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A Research Note on Islam, Democracy, and Secularism

This essay examines the validity of the argument that the alleged theological lack of state-religion separation in Islam is the reason for authoritarianism in many Muslim-majority countries. The essay criticizes this argument by showing that a) secularism, in the sense of state-religion separation, is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for democracy; b) Islam is not an inherently and exceptionally political religion, and c) 20 out of 46 Muslim-majority states are secular. The essay point out that rather than analyzing the so-called essence of Islam as pro-democratic or anti-democratic, it may be more effective to explore the socio-political and economic conditions that have led to democracy or authoritarianism in Muslim-majority countries.

A Research Note on Islam Democracy and Secularism
 

According to Freedom House, out of 193 countries in the world, 119 are electoral democracies. Yet among 46 Muslim-majority countries, only nine are electoral democracies. In other words, the ratio of democracies in the world is 62% while that in Muslim-majority countries is only 20%.1 In addition to defining them as democracy or not, Freedom House also gives specific scores to countries to categorize them as “free” (scores from 1 to 2.5), “partly-free” (3 to 5), or “non-free” (5.5 to 7). Authoritarianism in many Muslim-majority countries is also reflected in their scores: only two Muslim-majority countries are currently listed among the “free countries.” Moreover, the tables below point out that authoritarianism in Muslim-majority countries is a long-term problem, which has persisted despite the worldwide trend toward democratization.2 

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