Monday, 5 October 2015

The Sharing Group Discussion on Democracy & Islam

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following was posted in The Sharing Group by me on the 20th September, 2015: “I have heard it said by many Muslims, most notably Shaykh Nazhim al-Haqqani (q.s.), that a democratic system is unIslamic.  I am not convinced myself that it is necessarily so.  I have also heard it told that the ideal system for Muslims is monarchical.  Again, I am very sceptical.  What do our members think of this?”

Brother Abdullah Shalchi: Muslims can be Muslims in every system, unless it prevents them carrying out their duties.  Blaming the system is an excuse.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: I doubt most of us at TSG have reached the level of scholarship to know exactly.  That said, Islam as a system seems comprehensive enough and nuanced enough to adapt to most systems, so long as the players keep to a certain code of ethics.  I also think it is a different thing to say that a religion can survive in a given societal system than it is to say that a religion adheres to a certain societal system.  I think Islam, or any religion, can survive in a democracy.  I do not think that means that Islam, or any religion, is therefore democratic.

Brother Erhan Avci: For what it is on paper, the Constitution and American laws as interpreted by the state of Texas is pretty legit in my opinion.

Brother Ariffin Yeop: Many hands and legs never makes a head.

Brother Rocky Talukder: Brother Erhan Avci, the American High Court and Supreme Court acknowledges Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) as a great law giver.  Some of my Muslim friends said to me, democracy is a system of kufr.  As far as I understand, democracy is a social and political system where everyone has equal rights to say, to be able to live as a human with basic needs.

Brother Abdullah Saniblood Wumbei: I think Islam is one of the religions that exercise the best form of democracy but what happens is most of the scholars interpret Islam to suit their interest.  The reason why I say this is that if you read the Qur’an, it makes you respect even people outside your belief system but you live a life with the best ethics.  If you focus on Islam globally, you will see different interpretations and how communities live according to these interpretations.  Muslim communities that are happy have the best shuyukh.

Brother Adam Kishanov: A constitutional republic is the way to go, although it is really not a democracy like the US tries to be.  You cannot have both; that is the problem in the US.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: I find it amusing that when the topic of democracy is brought up that we almost immediately start talking about the US, which technically is not actually a democracy, but a republic.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I was about to mention that.  American vote for the Electoral College and have no direct say on who their President is, for example.  Perhaps it would help if someone could define what a democracy is.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: I would think that a democracy could get rather chaotic in a larger, more active community, since in a pure democracy, citizens vote not only for their leaders, but for every proposal.  The US is more of a representative system, where we vote for representatives who vote for the minutiae, hopefully while keeping their constituency in mind.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Maybe it is because the US government talks so much about democracy and uses it or lack of it as an excuse for doing what it does, especially in the rest of the world?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The US is a fractured country held together against its will by a federal system.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: It is quite possible that you are both right!  Our foreign policy is much too aggressive in my view, Sister Shahbano, and Brother Terence, that is a good point you mention, implying that the country is so large and diverse that the only thing holding it together really is massively clinging to a mirage called ‘freedom’ and the collective delusion that the leaders we vote for have our best interests at heart.  Why are we so bloody stupid?

Brother David Rosser Owen: “Democracy”, according to George Catlin. professor of government at McGill University in the 1960s, is virtually anything at all that you want it to be.  He gave 12 definitions of the concept in his book, ‘Systematic Politics’, that ranged from the primitive democracy of Pericleain Athens and its latter-day version in the Geneva city-state contemporary with John Calvin to the communist dictatorships of the People’s Democratic Republic of the Yemen and Enver Hodza’s Albania.  It was the ‘primitive democracy’ that the FFs of the USA, being classically educated Britons, rejected when they said it was a republic.  They probably had in mind the Patriot Whig concept of constitutional monarchy with representative government that 18th Century Britain was - and which evolved further in the mid-19th Century, so that it provided the model for the post-Tanzimat Ottoman Empire.  This was the concept and practice of ‘democracy’, which was one of Catlin's definitions, that Shaykh Nazhim (q.s.) was approving of.

It can be said, that in the manner of the choosing of each of the khilafah is a model for the Muslims for deciding on the style of governance, and each had, as a common element, the matter of endorsement by a majlis of the ahl al-‘aqd wa al-hal of the community, from Abu Bakr (r.a.) to Mu’awiyah (r.a.).  It has also been suggested that Mu’awiyah’s (r.a.) appointing of Yazid, given the geopolitical environment of the time, and the need to keep the Muslims' state united in the face of its various extremely powerful superpowers of the day, also presents a pragmatic choice.

Brother Rocky Talukder: In both a republic and a democracy, people pass their power to a representative through nomination.  This gives power to people and makes everyone equal provided that it is the democracy by practice, not by democracy solely in definition.  And in most religions of the world, every person has equal status in our society regardless their faith.  In fact, every religion teaches tolerance and respect for other religions and expects the same.

Brother Matthew Adams: This is my first comment, so I should probably say hello, and give a brief explanation of my position, especially as it obviously informs the question I am going to put.

Probably most importantly, I am an atheist, but one with a strong respect for religion as a disciplined approach to ethics; and as a necessary part of the human experience.  That I do not take part in something does not mean that I reject it, or have learned nothing from it.  I am also a historian by training and temperament, which inevitably colours my view of religions in general - I tend to be more interested in what they do for people in a society than anything else.

Anyway, my point and question would be - is this as much a result of the success of early modern Islamic societies as anything else, if early modern is really an appropriate term to use?

The democratic systems that grew up in Europe and the Americas were, as much as anything, a response to the weakness of those societies through the early modern period, and especially their inability to manage religious conflicts.  This, ironically, led them to become increasingly dynamic in a number of areas, not least in terms of their economies and armies and navies; it also pushed them to increasingly marginalise religion, a major driver of conflict in Europe and the Americas, within civil society, in a way I doubt Islamic societies would be able to accept.  The rise of democratic societies was associated with the collapse of the older Islamic regimes, especially the Ottoman Empire and Mughal India, as well as China, another hugely successful system in the early modern period.

Given all that, surely a sense of dislocation between Islam and democracy is as much about history as scripture?  That potted history, by the way, is obviously simplified horribly, and certainly not in my area of expertise, so I apologise if there are any clear errors.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Actually, that is a pertinent point.  It could be a form of nostalgia or nationalism dressed up as a religious edict.  Many Shi’ah, for example, believe in a sort of patronage system where rule, both ecclesiastical and temporal, are held within a dynasty of sorts that claims lineage from the Prophet (s.a.w.).  This is a reaction to Sunni Islam which initially had an Amir al-Mu’minun, Commander of the Faithful, but he was still subjected to a council, a shura’.  This system was dismantled by the Umayyads, who ruled like the Arab kings before Islam.  Other dynasties that came followed suit.  So we could argue, as others have said, that there was a form of regional and sectional representation.

Brother Matthew Adams: Indeed.  And I suspect there is a distrust of a system that tends to absolutely separate Church from State, as in most Continental European systems.  My own country of birth, the UK, manages a particularly weird variant of this through an Established Church that retains a political presence, the bishops in the House of Lords, but which has developed an ideal of tolerance to such a degree that ‘religions’ such as ‘Jedi’ end up being reported in censuses.

One of the big problems in all of the discussion about democracy, of course, is the way it has been imposed upon states that frankly are not ready for it - that lack the developed civil society, itself based on a more or less developed economy, necessary to enable democracy to function democratically, rather than in a sectarian manner.  I tend to suspect that the rise of broad - based developed economies in Islamic countries will lead to some interesting experiments with democracy.  Another point is that they do not have to follow an established model in order to be democratic.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I would contend that no country is truly ready for democracy. We cannot even trust people to vote for their own interests.

