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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

December 30, 2005


CSID EMAIL BULLETIN December 30, 2005

CSID Needs Your Help




Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Since 1999, the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID) has engaged scholars, activists, political, and religious leaders from all over the world, in a historic effort to promote democracy in Muslim countries and strengthen voices of reform, human right, dignity, and equality in Muslim and non-Muslim societies.  This is a long, arduous, and challenging road; however, we are making tremendous progress and the pioneering work of CSID is being recognized all over the Arab and Muslim world as innovative and progressive, while still remaining genuine and authentic. 

Just in the past couple of months, CSID has successfully launched three major initiatives:

    • Published a training manual written in Arabic to teach democracy and its compatibility with Islam.   The new manual Islam & Democracy Towards Effective Citizenship was authored by eight Arab scholars and thinkers and will be used to train over 1,600 NGO leaders and activists in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan over the next 3 to 4 months.  Our long term goal is to train tens of thousands of people, in each country, with this new practical training manual, designed to be easily accessible for anyone interested in learning about democracy.
    • Launched a new Network of Democrats in the Arab World (NDAW) that, for the first time, brings together moderate Islamists and secularists working together to promote and strengthen democracy in Arab countries.  Our launching conference was held in Casablanca, Morocco on Dec. 16-17, 2005 and included over 60 democratic leaders and activists from 13 Arab countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and Sudan) working together to promote democracy and good governance in their countries.
    • Co-Organized a break-through conference on Shura, Democracy, and Good Governance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Dec. 19-20.  The conference brought together Muslim scholars from 10 countries to discuss these questions with over 200 Saudi colleagues, including some 30 parliamentarians, and was opened by the President of the Shura Council.  A more detailed report, written by Asma Afsaruddin, Chair of CSID, is attached below.

These are some of the achievements of CSID in just the last 45 days, but the simple truth is that CSID would not be here today, and will not be able to face the challenges of tomorrow, without your support.  As we continue to grow, and our impact is being felt in more and more countries (CSID is now opening two regional offices in Morocco and Jordan), it is vital that you continue to support CSID in every way possible.  Your donation or annual membership fee of $100 or more will strengthen the voices of progress, freedom, and human dignity in Arab and Muslim countries.  To make a contribution by tomorrow (Sat. 12/31/05) and receive a tax-deduction for it in 2005, please use the attached form below or simply go online:

For Online Membership

For Online Donations

Membership/Donation Form (2006)

Don’t let 2005 slip away without helping CSID continue its critical work in promoting freedoms, rights, and democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.

Time is running out! Click here to make your 2005 tax-deductible donation before the deadline.

Thank you for your support and happy New Year!

Radwan A. Masmoudi
Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID)
1625 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 942-2181 Phone
(202) 251-3036 Cell 


Pushing the Envelope of Democracy in Saudi Arabia
Asma Afsaruddin

I had the good fortune to participate in a remarkable two-day symposium recently (December 19-20) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, entitled Shura, Democracy, and Good Governance, under the auspices of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies there.  Shura is the Arabic word for consultation and has historically referred to consultative decision-making in many spheres of life, particularly the political.  The symposium was co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, an inter-faith think tank based in Washington, D.C.   A select group of speakers were invited from various parts of the Middle East and the United States.  What transpired during the formal presentations and subsequent discussions was quite an eye-opener and hopefully a harbinger of future political trends in Saudi Arabia. 

Among the speakers during the opening session were members of the powerful Majlis al-Shura (Consultative Council) who warmly welcomed the foreign participants but also politely expressed their reservations about the congruence between shura and democracy.  It was generally assumed that democracy referred to liberal democracy.  Thus relentless secularization and a strict separation of religion and politics were understood to be integral aspects of the democratic experiment.

However, as became apparent during sessions the following day, democracy as a concept is amenable to multiple, competing definitions.  One could talk about procedural, constitutional and republican democracies, in addition to the liberal.  As one speaker would affirm, several historical features of Muslim political culture consultation, creation of consensus, public ratification and accountability of leaders  render the Islamic milieu quite hospitable to the adoption of modern democratic processes.  Over and over again, participants pointed to the flexibility and diversity within Islamic thought that had in the past been and would continue in the present to be accommodating of socio-political changes.  A number of panelists discussed how even some Islamists in a number of countries were pushing for the adoption of democratic procedures.  One (male) panelist passionately made a plea for reforms concerning womens position in much of the Middle East, pointing to Islams early gender egalitarianism.

I was the only female speaker invited to address the gathering.  When one keeps in mind that women rarely address sexually mixed public assemblies in Saudi Arabia and that they are not allowed to drive or vote, this was not an inconsequential event.  On our first night in Riyadh, we caused consternation among some when the female contingent of our group sat down in the main hall of the auditorium (but discreetly in the back) where the opening ceremony was held.  We were later informed that women were expected to sit upstairs cloistered in a special section.  The minor rumblings caused by our intrusion into the masculine realm hardened the resolve of the (male) conveners from the King Faisal Center to continue to seat us in the main hall for the rest of the symposium.  Let the chips fall where they may!  In this highly patriarchal kingdom, our conversations on the prospects for democracy, womens conspicuous presence, and my role as a formal participant spoke volumes about the possibility of change in slow but tangible increments, even on such highly sensitive issues of political enfranchisement and gendered space.

But possibly the most illuminating and heartening aspect of the symposium was the candid nature of the opinions expressed during the question and answer session.  The bulk of the comments from the audience expressed support for the adoption of democratic procedures and a desire to see more social and political changes brought about in the kingdom.  Very few remarks expressed visceral hostility to the conferences premise or to the contents of the papers presented.  One Saudi young man was exceptional in insisting (contrary to historical examples) that shura was not practiced in the early period of Islam and added (mystifyingly) that some of the speakers were contributing to the zionisation of Islam.   

Others discussed the imprecision of the terms Islamist and modernist.  One commentator expressed impatience with getting bogged down in drawing parallels between shura and democracy and complained that most of the participants had forgotten the third element in the title good governance.  Assign elections and ballots, representative government and accountable leadership to whatever rubric you will, he said, if it results in good governance, then that is what we want.  Comments like these were the surest indication that issues of good governance are paramount in the minds of Saudi citizens and that they are eager for outlets to express themselves.  By providing a respectful and disciplined environment for the airing of such critical and contested issues in a country that is the birthplace of Islam and an important ally of the US, our conference represented a milestone.                  

Asma Afsaruddin is chair of the Board of Directors of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and is associate professor of Arabic & Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Fatwa on Zakat for CSID

Alms are for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of Allah. and for the wayfarer: (thus is it) ordained by Allah, and Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. [al-Tawba, verse 60]

It is clear from the above verse from the Holy Quran that Zakat money can be given to one of these well-defined categories.  The efforts and activities of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) fall under the category of in the cause of God (fi sabeel Allah), since the Center was created for, and is working towards, resisting the negative effects of oppression and dictatorship which dehumanize people and control their lives and destiny.  Working toward these objectives requires educating people about the dangers and negative aspects of oppression, the necessity of eliminating all manifestations and root causes of oppression, dictatorship, and injustice, and raising the awareness of the Muslim Ummah about how to get rid of oppression and oppressors.  This kind of activity can be counted as a way of getting close to Allah swt (Qurba) and can be categorized as an activity in the cause of Allah.  Therefore, it is permissible for those who need to give their Zakat money to spend some of it to support CSID and its noble cause.

Dr. Taha Jabir Alalwani                                                                           

President, Fiqh Council of North America


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For questions or comments about the information in this bulletin, contact
Sami Bawalsa at

Copyright 2005 Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID).
All Rights Reserved.


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