Answer to “Democracy: An Islamic Point of View” by Abdul Aziz Al-Sabri, printed 13/08/2001 Democracy and Islam: A perfect Balance [Archives:2001/46/Law & Diplomacy]

November 12 2001

Sadaf Shah
I write this brief analysis in direct response to Mr.Sabri’s point of view on democracy and its so-called alienation with Islam. He has actually failed to understand both democracy and Islam. The object of this article is to clear up many misconceptions that may have arisen as a result.
In fact, the principle of democracy was first established by the Holy Quran. No other scripture prior to the Quran ever discussed the concept of a democratic state. Quran is even the first to lay down the principle that no person can acquire the right to rule over others by virtue of hereditary succession.
In other words, what we observe in most Muslim nations where the son(s) inherit powerful and (well-paid) positions that their fathers once occupied is certainly not acceptable by Islam’s standard. Some leaders or heads of state or dictators -whatever one may wish to name them- start preparing their son(s) for succession at an early age, while keeping the public preoccupied with religious or economic issues as most people are too poor to think about political endeavor.
The few intellectuals and wealth classes hope the situation will remain that way in order not to jeopardize in an instant what has taken them years to accomplish. Indeed, political regimes in most Muslim states are highly volatile.
By the time of the political “hand-over,” only the leader’s son is presented to the public as a legitimate candidate to “vote” for. Hence, through manipulative measures taken to disguise the whole scenario as democratic, the nation “elects” a brand new leader. This does not shed real light on Islam, but does reveal the miserable state of human nature, most often non-Islamic, and its thirst for power.
In contrast, according to Islam, government is a trust, which should be committed to the care of those whom the people elect. Public servants are required by the Quran to perform their duties with honesty and integrity in an organized, disciplined and obedient manner.
No individual has the right of absolute authority over a community. The holy Quran stresses out that sovereignty belongs to the people, and those in authority are entrusted with it on behalf of God (4:59). The exercise of authority on proper occasions in a suitable manner is no favor shown to the people. Rather, it is only the transfer of the trust imposed upon those in whom authority has been vested.
With regards to the electoral process, the Quran emphasizes that voters should not be influenced by partisan or personal considerations. The primary criterion must be the suitability of the candidate for the performance of the duties to be entrusted to him. This allows the person elected to carry out his task in the most beneficial way. Pubic servants are also accountable for their behavior while in office. Whoever, out of party or personal consideration helps to give authority to an unsuitable individual, must share the responsibility for his bad administration. The Holy Quran insists on the same moral standards being observed by governments and public authorities as by individuals. It teaches us that truth is as valuable and indispensable for statesmen as for private citizens. Transgression is as evil and condemnable in the case of an administration as in the case of an individual. Equitable treatment and fair dealing is required by a government not only towards its own people, but also, as in the case of individuals, towards its neighboring governments.
Name one country in the world who has not fought a war or has not argued with its neighbor. Britain, France, Germany and Italy fought two world wars. Most democratic nations were first colonial aggressors who believed that, because of their modernity and industrialization, they had the right to surrogate of the “uncivilized” world. This imperialistic attitude is still prevailing today, though in different forms and varying degrees. For example, the deployment of U.S troops in the Middle East and their support for Israel provides weapons of destruction to Israel. It enables Ariel Sharon to carry out massacres of a population that resists occupation of its own land, just as the Americans fought British occupation. How ironic!
The Quran calls upon believers to be constantly alert and diligent. It condemns cowardice, bullying and fanaticism. Muslims are encouraged to use reason and thinking. The Quran prohibits aggression, but invites us to resist it relentlessly. In a war, it prohibits surprise night attacks such as those air strikes carried out by the American and British forces against Afghanistan in the beginning of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
It is unfortunate to note that no country in the world today can claim to follow the type of democracy outlined in the Holy Quran. Not even Muslim nations can make such a claim. Democracy exists in form only, but without substance. If true democracy had existed, America would not have provided arms to Indonesia, which has been using its military strength against the people of East Timor for almost two decades. Poor East Timor, which did not even have enough time to celebrate its newly gained independence from Portugal when Indonesia invaded the island! And what about Israel, which deems appropriate to shed as much Palestinian blood as possible with the help of the most modern artillery provided by the only current superpower! Take a guess! The situation between Israel and Palestine may be compared to gang warfare, in which one gang avenges the death of one its members by killing members of the rival gang. In fact, consider this as tribalism in the same form as exists in Yemen. There is absolutely no definite law in relation to fair trials, defense, substantial evidence, and appropriate punishments. The verdict is to kill for revenge only. How unfortunate, considering the modern and “civilized” world we are now living in.
The U.S has continued in this injustice for 10 years. Then, it “punished” Iraq for invading Kuwait through economic sanctions and air strikes, with total disregard for civilian casualties and the suffering of Iraqi children. Finally, in an effort to combat global terrorism, the U.S. is leading a campaign of air strikes, missiles, and bombs that have destroyed remote villages and more recently, a visibly marked Red Cross compound.
In all instances, such as in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, innocent people and children have suffered and are suffering far more than the targeted regime or terrorist group. Until now, families of the Holocaust victims have been receiving compensation for atrocities committed against their ancestors. Would Palestinians, Iraqis, or Afghans be worth such noble recognition? What about Africa, who demanded reparations for the slave trade?
Their request is long forgotten as the focus has now shifted to the “strike against terror.”
I previously pointed out in an article published last year in this newspaper that democracy has become a joke. In essence, it does not exist. Time and again, world events reaffirm my view. I hope that, some day, this will be proven wrong…