Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology
Social Research (Special Issue: Political Theology), Vol. 80 No. 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 293-320.
23 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2012 Last revised: 2 Aug 2015
Date Written: October 25, 2012
The events that hastily came to be called “The Arab Spring” have done much to reopen the question of what it means for a Muslim society to be ruled legitimately and to force Islamist parties to account for their visions of sovereignty and authority in the public sphere. This paper provides a historical and conceptual background to certain modern attempts to harmonize ideals of divine and popular sovereignty. I pay special attention to the pre-2011 doctrines of Tunisian Islamist leader, Rashid al-Ghannushi, particularly his attempt to reconcile visions of divine and popular sovereignty through the doctrine of a universal covenant of vicegerency (istikhlaf). I contrast this doctrine of a “caliphate of man” with other modern attempts to institutionalize divine sovereignty (Saudi Arabia and Iran), while suggesting a set of ambiguities this doctrine raises both for the idea of rule by divine law (shari‘a) and for post-revolutionary expectations of democracy within a “civil state” (dawla madaniyya).
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