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The relevance of John Locke to social change in the Muslim world: a comparison with Iran.

Speaking at a symposium on political change and democracy in the Muslim world, Richard Bulliet, an eminent historian at Columbia University, offered the following note of caution:

Notions like human rights, equality and civil liberties did not come from documents. They came from struggles. Anyone who is aware of the feminist movement in this country can see such a struggle taking place; a struggle that has yet to succeed but that probably will in time. Struggles cannot be fought from the outside; they must occur internally. What struggles will take place within the community of Muslims I would not hazard to say. Nor would I venture an opinion as to whether the Muslims of the twenty-first century will follow the direction of the West in their controversies over political and social norms, or whether they will find unique solutions to unavoidable contradictions. Either way, conflict, diversity, and evolutionary change seem inevitable despite the powerful appeal of a traditional core of norms and values. (1)

Bulliet's observation is significant because it serves to remind us that the modernization of the West did not begin with democracy, human rights, and free markets. Rather the origins lay in struggle, controversy, and debate. Today parts of the Islamic world--the Islamic Republic of Iran in particular--are consumed by a similar contestation of ideas to that which took place in Europe during the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and Enlightenment periods. This essay is an attempt to explore what the Muslim world can learn from Western political theory in terms of its own process of political modernization. The focus will be on the writings of John Locke and the relevance of his ideas to understanding political change in Muslim societies. Locke's classic work, the Two Treatises of Government, will be scrutinized with special attention to his dispute with Sir Robert Filmer on the question of property rights and the definition of legitimate authority. The second half of this essay will make some cursory observations on the Locke-Filmer debate in the context of contemporary politics in Iran. The thesis that will be advanced is that in polities where a significant component of society may be under the sway of a nondemocratic and illiberal doctrinally based religious discourse, a fundamental prerequisite to political development is the gradual reformation of religious thought. The examples of seventeenth-century England/Christianity and late twentieth-century Iran/Islam are eases in point. (2) Furthermore, it will be argued that religious reformers are better equipped than secular thinkers to lead such a transformative process. In other words, the most desired avenue for social change is through a reformation of religious ideas, which may eventually open doors for the promotion of democracy, pluralism, and tolerance. (3) The example of John Locke--a founding father of the liberal democratic project--is a perfect illustration of this thesis.


John Locke is widely viewed as a founding father of modern democratic and liberal thought. (4) By the standards of his time, he was as intellectually advanced as he was politically progressive. His liberal-democratic demeanor, however, developed gradually. It is largely forgotten that in his early years, Locke opposed religious pluralism and was a proponent of an authoritarian state. (5)

In 1660, John Locke wrote his first major political treatise, the Two Tracts on Government. (6) He was at Oxford University at the time where he set out to answer the following questions: (1) "whether the civil magistrate [could] lawfully impose and determine the use of indifferent things in reference to religious worship?" and (2) "[could] the civil magistrate specify indifferent things to be included within the order of divine worship, and impose them upon the people?" After considerable reflection, his answer to both questions was an unequivocal "yes." A recounting of the argument in the Two Tracts is beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say that the dispute revolved around the question of religious freedom; in particular, to what extent a diversity of worship should be allowed in society and who the final arbiter in making these decisions should be--the state or the individual. (7)

Locke's position was to favor "order" over freedom of religion. His views were undoubtedly a product of his time, dating to the English Civil War and the ensuing chaos that enveloped England. He lamented "all those tragical revolutions which [had] exercised Christendom these many years [had] turned upon this hinge, that there hath been no design so wicked which hath not been so kind to itself as to assume the specious name of reformation ... none ever went about to ruin the state but with pretence to build the temple." It was the confusion of "ambition and revenge" with "the cause of God" that had devastated England and Locke's remedy was to defend the cause of political order over claims of religious authenticity. (8) In short, Locke was criticizing the politicization of religion in the service of personal gain.

