Peter Smith

Publications, Lectures and Other Stuff

Two Agendas for Liberal Democracy in the Muslim World

1. The Aga Khan Urges Commitment to Pluralism and Strengthening of Civil Society:

In a recent address at Brown University, the Aga Khan stressed the need for a stronger civil society, which “has three critical underpinnings: a commitment to pluralism, an open door to meritocracy, and a full embrace of … a cosmopolitan ethic,” which he defined as “one that addresses the age-old need to balance the particular and the universal, to honour both human rights and social duties, to advance personal freedom and to accept human responsibility.”

It should be recognized that there was no one single format of governance, but in all cases a stronger civil society laid the basis for a stronger system.

Again, in a world of diversity, “fearful ignorance” of others had to be replaced with “empathetic knowledge”, and the dangers of “fragmentation” avoided.

For more details see: (which includes a videos of the address).

2. The liberal Turkish columnist Mustafa Akyol recently drew attention to Nader Hashemi’s Islam, Secularism and Liberal Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009). The modern West had seen three movements that had challenged religious tradition: the Reformation, the Lockean Enlightenment, and the radical secularism of the French Revolution. The Muslim world should look to the second of these — the ideas of Locke — for inspiration rather than the Reformation or revolutionary secularism. What was desirable were Locke’s ideals of liberty, tolerance and non-violence.

Locke had argued that reason and revelation were compatible and need not be in conflict, and advocated pluralistic tolerance for differing interpretations of the faith. The religious faith of the individual was meaningful only when based on ‘the inward persuasion of the Mind’, which could not be compelled by ‘outside force’.

The Reformation had brought violence and division, and forced secularism did not work.

The article is at:

On Hashimi’s book see:;jsessionid=9ED9BB082D459ACA04C242BEA77B3EAC?cc=th&lang=en&#

On Akyol’s book, Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, see: [‘Only by accepting a secular state can Islamic societies thrive’]


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