Islamic democracy

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Islamic democracy refers to a political ideology that seeks to apply Islamic principles to public policy within a democratic framework. In practice, there are three kinds of political systems in the Muslim-majority countries today; the basis of the distinction between them has to do with how comprehensively Islam is incorporated into the affairs of the state:[1]

  1. Secular democracies, in secular states such as Azerbaijan and Turkey, that do not recognize any religion as its state religion and, therefore, does not incorporate religious principles into its public policy and other state affairs.
  2. Religious democracies; that recognize Islam as its state religion and a source of legislation, such as Malaysia and Maldives. The application of religious principles into public policy varies from country to country, since Islam is not the only source of law.
  3. Theocracies; that endeavor to institute Sharia, in full force,[1] and offers more comprehensive inclusion of Islam into the affairs of the state. Presently, Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania and Pakistan are the only examples of an Islamic state in the form of Islamic republics.

Not all of these states are recognized internationally as democratic under concepts of liberal democracy.

The concepts of liberalism and democratic participation were already present in the medieval Islamic world.[2][3][4] The Rashidun Caliphate is perceived by its proponents as an early example of a democratic state and it is claimed that the development of democracy in the Islamic world eventually came to a halt following to the Sunni–Shia split.[5]

Sunni viewpoint[edit]

Deliberations of the Caliphates, most notably the Rashidun Caliphate were not democratic in the modern sense rather, decision-making power lay with a council of notable and trusted companions of Muhammad and representatives of different tribes (most of them selected or elected within their tribes).[6]

In the early Islamic Caliphate, the head of state, the Caliph, had a position based on the notion of a successor to Muhammad's political authority, who, according to Sunnis, were ideally elected by the people or their representatives,[7] as was the case for the election of Abu Bakr,Umar bin Alkhattab Uthman and Ali as Caliph. After the Rashidun Caliphs, later Caliphates during the Islamic Golden Age had a much lesser degree of democratic participation, but since "no one was superior to anyone else except on the basis of piety and virtue" in Islam, and following the example of Muhammad, later Islamic rulers often held public consultations with the people in their affairs.[8]

The legislative power of the Caliph (or later, the Sultan) was always restricted by the scholarly class, the ulama, a group regarded as the guardians of the law. Since the law came from the legal scholars, this prevented the Caliph from dictating legal results. Laws were decided based on the ijma (consensus) of the Ummah (community), which was most often represented by the legal scholars.[9] In order to qualify as a legal scholar, it was required that they obtain a doctorate known as the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") from a madrasa.[10] In many ways, classical Islamic law functioned like a constitutional law.[9]

Democratic religious pluralism also existed in classical Islamic law, as the religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as seen in the early Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Islamic India, and the Ottoman Millet system.[11][12]

Legal scholar L. Ali Khan argues that Islam is fully compatible with democracy. In his book, A Theory of Universal Democracy, Khan provides a critique of liberal democracy and secularism. He presents the concept of "fusion state" in which religion and state are fused. There are no contradictions in God's universe, says Khan. Contradictions represent the limited knowledge that human beings have. According to the Quran and the Sunnah, Muslims are fully capable of preserving spirituality and self-rule.[13]

Furthermore, counter arguments to these points assert that this attitude presuppose democracy as a static system which only embraces a particular type of social and cultural system, namely that of the post-Christian West. See: constitutional theocracy.

Muslim democrats, including Ahmad Moussalli (professor of political science at the American University of Beirut), argue that concepts in the Quran point towards some form of democracy, or at least away from despotism. These concepts include shura (consultation), ijma (consensus), al-hurriyya (freedom), al-huqquq al-shar'iyya (legitimate rights). For example shura (Al Imran 3:159,[14] Ash-Shura 42:38[15]) may include electing leaders to represent and govern on the community’s behalf. Government by the people is not therefore necessarily incompatible with the rule of Islam, whilst it has also been argued that rule by a religious authority is not the same as rule by a representative of God. This viewpoint, however, is disputed by more traditional Muslims. Moussalli argues that despotic Islamic governments have abused the Quranic concepts for their own ends: "For instance, shura, a doctrine that demands the participation of society in running the affairs of its government, became in reality a doctrine that was manipulated by political and religious elites to secure their economic, social and political interests at the expense of other segments of society," (In Progressive Muslims 2003).

Much debate occurs on the subject of which Islamic traditions are fixed principles, and which are subject to democratic change, or other forms of modification in view of changing circumstances. Some Muslims allude to an "Islamic" style of democracy which would recognize such distinctions.[16] Another sensitive issue involves the status of monarchs and other leaders, the degree of loyalty which Muslims owe such people, and what to do in case of a conflicting loyalties (e.g., if a monarch disagrees with an imam).

