Democratic systems also empower the people to analyze, ponder and decide on laws and policies by which to govern themselves in tune with their era, location and customs. On the contrary and as earlier pointed, this power is not accrued to the people under traditional Islam and a holy trinity of God, Muhammad and ancient jurist hold exclusive power deciding almost everything, nitty gritty details that boils deep to even private and personal issues that is normally left to individual discretion outside traditional Islamdom.
For example, hadith and fiqh books stipulate the hair of newborns be cut, the direction to face animal on slaughter and the ideal color(black) of cloth for women. This apparently proves the tremendous extent of religious ordainments in the life of traditional Muslim, basically granting very narrow avenue for freethinking, a major prerequisite for democracy. Such scrupulous teachings teaching and legislation though conceived millennia ago remain the immutable, revered code that stand in the way of democratic law making to conceive man-made laws and policies in modern Muslim states.
Christiandom and Democracy
It is pertinent to note that every religious community have a fair share of medieval beliefs and customs that stand in antagonism to free flowing democratic run of a state. Like Islamdom, Christiandom before the Protestant reformation was no more compatible with democratic ideals than Islamdom. For instance, slavery is sanctioned by biblical passages demanding subservience of slaves to masters and till abolishment in the 19th century this slave trade continued rampant in Christiandom.
Slavery would not be abolished completely in Islamdom till mid twentieth century, under international pressure. Slavery is protected under traditional Muslim law, the theological texts justify slavery as a practice among messengers of God, some of whom even cohabit with the female slaves.
For democracy to succeed in the Christiandom, there was need to challenge the anti-democratic Christian dogmas, ideals and laws from within the church, a need the protestant reformation have met with considerable success. Whether such reformation is realizable in Islamdom is debatable, but undoubtedly, the chance is slim relative to the protestant reformation. Bleak as it may sound for Muslim reformers, it will bear more logical sense if the portrayal of the Jesus and Muhammad in respective religious community is examined.
To Christians, Jesus is a sympathetic figure whose sacrifice on the cross embodies love, compassion, hope and altruism, all resonating themes of his teachings and examples. Unsurprisingly, despite the vileness and injustices taught and condoned in the name of Christianity, barely any could be attributed to Christ. “Forgive and forget”, “love thy neighbor as thyself”, such words of peace, direct from his lips would serve the selling point of the protestant reformers who come to assert the Church’s crude practices like persecution of heretics or stoning of adulterers veer drastically from the pristine message that Jesus personifies. Without this theological point, how else would Christendom see the contradiction between a God of love, forgiveness and a God of slavery, inquisition.
It is also for this reason that most Christians today unburdened themselves with the avalanche of notorious laws revealed in the Old Testament, canonizing only the New Testament which isn’t even regarded as the direct word of Christ. And as the New Testament rarely legislate politically or encroach personal choice of the individual, this grant Christians more room for freethinking, liberty to rule and govern themselves and thus welcoming democracy.
In a way Mohammad is to Mohammedans what Christ is to Christians, in that Muhammad decree Mohammedans’ statutes, he is never declared a god, but posses god-like powers like intercession and mediation between man and God. As Christians believe eternal life only comes through Christ, Mohammedans believe eternal life is only attainable through Muhammad.
However, while Muhammad unlike Jesus is no savior among Mohammedans, but rather a dominator whose portrayal unfortunately for Muslim reformers just isn’t consistently love, forgiveness, beneficent or merciful. Traditional Muslims’ own religious texts and biographies of Muhammad sometimes report Muhammad indulging in heinous acts that radiate sheer hatred, fear, oppression, subjugation and violence. Military invasion, enslavement of captives, stoning of adulterers, beheading apostates, amputating hand for theft of an egg, degrading Christian and Jews are part and parcel of Muhammad’s traditions as recorded and sanctioned by Mohammedans even though the Quran defines him as man of mercy, an excellent character and deliverer of a message of peace.
The harmful impact of such traditions in the psyche of the average traditionalist Muslim groomed to believe without questioning is not far-fetched, but even worse, such traditions only further strengthen the conservative voice in the war of ideas against the reformers. And thus, the reformation that opened the gate for democratic success in Christendom encounters near insurmountable stumbling block in Islamdom.
Democracies in the Muslim world
Case 1: Iran
Certainly Iran is a democracy, it has an elected president, has political parties partaking elections, right? It is a whole step beyond the monarchies that continue to thrive in the GCC, but unless we buy into the layman understanding relegating democracy to mere casting vote at the ballot, Iran is democracy albeit a handicapped one. This democracy wherein a supreme religious leader cherry pick political contestants according to his traditional Islamic criteria is a facade that have served the grip of Iran’s traditional Muslim jurists class over the populace of Iran. Iran’s democracy is a government of the people for the people but by the jurists.
The jurists, represented by the supreme ruler supervises and moderate the president and parliament‘s decisions, laws or policies to comply with traditional Islamic jurisprudence. In lieu of this status quo, the people have no power to differ on a position that the traditional Muslim law or sharia has already ordained. Women remain bereft of their personal choice to wear or not wear the hijab because the government, the people have no power on their own, except the power the jurists grant them. In a nutshell, rather than the people, the jurists are the power, how farther away from democracy can a ruling system get?
As democracy is not merely a government of majority, successful democracy formulates constitution to protect minorities, empowering them just as much as the majority. Like a buffer, the constitution keep democracies in check, otherwise democratic system run the risk of devolving into tyranny of majority over minorities. Whilst backed by a constitution, it is no secret that Iran minorities don’t share equal rights with the majority.
