Religious Regulation in Muslim States (2019)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Muslim majority states regulate religion at much higher levels on average than non-Muslim states. There are two main explanations for this. First, Muslim states are on average much less religiously pluralistic than non-Muslim states, which tends to result in less tolerant attitudes toward minority religions. Second, and more importantly, religion and politics are much more intertwined in the foundations of Islam than is the case with most other major religious traditions. Because there is this traditional connection in Islam, government regulation of religion is seen as legitimate and even as a positive good.Regulation in Muslim states takes four basic forms. The first is a country's approach to having an official religion, with Muslim states being much more likely to have an official religion than non-Muslim states. The second involves the degree to which government supports Islam. Muslim states support Islam in a variety of ways ranging from paying the salaries of imams to implementing sharia law and enforcing public morality. The third form deals with the restrictions on religion in general. This occurs in a variety of ways, ranging from repressing forms of Islam that deviate from the government-preferred form of Islam to limiting political manifestations of Islam that might challenge the ruling elite to imposing restrictions on worship practices and proselytizing. Finally, religious discrimination is a form of regulation that imposes different restrictions on minority religions than it does on Islam. For example, some states outlaw the proselytizing of Muslims while allowing the proselytizing of non-Muslims, or restrict the building of minority worship places while granting permits for the building of mosques. The level and nature of regulations vary widely across the Islamic world, and these variations have consequences for democracy, with Muslim states that have lower levels of regulation tending to have more democratic regimes. The two most democratic countries (Senegal and Tunisia) in the Islamic world both have high percentages of Muslim citizens and strong connections between Islamic leaders and the government but have successfully limited discrimination against minority religions, thereby providing a potential model for other Muslim states.