What is interesting about Locke's worldview at this stage of his life, observes John Dunn, is his belief in the "firm subordination of religious sentiment to the demands of politics. Whatever its origins, political authority, to be adequate to its tasks, must be total." (9)

Seven years later, while serving as a confidante and assistant to Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, a prominent figure in English politics, Locke was to revisit the questions that he had debated during his Oxford years, albeit from a different angle. The conclusions that he reached this time were markedly different. In his posthumously published Essay Concerning Toleration (1667), in a reversal of his earlier authoritarian views, he would affirm that civil peace and social harmony could be advanced by "making the terms of Church communion as large as may be." (10) Locke was responding to religious debates in England where the Anglican Church was attempting to stifle pluralism by insisting on religious uniformity. Quakers, Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, and other minority groups who refused to conform to Anglican forms of worship were subjected to imprisonment, exile, and persecution. John Locke's 1667 essay, addressed to King Charles II, was motivated by this pressing social concern. He argued that individuals possessed moral autonomy in matters of indifferent religious beliefs and practice and under no circumstances should this autonomy of conscience be violated.

Locke also introduced the idea "that the kind of sincere belief necessary for salvation cannot be acquired by force and compulsion but only by argument and persuasion. The use of coercion thus creates either enemies (as with the non-conforming Dissenters) or hypocrites (as with those who outwardly complied). (11) Locke's argument in favor of the moral sovereignty of individuals in matters of religion was a significant development in the evolution of Western liberalism and modern notions of human rights. Implicit in Locke's argument was the idea that coercion and compulsion on matters of sincere belief would only be resisted if enforced by the state. This could only lead to greater unrest and instability, hence his newfound conclusion that political order could best be preserved by "making the terms of Church communion as large as may be." The themes of individual agency, popular sovereignty, and natural rights were to be taken up in greater detail in his influential Two Treatises of Government.

Before turning to an analysis of this work, it bears mentioning that Locke's political theory was rooted within a Christian epistemological framework. The salience of this point will manifest itself in the second part of this essay with respect to political change in the Muslim world. At this stage, it is significant to point out, as John Gray has noted, that Locke's liberalism was "firmly embedded in the context of Christian theism." (12) The largest group of books in Locke's private library (870 titles, nearly a quarter of his entire collection), for example, are in the category of theology and his last two books, The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) and Paraphrases of St. Paul's. Epistles (1707), dealt explicitly with religion.

In his book, Some Thoughts concerning Education (1693), Locke suggests that the best way to promote virtue is to "imprint" on the mind of a child "a true Notion of God, as of the independent Supreme Being, Author and Maker of all Things, from whom we receive all our Good, who loves us, and gives us all Things" ([section] 136). In the same work, Locke also demonstrates his non-dogmatic and practical approach to matters of faith. He observed that "I am apt to think, the keeping Children constantly Morning and Evening to acts of Devotion to God, as to their Maker, Preserver and Benefactor, in some plain and short Form of prayer, suitable to their Age and Capacity, will be of much more use to them in Religion, Knowledge and Vertue, than to distract their Thoughts with curious Enquiries into his Essence and Being." (13)

Locke's conception of natural rights is to be understood in the context of natural law that in its deepest sense is connected to the divine order of things. He rejected a secular notion of natural law theory of purely human convenience as advocated by Thomas Hobbes. As a pious Christian, Locke maintained that political rights flowed from political duties, both of which were derived from God's will. In 1678, he asked rhetorically: "If he finds that God has made him and other men in a state wherein they cannot subsist without society, can he but conclude that he is obliged and that God requires him to follow those rules which conduce to the preserving of society?" (14) The connection between man, society, self-preservation and God is worth noting here.

The pivotal transformation of Locke's political ideas from the Two Tracts on Government (authoritarianism) to the Two Treatises of Government (liberalism) resulted from a reconsideration of how social order and harmony could best be preserved. As seen earlier, his Essay Concerning Toleration indicates that his political thought was moving in a new direction. Locke's primary methodology in making this paradigm shift--often forgotten in contemporary scholarship--was via a dissenting religious exegesis, the details of which are discussed below.


