UofT Law faculty authors: 

Mohammad Fadel. "Political Legitimacy, Democracy and Islamic Law: The Place of Self‐Government in Islamic Political Thought". Journal of Islamic Ethics 2 (2018) 59-75.


Contemporary Political Islam, or Islamism, is commonly defined as a movement that seeks to apply the Sharīʿa as the basic law of Muslim states. This suggests that political legitimacy in Islamic thought can be reduced to the conformity of a polity’s actions to a pre-determined body of rules that are supplied by revelation, as supplemented by the interpretations of jurists. Such a demand is reasonably understood to be non-democratic because it includes no room for self-government by making it either redundant, if it produces results that are in conformity with the norms of the Sharīʿa, or contradictory to self-government, if the results of self-government differ from revealed norms. I argue instead that Islamic constitutional theory and political thought provide explicit grounds for self-government based on a conception of the state that is grounded in the ideals of agency and fiduciary duties rather than conformity with the pre-determined substantive norms of revelation simpliciter. On this account, self-government is essential to political legitimacy because the legitimacy of the ruler’s decisions can only be understood from the perspective of whether the people, as the principal who authorized the agent (i.e., the government), approves of the government’s conduct, or can reasonably be understood to approve of the government’s conduct. This has important implications for understanding how a state can, consistent with self-government, incorporate the Sharīʿa and its values in its legislative system. Far from imposing particular outcomes, in most cases, the rules of the Sharīʿa will only present options for how public law may be made, while giving the public the freedom, through the exercise of its collective deliberation, to choose how it operationalizes various provisions and values of the Sharīʿa in positive law in relation to its own determination of its own rational good (malaa).