Paper on Islam and Democracy
Islam and Democracy
Morocco is a conservative country which religion is Islam; however, its political system is based on democracy due to its influence by Europe. Hassan II said: "Morocco is a tree, the roots of which are planted firmly in Africa but which has its branches in Europe."(Hassan II, 1976).
In fact, Morocco is a country which is open to modernity; it is what Moataz Abdel Fattah names a “modernist Islamist society” and defines as being a society that deduces its principles from the holy book and perceives democracy as a modern extension of the great Islam rules. (Moataz, 10) So what is the real meaning of democracy? According to Abraham Lincoln, democracy is a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” (Lincoln, A. qtd in democracy-building).
In another source, it is defined as the following:
“Democracy is by far the most challenging form of government - both for politicians and for the people. The term democracy comes from the Greek language and means "rule by the (simple) people". [ …]. Yet the theory of modern democracy was not formulated until the Age of Enlightment (17th/18th centuries), when philosophers defined the essential elements of democracy: separation of powers, basic civil rights / human rights, religious liberty and separation of church and state.” (qtd in : democracy-building.info)
We can notice that many people claim that Islam does not allow democracy to exist and that modernization and democracy are hindrances to the good practice of Islam. Throughout this paper, we will discuss the consequences of the misunderstanding of Islam, to explain the poor modernization of the Muslim world and by conducting a research on the Muslim world, focusing on Morocco, we will manage to prove that in the contrary of what people may think Islam does not prevent democracy from existing but, it relies on it.
Modernization, democracy and Islam
Many people think that modernization and democracy can disturb the good practice of Islam. This idea is generated because of many reasons that may seem logic. This focuses on the secularist side of democracy which is in fact present in almost all democratic society. Therefore, religion is isolated from politics, and make, in this case, Islam less powerful. However, Islam remains omnipresent in people’s lives even if it is not applied in politics, as confirmed by Moataz Abdel Fattah: “Holy texts do not tell Muslims much about how to run their societies. Holy texts are excellent sources of aqeeda [creed] and ethics but not politics and economics.” (Moataz, 19)
Democracy is in fact a part included in the process of modernization, and modern societies do not encourage Islam to exist. They can seem somehow contradictory while modern societies are based essentially on material values such as money and appearances whereas Islam is mostly about spirit. Living in a modern society may lead people, especially young ones, to focus on the carnal side of life and reject boundaries, while living in a Muslim one would inculcate them spiritual values such as helping poor, being generous and honest, and that life is only temporary, whereas the after-life lasts forever, that if they are good persons they would end up in heaven, otherwise they would be put in hell. Religion make people live for a special goal, it gives sense to their lives and creates a certain stability; making them aware of the importance of being a good person. In modern societies and secularist ones, people live with no limits, with no goal and no belief and this does not make them feel the obligation of being good persons. Besides the formal part of religion, modernization can be a sort of prevention from the substance of religion. Therefore, the main problem with democratization in the Muslim world is mostly about modernization and less about Islam (Voll, 171).
Various understandings of Islam:
There are various understandings and interpretations of Islam, some are incompatible with democracy and prevent their coexistence to be possible, and others contrariwise, make their coexistence not only possible but necessary. “Traditionalist Islamists […] searched for what they perceive as an Islamic government, which is contradictory to what most contemporary academicians and democracy students label democracy. Thus, they fully reject democracy on Islamic grounds. Modernist Islamist individuals […] search for a modern (democratic) government that is compatible with Islam. They usually call it “Islamic democracy.” (Moataz, 9)
Islam has been for a long time and remains the subject of many several discussions, linking it to democracy positively as well as negatively. In fact, it has different interpretations which vary from incompatible with democracy to compatible with the latter. Looking at those interpretations, we can distinguish fundamentalist Islam, modernist and traditionalist one. Modernist Islam believes in the possible coexistence between Islam and democracy and tries to establish a modern society whose principles are based on tolerance and acceptance. It considers right to work with democratic principles as long as Islamic context is conserved (Moataz, 17) and perceives democracy as a modern extension of the shura (great Islam rules). (Moataz, 10). One of the main examples of societies in which Modernist Islam is applied is Morocco, a Muslim country relying on democracy. In fact, bases of democracy are respected while people have the right to vote, to choose their leaders and therefore to govern themselves by themselves. Tolerance is also clearly apparent in Moroccans’ way of life; people from different religions (Muslims, Jews and Christians) and different races (Arabs, Berber) live together in perfect harmony.