Brother Matthew Adams: But without trust, where are we?  In a sense, of course, you are right.  Perhaps it is as the well-worn Churchill quote goes, it is the worst system of government - apart from all the others.  At least democracy rests more upon consent than upon force - the people accept that what they vote for may not be what takes place, and therefore permit themselves to be governed.  Other systems, while they may or may not choose better answers, struggle on the question of consent.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: I believe that most people would like for a good leaders, whether or not those leaders come in the form of a monarch or a president or a caliph or an imam or a prime minister or a chancellor.  Throughout history, we already have bad and good examples of leadership whether they were passed down based on lineage, or nominated, elected by the parliament or people.  So I do not really see democracy or monarchy through rose tinted glasses as though either one of these systems are sacred.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: I think you have a good point.  It matters less the actual system and more that we have leaders who genuinely care about the people they serve, and opportunities for growth.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: A system is necessary since some are less prone to abuse than others.  But to determine the quality of the leadership, from a societal perspective, it falls to its education system.

Brother AbdRohim Sinwan: The thing is, there are people out there who treat systems like ‘democracy’ or ‘sultanate’ or whatever their favourite system is, like it is the only or best way of running a country.

Brother William Voller: I would think the prophetic model might imply that no system is best?  He used what was there for the benefit of people both spiritually and material.  He left no defined method of governance, but an ethical code.  I would also say from history and personal experience, those systems that work are those that reflect and adapt, are fair and listen to the citizens, allow one to transcend ones birth status and allow people freedom to innovate.  You could have this with a good monarchy or good oligarchy or good hierarchy or democracy or even anarchy.

Brother Pharshad Emati: The ideal system of Muslims was outlined by the Prophet (s.a.w.).  It is wilayah, following the guardianship of a member of Ahl al-Bayt, but that was put aside by those who wanted power and Islam became monarchical.  Never did the Prophet (s.a.w.) wish to have kings ruling over Muslims

Brother Robert Vose: You need to also consider scale in any system of political organisation.  The scale of modern societies is huge – hundreds of millions of diverse people in the largest nations.  Democracy and liberal democratic norms work for organising large scales of people in a peaceful and fair manner.  That there was nowhere near that scale of population 1,400 years ago is no reason against modern systems of organising political power.  With large scales, a separation between the micro and macro seems to develop.  At a local scale, people affirm their beliefs and live in their chosen community.  Here the affirmation of religion is appropriate and necessary to build faith.

At the larger scale of a modern state, you have a different need.  You need to be able to test and disprove claims.  Think of financial systems and the money accumulated by a government with taxes.  The budgets and accounts are made public for proper transparency, to ensure the money is not being misappropriated.  Claims of belief about state’s finances because a finance minister is part of a religious community is simply not appropriate.  Claims about systems of government for a modern state need to be tested transparently.  That is essentially what democracy is about.

Scale in modern society is a key factor.  At the local scale faith and religion is appropriate for building communities.  At a national level proper testing of assumptions is appropriate.  You often find in dictatorships, and old school monarchies, that this modern order due to scale is turned upside down.  In a dictatorship, the political ruling class affirms and impose their religion at the national scale, while misappropriating state resources.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: But then, if we consider history, democracy was only possible in a small scale such as the Athenian experiment.  And even then, it was proven to be unwieldy and discarded.  Societies functioned on the basis of some form of autocracy and patronage so that we could be organised along economies of scale.

Large scale democracy is only possible now because of technology.  Social media is a form of democracy.  But as an ideal, it only functions when every single person who has that equal vote has a certain bar of knowledge, ethics and reasoning; and the ability to exercise it.  And even then, psychologically, we have formed variations of an idiocrasy.

At the same time, I know that I would never passively accept a return to any sort of autocratic rule.  I am certainly anti-monarchist.  I admit that I am hypocritical about that since I will not be anti-monarchist if I am the monarch.

Brother Robert Vose: Brother Terence, most modern states can arrange a democratic election because that is accepted as a measure of legitimacy for a modern state.  Still, you have dictatorships that have regular elections - in communist countries only one party can stand.  We know what democracy in a country like Malaysia means.  Democratic practices alone does not guarantee a liberal democracy - and there are other conditions that need to be met.  We know what most of these conditions are from the way the great liberal democracies have developed: the Republic in the US, and the Westminster system in the UK for two main examples.  Enabling systems for a liberal democracy include freedom of expression, separation of powers, between the executive, legislature and judiciary, trial by jury, human rights, and many other subsystems to create a transparent system of government.  It is very difficult to set up a culture of liberal democracy, and it takes a great deal of time.  The USA was careful to instill liberal democracy in Europe and Japan after WWII.  Democratic elections alone will not make a liberal democracy.  A true liberal democracy is a complex system of systems.  Faith and religious community is but one aspect within this system.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I agree with you except for Japan being a liberal democracy.  The nature of its culture precludes that.

Brother Robert Vose: Agreed.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Shaykh Etsko Schuitema points out that democracy is a method for choosing a government or a ruler, but it is not a method that ensures legitimacy of power, though somehow it is presented and thought of this way.  This is consistently true across the world.  So-called elected leaders do or have done horrendous things, whom citizens do not experience as having legitimate power, despite voting them in.

The ultimate criterion in a democracy is the majority vote.  The criterion for legitimate power is the intent of the leader, or more precisely, the intent to serve the country’s citizens unconditionally.

Shaykh Muhammad Harun Riedinger has written this article on democracy specifically in light of the Diyn.  You might find this useful: The Holiest Cow or The Emperor’s New Clothes, 17th September, 2015.  This article was first published in Women’s Own, December 1999 issue.  It is addressing specifically the situation in Pakistan when General Musharraf deposed of the civilian government, but has further application.

The General and his men have taken a courageous step in the right direction - may Allah (s.w.t.) Strengthen and Guide their hearts further - a step which, by Divine Decree, has brought this country once again to the crossroads of haqq and bathil.  So, what next?  Since the Chief Executive, according to his own words, - and there is no reason not to believe him - has no ambitions to turn politician, and who would blame him for that, unlike a predecessor of somewhat lesser character calibre some 25 years ago, Pakistan does not appear to be heading for what is generally known as ‘military dictatorship’.

Even though the vast majority of the people seem rather happy with the refreshing changes at the top, there is still this somewhat unsavoury air of illegality hovering over the present set-up, painstakingly kept alive from certain quarters within, but much more so by continued demands from foreign leaders, delegations and international bodies for a speedy return to civilian rule.  The fact, that General Musharraf has shown a great deal more civility towards this nation in these few weeks than his civilian predecessors combined, does not seem to be noticed by those hierophants of the international creed of democracy.  It was interesting to observe that one who did notice it recently - George Bush, the Republican presidential candidate of the U.S. – was immediately decried as not being worthy of holding office, if he thought, let alone publicly stated that any military takeover could possibly be good news.

We, as a nation can now take the easy way out, have, amid cheers of ‘shabash’ from the international community, fresh elections, once the purging storm is over, and the dust has settled, and everything will be again in letter and spirit exactly by the Book - constitutionally sound - and we will be back at square one.

The presently suspended Constitution of Pakistan – however sincere and well-wishing the authors of its original version may have been – is nevertheless a repeatedly revised product of limited human intelligence, and not Divine Revelation.  This is why a thing such as ‘constitutional crisis’ is possible.  Giving it the notion of untouchability, and considering it a sacrilege to speak against it, is to make it a national idol, and does not fall much short of worshipping it.

This awe of the Constitution, not only in this country since the institution of constitution was after all not invented or initiated by the Muslims of the Subcontinent, nor by their leaders, somehow seems to be a universally adhered to convention.  The real and hidden reason behind this being that it enshrines another much bigger international idol, a much ‘holier’ cow: democracy.  And if anyone were to touch that one, I suppose the whole world would collapse.  Subhanallah!

There is no such thing as democracy, the rule of the people, in the Book of Allah (s.w.t.), nor in the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).  Quite to the contrary, Allah (s.w.t.) disapproves in unmistakably clear terms at many places in His Holy Book of the very concept of democracy.  To quote only one example:


Wert thou to follow the common run of those on earth, they will lead thee away from the Way of Allah.  They follow nothing but conjecture: they do nothing but lie. (Surah al-An’am:116)

The approximate meaning of His Holy Word is to the effect: “... and if you obeyed the majority of those who dwell on the earth they [would] make you stray from the Way of Allah, they follow but conjecture and fabricate ought but falsehood”.  Furthermore, whenever Allah (s.w.t.) Speaks of majority, ‘aktharuhum’, it is invariably followed by a negative action or quality, such as, “most of them are ignorant”, “ungrateful”, “infidels”, “have no intellect” and so forth.

The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) was Ordered by Allah (s.w.t.) to take counsel in worldly matters, not direction or rulings, from the wise and respected elders and chiefs of the community, as well as from experts in their respective fields; we are not talking of a Taliban-style ‘mullahcracy’, not from the people at large.  And then, make a decision by himself, not take a vote.  The people, at large, are but ordered to obey those in authority.  And Allah’s (s.w.t.) Judgment and discretion as to whom He Endows with leadership qualities and whom He Gives authority is quite sufficient.

This is Islamic governance par excellence, amirate with consulting shura’, it is the Way of Allah (s.w.t.), and the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).  The Khulafah ar-Rashidin too followed uncompromisingly in his footsteps, and even the ensuing sultanates preserved and adhered to this principle.  Only when this principle was abandoned, the political deterioration of the ummah set in.

Muslims have the right to be governed in this way for their own protection, against inimical forces from outside and from within, even from the self-destructive tendency of their selves, nafs al-ammarah bi as-suw, which not only exists at the individual level, but also collectively.

Apart from the fact that the original idea of democracy was conceived from within an ancient Greek, polytheistic society, in the present age, it has become the handy tool of Shaythan and his associates among men and jinn, to yield a Pharaonic, exploitative and oppressive control, what the Qur’an calls ‘taghut’, over the nations of the whole world, self-proclaimed as the ‘New World Order’.  This, with the ultimate aim of destroying the son of Adam spiritually and eventually physically too.  A herd without shepherd becomes an easy prey for the wolves.

The seemingly all-powerful guardians of the universal democratic set-up, in the first place only admit such individuals into positions of leadership whose credentials do not pose a threat, and if need should arise, public opinion is like a flag in the wind, which, with the technological and financial resources at their hands, can be turned at any time, in any direction.

If anywhere, especially among the Muslim nations, who they know, have access to the truth, an unforeseen, unplanned ‘rogue’ incident occurs, they almost wet their pants.  The entire international media is seized in a breath taking frenzy, and immediately all the rituals of their trickery are initiated on every level and platform: economical blackmail, threats of isolation, slimy backdoor diplomacy, open and concealed offers of bribes and hypocritical public acknowledgements, one biting the tail of the other, in the desperate hope, one or the other might work.

The democratic drama that went over the stage of Pakistan for the last 52 years, episode after episode, each one more pathetic than the others, should really have, and probably actually has finally convinced everyone with even the least spark of intelligence, of the utter futility, and unsuitability of this system for this society, and a lot of people are fed up now and ready, to go seriously about the business of establishing a dignified life as a nation.  Except for the handful of notorious fools who are addicted to their folly and keep insisting on having leaders that continue making fools of them, and those very leaders, of course, it is only those monstrous, power-drunk, nosey high priests of international democracy who would have the drama go on.

It is true, that democratic principles and ideology were a necessary vehicle in the creation of Pakistan; it needed a mass movement, and the British would hardly have agreed to give independence to someone proposing an Islamic amirate as form of governance for the new state; Allah (s.w.t.), at times, takes services for His Own cause from His enemies since He is the Best of plotters, but that was all of its justification, a vehicle - no more.  Unfortunately the founding fathers, may Allah (s.w.t.) Forgive their shortcomings and Cover them with His Mercy, did not burn the boats after landing.  Of course, not everyone has the guts and vision of a Thariq ibn Ziyad, but look at the fruit of his iman and tawakkul!

After the experience of the last half century, that had started in a spirit of sacrifice accompanied by hope, determination and loyalty, which now all seem to be worn out, with due respect, it is not realistic to try to dig up and revive the ideas and concepts of the founders.  They were men, and they are gone - they have their reward with their Lord irrespective of what came after them.  Their visions and ideals were conceived by the circumstances of their time.  We are faced with a completely different world.  The only thing that does not change with time is the relevance of Allah’s (s.w.t.) message to man.

You cannot take something that is proven to be a lie, redefine it, and then hope it may change into truth thereby.  There is absolutely no compromise between haqq and bathil!  With Pakistan, the Muslims have been entrusted with a treasure, so powerful, that even if the whole world were to turn against them, it would not succeed.  We have to guard this trust and put it into the service of its real Owner, otherwise He might Take it Back and Give it to someone more deserving...beware of taking things for granted. We must denounce the false deities of our time, smash the idols, and purify the place thoroughly, then the dream of the “Land of the Pure”, the vision of the founders will become a reality, and by the barakah thereof, we will grow in strength and dignity, and taste the fruit of real progress, and be Blessed with independence and prosperity from our own resources.

That is the Promise of Almighty Allah:


And say, “Truth has (now) arrived, and falsehood perished: for falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish.” (Surah al-Isra’:81)

May Allah (s.w.t.) Give us the intellect and courage to take the side of haqq, in the footsteps of His generous Messenger (s.a.w.) and those who followed Him.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: Shaykh Harun quite famously refers to it as demo-crazy.

Shaykh Ebrahim’s explanation implies the care and growth model as applied to what it means to be a good leader.  In a nutshell, regardless of how a leader is chosen, a good leader cares about his subordinates and gives them opportunities for growth.  For more background, I suggest reading his books, ‘Intent’ and ‘Leadership’.

Brother Tarek Sourani: The question is how we find out the intent of a leader?

Brother William Voller: Interestingly, a phenomenon was discovered that the mean average decision of a group of people is more accurate than an expert.  It was first discovered in the early 19th century during guess the cow’s weight competitions; whilst some people guessed absurd weights, the mean average was so frighteningly close to the weight of the cow that the judges very good estimates looked ridiculous.  Unfortunately, I know little more other than much research has been done and started to influence how organisations are ‘organised’.  It has been found that flocks of birds move in the same way; no individual bird has a clue but because they have a shared goal they average out the differences until they all find their place of migration.  Essentially a shared goal is actually all that matters, all the rest is unnecessary detail, it seems.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I read that paper.  However, it only applies to areas that do not require specific technical knowledge.  So a group of people can accurately gauge the weight of a cow, but they cannot build a nuclear power plant or decipher Ancient Hebrew without the requisite knowledge no matter how many of them there are.  Unless of course, we are considering the idea that an infinite number of monkeys banging on an infinite number of typewriters will eventually come up with the completed works of Shakespeare.

Brother William Voller: This is a good point.  The expert has his place.  What else did the ‘paper’ say, do you have a reference?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That was years ago, brother.  I cannot even remember who wrote it.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: I am not sure it is necessarily unIslamic, but Muslims today need the firm yet benevolent hand of a truly God-fearing leader.  Let us decide anything and we invariably get it wrong.  When Muslims talk of democracy, it usually involves their own man getting in and then staying in for life.

Brother William Voller: Sister Shahbano Aliani, forgive me but I am unsure what you are saying.  Can democratically elected rulers do wrong?  Yes.  Just like any other ruler.  Good systems, however, hold them to account.

Also the article, to me, seems a little wanting.  If the basic argument is most people are unbelievers so we should not be ruled by the majority rule then this seems problematic.  If one is an unbeliever, is everything they say wrong?  Or do they suddenly not possess the wisdom to discern fair government?  Is the best way to deal with ‘unworthy’ people to silence them?   I would think what matters most is that a ruler can be held accountable, so to avoid abuse.

Sister Shahbano Aliani: Brother William Voller, I am not totally endorsing the article, just offering it as a point of view in response to the question.  My own experience with small scale democracy is resonant with the discussion on where Allah (s.w.t.) Mentions in the Qur’an that the majority may lead you into trouble.

I am very clear that the democratic process is not one of ensuring legitimacy of power.  Perhaps it can be said that it is a process that helps to select the most popular person according to a variety of different criteria applied by the people who go out to vote.  This is a limitation of the process.

