I will be giving a talk on Islam and will be addressing the issue of democracy. Some Muslims tell me that democracy and Islam do not mix and others tell me they are compatible. What do you think?
Representative democracy is how Umar suggested his successor and popular democracy is how Uthmaan ibn Affaan was elected, may God have been pleased with them. It is also the way district assemblies were structured throughout Muslim history. They are called Ahl-ul-Hall wal-`Aqd.
The anti-democracy Muslims tell me that democracy is dictatorship of the majority. For example, in France and Belgium they ruled that women cannot cover their heads and in Switzerland the majority decided that minarets cannot be constructed. Both these decisions are perfectly democratic! What can you say about that?
Simple. Their constitution allows it. Ours doesn’t. If their constitution does not allow it, it can be challenged in court. Many a bill voted on by the people in the USA were turned down by the Supreme Court because it was determined to be unconstitutional.
To say that democracy is un-Islamic without proof is un-Islamic! Judgments in Islam cannot be made without evidence. Where in the Quran does God mandate on us to submit to dictatorship or forbid us from freely electing our leaders?
Ironically, the anti-democracy Muslims firmly believe in Ijmaa` (consensus). That is what representative democracy is all about: electing people who know their stuff to make decisions on behalf of the people and in accordance with the law of the land. The law of a Muslim land is the Quran and the authentic Hadeeth and the rulings derived from them. Parliaments in a Muslim democracy cannot pass laws allowing Muslims to drink or gamble because that would be unconstitutional.
But if democracy means going against the Law of Allah (as is happening)…it’s totally un-Islamic.
But that is not what democracy means! No democracy can go against the law of the land, or else it’s anarchy.
It’s misunderstanding of what democracy means and how it is implemented that causes some folks to think that Islam and democracy are not compatible. Proper understanding is advised before one starts to talk about them in public.
But isn’t democracy self rule by the people? This is why fornication and riba (usury) are allowed in the West and even homosexuality being legalized. The policies and legislation are based on majority that’s why Niqab (face cover) and minarets being banned.
If it was compatible with Islam all those would not happen.
No. That’s not why these things happen. They happen because the constitution in the West does not forbid them. Case in point is whether people can vote to elect a man for president of the US even if the man was not born in the US. Such vote would be overturned by the Supreme Court because it’s unconstitutional!
Banning minarets and the niqaab can be challenged in court, if Muslims care to defend their religious freedom in Europe. And they can win too because the case is not hard to make, given the EU constitution’s guarantee of freedom to practice religion.
OK, but who makes the constitution? It’s the people!
In the West, yes. For us, the Constitution was already written by God and His Messenger. Furthermore, Western constitutions can be amended, but ours cannot be because the Quran and the Sunna are final.
Well, you have to admit that modern versions of democracy are incompatible with Islam.
Forgive me, but I think that you still do not get the notion of the constitution and how “modern” democracy operates within it. The constitution of France may be different from the constitution of the US in some points. As a result, the French people may vote for something and it passes, but if Americans vote for the same thing, it won’t pass!
The constitution of Muslims is the Quran and the Sunna. Thus, implementing democracy for Muslim countries guarantees that Sharia will be honored. The Supreme Court will see to it even if people vote against it. The Supreme Court is a democratic institution and is a fundamental part of how democracy is implemented.
The “modern” version of democracy is fully compatible with Islam. As I said earlier, representative democracy (republic) is how Abu-Bakr and Umar were elected, may God have been pleased with them, and popular democracy is how Uthmaan was elected, may God have been pleased with him.
I’m told that democracy is a system which is at odds with the very essence of Allāh’s exclusive right of legislation and as such it steps outside the mere disobedience of Allāh into the realm of Shirk (blasphemy), in that it seeks to elevate mankind to the level of the only Legislator
The imaams (foremost clerics), judges, and jurists have all legislated thousands of laws throughout Muslim history. Are they all challenging the exclusive right of God to legislate? Of course not, because their rulings are based on God’s principles. That is what the constitution is about!
Those who support democracy in whatever form should provide supporting evidence from Quraan and hadith instead of going around in circles.
The burden of proof is on the claimant. That’s you who says democracy is incompatible with Islam. You have to prove that it is. You have to show verses where God orders us to submit to dictatorship or prohibits us from freely electing our leaders. You haven’t and you can’t, because there is none.
It is clear to me now that many Muslims completely misunderstand what democracy is and how it is implemented. While some of them will no doubt continue to misunderstand it, some may have gotten it.
It is often the case, isn’t it?, that when Muslims and Westerners talk to each other, they often talk above each other’s heads! If only each side would cool down and actually starts listening until they understand what the other is talking about, there would be much less resentment of the West and much less Islamophobia.
But democracy hasn’t been practiced by Muslims. Why would we consider it now?
First of all, that’s not true. Caliph Uthmaan was freely elected as I noted before.
