john esposito & john voll's
ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY
Hassan is the author of Prophecy
and the Fundamentalist Quest. Please visit
her website at: www.farzanahassan.com
Muslims often tout Islam’s ‘democratic tradition.’
They proudly refer to the era of the pious caliphate when the
successors of the prophet were elected to office by the influential
of the community. These pious caliphs were wholly answerable
to the common citizen of the nascent Muslim state. Even the
lowliest of the low, including women, could stand up and take
these men of influence to task over the most trivial of matters.
line with this view, Shahina Siddiqui, former co-chair of the
Islamist organization CAIR, asserts that Islamic democracy embodies
the principles of shura -- the Arabic word for consultation
which describes the process by which pre-Islamic tribes elected
their leaders -- and nomination. She believes these are both
Islamic and “cardinal principles of democracy.”
As evidence she cites historical precedent surrounding the successorship
of the prophet Mohammad in the nascent Islamic state of Medina.
that was then, why are so many Islamic countries non-democratic?
Have the faithful lost sight of their own democratic traditions
or is Islam simply incompatible with the tenets of modern liberal
democracies? These questions are even more relevant today in
light of the current uprisings in the Middle East, often referred
to as the Arab Spring.
L. Esposito and John O. Voll examine these issues at length
in their book Islam
(Oxford University Press, 1996). They provide a comprehensive
theoretical framework for Islam’s political institutions
and describe how some of these emerged in the functioning of
modern states such Malaysia, Pakistan and Indonesia. According
to the authors “Independent states with Muslim majorities
joined the world of sovereign nation-states . . . It is important
to examine the conceptual resources within Islam for democratization.”
and Voll, however, declare at the outset that to many “the
concept of Islamic democracy is anathema.” However in
order to counter this perception they state: “ In the
global environment of the present, narrow and parochial understandings
of concepts as important as democracy are dangerous and limiting,
even for long established democratic systems.”
the reader must ask: Would an Islamic state governed under Shariah
law, acknowledge as equal women and religious minorities? Would
they be allowed to assume leadership roles in the government?
Would Shariah law be subject to review by an elected parliament?
Within the framework of such a system, could a minority representing
a non-Shariah viewpoint ever have the opportunity to become
the majority? And can such a scenario be deemed democratic?
Is it therefore intrinsic to Islamic doctrine that government
and state must converge? Would Christians be treated as equal
citizens under an orthodox Islamic regime, a "theo-deomocracy"
as suggested by Dr. Jamal Badawi? Is a theo-democracy a contradiction
and Voll acknowledge some of these concerns when they state:
“None of these, nor all of them in combination, represents
an explicitly democratic conceptualization of opposition as
understood in the modern era . . . ”
authors define the concept of fitna
in Islam as “disturbances, or even civil war involving
the adoption of doctrinal attitudes which endanger the purity
of the Muslim faith” The authors state that: “Fitna
sets limits on what kind of disagreement is allowable in terms
of the Islamic heritage.”
a solution to some of these undemocratic tendencies, Esposito
and Voll argue that democracy can be understood in a variety
of ways that are suited to the ethos of various cultures and
civilizations. “There may be a dominant discourse, but
multiple discourses have existed and can continue to exist or
be formulated. The term ‘democracy’ is capable of
multiple interpretations and applications.”
the book is an older publication and does not comment on current
affairs, it provides detailed insight into Islam’s political
institutions, history and past. It is a useful resource for
developing ideas that may ultimately lead to some form of democratization
in Islamic countries.
I am reminded of that line in "The King and I" that
goes something like: Democracy has many forms; in my country
it has a form called Absolute Monarchy.
Farzana Hassan has it all wrong again. The method of power transference
among the first "rightly guided" caliphs was assassination.
And then poor Ali who felt done out of his inheritance has led
to the violent confrontation between Sunni and Shi'a that we
see today. Shura, which I studied and consulted on and wrote
about in my books, has absolutely nothing in common with the
principle of democracy. Those who foreground it remind me of
Irshad Manji desperately trying to make a case for Ijtihad--which
was shot down by Ibn Warraq, Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
and a host of other former Muslims. Esposito's concept of different
kinds of democracy is both well-known and untenably absurd,
and besides he's only a shill for the Saudis, his outfit at
Georgetown subsidized by the Wahabis, just as Carter's Peace
Center is. There's a lot of crap going down here.
In response to David Solway: I only reviewed the book. These
are not my own thoughts on democracy, which I consider incompatable
with orthodox Islam.
It's easy for Esposito and Voll to write that "that democracy
can be understood in a variety of ways that are suited to the
ethos of various cultures and civilizations," -- these
words mean nothing to the persecuted Copts of Egypt, or the
Christians of Iraq, whose number has dwindled greatly since
the Amerian intervention.
Profs Espositio and Voll, please try and live in Pakistan or
Egypt, or Saudia, and enjoy their brand of democracy.
Excellent review. To my mind Islam does
not appreciate the idea of individual freedom. By accepting
Sharia not as a framework but as a detailed rule book Islam
finds it difficult to convceive of an evolving democracy needing
Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution (review)
Grand Design (review)
Jew Is Not My Enemy (review)
Ban the Hijab?