Monday, February 07, 2011
Thoughts on Islam & Democracy
Islam and Democracy -Daniel Pipes, PhD
A half millennium ago, democracy reigned nowhere; that it emerged in Western Europe resulted from many factors.
Just as Christianity became part of the democratic process, so can Islam. This transformation will surely be wrenching and require time. The evolution of the Catholic Church from a reactionary force in the medieval period into a democratic one today, an evolution not entirely over, has been taking place for 700 years. When an institution based in Rome took so long, why should a religion from Mecca, replete with its uniquely problematic scriptures, move faster or with less contention?
For Islam to encourage political participation implies a giant shift in approach, especially toward the Sharia, its law code.
Sharia as classically understood cannot be reconciled with modern life in general, democracy in particular. For Muslims to achieve political participation means either rejecting the law's public aspects in total – as Atatürk did in Turkey – or reinterpreting them. The Sudanese thinker Mahmud Muhammad Taha offered one example of the latter when he reread the Islamic scriptures and wholesale eliminated noxious Islamic laws.
Some Islamists denounce democracy as heretical and a betrayal of Islamic values but the more clever of them, noting their own widespread popularity, have adopted democracy as a mechanism to seize power. Their success in a country like Turkey does not transform Islamists into democrats but demonstrates their willingness to adopt whatever tactics will bring them power.
Yes, with enough effort and time, Muslims can be as democratic as Westerners. But at this time, they are the least democratic of peoples and the Islamist movement presents a huge obstacle to political participation.