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Islam and Democracy
Author/Source:   Posted by: Muzaffar Awan
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By Muzaffar K Awan, M.D., Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

“Islam regards every form of Government which is non-constitutional and non-parliamentary as the greatest human sin.” 1912: Abulkalam Azad [1]

“Islam” and “Democracy”, each in its own particular way, mean too many things at one and the same time. The task confronting us is to minimize them to their simplest expressions and bring about a rapprochement between them as much as possible after the simplifying and synthesizing them.

What, in its simplest form, is the meaning of “democracy”? A dictionary of the language gives us the etymological meaning of the word, which is: “the power (or authority) of the people”, or of the masses, as we call them today.

According to a hadith, “The Prophet one day was with a group of men when he was addressed by one of them, who asked: ‘What is faith?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Faith is that you believe in God, in His angels, in your return to Him, in His messengers, that you believe in the Resurrection.’

“The man then asked: ‘What is Islam?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Islam consists in believing in God while associating no other god with Him, in saying the prayers, in paying the obligatory poor-rate, in carrying out the fast of Ramadan, etc.….” (We will omit that part of the Hadith, which has no direct bearing on the subject here.)

We now have an answer to the question from the highest authority: that “Islam” is the exclusive belief in the only one True God, in the recital of prayer, the payment of the tax for the benefit of the poor, and the accomplishment of the fast, etc.

We must still go further in our attempt to establish a definition of democracy independently of all linguistic con­notations and all implied liaison between it and some concept or other attributable to the term “Islam”. We should endeavor to consider democracy within the framework of an ontological scheme. In such a frameworkwhen its legitimacy can be demonstrated, democracy should be considered from a three-fold point of view: 

1-As the attitude, or sentiments, of every individual person towards himself.

2- As the attitude of every person towards others and the society.

3- As the ensemble of the social, political and spiritual practical conditions    necessary for the complementary formation and development of the collective     sentiments as in the individual person. [2]

Faith or religion is an inwardly experienced phenomenon and relates to life’s permanent aspects with which it is primarily concerned and remains as valid today as it was at the dawn of humanity and will continue to be so in the future.

Believers can also see their faith as a philosophy, a set of rational principles, values or mere spiritual aspect.

The problems and difficulties arise for some Muslims and policy-makers when they consider and present Islam as a purely political, sociological, and economic ideology, rather than as a belief system as a whole.

While analyzing religion, democracy, or any other system or philosophy accurately, we must focus on humanity and human life. Worldly systems change according to circumstances and so can be evaluated only according to their times. Belief in God, the hereafter, the prophets, the holy books, angels, and divine destiny have nothing to do strictly with changing times. Likewise, worship and morality’s universal and unchanging standards have very little to do with time and worldly life.

When comparing Islam with democracy, we must remember that democracy is a system that is being continually evolved, developed and revised. It also varies according to the places and circumstances where it is practiced. The religion has established immutable principles related to faith, worship and morality. Thus, only Islam’s worldly aspects are comparable with democracy.

The main aim of Islam and its unchangeable dimensions do affect its rules governing the changeable aspects of human life, culture and society. Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles and universal values that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the masses to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances. If we approach the matter in this light and compare Islam with today’s modern democracy, we will better comprehend the position of Islam and democracy with respect to each other.

The democratic ideas stem from ancient times and for more than 4500 years, democracy has been in flux. John Keane tracks the historical developments of democracy, “considered both as a way of deciding things and as a whole way of life”. [3] Assembly-based forms of government existed in Mesopotamia around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, over 2000 years before something similar developed in Athenian Greece. One of the first movements towards representative democracy appeared on the Iberian Peninsula in the 12th century - "a gift of Islam to the modern world", as Keane puts it. Keane's aim is, as he puts it himself, to "democratize" the history of democracy, opening it up to all the unheralded sources and unlikely experiences that have shaped its fate and ours.

John Keane objects the most to our western founding democratic myths and the assumptions that, as an inherently Western origins of democracy, it must have gone into deep hiding until rediscovered in England/France/the US over 2,000 years later.

