Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus

By Kilinc, Ramazan | Insight Turkey, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus


Kilinc, Ramazan, Insight Turkey


Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus

By Andrew F. March

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. 350 pp., $55.00.

Andrew March, starting from John Rawls's concept of overlapping consensus, examines whether or not Islamic political ethics provides a legitimate ground for Muslims to come to terms with citizenship in non-Muslim liberal democracies. More specifically, March looks at Islamic religious doctrines to assess the extent of their support for residing in and being loyal to a non-Muslim liberal state, recognizing non-Muslims as equals in political terms, appreciating moral pluralism, contributing to the welfare of a non-Muslim state, cooperating with non-Muslims in a liberal political environment, and participating in liberal political systems. March argues that there exist "very strong and authentically Islamic arguments" (p. 15) in orthodox and modern religious doctrines that accept the core demands of liberal citizenship.

March develops his argument in three parts. In the first part, he outlines his philosophical motivations and method in dealing with the question of Islam and liberal citizenship. The first chapter of this part outlines the purposes of what March calls the "justificatory comparative political theory," by which he means putting similar questions across philosophical and ethical traditions to examine the possibilities for a full justification of liberal citizenship within those traditions. March's purpose is not different from what Rawls aims to achieve with his concept of overlapping consensus: to sort out the "reasonable ways in which the wider realm of values can be understood so as to be either congruent with, or supportive of, or else not in conflict with, the values appropriate to the special domain of the political" (quoted from Rawls, p. 27). In this chapter, March also successfully deals with possible skeptical, relativist, and historicist critiques to justificatory comparative political theory. In Chapter 2, March explains his method to avoid the criticisms made against comparative political theory, which he cited in the previous chapter. He first sets out the principles of comparative analysis: theorizing from sources that are more orthodox, transparency, sympathy, and restraint. Based on these principles, he develops a five-step method of justificatory comparative political theory: (1) providing the range of views that reject liberal citizenship within an ethical tradition for the sake of transparency; (2) articulating the expectations of liberal citizenship to be affirmed by an ethical tradition; (3) presenting the views that accept liberal citizenship within an ethical tradition; (4) analyzing those views to understand whether or not the ethical tradition principally accepts the terms of liberal citizenship; and (5) evaluating the ethical tradition on whether or not it has a doctrine of citizenship that is compatible with political liberalism. March uses this method in the remaining parts of his book.

In the second part, March reviews the traditional Islamic doctrines to document the objections to liberal citizenship in non-Muslim democracies, and identifies the ideal-type Islamic positions for an overlapping consensus on the liberal terms of citizenship. In Chapter 3, he surveys classical and contemporary Islamic resources to provide Muslims with reasons for rejecting residence in a non-Muslim state, loyalty to a non-Muslim state, and solidarity with non-Muslims in a non-Muslim liberal democracy. …

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