Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ask the Imam: Is Democracy Sinful?

Ask the Imam, my favorite on-line guide to the application of Islamic law in matters large and small, gave a fascinating reply today to a two-part question about (1) whether the democratic system is inherently un-Islamic and therefore sinful, and (2) whether it is sinful to oppose the implementation of Shari’a law in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

The Iman answered just the way I thought he would, but at much more length and specificity. Here's his bottom line on democracy:

It is true that the democratic system is un-Islamic. Islam only recognises a ‘Shari’a system’, that is a system governed by the Qurān and Hadīth. Any system other than a ‘Shari’a system’ is un-Islamic and should not be supported by Muslims.

‘Democracy” is derived from the Greek word “dēmokratia” (“Dēmos” meaning people and “Kratos” meaning rule or strength). It is evident that in a democratic state, citizens are at liberty to voice their opinions and actively participate in decision-making and other state related issues. This has lured many Muslims to believe a democratic system to be a fair, just and equitable system. Convincing as it may seem, the truth is that a democratic system is un-Islāmic.

The reply is a short essay on the Islamic interpretation of democracy, voting and legislation, the political obligations of Muslims living in majority non-Muslim countries, and the demands of Islamic law in majority-Muslim countries such as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. My on-line Imam is only one Islamic authority among many, of course, but he normally seems to be mainstream in his rulings, and I expect that his interpretation of democracy is widely shared within the Islamic polity.

It should surprise no one that when Iraq and Afghanistan had elections, they adopted constitutions that recognize the Koran as the supreme law of the land, just as non-democratic Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had done.

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