Shia viewpoint[edit]

According to the Shia understanding, Muhammad named as his successor (as leader, with Muhammad being the final prophet), his son-in-law and cousin Ali. Therefore the first three of the four elected "Rightly Guided" Caliphs recognized by Sunnis ('Ali being the fourth), are considered usurpers, notwithstanding their having been "elected" through some sort of conciliar deliberation (which the Shia do not accept as a representative of the Muslim society of that time). The largest Shia grouping — the Twelvers branch — recognizes a series of Twelve Imams, the last of which (Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Hidden Imam) is still alive and the Shia are waiting for his reappearance.

Since the revolution in Iran, Twelver Shia political thought has been dominated by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini argued that in the absence of the Hidden Imam and other divinely-appointed figures (in whom ultimate political authority rests), Muslims have not only the right, but also the obligation, to establish an "Islamic state."[17] To that end they must turn to scholars of Islamic law (fiqh) who are qualified to interpret the Quran and the writings of the imams. Khomeini distinguishes between Conventional Fiqh and Dynamic Fiqh, which he believes to also be necessary.

Khomeini divides the Islamic commandments or Ahkam into three branches:

  • the primary commandments (Persian: حكم اوليه‎)
  • the secondary commandments (Persian: حكم ثانويه‎) and
  • the state commandments (Persian: حكم حكومتي‎).

This list includes all commandments which relate to public affairs, such as constitutions, social security, insurance, bank, labour law, taxation, elections, congress etc. Some of these codes may not strictly or implicitly pointed out in the Quran and generally in the Sunnah, but should not violate any of the two, unless there's a collision of rules in which the more important one is given preference (an apparent, but not inherent, violation of a rule). Therefore, Khomeini emphasized that the (elected) Islamic state has absolute right (Persian: ولايت مطلقه‎) to enact state commandments, even if it (appears as if it) violates the primary or secondary commandments of Islam. This should happen when a more important primary or secondary commandment is in danger because of some limitations.

For example an (elected) Islamic state can ratify (according to some constitutions) mandatory insurance of employees to all employers being Muslim or not even if it violates mutual consent between them. This shows the compatibility of Islam with modern forms of social codes for present and future life,[18] as various countries and nations may have different kinds of constitutions now and may have new ones in future.[19]

Philosophical viewpoint[edit]

The early Islamic philosopher, Al-Farabi (c. 872-950), in one of his most notable works Al-Madina al-Fadila, theorized an ideal Islamic state which he compared to Plato's The Republic.[20] Al-Farabi departed from the Platonic view in that he regarded the ideal state to be ruled by the prophet, instead of the philosopher king envisaged by Plato. Al-Farabi argued that the ideal state was the city-state of Medina when it was governed by Muhammad, as its head of state, as he was in direct communion with God whose law was revealed to him. In the absence of the prophet, Al-Farabi considered democracy as the closest to the ideal state, regarding the republican order of the Rashidun Caliphate as an example within early Muslim history. However, he also maintained that it was from democracy that imperfect states emerged, noting how the republican order of the early Islamic Caliphate of the Rashidun caliphs was later replaced by a form of government resembling a monarchy under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.[21]

A thousand years later, the modern Islamic philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal, also viewed the early Islamic Caliphate as being compatible with democracy. He "welcomed the formation of popularly elected legislative assemblies" in the Muslim world as a "return to the original purity of Islam." He argued that Islam had the "gems of an economic and democratic organization of society", but that this growth was stunted by the monarchist rule of Umayyad Caliphate, which established the Caliphate as a great Islamic empire but led to political Islamic ideals being "repaganized" and the early Muslims losing sight of the "most important potentialities of their faith."[22]

Another internationally acclaimed Muslim scholar and thinker Muhammad Asad viewed Democracy as perfectly compatible with Islam. In his book The Principles of State and Government in Islam, he notes: "Viewed from this historical perspective, 'democracy' as conceived in the modern West is infinitely nearer to the Islamic than to the ancient Greek concept of liberty; for Islam maintains that all human beings are socially equal and must, therefore, be given the same opportunities for development and self-expression. On the other hand, Islam makes it incumbent upon Muslims to subordinate their decisions to the guidance of the Divine Law revealed in the Qur'ãn and exemplified by the Prophet: an obligation which imposes definite limits on the community's right to legislate and denies to the 'will of the people' that attribute of sovereignty which forms so integral a part of the Western concept of democracy."[23]

Islamic democracy in practice[edit]

Obstacles[edit]

Waltz writes that transformations to democracy seemed on the whole to pass by the Islamic Middle East at a time when such transformations were a central theme in other parts of the world, although she does note that, of late, the increasing number of elections being held in the region indicates some form of adoption of democratic traditions.[24] There are several ideas on the relationship between Islam in the Middle East and democracy. Writing on The Guardian website,[25] Brian Whitaker, the paper's Middle East editor, argued that there were four major obstacles to democracy in the region: the imperial legacy, oil wealth, the Arab–Israeli conflict and militant or "backward-looking" Islam.

The imperial legacy includes the borders of the modern states themselves and the existence of significant minorities within the states. Acknowledgment of these differences is frequently suppressed usually in the cause of "national unity" and sometimes to obscure the fact that minority elite is controlling the country. Brian Whitaker argues that this leads to the formation of political parties on ethnic, religious or regional divisions, rather than over policy differences. Voting therefore becomes an assertion of one's identity rather than a real choice.

The problem with oil and the wealth it generates is that the states' rulers have the wealth to remain in power, as they can pay off or repress most potential opponents. Brian Whitaker argues that as there is no need for taxation there is less pressure for representation. Furthermore, Western governments require a stable source of oil and are therefore more prone to maintain the status quo, rather than push for reforms which may lead to periods of instability. This can be linked into political economy explanations for the occurrence of authoritarian regimes and lack of democracy in the Middle East, particularly the prevalence of rentier states in the Middle East.[26] A consequence of the lack of taxation that Whitaker talks of in such rentier economies is an inactive civil society. As civil society is seen to be an integral part of democracy it raises doubts over the feasibility of democracy developing in the Middle East in such situations.[27]

Whitaker's third point is that the ArabIsraeli conflict serves as a unifying factor for the countries of the Arab League, and also serves as an excuse for repression by Middle Eastern governments. For example, in March 2004 Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's leading Shia cleric, is reported as saying "We have emergency laws, we have control by the security agencies, we have stagnation of opposition parties, we have the appropriation of political rights - all this in the name of the Arab-Israeli conflict". The West, especially the USA, is also seen as a supporter of Israel, and so it and its institutions, including democracy, are seen by many Muslims as suspect. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a lecturer in Islamic law at the University of California comments "modernity, despite its much scientific advancement, reached Muslims packaged in the ugliness of disempowerment and alienation."

This repression by secularist Arab rulers has led to the growth of radical Islamic movements, as they believe that the institution of an Islamic theocracy will lead to a more just society. However, these groups tend to be very intolerant of alternative views, including the ideas of democracy. Many Muslims who argue that Islam and democracy are compatible live in the West, and are therefore seen as "contaminated" by non-Islamic ideas.[25]

Orientalist scholars offer another viewpoint on the relationship between Islam and democratisation in the Middle East. They argue that the compatibility is simply not there between secular democracy and Arab-Islamic culture in the Middle East which has a strong history of undemocratic beliefs and authoritarian power structures.[27] Kedourie, a well known Orientalist scholar, said for example: "to hold simultaneously ideas which are not easily reconcilable argues, then, a deep confusion in the Arab public mind, at least about the meaning of democracy. The confusion is, however, understandable since the idea of democracy is quite alien to the mind-set of Islam."[28] A view similar to this that understands Islam and democracy to be incompatible because of seemingly irreconcilable differences between Sharia and democratic ideals is also held by some Islamists. However, within Islam there are ideas held by some that believe Islam and democracy in some form are indeed compatible due to the existence of the concept of shura (meaning consultation) in the Quran. Views such as this have been expressed by various thinkers and political activists in the Middle East.[29] They continue to be the subject of controversy, e.g. at the second Dubai Debates, which debated the question "Can Arab and Islamic values be reconciled with democracy?"[30]

Practice[edit]

Following the Arab Spring, professor Olivier Roy of the European University Institute in an article in Foreign Policy has described political Islam as "increasingly interdependent" with democracy, such that "neither can now survive without the other".[31]

  • The Islamic Action Front is Jordan's Islamist political party and largest democratic political force in country. The IAF's survival in Jordan is primarily due to its flexibility and less radical approach to politics.[46]
  • The Justice and Construction Party is the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm in Libya and the second largest political force in the country.[48][49][50] National Forces Alliance, largest political group in country, doesn't believe the country should be run entirely by Sharia law or secular law, but does hold that Sharia should be "the main inspiration for legislation." Party leader Jibril has said the NFA is a moderate Islamic movement that recognises the importance of Islam in political life and favours Sharia as the basis of the law.[51]
  • The Muslim Brotherhood of Syria is a Sunni Islamist force in Syria and very loosely affiliated to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It has also been called the "dominant group" or "dominant force" in the Arab Spring uprising in Syria.[58] The group's stated political positions are moderate and in its most recent April 2012 manifesto it "pledges to respect individual rights", to promote pluralism and democracy.[59]
  • The Ennahda Movement, also known as Renaissance Party or simply Ennahda, is a moderate Islamist political party in Tunisia.[61][62][63][64] On 1 March 2011, after the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali collapsed in the wake of the 2011 Tunisian revolution, Tunisia's interim government granted the group permission to form a political party. Since then it has become the biggest and most well-organized party in Tunisia, so far outdistancing its more secular competitors. In the Tunisian Constituent Assembly election, 2011, the first honest election in the country's history with a turn out of 51.1% of all eligible voters, the party won 37.04% of the popular vote and 89 (41%) of the 217 assembly seats, far more than any other party.[9][65][66][67][68]

Pakistan[edit]

Early in the history of the state of Pakistan (12 March 1949), a parliamentary resolution (the Objectives Resolution) was adopted in accordance with the vision of the founding fathers of the Pakistan Movement (Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan).[69] proclaiming:

Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.

  • The State shall exercise its powers and authority through the elected representatives of the people.
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed.
  • Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Quran and Sunnah.
  • Provision shall be made for the religious minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

This resolution later became key source of inspiration for the writers of the Constitution of Pakistan and is included in it as preamble. However, Pakistan is practically an semi-secular state and Islamists and Islamic democratic parties in Pakistan are relatively less influential then democratic Islamists of other Muslim democracies.

Iran[edit]

Theory[edit]

The idea and concept of Islamic democracy has been accepted by many Iranian clerics, scholars and intellectuals.[70][71][72][73][74] The most notable of those who have accepted the theory of Islamic democracy is probably Iran's Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who mentions Islamic democracy as "Mardomsalarie Dini" in his speeches.

There are also other Iranian scholars who oppose or at least criticise the concept of Islamic democracy. Among the most popular of them are Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi[75] who have written: "If not referring to the people votes would result in accusations of tyranny then it is allowed to accept people vote as a secondary commandment."[76] Also Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi has more or less the same viewpoint.

On the other hand, clergy like Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari believe that: "The obligatory religious commandments in public domain not necessarily imply recognition of religious state. These obligations can be interpreted as the power of Muslims' religious conscience and applying that through civil society".[77] These clergies strictly reject the concept of Islamic state regardless of being democratic or not. They also believe no relationship between Islam and democracy at all, opposing the interpretation of clergy like Ayatollah Makarim al-Shirazi from Islamic state. But they do not mention how legal laws as an example can not be implemented using civil societies and how to administer a country relying on conscience only.

Practice[edit]

Some Iranians, including Mohammad Khatami, categorize the Islamic republic of Iran as a kind of religious democracy.[78] They maintain that Ayatollah Khomeini held the same view as well and that's why he strongly chose "Jomhoorie Eslami" (Islamic Republic) over "Hokoomate Eslami" (Islamic State).

Othesr maintain that not only is the Islamic Republic of Iran undemocratic (see Politics of Iran) but that Khomeini himself opposed the principle of democracy in his book Hokumat-e Islami: Wilayat al-Faqih, where he denied the need for any legislative body saying, "no one has the right to legislate ... except ... the Divine Legislator", and during the Islamic Revolution, when he told Iranians, "Do not use this term, 'democratic.' That is the Western style."[79] Although it is in contrast with his commandment to Mehdi Bazargan. It is a subject of lively debate among pro-Islamic Iranian intelligentsia. Also they maintain that Iran's sharia courts, the Islamic Revolutionary Court, blasphemy laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Mutaween (religious police) violate the principles of democratic governance.[80] However, it should be understood that when a democracy is accepted to be Islamic by people, the law of Islam becomes the democratically ratified law of that country. Iranians have ratified the constitution in which the principle rules are explicitly mentioned as the rules of Islam to which other rules should conform.

Indices of democracy in Muslim countries[edit]

There are several non-governmental organizations that publish and maintain indices of freedom in the world, according to their own various definitions of the term, and rank countries as being free, partly free, or unfree using various measures of freedom, including political rights, economic rights, freedom of the press and civil liberties.

The following lists Muslim-majority countries and shows the scores given by two frequently used indices: Freedom in the World (2013) by the US-based Freedom House and the 2012 Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit. These indices are frequently used in Western media, but have attracted some criticism and may not reflect recent changes.