I think what you say, that democratically elected rulers can err but should be held to account; that may be the best compromise.  My mind is not made up and I do not have a solution.  I do not know.  However, let us say there were a ruler who was not democratically elected but who served the citizens and country really well, then I would not take up issue with him just because they he was not democratically elected, because he would be fulfilling the criteria for legitimate power through his work.

Brother William Voller: I agree.  The means does not matter, just the ends.  The downside to monarchy type governments is they can lead to despotism.  I think the point is, is we humans have tried lots of things that sometimes work and sometimes do not; it is hard to get it right all the time.  A good idea is not a good idea forever, simply a philosophy of fairness respect rights and responsibility that guides us moment to moment so that we adapt to the challenges that arise.

I wholeheartedly reject the notion that democracy is unIslamic; that is a retrospective interpretation put onto verses that have no connection whatsoever!  It can fulfil the Islamic ideal and it cannot; it depends.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: Some of you might appreciate the humour in this:


Sister Tasneem Conley: A monarchical system would be a royalty system, which follows lineage.  I do not think a monarchical society fits the Islamic principles.  I am surprised so many have said that democratic systems are unIslamic.  The first caliphs were selected, which is a democratic method.  Further, many have said the Constitution of the United States as it was first written could be likened to the ideals of the first constitution of Madina.

Brother Syed Farid Alatas: I do not believe that Islam, that is, the Qur’an or the sunnah of the Prophet (s.a.w.), specifies a political or economic system.  What they do specify are certain values and principles that should inform an economic or political system.  Therefore, tribal political economies of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) time, the sultanates, socialist systems, or parliamentary democracies may or may not function in line with Islamic principles.  To claim that there is an Islamic system is to restrict Islam and also delegitimise any other system by default.

Sister Tasneem Conley: I agree with you that no system on earth matches what the Prophet (s.a.w.) brought.  If there was one that did, we would not be in our current state across the globe.  I do think absolutely he had brought a system, which should be called an Islamic system, since it is entirely based on what was inspired to him.  We do not see the system, because Muslims ourselves do not even implement it today.

Brother Syed Farid Alatas: Actually, the Prophet (s.a.w.) did not provide any blueprint or model for the caliphate system.  There are principles of governance that can be extracted from the sunnah, but not a system.

Sister Tasneem Conley: The Qur’an and sunnah itself is a system.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: The Qur’an and sunnah is not a system of governance; they are part of jurisprudence, which can be applied within an appropriate system.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: Politics is different now to what it was then.  The Qur’an and sunnah gives us a blueprint but which can be adapted depending on circumstances; that is where appropriately trained scholars come in.

Brother Mohammad Abdullah Lawanza: It is true.  But I, too, wonder since there is no Islamic state now which governs the same way the Prophet (s.a.w.) did, I keep on asking, maybe this is why there is a refugee crisis because no one protects them in the first place.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: The so-called Islamic states are all about power, especially the hypocritical Saudi Wahhabi state.  They care only about their own throne.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Politics and religion cannot be separated.  They are two sides of the same coin.

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: It is more than just monarchy.  It is Muslims living 1,400 years in the past and not willing to use the lessons of the past to shape our present.  Instead, we just want to live just like 7th Century Arabs.

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: Brother William, the basic argument is not that most people are unbelievers so we should not be ruled by the majority rule.  The argument is that leadership qualities are not the lot of the majority, but are Given to a relative few people, and both is by Divine Dispensation.  The democratic principle on the other hand perverts this Divine Arrangement by putting the majority in a collective leadership position.  Whenever human intellect has cooked up ideas that contravene the Divine Order of things and then arrogantly implemented them, it has invariably resulted in disaster.  Wa Allahu ‘Alim.

Brother Matthew Adams: Brother Riedinger, how are we to recognise these leaders?  Who do we appeal to if there is a difference of opinion?

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: Ask your heart, not your brain; it will never deceive you.

Brother Matthew Adams: But when I do that, I find it puts me completely at odds with most of the religions.

Brother Robert Vose: One of the problems is that we will never meet many of the people in politics - in person.  Political spin doctors are well versed in creating manipulative and emotive images and videos for the mass media.  The power of the state can easily crush any person if left unfettered.  The situation for exercising collective power and force is very different in modern societies - as compared to 1,400 years ago.

Everyone has a mother and a father, was born into a community, and was nurtured in society to their current age.  Everyone is influenced by the power of the modern state - where ever they are, and even if that person is a stateless refugee.  Religion and politics are both part of being human.  But we need to understand the appropriate limits and responsibilities of these two realms.  It is strange how one of the major themes of Islam is to reject idolatry - and yet the so-called Islamic states act in the modern world with their imaged ideal Islamic state as an idol to emulate.

Brother William Voller: Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger, thank you for clearing that up.  However, I would not have thought any manifestation today of a democracy is a collective leadership.  I am unsure how this ‘human’ system contravenes Divine Intent.  Maybe you could explain?  But yes, straying from the Divine Plan does not end well.

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: Well, ‘manifestation today’ is perhaps already part of the disastrous fall-out of the acceptance of the principle, I spoke of.  What the Divine Intent is concerned, its realisation by man is hardly ever imposed on man, whose freedom of choice is real within the realm in which he lives.  Otherwise, all the bad things that are happening at man’s hand could not happen.  Having said that, it does not mean that things are out of control.  God’s prior Knowledge of man’s choice has integrated it even before it was made in the completion of His Affair, which as He Said so many times is returned to Him, and the possibility of any imperfection in it simply does not exist.  Wa Allahu ‘Alim.

Brother Matthew, most religions, or rather their practical interpretation by their followers have become objects of worship, instead of being avenues to the One, and He is the One, you do not want to be at odds with.

Brother Matthew Adams: Yes, indeed.  But that leaves the basic problem; if my heart tells me one thing, and yours tells you another, how do we resolve it?

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: Maybe then, our ways will have to part; Allah (s.w.t.) has Given each soul its own individual path, which may coincide for a while with someone else's; but one thing is for certain, if your heart inspires you to harm someone else, it is not your heart which is talking.

Brother Matthew Adams: Who said anything about harm?

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: Nobody did.  I mentioned it only because there are so many fanatics out there who wreak havoc and delude themselves that they act conscientiously on the basis of their total misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the religion they claim to be followers of.

Brother Matthew Adams: Ah, I see.  But it does not take me any further; it just replaces one limited way of making decisions for another, and gives me no basis for judging between different points of view.

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: The more aware we become of our own limitedness, the less eager we become in making judgements, and the more receptive we become to the inspirations of the Real which Addresses us through the faculty of our heart or conscientiousness, and the less important becomes the unending flux of points of view.

Brother William Voller: I am afraid I am still unsure what you mean, Brother Muhammad.  Yes, undoubtedly there is nothing to fear.  But what is disastrous?

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: For example, the mess that resulted from the imposition of ‘democracy’ on so many Muslim societies and then ironically being called the ‘Arab Spring’.

Brother William Voller: Right.  Still, I am not seeing the problem with democracy per se.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: I think the major problem, if I am understanding this discussion properly, is that a democracy assumes that the majority would necessarily always decide what is best for the community, whether it be those in leadership roles or policies.  Sometimes the majority elects what is best for themselves, but many times they do not.

Another problem that I see is with elections themselves.  Most candidates who want the job are not in it so much for altruistic reasons, but because they covet the post.  So, the intention from the start is not unconditional care and growth, if I may use Shaykh Ebrahim’s terminology here, of the constituency.  That becomes problematic because leaders then make policy decisions that make them more popular, rather than making less popular hard choices that are truly most appropriate for the community they serve.

Brother Matthew Adams: I am not sure that it needs to be ‘best’; I am not sure that there always is a best, anyway.  It may well be a choice between evils.  What is fundamental to a well-functioning democracy is that as the source of the decision comes from the people as a whole, rather than from this or that individual or group, the decision has a greater authority - both actual and perceived - and is more productive of consent.  Of course, democracies can get captured by a sectional interest - ethnic, religious, or class - and that can be calamitous, though probably not more so than any other system.

