Andrew March, starting from John Rawls’s concept of overlapping consensus, examines whether or not Islamic political ethics provides a legitimate ground for Muslims to come to terms with citizenship in non-Muslim liberal democracies. More specifically, March looks at Islamic religious doctrines to assess the extent of their support for residing in and being loyal to a non-Muslim liberal state, recognizing non-Muslims as equals in political terms, appreciating moral pluralism, contributing to the welfare of a non-Muslim state, cooperating with non-Muslims in a liberal political environment, and participating in liberal political systems. March argues that there exist “very strong and authentically Islamic arguments” (p. 15) in orthodox and modern religious doctrines that accept the core demands of liberal citizenship.
March develops his argument in three parts. In the first part, he outlines his philosophical motivations and method in dealing with the question of Islam and liberal citizenship. The first chapter of this part outlines the purposes of what March calls the “justificatory comparative political theory,” by which he means putting similar questions across philosophical and ethical traditions to examine the possibilities for a full justification of liberal citizenship within those traditions. March’s purpose is not different from what Rawls aims to achieve with his concept of overlapping consensus: to sort out the “reasonable ways in which the wider realm of values can be understood so as to be either congruent with, or supportive of, or else not in conflict with, the values appropriate to the special domain of the political” (quoted from Rawls, p. 27). In this chapter, March also successfully deals with possible skeptical, relativist, and historicist critiques to justificatory comparative political theory. In Chapter 2, March explains his method to avoid the criticisms made against comparative political theory, which he cited in the previous chapter. He first sets out the principles of comparative analysis: theorizing from sources that are more orthodox, transparency, sympathy, and restraint. Based on these principles, he develops a five-step method of justificatory comparative political theory: (1) providing the range of views that reject liberal citizenship within an ethical tradition for the sake of transparency; (2) articulating the expectations of liberal citizenship to be affirmed by an ethical tradition; (3) presenting the views that accept liberal citizenship within an ethical tradition; (4) analyzing those views to understand whether or not the ethical tradition principally accepts the terms of liberal citizenship; and (5) evaluating the ethical tradition on whether or not it has a doctrine of citizenship that is compatible with political liberalism. March uses this method in the remaining parts of his book.
In the second part, March reviews the traditional Islamic doctrines to document the objections to liberal citizenship in non-Muslim democracies, and identifies the ideal-type Islamic positions for an overlapping consensus on the liberal terms of citizenship. In Chapter 3, he surveys classical and contemporary Islamic resources to provide Muslims with reasons for rejecting residence in a non-Muslim state, loyalty to a non-Muslim state, and solidarity with non-Muslims in a non-Muslim liberal democracy. In Chapter 4, March constructs a set of ideal-type Islamic statements that would affirm the terms of liberal citizenship. He systematically constructs ten statements to use them as a benchmark in his examination of Islamic sources to find supporting arguments for liberal citizenship.
In the final part, he analyzes traditional and contemporary Islamic discourses to find affirmations for liberal citizenship in non-Muslim states. Each chapter focuses on an issue of liberal citizenship: permission of legal residence within a non-Muslim state (Chapter 5); loyalty to a non-Muslim state, especially contributing to its self defense, with a special emphasis on the Islamic concept of contract (Chapter 6); moral disagreement and justice in Muslims’ relations with non-Muslims with an emphasis on the Islamic concept of da’va or proselytizing (Chapter 7); and social cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims with special focus on contributing to the welfare of the non-Muslim society and participation in a non-Islamic political system (Chapter 8). He concludes that “in all areas in which this book set out to investigate the possibility of an overlapping consensus, Islamic views compatible with liberal conceptions of the demands of citizenship can be found” (p. 263).
March’s book is a significant contribution to the field. Theoretically, March systematizes Rawls’s concept of overlapping consensus by introducing the notion of justificatory comparative political theory. This notion allows us to compare political liberalism with other comprehensive doctrines in a rigorous and systematic way thanks to March’s five-step method of comparison. This method, which consists of the diagnostic, evaluative, and synthetic stages of analysis, not only makes comparison analytical, but is also sensitive to the concerns of cultural relativism. Thanks to this method, March presents Islamic doctrine with all its richness, and avoids simplistic explanations that blame either Islam or colonialism for all the problems in the Muslim world. Furthermore, his examination of traditional and contemporary Sunni orthodox Islamic discourses makes his study more generalizable due to its comprehensiveness.
Normatively, March’s choice of the issue of compatibility of Islam and liberal citizenship is significant as it contributes to better integration of Muslims in Western democracies. Taking stock of the Islamic resources that affirm liberal citizenship supports those Muslim groups who opt for liberal democracy and integration. Finally, although March’s book is not empirical research, it provides a good philosophical ground to inspire many empirical studies on Islam and liberalism in the fields of political science, sociology and anthropology.
My only critique to March’s study is minor. As March makes clear, his book is about Muslims in non-Muslim contexts; however, he might have addressed citizenship in secular liberal Muslim-majority countries as well without distancing himself from his major focus. Although this might have worked against the excellent organization of the study, such a philosophical exercise could have contributed a lot to the issues of Islam and liberalism, and might have had more resonance to some of the current global issues. In short, this book is a very significant contribution to the studies of Islam and liberalism and speaks to a wide audience from political science, law and religious studies.