Is Islam non-democratic?Jun 5th, 2012 | By Saad Lakhani | Category: Latest, Pakistan, Religion, World
“Consultation” is a fundamental concept in Islam. If anything, the Islamic ideal is nearest to a constitutionally restricted democracy whereas democratic principles are ordained under, within and from the principles of the Quran and Sunnah.
The basic flaw is made in understanding as to what democracy essentially means. Contrary to popular belief, democracy is a very fluid concept. For example, if you attempt to understand democracy in its original, and strictly, Greek sense, you’ll be surprised to note that such a concept cannot be applied to ‘modern democracies’. This is because in the Greek city-states, all the citizens would gather in one place to decide their affairs. This is true not only in time but also in space as democracies around the world differ from each other on fundamental grounds. So one must realize that claiming ‘Islam upholds democratic ideals’ doesn’t mean that it also upholds western democratic models; which are based on the premises of secularism and nationalism.
The idea that democracy is the rule of the people while Islam only recognizes the rule of God doesn’t necessarily imply a contradiction. In effect, however, neither God nor His Angels will come down to earth to rule nor has God made anyone His representative (hence closing the doors for theocracy). In fact, it is people who rule and, I argue, by divine decree; as Allah has made man (not a specific man, but meaning all-humanity) His vicegerent (Khalifah) on Earth. Allah says clearly.
“We have honoured the children of Adam” (17: 70); to which the revered Algerian scholar, Malik Bennabi, writes
“The verse was revealed as if to lay the foundations of a democratic model that is above every other model, where the divine element within man is taken into consideration and not just the human and social aspects…”
The following is an excerpt from an English translation of the celebrated ‘Tafheem-ul-Quran’ by Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi. It’s the scholar’s commentary on the verse ‘amru-hum shura baina-hum’ (they (believers) conduct their affairs by mutual consultation) (42:38). An understanding of the following will display that while restricting the negative effects of western democratic models, the Islamic model is yet still more democratic.
‘This quality (of consulting one another) has been counted here as the best quality of the believers and has been enjoined in Surah AI-’Imran Ayat 159 as well.
‘So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].’
On this basis, consultation is an important pillar of the Islamic way of life. And to conduct the affairs of collective life without consultation is not only the way of ignorance but also an express violation of the law prescribed by Allah. When we consider why consultation has been given such importance in Islam, three things become obvious:
Firstly, that it is injustice that matters of the state be decided on the basis of personal opinions. No one has a right to do as he likes, in matters of common interest. Justice demands that all those whose interests are involved in a matter be consulted, and if it concerns a large number of the people, their reliable representatives should be made a party in consultation.
Secondly, a man wants to usurp the rights of others for selfish ends, or because he looks down upon others and regards himself as a superior person. Morally both These qualities are equally detestable, and a believer cannot have even a tinge of either of these in himself. A believer is neither selfish so that he should get undue benefits by usurping the rights of others, nor he is arrogant and self-conceited that he should regard himself as all-wise and all-knowing.
Thirdly, that it is a grave responsibility to give decisions in matters that involve the rights and interests of others. No one who fears God and knows what severe accountability for it he will be subjected to by his Lord, can dare take the heavy burden of it solely on himself. Such boldness is shown only by those who are fearless of God and heedless of the Hereafter. The one who fears God and has the feeling of the accountability of the Hereafter, will certainly try that in a matter of common interest he should consult all the concerned people or their authorized representatives so as to reach, as far as possible, an objective and right and equitable decision, and if there occurs a mistake one man alone should not be held responsible for it.
A deep consideration of these three things can enable one to fully understand that consultation is a necessary demand of the morality that Islam has taught to man, and departure from it is a grave immorality which Islam does not permit the Islamic way of life requires that the principle of consultation should be used in every collective affair, big or small. If it is a domestic affair, the husband and the wife should act by mutual consultation, and when the children have grown up, they also should be consulted. If it is a matter concerning the whole family, the opinion of every adult member should be solicited. If it concerns a tribe or a fraternity or the population of a city, and it is not possible to consult all the people, the decision should be taken by a local council or committee, which should comprise the trustworthy representatives of the concerned people according to an agreed method. If the matter concerns a whole nation, the head of government should be appointed by the common consent of the people, and he should conduct the national affairs in consultation with the leaders of opinion, whom the people regard as reliable, and he should remain at the helm of affair only as long as the people themselves want him to remain in that position. No honest man can try to assume the headship of a nation by force, or desire to continue in that position indefinitely, nor can think of corning into power by deception and then seek the people’s consent by coercion, nor can he devise schemes so that the people may elect representatives to act as his advisers not by their own free choice but according to his will. Such a thing can be desired only by the one who cherishes evil intentions, and such a fraud against the Islamic principle of consultation can be practiced only by him who does not feel any hesitation in deceiving both God and the people whereas the fact is that neither can God be deceived nor the people be so blind as to regard the robber, who is committing robbery in the bright day light openly, as their well-wisher and servant.
The principle of consultation as enshrined in ‘amru-hum shura baina-hum’ by itself demands five things:
(1) The people whose rights and interests relate to collective matters, should have full freedom to express their opinion and they should be kept duly informed of how their affairs are being conducted; they should also have the full right that if in the conduct of the affairs they see an error, a weakness or a deficiency, they can check it and voice a protest, and if they do not see any change for the better, they can change their rulers. To conduct the people’s affairs by keeping them silent and un-informed is sheer dishonesty which no one can regard as adherence to the principle of consultation in Islam.
(2) The person who is to be entrusted with the responsibility of conducting the collective affairs, should be appointed by the people’s consent, and this consent should be their free consent, which is not obtained through coercion, temptation, deception, and fraud, because in that case it would be no consent at all. A nation’s true head is not he who becomes its head by trying every possible method, but he whom the people make their head by their own free choice and approval.
(3) The people who are appointed as advisers to the head of the state should be such as enjoy the confidence of the nation, and obviously the people who win representative positions by suppression or by expending wealth, or by practicing falsehood and fraud, or by misleading the people cannot be regarded as enjoying the confidence in the real sense.
(4) The advisers should give opinion according to their knowledge and faith and conscience and they should have full freedom of such expression of opinion. Wherever this is not the case; wherever the advisers give advice against their own knowledge and conscience; under duress or temptation, or under party discipline; it will be treachery and dishonesty and not adherence to the Islamic principle of consultation.
(5) The advice that is given by a consensus of the advisers, or which has the support of the majority of the people, should be accepted, for if a person (or a group of persons) behaves independently and acts on his own whims, even after hearing the advice of others, consultation becomes meaningless. Allah does not say: “They are consulted in their affairs”, but says: “They conduct their affairs by mutual consultations”. This instruction is not implemented by mere consultation, but for its sake it is necessary that the affairs be conducted according to what is settled by consensus or by majority opinion in consultation. Along with this explanation of the Islamic principle of consultation, this basic thing also should be kept in view that this consultation is not independent and autocratic in conducting the affairs of the Muslims, but necessarily subject to the bounds that Allah Himself has set by His legislation, and is subject to the fundamental principle: “It is for Allah to give a decision in whatever you may differ,” and “if there arises any dispute among you about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger. ” According to this general principle, the Muslims can hold consultations in Shari ‘ah matters with a view to determining the correct meaning of a text or verse and find out the ways of implementing it so as to fulfill its requirements rightly but they cannot hold consultations in order to give an independent judgment in a matter which has already been decided and settled by Allah and His Messenger.”