Fundamentalist Islam focuses more on the appearances than on Islam Values. It literally follows the rules of the Shari’ah and considers it not only as being perfect, but also as being enough to cover all Muslim lives’ aspects. It rejects whatever comes from western societies because it blames them for problems Muslims are facing. (Ganji, 96-97). Traditionalist Islam is a combination of modernism and traditionalism. It does not encourage the liberty of thinking, however; unlike the fundamentalist, it considers shari’ah as a tool to the blossoming of the spirit not as an end in itself. It rejects westerns’ culture because it is considered as being a weak culture, which is against Islam’s principles but does not blame them for the problems that are present in Muslim societies. (Ganji, 98-99) “Muslims are susceptible to the belief that Christian theologians aim only to weaken Islam and the Islamic world.”(Ganji, 103)
We can notice the poor modernization of Muslim countries. Some scholars tried to explain this phenomenon by advancing that Islam’s goals are purely spiritual, it does not aim in solving material problems, others believe that the fact that westerns are that developed compared to Muslims is because they have given up the religious part of their lives to devote themselves entirely to material progress. Muslims therefore limit their efforts in progressing materially because they think that if they do so, they will neglect religion the fact that is unthinkable. (Ganji, 105-106) This poor modernization is expressed by:
First, gender inequality: women in Iran have less access to health care than men; furthermore, boys in traditional families have more “value” than girls because in the shari’ah the blood money for a man is twice that for a woman. Iran’s traditional religious culture considers that a woman is not the owner of her body, but that it belongs to her husband. The latter has every right to hit her and she can never complain. “The law can even punish a woman for resisting.”(Ganji, 51) A man can be punished for raping a woman who is not his wife, not for defending the woman, but to protect the husband of the woman who has been raped because she is considered as being his property. (Ganji, 50-51)
Second, terrorism/ lack of freedom: Modernists have accepted the accomplishments of the westerns and have tried to make good use of it by trying to adapt it to their culture; traditionalists have rejected it but never came in to violence. Fundamentalists, contrariwise, have been using everything they could, including violence, to reject westerns. Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Iranian clergy have been threatening disciples and students and afflicting horrible things to them because they strongly believe that western culture is the expression of Evil. (Ganji, 108) This is against democracy because it does not allow people to practice or study what they want to, they have to hide to do that, otherwise; they would be killed and tortured.
According to the two points we discussed in the previous parts, we will deduce the possible coexistence between Islam and Democracy, and then try to show if they coexist or not in Muslim societies and see what could be done. “[…] democracy is genuinely compatible with Islamic principles of shura.” (Moataz, 61) One of the basics of Islam is the principle of Shura, which consists of asking people and discussing with them, before applying any new rule. The prophet himself, used to work with Shura for every decision he had to take, consult Muslims as well as non Muslims as confirmed by Moataz Abdel Fattah who sets in his book that the prophet Muhammad was known take into consideration everybody’s point of view, including women and non-Muslims( Moataz, 60).. Therefore, if we consider democracy in its large sense as the governance of people by the people and not as the concept of being free to do whatever we want without taking into account others feeling, Islam clearly appears as a democratic system. So, according to the definitions of both Islam and democracy that we work with, the compatibility differs. However, the coexistence between both remains possible, and even necessary in some cases to the good practice of Islam. Meryem Marzouki came up with the same conclusion after studying the process of democratization in Casablanca; she clearly stated that Islam is absolutely not an obstacle in front of democracy, and therefore can coexist with no difficulties with it.
Unfortunately, this coexistence is not always respected in Muslim countries; many societies reject it while others strongly believe in its importance. Therefore, Muslim countries can be divided into four categories: High support of Democratic norms and low support of democratic institutions, Low support for Democratic norms and institutions, Moderate support for democratic norms and institutions and High support for democratic norms and institutions.
