Democracy: Heresy pr. definition?

Am I a democrat? Is democracy kufr?

I am not a scholar and do not posses the level of Ijtihad, this is not a fatwa, so the following is nothing but my own view. If someone have anything from the scholars of Islam that opposes my view, feel free to let me know.

Do i approve of democracy? Not an easy question. Approval of democracy is of four kinds in my opinion:
1) Believing in Western Democracy as the ultimative truth
2) Believing in some kind of democracy as the ultimative truth
3) Approval of Western democracy in some contexts, not as the ultimative truth
4) Approval of some kind of democracy in some contexts, not as the ultimative truth

I have no doubts regarding the first one. I oppose it. Western democracy cannot be the ultimative truth – saying this means accusing the pious Sahaba (ra) of filing to implement a fair system, because their method of ruling was far from Western democracy. This cannot be the case, for in a hadith citet in Musnad Ahmad and Sunan Abi Dawood, the prophet (saw) described the first 30 years after his death as “Caliphate of the Prophethood”:

الخلافة في أمتي ثلاثون سنة ثم ملكا بعد ذلك

 My translation:

“The Caliphate in my Ummah (will last) thirthy years, then (there will be) Kingdon after this”.
Source: Musnad of Imam Ahmad, under Musnad al-Ansar, hadith #20918

And in the Sunan of Abu Dawood:

‏قال رسول الله ‏ ‏صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ ‏خلافة النبوة ثلاثون سنة ثم يؤتي الله الملك ‏ ‏أو ملكه ‏ ‏من يشاء

My translation:
The Prophet (s) said; The Caliphate of the (or: on the method of) Prophethood will last thirty years, then Allah will give the rule or his kingdom to whoever he wills. (source: Sunan Abi Dawood, Kitab al-Sunnah, bab “Fi al-khulafaa”)

The first thirty years was the years of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali and al-Hasan (May Allah be well pleased with them all). This epoch was the caliphate of the Prophethood, and they did not rule with western democracy.

Instead, they rules with various forms of Shura (council). Abu Bakr (ra) was elected at Saqifah and the nominated ‘Umar as his successor after coulsultation with the prominent Sahaba of his time (they agreed with his nomination). Before his death, ‘Umar (ra) sent down a comitee to nomiate his successor, and they elected ‘Uthman (ra). After ‘Uthman’s (ra) martyrdom, Ali (ra) was elected by the people and in the vakuum after his death, Al-Hassan (ra) rules temporarily until he handed over power to Mu’awiya (ra). This is where the thirty years end.

But however, if you consider Shura a kind of democracy, then they ruled with democracy, so option #2 would be acceptable.

Personally, i am both #3 and #4 – i approve of western democracy and the rights it provides for the people in Denmark, while i doubt that this has any future in Egypt. Here i support the movements that seek to implement more democracy for the people (who would probably never reach the western standards), hence #4.

The reason that i support these movements (such as the Hizb al-Tagamo3) is perhaps in lack of a moderate islamic alternative in Egypt.

I find it hard to believe in #2, because it is hard for me to see a real political system utilized in an islamic country anno 2008 on the method of the rightly guided caliphs (ra). I do not know how that would happen, as it is hard for me to see the very same electing system (as stated above) be realized without the Sahaba’s (ra) presence. And perhaps the world will never reach such a level of justice and fairness again until the return of Jesus (as).

As for what is the ultimate truth, only what comes from above is the ultimate truth to me. Man made laws can – if not derived from above – never be the ultimative truth to me. I am not saying that it cannot be good, but it cannot be the ultimative truth.

My conclusion is that i do not believe that approval of democracy is necessarily kufr, if we stick to the last three kinds of “approval of democracy”.

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11 Responses to “Democracy: Heresy pr. definition?”

  1. Don Cox Says:

    Representative Democracy as practised now in Britain or the USA is certainly not the ultimate method of government. Nobody supposes that it is. It is only the least bad method devised so far.

    It isn’t about ultimate truth at all. It is about the practical way to run a country so that there is as little misery as possible.

    The particular strength of the US constitution is the system of checks and balances which pprevent anyone from having total power. The US constitution was written in the belief that most politicians are corrupt and power-hungry. Many developing countries have failed constitutions which were based on the belief that the “leaders” were good men who would have the interests of the people at heart. This never works, because power corrupts.

    The big task now is to develop a system of government for the European Union. This organisation is I think the first Empire-sized state that has come together willingly rather than by conquest. That is great. But the EU is not yet fully democratic. It needs new structures, and it lacks checks and balances.

    It is all about how to run the place properly, with a minimum of corruption and megalomania. An unelected Caliphate cannot satisfy this need, because there is no way to peacefully remove an unsuccessful Caliph.

    Peaceful changes of government, and term limits for top executives, are essential parts of a working system of government.

  2. Jeff Says:

    How about this:

    Forget democracy and focus on tyranny.

    Tyranny is bad.

    Not all kinds of authoritarian governments are tyrannous.

    And some kinds of democracies can be tyrannous, at least to some.