Interestingly and indeed, democracy continued to develop in the East, fusing with Islam from the 7th century to produce strange and dynamic hybrids of Islamic principles, universal values, market economics and communal politics for early 400 years of Islamic civilization.

Keane shows that the re- emergence of democracy in the West was not an attempt to break with Eastern democratic traditions, but to compete with them. He further locates the earliest European parliament in 12th-century Spain ("the mother of parliaments", he says, was discovered at Léon), where it emerged as a direct response by a Christian king to the threat of democratic Islam, which was threatening to sweep all before it in Europe. While modern liberal democracy was born centuries later in The Glorious (1688) English Revolution, the American (1776) Revolution and French (1789-99) Revolution.

In democratic societies, people govern themselves as opposed to being ruled by someone above. The individual has had some priority over the community in this type of political system, being free to determine how to live his or her own life. Individualism is, however, not absolute. As human individual growth, education (rational & holistic), development, individuation, and self–actualization (early child development-ECD to human development -HD discussed elsewhere) must take place thus making a difference in the world in order to serve each other as complete human beings.

The principal Islamic and universal value that governs the quality of democracy is trust. There are seven other Islamic and universal values that must be in place before masses will trust each other, their politicians and their governments. Each value is dependent on the adaptation and practice of the previous value. The sequence of values that guide the quality and eventual success of democracy are as follows: human free will, equality, accountability, justice, fairness, openness and transparency. Once all these values are in place then trust can be surely found. Trust is a singular value that enables human societies to become internally cohesive.

Richard Barrett's in his latest book: Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations; the impact of the human evolution of consciousness on worldly and human affairs. [4] He gives his assessment of human society as a whole- as to where we are, what's working well, the challenges we face and his vision for the next evolutionary steps into ever-deeper democracy. His model of values driven child/adult human development, education (rational and creative), and leader-ship development and conscious evolution has been honed over thousands of leaders and organizations world-wide. All this can be applied glocally (locally and globally).

There is an inevitable evolution of human values and consciousness once individual and collective deficiency needs are met and we are enabled and ready to expand our consciousness and values into seeking our transcendent growth needs. All nations, I feel, will evolve their own forms of democracy within a few decades, as they continue to learn from each other’s experiences as to how to uplift masses out of poverty and the basic levels of deficiency needs.

It is a World-wide trend, and we will see our next stage of development to continue to create conditions in which people's basic needs will be met so that they will go on evolving from freedom through equality, accountability, openness, transparency to eventual trust.

The business leaders are well engaged in developing themselves to make this leap as they watch successful people and learn sooner than political leaders will. The political leaders must do the same while the current political culture all over the globe is holding back our true human progress and development.

Having met our deficiency needs allows us humans to move from a fear-based way of life to a love-centered way, driven by our inherent transcendent growth needs. This enables humans to shift through levels of consciousness as individuals, communities and leaders from socialized consciousness to self-authoring (Corrective) leadership on to self-transforming consciousness at which point people will eventually and comfortably operate at the 7 levels of consciousness and will be able to lead people at all those levels as appropriate to their situation, people and task. Barrett described this leap from the "flatland" of non-judgment and relativism up to an integral level of full spectrum human consciousness.

It is in fact evident that democracy cannot be attained as a political realityfor example, as a government constituting the “power of the masses”unless it has first become part and parcel of the individual who is an essential constituent part and building block of the masses, unless it is firmly imprinted in his/her “self” and “spirit”, in the components of his/her personality, and un­less it exists in the society as an ensemble of conventions, values, habits, customs and traditions. It is within this general framework that the problem is, it seems, brought forward with the greatest clarity, context and best of outcomes.

