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Destructive political histories across the Muslim world are not the sole legacies of the modern age; this age has also seen an unprecedented fusion of religion and politics, particularly from the last quarter of the twentieth century onwards. The extant body of literature, simply through its coupling of these two characteristics of Muslim polity, suggests that Islam has been the one formidable obstacle to the development of constructive politics in the Muslim world. The essentialist approach that informs the underlying assumption of this literature argues that Islamic teachings foster anti-democratic and violent politics, leaving no space for freedom, equality, human rights, and tolerance. Departing from this view, this chapter argues that Islamic political theologies, irrespective of whether they are anti-democratic or democratic, are not merely products of the theological exploration of Muslim ideologues. There are always complex interactions between theological exploration, on the one hand, and the political dynamics of a given time and space, on the other. In this chapter, the assumption that Islamic political theology yields anti-democratic politics is challenged by investigating the lived reality of the S̲h̲īʿite ʿulamā’s engagement with the constitutional movement in Iran. An examination of the politico-religious thought and deeds of Ākhūnd-Khurāsānī, the most eminent figure of the S̲h̲īʿite orthodoxy during S̲h̲īʿites’ initial encounter with democratic principles, reveals the degree to which he reimagined and redefined the foundations of S̲h̲īʿite political theology to accommodate democratic notions such as parliamentarianism, elections, freedom of expression, equality, and liberty within an Islamic framework. Through his conceptual and empirical endeavours, Ākhūnd-Khurāsānī planted the seeds that grew into a democratic vision of S̲h̲īʿite political theology.


School of Arts

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Book Chapter

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