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AREU Synthesis Paper Series

their own affairs,” a space seems to exist for the combined notions of divine sovereignty and decisions made according to the will of the people. In theory at least, there are grounds to make the case for compatibility between Tilly’s definition of democratic processes and the core principles of

an Islamic political system.

Islam and democracy in the data

These theoretical discussions are important to acknowledge in that they have the potential to inform further discussion about the possibilities for democracy in Afghanistan. They demonstrate the intellectual space that exists for such debate, and purposefully separate the connections between Islam and democracy from those between Islam and the state; both may be fruitful distinctions for further application to the Afghan context.

Fundamentally, however, these kinds of discussions were not widely acknowledged by respondents for this study, who instead talked about the relationship between Islam and democracy in practical terms based on their own experiences


and perceptions. Many respondents put into stark relief the differences between “Islamic democracy” and “Western democracy,” which will be discussed in some depth below. When these views were examined further, what became very clear was that the difference lay not in the political systems, nor processes of leadership selection or accountability, but rather in social practices and values considered specific to a given culture. Respondents perceived a critical difference to exist between many essential values of Western and Islamic societies. These included attitudes toward modesty, women’s behaviour, marriage and family practices (including the cultural practice of sons staying at home after marriage to look after aging parents), and the acceptance of conversion to another religion. These were summarised with the tenet that the Qur’an should be the source of guidance on all aspects of moral behaviour. While respondents rarely distinguished between those features that were inherently Islamic and those which were specific to the Afghan context, it was nevertheless clear that differences centred around social norms and values. This will be discussed in more detail below.

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