Democracy at the Heart of Islam
Smt. Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali
Over the past decade, the issue of democratization has dominated the analysis of political change, reflecting the dramatic transitions from authoritarian rules in Southern and Eastern Europe, Latin America and East Asia. While the new literature on democratization is increasing, a growing number of specialists have sought to identify local developments that signal the early phases of or at least potential for, a democratic transformation of State and society in the Middle East. Other democratic patterns are gaining more visibility in the Muslim world.
Based on studies relating to different regimes and institutional settings, political analysts suggest that, although important changes have occurred in some parts of the Muslim world, they do not completely fit within the usual Western patterns of democratization. One reason for this seems to be that we inherit a historical legacy that encourages a mutually hostile mirror image in the interaction between Islam and Western democracy. As in the Cold War, mirror images are based on categorical, reductionist characteristics. Hence some Islamic thinkers equate Western democracy with extreme social permissiveness and moral dissolution, while others conceive this 'alien import' as a neocolonialist ploy to subvert the social fabric of Muslim society. Similarly, a dominant Western image of Islam reduces it to fundamentalism and terrorism. Moreover, in the post-colonial period, several revolutionary regimes, surviving monarchies and traditional regimes shared the desire to preserve and utilize both the political apparatus of democratization arid the economic benefits which modernism kept at their disposal. What was resented was foreign control of the economic structures. In the ensuing long debate about how independence from foreign powers should be shaped, the ideological stream of democracy was not ruled out. Hassan al Banna, the Egyptian founder of the Muslim brotherhood in the late 1920s, affirmed in writing that democracy and the holding of elections was not incompatible with Islam.
Hence at the level of political practice, it is important to emphasize that political thought in Islam cannot be reduced to some of its more radical groups, since larger groups of Muslim countries accept most of the mechanisms of a democracy. For instance, Isalm accepts the welfare of the individual, developmentalism (including technology), pluralism and political participation. However, the term 'democratization' in Islam transcends a pluralistic political system to denote a system based on dignity, mutual respect and a civil society based oh human rights and justice. It is the endeavour of this essay to show that the potential for democratic society is expressed in the Holy Qur'an and the traditions of Prophet Muhammad.
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