30 November 2015



On November 30, Quilliam’s senior researcher in Islamic studies Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan launched his newest report “Dhimmitude to Democracy: Islamic Law, No-Muslims and Equal Citizenship”. We were honoured to welcome ResPublica founder Philip Blond, director of Demos David Goodhart, and former SOAS lecturer and new member of Quilliam’s theological research team Farhana Mayer on our panel. The event was chaired by Quilliam’s managing director Haras Rafiq.

Following a brief introduction by Haras, Usama presented the findings of his report, which brings together scriptural, theological, jurisprudential, historical and contemporary political analysis. He started his presentation by addressing common misconceptions about the early Islamic concepts of dhimmi and jizya. On the basis of the Qur’anic dictum “There is no compulsion in religion” and the “Medina Charter”, he argued for religious freedom and equality and explained why the term Ahl al-Kitab (People of Scripture) applies to people of all faiths. By providing insights into the historical development of Islamic thought he showed that Islamic State and Boko Haram ideologies are partly based on misinterpretations of Islam and partly trapped in obsolete, medieval concepts. He made an argument in support of the process of intellectual and political reform and renewal that Muslim-majority societies have been promoting over the past 200 years. The Ottoman Empire, which was led by Hanafis, was mentioned as an example of a Muslim system that embraced equal citizenship, irrespective of race or religion. Usama ended his talk by providing arguments for the compatibility of Islam and democracy and by demonstrating that modern notions of citizenship can be appropriate expressions of Islamic law. If you are interested in learning more, click here to view Usama’s full report.

The panel discussion was opened by Philip Blond, who discussed how religions provide a wide range of concepts of citizenship. He argued that we should promote concepts of negative theology, which recognise that we do not know everything about God. One of the biggest challenges is posed by claims to universal legalism, which punishes all diverging interpretations of a religion. If we recognise that God is greater than our interpretations, the only solution is to refuse universal legalism and to accept religious and cultural pluralism.

After Philip Blond’s speech on integration, David Goodhart provided insights on matters of integration and identity. He made the point that it is erroneous to talk about Muslim immigration and integration, as Muslim communities are not homogenous. He also talked about changes that can be observed in integration, mentioning studies that suggest a recent acceleration in the integration of Muslim women, young people and Bangladeshis.

Farhana then provided a re-evaluation of theocracy and democracy in the context of theocentricity. She drew a distinction between theocracy and religiocracy – a term she feels describes more accurately those systems of rule which are usually considered theocratic. She argued that theocracies of today more closely resemble religiocracies, “because they adhere to rule according to one religion/one interpretation of a religion, over and above all other laws/religions”. She argued that if theocracy is indeed a system of rule where God is foremost, then this happens through an alignment with God’s nature known by His qualities: in other words it needs to be a qualitative theocentricity. In Islam, the attributes of God are designated by His names in the Qur’an. These divine qualities provide a set of values which resonate strongly with the core values of secular laws and government. Farhana called for an honest acknowledgement by Muslims of where God’s attributes are found even if that is in secular laws and conventions and an honest recognition of their absence even within religious laws. She called for the interpretation of the Qur’an and the sharia to be governed by the divine names given in the Qur’an: God’s nature should be the paramount hermeneutical principle.

In the end, Haras invited the audience to address their questions to the speakers. Comments and questions from the audience provided for an exciting intellectual discussion, and the diverse backgrounds of the panellists brought many different perspectives to the debate.