CSID Fifth Annual Conference – May 28 – 29, 2004
Defining and Establishing Justice in Muslim Societies
By: Layla Sein
CSID Conference Coordinator
The Center for Islam and Democracy (CSID) held its Fifth Annual Conference in Washington, DC on May 28 – 29, 2004. The conference theme “Defining and Establishing Justice in Muslim Societies” echoed in the presentations given by 27 scholars. The presentations examining the concept of justice in Muslim societies were highlighted in seven panel sessions, including an “Ambassador’s Forum,” keynote addresses delivered during two luncheons and an annual banquet. CSID inaugurated an Open Forum for Muslim Democrats from Muslim world. This forum consisted of voices from Muslim nations who are actively engaged in the democratic process in their home countries. About 200 scholars, diplomats, government officials, democracy professionals and academicians attended the conference, and participated in the stimulating and lively debates that followed each of the seven panels.
The Conference Chair, Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University’s School of International Service, Washington, DC, welcomed the guests and encouraged frank and honest discussions. In his opening remarks, CSID President, Dr. Radwan Masmoudi, underscored the need to establish justice in the Muslim world and the world at large. He hoped that this conference would help shed light on what justice really means and how it can be strengthened. He stated that “justice cannot endure under authoritarian rulers, and the dream of a “just oppressor” (al-mustabid al-adil) is obsolete and toxic. Muslims must realize that justice and freedom go hand-in hand, and that oppressive governments, religious or secular, will always abuse the rights of the individual. Establishing justice also requires an independent judiciary, rule of law, an independent media and an end to corruption, all of which are priorities for the Muslim ummah today.”
The presentations in Session One “Political Foundations of Justice,” which was chaired by Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, University of Richmond, VA, were informative and instructive. In his presentation on “Poverty of Islamist Thought as an Obstacle to Justice”, Kamran A. Bokhari, of Howard University, Washington, DC, explored the “correlation between the lack of an Islamic political system capable of dispensing justice and the (current) general state of poverty of thought among Islamists.” Mr. Bokhari examined this correlation by analyzing the “manner in which mainstream Islamist political thought views the constitutive elements of reason and revelation.”
In his presentation titled “Shari’ah, Natural Law and Institutional Governance,” Imad ad-Dean Ahmad, Minaret of Freedom Institute, MD, highlighted the need to understand why “sound governance must incorporate Shurah and ijma while respecting justice as both a means and a goal.” Dr. Ahmad argued that by “viewing Shari’ah in the same manner that western jurists approached natural law, it is possible for Muslim legal scholars to accept a formal role for democratic processes, and in a manner consistent with the original conception of Shari’ah.”
The third panelist, Abdel-Fattah Mady, Claremont Graduate University, CA, further reinforced in his presentation on “Islam, Justice and Democracy: A Theoretical and Comparative Study” the need to understand the role of Islamic law (Shari’ah) in Muslim societies and in establishing justice among Muslims and non Muslims alike.
Three scholars gave the presentations in Session Two on “Economic Justice,” chaired by Dr. Louis J. Cantori, University of Maryland. Paul Sullivan, National Defense University, VA, gave the first presentation on “Adl, Mizan and the Peaceful Jihad for Human Development of the Arab World.” He began by saying that “Muslims know [democracy] in their hearts. The people in these countries desire democracy because they have done without it for so long.” As an economist, Dr. Sullivan argued that there was no definition of economic justice in the Middle Eastern region and that the absence of economic justice in Arab Muslim societies is attributed mostly to poor leadership and governance. He went on to say that since economic injustice leads to instability, terrorism, and loss of hope for the youth, promoting an agenda for change in Middle Eastern policies and governance holds the key to justice.
Dr. Bart J. Ryan, Harvard University, MA, spoke next on “Islamic Economics and Justice in Indonesian Democracy.” He analyzed the Indonesian economy in light of the role that Islam will play in democratic reform. According to Ryan, reformers in Indonesia are promoting an experiment with democracy that seeks the separation of economics from politics; Ryan, however, notes the impossibility of such a goal.
In his examination of “The Just Third Way: Basic Principles of Economic and Social Justice,” the third panelist, Norman G. Kurland, J.D., the Center for Economic and Social Justice, VA, states that there is not enough focus on justice, and that law is often unjust. Kurland presents the “Just Third Way” as an alternative to today’s two economic paradigms: capitalism, and socialism/communism. For Kurland, “In the ‘Just Third Way,’ widespread dispersion of private property functions as the economic check against the potential for corruption and abuse by government and by corporate and financial elites.”
Although numerous media outlets covered the well attended two-day conference, the “Ambassador’s Forum” and the luncheon featuring Mr. Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy; and Ms. Alina Romanowsky, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs received wide national and international media coverage.
