PARADIGM SHIFT| Is Islam Compatible with Democracy Can the West Be Successful in Selling Its Version of Democracy to the Muslim World?

NOWADAYS, a very interesting question about the relationship between Islam and democracy arises: Is Islam compatible with democracy and democratic values or any form of government that empowers the people and limits the power of leaders to hold merely representative offices with limited terms of public service? Can Islam be modernized? Can the West and Islam coexist? Can the West defeat fundamentalism and stop terrorism? Can the West be successful in selling its version of democracy to Muslims? The answer to these questions has a huge impact on the lives of 1.4 billion Muslims around the world. The impact results from the fact that the overwhelmingly majority of Muslim populations are governed by either non-democratic nations or unstable democracies.  In Islam the state is intended to be inseparable from religious rule. Islamic law, or Sharia–regulation that is complete and not designed to coexist with or to be subordinate to other legal systems.

Islam is a way of life, but more as a political ideology as well as a religion, where individuals organize their lives around the pillars of Islam, and Muslims leaders make decisions based on Islamic values. Islamic law is absolutely incompatible with Western laws. Democracy is a man-made law; Islam is an Allah-made religion. If a Muslim believes that there is any human being who has the right to make law other than Allah, then this person is not a true believer in Islam and has strayed from the path of that religion. That is, anyone who believes that secularism is superior to the law of Allah is violating the basic tenets of Islam, and that person is considered a sinner or a shirk, one who worships something or someone besides Allah. Muhammad and his successors, the Caliphs who succeeded him, ruled the people based on the Quran’s authority and did not submit their decisions to the will of the people. There is no tradition of democracy in the history of Islam in the Middle East. Muslims are not supposed to be ruled by non-Muslims. That is why wherever Muslims go, they set up separate communities with separate rules, diet, etc. because the Quran is very clear that they are to resist non-Muslims by any means until Islam establishes a political supremacy. This does not mean everybody will be forced to become a Muslim, but others must submit to Muslim rules. It is true that many Muslims are loyal to the non-Muslim countries in which they live, but once they become powerful, they will require a separate government or rule, for example in environs of London today. In Islam, all loyalty is to Allah and his religion. They cannot be loyal to an infidel country.

 Muslims do not melt into any pot except the Muslims’ brotherhood pot.  Recep Tayip Erdogan, President of Turkey, who began his country’s transition from secularism to Islamism, said, “Democracy is a like train we get on; once we get to our destination, we get off.” According to Islam, if anyone is a Muslim and a practicing Muslim, he is above the law of the land. So Islam is a theocratic system with Allah alone at its head. A ruling body of clerics interprets Allah’s law. The Quran is the constitution; there is no room for a Western secular notion of a political system in which all people are treated as equals.

 Islamic culture does not sync well with Westerners’ democratic practices. There are several cultural elements that stand between the Western notion of democracy and the Islamic concept of democracy, such as the role of women, abortion, divorce, gender equality, freedom of speech, the rights of a minority, tolerance, justice, hierarchy and obedience, all of which are incompatible with Western thoughts on democracy. Most Muslims believe that it is Allah and not man who rules. Allah is the source of all authority, including legitimate political authority. Virtues, not freedom, are the highest values for Muslims; therefore, Allah’s law should govern the society, not man’s law.

Terror groups like ISIS and Al-Qaida know that the majority of people in the Muslim world do not share their interpretation of Islam and certainly do not wish to live under an ISIS or a Taliban style government where men and women are persecuted and denied their basic human rights. But ISIS and Al Qaida also know that the majority of people in the Muslim world do not share a Westerner’s interpretation of democracy and certainly do not wish to live under an infidel’s or Westerner’s style of government because Islamic law is based on the Quran and the Sunnah, which are set, fixed, immutable, and non-negotiable. Anyone who dares to try to change these laws is considered an infidel and not a Muslim. Man’s law cannot take the place of Allah’s law, which tells its devotees everything they need to know about daily life down to which hand an individual should use to clean his or her private parts.

Another example of the differences between the two systems is that one vote is essential to democracy but heretical to Islam. According to Islamic law, the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man, and Jews and Christians are never to have equal standing with Muslims under the law and never to be in a position of authority over Muslims, and especially they cannot rule Muslims. Contemporary-minded Muslims prefer to ignore all of this and instead point that some selective verses in the Quran such as Surah 42:38, where the Quran says that Muslims are “to conduct their affairs by mutual consultation in matters of common concern,” using the verse to give evidence that Islam is compatible with democracy. However, this concept of ijma or ummah has always been controversial and rarely practiced within Islam. Some interpret it to mean the consensus of scholars. It does not have to be compatible with the opinion of the community. Even when its legitimacy is a recognized form of authority, Ijma is accepted only as a secondary form of authority, behind the high council’s view.  But keep in mind that Ijma and consultation are applicable only for Muslims and limited to consensus of males.

When Western and American leaders talk about democracy in the Middle East, they love to philosophize and fantasize about bringing democracy to the Middle East or to the Muslim world, but they never tell us which democracy they mean. Is it their notion of democracy or one with globally shared values and aspirations?  The Muslim world knows all about democracy, and they follow parliamentary elections in the majority of Western countries, but when they look around, they find themselves governed by dictators who happen to be supported by Westerners or by America. Westerners and Americans should understand that democracy and freedom of speech at home are not the same outside of their borders. Westerners and Americans keep preaching that if we promote democracy in the Muslim world and turn on Egyptian President al-Sisi, formerly a military general, on the Syrian Assad, or on the Saudi royal family to facilitate elections, and subsequently on Tunisia, Palestine, Turkey, or Algeria, then the people are not likely to elect Islamist parties committed to Islamic law. Most of the time Westerners fail to understand that Islam is not merely a belief, so that it is enough merely to preach about it.  Instead, Islam, a way of life that takes practical steps to organize a movement for “freeing man” from any other influence other than Islam. Whether or not a Muslim believes in active rebellion against secular or non-Muslim rule, it is does not change the fact that Islam is defined by allegiance to Allah and his self-proclaimed messenger, Muhammad. If anything contradicts what Allah has already established, that thing is forbidden. It is true that Islamic terrorists have killed more Muslims than infidels, because Islam advocates striving against both unbelievers and hypocrites, the latter of which are Muslims who profess Islam, but do not practice their orthodoxy. Nevertheless, Islam maintains the divide between dar al-Islam and dar al-Harb, those under the house of Islam and those not, respectively.

Westerners rationalize that the Muslim world will one day embrace what we know as Jeffersonian democracy. Granted, most Muslim countries hold elections but democracy is not a simple matter of elections by universal suffrage. The Turkish Republic can be described as a democracy in Western terms, but even there the path to freedom has been beset with obstacles. Others have tried to establish democracy and failed. Islam is an inherently supremacist doctrine. Non-Muslims are to submit to the Islamic way of life, and women are to submit to men. Many Westerners and some Muslims are trying to prove that Islam and democracy are indeed compatible thereby making Westerners happy by further advancing their cause of spreading democracy. Some may ask, “Are there any democratically elected and functioning governments in Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, or Afghanistan?” Those countries are far less close to adopting a Western notion of democracy or promoting democracy.  For example, in Turkey, the Turkish Islamic government wanted to have a new constitution that would be Islamic in a Turkish way, not adopting any other country’s system of government. For all Muslims the ideal society is like the one in which Prophet Mohammed lived in Medina, not a democracy.

Dr. Aland Mizell is President of the MCI and a regular contributor to Mindanao Times. You may email the author

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