Many observers today speak of a global victory for democracy or claim that democracy is now a universally accepted common good. Still what the term means and whether and why democracy is to be preferred over its alternatives continues to be disputed by others. Opinions are also divided about whether actually existing democracies like the United States or Britain or India or Argentina will be able to live up to their democratic ideals. These ideals are also controversial. The most common disagreement is between the advocates of ‘participatory’ or ‘direct’ democracy, understood as the participation of all citizens in decision making that affect their lives, for instance by voting and accepting a majority verdict; and those who favor ‘indirect’ or ‘representative’ democracy, a method of governing in which people choose (through voting and the public expression of their opinions) representatives who decide things on their behalf.

John Keane historically shows how democracy has evolved through at least the following stages [5]:

Assembly Democracy: Began in ancient Mesopotamia about 2500 BC in Iraq, Syria and Iran: the first phase of democracy was self-government through public assemblies of equals accompanied by a variety of governance mechanisms designed to curb the power of kings and “bossy rulers”. Democracy, like all other human innovations, has had a long history as pointed out already. Democratic values and institutions were never immutable; even the meanings of democracy have been evolving and changing through time in history and had assemblies that had stretched through classical Greece and Rome to the rise and maturation of Islamic civilization around 950 CE, democracy was associated with the creation and diffusion of public assemblies.

During these centuries, nobody knew who had invented the term or exactly where and when the term ‘democracy’ was first used. It had been commonly thought that it was of classical Greek origin, but new research has revealed that the democracy (meaning the rule of the people: from demos, ‘the people’, and kratia, ‘to rule’) has had much older roots in Mesopotamia.

This form of democracy was “scattered across many different soils and climes, ranging from the Indian subcontinent and the prosperous Phoenician empire to the western shores of provincial Europe”. A great many of these innovations happened in the Islamic world that “poured scorn on kingship” in an attempt to cultivate “self-governing associations ”, and assemblies (like mosque, waqf and Sufi networks).

Muslims historically and to begin with have been pioneers of civil societal institutions. To quote John Keane: ‘The growth of a swath of social institutions that Muslims and other scholars later called ‘civil society’ (jamaa’ i madani) was unknown to the Greeks, Phoenicians and the peoples of Syria-Mesopotamia’. [6] From Kean’s reading, we can look at endowment (waqf) and mosque as institutions of civil society, mostly independent of the state, promoting the common good. Endowments were not just religious; they also advanced public good by nurturing hospitals, stables, waterworks, caravansaries, libraries, colleges (e.g., Cairo’s Jamia Al-Azhar). As such they were institutions of civil society making political participation basic to people’s lives. Likewise, mosque was not only a worship place. It was also a venue of business, dialogue and discussion wherein non-Muslims as well as women (segregated) actively participated. To quote Keane again: “It [mosque] was to the empire of Islam what the assembly was to the world of Greek democracy”. [7] Sufi orders and bazaars can be similarly conceptualized as sites of civil society. Also, in many ways Muslims were pioneer of contract laws.

Representative Democracy: From around the tenth century CE, democracy started to enter a second historical phase whose center of gravity was Spain. Shaped by the discovery (in northern Spain) of the first parliament, and the conflicts unleashed by self-governing councils and religious dissent within the Christian Church, democracy came to be understood as representative democracy. This at least was the term that began later on to be used in France and England and the new American republic during the eighteenth century, for instance by constitution makers and influential political writers when referring to a new type of government with its roots in popular consent dating back to centuries.

John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Westminster, recently brought out the strange origins of representative democracy. He explored the role of a 12th- century institution born in the northern part of modern-day Spain –the Cortes – and its vital role in the later and more recent formative evolution of representative democracy.

John Keane also explored the tremendous and indirect contributions made by Muslim civilization to the innovation of the Cortes. Keane explained that by the 10th century, although the goal of Islamic civilization was to become a Universal (global) way of life but had begun to decline. Many elements of Islamic society, however, had still continued and endured for several additional centuries.

 From this period onwards, as many institutions still evolved and developed. Islam managed to live on and contributed positively– including through Sufi networks, education and the schooling. Quoting the eminent scholar of Islam, Montgomery Watt, Keane noted for instance that the seeds of the whole idea of universities in Europe came, in fact, from Islam; Institutions of learning from this period were later mimicked by the early European universities, which were intended to be physical and intellectual spaces guided by an agreed set of curricula, separated from government and acting at a distance from corrupting powers. Keane referred to the emergence among Christians of a “zone of anxiety” in the 12th century Northern Spain. This anxiety stemmed from the feeling among many, that Christianity was still in a terminal decline.

This perception sparked a movement of re-conquest of lands that were supposedly belonged to Christians – despite the fact that great many people of the region considered themselves Mozarabs with cultural customs that were deeply indebted to Islam. Keane suggested that the Cortes of the Kingdom of Léon was the first-ever parliament in the genuine sense of the term. Its founding principle was that a government could only really legitimatize when it was sanctioned by the governed themselves, specifically by the representatives (procuradores as they were then called in Spain) of the clergy, the nobility and the urban commercial interests who sat within the Cortes in the presence of the monarch.

The Cortes, Keane proposed, was a “strange gift” from the world of Islam, a child of the strategy of re- conquest in this region. The key figure in the development of the Cortes, as Keane pointed out, was King Alfonso IX, who, at the age of 17, who avoided a succession plot by fleeing to Portugal. “In 1188, he agreed to come back to Léon to assume the crown, and was advised that something dramatic had to be done.

In response to this anxiety, the King took an amazing step, based on the principle that the re-conquest of lands deemed to be Christian required a new peace agreement within the Kingdom. In March 1188, in the church of San Isidoro, the King convened the first Cortes meeting or parliament, during which various decisions were agreed upon, including the promise by the King that he would permanently seek the advice and consent of three estates – the bishops, the nobility, and the ‘good men [Buenos hombres] of Leon’. Keane noted that this meeting was highly unusual for its time. Instead of being a consultative or advisory council, which was the prevailing custom, it was instead a meeting of equals, whereby the King was bound to the mutual agreement of the three estates.

In this regard, the Cortes became a condition and ascertained possibility of what would later be called a representative assembly, in that the various parties had to compromise non- violently in order to come to a working agreement. “The Cortes was a new way of understanding politics as a permanent process of deciding who gets what, when and how, and ensuring that the process was fair.” In this regard, the Cortes did not presume a kind of close-knit communitarian solidarity; instead, it introduced the notion of long distance government by consent. This is illustrated, as Keane said, by the willingness of those from the three estates to travel to the Cortes in order to present their case. The Cortes was a harbinger of a new political form in its own right, one to which our notions of representative government are deeply indebted.

“What is most striking and deeply implicit in this ‘world historical’ event in Léon,” Keane said, “was that representation being seen as the condition and of possibility of the disembodiment of political power. It was typically contrasted with monarchy, and if you think about it, monarchy was an embodied form of political power.” Representative government, Keane said, breaks down concentrated political power, and introduces the possibility of freedom from the fear that political power associated with a monarchy degenerated into retribution, violence and tyranny. While the representative government introduced the definite possibility of pluralism because the whole point of government by representatives was that representation is necessary because there was no straightforward or ‘natural’ unity of interests within the body politic.

Explaining the relevance of the Cortes to the modern notion of representative democracy, Keane concluded by saying that representative assemblies of the kind prefigured in the Léon Cortes highlight the principle that the body politic is permanently fragmented, and that a key condition of politics was the quest for reconciliation. Further, he suggested that out of the Cortes sprang the political ethos of compromise.

The Cortes was in this sense a basic institution of what later came to be called democracy. Keane concluded by noting that many institutions of democracy have had pre- democratic Islamic origins, contributions and know how. His book on history of democracy, The Life and Death of Democracy, saw this point as axiomatic, as a basic methodological research tool for thinking in new ways about the history of democracy and the strange origins of many of its contemporary institutions.

The changes leading to the formation of representative democracy were neither inevitable nor politically uncontested. Representative democracy was in fact born of many and different power conflicts, many of them bitterly fought in opposition to the ruling groups, whether they were church hierarchies, landowners or imperial monarchies, often in the name of ‘the people’. Exactly who were ‘the people’ proved to be a deep source of controversy throughout the era of representative democracy?

