Jacques Waardenburg

Role Box
- Dutch emeritus professor of Science of Religions at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
- An expert in Islamic studies and the study of religion.
Education, Career and Personal Background
Professor Dr. Jacques Waardenburg is a Dutch emeritus professor of Science of Religions at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and a well-known expert on Islam.


Dr. Waardenburg, first studied law, theology, and history of religions in Amsterdam from 1948 till 1954, and continued with Arabic and Islam in Amsterdam and Leiden from 1953-1955. In 1961, he earned his doctorate at the University of Amsterdam with a dissertation on five scholars of Islam. He conducted a lot of research in Paris, Montreal and the Near East (1959-60 and 1963-64). He taught Arabic and Islam at University of California Los Angeles (1964-68), Islam and Phenomenology of Religion in Utrecht (1968-87), and Science of Religions in Lausanne (1987-95).(1)


His interests are mainly relations between Islam and other religions, between Muslim and Western countries, and between Muslims and Christians.
Member of the Board of Advisors of Arab-West Report (AWR).
Political/ Religious Involvement
Dr. Waardenburg believes that most Muslim countries have great drawbacks, and that Muslims want and need to see values such as justice, security and democracy prevail. He says, "I just mention the presence of often oppressive, even totalitarian regimes with a high concentration of power but also with corruption, the facts of economic hardship for the absolute majority of the people, the high rate of unemployment, insufficient education on all levels, the often-sad condition of girls and women, not to forget sometimes destruction by armies." (2)


He stressed that values like these should be realized in such contexts, not imposed from the outside. They should be achieved through the efforts of the people themselves. Unfortunately, there always exists resistance to real improvement on the part of certain established local and foreign interests.
Dr. Waardenburg believes that justice is a universal value that should top the list of values both on the level of individuals, groups, and institutions within the state, and on the level of state organization and relations between different states. He asserted the role of political authority in realizing this value.


Beside the general concept of justice, there is also the Islamic concept of justice. This is present with the existence of Islamic law sharīcah, whose ultimate source is considered divine. "The Islamic concept of justice presupposes an absolute source of justice on fundamental matters of social and personal life, while admitting "man-made" law on practical matters. The religious dimension of justice implies that Muslims have a sharp awareness of injustice (due to human interests, predilections, weaknesses, etc.), especially if Muslims are victims. It also implies an intense longing for justice. The present-day contexts, infrastructure and structure of Muslim countries ensure that the implementation of justice confronts major problems." (3)


According to him, the pursuit of justice is definitely needed on a level broader than the national one.
In the context of the current situation in Muslim countries, according to Dr. Waardenburg, security means that human life and well-being are guaranteed. In Middle Eastern countries this is not the case. There is a lacking presence of the protection of water, food (depending on ones own agriculture), industrial breakthroughs, etc. In addition to this, the lack of guaranteed work, payment and proper education also play a role. He believes that the situation has seriously deteriorated in several cases.
Arab-Israeli Conflict
Regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, Dr. Waardenburg sees the current situation in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza and East Jerusalem, under Israeli occupation as one of deterioration. "The "anti-terrorist" policy of Israel has in fact led to a state of terrorism against a population practically taken hostage for any terrorist attacks against Israelis. Numerous innocent Palestinian people have been killed by the Israeli army. The security of the civilian people here, both their well-being and their being protected against violence, has gone. If Israel claims to have justice on its side, with the argument of defending the security of the Israeli population, who is prepared to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian population?" (4)
Dr. Waardenburg believes that terrorist attacks are not only the outcome of terrorist organizations, but that they are, on the individual level, mainly the result of overall despair and hatred. He stresses that terrorism should not be countered through the use of sheer violence. "As I see it, anti-terrorist violence without further ado does not stamp out terrorism but leads to an increase in violence. It creates an atmosphere of distrust and self-defense that is just the opposite of the values of justice, security and democracy we cherish."(5)


He criticized the state of alert in which the country falls when it is faced with terrorist actions. According to him, when states defend themselves against violence from outside or from within, they defend themselves not only against violence currently occurring, but also attempt to deter people from attacks using violence. This results in an environment of nervousness and continuous anxiety.


Here, he believes that, "The situation can be misused, of course, by potential terrorists spreading rumors about possible attacks. But experience has shown that it can also be misused by state agencies, and not only to obtain information including personal data about people. Agencies may call up people on the basis of suspicion or discriminate groups considered to constitute a security-risk. They may even use the argument of security as a kind of pretext to justify activities that could not be justified otherwise, by placing them in the overall scheme of a "war against terrorism." All of this implies, as I see it, state violation on human rights in Western states."(6)


Dr. Waardenburg thinks the concept of the "War on Terror" is in itself ambiguous and unidentifiable, and encourages the militarization process, at least on the level of mentality. Consequently, the lack of efficient legal control results in a totalizing effect. It implies the possibility of "terrorist" activities performed by the state itself against innocent citizens. All this has a negative impact on life in the society as well as on the social, legal and constitutional order.