John Locke's Two Treatises of Government were motivated in large part as a refutation of the views of Sir Robert Filmer, a royalist ideologue and writer of considerable intellectual aptitude. As the title of his most famous tract indicates, Patriarcha or The Natural Power of Kings (1680), (15) Filmer was a traditionalist who believed in the divine right of kings. He was the leading defender of the principle of absolute hereditary monarchy in England at the time. Filmer maintained that the power of a monarch is analogous to the natural power that a father exercises over his offspring. Such power is not only absolute but is a form of personal property that the monarch owns and is entitled to pass on to his heirs.

Filmer's views were based on Scripture and history. He traced his argument back to the biblical Adam where, according to his interpretation of Scripture, God granted the right of ownership over the earth to Adam and his progeny. Locke's response in the First Treatise was heavily infused with biblical references as a rejoinder to Filmer's claim that the monarchy of Adam is the "original grant of government" of which "the supreme power is settled in the fatherhood, and limited to one kind of government, that is to say monarchy." (16) Notwithstanding the theological nature of the dispute, Locke asserted that Filmer's doctrine does nothing "but flatter the Natural Vanity and Ambition of Men, too apt of itself to grow and increase with the possessions of power," (17) a clear reference to the princes, monarchs, and politicians of his age prior to the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

In Locke's riposte to Filmer, one can detect the outline of the modern liberal democratic argument of individual rights and the theory of the negative state. (18) This becomes evident in Locke's Second Treatise of Government where he discusses the question of property and legitimate authority.


The problem of the right of property in the context of the Locke-Filmer debate begins with the great natural law writer, Hugo Grotius. Filmer attacked Grotius's notion that over the course of history a set of understandings emerged among men whereby they agreed to voluntarily divide up ownership over all that they collectively possessed. (19) Filmer questioned the notion of whether the unanimous consent of human beings, at a point in time, would be binding on any subsequent set of human beings that were either not a party to the original agreement or had changed their mind about its merits. Filmer argued that "property could only be ... secure and legally valid, if, like political authority itself, it were the direct expression of the will of God." (20)

Locke's intervention in the debate is extremely subtle but builds in intensity as he develops his argument. At the outset of the Second Treatise, he is in agreement with Filmer that according to both reason and revelation, the earth and its inhabitants derive their existence from God. Locke affirms that "men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are ... sharing all in one community of nature ([section] 6)." (21) Furthermore, "God gave to mankind in common" the earth ([section] 25) and "God has given us all things [for men].., to enjoy ([section] 31)."

In his famous Chapter Five "Of Property," Locke attempts to answer fully the main critical thrust of Filmer's attack on Grotius--how men can have a private right to any part of the earth. He begins in standard fashion by appealing to both reason and revelation, which for Locke were complimentary sources of reference. Then he states his intent to reinterpret the biblical injunction, which is the foundation upon which Filmer's argument is based, to wit that monarchy and the right to ownership are premised on God's gift of the earth to Adam and his sons (Psalms cxv. 16). Locke states that "I shall endeavour to shew, how men might come to have a property in several parts of that which God gave to mankind in common, and without any express compact of all the commoners" ([section] 25).

How do men come to acquire a private right to property, according to John Locke? Labour is what distinguishes what is privately owned from what is held in common. "The labour of his body, and the work of his hands.... are properly his," Locke states. 'Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property ([section] 27)." Labour is thus a natural power of man that derives from God. Furthermore, a rational understanding of man's place in nature commands its exercise. Its usage is wholly beneficial and part of the natural order of things. In short, by affirming that through labour first begins "a title of property in the common things of nature," he had answered Filmer's criticism of Grotius on how men might acquire a right to private property without common consent. Filmer's views on the nature of political authority would be the next area of challenge.


Locke's commentary on the nature of political authority invoked a much more elaborate response than did his comments on the right to private property. Perhaps because it had direct bearing on a central thesis of Locke's political philosophy--the right to rebellion--he addressed it at greater length and with more rhetorical energy.

