Seminar No. 7. Islam and Democracy: Historical and contemporary interpretations of theologians and reformists

On February 10 2018, another El Clasico style seminar was hosted by Dr. Bakhtiyor Babadjanov for the Discussion Club of ” Knowledge Caravan”. The subject of “Islam and democracy: historical and modern interpretations of theologians and reformers” provoked a heated discussion. The topic itself is interesting, complex and relevant whilst the ongoing processes can be truly fate defining.

A simple list of the issues discussed is quite eloquent:  the interpretation of democracy in Islam, the views of thinkers and theologians, the attitude towards women in Islam, the problem of electivity and / or holiness of the leader (ruler), justice in Islam and democracy, Islamic socialism, the precedent of the Karakhanid government, the borrowing process in democracy as an incompatibility with Islam, peculiarity of Iran’s religious political system, the diversity in interpretation of both Islam and democracy and others.
Some thoughts may be stated as follows:
    – at the dawn of the 20th century Islamic thinkers discussed the compatibility (or incompatibility) of Islam and democracy. Attempts were made to justify that democracy is not alien to democracy;
    – the first successor of the Prophet Muhammad, Caliph Abu Bakr’s election was cited as an example of such ( albeit the latter was elected  on the condition that the ruler should be from the Kurayshit tribe);
    – Islamic theologians use the term ‘ishtirok’ (participation), while the historically preceding debates used the term “dimus kratos”;

    – the teachings of the Greek philosophers – Plato and Aristotle had a strong influence on the Muslim thinkers in our region and the entire Muslim world;

    – the hierarchy of the public and state systems is affirmed in Islam, which does not contradict modern views on a democratic state. Simultaneously, according to Islamic law, political decisions are delegated to the theologians, and political ethics belongs  to the ruler (i.e the justice is expected to be brought by the ruler);
    – a number of Islamic countries, for example, Pakistan, Malaysia, Maldives and Turkey try to implement a democratic project, but the paradox of this process is that both democracy and Islam in these countries are quite different and contradictory in their forms and content;
    – many debates related to the Muslim attitude towards a modern democratic structure of society and the state, demonstrate certain stance which seemingly is conditioned by a reaction to the colonial past. This reaction is often portrayed as an attitude towards democracy;
    – part of the right wing in Islam argues that the Sharia does not need democracy, because the Sharia is democracy itself;

    – there have been and still are different domestic schools differing by their direction and content. For example, the jadids like Bekhbudi and Avloniy notably contributed to the discourse of Islam and democracy’s compatibility;

   – the representatives of the more conservative wing include famous Abduvali kori, who denied democracy;  while the former mufti and the first sheikh of independent Uzbekistan, the late Muhammad Sodik Muhammad Yusuf had supported the parliamentary system, but had advocated that decisions must be made in accordance with the Sharia law;
    – upon a closer look at the problem,  a paradoxical situation is revealed. Ordinary people on average are ignorant or have a poor knowledge of the essence of democracy and Islamic canons and truths, which contrasts sharply with a continuing centuries-old dispute about the compatibility of Islam and democracy among  the theologians and Islam scholars;
    – The state (“democratic”) policy towards Islam is also ambiguous and is implemented, albeit in a balanced way, with some contradictions and problems;  the extremists take the initiative in areas where the state misses opportunities and gaps occur;

    – the measures applied at the universities and public places (or public institutions) in relation to women wearing headscarves or hijab  are not clear or convincing; the problem of the religious clothing is known to be acute even in democratic Western countries;
    – in general, democracy in the world is also developing and has various forms in different countries. The issue of compatibility of Islam and democracy (as an option of Islamic democracy similar to the Christian democracy in Europe) can find its optimal solution. The wording of the question can also be adjusted because democracy is a form of government (which can be constantly improved), and Islam is faith, religion and the moral code.

The discussion ended by quoting the books of Bernard Lewis and Fareed Zakaria:
“In most countries [of the Muslim world] there are people who share our [Western] values, sympathize with us, and would like to share our way of life. They understand freedom and want to enjoy it at home.” (Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam)

“Most Muslims’ daily lives do not confirm the idea of a faith that is intrinsically anti-Western or anti-modern… If there is a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and democracy, 800 million Muslims seem unaware of it. “(Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom)