Islam and Democracy: False Perceptions or Pure Propagation?


The Islamic Da’wah exhibits Islam as being peaceful and compassionate, in order to delude the infidels and to pave the way for their march to subdue the World.

Moreover, Muslim propagators assert, without hesitation and with high impudence, that Islam is the source of most aspects of Western modernism, and that the values and practices of Islam are the origin of human freedoms and civil rights.

To the consumption of ignorant Western audience, a huge amount of literature has been published under the rubric “democracy in Islam” mostly in English, with the following assertions: a) Islam and democracy are fully compatible; b) Islam has all the ingredients of modern polity and society; c) Islamic values are in fact the source of the democratic perceptions.

The problem begins with the fact that religion, perhaps any religion, is opposed to democratic values, by its own conceptions and principles. It is because the sources of commandment are from divine entity, while in democracy the source is the people, man-made laws, and sovereignty. Any debate on the connection between the two, religion and democracy, is seemingly artificial and may leads to a dead end. However, the astonishing fact is that more than all other religions, Islam is so far away, like between heaven and earth, from democracy. However, Islamic propagandists strive so hard to prove that Islam contains all democratic values from itself.

Why these efforts? The answer belongs to the Da’wah, propagation, realm, as to prove that Islam is the best and perfect religion. According to this, Islam and democracy are compatible, based on following: a) all individuals in the Islamic political system are sovereign, equal before the law, with full civil rights bestowed upon. b) Islam recognizes equality between all people – Muslims and non-Muslims, white over black, man or women. c) Islam does not accept dictatorship system or monarchy but democratic rule. The citizens’ opinion is decisive in formation of government and decision-making process. d) Islam was the first institution ever to advocate and to implement human rights as universal equality to all people. In fact, Islam has promoted the universality of freedoms over 1300 years before UN’s “Bill of Rights.” e) All forms of acts of violence are forbidden. “Jihad” as an aggression against innocent people is terror and by that and a distortion to Islamic law. f) Islam set an unprecedented standard for the ethics of dealing with captured enemies. They treated prisoners of war in a manner that has yet to be imitated in history by others. g) It is categorically forbidden to capture a free person and make him a slave. Slavery is forbidden. Islamic ethics places utmost importance on preservation of human life and dignity. h) In time of war, Islam decreed humane rules of war many centuries before such ideas were put into conventions in the West.

It is suggested to Western readers not to laugh and ridicule while reading this list, even it is hard. Each and every clause of these eight, if examined and analyzed by the three suggested criteria of investigation — Islamic Scriptures; Islamic history, and contemporary Islamic politics — fully reveals how grotesque and meaningless they are.  

Moreover, in the influential Muslim internet site, “Islam-on-line,” Muslim exegetes claim that Islamic democracy is fully compatible with Islam, while bringing reference from the Qur’an. However, the verses and practices quoted, absolutely do not refer to the objectives referred to. This is another proof how all these clauses are fabricated, twisted, and non-existent in Islamic reality.

The claim that Abu Bakr and his three successors, the four rightly guided caliphs (al-Khulafa’ al-Rashidun) were chosen in a fashion that reflected popular consent and by the people, is misleading and full of lies. For Muslims, including the Salafiyah groups, this era constitutes an ideal type in the Islamic political history. However, the reality is quite different. All the four caliphs were not elected but imposed on the community of the believers, rather they were nominated by small group from among the elders of the tribe; all of them did not receive the legitimacy of the others among the “political elite”, caused social schism, personal rivalry and political instability; three of the four Caliphs were murdered brutally, and witnessed civil wars. One can find anything in this era but certainly not democracy, freedoms, participation, and sovereignty.

How democracy is compatible with the Qur’an? Islamic propagators use four assertions: a) Shurah (consultation) as if it functions in Islam as a parliamentary Western Political system. b) Ijma’ (consensus) of the Islamic community, as if there is in Islam social and political pluralism based on majority rule. c) Ijtihad (innovative interpretation), as if there is readiness in Islam to absorb and integrate opposing values and conceptions. d) Hakmiyah (sovereignty), as if it expresses political participation of the people in the decision-making process.

However, these, all of them, are false fraud claims and without any substantiation or corroboration: Shurah refers in Islam only to the old tribal system of an advisory council of the elders, which include very scant elders or later on counselors. It has nothing to do with Western perceptions, Western democratic values, and there is not even one example in Arab and Muslim history and contemporary politics that in practice validate this claim. Ijma’ is again the tribal framework made up of the elders of the tribe, the ‘council of the wise men’, and only their voice is binding and for the decision-making processes.

Ijtihad shows by itself how the Islamic pretense is fraudulent. The fact is that the gates of Islamic Sunni innovative interpretations were closed in late eleventh century, due to the conviction that there is nothing outside Islam that is unknown and there is not a thing or set of conceptions that is worthy to be included in Islam from the beginning of history to the end of the world. Hakmiyah does not belong to the people but to Allah alone and dictated only by him. There is no and never have been political pluralism and participation in Islam. There is no other sovereignty on earth other than Allah and the rulers who imposed their rule on the subordinate people.

