Skip to main content

Islam's Compatibility with Democracy



bismill2.gif (1891 bytes) 

Islam's Compatibility with Democracy 
M. A. Muqtedar Khan 
Two extremely different groups, one from the West and one from the Muslim World, have been arguing vehemently that Islam and Democracy are incompatible. On one hand, some western scholars and ideologues have tried to present Islam as an anti-democratic and inherently authoritarian ethos that precludes democratization in the Muslims World. 
By misrepresenting Islam in this way they are seeking to prove that Islam as a set of values is inferior to Western liberalism and is indeed a barrier to the global progress of civilization. This argument is also helpful to Israel, which regardless of its egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, continues to enjoy the reputation as the sole democracy in the Middle East.  As a so-called democratic nation,  Israel with its horrible record is preferred over Islam, which has an exemplary history of tolerance and freedom.
On the other hand many Islamic activists, using extremely broad, simple and sometimes crude notions of secularism and sovereignty, reject democracy as rule of Man as opposed to Islam which is rule of God.   Islamists who reject democracy falsely assume that secularism and democracy are necessarily connected. Secularism is a liberal tradition not a prerequisite for democracy.   Religion does play a significant role in democratic politics. 
The contemporary US is a case in point. These Islamists also do not make a distinction between dejure sovereignty and defacto sovereignty.  For example even though God is supposedly sovereign in Afghanistan, in fact it is the Taliban who are sovereign there.  Those who think that Allah is sovereign in Taliban’s Afghanistan perhaps worship Mulla Omar. In order to understand the situation better one has to recognize the difference between sovereignty in principle and sovereignty in fact. Sovereignty in fact is always man’s whether in a democracy or an Islamic State. Rejecting democracy because man is sovereign is a big mistake. What we really need to worry about is how to limit the defacto sovereignty of man. 
Democracy with its principles of limited government, public accountability, checks and balances, separation of powers and transparency in governance does succeed in limiting man’s sovereignty.  The Muslim world plagued by despots, dictators and self-regarding monarchs badly needs the limitation of man’s sovereignty. The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and its scholars have been working on these issues. They are not only exposing the politics behind the arguments made by those westerners who hold malice against Islam, but are also exposing the fallacies in the assumptions of those Muslims who misunderstand democracy and Islam. 
Is Islam Responsible? 
Secular fundamentalists believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible argue that in order to democratize the Muslim world needs to either discard the project of Islamization and liberalize or essentially reform Islam itself to accommodate democracy. This argument is based on one theoretical assumption that democracy and shura (Islam) are not compatible and one empirical assumption that Muslims strongly adhere to Islamic principles. But in order to argue that democracy is missing from the Islamic world because of Islam, it must be demonstrated that Muslims indeed practice Islam. 
One of the primary motivations for the contemporary Islamic revival is the widespread belief, even consensus, among Muslims that their societies have strayed far away from Islam.  A brief survey of adherence to the personal and public obligatory aspects of Islam such as establishment of prayer, fasting and charity, and establishment of justice, crime and corruption free virtuous societies; will reveal that Muslim societies are not only undemocratic but also un-Islamic. So why blame Islam if un-Islamic societies are also undemocratic? There are more nations in the Muslim world that claim to be democratic – Bangladesh, Kuwait, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt, Indonesia, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria -- than Islamic – Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia and Sudan.  
Half of the self proclaimed Islamic states also claim to be democracies. The point is simple; contrary to the claims otherwise, the democratic ideal is quite widely upheld in the Muslim world. Even prominent Islamic revivalists of the twentieth century like Maulana Maududi and Imam Khomeni have advocated the cause of democracy. Maulana Maududi was the first to write about the concept of a Theo democracy – a God centered democratic polity.  And Imam Khomeini established separation of powers, a parliaments, elections and public accountability along with the institution of Vilayat-e-faqi after the Islamic revolution of Iran. Indeed there is nothing in Islam and in Muslim practices that is fundamentally opposed to democracy -- justice, freedom, fairness, equality or tolerance.
There are a few Muslims who reject democracy, but only do so because they falsely allow the modern West the ownership of a universal value.  They reject democracy only because they reject the West.   The large number of Muslims who came out to vote in the Presidential elections in the US and those Muslims who vote in hundreds of millions in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere testify to their comfort with democracy.  
In the minds of these nearly one billion Muslims who practice some form of democracy there is no dispute between Islam and democracy. It is time we moved onto a more fruitful line of inquiry. If not Islam what has precluded the democratization of the Muslim world? There are structural failures in the Muslim societies due to the legacy of colonialism and the debilitating corruption that preceded and made the Muslim world colonizable. Can we find a way to remove these seeds of underdevelopment? If we can pinpoint the structural problems that prevent the political and economic development of the Muslim World it will accomplish a great task. Policy solutions sensitive to local conditions can then emerge to tackle the prevalence of underdevelopment.  I invite all American Muslims to join us in this monumental endeavor.&nbs,p; I also invite those Islamists who are opposed to democracy to rise above id,eological po,sturing and work with us to develop a vibrant, open, prosperous and healthy Muslim World.
Once we create this open, Muslim society that has room for all visions of Islam, then we cane return to debating each other about whose understanding of Islam is better. Until then let’s join forces to build a free Muslim society. Free from tyranny, poverty, corruption, illiteracy, injustice and also, we must not forget, from the humiliating domination of the West. We need to emancipate the Muslim world, from the self as well as the other


