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Nathan J. Brown

Constitutions in the Arab world often attract attention for their religious clauses.  But proclamations of official religion are not unusual.  And more generally, religious provisions constitutions are surprisingly common; those that are completely secular are the exceptional ones. Arab constitutions are not distinctive in having religious clauses but in how they handle religion.  First, in terms of process,  Arab constitutions have almost never been produced by political or social consensus.  Almost all have been written in order to consolidate existing systems. In a few exceptional cases they were written by competing interests working to rebuild a political system, but most of those exceptions proved to be failures.  The result has been that constitutional provisions for religion generally reflect the will of a specific regime or political actor.  Second, Arab constitutions focus an unusual degree of attention on the relationship between religion and law. Their provisions provoke a set of questions about how the Islamic legal tradition relates to those laws that are legislated by humans, purportedly based on the will of a sovereign people. The two distinctive features together have the effect of increasing state and regime control over religion but also of politicizing the issue of religion, especially on the terrain of law.  How the will of God and that of the people interact, and who has the authority to speak for each party is a distinctive (and increasingly contentious) question in Arab constitutional orders.