Western scholars who support the Islamic fraud claims, like the Esposito’s school of Georgetown, operate in three strategies: they exhibit claims and arguments without any scientific proofs or by quoting verses totally unrelated to the truth. They operate their elusive claims by declaring there are different kinds of democracy. There can also be a religious democracy, and Islam is the embodiment of spiritual democracy. At the same time, they accuse the West of being the cause for the lack of democracy in Islam, by preferring Muslim authoritarian rule as a means to continuing Western presence.

Amos Perlmutter calls the ‘Esposito School’ naïve, as harboring illusions originating in ignorance and lack of knowledge about Islam. The issue is not adjusting Islam to the values of representative democracy and human rights, but learning the true nature of Islam which is anti-democratic and anti-liberalism. Islam and democracy are incompatible, unless we decide to call everything and any form of government a democracy. If Marxist-Leninist Communism in the Soviet style could be called “popular democracy”, why not call Islam “religious democracy”?

The reality is that Arab-Islamic history and contemporary politics clearly shows: There is anything Islam but not democratic liberal processes; there were no sovereign states led by electorate people; there were never a civic society, citizen’s rights and freedoms. What is found are authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leadership, which was always the prerogative of the ruling elite, and the people have never been the electing and the sovereign. And that social misery and economic wretchedness are the dominant in Islamic politics, and not openness and freedoms.

Let’s define and analyze how democracy is defined and characterized, and what are its basic components. There are several types of democracy with two most important phenomena:

First, the centrality of the political institutions and the intensity of their influence, with a separation of powers, the functioning of branches of government as an array of checks and balances and their accountability and transparency. Sovereignty belongs to the electors alone, and the legitimacy of government flows from the existence of laws for the sake of the citizens. Power is decentralized, and the leader is less important than the political institutions.

Second, the central realm is the rights and liberties of the individuals with large political tolerance and pluralism of ideas and roles. There are many functional sub-systems with vital influence over governmental decisions and functioning. Political mobility is high, based on equality of opportunity and achievement, while maintaining a free market of information. The power of the bureaucracy is limited and the police operates as a serving body for the public and not a coercive tool of the government.

There are seven features that are the most important to understanding democracy: The individual freedoms and civil liberties; the rule of the law above all; sovereignty and citizenship belong to the people and are empowered by the people; the absolute equality of all citizens before the law; vertical and horizontal accountability of all the ruling systems; responsiveness, eligibility; transparency of the ruling systems to the demands of the citizens; mobility, political participation and equality of opportunities of the citizens.

When compares to Western democracy, Islam is characterized by the following:

In Islam the believer acts out of a commitment of faith and absoluteness, whereas in democracy the source of conduct is rationality, pluralism, choice and judgment.

In Islam the source of authority, sovereignty, and the rule of law are Allah’s alone. Everything stems from Allah and the will of Allah, while in democracy man is at the focus, logic is at the center, and political power meant to serve his security and needs.

In Islam there is only one legitimate party, the Party of God (Hizbullah), and all the rest are the parties of Satan. The party does not represent man’s freedoms, expression, participation, or self-organization, but demands joint action in favor of the Ummah in accord with Shari’ah. There is no legitimate opposition.

The ideology of all the Islamic movements is totalitarian religious dictatorship, governmental tyranny and political suppression without any civil and individual freedoms, and therefore, democracy is conceptualized as a kind of Shirk, associating other deities with Allah.

Civil democratic society is based on pluralism, bargaining, lack of uniformity and even lack of rigid order. In contrast, Muslim political tradition fears anarchy and disorder, and therefore, not any government is preferable to no government, but the government is oppressive and coercive. This leads to a total submission of the people.

Contrary to Qur’anic teachings, no egalitarianism exists between the leader and the subject, between men and women, between Arab and non-Arab, even between parts of society (center-periphery; city-village).

Perhaps the best example is in the words of Sayyed Qutb: Western values pose a critical threat to Islam, since in the West, man is at the center and logic is at focus, while in Islam Allah is at the center, and submission to Allah is the focus. In Islam, the source of authority, sovereignty, and the rule of law is divine, Allah’s alone. In Islam, the believer acts out of a commitment of faith and absoluteness. Islam does not represent man’s freedoms, participation, self-organization, but demands joint action in favor of the Ummah and in accord with the Shari’ah. The Islamic state must be based on the Qur’anic principle of the Shari’ah. It is complete as a legal and moral system and no further legislation is possible or necessary to the end of history.

For Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, `Abd al-Salam Farag, and many other exegetes, Islam is contrary to secular Western democracy, because Islam has the full answers to all humans needs. Democracy must accept Allah’s values of rule and sovereignty; where Islam makes law, there is no need for democracy; the concept of majority rule cannot exist in the Islam; Muslim religious laws decide permanently in all areas of life; Islam includes the entire human wisdom to the end of history; and accepting Western values is forbidden, being tantamount to apostasy.

