to citizenship based upon total equality between citizens of one nation. Consequently, political reform led to some of these movements to abandon their insistence upon implementing Sharia law in their countries.

The Historical Experience

Speakers on the Historical Experience

The second day’s first session was chaired by Dr. Elnour Hamad, beginning with Bilal Shalash’s paper “The Historical Experience: Prophecy and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs as a Source for the Nabahani State,” which details Taqi ad-Din al Nabahani’s vision of Islamic history and the challenge of writing it, as well as his justifications for using history as a source of legislation. He concluded by presenting similar and diverging views between Nabahani and the Companions of the Prophet (PBUH), the “Sahabah”.

Moussa Muhammad al-Basha discussed his paper “How Appropriate are the State of al-Madinah and the Regime of the Rightly Guided Caliphs as Examples for a Contemporary Islamic State?” Al-Basha stated that though these two sources constitute models and sources of inspiration for Islamic movements, and examples to guide their own efforts to establish a modern Islamic state, they are not, in fact, suitable as examples or guiding models.


The final paper of the session, “The Construction of the Modern State in Morocco between the Theory of the Emirate of the Faithful and the Propositions of Political Islam” was presented by author Mohammed al-Ghali, and focuses on the theory of the kingdom of the faithful. He makes the observation that previous developments brought about a measure of ambiguity in the structure of the Moroccan state between the theory of the kingdom, or emirate of the faithful, that builds up the legitimacy of the ruler based upon historical and religious factors (nobility and prophetic strains of pledged loyalty) and the proposals of political Islam, which entail a project of re-establishing the primacy of religion in political life.

Interrogating Democracy and the Civil State

Hessa al-Attiyah chaired this session, which started off with Shams al-Din al-Kailani’s discussion of his paper “Contemporary Islam and the Idea of the State: Democracy between Mutual Attraction and Repulsion”. The Islamic movement’s relationship to democracy not only depends upon the degree to which their propositions have advanced and the sincerity of their intentions, but also upon the future prospects of democracy in our countries and the performance of the political powers and social activists within the processes of democratic transformation. Following al-Kailani, Mohammad Jabroun presented “A Historical Analysis of the Islamic State: From the Quran to the Sultan and from Ummah to Assabiyah”. The Islamic state based upon tribal loyalty, or Assabiyah, was destined to collapse, with the passage of time dispelling its legitimacy and fragmenting the ties of solidarity. As its allegiances withered within the body of the state, other allegiances and solidarities could appear with a renewal of state rule. Saoud al-Maoula then presented “The Authority, the Party, the Civil State, and Citizenship in Modern Shiite Jurisprudence,” speaking of the intellectual foundations and key authoritative references of Shiite religious scholars with regard to issues of state, citizenship, and dispute between the schools. Imam Moussa Sadr, Mohammad Baqir al Hakim, Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, Mohammad Mahdi Shamsuddin, and Hassan Fadlallah are among the most prominent of these authorities. In terms of Shiite religious scholarship, he discussed the conflict between the usuli (principled) and the ikhbari (informed), two schools of thought concerning the role of Shiite religious scholars in the time of the absence of the Twelfth Imam (the Mahdi).

Issues of Authenticity and Modernity in Contemporary Islamic Movements

Wadha al-Hajri chaired this session, which focused upon points of convergence and divergence between modernity and heritage. Saudi researcher Tawfiq Sayf stated that the cause of the crisis in the Islamic movement’s political discourse could be traced to the contradiction between the basic concepts of political modernity and those of traditional Islamic jurisprudence; for example, the weighty modern concept of “the people” as a source for the generation of political legitimacy is in opposition to the relatively “weightless” traditional concept of “the common people” (al-Aamah). By the same token, the concept of “right,” derived from a joint ownership of the nation or homeland, is abrogated by the Islamic tradition’s espousal of the concept of taklif (commissioning, charging), which has nothing to do with rights. He concluded in his paper, “The Place of the Common People in Religious Thought,” that the hegemony of the jurists’ perspective in modern Islamic political discourse has contributed to the crisis of the modern Islamic movements’ relation to their stance on the rights of minorities and of women.

