Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh on Citizenship in an Islamic State

The Arabic original, from today's an-Nahar, can be found here. Fr. Georges Massouh is professor of Islamic studies at Balamand University.

One Citizenship or Two?

Islamic jurisprudence does not admit-- either in the past or today-- to equality of rights and responsibilities among the citizens of a state based on Islamic law. This jurisprudence, even if it claims to accept citizenship as the basis for governance, continues to distinguish between citizens on a religious and sectarian basis. When some Muslim jurists and intellectuals talk about citizenship, you see them making exceptions and legal reservations about the participation of non-Muslims. If we take as an example the issue of the positions of authority in the state in which Christians can occupy, the Muslim jurists make a distinction between positions that non-Muslims can have and positions that only Muslims can have. A leader of the moderates in Islam, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi says about this, "Dhimmis have the right to have positions in the state just like Muslims, excepting those that have a religious aspect, such as being imams, president of the state, leadership in the army, being judges over Muslims, management of alms, and the like."

Muslim scholars make a distinction between what are called "implementing ministries" and "authorizing ministries". They say that they allow non-Muslims to have implementing ministries but not authorizing ministries. This is because "an implementing minister", according to Qaradawi, "carries out and implements the orders of the imam... while an authorizing ministry is intrusted by the imam to arrange political, administrative, and economic affairs as it sees fit." Likewise, Sheikh Rashed al-Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Tunisian Renaissance Party affirms that there are special privileges that Muslims enjoy in the Islamic state from which non-Muslims are restricted, and he sees no objections to this. He considers the Muslim, by right of his being a Muslim and belonging to Islam, to be above non-Muslims and to have the right to positions that others do not have. In his opinion, there are two kinds of citizenship, one specific to Muslims and a second specific to non-Muslims.

In reality, Ghannouchi's theory of citizenship is based on the statement that "citizenship in the [Islamic] state is acquired by fulfilling two requirements: belonging to Islam and residing in the territory of the Islamic State. This means that it is possible to imagine a kind of citizenship specific to those who only fulfill one requirement, in the case of a Muslim living outside the territory of the state or in the case of a non-Muslim living in the territory of the state and subject to its authority. Each of these two kinds of citizenship acquires for the one who posses them rights different from the rights of citizens who fulfill both requirements. Each one of the two can fulfill both requirements, the first by moving to the territory of the state and the latter by converting to Islam. If they prefer otherwise, then they naturally have to bear responsibility for their decision."

As for the positions forbidden to non-Muslims to have in the Islamic state, according to Ghannouchi they are positions of leadership with authority "by virtue of their definition" such as the general presidency, for example. In another place Ghannouchi says, "Equality of rights and responsibilities on the basis of citizenship is the principle. The distinctions that are required by the creedal nature of the Islamic state does not do away with this. The non-Muslim has the right to have all positions, except those that are specifically Islamic."

These exceptions which abound in the writings of Islamic jurists and intellectuals and the legal reservations made by some others regarding the participation of "People of the Book" in the Islamic state empty the expression 'citizenship' of all meaning and make it into an edifice of bones, without life. In a word, full citizenship is either the same for everyone or it does not exist.

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