Carl Gershman delivered the luncheon keynote address. He emphasized that “American Muslims can be a force for democracy in their countries of origin.” After acknowledging that democratic movements in both Muslim and non Muslim regions throughout the world – such as North Korea and Iran – have been encouraged and supported by their countrymen living in the free world, he went on to say of the role that America plays in promoting democracy in the Middle East, that “even if they don’t like the messenger, they have to accept the message.” The second keynote speaker was Alina Romanowsky. She described the role that America plays in supporting democratic reform in the region by initiating workshops for women hoping to run for political office.
The remarkable “Ambassador’s Forum” (Session Three) followed these two insightful luncheon keynote addresses. This forum on “Islam & Democracy: The Challenge for the 21st Century,” chaired by Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, was established to encourage debate and discussion. Four distinguished Ambassadors from four prominent Muslim nations - Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan - analyzed democratic reforms currently underway in their countries. After the presentations, conference participants were provided an opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions with the ambassadors.
His Excellency Aziz Mekouar, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco examined the status of his country’s democratization process by outlining the three issues that Morocco’s King Mohamad VI said he was going to pursue when he came to power in July 1999. These three priorities were the democratization of the country; human rights concerns in general, and women’s rights issues. Ambassador Mekouar believes that these priorities have been delivered. He spoke about the economic and educational challenges facing Moroccan society since 70% of the population is under 25. With his statement that the new family law puts men and women on equal footing, Morocco’s democratization process seems to be on a healthy track.
Ambassador M. Nabil Fahmy of the Arab Republic of Egypt talked about the need for people in the Muslim world to do more since democracy is a process that develops gradually. His commented that the debate about democracy in a Muslim society is not a debate about faith, but rather about societies that believe and embrace that faith.
In his discussion about democratic reform in Turkey, Ambassador Osman Faruk Logoglu remarked that secularism is a key condition for bringing about genuine democratic traditions. When he stated that Turkish democracy did not come easily, he examined the Turkish concept of secularism as being the separation of state and religion; religion being a matter of the private domain and the state belonging to the pubic domain.
His Excellency Karim Kawar, the Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, focused primarily on Jordan’s need to build the pillars of democracy: education, human rights, freedom of press, civil society, rule of law, and entrepreneurship. He also outlined ownership, leadership, partnership, and entrepreneurship as the four key ingredients for achieving reform.
During the evening, conference participants enjoyed the events scheduled for the Annual Banquet. It had three highlights: the first was the keynote address by Akbar S. Ahmed on “The US and the Muslim World at a Crossroads: A Call to Reason and Cooperation.” Although Professor Abdolkarim Soroush was scheduled to deliver the keynote address, Professor Ahmed, the conference chair, filled in when Soroush could not attend due to illness. Professor Ahmed highlighted three important questions concerning Islam: “How does the current phenomenon of globalization affect Islam?” He addressed this question by referring to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations,” the dominant ideology following Sept 11, which characterizes Islam as an enemy of civilization. Professor Ahmed contrasted this ideology with the “Dialogue of Civilizations” introduced by Iranian President Khatami in his address to the United Nations.
As a social scientist, Professor Ahmed interpreted the outcome of globalization as several world civilizations under siege. He examined how certain Muslims, in defense of their faith and honor, have become “shahids” or martyrs and hence, feel that they are under siege. He went on to say that Israelis, Indians and Americans harbor similar sentiments of being under siege. In examining the second question: “Why Must the West understand the Muslim world?” Ahmed talked about the “war on terror” and the need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of Islam. The final crucial question of his discourse: “What Action should Muslims and non-Muslims take in the fact of such diversity?” His answer underscored the importance of dialogue. He stated that both parties must engage in a dialogue on the role of religion, democracy, justice and gender in society through conferences, seminars and the dissemination of information.
The second highlight was the “Dialogue of Civilizations” award presented by CSID to Professor John L. Esposito, University Professor at Georgetown University. In his presentation on “Post 9/11 Challenges to the Dialogue of Civilizations,” he examined the two competing theories of our time: the "Clash of Civilizations" vs. that of "Civilizational Dialogue." He also emphasized the importance of establishing a dialogue that addresses the theological conditions that lead to hatred and violence.
Esposito explained that the integration of religion in global ethnic and tribal identity, along with nationalist tendencies, is a political and economic reality since the fall of the Soviet Union, and will lead either to a clash of civilizations or a dialogue and coexistence. Professor Esposito outlines the three realities that define the post 9/11 period as being: a global resurgence in religion, both in the public and private spheres, the de-secularization of society and an emergence of “civilizational dialogue.” According to Esposito, it is unfortunate that the US government and neo-conservative pundits in the media, who portray Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as symbols of Islam, do not distinguish between mainstream Muslims and their radical counterparts.
