free water and electricity: Al Qaeda embraces civic duties and courts hearts and minds in South Yemen.
Tagged: political islam Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts
Is it true that if given democracy, muslims will vote for Islam?
I think the answer is yes and no. At present, political Islam is the only democratic alternative to oligarchy, autocracy, and pseudo imeperialism. OF COURSE muslims will vote for political Islam – that is because Islam (as with any culturally pervasive major faith) is what they can turn to for comfort and succor.
However the thesis that secular political democracy is incompatible with Islamic societies is simply wrong. After all, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan all emerged from colonial and imperial eras as secularist states. Modern day Turkey has a unique history in that it turned away from Islam as a rejection of the post-imperial era. But the rest of the middle east was largely secular – and leaned communist in most cases. Nasser himself and the pan-Arab movement was an explicitly intellectual movement that disavowed faith and created the vacuum which was then filled by Qutb. Saudi Arabia is another exception, due to oil.
Fundamentally, there is nothing judeochristian about the concept of democracy. Islam itself has enough of a framework over the centuries of jurisprudence to support a fully democratic system, and most of the major empires in the Islamic world had elements of democratic rule. The millet system is a good example of a precursor to the concept and may well have been a partial inspiration for the American Founders themselves as they sought to articulate their desire fro greater autonomy – only they were pushed to an extreme.
I think that political islam needs to now undergo the maturation phase. A great resource for watching how political Islam is evolving is POMED, the Project for Middle East Democracy blog. I’ve been reading them for years; another great resource has basically been everything Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark) has ever written.
I reject the thesis that Islam and democracy are incompatible, and I think that the present state of affairs in the muslim world is indeed best characterized as reactionary. The concept of democracy is not and end condition but a tool for an evolving process towards liberal, constitutional republics.
Juan Cole busts 5 right-winger myths about teh Arab Street protests. My favorite:
Looking to the Tunisian and Egyptian futures, it is not true, as dreary anti-Muslim Israeli propagandist Barry Rubin alleged, that Muslim fundamentalist parties always win free and fair elections in Muslim-majority countries. This frankly stupid allegation is disproved by the Pakistan elections of 2008, the Albanian elections of 2009, the Kurdistan elections in post-2003 Iraq, and all of the Indonesian elections.
It’s not just anti-muslim propagandists who assert that when muslims have democracy, they choose Islamism.
exhibit A of the compatibility of Islam and democracy – great LAT article on Turkey’s reforms:
A political party espousing a commitment to what it calls “Islamic moral values” has brought Turkey closer to a full-fledged democracy than it has ever been.
In 628 AD, a delegation from St. Catherine’s Monastery came to Prophet Muhammed and requested his protection. He responded by granting them a charter of rights, which I reproduce below in its entirety. St. Catherine’s Monastery is located at the foot of Mt. Sinai and is the world’s oldest monastery. It possesses a huge collection of Christian manuscripts, second only to the Vatican, and is a world heritage site. It also boasts the oldest collection of Christian icons. It is a treasure house of Christian history that has remained safe for 1400 years under Muslim protection.
The Promise to St. Catherine:
“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.
Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”
In his new book, Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharia, the Sudanese-born academic Professor Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im points out: “You will not find any reference to an Islamic state or to state enforcement of sharia before the mid-20th century – it’s a post-colonial discourse based on a European-style state.”
Many Muslims fall back on a romanticised view of the very first community of believers in 7th-century Medina, ruled by the Prophet himself, and cite it admiringly as their precedent for an Islamic state, but this approach is flawed. First, any historical precedent that revolves around the presence of a divinely guided prophet-as-political-leader seems wholly irrelevant, in an era in which we have no divinely guided prophet to lead us.
Second, the Medina “state” should be seen as a purely political and pragmatic, rather than Islamic or religious, construct. The celebrated pact that the Prophet signed with the various tribes of Medina involved the non-Muslims of the city – chief among them the Jews, who were granted formal equality with the Muslims – recognising only his political and temporal, rather than his religious or spiritual, authority. As the historian Bernard Lewis puts it: “Muhammad became a statesman in order to accomplish his mission as a prophet, not vice versa.”
Third, Medina lacked fixed borders, a standing army, a police force, permanent civil servants, government ministries, foreign ambassadors and a public treasury. To pretend that it can serve as a practical model for the large, complex, post-industrial societies of the 21st century is fanciful.
Secular governance not reducing importance citizens place on religion.
Despite the return to power of Bangladesh’s Awami League – the political party that won in December 2008 on a platform of secularism, reform, and a suppression of radical Islamist groups – religiosity is by no means waning in the world’s seventh most populous country. A Gallup Poll of Bangladesh conducted this year finds practically all Bangladeshis saying that religion is an important part of their daily lives (100%) – relatively unchanged from the three previous Gallup Polls of Bangladesh.
It seems as though the general population is further defining the roles of politics and religion in their country by drawing a distinct line between the two. Support for the secular Awami League, according to Time magazine, is as high as it was when they won an overwhelming victory in the pivotal 1970 election that led to the war of independence from Pakistan. At the same time, religiosity remains strong in this country of nearly 90% Muslims: More people claim to have attended a religious service in 2009 than in years past, and confidence in religious organizations has increased over the years.
The current government defines the country as “secular with a majority Muslim population,” and not officially as a Muslim state.
David Sanger reviews Juan Coles’ new book, “Engaging the Muslim World,” which he describes thusly:
…this field guide to the politics of modern Islam traces the history of the different movements, whose violent offshoots are still morphing into new forms. Along the way, Cole, a historian at the University of Michigan, explores what he sees as the twin dynamic of “Islam Anxiety” in the United States and “American Anxiety” in the Arab world.
Readers of Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, will find many of the arguments familiar, though they are well assembled here, with essays on the myths surrounding Saudi Wahhabism, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the unintended side effects of American meddling in Iran. Cole starts his book in the right place: America’s addiction to Middle Eastern oil, which has skewed policy and often led us to support dictators we would ordinarily put on the list of human-rights violators. (The Saudis would probably qualify.) And he declares a truth that should be sobering to President Obama: “The fact is that we are likely to become more dependent on Islamic oil in the coming decades, not less,” he writes, noting that 11 of the top 15 exporters of oil are countries with Muslim majorities.
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