Islam And Democracy - Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan

Islam And Democracy

The Holy Quran guides us in detail in those matters, which hardly alter with the change of time like family affairs. All other matters that change a lot according to the circumstances have been left upon the free will of people to legislate accordingly. For these matters the Quran simply lays down some guiding principles. Politics is also one of such matters. We know that politics and state-craft are subject to change according to the temperament and culture of different societies. The human approach towards these matters also keeps changing with the passage of time.

According to the Quran the ruler of a Muslim state has to be elected by the people. It means that a Muslim state should be a perfect democratic state.

The Quran says:

“They (the Muslims) decide all their collective issues through mutual consultation.” (Al-Shura-32:38)

Any matter that is pertained with the interests of two or more than two persons cannot be decided single-handedly. In order to put this law to practice it is necessary that the people be given absolute freedom to express their opinions. A ruler must be appointed through the free vote of people. The whole system of the state must be formulated through consultation. Every one must be given equal right of vote. A law once formulated through consultation must be withdrawn through consultation. A ruler is also bound to take a decision approved by the majority.

There is no room for dictatorship or imperialism in Islam. People have the right to put a ruler into or out of his office.

We shall discuss all expected questions one by one arising through the discussion on Islam and democracy.

The above-mentioned stand is mainly objected on the ground that the majority of the people all over the world are wayward and for the same reason the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SWS) was forbidden to follow the opinion of the majority. In a way it is said that the rule of majority is wrong.

The verse of the Quran dealing with this issue has not been understood properly. This is why the faction among the Muslims against democracy presents this verse as logic in their favour but without its context. It will be tried here that the real motive of the Quran in this verse be presented with its true context. The Quran declares that the affirmation of right or wrong does not depend on majority or minority; rather it is judged on the equity of the individual’s conscience and intellect. Above all, the real test for the ad judgment of true and false is the guidance of God. It is quite possible that the majority might decline something despite it being true and right. This was the philosophy behind God’s advice to the Prophets asking them to continue their rightful struggle and not to submit before adversaries.

The above-mentioned advice of God was also given to Prophet Muhammad (SWS) during his Makkah era. It is known to us that the Holy Prophet had to face discouraging circumstances when he initiated his preaching in his native city Makkah. There were a few people who embraced Islam. The Muslims of that era were failed to understand why the majority was not ready to agree with them if they were really on the right path. Thus God satisfied them through the Holy Prophet by telling them that the validity of truth doesn’t depend on its acknowledgement by the majority. The majority might turn it down under the influence of their worldly desires. So irrespective of the results; the struggle with all its profundity must be carried on.         

In the early days of Islam the number of the believers was hardly in hundreds while the non-believers were in millions. Thus God revealed His message upon His Prophet for the morale boosting of His companions several times. The following verse was also a part of that:

 “Perfected are the words of your Lord in the truth and justice. None can change them. He is the Hearing, the knowing. If you obeyed the majority of these people, they would lead you away from Allah’s path. They follow nothing but falsehood. Allah best knows the people who stray from His path and those that are rightly guided.” (Al-An’am-6:115,116)

The study of above mentioned verses of the Holy Quran make it clear that they do not deal with the formation of any system for the running of collective affairs of a Muslim state. It was merely a message to console the Muslims of that time and it achieved its target. So the Holy Quran is justified in relating the fact that the validity of truth has no relevance with the certification of the majority. Democracy, in fact, simply lays down the principle that the decision of the majority should prevail in case of a dispute. The decision of the majority may be wrong. This is why one political party does not always remain in power. This is the only way to resolve the issues because it carries more advantages and less disadvantages.

