Islam, Democracy And Good Governance

Associate Professor of Islamic Theology and Philosophy, The Muslim College London and Head of Interfaith, London Central Mosque and London Islamic Cultural Centre

Initially, I would like to make it clear that Islam cannot and shall not be reduced to politics nor does it provide its followers with a blue-print of politics. Nonetheless, Islam has provided us with principles and broad guidelines that will guarantee us a prosperous life in this life and the hereafter. Furthermore, Islam is a religion and divinity that encourages its followers to use their human rationality to make this world a place of good, prosperity and peace for all without discrimination. Therefore, names and slogans are not important but the content that they bear plays a crucial role. It is irrelevant to call a system of government presidential, parliamentary or otherwise, if they promote the well-being of the people, the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights and provision of basic needs and services for the people. In this context, I would like to raise some questions regarding Islam and democracy as some have cast doubt on the compatibility of Islam and democracy. The relationship between democracy and Islam always arouses a lot of debate and discussion among academics and ordinary people. It is often assumed that Islam has nothing to do with democracy and the rule of law and that it is inimical to democracy and civil society.  This assertion is discussed within a larger context that Muslim societies lack attributes of change, plurality, freedom, justice and human rights. It is sometimes alleged that democracy and good governance are functions of Western countries and Muslim countries are incapable of maintaining stability and  the rule of law in their countries.  This in fact reinforces ideas of inevitable clash of civilizations as claimed by others. I would claim that there is a need for  profound analyses detached from parochial and dwarf lenses of biases and forgone conclusions which perceive Islam in the  light of the personalised application of law or the perception that Islam is static and cannot face up to the challenges of changing circumstances. There is also a need to understand the theoretical and conceptual framework of the points of similarity between democracy and principles of governance  in Islam. Islam has to be understood not only in its absolute form, but  also how it has been practised by people in their different historical and socio-anthropological circumstances. Democracy is not monolithic, but it has in fact developed more than two millennia from the Greek philosophers and thinkers. Democracy came into English in the 16theC from the French word democratie which has its roots in Greek.  It is from the Greek word demokratia, the roots of which are demos (people) and kratos (rule).  John Locke further expounded on the themes of human rights, individual liberty, and minimal government, sanctity of life and property and toleration.

However, it was Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), among others, who later developed the institutional framework for such a development and representative government. I would argue that the substantive nature of democracy regarding human rights, human freedom and constitutionality does not contradict the essence of Islam. Islam can play a complementary role as other religions in terms of the transcendental value that it promotes the comprehensive growth of the person from the material well-being to their spiritual development. In the end, democracy is human political rationalization that has in fact evolved over more than two thousand years from the Greek City States to the modern nation-states. It is not static but dynamic responding to different challenges in different socio-political circumstances. Islam has always encouraged plurality of ideas to flourish and expand. In fact, Islam has always adapted to local cultures in many respcets.

Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh, Associate Professor of Islamic Philosophy and Theology at London Muslim College, Researcher at London Central Mosque, researcher at the University of Dundee.


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