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February 10, 2010

Human Rights, Democracy and Islam-Part III

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Many Muslim scholars say that the most positive aspect of Western liberal democracy is its political system.

Through this system, people can choose their legislators, and through this elected body, they can rule themselves.

These scholars also point out that a Muslim has a duty to vote for the best candidate because voters are considered to be witnesses in a matter of public good. Not voting is considered negative because it could allows the wrong candidate to win.

Theoretically speaking, this picture as a whole is good from an Islamic point of view, provided that it is implemented so that the accompanying mischief and evils of electoral democracy can be avoided.

Topping the list of problems are: those who have power and money can manipulate the system to get elected and gain power; and the percentage of those who vote is usually very low.

For Muslim democrats, an additional problem concerns parliament’s power to enact legislation. It should not have the authority to legislate in areas covered by explicit Islamic Law, and so the legislative body should contain a group of Muslim jurists (fuqaha) to examine the validity of the laws it passes.

In general, reaching a consensus is the best way to govern, but in some cases a voting majority must apply.

Partial democracy

Many Muslim elites are willing to accept and promote partial democratization, but they believe that if it takes place from the top down, the process remains problematic. The ruler, under those circumstances, acts as if the public is not ready for democratic reform, and is apt to prefer stability and control over the perceived risks of open democracy.

Muslim democrats clearly know what’s wrong with the Western democracy just as Western reformers do.

Can Islamic parties be trusted in a democratic system?

In some Muslim countries, rulers insist that the obstacle to more democracy lies in the anti-democratic character of Muslim political groups. Given that many liberal views are embodied in Islamic law, and that Muslim scholars offer liberal interpretations of the law, these rulers nevertheless assert that many Muslim politicians, no matter what they may say, are committed to an exclusivist interpretation of Islam that would not allow any permanent place for democracy.

They also say that expressions of support for democracy from other Muslim political leaders may in some cases be motivated by tactical considerations. Advocacy for democracy and pluralism strengthens an Islamic movement’s political appeal, and in a world that increasingly professes support for democratic values, these leaders can simply put terms like “democracy,” “human rights,” and “pluralism” into an Islamic context.

Theocracy is ruled out, all agree

All Muslim scholars agree that Islam does not advocate theocracy, a state governed directly by God or his representative. On the contrary, Islam does not give any person or institution, government or church, the right to claim to be the representative of God.

A secular political system, designed by people to govern themselves, is wholly compatible with Islamic democracy, provided that it is based on Islamic universal values of justice, freedom, equality and social justice.

The Prophet of Islam was a bearer of a divine law that until his death. It was up to Muslim jurists of the day to interpret that law in the context of a political system.

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