 The second age of democracy witnessed the birth of neologisms, like ‘aristocratic democracy’ (that first happened in the Low Countries at the end of the sixteenth century) and new references (beginning in the United States) to ‘republican democracy’. Later came ‘social democracy’ and ‘liberal democracy’ and ‘Christian democracy’, even ‘bourgeois democracy’, ‘workers’ democracy’ and ‘socialist democracy’. These new terms corresponded to the many kinds of struggles by groups for equal access to governmental power that resulted, sometimes by design and sometimes by simple accident or unintended consequence, in institutions and ideals and ways of life that had no precedent. Written constitutions based on a formal separation of powers, periodic elections and parties and different electoral systems were new. So too was the invention of ‘civil societies’ founded on new social habits and customs – experiences as varied as dining in a public restaurant, or controlling one’s temper by using polite language – and new associations that citizens used to keep an arm’s length from government by using non-violent weapons like liberty of the printing press, publicly circulated petitions, and covenants and constitutional conventions called to draw up new constitutions.

This period unleashed what the French writer and politician Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) famously called a ‘great democratic revolution’ in favor of political and social equality. Spreading from the Atlantic region, this revolution often suffered setbacks and reversals, especially in Europe, where it was mainly to collapse in the early decades of the twentieth century. The democratic revolution was fuelled by rowdy struggles and breathtaking acts, like the public execution in England of King Charles I. Such events called into question the anti-democratic prejudices of those – the rich and powerful – who supposed that inequalities among people were ‘natural’. New groups, like slaves, women and workers, won the franchise. At least on paper, representation was eventually democratized, stretched to include all of the population. But such stretching happened with great difficulty and against great odds. Even then it was permanently on trial; in more than a few cases, the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included, the definition of representation was actually narrowed by withdrawing the right to vote from certain groups, particularly black and poor people.

Not until the very end of this second phase – during the early decades of the twentieth century – did the right to vote for representatives come to be seen as a universal entitlement. That happened first for adult men and later – usually much later – for all adult women. But even then, as the experiences of totalitarianism and military dictatorship show, the opponents of democratic representation fought hard and with considerable success against its perceived inefficiencies, its fatal flaws and supposed evils. They demonstrated that democracy in any form was not inevitable – that it had no built-in historical guarantees.

Future of Democracy in the 21st Century: What is happening to actually existing representative and modern democracies? Do they have a secure future? Are they suffering from decline, or transformation into something that resembles ‘post-democracy’? Does democracy remain a viable ideal?

Such questions today command widespread interest because representative democracies are subject to new trends and contradictory pressures. In the emerging era of ‘complex democracy’, which dates back roughly from the mid-twentieth century, and since democracy has become a global force. The case of India, where in 1950 the world’s first-ever large-scale democracy was created among materially impoverished peoples of multiple faiths, many different languages and low rates of literacy, was a key symbol of this change.

Data shows that in the year 1900, when monarchies and empires predominated, there were no states that could be judged as representative democracies by the standard of universal suffrage for competitive multi-party elections. By 1950, with the military defeat of German Nazism and the beginnings of de-colonization and the post-war reconstruction of Europe and Japan, there were 22 democracies even if flawed accounting for 31 per cent of the world’s population. By the end of the twentieth century, waves of democracy had touched the shores of Latin America, post-communist Europe and parts of Africa and Asia. At least on paper, out of 192 countries, 119 resembled representative democracies (58.2% of the globe’s population), with 85 of these countries (38% of the world’s inhabitants) enjoying forms of political democracy respectful of basic human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law.

