Thinking beyond the Islamic state versus modern liberalism: Islamism, non-Muslims, and communitarian citizenship

It has often been argued that the concept of an Islamic state is difficult to reconcile with full and equal citizenship for non-Muslims. It is also widely assumed that a type of individualist citizenship modelled on liberal democracy is something that all non-Muslims in Islamic societies want. This paper argues that we need to be cautious about developing universal arguments founded exclusively on the moral argumentation and political experience of Western liberal societies. It shows that in contemporary Egypt, there is some convergence between the type of citizenship as extolled by Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Drawing on the negotiations that took place over the 2012 and 2014 Egyptian Constitutions, this paper argues that attitudes towards the principle of non-Muslim judicial autonomy as enshrined in Article 3 of the Egyptian Constitution, points to important overlaps between Islamist conceptions of citizenship and those of many Coptic Christians. This paper considers such convergence with reference to communitarian political theory and addresses the implications of a communitarian form of citizenship for narratives that position Islamist conceptions of citizenship as antithetical to the interests of religious minorities.

Biopgrahy: Rachel M. Scott is professor of Islamic Studies in the Department of Religion and Culture and ASPECT (Alliance of Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought) at Virginia Tech in the U.S.A. Her areas of research relate to Islamic political thought, modern Islamic law, constitutions, and personal status law. Her first book, The Challenge of Political Islam: Non-Muslims and the Egyptian State, was published by Stanford University press in 2010. Her second book, Recasting Islamic Law: Religion and the Nation State in Egyptian Constitution Making, was published by Cornell University Press in spring 2021. Professor Scott has also published a number of articles and book chapters on a range of topics, including modern Islamic thought, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, al-Azhar and religious authority, and Qur’anic exegesis.