    Authoritarian governments tend toward tyranny and the only thing I can think of to change that tendency is a decentralization of power.

    Power needs to be broken up and divided.

    And especially in a complex modern society, power needs to be exercised in a way that allows many different competing ideas to be tried and that allows those who misuse it to be investigated and challenged and removed.

    I think most of the time, that’s going to mean that although not all democracies are going to be stable, once a society finds the key to something like a workable democracy, it will be more stable and more just and more productive of wealth and happiness than the alternative.

    And it means that in complex societies such as those we all have today, authoritarian societies just aren’t going to be able to see problems and respond to them fast enough, they will produce dissasfaction and eventually be overturned.

    That’s a mild “Yes!” for democracy but only as the least ineffective tool for stymying tyranny.

  3. Jeff Says:

    I’m sorry to bother you again so soon, but I can’t tell you how moved and impressed I am by your blog, your writing, your deep, careful, heart-felt thinking.

    I feel as though I have found a brother.

    Forgive me if that sounds silly!

  4. Don Cox Says:

    “And some kinds of democracies can be tyrannous, at least to some.”

    Very much so, especially the “tyranny of the majority”. If you relied on a referendum, in many countries all religions except one would be banned, gay sex would be a crime, and so on.

    One of the reasons for the checks and balances is to protect minorities. It helps to have a parliament (or congress) of representatives rather than delegates.

    I agree with Jeff about the quality of the blog. I hope we can have a civilised discussion.

  5. Halalhippie Says:

    “democracy as the ultimative truth” …. Got news for you: there is no such thing as ultimate truth. Your belief/religion/conviction/whatever may be YOUR ultimate truth, but never THE ultimate truth.

    What Jeff said: Democracy is (so far) the lesser evil. Agree with Jeff and Don: keep up th’good work.

  6. Abdollah Says:

    Can you look us into the eyes and say that no one in the west claim democracy as the ultimative truth? From what i have heard, this is actually an issue

  7. Halalhippie Says:

    Do I “claim democracy as the ultimative truth?” hmm… when you say ultimative truth, I think along the line of The Answer To Life, The Universe, And Everything. Democracy is a method of running a country, some would say the best method, I would say the best we have come up with so far.

    And Ahmad: “accusing the pious Sahaba (ra) of failing to implement a fair system, because their method of ruling was far from Western democracy.” How could they ? There were no governmental institutions, no general education/litteracy at that time. They did the best they could (and may Allah be pleased with them). That doesn’t mean that history stops there, or does it ?

    Can you be a Muslim AND a democrat ? Why not, voting is NOT a religious act, even atheists do that. Your faith is a matter btwn you and the Most High, participating in a democratic process is a matter btwn you and your country.

    On the 5th of June Danes will be celebrating Constitution Day. You’ll note we won’t be singing hymns that day.

  8. Don Cox Says:

    There are indeed some people who claim that the US constitution is the ultimate, but I think these are people with an over simple view of the world.

    What most of us would claim is that democracy as practiced in the US or India is very much better than a military dictatorship (as in Burma or Zimbabwe), and also much better than a Caliphate or the current system in China.

    I don’t think there is enough thought being put into ways of improving democracy. In particular, the very rich still have too much influence, especially if they own media companies.

  9. anna Says:

    Halalhippie:

    “Got news for you: there is no such thing as ultimate truth. ”

    you’ve just stated an ultimate truth right there.

  10. abuskander Says:

    Needless to say, when i say “Democracy as the ultimate truth”, i do not mean like the answer of life. I mean as the ultimate truth regarding politics – the ultimate best way of government. From an islamic viewpoint, this would be deviance, as that means that the righteous caliphs (ra) failed to implement the ultimate ruling system, and the Prophet (saw) told us to hold on to their sunnah.

    I wrote this entry solely about how i, as a muslim, see the place of democracy in Islam – as opposed to many new-generation extremists, who seem to label every kind of positive approach to democracy as kufr, and opposed to new-generation secularists (such as Naser Khader, danish MP) who in fact have a fanatic and fundamentalistic approach to democracy.. Naser Khader even described himself as a “democratic fundamentalist”, so me labelling them as such is not just taken out of nothing.

  11. Don Cox Says:

    However righteous a Caliph might be, he could hardly implement the ultimate political system, because the development of such systems is a long slow process of learning what works and what doesn’t. We are nowhere near the end yet.

    For one thing, the concept of “ruling” has been replaced by one of “organising” or “administering”. Instead of the people being subservient to the state (or the Caliph), the government (President, Prime Minister, etc) is employed by the citizens to run the state as efficiently and fairly as possible. The “top man (or woman)” is employed for a limited term of office, and he can be removed at an election before that if he is not doing well (e.g. Jimmy Carter).

    This is completely different from the primitive idea of one man ruling for life, and even passing on his rule to a son who may be completely unsuitable.

    It is true that elected leaders often become arrogant and think they are rulers. Power corrupts.

    But elections only work in a society with printing, general literacy, and a reliable civil service to run them.

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