And as for ‘hard choices’, nothing seems to be easier than for parties to get elected promising to make ‘hard choices’ even when they are completely unnecessary.  I worry not about bread and circuses, but the masochism of the people.

Brother William Voller: Brother Muhammad, what is your argument?  Democracy is leadership by the majority and the Qur’an Commands leadership by a few?  I do not think either of these are sound arguments since the first seems overly simplistic and the second is speculative.

Your article implies there is some fiendish plot which, forgive me, sounds like a paranoid conspiracy theory.  Yes democracy has its roots in Greece, but was largely rejected, as was aristocracy or really any other government.  You cannot take some ancient word as understood then and use it to mean the modern meaning of that word.  If you are suggesting it is replacing God’s Law with a collective leadership then that is not any type of what we would call democracy.  The idea of a constitution and independent judiciary are here in Britain because no one is above the law so that cannot be voted upon.  Rather democracy is more that people have a say in who rules them.  Anyway, I just wanted a concise clear argument from yourself of why democracy is against Islam as opposed it being just another type of government that Islam views as neutral.

Brother Robert Vose: There is a common understanding that democracy can also be oppressive if majority rule is used to oppress minority groups.  It is called tyranny of the majority.  Still, a liberal democracy is aware that this could be a problem and builds in safeguards like transparency of government, the rule of law with human rights, separation of powers, and so forth, to protect the rights of minority groups.  Policies and government programs will always change and will depend on who is elected and forms government, but you will have that in every kind of system of government, even in dictatorships.  The difference is that claims can be truly tested and openly debated in a liberal democracy, and government can be held accountable.

Thinking that people with pure intentions can seek out and do what it takes to win political power is naive.  If a political party makes that kind of claim, well, remember communism was meant to be totally altruistic, and surely even the people in North Korea are told that about their leader every day.

Liberal democracy includes an understanding that power can corrupt people, and people are fallible.  Knowing this, the aim is not to create the best or most efficient system of government; liberal democracy aims to be the ‘least worst’ system of government.  Population scale creates a need to have an organising system that is different to what is best in a family, local community or chosen faith community.  And yes, a vibrant civil society, public education and large middle class are all essential aspects of true liberal democracies.

Brother Matthew Adams: I think that as well as the issue of decision-making and leadership, there is also the issue of consent.  In a functional democracy, citizens’ consent to be governed; rule is not imposed on them, but flows from them.  This is one reason why a vibrant, open and inclusive civil society is important to them - scrutiny and debate are essential to ensure that citizens feel they are heard and understand and can challenge the arguments for any curbs on their actions.  Which is one reason why democracy cannot be either imposed or imported; it has to develop within and from a society and a history.

An example of this that I know moderately well is East Timor; formed under the aegis of the UN, it naturally adopted its democratic forms; but its people had no experience of democracy nor democratic process, and tended to understand parties in terms of ethnic allegiances.  Thus, villages got burned down for voting the wrong way despite it being a secret ballot. My ex-wife is currently involved in trying to root Timorese democracy and law more in the spiritual and legal traditions of the different peoples of East Timor, particularly focusing on the sacred houses that formed the basis of traditional religious practice there.

Whether it will work or not is another matter, and only time can tell; after all, it took a good 250 years for the UK to move from the supremacy of the House of Commons to establishing a thoroughgoing democratic system with an equal suffrage.  Democratic forms are not a universal panacea; there is no historical short cut.

However, for myself at least, I would not choose to live in a political system which denied me the capacity to influence the society I lived in; which sought to compel adherence to a set of norms I had no part in the framing.

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: I am sorry, Brother William, I have no argument, nor am I interested in one.  That democracy is leadership by the majority is not my argument, but it is commonly understood definition, and the Qur’an does not ‘Command’ any particular mode of leadership.  But Allah (s.w.t.) Says He Gives authority to whom He Pleases and Takes it from whom He Pleases, and that is not applicable to any specific form of government or governance.  The very idea of democracy seems to be intent on covering up this reality by creating the illusion that people have a say in who are to be their rulers.  The argument of the Qur’an is really quite clear and simple: if you were to follow the opinions of most of the people, they would surely lead you astray.  I have nothing to add to this.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: Lovely explanation.  Thank you, Shaykh Harun.  It seems democracy risks creating idolatry if we are not careful, if I understand your meaning when you said, “The very idea of democracy seems to be intent on covering up this reality by creating the illusion that people have a say in who are to be their rulers.”  That seems to be a hidden shirk.  That said, people normally have very little say it the governmental system in their locality.  We only can control how immersed we are in it.  Allahu ‘Alam.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: I agree with Brother Muhammad Harun.  Democracy by the majority is a foolish enterprise that ensures mediocrity at the very best and terrible corruption at the very bottom of the scale.  The majority of people are, unfortunately, not intelligent enough to choose their leaders.  Any system that rules a society must be comprised of the most honest, equitable and intelligent people of that society who understand the nature of operation of the public structures that serve the people and are demonstrably capable leaders.  Perhaps they should be selected, specially educated for the function of governance and groomed from early adulthood.  Not ‘ulama for sure, as their expertise is shari’ah scholarship not leadership.

Brother Justin Taylor: I would think democracy as we see it might not be Islamic, given the secular nature.  If there was an element of god in that as an underlying overarching unchanging morality, shared by all then that would be completely different.

Brother Robert Vose: A leaf is part is a great tree, a great tree is in a great forest, a forest on the side of a mighty mountain.  Not all the leaves in the forest can be the same.  Who claims that God does not love emergence, and the development of new types of order with different magnitudes of scale?

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Perhaps it is not democracy that is the problem, but the people?  We just had an election in Singapore, and I have come to the conclusion that my fellow countrymen are idiots,

Brother Colin Turner: A benign despot would seem to be the only truly viable solution.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I am all for benign despots.

Brother David Rosser Owen: As Brother Matthew pointed out, the UK is not secular, or rather the definition of ‘secular’ if one were to try and define it; is rather peculiar and involves quite a strong element of the spiritual.  This, actually, is the background environment of all its derived political cultures, including that of the USA.  This is confusing to those who tend to use the term in the European Hegelian sense.

Brother William Voller: Brother Muhammad, I meant argument in academic sense.  As you say there is no guidance on governance or state in the Qur’an, therefore Islam is neutral to any form.  And that is fine if you do not wish to debate, just you seem to be making quite disparaging remarks as if Islam prohibits democracy as a form of government and democracy is the epicentre of all evil when really it's just an opinion.  Maybe you might want to think about the connotations of speaking on such matters?  But you are entitled to your opinions.

I think maybe you have confused the technical modern usage of democracy with something else.  Democracy in the absolutist sense where everything is voted on by the majority of all people, which seems the only one you are speaking, is of course absurd and not really anything to do with democracy as say we find in the UK, the mother of all modern democracies.  It is important to make a distinction, then to the point you need a different word.

In the UK’s case, it came about because the poor people wanted better representation and a say in who governed them rather than an oppressive aristocracy.  When most people speak of democracy, they just mean people should have a say in how they are governed rather than be treated like cattle, which is a good thing clearly, and what is more it is more Islamic not less.

To make the speculative argument about most people’s beliefs with democracy in such absolutist terms that the modal average is against Islam is to reject ijma’ or the jama’at or really anything else which has been the main stay of Islamic thought.  However, looking at a few comments, it seems what you say is quite popular, which surprises me!  Maybe I have greatly misunderstood?  So is benign dictator the best model people have come up with?  Really?

Brother Ariffin Yeop: Democracy has failed.

Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Do we have any data or empirical evidence to that effect?  And what would be the parameters?

Brother Ariffin Yeop: For one, there is nowhere that it is practiced as it is supposed to, as party politics defeats and is contradictory to the principles of it.  To top it, capitalism which has also failed socially by ‘favouring’ the have against the have nots in every corner, have shown that the majority is not so wise and can be bought with money.  Although I still believe that a majority of the masses want for goodness, personal gain and survival instinct gets the better of most, leaving a tiny minority that would actually be good governors.

