Constituting Religion

In his introduction to this forum on his book Constituting Religion: Islam, Liberal Rights, and the Malaysian State (Cambridge, 2018), Tamir Moustafa outlines the issues examined in the book in this way:

“Most Muslim-majority countries have legal systems that are meant to embed religion in state law. In many cases, the broad outlines of these legal frameworks are an enduring legacy of colonialism. In others, state regulation of religion is of more recent vintage. But in either instance, the co-constitution of law and religion is a trend that is not likely to end anytime soon. Take, for example, the fact that all the constitutions written in Muslim-majority countries since the turn of the millennium declare Islam the religion of the state. Or, consider the fact that personal status and family law frameworks are typically regulated along religious lines.

These sorts of legal arrangements are not unique to Muslim-majority countries, but as a group they tend to regulate religion far more than the global average. {. . .} Whether by way of constitutional proclamations or substantive laws, the leaders of most Muslim-majority states endeavor to “constitute” religion by way of state law.

At the same time, these legal systems typically contain provisions that one expects to see in a liberal legal order, including constitutional guarantees for civil liberties, religious freedom, and equal rights before the law. These dual commitments to religion and liberal rights are not inherently at odds. Nonetheless, they generate legal questions, present legal conundrums, and afford legal and symbolic resources for those who wish to advance contending visions for their states and societies.”

Constituting Religion examines these issues through an in-depth treatment of the Malaysian case.”

Continue reading Moustafa’s introduction here and follow along with the conversations around this book by reading new essays over the next few weeks. Constituting Religion is an open-access text. It can be downloaded free of charge in its entirety here: