By Ghulam Ghaus Siddiqui
The compatibility of Islam with democracy has been a topic of serious academic debate since the last century. According to some Islamists, democracy is antithetical to Islam. But on a keen study of Islamic principles of governance and the principles of democracy as we find today are very much identical in essence. True Democracy in its targeted goal is compatible with the rights already prescribed in Islamic laws 1400 years ago. Therefore, democracy has attracted common masses even in the Arab countries. In their view, it is synonymous with freedom.
Although Islam seriously deals with persons indulge in aggression and oppression, to a greater extent it has allocated the basic human rights including freedom of expression, equality, justice, integrity and mutual consultation etc. In other words, these Islamic principles assumed the term of democracy in the modern times.
From the spiritual perspective, the rights of democracy are derived from Islam. Islam is more inclusive and comprehensive than democracy in the distribution of rights and privileges, regardless of religion, caste, race, culture, economic status etc. Since human being has been endowed with intellectual capacity, therefore he gets deep insight into good and evil and therefore has gradually developed the democratic. Many political scientists and philosophers including John Austin and Rousseau whether willingly or unwillingly favoured Islamic ideologies. They defined democracy just for the welfare of the society. Their democratic concepts, though are not the same, but more or less reflect the Quranic message.
A far-sighted man can naturally embrace the fact that the principles of democracy and Islam have a lot of similarity. For example, democracy lays emphasis on public interests, self-reliance, personality development, protection from oppression and aggression, promotion of peace, mutual harmony, and love for the motherland. More inclusively, the parliamentary system of democracy has flexibility in law and order, responsibility, redressing of grievances, creating educational environment, eradicating violence and moral training of rulers in a focussed way. Liberty, justice and equality, as main principles of democracy, are implemented at all levels — civilian, economic, cultural, political, social and so on. All these rights and privileges are not only emphasized and included in democracy but also are the basis of Islamic political theory.
Many contemporary Muslim scholars have considered the concept of Shura (mutual consultation) much identical to the principles of parliamentary democracy. According to them, Islamic Shura is based on three precepts:
(1) All individuals dwelling in a society deserve equal human and civil rights.
(2) he public issues are best judged by majority.
(3) The values like justice, equality and human dignity, which represent Islam’s moral core are best actualized, in personal as well as in public life, under Shura governance.
Muslim democrats argue that the holy Quran points towards some form of democracy, or at least disapprove despotism. These precepts include Shura (mutual consultation), Ijma (consensus), Al-Hurriyya (freedom) and Al-Huquooq Al-Shar’yya (legitimate rights). For instance, Shura includes electing leaders to represent and govern on behalf of the community (Aal `Imran 3:159, Ash-Shura 42:38). Therefore, democracy (a government by the people) is not incompatible with the rule of Islam, while it has also been argued that rule by a religious authority is not the same as rule by a representative of Allah Almighty. However, this viewpoint is disputed by more traditional Muslims.
Ahamad Moussalli, the professor of political science at American University of Beirut, argues that despotic Islamic governments have run against the Qur’anic concepts for their own political and personal ends: “For instance, Shura, a doctrine that demands the participation of society in dealing with 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).
Qur’anic concept of Shura (consultation) is in reconciliation with democracy, and it is a necessity of human at all levels; social, economic, political and individual relations. The prophet Muhammad pbuh said “when anyone consults his brother he must do that”. Shura one of the laws of governance in Islam. Allah says: “(Believers are those) who run their affairs by consultation among themselves.” (42:38) also “And let there among you be a group of people who invite to all that is good, who enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.” (3:104)
The political system in Islam is a Shura system that rejects all forms of autocratic rule and all chaotic, demagoguery and political systems. To explain it further, it may be said that all rulings pertaining to the individual and collective life of Muslims are divided into two categories: the primary and the secondary rulings.
The primary rulings comprise of all Islamic duties and obligations inferred by fully qualified jurists from the four sources; the holy Qur’an, the Sunnah, consensus and reason. These fixed rulings are not put forward for consultation, for example rulings related to the acts of worship (like ritual prayer, fasting, pilgrimage to Mecca) and rulings regarding the commercial dealings, punishments (Hudud), compensation (Diyah, blood money or indemnity for bodily injury), and besides, others pertain to the process of trial, testimony and litigation etc..
Since, these rulings are based on the Qur’an, the Sunnah, the Consensus (Ijtihad), and Reason (Qayas), they are the unchanging laws but the possibility of modifications comes only during the varying states and conditions of a Mukallaf (a responsible Muslim). These varying conditions of a Mukallaf may be such as one’s stay in his home town, travelling, compulsion, immense need, or any other ordinary or extraordinary condition like disease, sporadic rainfall, storm, and so on.
The secondary rulings do not directly correlate with the four above mentioned sources, but are inferred by highly qualified jurists taking into account the current circumstances and conditions of an individual or society such as a fatwa that does not allow the use of tobacco. Briefly, the secondary rulings are those actions and affairs that are commonly considered Mubāh or neutral.
From the above differences it does not mean that the secondary rulings by a qualified jurist are not connected with all the four sources mentioned above. But the qualified jurist, in consultation with other jurisprudents, issues a legal verdict for the welfare of the Muslim society, taking inspiration from common principles and laws that allocate the duty to protect the existence of the Islamic society.
Like men, women are also endowed with these rights and can participate in consultation. Islam has distributed practical characteristics for both males and females. Islam grants them uncountable rights of political participation in the political spheres in terms of opinion. The holy verse describes it وأمرهم شورى بينهم) it is neither confined to men without women. Hadrat umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “Islam has given equal rights to both women and men in order to get education, culture.”
The most common difference between democracy and Islam is that of legislation. In democracy elected legislature makes laws from time to time whereas in Islam the source of legislation is the holy Quran and the Hadith. All the laws in Islam are miraculously fit for all ages and eras. Since there is flexibility in Islam, therefore laws if needed in modern times are also formulated through Consensus (Ijmae-Al-Ummat) and reason (Qayas). The sovereignty of God is the foundation of the system. Legislation contained in the Qur’an becomes the basic law of the state. See the verses of the holy Quran in Ahzab 33:36, Maidah 5:48, and Nisa 4:65.
The right to choose a ruler is entrusted to the nation through the people of the solution and contract. Governance in Islam is a contract by mutual consent between the citizens and the ruler. That ruler must be bound to adopt well-derived Islamic laws and should be well aware of legitimacy and illegitimacy (Halal and Haram) of actions. With sincerity, he must engage with Islamic laws through the standpoint of a class of people and nations having intelligence and experience. This class represents the nation in all its sectors and takes care of the ruler in order to settle his steps and help him make important decisions and trends.
Subsequently, it is obligatory for the people to obey the ruler. The ruler, however, must not be obeyed if he breaks the Shari`ah rules. Moreover, he will not be sacked unless he commits any outright disbelief. Allah almighty says “O, you who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger and those from among you who are in charge of your affairs; and if you differ over any matter, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you do believe in God and the last day.” (4:59)
After all, the major problem is that a class of extremists regards democracy as an emblem of infidelity (Kufr), some others consider it incompatible with Islam. While this problem is just with them to the misinterpretation of Islamic teachings.
The facts and arguments I have presented here aim to dispel the misunderstanding of the concept of democracy by Islamists and the misconceptions of west about Islam’s stand vis a vis democratic principles of governance.
Ghulam Ghaus is an Alim and Fazil (Classical Islamic scholar) with a madrasa background. He completed the classical Islamic sciences from a Delhi-based Sufi Islamic seminary Jamia Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Zakir Nagar, New Delhi with specialization in Tafseer, Hadith and Arabic.