Symbols of Assertion and Rejection: Islamic Constitutional Preambles

Constitutions are often likened to the ‘rules of the game’ in a polity. This deceptively simple metaphor contains three constitutional functions: it settles what kind of ‘game' is being played; it defines how it is played, and it describes who the players are and why they play. Comparative constitutional law is most comfortable with the exegesis of the ‘what' and 'how:' differences between forms of government and normative restrictions. In contrast, foundational questions of ‘who’ and ‘why’ are harder to encompass with the standard tools of the discipline, thus ignoring symbolic assertions often found in preambles. But these foundational myths are particularly important for societies undergoing rapid change; societies where the concept and practice of modern statehood remains an ill-fitting, sharply contested transplant. This presentation looks at the ‘usable past’ presented in constitutional documents that posit Islam as defining who may participate in public life and why