determined by many different elements:
culture, wealth, equalities, education, and some will say,
religion. Religion as a determinant of
democratic development has been extensively studied and many arguments have
been presented supporting the claim that religion hinders democracy, while
others are less convinced. Since Samule
P. Huntington published his book, Clash of Civilization, there has been
an increased focus on the relationship between Islam and democracy.
He argues that
this clash is highlighted by Muslim resistance to democratic development and
modernity, which he attributes to the nature of the religion of Islam. Although
In any discussion concerning democracy it is essential to define the term and set a standard for what constitutes a democratic system. Scholars have not been subtle about their debate over the requirements of democracy, but nevertheless they have found some common ground in the institution of elections. Citizen participation through elections is one of the most important indicators for a democratic system, but it is not sufficient because even authoritarian regimes may hold elections and feign democracy.
Therefore, for this discussion, two important questions must be answered about democracy: First, what constitutes a democratic system? and second, is the concept of democracy dichotomous or graded? In other words, are political systems either democratic or non-democratic, or are they either more democratic or less democratic?
The answer to the first question is that different scholars and theorists present different criteria for what constitutes a democratic system. In this essay, the focus will be on a procedural, minimalist definition of a democracy which presumes “fully contested elections with full suffrage and the absence of massive fraud, combined with effective guarantees of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, assembly, and association.” Giovanni Sartori provides a persuasive answer to the second question.
He argues that “the distinction between democracy and non-democracy should be treated as dichotomous. Hence, the essential initial task is to establish exhaustive and mutually exclusive categories of democracy and nondemocracy.” According to Sartori, there is a fine line between what is a democratic system and what is not, and that is where the concept of democracy is dichotomous. But he also suggests that once a country is deemed democratic, a graded evaluation of its level of democracy can be applied to it. “Thus, what makes democracy possible should not be mixed up with what makes democracy more democratic.”
Therefore, following Sartori's logic, two procedures must take place when evaluating democratic development in any region around the world: Is that region democratic based on a procedural, minimalist definition of democracy and if it is democratic, how democratic is it? In this essay, these two procedures will be applied to Muslim countries to evaluate their stance on democracy as well as their level of democracy.
Islam and Democracy
The idea of the coexistence of democracy and Islam has raised controversy among writers and theorists: on the one hand, many present significant empirical evidence to prove that in Muslim countries, democracy is either weak or nonexistent and they use religion to explain this phenomenon. Others suggest that religion cannot be used to explain democratic development, and hence, they attribute the lack of democracy in Muslim countries not to Islam, but to other factors.
Islam Hinders Democratic Development
Many believe that where Islam is present, democracy cannot be. In his paper entitled Does God Matter, and If So Whose God: Religion and Democratization, John Anderson writes, “[w]ith regard to Islam it was argued that reliance on a fixed religious text and quasi-legal ordinances, the emphasis on divine sovereignty, and the supposed lack of distinction between the religious and the political realm, all worked against democratic development.”
The lack of
democracy in Muslim countries is used as evidence to support this claim.
Samuel Huntington is one of several writers who strongly oppose the notion that Islam can be compatible with democracy. In his book Clash of Civilizations, he repeatedly asserts that Muslim countries are infertile ground for democratic development and, hence, the “underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”
Muslims to reject western values, including democracy, which leaves them
disadvantaged and controlled by an authoritarian regime. Furthermore,
This failure has
its source at least in part in the inhospitable nature of the Islamic culture
and society to Western liberal concepts,” resulting in a clash
between Islam and the West.
comments on this and writes, “For
Both writers believe that Islam is the reason Muslim countries are lacking modernity and democracy, and thus, it is important to test their claims by looking at authentic Islamic doctrine and whether it truly is incompatible with democracy, and second, by analyzing empirical data to uncover Muslim attitudes towards democracy.
Islam Supports Democratic Development
The first problem
For Beetham, the trouble with all such 'negative' hypotheses about religion and democratization is that they [treat] 'religions as monolithic, when their core doctrines are typically subject to a variety of schools of interpretation; and as immutable, when they are notoriously revisionist in the face of changing circumstances and political current.
In a wide ranging essay published in 2001 Alfred Stepan suggested that all religious traditions were multi-vocal, containing organizational and intellectual resources that could be called upon in support of democratic forms of governance
In Islam and the Myth of Confrontation, Fred Halliday also points out this problem,
To be drawn into an argument about any necessary incompatibility, or for that matter compatibility, between Islam and democracy is to accept precisely the false premise that there is one true, traditionally established 'Islamic' answer to the question, and that this timeless 'Islam' rules social and political practice. There is no such answer and no such 'Islam.'
Many writers, excluding
For one, Islam has several different sects and different schools of thought within each sect: The Shiites differ from Sunnis, which differ from Ismaelis, Sufis, Alawis, etc... Second, there are significant cultural and geographical differences between Arab and non-Arab, Gulf, non-Gulf Muslims, Middle Eastern, East Asian, or African Muslims: For example, Iranian Muslims practice and implement the teachings of Islam differently from Saudi, Bangladeshi, Iraqi, or Turkish Muslims.