He therefore calls for the need to abide by the rules of legal order, and that these rules should transcend political and incidental state interests. Legal procedures of criminal law should be followed when judging terrorist acts. There should be civil leadership of the military, police and security services. States should also clearly distinguish between terrorist acts addressed against innocent civilians, and such acts addressed against military or police forces. "States respecting themselves and wanting to maintain their legal order and civil reputation should reject the temptation of applying state terrorism, in that innocent civilians must atone terrorist acts - even if certain pressure groups in the U.S. and Israel would want it." (7)


He stressed, from an intellectual point of view, that there is something behind any terrorist activity; something that has to do with the state of affairs in a given society, and with an existing social order, albeit national or international. Moreover, state organization and state legitimacy, as well as expansive misery and injustices, could be behind such actions. Above all, it is important to consider the criteria according to which we come to classify something as an act of "terrorism."
According to him, democracy means, in principle, that people should participate in decision-making about the social order to be realized in their society; this is meant to avoid arbitrariness and to achieve equality among citizens.


He asserts that in Muslim countries, political parties are not free to act. In most cases, they have to be recognized by the state before they can participate in elections or even exist at all. Many efforts have been made to keep Islamists outside of the political spectrum or let the majority party, supporting the political leader, dominate the political life in the country.


He also points to the Islamic concept of shūrá mentioned in the Qur'ān as a duty before political decision-making. He referred to a Turkish sociologist, Sharīf Mahdīn, who said that in Islam there are democratic levels that are not yet described in the term democracy itself. However, nowadays in most Muslim countries the final decision is in the hand of one man who carries all authorities and responsibilities.


Dr. Waardenburg views the concept of "civil society" as a probable solution for many societal problems in Muslim countries and other countries. It implies equality of citizens, groups and communities. "'Civil society,' in a way, is a stage on the road to democracy and both should be defended against usurpation of power." (8)


Involvement in Arab-West/ Inter-Cultural and Inter-Faith Relations In his book 'Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions: A Historical Survey,' Dr. Waardenburg said that Islam, since its inception, and its civilization have been in a continuous relationships with all other religions, cultures and civilizations.
He examined the many texts that have come down to the Western public about these cultures and their religions, from Muslim theologians and jurists, travelers and historian, and men of letters and of culture.


Dr. Waardenburg says that the idea in relations, between the Muslim world and the West, is trying to find a common (Islamic, Western, Roman, etc.) notion of "Justice," and what people have in common culturally and religiously. It is not about a confrontation.
Additional Information on Other Issues
Dr. Waardenburg wrote numerous publications on Islamic studies and the study of religion in general. These include:
- Reflections on the Study of Religion (1978)
- Muslim Enlightenment and Revitalization. Movements of Modernization and Reform in Tsarist Russia (ca. 1850-1917) and the Dutch East Indies (ca. 1900-1942), Welts des Islams (1988)
- Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion: Aims, Methods and Theories of Research (Vol. 2) (1999)
- Muslim Perceptions of Other Religions: A Historical Survey (1999)
- Islam (Historical, Social and Political Perspectives) (2002)
- Muslims and Others (Relations in Context) (2003)
- Religionen und Religion (Systematische Einfuehrung in die Religionswissenschaft)


(1) [RNSAW, 2000, 49, art. 1].
(2) Speech by Prof. Dr. Jacques Waardenburg, entitled 'Justice, Security and Democracy,' in the University of Lausanne, April 11, 2003. Text available on:
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
When was Dr. Waardenburg born?
Is he a member in any other institutions or organizations?
Who are the five scholars of Islam included in his dissertation, and during which period they exist?
When did Dr. Waardenburg become a member of the board of advisors of Arab-West Report (AWR)?
Additional information on his involvement in inter-religious relations is needed for the biography.
Position toward dialogue
Open to dialogue.
- Dutch emeritus professor of Science of Religions at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland.
- An expert in Islamic studies and the study of religion.
- Member of the Board of Advisors of Arab-West Report (AWR).
- Muslim countries' status in the world.
- Justice as a universal value.
- Security in the Middle East.
- Arab-Israeli conflict.
- Terrorism.
- Democracy.
- Western public and their perception of Islam.


Wisām Muḥammad al-Duwīnī, November 2006