Here we come across an inevitable question: if it is difficult to consult masses in every matter, could there be a possibility in Islam of holding consultation through a parliament of elected representatives of the people. Well, the Quran allows this as per principle but the practical affirmation of this belief can be seen in the adoption of this rule in the lives of the Holy Prophet (SWS) and the later Muslim rulers. For instance, on an occasion when the question about the release of some prisoners was under discussion, the Prophet asked the Muslims to communicate their point of view through their representatives. (Bukhari: Kitab al-Ahkam)

Afterwards the pious Caliphs also followed the procedure of holding consultation with the elite of every community. If needed, they used to take the public opinion through referendum. (Kitab-ul-Khiraj)

Here arises the question whether Islam accommodates the existence of political parties.

In principle, the answer is in affirmative. Since Islam does not ban the political parties, it naturally gives the sense that the establishment of a political party is admirable and it can level the ground to win favor of public. The Muslims can enjoy difference of opinion within their society as well. They are free to convince others in favor of their opinion and can take part in the elections through their political factions.

The next question is what sort of culture Islam wants to create through the fair and free elections and a purified democratic mind and atmosphere. The Holy Quran tells that a leader must possess the distinctive qualities of knowledge, intellect, righteousness and strength. Islam rules out any major role of money in the appointment of a ruler.

Through al-Baqarah-2:247 the Quran relates an incident from history that when a ruler was chosen in a nation, it was objected by the people that since he was inferior to them in worldly assets, he had no right to rule upon them. They were replied that the ruler was, however, superior to them in knowledge, morality and strength.

It proves that an Islamic society should form such a model of democracy where there is no manipulation of money in the appointment of a political office bearer. Islam affirms that every office is a sacred duty entrusted upon the office bearer.

Another issue requires its satisfactory answer: Who would be the arbiter to decide in case of dispute over the interpretation of a point in Islam. The answer is that Islam grants such a right to the majority. If the matter is the concern of the individual, he has every right to interpret according to his will. If the matter deals with collectivity, it is only the prerogative of the elected representatives of the people to implement what they deem fit. The factions in minority have of course a right to maintain the difference of opinion and work for leveling the ground in their favor. As long as they do not get a law amended through the majority, they are bound to observe the legislation passed by the parliament.

Islam does not approve of any legal right to any faction of religious scholars for the forcible implementation of their notions based on their understanding of Islam. There is no such concept in Islam. A scholar may convince the masses by dint of his arguments and moral strength but he has absolutely no right to enforce his notions. The Quran, as a principle, stresses upon the consensus on all collective matters. It respects the majority in case of a dispute. So there is no room for theocracy in Islam. 

Non Muslims too, may dwell in a Muslim state, so it is important to know about system of their participation in political affairs. The Quran had laid down a principle in this regard that the Muslims have to keep up their promises. It proves that the Muslims are bound to respect every pact made with non-Muslims after mutual consultation. It is a must for the state to keep in view the international situation, pacts, and the problems of the Muslim minorities in the non-Muslim countries.

It is a must for the Muslims to honor every commitment made with non-Muslims. For instance the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali-Jinnah, the founder leader of Pakistan, gave his word to non-Muslims that they would be granted equal political rights in Pakistan. Therefore, it is obligatory upon the state of Pakistan that the non-Muslims get equal rights with the Muslims in this country. (Quaid’s address on 11 Aug 1947).

The further discussion regarding the rights of non-Muslims would come later in this book.

The next discussion deals with the meaning of the Caliphate, as this word comes repeatedly in Islamic literature. The word Khalifah (Caliph) has been used in the Quran meaning a person with power, authority and freewill i.e every human being. A Muslim ruler in the same capacity is called Caliph. It is important to note that the word Caliph is not used as an essential religious term; any other synonym like president, Prime Minister and Chancellor can also be used in its stead.

It is said that the Holy Prophet had decided in his own life that his successor in the office of the leader of the Muslims would be among the Quraysh, the then biggest tribe of the Arabs. Was it not an undemocratic decision? How the first four Caliphs after the Holy Prophet were appointed?