As of 2012, Indonesia is the only Muslim-majority nation acknowledged as democratic by both Freedom House and Economist democracy indexes.

Key: * - Electoral democracies - Disputed territory (according to Freedom House)
Location Democracy Index Score Democracy Index Rank Democracy Index Category Freedom in the World Status Type of government Religion and State
Afghanistan 2.48 152 Authoritarian regime Not free Islamic republic, presidential system Islamic state
Algeria 3.83 118 Authoritarian regime Not free Semi-presidential system State religion
Azerbaijan 3.15 139 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
Bahrain 2.53 150 Authoritarian regime Not free Constitutional monarchy State religion
*Bangladesh 5.86 84 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic State religion
Brunei - - Authoritarian regime Not free Absolute monarchy State religion
Burkina Faso 3.52 127 Authoritarian regime Partly free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Chad 1.62 165 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
*Comoros 3.52 127 Authoritarian regime Partly free Presidential system, Federal republic State religion
Djibouti 2.74 147 Authoritarian regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Egypt 4.56 109 Hybrid regime Partly free Semi-presidential system appointed by military State religion
Guinea 2.79 146 Authoritarian regime Partly free Presidential system Secular state
*Indonesia 6.76 53 Flawed democracy Free Presidential system Secular state
Iran 1.98 158 Authoritarian regime Not free Islamic republic, Presidential system, Theocracy Islamic state
Iraq 4.10 113 Hybrid regime Not free Parliamentary republic State religion
Jordan 3.76 121 Hybrid regime Not free Constitutional monarchy State religion
Kazakhstan 2.95 143 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
Kosovo - - - Partly free Secular state
Kuwait 3.78 119 Hybrid regime Partly free Constitutional monarchy State religion
Kyrgyzstan 4.69 106 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic Secular state
Lebanon 5.05 99 Hybrid regime Partly free Confessionalist Parliamentary republic Secular state
*Libya 5.15 95 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic State religion
Malaysia 6.41 64 Flawed democracy Partly free Constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy State religion
*Maldives - - - Partly free State religion
Mali 5.12 97 Hybrid regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Mauritania 4.17 110 Hybrid regime Not free Islamic republic, Semi-presidential system Islamic state
Morocco 4.07 115 Hybrid regime Partly free Constitutional monarchy State religion
*Niger 4.16 111 Hybrid regime Partly free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Nigeria 3.77 120 Authoritarian regime Partly free Federalism, presidential system Secular state, Islamic state (only in the northern Nigerian states)
Northern Cyprus (Cyprus) - - - Free Secular state
Oman 3.26 135 Authoritarian regime Not free Absolute monarchy State religion
*Pakistan 4.57 108 Hybrid regime Partly free Federalism, parliamentary republic State religion
Palestine (occupied by Israel) 4.80 103 Hybrid regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state (in West Bank), de-facto Islamic state (in Gaza Strip)
Qatar 3.18 138 Authoritarian regime Not free Absolute monarchy State religion
Saudi Arabia 1.71 163 Authoritarian regime Not free Islamic absolute monarchy Islamic state
*Senegal 6.09 74 Flawed democracy Free Semi-presidential system Secular state
*Sierra Leone 4.71 104 Hybrid regime Free Presidential system Secular state
Somalia Not free Federalism, Semi-presidential system State religion
Somaliland (Somalia) Partly free
Sudan 2.38 154 Authoritarian regime Not free Federalism, presidential system Secular state (de jure), Islamic state (de facto)
Syria 1.63 164 Authoritarian regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Tajikistan 2.51 151 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
The Gambia 3.31 134 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
*Tunisia 5.67 90 Hybrid regime Partly free Semi-presidential system State religion
*Turkey 5.76 88 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic Secular state
Turkmenistan 1.72 161 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system, single-party state Secular state
United Arab Emirates 2.58 149 Authoritarian regime Not free Federalism, Constitutional monarchy State religion
Uzbekistan 1.72 161 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
Western Sahara (controlled by Morocco) - - - Not free -
Yemen 3.12 140 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Islamic state

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri (eds.) 2002 Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, Oxford University Press
  • Omid Safi (ed.) 2003 Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, Oneworld
  • Azzam S. Tamimi 2001 Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat within Islamism, Oxford University Press
  • Khan L. Ali 2003 A Theory of Universal Democracy, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers
  • Khatab, Sayed & G.Bouma, Democracy in Islam, Routledge 2007

External links[edit]