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What is the Islamic stance on democracy in terms of its definition and practice?

What is the Islamic stance on democracy in terms of its definition and practice?

Answer : English Mufti


Democracy as a term originally stems from two Greek words “demos” meaning “the people” and “kratein” meaning “to rule”. The two words indicate authority or rulership and it is defined as the rule of people by the people for the people.

The Western understanding of this term places highly the authority of the people to an extent of giving people the full right of legislation and this full authority is higher in weight than any other authority. Therefore the executive authority executes the general laws or more precisely the general public’s will and the judicial branch rules with the laws which were legislated through the legislative authorities. In other words, whenever consensus of the people was reached on any issue, it passes as an effective law even if what was agreed on is considered prohibited in all religions and creeds.

This Western understanding of democracy does not acquiesce with God’s Shari’ah in which the ruling solely belongs to God. God says in the Quran, “The decision is only for Allah . He relates the truth, and He is the best of deciders." 6:57 the renowned scholar Abu al So’ud commented on this verse in his exegesis saying that the ruling on all matters solely belongs to God without the slightest interference of anyone else in any way, shape or form. (3/142).

Therefore people’s authority in Islam has a religious tie which means that the selected individuals which present the general public in making legislations are bound with the boundaries of the Shari’ah and are not authorized to go beyond it. In other words, every law that passes which in spirit contradicts the Shari’ah is deemed invalid. This understanding differs totally from the Western theocratic system which considers God as the ultimate supreme political authority and that the divine laws represent the civil laws which should be applied literally. Also they consider the religious clerics as the optimum religious experts who are the most qualified to understand God’s divine laws and thus they are the true representatives of God’s authority which should be manifested on earth through them.
The difference between the two systems is that in Islam there is no sole entity which is seen as the ultimate religious authority that speaks in God’s name. But if by democracy we mean to establish some political and social principles like consultation, separation between legislative, executive and judicial powers, deliberation of authority, achieving justice, guaranteeing the right of life, work and freedom then with no doubt Islam calls for establishing such principles and activating them in the public life. These principles find its origin in the Quran whether explicitly or implicitly. God says in the Quran, “…and consult them in the matter… “3:195 and says, “…whose affair is [determined by] consultation among themselves…”42:38.

The fact of the matter is that democracy has different models which suit the nature of the countries in which they are applied. Muslims are encouraged to take any democratic model established in any country as long as this democratic model does not go against the major Islamic tenets and principles.

 
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