Recall that according to Robert Filmer, all humans owed their obedience to their rulers because God had given the earth to them, in particular the land in which they lived, under the protection of their rulers. "Divine appointment had ordained it to be monarchical," wrote Locke paraphrasing Filmer. (22) The relationship between Filer and commoner was essentially a master-slave relationship and one for which, in his earlier writings, Locke had demonstrated some sympathy.

In specific terms, Locke charged that Filmer was guilty of misinterpreting the scriptures. While this thread of reasoning runs throughout Locke's critique of Filmer, with regard to the nature of political power, Filmer's mistake is assuming that paternal power is synonymous with political power. They are quite different, insists Locke:

These two powers, political and paternal, are so perfectly distinct and separate; are built upon so different foundations, and given to so different ends, that every subject that is a father, has as much a paternal power over his children, as the prince has over his: and every prince, that has parents, owes them as much filial duty and obedience, as the meanest of his subjects do to their's; and can therefore contain not any part or degree of that kind of dominion, which a prince or magistrate has over his subject ([section] 71).

Paternal power, according to Locke, is only legitimate when the subject is not capable of reasoning. The father's power over his children is proof of such. Quoting from the Anglican theologian Robert Hooker, Locke asserted that adulthood is attained and paternal power suspended "when a man may be said to have attained so far forth the use of reason, as sufficeth to make him capable of those laws whereby he is then bound to guide his actions ([section] 61)."

When the subject is a rational adult, power must be exercised in accordance with the consent of the subject. According to Locke, "all peaceful beginnings of government have been laid in the consent of the people ([section] 112)." Furthermore, the nature of political authority is rooted in the notion of reciprocity. When discussing paternal power, Locke refers to the "duty which is incumbent on" parents toward their children ([section] 58). He develops this idea further to assert that legitimate authority is obtained by virtue of the services rendered by the ruler to his subjects. Thus, far from being the owner of his subjects, the ruler was actually their servant. From the twin notions of consent and obligation emerges the outline of John Locke's social contract that was to be developed further by other political philosophers.

For the purposes of this essay, what is significant is not the actual content of Locke's political theory but the methodology he used in arriving at his conclusions. Note the numerous references to the Bible, to theologians such as Robert Hooker (rather than Thomas Hobbes as sources of legitimacy), and finally note the constant reference to God. In fact, the thrust of Locke's critique of Filmer is that Filmer is in error because he has engaged in a false religious analogy (i.e. assuming paternal power is the same as political power). Locke proceeds from this point, through his dissenting religious exegesis, to shape the outlines of his political theories--limited government, right to private property, social contract, popular sovereignty, and the right to rebellion. What does the above discussion have to do with understanding social change in the Muslim world?--in short, everything.


To compare religions traditions is not to equate them. The study of history, however, would be rendered meaningless unless one can draw upon relevant historical analogies to illuminate contemporary phenomena. Historian Marc Bloch has in fact suggested that one of the principal purposes of historical comparison is the identification of differences. (23) It is a major assumption of this essay that the similarities between Islam and Christianity--and the political consequences of religious reinterpretation in both traditions--are significant to merit a comparison.

Studying the political philosophy of John Locke at the end of the twentieth century in light of the political and religious debates in the Muslim world, one is struck by the similarity of the two cases. This similarity is arguably most pronounced in the Islamic Republic of Iran where, as a result of the 1997 presidential election, an open and vibrant political climate emerged that has begun to significantly transform Iranian political culture. The proliferation of independent newspapers, journals, and magazines is one measure of this change. (24) These publications were devoted to exploring and debating fundamental philosophical and political questions vital to the long-term viability of Iranian society. Notwithstanding the repeated efforts of the conservative establishment to censor and stifle this debate, civil society continues to explore important questions related to democracy and human rights in a Muslim context, with a particular focus on to the normative relationship between religion and politics in Iranian society. (25)