The answer is that the Qurayshites were respected and trusted by the inhabitants of the soil of Arabia. This position of respect was enjoyed by the Qurayshites for hundreds of years. People contacted them for arbitration in disputes and admitted their leadership. In fact they were in majority. The same situation persisted even after they had embraced Islam, because a faction of the Quraysh had accorded the maximum sacrifices for Islam. So in the light of the guidance of the Quran no tribe other than the Quraysh deserved the leadership of the Muslims in the whole of Arabia. The Holy Prophet decided in their favor owing to their being in majority. The Holy Prophet justified his decision as under:

“The general masses are subservient to the Quraysh in the matter of leadership. The believers of Arabia follow the believers of the Quraysh and the non-believers follow the non-believers of the Quraysh.” (Muslim: Kitabul-Amarah).

Therefore the decision of the Holy Prophet was purely a democratic decision. The first four Caliphs were elected on the basis of the same principle. Abu Bakr was the most prominent man among the Quraysh. When his name was proposed as a Caliph, all had a consensus on it. In the same way Abu Bakr consulted the leading persons about the appointment of the new Caliph before his death. When he became sure that the majority of the Muslim leaders were in favor of Umar, he declared his name as his successor.

When Umer reached the dusk of his life, he formed a council comprising of six most prominent leaders. These six leaders were the fittest candidates to become Caliph. After having consulted the general public and through a consensus, this council elected Usman as the next Caliph of Islam.

The election of Ali was in a period of chaos but even then consultation was the main source of his appointment at that time. Implementation of the policy of consultation was one of the two reasons for the conflict between Ali and his opponents. Ali had the stand that since the inhabitants of the Capital had chosen him their leader, he was the Caliph. He expressed that the opinion of the people belonging to the other parts of the state would be taken when the situation is normalized. His opponents, however, believed that he was not a Caliph unless people from all over the state vote in favor of him.

This dispute has a positive gesture that indicates how much importance the Muslims of the early period of Islam attached to the democratic values.

It is a pertinent question here how far these values were practiced in the time of the Holy Prophet. Its principled aspect is that he was the Prophet of God and he received guidance directly from God in every important matter. So apparently he was not dependent upon the consultation of any one else. The Quran Says:

“He does not speak out of his own fancy. This is no other than inspired revelation.” (Al-Najam-53:3-4)

“Whatever the Rasool gives you, accept it; and whatever he forbids you, forebear from it.” (Al-Hshr-59:7)

Despite this all, the Holy Prophet was advised by God to consult his companions in all affairs of political and administrative nature. So he not only consulted them but also acted upon the advice of the majority. There was only one exception at the time when the pact of Hudaybiyah was made. His companions were not willing to make the agreement but he reached an agreement with his enemies after having direct orders from God, the Quran says:

“It is thanks to Allah’s mercy that you (Muhammad) deal so leniently with them. Had you been cruel and hard-hearted, they would have surely deserted you. Therefore, pardon them and implore Allah to forgive them. Take counsel with them in the conduct of affairs; and when you are resolved, put your trust in Allah” (Al-Imran-3:159)

This is how the Prophet of Islam formed a complete democratic society where everyone expressed the voice of his conscience in an atmosphere of perfect freedom and fearlessness. According to a Hadith, Abu Huraira the companion of the Holy Prophet says that the Holy Prophet used to consult people more then any body.

Islam had its entire growth in an absolutely democratic way. The Prophet of Islam (SWS) initiated his preaching from his native city, Makkah that was the pivot of the whole of Arabia. Despite his peaceful struggle which spanned over thirteen years, he could not convince the majority of the dwellers of his native city. He did not raise an army at that time for the forcible occupation of that city. One the other side almost the whole of the population of Madina became Muslim and they invited the Prophet to come over there and establish his rule. Therefore, he reached there and established his rule according to the will of the local people in a purely democratic way.


Courtesy: The family of Dr. Muhammad Farooq Khan
Author : Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan
Uploaded on : May 13, 2016
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