Islam and Democratization in Asia

by Shiping Hua


More than a century ago, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville remarked that Islam was not compatible with democracy and that conflicts between Islamic nations and the West were therefore inevitable. Although this viewpoint is not shared by all, it has some influence among scholars. The 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Tower in New York City intensified the debate. With the rapid economic developments in Asia in recent decades, another important topic of debate has increasingly attracted people’s attention: the compatibility of the so-called “Asian values” (ones that value family ties and strong government) with democratic ideals that value individualism and weak government. The debate has become even more intense with the combination of Islamic and Asian values regarding democratization. Asia is home to many Muslims, including Indonesia, the most populous Islam country in the world.

Is Islam compatible with democratization in the context of Asian cultures? This is the central question that this collection of essays seeks to answer. To address these important issues, a series of books have been published in the English language. Most of these books deal with the relationship between Islam, Muslims, and democratization with a sub-region in Asia, such as Islam and democracy in central Asia, Islam, and Muslims in south Asia, as well as Islam and democracy in Southeast Asia. Some deal with the same issue with a focus on the future. However, there has yet to be a book that deals with the relationship between Islam, Muslims, and democratization in the context of Asian cultures from the perspectives of theory and empirical country studies in South, Southeast, and Central Asia. This volume seeks to help fill the gap.

Although most contributors in this collection are affiliated with scholarly institutions in North America and Europe, most of them have their ethnic origins in Asia. Contributors in this collection include not only scholars but also practitioners, such as diplomats. The voices of this diverse group thus represent a variety of viewpoints, spanning from those who believe that Islam is compatible with democracy to those who have doubts about it.

The first three chapters by Muqtedar Khan, Moataz A. Fattah, and Laure Paquette discuss the theoretical issues of Islam in the context of Asian cultures. Issues addressed include the relationship between Islamic governance and democracy, the Muslim political culture, and the underdog strategy adopted by some Islamic countries in Asia. These theoretical studies are followed by three chapters by Touqir Hussain, Tariq Karim, and Omar Khalidi, who comment on South Asia. They discuss topics that include the relations between Islam and democracy in the context of Pakistan, the aspiring pluralist democracy and expanding political Islam in Bangladesh, and the Muslim experience of Indian democracy.

This is then followed by a section on Southeast Asia where Felix Heiduk discusses the role of political Islam in post-Suharto Indonesia in one chapter and Naveed S. Sheikh comments on the ambiguities of Islamic(ate) politics in Malaysia in another chapter.

The last two chapters are on Central Asia. Brian Glyn Williams provides unprecedented insight about the Taliban and Al Qaeda suicide bombers with an account of his field trip to Afghanistan, and Morris Rossabi discusses Muslim and democracy in the context of China and Central Asia.

This volume, comprising the perspectives of scholars and practitioners, will be invaluable to those in political science, sociology, and religious studies.


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