Rather than a mere struggle between moderates and extremists, as often represented in journalistic coverage of Iran, the current tension is better described as a public clash among political Islamists vis-a-vis the future of Iran's Islamic revolution. On one side of the debate is a narrow conservative clerical elite that controls all of the major levers of power. A Weltanschauung that grants ultimate political authority to the Shia theologians informs their ideology. The details as to how they arrived at this position and consolidated their control of the Iranian state is beyond the scope of this essay. (26) What is important is that their theory of government, while popular in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution, has in recent years come under increasing scrutiny and attack by a wide cross-section of the Iranian public. Calls for a reduction of clerical authoritarianism have been met with a crackdown on student protests, the imprisonment of writers and journalists, and the closing down of dozens of reformist newspapers. A statement by Ayatollah Jannati, a leading clerical hawk, concisely captures the perspective of the conservative elite: "The people of Iran are considered in [view of Islamic] law, as orphans and minors, and Islamic scholars and clerics as their guardians and parents, who have to see to all of their needs." (27)

On the other side of the political spectrum is a diverse reformist camp of religious thinkers and lay]persons who have widespread support among the intellectuals, women, and student groups. (28) In a rejoinder to Ayatollah Jannati, the reformers responded with an editorial of their own:

How can a society which has more than one million university students and 17 million high schoolers, and overall the people have adequate access to international media, be considered as orphans and in need of a guardian especially from one class [of society]? If their understanding of Islam is really this, why are they being polite--put aside the constitution of the Islamic Republic once and for all! Why do you spend so much then on colorful elections? In this geometry of command, all of these are unnecessary" extras. (29)

The important phrase to pay attention to in this riposte is: "If their understanding of Islam is really this." Much of the political debate in Iran today takes place within a religious framework and idiom. The quarrel is essentially an internecine war among the Islamists aptly described in the subtitle of an article by Eric Rouleau as "Islam confronts Islam in Iran." (30) The references and debates, therefore, are fundamentally about what type of Islam should be followed, who the interpreters of Islam should be, and critically, whether the sovereignty should lie with the people or with the clerics?

The enveloping context into which this debate is taking place is both unique to Iran and the rest of the Muslim world. As far as Iran is concerned, the historical antecedents of a religious discourse on Islam and democracy can be traced back to the early twentieth century in the debates between Ayatollah Mirza Mohammed-Hossein Na'ini and Sheikh Fazollah Nuri following the 1906 Constitutional Revolution. For the next seventy-five years, the primary concern was the curtailing of secular political despotism that the Pahlavi regime embodied. When the clerics consolidated their power in the early 1980s, the focus shifted to the question of religious despotism and prospects for democracy. The fact that the state was now controlled by a religious class who were ruling and justifying their politics in the name of (Shi'a) Islam, posed a series of new challenges that Islamist activists and religious reformers had to face. (31) The parallels with Locke's England are worth noting here particularly as they relate the state's use of religion to justify authoritarianism and to the themes of toleration, popular sovereignty, and freedom of expression. Each was justified within a religious idiom that Islamic reformers invoked on their side of the debate.

In scrutinizing the speeches of reformers, one comes across statements criticizing those Iranians who "suppose [that] the more retarded a society is, the better protected its religion will be" (President Khatami). A prominent reformist politician asked, "why does the Koran carry the harshest criticisms of the prophet? [Because] it was not in the nature of the prophet to stifle discussion of opposing points of view" (former Minister of Culture, Atoallah Mohajerani). (32) The conservative clerics on the other hand fire back that the "threat coming from nationalists and liberals is serious. We must be aware. They are weakening the beliefs and convictions of our people" (former speaker of the Majlis, All Akbar Nateq Nouri) (33) and "it will be great danger to the national security and people's faith if the enemies of the Islamic revolution control or infiltrate the press" (Ayatollah Khamenehi). (34) The recent case of Professor Hashem Aghajari epitomizes the conflict between religion and politics in Iran today.


