Does Islam Provide for Peoples’ Democracy? 

One of the first of its kind and, probably the only of its kind, we see the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon Him) establishing a nation/ Ummah without any formal territory at Mecca during the pre migration period of 13 years. It wasn’t an easy task to get the loyalties of people shifted from their respective tribes to this Ummah or the nation of citizens that shared territory with tribes/ clans who had interse commitments against aggression by opponent tribes and the only operative law among these tribes that would establish some order was the law of mutual destruction.

After migration to Madina we see the establishment of a state with territory but the concept of Ummah/ nation would survive and all religious groups including the Jews would be its part as can be seen in the express terms of Meesaq-e-Madina, a thoroughly negotiated document. A document reported by Ibn-e-Ishaq and other historians. The state would be  absolutely pluralistic with different religious groups being governed under their respective laws and sanctioned by the state. There were mutual consultations on almost all matters, temporal to ritual and we often see consensus building.

Immediately after the demise of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh) history written backwards after some eighty years tells us that there was a dispute regarding the succession. One school of thought says that it was a dispute between the locals and the Meccan immigrants that was resolved amicably and we see three successors where the public after a certain process of nomination/ consultation/ negotiation would take the oath of allegiance upon the nominee. Another school of thought again reading from another set of history interpreted backwards says that since a prophet is appointed by God, only God can appoint his successor and believe in a succession of twelve infallible, divinely ordained imams.

With the declared principle of faith that all humans were equal it would mean that every human had equal right to elect and equal right to be elected as the ruler. Establishment of the Umayyad rule erased almost all reference to people or consultation and monarchy became the order ruling Muslim societies and territories for almost 1400 years. Dynasties would rise and fall through the use of the sword. The “principle” of “Just Sultan” who would enforce the Sharia law was crafted and designed and any reference to people was obliterated. At the same time we see Hazrat Ali (AS) and Hazrat Imam Hussain( AS) turning to people and seeking the reference to common people in their resistance to dynastic aggression/ occupation.

Reference and deriving power from the people would not be seen until the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the colonisation by the Europeans. It is strange that despite Ibn Rushd’s rational discourse and Ibn khaldun’s extraordinary analysis of politics we see the debate on reference to people or democracy missing in Muslim societies.

It was during the period of European colonialism we see some Muslim leaders seeking power from the common people to free their territories from colonisers and began thinking about democracy as an alternative to traditional dynastic rule.

We see a host of thinkers and political activists at different places. Syed Jamaluddin Afghani, Alama Muhammad Iqbal, Hasan-al Bana, Sayid Qutb, Maulana Maududi and later Ayatollah Ruhullah Khomeini. All these scholars in one or the other way came up with this idea of Islamic Democracy. At the same time with the swift exit of the colonising powers from many Muslim lands we saw the rise of military dictators who seized power at the head of the remnant local soldiers in the Middle East and elsewhere. Some held power by promoting and propagating socialist Arab nationalism like Saddam Hussein, Gamal Abdel Nasir, Hafez al Assad, and Moammer Ghadafi besides some pure nationalism like Mustafa Kamal Ataturk.

About Islamic democracies Muslim thinkers including the ones referred to herein above sought to reconcile and resolve the conflict between the responsibility of the State to enforce/ implement the “already existing” divine/ Shariah law and the power of the Parliament to make and frame laws. And when it came to implementing the Sharia law in an “Islamic state”, the problem cropped up as to which set of Shariah law was applicable. Was it Fiqah Hanafi or Fiqah Jafari? And in case of Parliament made law certain mechanism were evolved to check if the legislation was in conformity with “Islamic Law”. In Egypt for example it is Jamia Al-Azhar that has some reviewing powers and in Iran we have the Valie Faqih (Supreme jurist). In Pakistan you have the Ulema Council although its role is just to give an opinion but has no powers to review legislation.

My little understanding is as long as you believe and proclaim that equality is the basic fundamental of Islam there can’t be any other method except democracy as a form of governance and any state has to be a republic where every citizen counts and all powers flow from the people. It is the body politic of people not a select group that power including power to legislate has to come from.

“Laqad khalaqnal insaana fee ahsani taqweem.”

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Ali Malik

Author is an astute Kashmir observer with an interest in and stamina to correct the wrongs of the history.

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