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  • Date :
  • 6/24/2007


Muslim women

Although, as Steven R. Hofmann suggests, some Western scholars dismiss the mutual exclusiveness of Islam and democracy, the pervasive scholarly view of the Islam-democracy relationship in the West assumes, according to Mustapha K. Pasha, that democracy is ultimately a estern ideal type, which uniquely can provide a universally plausible form for the organization of political life. Asserting that Islam is merely the continuation of oriental despotism, this modernist view rejects the possibility of compromise between Islam and democratic values and practices. Fareed Zakaria argues that this dominant view among Western scholars during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can be traced back to their perception of the former Ottoman Empire as epitomizing autocratic rule — although other parts of the world, such as Russia, Japan and China, were ruled at that time by governments no less autocratic.

This Western scholarly view of the irreconcilability of Islam and democracy is so radical as to assume not only that Islam has failed to promote democratic values and ideals, together with the demo¬cratic form of government, but also that there is a deep antagonism between Islam and Western democracies. For instance, putting Islam and Marxism in one camp and condemning the rejection of political freedom by Islam, Seymour M. Lipset predicts that the development of democracy in Islamic countries is highly improb¬able in the near future. In similar vein Francis Fukuyama affirms not only that 'Islam constitutes a systematic and coherent ideology, just like liberalism and communism, with its own code of morality and doctrine of political and social justice', but also that 'Islam has indeed defeated liberal democracy in many parts of the Islamic world, posing a grave threat to liberal practices even in countries where it has not achieved political power directly'. In identifying this alleged antagonism between Islam and democracy, Huntington goes so far as to speak of a forthcoming 'clash of civilizations' between Islam and the West. What accounts for the impossibility of compromise between Islam and democracy, he suggests, is Islam's rejection of political secularism and individualism, as well as its failure to nurture a civil society.

If this is the prevailing Western outlook, the relationship between Islam and democratic values has also been a central concern for Muslim thinkers in their encounter with the dominant Western culture with its emphasis on democratic values and practices. Hugh Goddard's thorough investigation detects four influential approaches adopted by Muslim thinkers in articulating the relationship between Islam and democracy: these are discussed in brief below.

1. Perfect contradiction between Islam and democracy.

  The first approach is what I will call the 'contradiction approach' to the relationship of Islam and democracy: it suggests that Islam and democracy are in such intrinsic I opposition that no reconciliation between them is conceivable. Hugh Goddard interprets the Egypt¬ian Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) as affirming the idea of a perfect contra¬diction between democracy, based upon the sovereignty of the people and secularism, and Islam, which constructs its rule on the basis of the sovereignty of God. As a corollary of this view, not only is the concept of religious democracy held to be meaningless, but it is also taken to demonstrate the alienation of the thinker who has adopted this extraneous concept from Western culture. This view, however, should not be taken as simply affirming a despotic account of religious rule, since the theorists in this category might emphasize their rejection of Western culture while at the same time upholding certain genuine religious concepts that they present as  contradictory to any type of dictatorship. Yet implicit in this view is the inappropriateness of adopting Western concepts in developing an Islamic view of political theory. Hence, according to this view, the distinction between Islam and democracy is so deep as to rule out the adoption by Islamic political theorists of any of the recognized principles of democracy.

2. Incompatibility of Islam and democracy

 Goddard detects a similar approach, although one that turns on a relative rather than an absolute distinction between the two concepts (on incompati¬bility rather than contradiction), in the work of the South Asian thinker Abu'1-A'la Mawdudi (1903-79). As Goddard explains, he rejects Western democracy as incompatible with the Islamic idea of government, while suggesting a kind of religious democracy in which a select group of Muslim scholars hold the reins of power and practice consultation as the leading principle in conducting public affairs, although he offers no clear observation on the electiveness of the high authorities. His model is different from Sayyid Qutb's in that the latter does not recognize democracy in any sense. However, Goddard suggests that in practice 'Mawdudi's models were almost certainly fascism and communism in the 1930s'. Nevertheless, as in the previous view, the absence of a direct requirement of approving dictatorship in rejecting democracy is relevant here, too. Mawdudi's might be called the 'distinctness approach' to the relationship of Islam and democracy.

3. Compatibility of Islam and democracy

 A more approving view of democracy as reconcilable with Islam has been put forward by the Egyptian intellectual Abbas Mahmud al-Aqqad (1889-1964). Committed to a Sunni's conviction about caliphate {successorship of Muslim leaders to Prophet Muhammad), Al-Aqqad invokes some traditional principles to reconcile Islam with democratic values. He argues that the Islamic principle of ijma' (consensus) requires that whatever law is passed by a Muslim community or its represetatives should be legally valid and binding on all Muslims. Another principle he resorts to in reconciling Islam and democracy is bay'a (the pledge of allegiance), which can be interpreted as affirming a social contract between the ruler and the ruled, the very idea of democratic contractarianism 30 His might be conceived of as the reconciliation approach' to the relationship of Islam and democracy.

4. Necessity of democracy for Islam

 A more responsive approach from the Islamic world towards democracy, Goddard finds, is that of a Syrian scholar, Bassam Tibi, as well as another scholar, in Morocco, Fatima Mernissi: they not only believe in the compatibility of Islam and democracy, but also affirm a type of democratisation of the Islamic idea of government. The former suggests a trans-cultural theory of democracy and human rights, whereas the latter, displaying a more welcoming view of Western democracy, assumes that if Muslims can legitimately adopt the automobile and the telephone from the West, they can for the same reason adopt democracy, though all are foreign to the Muslim world. This view can be called the democratisation approach' to the relationship of Islam and democracy. Presupposing that democracy is a universal concept, the democratisation approach seeks to establish typical Western secular democracy in Muslim societies, setting aside the possible impediment that religious commitment would constitute to the promotion of a democratic political culture. The seculari¬sation approach thus requires restricting the teaching of Islam to a collection of ethical precepts for individual progress, empty of any social, economic, and political norms, as advocated by Islamist modernists such as the Tunisian Mohammed Talbi.

In contrast with these four approaches to the Islam- democracy relationship, in the following chapters this book will develop what I shall call the 'partial similarity approach' between Western secular democracy and Islamic religious democracy.

To be continued...


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