On 6 November 2002, Hashem Aghajari, a history professor at Tehran's Tarbiat Modares University, was put on trial (in secret) and sentenced to death on vague charges of defamation and for insulting religions figures and leaders. The charges date back to one of his lectures a few months earlier entitled "Islamic Protestantism" where he called for a reinterpretation of Islam criticizing the blind imitation of religious clerics and calling for an Islamic renewal in Iran. When the verdict of his trial became public, it was immediately condemned by a wide cross section of political voices inside Iran, including senior conservative politicians and theologians, not to mention 1human rights groups and Western governments. Spontaneous student demonstrations erupted on university campuses throughout Iran and reformist representatives read denunciations of the verdict on the floor of the Iranian parliament.

The plight of Hashem Aghajari consumed Iranian politics during November 2002. The Supreme Leader, Ayatullah Ali Khamenehi, was forced to intervene to diffuse the ensuing political crisis. He effectively declared a mistrial and requested that the judicial system reconsider Aghajari's ease. In the eyes of the conservative clerical establishment, Hashem Aghajari's major sin was attacking the central tenet of their political ideology--the right of theological veto power on all public policy decisions. In particular, Aghajari explicitly called for a reinterpretation of Shi'a Islam that denies the clergy a privileged status in affairs of religion and politics. The following is an excerpt from his controversial (and widely popular) speech delivered on the anniversary of the death of Ali Shariati (1933-1977), a prominent Islamic intellectual and theoretician of the Iranian Islamic movement:

The Protestant movement wanted to rescue Christianity from the clergy, and the Church hierarchy--[Christians] must save religion from the pope. We [Muslims] do not need mediators between us and God. We do not need mediators to understand God's holy books. The Prophet ]Jesus] spoke to the people directly? We don't need to go to the clergy; each person is his oval clergy.


Dr. Shariati would have said that this clergy has not descended from Heaven; it is contemporary, but their minds are medieval. As long as this mindset does not change, and these leaders do not change, the people who follow their interpretation will continue to think that Shi'ite Islam cannot be a modern religion, and [Shi'ite Islam] will be used by the misguided. Instead of serving as a during force for progress and advancement, it will become a cause of continued backwardness.


[The way in which] the religious scholars of previous generations understood and interpreted Islam is not Islam. It was their interpretation of Islam; [however] just as they had the right to interpret the Koran [in their way], we have the same right. Their interpretation of Islam is not an article of faith for us.

We must return to the separation of "core Islam" and "traditional Islam." Part of Shariati's struggle concerned the interpretation of Islam and how someone who wants to be a Muslim in the 20th and 21st centuries [cannot do so in accordance with] the Islam that prevailed in Mecca and Medina 1400 years ago. (35)


The parallels between the principle of the divine right of kings and the divine right of clerics, the Bible and Koran, Christianity and Islam, and the era of John Locke and Muhammad Khatami are striking. In both cases, the debate about the future direction of English/Iranian society has occurred and is occurring by a reinterpretation--not rejection-of religious thought and a subtle ideological movement in the direction of pluralism, tolerance, and democracy. It is not a coincidence, for example, that the theme of the magnum opus of Iran's leading philosopher, Abdol Karim Soroush, is on a re-interpretation of religious knowledge--Qabz va Bast-i Tiorik-i Shari'at (The Theoretical Contraction and Expansion of the Shariah). (36)

Furthermore, the incarceration and banning of the writings of Ayatollah Mi Hossien Montazeri, one of the most learned and senior clerical figures in Iran, speaks to the Iranian regime's legitimacy problem. It is religious personalities such as Montazeri who pose a grave risk to the conservatives primarily because their liberal interpretation of Islam is popular and undermines the religious authenticity and political monopoly of the clerical establishment. Secular political figures can be easily dismissed as lacking revolutionary or Islamic credentials, but theologians and Islamic activists such as Ayatullah Montazeri and Hashem Aghajari pose a more serious challenge precisely because of their solid religious credentials and their competing interpretation of the relationship between Islam and politics. (37)