CSID’s presentation of the “Muslim Democrat of the Year Award” to Professor Abdolkarim Soroush represented the third highlight of the banquet. Dr. Hossein Kamali accepted the award on behalf of Professor Soroush, and read a statement on his behalf. In his statement, the noted Iranian scholar and activist said: “Justice constitutes the key to formulating such a notion of democracy that is not only compatible but rather concomitant with the teachings of Islam. We should remember the Qur’anic injuction: inna-Allāh ya’muru bi al-‛adl wa al-ihsān (al-Nahl/16:90) verily God commands justice and doing good (that goes beyond the requirements of simple justice).”
The second day included four panel sessions. Four scholars made presentations in Session Four titled “The Role of Social Organizations in Promoting Justice” chaired by Dr. Antony T. Sullivan, University of Michigan. The first panelist was Orla Lynch, University College Cork, Ireland. In her presentation “Fundamentalism and Islam in the 21st Century,” Ms. Lynch stated that Islamic fundamentalism is the most significant challenge facing the West since the post-Cold War period. She argued that Islamic revivalism and activism would be a more appropriate term to describe this current phenomenon and went on to trace its history and evolution, first as a response to European colonialism and then as a by-product of the failure of Pan Arabism. In her concluding remarks, Ms. Lynch postulated that, to wage an effective war on terrorism and combat extremism, the West needed to understand the neo-revivalists’ strategies and recruitment patterns.
In his presentation titled “Muslims Were Born Free but are Everywhere in Chains: an Empirical Examination of Muslims’ Democratic Culture,” Moataz A. Fattah, Central Michigan University, outlined the methodologies and findings of an empirical study that he conducted to determine whether values and attitudes of ordinary Muslim citizens obstruct democracy. Dr. Fattah characterized the prevailing attitude of his subjects toward the US as one of distrust as they felt that it was not a credible promoter of democracy. In fact, he stated, many of them blamed the US and the West for their role in allowing dictatorships to stay in power throughout the Muslim world.
Mr. Babak Rahimi, European University Institute, Italy, stated that Islamic democracy should be based on a model that emphasizes civil society. In his presentation “Between the Sacred and the Secular: the Emergence of Islamic Democracy and the Search for Legitimate Authority,” Rahimi explained that the significance of civil society is that it allows people and groups to participate in the affairs of state and check the power of the government.
In her presentation “Islamic Philanthropy: Reviving Traditional Forms for Building Social Justice,” Jennifer Bremer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, examined the importance of Islamic philanthropy in civil society. Dr. Bremer asserted that it created a strong and independent civil society whereby the elite could challenge the authority of the state. Islamic philanthropy also enabled the upper middle class to strengthen its linkages and networks with the poor by demonstrating that society can meet their needs without inventions from the state.
Four scholars made presentations in Session Five titled “Justice for Women and Gender Equality,” chaired by Dr. Asma Afsaruddin, University of Notre Dame, IN. In her presentation “Toward a Theory of Gender Equality in Muslim Societies,” Asma Barlas, Ithaca College, NY, drew on her recent book “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. Dr. Barlas argued for a new Qur’anic hermeneutics of gender equality in order to “show why an egalitarian sexual praxis derived from the Qur’an’s teachings needs to be at the heart of struggles for democracy in Muslim societies.” She argued that since God is a just God, he cannot encourage zulm against any group. Another crucial argument for gender equality was her question: How can women be equal in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of men?
The second panelist, Sarah Mehta, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC, spoke about the status of Muslim Indian women in her presentation titled “Narrowing the Divide: Deconstructing Muslim Women’s ‘Choice’ between Culture and Gender Justice in India.” She explained how Muslim women in India constitute a “double minority:” first, as Muslims in a Hindu-majority state, and second, as women subject to patriarchal religious traditions. She explained how Islam and gender justice have been separated and put into opposition.
In her presentation titled “Lost Between Rhetoric and Reality: Uncovering and Achieving True Gender Justice in Islamic Societies,” Sherien Sultan, International Center for Transitional Justice, NY, talked about the “gap between the rhetoric of equality and the reality of the profound inequality that exists between men and women in Muslim societies.” She argued that although Muslim governments made efforts to rectify intolerance and advocate change in personal status laws, not enough policy options have been established to address women’s oppression.