Furthermore, Islam's concept of Ijtihad, or independent reasoning, allows Muslim scholars to interpret or reinterpret the Islamic laws (to an extent) and devise new interpretations based on their own reasoning. The outcome is that different scholars within one school of thought or within one sect will come to two different conclusions about the Islamic political tradition. This is why for “many writers there is no such thing as a single Islamic political tradition, and they suggest that within the varying Islamic traditions there were ample intellectual resources for those seeking to promote democratic governance.”
refers to two writers, John L. Espito and John O. Voll, who point out that “it might well be possible
to draw on Islamic traditions that were compatible with the core concern of
democracy with participation whilst allowing it to take into account the
specific concerns of Muslims for recognition of 'special identities or
The literal translation of shura is consultation. It appears in the Quran, several times, ordering Muslims to consult one another about their affairs in three spheres of society: The political, the economic, and the social and spiritual. The verse that is relevant to this discussion is in Chapter 42: “And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel[...]”
Imam Mohammad Al-Shirazi, a very prominent and distinguished Muslim scholar, writes in his book Shura in Islam, “Drawing from this holy verse, shura is of two kinds: the first is the Muslim governor's consultation of the Muslims about affairs concerning them, and the second is the consultation among Muslims about how to administer their affairs. Therefore, it is a duty on both of the governor and the governed.”
Imam Al-Shirazi recounts democratic values of participation in government and civil society. Democratic governments cannot exist without citizen participation through elections and/or referendums, and each citizen chooses the government, party, or politician that will advance their interests in issues around health care, education, economics, labour, national security, liberal rights, etc... Furthermore, advanced democracies value civil society and its merits.
When citizens socialize, they become more involved in society, triggering citizen participation in society through volunteer work, non-government organizations, lobbying, and activism. This in turn leads to an increase in political participation. The idea is that a few Americans in a bowling ally contribute to America's democracy. Evidently, the concept shura or consultation is valued in Islam and democracy alike.
Based on this and
other concepts, Islam would be closer to democratic values than
Islam and Democracy in Empirical Data
She also conducted her own research to test the plausibility of assuming that religious commitments will have an effect on democratic attitudes. The two variables she uses are “religious commitment” (independent variable) which includes three dimensions – theological orthodoxy, confidence in churches, and religious practice, and support for democracy (independent variable) which means that “[r]espondents approve the democratic system, believing that it is superior to any other form of government.” Kim's research found that the first variable has “no or limited effect on democratic support,” and although “spiritual values may bring meaning and solidarity to an individual, they appear less important for producing democratic attitudes.”
that: “Given the statistical significance of these findings for Protestants and
Muslims themselves do not reject democracy, as
As for the second
indicator, Al-Braizat observed that “support for democracy (democracy is better
than any other form of government) is very high in Islamic societies; with
Thus, Al-Braizat concludes that the
“overall trend in the relationship between religiosity and support for
democracy is negative and insignificant. By and large, Islamic societies:
We have found
that Islam is compatible with democracy and Muslims attitudes are not only
positive towards it, but by and large, Muslims prefer a democratic political
system over other systems. And although
What accounts for Muslim countries' rejection of democracy? And what factors play a significant role in shaping the political traditions of Muslim countries? Scholars have offered many potential explanations to these questions, three of which are negative feelings towards the West, economic development, and authoritarian leadership.
countries' historical experiences have been greatly impacted by the West,
Muslims have developed negative feelings towards it. Western imperialism, war, exploitation, and
political interference in the
As noted previously, Esposito's research found that Muslims do not want a Western imposed democracy and prefer to build their own version of a democratic system which would speak to their issues and concerns rather than to Western interests. In addition, “[Muslims] see Western culture as materialistic, corrupt, decadent, and immoral. They also see it as seductive, and hence stress all the more the need to resist its impact on their way of life.”
images associated with the West, somewhat exaggerated by
One leading factor to the lack of democracy in the Muslim world is the presence of very powerful and hostile authoritarian regimes. In such cases, although the citizens yearn for democracy, the existing regime rejects democracy to protect its power and interests. Therefore, some will argue that the focus of democratic study should not be on cultural pre-conditions, but rather on key social and political actors.
This is important for the Muslim world which is haunted by authoritarian regimes and dictatorships. “[P]eople in Islamic societies tend to have a propensity towards democracy but what makes it less possible for them to achieve democratic political governance is the nature of the over stated, over blown and over stretched state structure and the heavy-handed authoritarian regimes (in most cases) in power at present.”
Al-Shirazi, Imam Mohammad. Shura in Islam. (Qum, Iran: 1999). http://www.alshirazi.com/compilations/patg/alshora/fehres.htm (accessed April 22, 2010).
Collier, David, Adcok, Robert. “Democracy and Dichotimies: A Pragmatic Approach to Choices about Concepts.” Annual Review of Political Science Volume 2, 1999.
Collier, David. Levitsky, Steven. “Democracy with Adjectives: Conceptual Innovation in Comparative Research.” World Politics. Vol. 49, No. 3, April, 1997.
Huntington, Samuel P.
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
Haliday, Fred. Islam and the Myth of Confrontation.
John Anderson, “Does God Matter, and If So Whose God? Religion and Democratization.” Democratization, Vol. 11 No. 4 2004
Kim, Myunghee. “Spiritual Values, Religious Practices, and Democratic Attitudes.” Politics and Religion, 1 2008.
The Holy Quran. Chapter 42, Verse 38.
 Imam Mohammad Al-Shirazi, Shura in Islam, (Qum, Iran: 1999), http://www.alshirazi.com/compilations/patg/alshora/fehres.htm (accessed April 22, 2010).