Democracy and Islam


With the current debates about democracy, religion and politics happening all over Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, I couldn’t help but think about the amalgamation of these factors that has lead to the current status of Pakistan.

I’ll start from the regular demonizing of democracy that has become a norm by the right wing debaters swarming Facebook. I remember one of them actually called democracy and haram and even implied that it is a tool by the Zionists and westerners to make us forget about our religion. “Sharia law is the only way for true Muslims”, he said. I couldn’t help but point out to him that Islam has nothing against democracy and in no way is democracy un-Islamic. Islam’s fundamental corner stone has the same values as that of democracy but to no avail.

The problem with the traditionalist view is that secretly hoping for the ‘golden’ era of the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is unrealistic. Not only will we have to re-create the prophet himself but also the sahaba and not to mention the exact same geo-political circumstances and scenarios and hope that each and everything happens the same way it did back during the 7th century. We’ll also have to degrade the technological advancements that have been made till date and get rid of everything that is present today but wasn’t there during the prophets time.

We also keep forgetting that after prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) death, with the prophet not there anymore to guide the ummah, a khilafat system was created by the sahaba. This khilafat system, considered to be the most Islamic system, was based in Democracy. Hazrat Abu Bakr (ra) became the first Caliph because he was elected by the sahaba of the time not because he had at army at his disposal.

My point here being that this khilafat system worked at the time only because it was the correct adaptation for the time for the ummah. With the guidance fresh from the prophet, the sahaba had the means to create a system that would work well whilst following the traditions of Islam and the practices associated with it. Today the circumstances have changed, and the same system that worked under those circumstances is no longer a system that will suit the needs of today. And by saying that I’m in no way implying that a khilafat system with shariah law is bad, just that it will not serve the greater purpose of serving humanity. Fact is that a new system is required that will work today and democracy is that system.

Democracy and fundamental teachings of Islam are intertwined. An ideal Islamic state is a Muslim-majority country that respects freedom, the rule of law, global human rights (including religious freedom), social welfare, women’s rights and the rights of minorities. With democracy doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time just like any other constitutional system.

It is also important to note that the first constitution of Medina declared the state of Medina as a political unit and that the constitution declared the indivisible composition of the Muslim nation or Ummah. Islam encourages political activity. In fact, the sovereignty of God’s law (the Quran and Sunnah) equates to the state law that is obvious from the encouraged political participation.

An example here to show that Islamic law is not suitable in our country is the interview clip of Munawar Hassan (the JI head) regarding his take on women & rape. According to Maulana Munawar Hassan sahab, a woman should not report rape if she doesn’t have four witnesses. If she still does and cant produce witnesses, she will be tried for adultery according to Sharia law.

My question to the readers is this: Do you think this rational and just in today’s era? That incase a woman cannot produce four witnesses she should either not report the rape, or be willing to bear the consequences. What message does that send? See the video for yourself and then decide how wrong it will be for innocent women.

Another example is that of general Zia-ul-haq and his so-called Islamization. He introduced discriminatory legislation against women such as the set of Hudood Ordinances and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order). He banned women from participating and from being spectators of sports and promoted purdah. He suspended all fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution that had been adopted in 1973, including the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of sex.

Democracy, on the basis of Islam, gives all of these rights back to women. Just last year, the Pakistan National assembly passed a bill to punish acid throwers, which shows a big problem in our society. Our own Shirmeen Obaid Chinoy received an Oscar for her movie on the issue as well. It was because of democratic system that women got empowered and were able to raise a voice against such an inhumane act. In a democratic system the plight of the people is always a concern, which relates to the fundamental teachings of our religion.

In short, God has given us brains so that we may reason and make decisions, not follow blindly. Islam is a religion that is not rigid and it lets people adapt without changing its basic and fundamental teachings. And with democracy as the system of the people, I think Democracy and Islam suit each other perfectly.


Author: Mukhtar Ahmed