When studying political philosophy in the twentieth century, the religious roots of modern liberalism often escape our attention. A critical reading of the John Locke-Robert Filmer debate reminds us of the theological origins of modern politics. Locke is credited with writing the outline of liberal democracy. His ideas were to be taken up and expanded further by other theorists, such as Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and John Stuart Mill. The methodology used by Locke in articulating his political philosophy should not be forgotten. In his critique of Filmer's defense of royal absolutism, the core thrust of Locke's argument was that Filmer had engaged in a false religious analogy. "The Scripture says not a word of it," was Locke's common refrain as he proceeded to break new ground in Western political philosophy. (38)

In the Muslim world today, a similar rethinking of religious ideas has emerged with parallels to seventeenth-century England. The day after his election to a second term in office, President Khatami commented that the "[p]eople showed their commitment to the real meaning of religion and demands for freedom and justice.... The need of the moment and the future is to stabilize and deepen democracy and realize the rights of the people alongside religion." (39)

We are all observers of this Muslim political drama as it plays itself out. As Eqbal Abroad once observed, a primary lesson to be learned from the European experience of political modernization that is relevant to a Muslim context is that "no significant political change occurs unless the new form is congruent with the old. It is only when a transplant is congenial to a soil that it works." (40) This truism about social change applies as much to Locke's England as it does to Khatami's Iran where a reinterpretation of religious thought is a critical variable influencing the process of democratization and liberalization.

(1.) Richard Bulliet, "Rhetoric, Discourse and the Future of Hope," in Richard Bulliet ed., Under Siege: Islam and Democracy (New York: Middle East Institute of Columbia University, 1993), 10-11.

(2.) Having said this, I do not foreclose the option of revolutionary change as being an acceptable mode of political transformation.

(3.) For a recent manifestation of this thesis in the most populous Muslim country, see Robert Hefner, Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000). On the question of Islam, secularism and social change in the Muslim world, I have always taken to heart Abdullahi An-Na'im's recommendation that "[t]o seek secular answers [to the Muslim condition] is simply to abandon the field to the fundamentalists, who will succeed in carrying the vast majority of the population with them by citing religious authority for their policies and theories. Intelligent and enlightened Muslims are therefore best advised to remain within the religious framework and endeavor to achieve the reforms that would make Islam a viable modern ideology." See his Toward an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1990), xii,

(4.) See Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1978); and Brian R. Nelson, Western Political Thought: From Socrates to the Age of Ideology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1982), 160.

(5.) On Locke's early years and his support for authoritarianism and opposition to religious pluralism, see John Dunn, Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 22-59.

(6.) John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, ed. Philip Abrams (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1967).

(7.) For a succinct summary see Dunn, Locke, 22-25.

(8.) John Locke, Two Tracts on Government, 160-61, cited by Dunn, Locke, 23.

(9.) Dunn, Locke, 24.

(10.) David Wootton, ed., Political Writings of John Locke (New York: Mentor Books, 1993), 210.

(11.) James Tully, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 53.

(12.) John Gray, Liberalism (Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 13.

(13.) John W. Yolton, A Locke Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell 1993), 217-18.

(14.) Cited by Dunn, Locke, 31.

(15.) Sir Robert Filmer, Patriarcha or The Natural Power of Kings, ed. Johann Sommerville (Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

(16.) From First Treatise of Government, Chapter Five, "Of Adam's Title of Sovereignty by the Subject of Eve," in Political Writings of John Locke, ed. David Wootton, 242.

(17.) John Locke, "The First Treatise, " in Two Treatises of Government, Peter Laslett ed. (New York: New American Library, 1965), 183, cited by Nelson, Western Political Thought, 163.

(18.) By theory of the negative state, I am referring to a liberal conception of state-society relations where state interference in societial affairs is kept to a minimum. For example, the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776) envisioned a negative federal state limited to providing national defense and preventing citizens from harming each other. Taxation was largely justified to accomplish these goals.

(19.) Dunn, Locke, 36.

(20.) Ibid., 37.

(21.) John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, ed. C.B. Macpherson (Indianapolis Ind.: Hackett Publishing, 1980), 9.

