Islam and Democracy, Incompatible?
Islam is often accused of being anti -democratic; this myth is propagated by anti - Muslim demagogues and their myopic followers. The Arab Spring has shown beyond reasonable doubt, that Muslims are not only democratic, but they are also determined to fight for their freedom and democracy, sacrificing lives and treasure for democracy.
Those who accuse Islam of being undemocratic, deliberately ignore the fact that the average Muslim layperson in Syria or Yemen or Egypt or Libya or Tunisia, has done more for democracy in 2011 alone, than what a lot of people in the west have done for democracy during their entire lives. The courage and determination of the youth of the Arab Spring is inspiring and self evident.
In the image above, a poor Egyptian protester can be seen sleeping in the tracks of a tank, to make sure that the tank wouldn't move against the Egyptian revolutionaries. When was the last time you saw this self sacrifice and dedication to democracy in western democratic nations?
The peaceful, defenceless protesters in the Arab world are bravely facing tanks, jet fighters and machine guns for the sake of democracy and justice.
Numerous Muslim scholars confirm that the system of government, where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them and their agents is cardinal in Islam. What many people perceive to be western democracy, mainly because of America - isn't the model of democracy, because of their machiavellian aspects that are diametrically opposed to standards of ethics and morality, including illegal wars, human rights violations, imperialism, politics of hegemony, consumerism, war industry, corporatocracy, hypocrisy, individualism, economies of debt, double standards, moral decay and so on.
The history of the US, which is the leading so called “democracy” of the west, along with its consistent efforts in oppressing democracy; installing and supporting dictatorships; exploiting and killing hundreds of thousands of innocents (if not millions) around the world confirms that. Refer to William Blum’s Rogue State and The Secret History of the American Empire by John Perkins just to name a few sources.
However, there are various democratic values that are intrinsically Islamic. Some Muslims make the mistake of rejecting democracy just because it is a 'western' system of government, failing to see that there are very important components of democracy that are Islamic to the core. Actually, Islam introduced these values to the world long before the rise of the west.
These intrinsically Islamic values, include, but are not limited to: freedom of speech, accountability, consultation, political empowerment and participation of the masses, equality, freedom of religion, tolerance, progress, development, science, knowledge, cooperation, entrepreneurship, peace, meritocracy, justice for all. Western scholars of Islam acknowledge this as detailed below. The decay of these values in some Muslim countries has resulted from decades of colonialism and dictatorship; but these values remain thoroughly Islamic. The Arab Spring is a step towards restoring these Islamic values and protecting them.
The Islamic principles of shura [consultation], ijma' [consensus] and ijtihad [independent interpretive judgment] are corner stones of the democratic discourse.
This is even acknowledged by reputable non - Muslim scholars on Islam. John Esposito and John Voll wrote:
“In the Qur’an, the righteous are described as those people who, among other things, manage their affairs through 'mutual consultation' or shura (42:38 Qur’an). This is expanded through traditions of the Prophet and the sayings and actions of the early leaders of the Muslim community to mean that it is obligatory for Muslims in managing their political affairs to engage in mutual consultation……”
“….(Prophet) Muhammad (PBUH) is instructed to remind humans that God made them the caliphs -stewards or trustees- of the earth (6:165). In this way, in the Qur’an, the term caliphate refers to the broad responsibilities of humans to be the stewards of God’s creation….”
“….The concept of the caliphate involved responsibilities for all humans, in all dimensions of life, but especially the political: “Rightly, Muslims understand khilafah as directly political. Islam requires that every Muslim be politicized (i.e., awakened, organized, and mobilized). “Political Islam” is sometimes a program for religious democracy and not primarily an agenda for holy war or terrorism.”
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq writes: “Turning to their own Islamic root and heritage, there are now a growing number of voices among Muslims who are convincingly making the case that Islam and democracy are not just compatible; rather, their association is inevitable, because Islamic political system is based on Shura (mutual consultation). Khaled Abou el-Fadl, Ziauddin Sardar, Rachid Ghannoushi, Hasan Turabi, Khurshid Ahmad, Fathi Osman and most notably, Shaikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, are just to name a few among the contemporary Islamic scholars and intellectuals who are arduously working to move both the Muslim world and the West toward better mutual understanding in regard to the relationship between Islam and democracy. ''
It is worth noting that Rachid Ghannoushi is the co founder of the Nahda party, which has recently dominated the Tunisian elections. Shaikh al Qaradawy is a prominent scholar on Islam and was known for his opposition to the dictators of the Middle East. He was also voted one of the 100 most intellectual personalities in the world.
There is abundant evidence in the Quran and hadith to confirm the democratic values within Islam. The values of free speech, accountability and political participation are embodied in the below hadith which encourages Muslims to be politically active and to speak the truth at any cost.
In a hadith, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said: "The master of martyrs (sayyid al-shuhada) is Hamza, and a man who stands up to a tyrant ruler and gives him nasiha (advice). And so the ruler kills him."
The Prophet (PBUH) continued to say : 'By Allah you have to enjoin good (Maroof) and forbid evil (Munkar), and hold against the hand of the unjust ruler (Zalim), and force him on the truth strongly, or you have to limit him to the truth.'
The rightly guided Caliph Abu Bakr RA confirmed the importance of the active role of Muslims in holding their governments to account in his inaugural speech: “So if I do right then help me, and if I do wrong then set me straight. Truthfulness is a trust and lying is betrayal.”
It is our Islamic duty to speak up for justice and freedom. It is our duty to mobilize and to engage in activism at all levels. We have a social responsibility towards our society, our Ummah and to humankind as a whole. We need to be politically savvy. We need to empower others. We need to competently plan and strategise. We need to capitalize on our political rights to change the world and hold politicians to account. We need to be fully involved in politics. We need to organise and fund the political struggle; we need to dedicate our effort, intellect and resources.
Stand up for your responsibility. Be an agent of change rather than an agent of complicity.
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