Non-shia Muslims hold no right to be voted for as a shia Muslims do, non-Muslims are forbidden day time public eating during Ramadan even though such prohibition does not apply to Muslims when non-Muslims fast and atheists have no right to even existence in the state. The reason for this being that unlike democratic constitutions conceived by secular minds on grounds devoid of religious sentiments and dogmas, Iranian constitution was conceived by religious fanatics, traditional Muslim supremacists that never stand for justice, never stand for freedom, never stand for human rights, never stand for human equity, never stand for the people and never stand for anything except selfish religious beliefs and dogmas.
Legacy of Khomeini
Obviously, our analysis of Iran can’t be complete without even a cameo mention of Khomeini, ‘the great father’, face of the revolution and whose master plan the Islamists of Iran have to credit for the “Islamic” turn of the revolution in 1979. Khomeini’s speeches before the revolution would come across as moderate, explaining how he won over the heart of even the secular revolutionaries initially to become the face of the revolution. But his militant turn after the shah’s overthrow suggests clearly how expertly he’d calculated everything from the onset; he was no apologist for he understood that an “Islamic democracy” is an oxymoron. For instance, here are his words before and after the revolution:
“I don’t want to be the leader of the Islamic Republic; I don’t want to have the government or the power in my hands. I only guide the people in selecting the system.” — Interview with an Austrian TV reporter, Paris, November 16, 1978
“After the Shah’s departure from Iran, I will not become a president nor accept any other leadership role. Just like before, I limit my activities only to guiding and directing the people.” — Interview with Le Monde newspaper, Paris, January 9, 1979
His repetition of ‘guiding and directing the people’ spelt subtle hint of Islamism in his speeches even before the revolution but it was subtle enough to pass unnoticed by the seculars, nationalist or communists who all united with him to rid of a common foe.
“Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.” — In a meeting with Iranian students and educators, Qom (3), March 13, 1979
“These writings, these speeches, these wrong activities, these democratic programs are separations from Islam. All these voices are blasphemy and are atheistic.” — in a talk to the Representatives from Tabriz, Qom, September 19, 1979
Needless to say, we learn for the horse mouth that traditional Islam and democracy are strange bedfellows. Traditional Islamists and democrats cannot co-exist; their unholy alliance in any circumstance must terminate with the waterloo of one of the ally at the hand of the other.
Adored and revered worldwide by even non-Shia Muslims, Khomeini exemplifies a personification of traditional Islam, to him democracy is an inferior system and it existence threaten the fabric of traditional Islam.
So, is Iran even a democracy? Regardless of the answer, it is clear that Khomeini never envisioned a democratic Iran for as long as he ruled.
Case 2: Indonesia
Indonesia is the likely product of an Iran ‘democracy’ unprecedented by a supreme religious leader and clergymen exerting theocratic dominance over the state. Often touted as the third largest democracy, Indonesia is home to the world largest Muslim population often acclaimed as moderate Muslims.
Those who espouse Indonesia as a fine example of traditional Muslim democracy need to look no further than the trial and conviction of Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja, non-Muslim and ex-governor of Jakarta, Indonesia earlier this year. Running as deputy governor to governor Joko Widodo from 2012, Ahok succeeded Joko as governor late 2014 after the latter had been elected president of Indonesia.
Ahok’s ascension to governor’s seat dealt a blow to the Islamists whose religious traditions deem non-Muslims like Ahok unworthy of rule over Muslims majority populations as Jakarta. So prominent must have been religious prejudice against Ahok’s rule that he would publicly voice concern of his political oppositions employing Quranic verses to threaten or deceive Muslims against voting him at the 2017 election. Ahok intent as it seem was to expose the dubious and dirty tactics of opponent but it backfired against him. For stating this concern, Ahok is accused of defaming Islam, followed by fiery protests from fanatic traditional Muslims and organizations which culminated in his arrest, trial, conviction and two years prison sentence for blasphemy not withstanding his public apology and clarification of the harmless intent of his comments.
The essence of citing this controversy deals less with examining proofs for Ahok’s innocence or guilt than deducting from his words, the very words that catapulted him to his fall from grace. At minimum, his mention of the verse Qur’an 5:51 hint that a powerful or strengthening segment of the so called moderate Indonesian Muslims, still intoxicated with anti-democratic traditional Islamic dogmas do not still recognize right of all to be voted for, equal rights for all, regardless of religious belief. The traditional Muslim interpretation of Qur’an 5:51 forbid Muslims from taking non-Muslims as ally and by throwing Ahok in jail, the fanatic traditional Muslim oversee that Ahok stand not even the slightest chance of gaining an ally from among Muslims for the election.
So, how democratic is a democracy that under which minorities likes Ahok do not share the same rights as majorities, traditional Muslims? How clear could the writing on the wall get? Indonesian democracy or “Islamic democracy” is a pipe dream. Indonesian democracy is just another ailing democracy that will continue to slip down the drain as the Islamists continue to strengthen.
Mainstream or traditional Islamic teachings pose bottle neck to success democracy but this truth bare in plain sight is rarely admitted by the traditional Muslim apologists blinded by adherence to their faith and the western liberals too tongue tied by political correctness. Well intended western conservatives may suggest secular dictatorship for traditional Muslim countries but as history already proves, this is no long term solution.
Unless traditional Muslims challenge their inherited Islamic dogmas and approach their texts in the light of reason and morality, there can be no redemption for their democracies.