Popular posts from this blog

A historic moment in the Arab world

لحظة تاريخية في العالم العربي
As a democratic revolution led by tech-empowered young people sweeps the Arab world, Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera's director-general, shares a profoundly optimistic view of what's happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and beyond. In the first talk posted online from the TED 2011 conference in California, Khanfar describes the powerful moment when people realised they could step out of their homes and ask for change. "كما ثورة ديمقراطية بقيادة الشباب التكنولوجيا ذات صلاحيات تجتاح العالم العربي ، وضاح خنفر ، الجزيرة المدير العام والأسهم وجهة نظر متفائلة بشكل كبير ما يحدث في مصر وتونس وليبيا وخارجها. وفي اول حديث له نشر على الانترنت من مؤتمر تيد 2011 في ولاية كاليفورنيا ، خنفر يصف لحظة قوية عند الناس أدركت أنها لا يمكن الخروج من منازلهم ونطلب من أجل التغيير."
http://www.ted.com/talks/wadah_khanfar_a_historic_moment_in_the_arab_world.html This talk was given on March 1, 2011 in Long Beach, California. TED 2011 is taking place between March 1 and Mar…

Our Captured, Wounded Hearts: Arundhati Roy On Balakot, Kashmir And India

With his reckless “pre-emptive” airstrike on Balakot in Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inadvertently undone what previous Indian governments almost miraculously, succeeded in doing for decades. Since 1947 the Indian Government has bristled at any suggestion that the conflict in Kashmir could be resolved by international arbitration, insisting that it is an “internal matter.” By goading Pakistan into a counter-strike, and so making India and Pakistan the only two nuclear powers in history to have bombed each other, Modi has internationalised the Kashmir dispute. He has demonstrated to the world that Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous place on earth, the flash-point for nuclear war. Every person, country, and organisation that worries about the prospect of nuclear war has the right to intervene and do everything in its power to prevent it.  Keep reading  >>>>


India has built around itself an aura of a global power whose time has come. For at least the last t…

Kashmir Jihad - Analysis & Options

PDF: http://bit.ly/2k0Vqpm

Kashmir is an incomplete agenda of partition of India. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars on this issue. According to UN resolutions, Kashmiris have to decide their accession to Pakistan or India through impartial plebiscite, which could not take place due to Indian reluctance. Recently, India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special autonomous status to Kashmir, it was done to unilaterally integrate occupied Kashmir. This is a violation of the UN resolutions and the Simla bilateral agreement, which demands to maintain status quo until the final settlement. The US and world powers are emphasizing that Kashmir should be resolved bilaterally, though India has refused to hold talks with Pakistan. In the present scenario, while India has turned Kashmir into the largest prison of 9 million people, denying basic human rights and oppressing the Kashmiris' who want freedom from India, Pakistan cannot watch as a silent spec…