Plenary: Debates in Islamic Constitutionalism
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, Emory University
Azizah Y. Al-Hibri, University of Richmond
Tariq Ramadan, University of Fribourg and College of Geneva, Switzerland
Moderator: Noah Feldman, New York University Law School
The discussion of Islamic constitutionalism will organize itself around several key themes; each theme leaves room both for theoretical discussion and the consideration of practical instances and examples.
1. The relationship between constitutional democracy and classical Islamic sources. Whether there exist precedents for the mechanisms of electoral democracy in Islamic law, theory, and historical practice remains a major topic of discussion among both practitioners and critics of Islamic constitutionalism. Sources that are typically considered include the Qur'an, hadith, the political/diplomatic practices of the Prophet (e.g., the “constitution” of Medina), and the constitutional design of the caliphate (e.g., the role of ahl al-hall wa-l-‘aqd, the representatives of the Muslim community who act on its behalf in appointing and deposing a ruler). The discussion of this theme will discuss not only the substantive sources that underlie the debates but also the intellectual and conceptual conditions for the debates themselves.
2. The protection of basic rights, especially rights to equality for non-Muslims and women. Defining such rights in an Islamic constitutional context may be achieved by a range of possible means, including textual commitments to international legal conventions, the adoption of neutral constitutional language, and the adoption of language derived expressly from Islamic tradition. This theme further raises the associated question of institutionalizing guarantees that appear in constitutional texts, and of the judicial or other mechanisms best suited to such protection.
3. Practical instances of successful constitutionalism in the Islamic context. What counts as success? What countries are worth emulating in certain respects? What lessons are relevant to present cases of constitution-writing, such as Afghanistan and/or Iraq?