Islam and Rule of the People – III

Jun 27th, 2012 | By | Category: Latest, Pakistan, Religion, World

The instinctual problem that arises with democracy is the belief that democracy originated in the west. The history of democracy is therefore presented as troublesome. The Ancient Greeks, who are told to be the founders of “democracy”, would probably be shocked and be dismissive of modern democracies. As modern representative governments are radically different in nature than the democracies of Greek city-states where all citizens would gather to make decisions. Democracy is a very fluid concept with radically different forms; direct, representative, functional, parliamentary, republican, federal, proletarian, and so on.

Modern democracy, however, from a conceptual standpoint, has a troublesome dynamic. In the west, it evolved in the background of the renaissance and the revolt against the authority of the church. It was in this sense a blow against religion and the ecclesiastical order. It was also a revolt against the European Monarchies, those of which claimed that they had the divine right to rule. While in actuality, as the slogan of the French Revolution went “We want neither a Lord nor a master”, the struggle was one of the masses against oppression of monarchy and theocracy at the same time, it became expressive in a revolt against the justifications presented by the regimes; Divine right and representation.  Hence, against the claim of the church of ‘the rule of God’, the movement demanded ‘the rule of man’.  The revolutionary notion of man’s independence from God manifested itself in form Secularism, Nationalism and Western Democracy.

Fortunately, however Islam does not endorse any religious class to begin with. While Islam does value knowledge and deeds, it does not give monopoly to either a scholarly or holier-than-thou class on the power-centers of society. Popular participation is a fundamental aspect of the Islamic socio-political order.  In this sense, an Islamic state is a civil state against what is understood as a “religious state” (a theocracy).

According to reputable Islamic scholar, Syed Maududi (RA), the Islamic ideal is unique in itself. But to describe it in its nearest terms for understanding and categorization, it can be called a “Theo-democracy”.  This is because while Islam recognizes the sovereignty of God alone, it gives the people the right to choose their rulers and be consulted.

The whole concept of Bay’et, or pledge of allegiance, in Islamic history, is a perfectly appropriate methodology to establish legitimacy based on public consent. The ballot system, and the whole electoral process, is just a more advance and modern way to achieve the same principle. For it’s time and circumstances, the Bay’et system was most suited and applicable. Now we simply have a more advanced and modern method to achieve the same end. Unfortunately, even this Bay’et system was misused by despotic rulers in our history. Forced Bay’et, or consent, became a method to justify monarchal rule in Islamic terms, which faced resistance, starting with the revolt of Imam Hussain(RA), from time to time. In modern times too, despotic rulers have used similar methodologies to justify their tyrannies by the illusion of consent, from Hosni Mubarak to Pervez Musharaf.

There are two main contentions left with the anti-democracy argument. The first refers to the failures of most Western democracies. The ‘corporations’ and ‘lobbies’ are the true parties that hold the strings in such so-called democracies, while public opinion is manipulated through mass media. While this may be true, there is an inherent admission of these democracies not being the real thing; a scam of sorts. In further response, one has to say that within an Islamic framework, monopolistic tendencies in corporations or interest groups are both to be contained. While an explanation of Islam’s socio-economic ideals and characteristics are too detailed to accommodate in this essay, one has to simply understand that they’re different from those of Western capitalist societies.

The second contention refers to the failures and the shape of democracies as ours in Pakistan. People at large are blamed for choosing the corrupt people again and again. This may be true but many other factors are involved, including the incessant shifts between dictatorships and democracies, the general moral and intellectual degeneration of our society, the gap between the elite and the masses, the colonial legacy, and the feudal structure of most of Pakistan. If we find the people today to be ignorant at large than it is the responsibility of the responsible few to create a critical mass that would reach out to the people. While this is another topic, I believe that the elite in Pakistan must take responsibility to engage with the masses. The professional and educated elite have generally been apolitical, while leaving the masses vulnerable to demagogues.

Democratization and Islamization in the Muslim world go together. This fact must be realized. For in true democracy, the consent, traditions, values, approval, customs and religion of the people must all be reflected. On the other hand, secularism in Muslim societies can, and has always, been imposed by force at the hands of despotic rulers. We must also understand that the greatest opponent to democracy in the Muslim world has always been the Western hegemonic powers. If true representatives of the people come to power, there is always the chance that they’ll reflect public aspirations.


Click here for Part I and Part II

Saad Lakhani

About the author

Saad Lakhani is a student of Social Sciences based in Karachi. He tweets @Saadlakhani12

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  1. […] Click here for Part I and Part III […]

  2. […] Click here for Part II and Part III […]

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