In the era of complex democracy, not only are the language and ideals and institutions of democracy, for the first time in history, becoming familiar to people living within most regions of the earth, regardless of their nationality, religion or culture. Not only is there new talk of ‘global democracy’ and democracy as a ‘universal value’ (Amartya Sen). For the first time, racial prejudice has also begun to be extracted from the ideals of democracy, such that many democrats now find themselves embarrassed or angered by talk of ‘backward’ or ‘uncivilized’ or ‘naturally inferior’ peoples. There are signs as well that the theory and practice of democracy are gradually mutating, that its significance is changing because its institutions are being stretched into areas of life in which democracy in any form was previously excluded, or played little or no role. Once seen as given by the grace of a Creator, democracy is being viewed pragmatically as a handy weapon for use against concentrations of unaccountable powers. It comes to have a new meaning: the public accountability and public control of decision makers, whether they operate in the field of state or interstate institutions or within so-called non-governmental or civil society organizations, such as businesses, trade unions, sports associations and charities etc.

In the age of complex democracy, assembly-based and representative mechanisms are mixed and combined with new ways of publicly monitoring and controlling the exercise of power. Representative forms of government do not simply wither, or disappear. Representative democracy within the framework of territorial states often survives, and in some countries it even thrives, sometimes (as in Mongolia, Taiwan and South Africa) for the first time ever. Representative government has also sometimes been enriched, as in the civic involvement and cleanup schemes in Japanese cities such as Yokohama and Kawasaki during the past two decades. But for a variety of reasons related to public pressure and the need to reduce corruption and the abuse of power, representative democracy is coming to be supplemented (and hence complicated) by a variety of democratic procedures that are applied to organizations other than states. New combinations of assembly-based and representative and other democratic procedures begin to spread underneath and beyond these states. Forums, summits, parliaments for minorities, judicial review and citizens’ juries are some examples. Others include public enquiries, congresses, blogging and other new forms of media scrutiny, as well as open methods of co-ordination, of the kind practiced in the European Union.

Experiments with extending democracy within the institutions of civil society, into areas of life ‘beneath’ the institutions of territorial states, are much in evidence, so that organizations like the International Olympic Committee, whose membership is otherwise self-selecting, are governed by executive bodies that are subject to election by secret ballot, by a majority of votes cast, for limited terms of office. With the help of new communication media, including satellite television and the internet  (‘e-democracy’), the public monitoring of international organizations of government is also growing. Bodies such as the WTO, the UN, the European Commission, OIC and Arab League already find or will certainly find themselves under increasing, ongoing or intermittent scrutiny by outside bodies, their own legal procedures, and by public protests.

These trends towards complex democracy are to a varying degree subject everywhere to counter-trends. The third age of democracy is plagued by growing social inequality and troubled by the visible decline of political party membership and, especially among young people and the poor, fluctuating turnout at elections and growing disrespect for ‘politicians’ and official ‘politics’, even boycotts and satirical campaigns against all parties and candidates. Whether and how democracies can adjust to the new world of campaign mega-advertising, political ‘spin’ and corporate global media is proving equally challenging. Just as perplexing is the issue – felt strongly in countries as different as India and Taiwan, Canada and Middle East and Muslim nations – of whether and how democracies can come to terms with their ‘multi-cultural’ societies. The coming of an age of ‘silver democracy’, in which growing numbers of citizens live to ripe old ages in conditions of growing material and emotional insecurity, is likely to be just as daunting. Then there are the deep-seated trends for which there is no historical precedent, and no easy solutions, like the rise of the United States as the world’s first and solo democratic empire; the spread of uncivil wars; rising fears about the biosphere; and the proliferation of new forms of violence, terror and new weapons systems with killing power many times greater than that of all democracies combined.

Pressured by such trends, does democracy have a future? The nineteenth-century American poet and writer, Walt Whitman (1819-1892), famously noted that the history of democracy could not be written because democracy as he and others knew it was not yet properly grown up, built or matured. From the standpoint of the early twenty-first century, and the possible emergence of a more complex understanding and practice of democracy, the same point can be put differently: Even today, we do not know what will become of liberal democracy because its fate has not yet been determined.

To sum up, in the Islamic context, the Quran addresses the whole humanity and assigns it almost all the duties and responsibilities entrusted to modern and post-modern democratic systems.

