On Friday, December 7, Dr. Ermin Sinanovic, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the United States Naval Academy, presented his preliminary research on Islamic Political Thought after the Arab Spring. "Political theory," he stated "is developed in two ways: First through abstract thinking about possibilities, and second through the experience of trial and error." In recent decades before the Arab Spring, Islamic political thought has been mainly been developed as abstract theory. Now, in the post Arab Spring situation, we see parties trying to practice these ideas while adapting to the circumstances causing acceleration in the development of Islamic political thought.
Dr. Sinanovic brought to the surface the significance of the normative statements that are made by parties by saying that if parties have made statements, even if they were not from a strong commitment, the fact that they have made these statements has created a new norm and standard to which they will be held accountable and be judged. In this respect he argues that half commitments can become full policy in the future as the norm is created and parties would render themselves irrelevant if they are not able to follow up sincerely on their statements.
In his research, Dr. Sinanovic has identified four areas where important changes have emerged in Sunni political thought. The first he mentioned was the change in the concept of political obedience (ta’ah). Second, he talked about the shift among Salafis toward accepting electoral democracy. Third, he discussed the observation of a preference for a parliamentary system over the presidential system. The final area that he mentioned was the emergence of discussions on maqasid al-shari’ah, or the objectives of Islamic Law, as a basis for developing policy and law. These areas he mentioned are expanding and challenging Sunni political thought in the current context to allow for implementation in ways that historically were not seen as possibilities within the tradition. This powerful change has the ability make Islamic political thought more comprehensive by addressing blind spots that existed within the theoretical development that was developed under different political realities and experience.
Dr. Sinanovic also brought to the surface in his remarks the ease with which Islamic political actors put forth their statements regarding their democratic positions. This shows the amount of theoretical discussion that has occurred within recent decades about the compatibility of Islam and democracy. Because of the intellectual investigation that has been done, these parties have been able to adopt and articulate their democratic positions confidently and without significant challenge. The work of IIIT over these decades can be seen as playing a significant role in preparing the intellectual basis from which the Muslim world can draw from through the scholarly investigation and dialogue into the possibilities of Islamic political reform IIIT has supported. Maqasid al-shari’ah now emerging as an important frame in developing policy, has been an area of focus for IIIT for years as is reflected in IIIT publications.
The conversation on the changes in Islamic political thought in the post Arab Spring context will continue to unfold. Dr. Sinanovic is continuing to further his research in this area and is working to produce a book on the topic. IIIT will be focusing on this topic in the IIIT Summer Scholars Institute in 2013. The call for papers for this forum is currently available here on our website.