But even if it were true, the argument that tradition is our guide is false. One of the first things God attacks in harsh language in the Quran is tradition! And He uses the rhetorical question “Could you not reason?” often in chastisement. Thus, the Quran makes it clear to us that logic is our guide, not tradition.
In Usool-ul-Fiqh (the disipline of foundations of deduction), the question of whether something is not forbidden is never asked! Because the question to ask is if something is forbidden. It’s called the principle of Original Allowance (Al-Baraa’a Al-Asliyya): Everything is allowed until proven otherwise, everybody is innocent until proven guilty and every place is clean until proven unclean.
Many tell me that democracy is a Western idea and that we should not follow Western ideas.
The West has stuff that are immoral, but it also has a few very good ideas that are in no way contrary to Islam. Ideas that evolved over centuries and have been tried and tested and proven beneficial and practical.
Many Muslims think that if they start following Western ideas, they will soon follow all their ideas! If they believe that, then they are implying that Muslims do not have any discernment; they cannot tell what’s good and what’s not. So, they think that the safest thing to do is to follow tradition, even if a given tradition is wrong. That is precisely what God berates people in the Quran for doing. He quotes them saying, “Nay, we will follow what we found our parents doing.” (2:170)
Many Muslims also believe that following any Western idea is tantamount to approving their religion, or their way of life! It’s neither; it’s following a good idea. If you have a cell phone, TV or computer, you’re following good ideas that came from the West The Prophet, peace be upon him, often did like the people of the Book in matters where no revelation was sent to him. Does that mean he approved of their religion or their way of life?
Democracy has not been tried in Muslim countries before. In fact, it’s been tried in Yemen and look what happened!
So, if a system hasn’t been tried, it shouldn’t be used? Is that logical, or is it more sensible to ask: does this new system have enough merit to give it a try? Especially since alternative systems have failed?
If the Yemeni model failed, was that the fault of democracy, or the fault of corruption? Democracy is not only free elections. It’s independent legislative and judiciary powers too, a system of checks and balances, watch-dog organizations, independent free media, etc., where nobody is above the law and corruption is quickly exposed and penalized.
We know from the Quran that obeying people is like worshiping them. That’s what democracy leads to.
And in Islam, many Muslims worship their scholars as gods, when they take their opinions without understanding their reasoning or questioning them. That’s not my view only, it was the view of one of the most prominent scholars of old: Imaam Ibn Hajar Al-`Asqalaani, may God bless his soul.
And he wasn’t alone in this. Imaam Ash-Shaffi`i, may God bless his soul, was once asked a question by a man. He answered it for him in some detail, giving him his reasoning. The man started to pull out a tablet and pen. Ash-Shaafi`i yelled at him, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m writing down your fatwa before I forget it!” Ash-Shaafi`i said, “Don’t! I might change my opinion by the night prayer!”
The sad phenomenon that many Muslims have had for decades now is that they have decided that they will not, or cannot, use their minds to learn their religion. So, they delegated that job to the scholars altogether. Wrong! The job of the scholars is to study matters and share their conclusions, and the reasoning they used, with fellow Muslims. Their conclusions should be valued and respected but only taken if they are sound and logical.
Most scholars do their job well, may God bless them and add to their knowledge. It is Muslims who turn their opinions into religion.
I’m not quite convinced of what you said. I prefer the opinions of several scholars who ruled that democracy is incompatible with Islam, so I’ll have to say that in my presentation.
Talking about Islam in public is a very serious affair. Done wrong, it may misguide people. God teaches us in the holy Quran not to do that! He teaches us this supplication, “Our Lord, do not make us a temptation for those who disbelieved, and forgive us, our Lord…” (60:5)
What is worse than not conveying the Message of God to people? Conveying the wrong message to people!
Unfortunately, that is precisely what Muslims have done for quite some time now: Holding fundamentalist views, projecting a holier-than-thou attitude, ridiculing other people’s religions, fighting amongst each other, living a backward and closed life, consenting to dictatorship, even committing war crimes… All are direct and blatant violations of God’s unambiguous commands in the Quran.
The disbelievers have been tempted. The Islamophobic campaign is a predictable result of such conduct from Muslims. “And if God willed, He would let them loose upon you…” (4:90)
Obviously, Muslims are not the only ones who did all those ills and non-Muslims have done more of them and on a larger scale, but that does not excuse Muslims. God described the true Muslims as “the best community ever produced for mankind: command the recognizable, forbid the objectionable and believe in God.” (3:110)
The only rescue for Muslims from all the rut they are in is to once again make the Quran and the Sunna supreme. As long as we prefer Taqleed (blind following) to the Quran and the Sunna, as long as we prefer people to God, we will continue to be in torment.
Please do not say in your speech about Islam things that are not true, cannot be proven, or are merely interpretations/opinions rather than established tenets. You’d be misrepresenting Islam. Remember that in the Hereafter you will be held responsible for “the harvest of your tongue”, as the Prophet (PBUH) eloquently put it.