People must cooperate with one another by sharing these duties, responsibilities and establishing the essential foundations necessary to perform them. The government is composed of all of these foundations. Thus, Islam recommends a government based on a social contract. People elect the administrators and establish a council or an assembly to debate common issues. Also, the society as a whole participates in auditing of the administration.

During the rule of the first four caliphs (632-661) in Islam, the fundamental principles of government mentioned above–including free election–were fully observed. The political system began to transform into a sultanate and Arab imperialism after the death of Imam Ali, the fourth caliph, due to internal conflicts and due to the prevailing global conditions at that time. Unlike under the caliphate, power in the sultanate was passed on through the sultan’s family. However, even though free elections were no longer held, many societies in the Muslim world maintained democratic principles and values for early 400 years and those are still at the core of today’s modern democracy.

According to Fetullah Gulen and other enlightened Muslim intellectuals, Islam is an inclusive religion. It is based on the belief in one God as the Creator, Lord, Sustainer, and Administrator of the entire universe. Islam is thus the religion of the whole of humanity and the universe. That is, the entire universe obeys the laws laid down by God, so everything in the universe is “Muslim” and obeys God by submitting to his laws. Even a person who refuses to believe in God or follows another religion has this natural perforce to be a Muslim as far as his or her bodily existence is concerned.

His or her entire life, from the embryonic stage to the body’s dissolution into dust after death, every tissue of his or her body, and every limb and organ of his or her will naturally follow the natural course charted out by God’s law. Thus, in Islam, God, nature, and humanity are neither remote from each other nor are they alien to each other. It is God who makes himself known to humanity through nature and humanity itself, and nature and humanity are two books (of creation) through each word of which God is known. This leads humankind to look upon everything as belonging to the same Creator, to whom everything belongs, so there is nothing in the universe as alien. His sympathy, love, and service do not remain confined to the people of any particular race, color, ethnicity or religion. The Prophet summed this up with the command,

“You are all from Adam, and Adam is from earth. O servants of God are brothers  [and sisters].” [8]

A separate but equally important point is that Islam historically recognizes all religions previous to it. It accepts all the prophets and books sent to different peoples in different epochs of human history. Not only does it accept them, but also regards belief in them as an integral principle and requirement of being Muslims. By so doing, it acknowledges the basic unity of all faiths. A Muslim is at the same time a true follower of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and of all other Hebrew prophets. This belief explains why both Christians and Jews enjoyed their religious rights under the rule of Islamic governments throughout history.

The real issue globally today is not if the political system of any country should proceed along the path of democracy because no sane person in the Muslim or the rest of the world can disagree with the spirit of democracy or spirit of Islam. The spirit of Islam and democracy is one and the same. The roots and spirit of democracy historically are Islamic as clearly shown in this writing. The epigraph from the Indian Muslim   intellectual-philosopher Abulkalam Azad –articulated in 1912 – about the spirit of Islam and democracy being the same is the testimony of the above. The pertinent question, then, arises: why did the spirit of democracy vanquished in the Muslim world? This question is enormous because there is a ‘democracy promotion’ industry about Middle East and elsewhere. Take, for instance, the 2010 conference ‘US Democracy Promotion in Middle East’ we hear about and read about. It is hard not to notice its patronizing title –Middle East is incapable of democracy for it requires a benign promoter like the US and the West. Thus, instead of responding to the agenda of democratization the USAID and IMF discourses have set, should we not talk about de-democratization?