“The first category of Muslim culture [high support for democratic norms and low support for democratic institutions] is best exemplified by the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Libya.” (Moataz, 89). In these countries, the incidence of discrimination toward foreign people is really high, followed by discrimination of males toward females. However, women remain self-confident and believe in their capacities to do as well as men in different domains. (Moataz, 90). The second category is the less tolerant one, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Tajikistan, Sudan, and possibly Pakistan and Nigeria represent the best examples of it, refusing all kinds of democracy, rejecting its values and principles in order to maintain political stability. (Moataz, 90). Then comes the third group, the average one that begins to accept democracy and apply it but still not completely democratic. It is , as the author well describe it “[…] the average Muslim cultures: those that demonstrate greater tolerance of sociopolitical differences and are more accommodating to democratic institutions and procedures but not yet reached high levels of support for democracy. These cultures include eleven groups of Muslims and most notably two minorities: Lebanese Muslims and Muslims of European countries.” (Moataz, 99). And finally, the last category and the most impressive is the one that combines tradition and modernity, Islam and democracy, and make both coexist in perfect harmony. This category includes Morocco, the best example of the Muslim democratic society. Effectively, in addition to the right of voting and the power of the people, Morocco remains one of the most tolerant Muslim countries: “The pooled data suggest that tolerance toward Jews is much less than tolerance toward Christians in all Muslim Countries, except for the case of Morocco […] there was no statistical in the ways Moroccans perceive Christians and Jews.” (Moataz, 105).
Nevertheless, many things can be done to make Muslims more comfortable with democracy; “First, advocates of democracy in the Muslim world should make more efforts to Islamize democracy rather than democratizing Islam. Islamizing democracy is a philosophical, theological, and juristic endeavor that aims at finding Islamic roots for democratic norms and praxis. Many sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad can be endorsed as the Islamic roots of majority rule, the moral and political equality of women and non-Muslims, obligatory shura, and the eradication of apathy and “dictatorship, but …” culture.” (Moataz, 130). Then try to change people’s way of thinking to create an atmosphere more and a mindset more ready to accept democracy, to “create a fertile soil” for it. (Moataz, 131), and try to obtain the support of influent political parties (Moataz, 131).
There are also specific solutions for each problem:
To stop corruption : moral courage, change in vision and behavior, dedicate themselves to the truth whatever sacrifices it implies, mustn’t be timid or small minded, think of moral victory. Make the fight for freedom possible, make it real, not a product of imagination. (Ganji, 40-41)
“It is possible to remain a muslim and a shia and to believe wholeheartedly in the reforms advocated by the democratic movement.”(Ganji, 29) Muslims should stop seeing westerns as enemies but as partners in changing the world view and spirit. (Ganji, 110)
As we can notice, the actual state of Muslim countries is different for one society to another; there are some that handles perfectly this called problem of coexistence between Islam and democracy and others that are not yet ready to live with it. However, they are doing many progresses and “are on the path of democracy.” (Moataz, 144).
People often rely on prejudices and on what is told to them, they do not make the effort to look deeply for the meaning of concepts. They settle for what is told to them and consider it as being a general truth as it is the case for western societies that consider Islam as being bad and non tolerant.
Islam has a very bad reputation because many Muslims do not understand it well and therefore exaggerate some rules and neglect others. They interpret wrongly Islam laws and opt for violence when it comes to solve problems while Quran only tolerate violence when it is used for defense. They also ignore issues as lack of democracy and gender inequality whereas Islam insists on the importance of evenness.
Those two issues create a gap between western and Muslim countries and that makes each society reject the other’s values. This explains the non acceptance of democracy and modernity by Muslims because they believe it is a part of western culture whereas it is before all a part of theirs as Islam first introduced it to the world. It is also the reason of the non tolerance toward Islam. We can conclude that some believe Islam is bad because they heard it somewhere. And others are scared of democracy because they think it may change their faith. This leads to put a hollow between some Islamic societies and the rest of the world whereas Islam and democracy are strongly connected.
Solutions to those problems exist and are given above but they may not be sufficient for the following reasons: first, it is possible that Muslims are not ready to accept modernity and accept democracy. Second, it may not be easy to change the image of Muslims towards the rest of the world after all this time.