In his paper entitled “The Concept of the Nation in Modern Arabic Thought,” Algerian researcher Nouri Dris said that the concept of ummah (nation) in the traditional context is in complete contradiction to its modern meaning, which indicates a definite political, legal, and moral/ethical structure. In the Arab world, the concept of ummah still conjures up a mythical, utopian, ancient ideal that is beyond reach today and dependent upon elements that modernity largely dispenses with, such as religion, language, shared past, and descent.

Qatari researcher Nayef al-Shamri closed the session presenting his paper “Towards a Restructuring of Methodology Examining Islamic Political Thought”. He concentrated upon the obstacles preventing Islamic Sharia from finding harmony with democracy, in terms of its principles and objectives, as a pure instrument of political action. Al-Shamri stated that, throughout history, Islamic movements have tended to concentrate on dealing with the outcomes of juristic methodology; this has led to a preoccupation with transitional and temporary solutions that do not outlive the specific problems that gave rise to them, or the particular time periods that they involve. Islamic political thought has not devoted itself to the fundamental propositions that give rise to outcomes, but to the outcomes that are themselves particular to their place and time.

Conference Plenary

Final Round Table Discussion

The final sessions of the conference were devoted to a plenary discussion involving all speakers and attending audience members, and chaired by Saoud al-Maoula, who emphasized the conference’s importance. To further this, he pointed to the array of topics presented throughout the conference’s duration, and many of the participants spoke on their reflections of the conference as well. Kamal Abdulatif commented that the novelty and seriousness of this year’s conference presentations were derived from the diverse and pluralistic perspectives, viewpoints, and methodologies that were featured, and Radwan Ziyada elaborated on the democratic experience of Islamic movements, reviewing the Islamist experiences in Tunisia and Egypt.

Imad Abdul Ghani spoke of the development that the Islamist discourse has evidenced, and highlighted a number of important outcomes of the trajectories that Islamist experiences have taken. Referring to some of the presentations that asked the Islamists to abandon their fundamental principles for ‘tajdid’ or renewal, Nayef al-Shamri added that most Gulf states held negative views about to the revolutions and transformations of the Arab Spring, and Mohammad Jabroun noted that the Islamic movement should be allowed the right to fail, given the weakness of Arab democratic culture. Shamseddine Daw al-Bayt asked that the Islamists be given an opportunity to govern, expressing the view that a coup against the Islamic movement is a coup against democracy.

Fahmy Huwaydi commented that the juxtaposition of the words “democracy” and “Islam” in the conference title suggests that Muslims are born undemocratic, or that everyone save the Islamists are democratic. He pointed to the obstacles that brought about the failure of the Islamic movement in Egypt, including the mistakes they made—as they should be allowed—and the role of the international powers and the bureaucratic or “deep” state. Huwaydi affirmed that the spirit of resistance in the Arab nation is alive, has in no way died out, and has the will to rise up again.

Al-Hussein Abboushi spoke of the importance of the transformation that has taken place in the Arab world: the Arab revolutions have instilled a sense of identity in the Arab citizen, rendering him or her present and active in the public arena. Mohammad al-Ghali, however, warned that what has taken place in the Arab world is a political, not democratic, transition. In the same vein, Mohammad Lutfi spoke of the sense of retreat and unsteadiness that prevails in the countries of the Arab Spring today, behind which one can discern states and powers known for their antipathy to democracy and people’s liberation.

Dr. Azmi Bishara underlined the importance of the theoretical dimension when taking the experience of the Islamic movements into consideration, noting that such analysis must include the relationships of the Islamic movements with democracy, as well as those of others, such as people on the left, nationalists and the liberals. Bishara pointed out that we are living today in a period of counter-revolution that is aimed at aborting the people’s desire for liberation and independence. Once people have entered into the public arena, however, they will not readily retreat to their private space. He drew particular attention to the courage of the people, and their extraordinary endurance in the face of all manner of oppression and suppression, especially the youth, who represent perhaps the newest and most significant variable in the equation. Young people in the Arab world remain voiceless and unorganized, but their need for democracy is something vital and fundamental.