How to understand the notion of “Muslim Politics”?

In the brilliantly articulate essay titled ‘Muslim Politics’ by Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori, we understand that the term ‘Muslim Politics’ is a broad and sweeping conceptualization.  By virtue of it being so broad in its scope, it has ended up losing a compact and technical usage.  To this extent it is not to be treated as a term in sociological or political science discourse.  Nevertheless, by stating its various manifestations in diverse contexts, the authors do make clear the centrality of ‘Muslim politics’ to the followers of the religion.  One of the prominent expressions of Muslim politics in recent decades is the permissibility of ‘hijab’ and ‘niqab’ (a set of conservative dress codes for Muslim women) in public spaces.  While this dress code is mandated in some of the orthodox Islamic nations in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is a point of debate in the context of secular and democratic settings.  The recent flare up of the issue in France is a typical example.  While liberal politicians and their contingent electoral base cite reasons of tolerance and diversity, the opposing camp (albeit the more vocal one) argue that such religious symbols undermine French national cultural identity and secularism.

The authors illustrate how just as the esoteric ‘language of politics’ restricts the range of possible outcomes, there is a symmetric ‘politics of language’, where political groups jostle to control public thought. The case of Iraqi political affairs under the prolonged rule of late Saddam Hussein illustrates this twin exploitation.  Saddam Hussein tried to garner public support for his invasion of Kuwait in 1991 by stating geopolitical threats imposed by America and its allies.  He also invoked the politics of language by portraying his mission as one of ‘jihad’.  He also cleverly equated the triangular alliance of the USA, Saudi Arabia and Israel as the ‘infidels’.  Such Koranic references are deep-rooted in Iraqi (and Muslim) societies that it is easy to fathom the political mileage to be gained through their exploitation.

Another salient point is that in the realm of Muslim politics, authoritarianism and coercion seldom prove effective. To the contrary, it is persuasion – artful, rhetorical, logical or otherwise – that brings about consent and stability in the population.  This is evident in the fact that even seemingly totalitarian regimes back up their legitimacy by associating with Islamic texts and doctrines.


Eickelman, Dale F. & Piscatori, James. Chapter 1: What is Muslim Politics ? Muslim Politics. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 1996. Print.

Mohamed El-Tahir El- Mesawi. Muslim Reformist Action in Nineteenth-century Tunisia. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 25:2.  p.49+. Print.