 It is not the culture of Islam that makes democracy absent; rather it is the culture of de-democratization by the Western powers that renders Middle East undemocratic. There are several modalities and instances of this de-democratization. For our purpose here, three will suffice: The July 3, 2013 unconstitutional deposition of the elected President Mohammad Morse of Egypt through a brutal Military coup d’état is the most recent classic example of de-democratization, the 1953 coup against the elected Prime Minister Mohammad Musaddeq of Iran, and thwarting of democracy in Bahrain. Musaddeq was a popular Iranian leader. He enjoyed the approval of the Parliament for his nationalization program. As we know, the US-UK comfortably toppled him. [9] The statement by the US Ambassador, in the second epigraph, illustrates how Iran’s democracy was sacrificed to serve national interests of the US-UK. In our view, this too is a classic example of de-democratization we wanted to put on the record here. Another example is Bahrain’s de-democratization from 1974 to 2005. [10]

 does the ruthless pursuit of ‘national interest’ and vocabulary of ‘geo-politics’ –supreme principles of global political order –leave any room for a politics of ethics in planetary terms? [11]

The Islamic social systems always seek to form a tolerant and virtuous civil society and thereby gain God’s approval and acceptance. It recognizes rights, duties and responsibilities, not force, as the foundation of social life. Hostility is unacceptable. Relationships must be based on belief, love, mutual respect, assistance, and understanding instead of conflict and self centered realization of personal greed or interest.

Our Social awareness (consciousness) and education encourage the masses of the globe to pursue lofty ideals and to strive for perfection, not just to run after our own local desires. Calls for unity (tawhid), and virtue bring about mutual trust, mutual support, solidarity, and belief system that secures brotherhood and sisterhood encouraging the human soul to attain perfection that would bring true happiness for all of our humanity through the concerted democratic efforts by dedicated individuals, civil society institutions and best of democratic governance by the governments locally and globally.

Historically, democracy has gone through so many different stages in the long past, it will continue to evolve and improve further in the future. Along the way, it will be shaped into a more humane and just governance system, one based on righteousness and reality. If human beings are considered as a whole, without disregarding the inner dimension of their existence and their spiritual needs, without forgetting that human life is not limited to this mortal life and that all people have a craving for eternity, and that democracy could reach its peak of perfection bringing greater happiness for all. Islamic values and universal principles of human free will, equality, accountability, justice, fairness, openness, transparency and mutual trust and tolerance can and will certainly help accomplish just that. [12]


[1] Abulkalam Azad, ‘Al-Jihad, Al-Jihad: Al-Jihad fī sabīlil ḥurriyat’, Al-Hilāl (December 18, 1912), p. 6.

[2] http://www.islamicwritings.org: Islamic Writings; Islam and Democracy-by Malek Bennabi, July 1, 2012.

[3] The quotes on the first two pages are from John Keane’s book, The Life and Death of Democracy. Simon and Schuster, London, 2009.

[4] Love, Fear and the Destiny of Nations (Paperback) -by Richard Barrett June 29, 2012; Published Fulfilling Books, Bath UK.

        [5] The Life and Death of Democracy-by John Keane, W. W. Norton & Company (August 17, 2009).

[6] Keane, The Life and Death of Democracy, p. 133. 

[7] Ibid. p. 140.

[8] Hadith quoted by Fethullah Gülen in - A Comparative Approach to Islam and Democracy-by Fethullah Gülen  (January 7, 2013). http://www.gulenmovement.us/a-comparative-approach-to-islam-and-democracy.html

[9] See Abrahamian, A History of Modern Iran

[10] Amy Holmes, ‘The Political Economy of Protection: Democratization and the American presence in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain’, paper at the conference US Democracy Promotion in the Middle East, Melbourne University, October 2010. 

[11] Discussion on how ‘Islamophobia’ in Europe and elsewhere is a symptom of ‘homephilia/national identity’. I suggest ‘hotel/hostel’ as an alternative. Irfan Ahmad, ‘In Defence of Hotel: Notes on Why Islamophobia Should Be Read as Homephilia’, paper at the conference on Islamophobia: Fear of the Other (Monash University, Melbourne, July 2009); also see my ‘is There an Ethics of Terrorism? Islam, Globalization, Militancy’, South Asia 33(3) (2010): 487 — 498. 

[12] A Comparative Approach to Islam and Democracy-by Fethullah Gülen  (January 7, 2013). http://www.gulenmovement.us/a-comparative-approach-to-islam-and-democracy.html



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