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: Brother William, you said, “It is important to make a distinction, then to the point you need a different word.”  I suppose the different word would be “British democracy”, “the mother of all modern democracies”.  Whom are you trying to kid?  Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote some time back:

 "...To substantiate my contention that democracy does not work – even in the West – I would like to quote here an example from recent history: In the early eighties, when the cold war had reached its pinnacle, the U.S.A. was very eager to install nuclear medium-range missiles on the soil of its European NATO allies. There were massive protest rallies held against this undertaking by the people all over Europe, clearly voicing the opinion of the vast majority of the populace. In England the then Conservative (pro-American) prime minister Margaret Thatcher had reached an all-time low in popularity ratings, and could only have expected a crushing defeat in the upcoming elections against Michael Foot, the then leader of the Labour Party, whose first agenda priority had been the prevention of the installation of the American missiles on British soil (which, had it realized, would have been a consequential democratic exploit). But it was not to be. The American CIA conned the Argentinean military junta into the adventure of invading and annexing the Falkland Islands, a small politically and strategically unimportant island group a few miles off the Argentinean coast, which were, and still are a colonial relic from the days of the British Empire. As soon as this was achieved, Margaret Thatcher was briefed to send the mighty British fleet to the South Atlantic to re-establish British dominion on the archipelago. A short military encounter followed, in the course of which 5000 Argentinean sailors were slaughtered, and at the end of which the Union Jack flew again over the Falklands. The victorious British fleet returned home with only minor losses, Margaret Thatcher had won a war, and her popularity ratings shot up to only second to Winston Churchill, which of course resulted in an election victory too, and the missiles were installed.

In case anyone is interested in the full article, although it is only a new somewhat more elaborate edition of the one quoted earlier on by Sister Shahbano, this is the link: Drawing the Line…  Here it is reproduced below.  It was originally written in 2002, and rewritten on the 04th July, 2013.

It keeps amazing me to hear seemingly intelligent people talking about democracy, as if it were some kind of Divinely Revealed system of governance, particularly in a society like Pakistan, where the democratic drama that had been passing over the political stage of for more than half a century now, like a chintzy soap opera, episode after episode, each one more pathetic than the one preceding it, which had in fact been a most fertile breeding ground for corruption and nepotism among the rulers and despondency among the ruled.

It was always only the politicians, who benefited from it; the nation certainly never did, nor will ever.  And how could it?  Apart from the fact that the original concept of democracy was conceived in ancient Greece, by a polytheistic society, a people plunged in ignorance and spiritual darkness, it does not work – not even in the West!  How much less then can it be suitable as a system of governance in this society, to which it is just as alien as the colonial rulers were, who had raided and ransacked the lands, and when they were finally forced to leave, had left their own decrepit political system as a ‘fare-well gift’ to a humiliated, uprooted and divided population.

To substantiate my contention that democracy does not work – even in the West – I would like to quote here an example from recent history: In the early eighties, when the cold war had reached its pinnacle, the USA was very eager to install nuclear medium-range missiles on the soil of its European NATO allies.  There were massive protest rallies held against this undertaking by the people all over Europe, clearly voicing the opinion of the vast majority of the populace.  In England, the then Conservative, pro-American, prime minister Margaret Thatcher had reached an all-time low in popularity ratings, and could only have expected a crushing defeat in the upcoming elections against Michael Foot, the then leader of the Labour Party, whose first agenda priority had been the prevention of the installation of the American missiles on British soil, which, had it realised, would have been a consequential democratic exploit.  But it was not to be.

The American CIA conned the Argentinean military junta into the adventure of invading and annexing the Falkland Islands, a small politically and strategically unimportant island group a few miles off the Argentinean coast, which were, and still are a colonial relic from the days of the British Empire.

As soon as this was achieved, Margaret Thatcher was briefed to send the mighty British fleet to the South Atlantic to re-establish British dominion on the archipelago.  A short military encounter followed, in the course of which 5,000 Argentinean sailors were slaughtered, and at the end of which the Union Jack flew again over the Falklands.  The victorious British fleet returned home with only minor losses, Margaret Thatcher had won a war, and her popularity ratings shot up to only second to Winston Churchill, which of course resulted in an election victory too, and the missiles were installed.

In Germany, a quite differently enacted, yet in essence very similar scenario went over the political stage: The very popular social-democratic chancellor Willy Brandt, who was against the installation of the American missiles on German soil, had all of a sudden to resign, when a Soviet spy was exposed among his close staff.  The Christian Democrats took over power, and welcomed the missiles.

I must admit that I am not very well informed about the exact circumstances in Italy, but I find it hard to believe that it was a coincidence that there, too, at the same time, the elected government collapsed, and a 12-party coalition government under the first ever socialist prime minister in Catholic Italy, Bettino Craxi, who was later convicted on corruption charges and sent to jail, was formed, which for lack of unity amongst its ranks remained politically paralyzed for most of the time.  All of these democracies, where – by definition – the will of the people, which is supposed to be the supreme power!

But let us have a closer look at this political creed of democracy which the whole world seems to subscribe to, and which is guarded by the high echelons of world-power like the apple of their eyes, but which – significantly enough – they themselves do not adhere to in the organization and dealings within their own ranks.  The seemingly all-powerful guardians of the global democratic set-up, in the first place only admit such individuals into the corridors of power, whose credentials do not pose a threat, and if need should arise, public opinion is like a flag in the wind, which, with the technological and financial resources at their hands, can be turned at any time in any direction, as the above given examples clearly show.

If anywhere, especially among the Muslim nations, whom they always have considered a potential threat, an unforeseen, unplanned ‘rogue’ incident occurs, sacrilegious to their creed, the like of what happened in October 1999 in Pakistan, those hierophants of universal democracy almost wet their pants.  The entire international media is seized in a breath-taking frenzy, and immediately all the rituals of their trickery are initiated on every level and platform: economical blackmail, threats of isolation, slimy backdoor diplomacy, open and concealed offers of bribes and hypocritical public assurances of good will under the condition of compliance, one biting the tail of the other, in the desperate hope that one might work, and if things get completely out of hand, there is always the option of political assassination – judicial, that is, under the legal cover of an utterly controlled or bought judiciary, or otherwise, that is, criminal – as the past century has witnessed over again.

Why is it that the Muslims are particularly dangerous?  The answer to this can be found in the Generous Qur’an.  There is no such thing as democracy in its literal sense, the rule of the people, in the Book of Allah (s.w.t.), nor in the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).  Quite to the contrary, Allah (s.w.t.) Disapproves in unmistakably clear terms at many places in His Holy Word of the very concept of democracy.  To quote only one example:


Wert thou to follow the common run of those on earth, they will lead thee away from the Way of Allah.  They follow nothing but conjecture: they do nothing but lie. (Surah al-An’am:116)

The approximate meaning of His Holy Word is to the effect: “... and if you obeyed the majority of those who dwell on the earth they [would] make you stray from the Way of Allah, they follow but conjecture and fabricate ought but falsehood”.  Furthermore, whenever Allah (s.w.t.) Speaks of majority, ‘aktharuhum’, it is invariably followed by a negative action or quality, such as, “most of them are ignorant”, “ungrateful”, “infidels”, “have no intellect” and so forth.

The Noble Prophet (s.a.w.) was Ordered by Allah (s.w.t.) to take counsel in worldly matters, not direction or rulings, from the wise and respected elders and chiefs of the community, as well as from experts in their respective fields; we are not talking of a Taliban-style ‘mullahcracy’, not from the people at large.  And then, make a decision by himself, not take a vote.  The people, at large, are but ordered to obey those in authority.  And Allah’s (s.w.t.) Judgment and discretion as to whom He Endows with leadership qualities and whom He Gives authority is quite sufficient.  Apart from that is it an inevitable requirement of Divine Justice, and the execution thereof that no nation will ever have worse leaders than it deserves.