For the Muslim believers Islam has all universes’ wisdom and contains everything in life from the beginning of the world to the end of history. For the Muslim believers it is clear: al-Islam Huwwa al-Hall al-Waheed (Islam is the only solution). Islam wishes to subordinate democracy to its own principles, and not to integrate itself and become democratic; to rule and dominate the Free World and not to recognize its diversity and pluralism, and to become part of modernity; to subordinate the Free World to its Shari’ah and bring back to the Islamic 7th century governance.

Arab regimes are military or monarchical, and the political behavior are almost the same, exemplified by authoritarianism and patrimonialism. Islam is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy, based solely on the sovereignty of the people and its civil rights and freedoms. Moreover, the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ which is in fact ‘a Tribal Anarchical Islamic Winter,’ is a good example where Islamic regimes are in power, projecting the assertions of impossibility of Islam and democracy.

The Issue of civil society. When analyzing democracy, there is also the question of civil society, whether it can exist in the conceptions and praxis of Arab-Muslim political system. From institutional standpoint, civil society is made up of non-state actors and non-governmental organizations, which have developed in the community, through interest groups and sociopolitical mobility. It is institutionalized through individual rights and social differentiation, by political and regime tolerance; recognition of the rights and the freedoms of the individual; and lack of restrictions, enforcement and arbitrary intervention by the state.

In the Middle East, on account of Islamic tradition and developmental values, a civil society did not and yet is not ready to exist. The problem is not whether there are settings that can be interpreted as fitting the existence of a civil society, but rather their qualitative functioning. Even if there are parties, professional civil associations, and other NGO’s, the question is the extent of influence on the governing system and the decision-making process. The parties operate more on behalf of the regime, as mass organizations for political mobilization, rather than representing the people.

One can estimate the lack of civil society in the Middle East through the following:

a) The character of the regimes and leadership. Authoritarian regimes and patrimonial leadership do not enable the growth of true civil society with a capacity to function. The population is considered as inhabitants/subjects rather than free sovereign citizens. The leader’s will is what decides, and the inhabitants lack basic rights and freedoms. They act in accord with the will of the regime in the sense of giving support but not making demands on the political system. If we define democracy as “rule of the people, by the people, through the people, and for the people”, all these contradict the values of Arab-Muslim society. Most of the inhabitants do not participate in political processes, and do not have influence on shaping its policy. Indeed, in a state where Islam rules, constitutional, representative and pluralistic government cannot develop.

b) Social values. Political culture in the West is participatory. It represents norms, positions, and values of the individual and the group towards political institutions and the state. In Arab society, political culture is, in the best case, native (subjugated) at the center and parochial at the periphery. Most of society is cut off from politics, and sees it as a necessary evil (Sharr) that a man has no choice but to live with. The primordial values are opposed to the development of a civil society.

c) Institutional Values. In Islam, reference is made to normative values that indicate the nature of a good society and the proper community. The system of beliefs refers to a collectivity, which the individual is dependent on, while he is not important in his own right. Civil democratic society is based on pluralism, bargaining, lack of uniformity, and even on a lack of rigid order. Muslim political tradition fears anarchy and disorder. Therefore, any government is preferable to no government, and this leads to submission and political cynicism.

d) The Role of Islam. The principles of Islam are in contradiction to the values of civil society: the absoluteness of Allah’s supremacy that everything depends on him and determined by him. The source of authority and sovereignty is not by social contract or from the people rather it is by Allah alone. Contrary to the Qur’anic teachings, there is no egalitarianism in between the leader and the subject, between men and women, between Arab and non-Arab, or even between parts of the society. The concepts of democracy, liberalism, and parliamentary government, are identified as Western, and rejected out of hand, as indecent phenomena representing materialism, moral corruption, and lack of morality.

From an analysis of these features, the answer is that of Huntington, concerning the waves of democratization in the West, that in non-democratic societies we find political decay and not political development. Indeed, a civil society, however it may be defined, does not exist in any Arab-Muslim state. Even the appearance of political parties and formal associations by itself does not necessarily mean a fundamental move toward democracy, since political parties remain ineffective and play a mostly ceremonial role that serves to legitimate the state and its policies. This does not symbolize pluralism (ta`addudiyah), and even Interest groups, a primary agent of civil society, remain either non-existent.

Indeed, Islam is the very antithesis of Western democracy. One cannot find signs of democracy in Islam, but totalitarianism of thought; oppression of freedoms, and denying basic civil rights. Islamic Scriptures, History and contemporary politics are the proof.

Bernard Lewis claims that historically the Muslim world has been authoritarian and coercive from its inception, and thus a democratic culture has not been internally, culturally, socially, politically and economically, developed. It is non-existent. Classical Muslim exegetes largely agree that Islam and democracy are incompatible. Islam is the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. It altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on foundations of the sovereignty of Allah and the Khilafah of man.

David Bukay
David Bukay
David Bukay, School of Political Sciences, the University of Haifa


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