The fourth panelist, a consultant for the federal government, Michelle Carla Morelli, presented “A Case Study of Morocco: How Have Women become Part of the Labor Market?” Ms. Morelli’s presentation examined “how historically, Moroccan women have struggled to become active participants in their country’s labor force. ... The transition from the home, to the factory, and now to the office did not come easily. Moroccan women face discrimination in the workplace and home; this discrimination hinders some women from being gainfully employed and fully accepted as true and equal employees in the labor market. ”
Professor Ali Mazrui, State University of New York, Binghamton, gave the Hesham Reda Memorial luncheon keynote address on Saturday. Dr. Mazrui spoke on “Pax Islamica and the Pursuit of Justice Between Force and Forgiveness.” He focused on “Pax Islamica” which is the fusion of the seven principles of conduct on which the pursuit of justice in world affairs should be based. In his interpretation of the relations between the Muslim world and the West, Dr. Mazrui examined the practical and philosophical aspects of these wisdoms: tolerance and minimization of conflict; optimization of economic well-being; celebration of diversity and social justice; gender equity as a global ethic; ecological balance and respect for nature; interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of greater wisdom and justice.
Session Six titled “Open Forum – Voices of Muslim Democrats: Political Reform in the Muslim World” was a new feature in this year’s conference. It was chaired by Abdulwahab Alkebsi, National Endowment for Democracy, Washington, DC, and was designed as a platform for Muslims from all over the Muslim world who are actively involved in promoting democracy in their home countries. They shared their experiences while voicing their hopes, beliefs and expectations. Muslim democrats participating in this unique forum included Ms. Neila Charchour Hachicha – Tunisia; Ms. Fida Shehada – Palestine; Mr. Hamid Aminoddin Barra - the Philippines; Dr. Seyed Hossein Seifzadeh – Iran; Mr. Mohamed al-Yahyai – Oman; and Shaikh Muhammad Sodiq Muhammad Yusuf – Uzbekistan. Abdulwahab Alkebsi stated that the “the problems of education, unemployment, poverty and human rights issues experienced by these Muslim democrats were similar, and since they were all trying to reach the same goals they should coordinate their efforts to address these problems.” He added that CSID’s promotion of forums like Voices of Muslim Democrats "could provide a unique way to develop a network through which they can work together for democracy. These forums could help develop strategies for promoting such elements inherent in civil society as popular elections, limited government, open and market-oriented economies, human rights and poverty reduction."
Both the “Ambassador’s Forum” and the “Open Forum – Voices for Muslim Democrats” created a frank and open atmosphere where discussions provided information that could help policy makers and scholars understand the difficulties faced by Muslim societies undergoing democratic reform.
Session Seven on “Individual Rights and Responsibilities,” chaired by Dr. Deina Abdelkader, Cairo University, Egypt, included presentations by four scholars. The first presentation was by Mary Knight, New York University. She began her presentation “Individual Responsibility, the Qur’an and Democracy” by citing an example of collective punishment in Fallujah, Iraq and stressed the error in using such a method for effective governing purposes. She argued that individual accountability, an Islamic concept, should be employed instead. In support of her argument she cited examples of the early Muslim community in Yathrib and quoted several Qur’anic verses.
Saeed A. Khan, Institute for Social Change and Understanding, MI; spoke on “The Primacy of Privacy within the Paradigm of Justice for an Effective Islamic Model of Democracy.” He defined the clear lines that exist between the private and public spheres and stressed the need for the state and individuals to recognize this boundary. Khan acknowledged the exploitation of privacy by those motivated by a political agenda, exemplified in the Patriot Act. In his concluding remarks, Khan acknowledged that before social justice can be implemented, privacy of rights and duties must be enforced.
Jack DuVall, International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, Washington, DC, made his presentation on “Establishing Justice: the Role of the People.” He asserted that justice cannot be established under oppressive rule. He encouraged strategic, non-violent campaigns to achieve support for people in repressive regimes from the international community in their fight for social justice.
The fourth panelist, Irvin J. Borowsky, American Interfaith Institute at the National Liberty Museum, PA, presented his paper on “Establishing Religious Harmony: the Role of the Individual.” He began by recognizing the diversity of the American people and acknowledged that the separation of church and state allowed people to practice any religion. Borowsky emphasized the need for the followers of the Abrahamic faiths to retain pride toward each other without prejudice, and work for the mission of peace and justice.
CSID 5th Annual Conference provided a platform for open, honest, and sincere discussions in hopes of enlightening a world that seems to be lost in a sea of uncertainty and confusion. As Professor Ahmed, Chair of the Conference Program Committee, stated, “In the post-9/11 cultural climate, such platforms are too far and few between." The annual conference organized by CSID provides an excellent example of open and honest discussions. There were many highlights and many excellent presentations. One of the highlights was the remarkable ‘Ambassador’s Forum’ that brought together four distinguished Ambassadors from four important Muslim nations: Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and Jordan. In the scholarly atmosphere provided by the conference, the discussions were both informative and instructive. In fact, there can be nothing more important for scholars, policy makers, and commentators of Islam and its relationship with the West than to engage in open and honest intellectual discussions.
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