This is Islamic governance par excellence, amirate with consulting shura’, it is the Way of Allah (s.w.t.), and the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).  The Khulafah ar-Rashidin too followed uncompromisingly in his footsteps, and even the ensuing sultanates preserved and adhered to this principle.  Only when this principle was abandoned, the political deterioration of the ummah set in.  The most pertinent example thereof is what has recently been happening to large parts of the Muslim world under the sarcastic code name ‘Arab Spring’.  Western style democracy was enforced upon culturally oriental societies under the pretext of delivering the oppressed masses from ruthless tyrants.  The latter may have committed grave injustices against their opponents, but now, as a result of the utter incompatibility of this system with their traditional culture, it is entire nations that are being deprived of the common good and welfare institutions that had been in place before, irrespective of the wrongdoings of their former leaders.

In the ongoing debate about the ‘political future’ of the Muslim world, some of the intelligentsia, who apparently have too much sentimental attachment to the concept of democracy, but on the other hand need to reaffirm their commitment to being Muslims, have, somehow sensing the paradox, coined the term ‘Islamic democracy’.  Well, if there is any such thing, it can only make sense, if it is meant to be the above detailed Islamic system of governance.  One of the few sincere leaders of this nation who, although outwardly giving an appearance of a democratic set-up, practically ruled the country by the emirate principles during his relatively short tenure, once hinted at this in an address to the nation, when he made the observation that democracy had many faces, and that it did not work the same way in every cultural environment.

Muslims have the right to be governed in this way for their own protection, against inimical forces from outside and from within, even from the self-destructive tendency of their selves, nafs al-ammarah bi as-suw, which not only exists at the individual level, but also collectively.

The underlying reality of world politics in this present age is that traditional democratic ideology, the concept of which is a perversion of the natural order of creation, is the political dimension in the process of globalisation, and has thus become part of a control mechanism in the hands of Shaythan and his human cronies, proclaimed as the ‘New World Order’, by which they seek to establish their Pharaonic, exploitative and oppressive reign, what the Qur’an calls ‘taghut’, over the nations of the whole world, the ultimate aim of which is the destruction of mankind – culturally, intellectually and eventually physically too.  The herd without a shepherd becomes an easy prey for the wolves!

It is true, that democratic principles and ideology were a necessary vehicle in the creation of Pakistan; it needed a mass movement, and the British would hardly have agreed to give independence to someone proposing an Islamic amirate as form of governance for the new state.  For the realisation of His Wise Purpose, Allah (s.w.t.) even takes services from proclaimed His enemies; He is the best of plotters.  These principles and strategies, however should not be taken as more than a means, temporarily justified by the end they helped to achieve.  Once the destination had been reached, there can hardly be any justification to hang on to that obsolete vehicle like to a fetish, particularly not after the painful experience of its utter and repeated failure over the last half century.

Thariq ibn Ziyad burnt his boats after landing in Spain, and by this courageous act he was left with only one choice: success.  It has become high time for this nation to shake off all the remnants of the humiliating colonial past, of which the political ideology of the former masters along with the legalistic framework in which it is enshrined is perhaps the greatest hang-up and obstacle in the way of progress.

With Pakistan, the Muslims have been Entrusted with a treasure and a potential, which, if realised, can be so powerful that even, if the whole world were to turn against them, it would not succeed.  We have to guard this trust and put it into the service of its real Owner, otherwise He might Take it Away from us; beware of taking things for granted.  We must denounce the false deities of our time, smash the idols, and purify the place thoroughly, then the dream of the ‘Land of the Pure’, the vision of the founders will become a reality, and we will grow in strength and dignity, taste the fruit of real progress, and be blessed with true independence from others and prosperity from our own resources.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: It is very intriguing.  One must wonder about this occurrences where democracy was being followed, but the leaders were found to be corrupt.  I am not sure which is worse: idolatry of a system that really does not deserve the recognition that it gets, or idolising a system but at the same time corrupting it?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: From a British perspective, as long as the political establishment is controlled by Oxford-educated PPE types, I do not see how things will get better.  A minority of often stupendously privileged people who see the world with a very slant, and make decisions for themselves and without any idea about the 99%.

Brother William Voller: British democracy is known as the mother of all democracies.  Perhaps I should have used quotations.  I am aware of this example, a family friend being a casualty of the Falklands.  But I still see no credible argument.  In a multi factorial situation, you have decided democracy is to blame?  You have given a specific example, so are you making the argument because it did not work once, it never works?  Forgive me, but I think all your arguments are rhetoric with no substance.  I am not trying to be mean; I just cannot see any coherency.

What is your solution?  I remember my teacher in retort to criticisms of democracy and calls for shura’ said, “Well, this system has worked fairly well; show me a system that works and has worked better then fine”; no one ever does except for utopia.

I think British democracy does not always work so well, but I am at a loss really to find a better system.  We can all make claims, but I mean an actual system of showing much insight.  I am also a little surprised by comments that show such low expectations of other people; the system is not bad, it is the people.  Are they incapable and we are through some superiority?  Or is it just mere opinion that they are incapable?  Or do they just need some help?  In teaching, you should be sacked if you blame the students.  No teach them better, be better!  So if people are not capable to choose their leader then it is my fault and your fault!  So what are we going to do about it?

Brother Hamayoon Sultan Qurayshi: The problem is not the system necessarily but the people who have hijacked it.  Feeling entitled to rule only by virtue of an accident of birth, but with few of the prerequisites necessary to be moral leaders, and combined with a media establishment that is from the same world and which fight tooth and nail any change.  That Army General today who all but threatened a coup today if Jeremy Corbyn were PM is a prime example: democracy only so long as it produces the desirable result.  The system itself has been stitched up with the majority having been conned into voting for self-interest rather than the common good.  In such cases, democracy unfortunately fails and has failed.

Sister Colleen M Dunn: I wonder if it is a bit of both.  Think of it.  In order to reach the highest echelons of power, the candidate would have to run for office.  This requires campaigning to convince or deceive the populace that you are fit for the job, and it also requires loads of money.  And an ego.  You cannot really get those things unless you can sell yourself.

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: I am aware of this somewhat arrogant adage, considering that it was conceived and born in ancient Greece, so never mind for the quotes, while I must say that I was intrigued by the quote though.  Anyway, Brother William, as I said earlier, I have no argument, nor am I interested in one.  And I did actually mean it in its dual sense.  I am perhaps too much of a muwahhid as to be willing or perhaps even able to differentiate between the essential principle and the infinite modalities of its evolution, nor am I interested in doing so.  I suppose we are just on different clouds, and I will not be drawn into this argument any longer.

Brother Hajj Ahmad: First of all, Brother William, this is not school, and we are not dealing with children.  We are dealing with adults who have been schooled, socialised and acculturated in societies that for all the good intents and purposes of many individuals are caught within the grasp of the greedy and power hungry ego self in the guise of those who are greediest for power and wealth.  They are like sheep and are incapable of intelligent distinction about what is best for the welfare of all.  God Bless you if you think British democracy is the best of all evils.  And as far as benign despots are concerned, this is a fool proof oxymoron.  Democracy is doomed.  I will give one to the British, however; they are extremely clever in their calculating evil.  A mentor of mine once remarked, “In 400 years, when the Americans are long gone and only a memory in the history books, the British will still be trying to colonise whatever is left of the earth.”

Brother William Voller: Brother Muhammad, please forgive me for any mistakes on my part.  Perhaps we are speaking from very different perspectives as you say.  I wish you well.

Brother Tim: Benign despot, who, me?


Brother Colin Turner: I did not want to mention the A-word, but if it is good enough for Tolkien, it is certainly good enough for me.

Brother Tim: As Mencken said, “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”  He also said, “Civilisation, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Brother Hajj Ahmad: You said it, Brother Tim.  I love the word ‘maudlin’.  Thanks for reminding me about its existence; and the quote by Mencken is priceless, well, worth a few quid anyway.  Let me write it once to help my hopeless memory: “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”  Ah, that felt good in the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brain stem.  The cadence is perfect as well.  Shukran Habibi!

