Islam and Democracy

Islam and Democracy

In the article “Islam and Democracy,” by John Esposito and John O. Voll discuss the complexity of democracy in the contemporary world. In particular, there focus is on the involvement of the multiple groups in the twentieth century political seen. They argue that many of these groups “identify themselves explicitly as Islamic” as a way to enter the political scene. Once in, they take a democratic form, however, they aroused considerable controversy. Esposito and Voll argue that “Islamist groups only advocate democracy as a tactic to gain political power.” Although not all groups fall under such category, Rutherford echos this opinion towards the end of his article. The problem with such argument is the mere fact that the goals of such groups are extremely hard to identify.

As seen by the actions of the Muslin Brotherhood during the 2005 elections, their stance favor a democratic government formed through an Islamic Constitution. However, the democracy advocated for is completely different than what the West is used to. For that reason, I believe that we see it as a an illiberal democracy.

Esposito then discusses the fact that there are “many prominent Islamic intellectuals” who argue that Islam and democracy are compatible. This is clearly expressed by the arguments layout by Yusuff al-Qaradawi, Tariq al Bashiri, Kamal Abu al-Majd, and Muhammad Salim al-’Awwa. The arguments layout by these prominent thinkers focuses on four key aspects; (1) the source laws and purpose of laws, (2) the constraints on state power, (3) public participation in politics, and (4) the protection of civil and political rights. By further developing each aspect, these prominent thinkers are able to frame the makeup of an Islamic state. A state which is empowered to promote the adherence to Sharia law in order to develop a community (sunna) which is in line with the Sunnah of the Prophet.

Esposito and Voll then argue that there are a number of “key concepts that are presented by Muslims as the key to “Islamic democracy.”” The first concept is that Muslims should not simply copy non-Muslim systems. I would argue that this is one of the biggest points of contention in the West. Unlike Routherford and the scholars he discusses, the West has a specific take of what democracy should look like. However, like Rutherford states, democracy in the Middle East, based on Islamic Constitutionalism, gives the states a different role. Whereas, our constitution is designed to check the states powers, in Islamic Constitutionalism, the state is given more powers in order to promote a a more pious community.

Another basic concept in the development of Islamic democracy is “caliph.” Esposito argues that every individual should be involved in choosing the Caliph. “The concept of the caliphate involved responsibilities for all humans, in all dimensions of life, but especially the political.” This too was echoed by the scholars and the actions taken by the MB during the 2005 elections. it relates to the concept of individual participation. In particular, voting in free elections in order to choice the rightful leader.

Finally, the article closes with the acknowledgment that there are multiple Islamic groups now participating in the political process. The question should then turn to; What type of state is being advocated for? Regardless of the fact, it is imperative that we recognize that our sense of democracy may not fit the Middle Eastern Model.

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