(22.) From chapter nine of First Treatise of Government, "Of Monarchy by Inheritance >From Adam," in Political Writings of John Locke, ed. David Wootton, 247.

(23.) "Towards a Comparative History of European Societies," in Frederic C. Lane and Jelle C. Riemersma eds., Enterprise and Secular Change: Reading in Economic History (Homewood, Ill.: RD. Irwin, 1953). I borrow this idea from Norman G. Finkelstein, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (New York: Verso, 1995), 89.

(24.) For an excellent overview of the rise and fall of the liberal press in Iran, see Adam Tarock, "The Muzzling of the liberal press in Iran," Third World Quarterly 22 (August 2001): 585-602.

(25.) The remarks in this section are based on a visit to Iran in March 1999. while there, I had the opportunity to meet with a wide cross-section of Iranians including student leaders, human rights activists, women, religious leaders, and members of the opposition. For an excellent sampling of the reform movement during this period, see "Pushing the Limits: Iran's Islamic Revolution at 20," Middle East Report 29 (Fall 1999). As of April 2000, the conservative backlash against Iranian democrats has resulted in the closing of dozens of independent newspapers and journals and the imprisonment of prominent democracy activists. "Despite this setback, the final chapter on this phase of Iranian democratization, during the tenure of President Mohammed Khatami, has yet to be written.

(26.) Mehdi Moslem, Factional Politics in Post-Khomeini Iran (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 9002), 11-46; Mohsen Milani, The Making of Iran's Islamic Revolution: >From Monarchy to Islamic Republic, 2nd ed. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1994).

(27.) Neshat (Persian daily), 30 January 1999.

(28.) For a sampling of the debate in Iran, see Christopher de Ballaigue, "The Struggle for Iran," New York Review of Books, 16 December 1999.

(29.) Editorial, Jahan-e-Islam (Persian daily), 1 February 1999.

(30.) For excellent overview of the internal Iranian debate, see Eric Rouleau, "A Model for the Muslim World?: Islam Confronts Islam in Iran," Le Monde Diplomatique (June 1999).

(31.) Forough Jahanbalhash, Islam, Democracy and Religious Modernism in Iran (19532000) (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 141.

(32.) Cited by Christopher de Ballaigue, "The Struggle for Iran," New York Review of Books, 16 December 1999.

(33.) All Raiss-Tousi, "Iran demonstrators denounce Israel, Khatami allies," Reuters, 31 December 1999.

(34.) Nazila Fathi, "Iranian Leader Bars Press Bill of Reform Bloc," New York Times, 7 August 2000.

(35.) English and Farsi translations of this speech are available online at http://

(36.) Abdol Karim Soroush, Qabz va Bast-i tiorik-i Shari'at (Theory on the Contraction and Expansion of the Shari'a) (Tehran: Mu'assassah-yi Farhangi-yi Sirat, 1990). In English, the standard reference is Reason, Freedom and Democracy in Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

(37.) Geneive Abdo, "Rethinking the Islamic Republic: A 'Conversation' with Ayatollah Hossein 'Mi Montazeri," Middle East Journal 55 (Winter 2001).

(38.) Wootton, ed., Political Writings of John Locke, 246.

(39.) Emphasis added. Associated Press, "Re-elected Iran leader vows 'freedom, justice'," 11 June 2001.

(40.) Eqbal Ahmad. Interview with Emran Qureshi, 21 December 1994.

* NADER HASHEMI (B.A., University of Western Ontario; M.A., Carleton University) is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Toronto. His articles have appeared in Third World Quarterly, Queen's Quarterly, Middle East Affairs Journal, and Boston Review. Special interests include comparative political theory and human rights and democracy in the Arab-Islamic world. This article is based on his forthcoming doctoral dissertation, "Rethinking the Relationship Between Religion, Secularism and Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies." He would like to thank James Tully, Ausma Khan, and Shabbir Akhtar for their useful feedback on this essay.
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Author:Hashemi, Nader
Publication:Journal of Church and State
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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