Brother Frederick Jacob Kohn: For a democracy to work, it has to have a constitution.  James Madison spent a lot of time in the Federalist Papers showing why a pure democracy is a bad idea.  The essential reason is that the minority has to be protected from having their rights voted away by the majority.  So, although I am not a Muslim, I would opine that a Muslim constitutional democracy would work just fine if the constitution were written according to Islamic principles.

Brother Robert Vose: Most of the Westminster system is convention that had evolved over hundreds of years.  Yes most people are vain, most people are greedy, and most people look after their own interests.  In a liberal democracy like Australia, you see it all - like a never ending soap opera.  And so what?  If the system is robust, then those abusing the population will eventually be caught out, publicly exposed, shamed and removed from power.  And in goes the next group of self-serving politicians.

What is your alternative?  Having these self-serving types falling over themselves with public displays about how pious they are, how religiously conscientious they are, while imposing sedition laws and closing down public scrutiny so that their misdeeds go unseen?  Or anarchy: how long do you think your supermarket shelves will be stocked with food if anarchy rules?  Is that kind of chaos ‘good’?  Liberal democracy works.  It preserves individual freedom to think and do and practice as the person wants, and it deals with the circus of power.  What else do you want?

Brother Muhammad Harun Riedinger: There is nothing to forgive, Brother William, I did not in the least feel offended by anything you said, and I sincerely hope the same applies vice versa; if not then I beg for your indulgence.  All the best for you too.

Brother William Voller: Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man”, Brother Hajj.  It is true this is not a school, but adults are just humans with more experience, skills and knowledge than children.  School is a good metaphor for society, not the universe but a microcosm.  I think people are as sheep if they are treated as such.  I have high expectations of humanity and I believe this is a more Islamic perspective.

Toyota changed the least productive GM factory into the most productive in five years without sacking a single individual.  They run it on the principle of trusting and believing in their staff.  People will shine if you let them.

The UK is a relatively good system, perhaps only eclipsed by Scandinavian nations.  Well, in the modern context.  Like Brother Tim, I would like to see anarchy in a modern nation state; God has Given man free will, who are we to take it away?  Some organisations have had much success using an anarchist model.  However the hardest thing in political science is establishing a new system, so it is unlikely to be a reality in my lifetime.

Brother Robert Vose: Brother William, what is it about anarchy that you find appealing as a political system?  Do you think that people will organise themselves into efficient patterns of production and distribution, at least for things like food and goods, if left to their own devices.  One issue is alluded to in the post about East Timor, gangs will always form, and some of these gangs will be organised with violence as their organising principle.  Gangs will fight for territory and ordinary people will need to seek protection under one group or another just to survive.  That is essentially the Hobbesian view, arguing for monarchy.

One definition of a modern state is that it is a form of legitimate violence such as police, taxes, legal system and laws, army, and so forth, within its sovereign territory.  A very powerful gang, if you like.  In some circumstances the rules of the state-based gang can be openly discussed, and there are set processes to have rules changed without resorting to factional violence, and this discussion is considered essential for the survival of the group as a whole.  Anarchy can degenerate into factional violence, because groups of people will form and groups can easily bully individuals.

Brother Matthew Adams: I say again: democracy is not about making the best decisions, and any argument based on a supposed inability of other people to choose correctly entirely misses the point.  This is a remarkably arrogant stance, it seems to me, who and how are we to judge?  No human system can possibly produce the best decisions with any reliability, or choose the best decision for all, rather than for self.  This is one reason why the ‘empire’ is always an evil, regardless of the good intentions of the ruling group.

What is central to democracy is consent, the consent of the governed to be governed without coercion.  In a despotism, or any system established outside my consent, a measure of coercion, or bribery, will be inevitable to ensure my continued support for that system.  This imposes limits on what the system can achieve, on how the system can respond to changing historical circumstances.  In a functioning democracy, one that is not just a democracy in name and form, but in spirit as well, hence the importance of a vibrant civil society, and a free press not captured by a sectional elite, there is a greater capacity to respond to urgent need, as individuals with a personal stake in the existence of the system are more willing to give up liberties or customs for a period in order to maintain them in the long run.

One good example of this would be the Second World War.  One defining difference between the UK and Nazi Germany was the capacity of the UK to fully mobilise its entire population against an existential threat; something Nazi Germany, for all its willingness to exploit slave labour, was unable to do.  I wonder, though, whether the fundamental question is not, “Is this or that system of politics Islamic?”, but “Is politics Islamic?”  Is there, in fact, a system of politics, an entirely different way of running a society than religion, that could ever be satisfactory from a religious point of view?  I rather doubt it, as politics necessarily involves compromise, and must deal with human needs and desires, whereas religion, of course, responds to an entirely inhuman, Divine Will.

But in that case, you are only arguing about the least-bad solution from a religious point of view, if we must have politics, let it be of this variety, rather than the best or correct form.  In short, I suspect that this is turning into a dialogue of the deaf - that those of us who believe in the importance of politics will never understand the position of those who believe instead in the importance of religion.  And vice versa.

Brother Justin Taylor: I understand what you say by consent.  However, consent implies a type of contract and contracting needs fair and open disclosure from both parties.  I have never seen any of the democracies exhibit this type of transparency.  Not saying I have seen any despots doing it either.

Brother Matthew Adams: You mean people lie, Brother Justin?  Well, perhaps, but one part of the contract you mention, of course, is that if people are sufficiently dissatisfied with your performance, because you lie too egregiously, for example, you can be removed, quite legitimately and without the use of force, at a particular time.  A despot, or an absolute monarch, on the other hand, may not be removed without force of some description, making the stakes of any action higher, and the likelihood of a successful outcome less.  Finally, one hardly needs to claim perfection here, only adequacy.  I go back, again, to the Churchill quote: “Democracy is the worst system, apart from all the others.”

Brother William Voller: Brother Robert Vose, any extreme form of government is not going to work is it?  Yes just as any system that promotes an individual sovereign can lead to despotism, so can an anarchistic model descend into chaos.  Any sensible system is going to be... well sensible. You may find this helpful: Plato on Authority.

Here, he says, “...each individual has a duty to be autonomous....”  And, “The philosophical anarchist then argues that only if a person consents to being bound to the political authority can the person actually be bound.  The final premise in the philosophical anarchist argument is that it is either practically impossible or at least actually untrue that states can be set up in such a way that they can demand the obedience of all and only those who have consented to their authority.  So, the anarchist concludes, no state is legitimate and perhaps no state can ever be legitimate.”

Brother Robert Vose: Thanks for the reference, Brother William.  It is quite a long article and there are many perspectives on the issue of a state's authority.

Brother William Voller: Brother Matthew Adams, “Is politics Islamic?”  Great question.  I would think yes in the sense that everything is and it can be a means for achieving Islam, but in the sense of there is a whole political Islam with a religiously prescribed method, then no not at all.  People tried political Islam: what a joke!  It failed miserably of course.

Brother Abdulkareem C Stone: Who in this realm of the world truly wields power?  Do we think that elected ‘leaders’ are the actual power brokers?  If yes, then these discussions of democracy have some value but if not then are all these elections are pretty much an elaborate entertainment?  Do we feel that Obama is the most powerful man in the US, or Cameron in the UK?

Brother Robert Vose: I just wonder what people here would think about this idea.  With a liberal democracy, the point is to test and publicly review the actions of the ruling class - politicians and the institutions they are responsible for.  Liberal democratic leaders do not ask for their constituents to ‘worship’ them.  The leaders are expected to be rational, responsive and to serve the people through their duties.  Not all succeed, but most retire with honour.  I do not think this liberal democratic approach is in conflict with the basic premises of Islam, even though modern states had not existed at the time.

Dictators, despots and some monarchists, by contrast, do expect their followers to believe their words, as if they were infallible.  With the worst cases of the 20th century, the dictators demanded their population to worship them like they were idols.  Some monarchies claim their mandate comes from the heavens, all while they carry on with earthly misdeeds which they will try to conceal.  Which system is more in accord with Islam?


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