Right to Independence
Sovereignty is the most accentuated matter by those who argue that democracy cannot be a political model proposed by Islam. According to them, while democracies give the right to sovereignty to the people, verses of the Quran persistently declare that sovereignty belongs to Allah (SWT). (Surah Ali ‘Imran 3/154, Surah Yusuf 12/40)
What is the meaning of Allah having authority and sovereignty? Of course, this does not mean Allah to descend down to earth and rule the people. On the contrary, the primary meaning is that the general and permanent dominance both in the world and throughout the universe belongs to Allah. The second meaning, which lies behind sovereignty, is that Allah will make the final decision in the afterlife and all disputes between His servants will be resolved by Allah. And another meaning is that there is no way to take an opposing side to the provisions imposed by Allah for legislative activity.
For this reason, the meaning behind “sovereignty belongs to the nation” is not to usurp what belongs to Allah and then transfer it to the people. On the contrary, it means taking the authority and sovereignty from certain individuals and groups and entrusting them to the nation. On one hand, the dictators who built a despotic regime over the people by using force and power as a means of oppression; on the other hand, it was aimed to prevent theocratic regimes that established a monopoly of power on earth in the name of Allah. In fact, regulation of the regime and politics, building a fair and reliable social life, prevention of persecution and injustice are some of the necessities of humans being created as caliphs on earth.
The political practices of the Four Caliphs are based on the idea that the source of political power is human. In the same way, the Islamic scholars insisted that the appointment of the ruler should be based on the consent and acceptance of the people, that is, the rulers would take power from the people, not from a divine source. Leaving the right of sovereignty to the public is of paramount importance for the emergence of a fair, righteous, transparent and controllable government. In fact, almost all of the rulers, whose power was based on a divine source in history, turned to oppression, autocracy, and tyranny.
The mentality, which sees democracy as a form of regime contrary to the rule of Allah, is no different from the Kharijites. Because they claimed that Allah is “Hakim-i Mutlak” (the absolute ruler) and refused Ali and Muawiyah to appoint arbitrators. From this point of view, it can be stated that although the statement “sovereignty belongs to Allah” is true, it is a wrong interpretation to use it to condemn democracy.
In fact, rejecting democracy on such grounds and having animosity towards democracy on behalf of Islam means simply cutting corners. Even an ordinary Muslim can easily be anti-democratic by chanting “Sovereignty belongs to Allah, not the nation”. No intellectual activity or deep thoughts are required for this. The important thing is to be able to produce convincing solutions to the problems about the regime for the Muslims and present alternatives in this regard. But this is not as easy as it seems. However, as long as this is not achieved, opposing democracy, which is the best of the current models, will cause serious complications.
Are the anti-democratic people able to provide a solution to the growing spiral of violence, the ever-increasing tension and conflicts among the members of society, and the chaos and anarchy prevailing in the Islamic geography? Are they able to find genuine solutions for the realization of values such as justice, peace, dialogue, and security, which are the ultimate principles of Islam? Do they have any recipes on how to deal with pluralism that is becoming dominant in every aspect of life? Do they have the knowledge and background in order to produce solutions to the common problems of humanity in a globalizing world? Are they able to build a lasting and acceptable peace on behalf of the peace and prosperity of the world? Do they have any proposition of a system that can guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms, protect the weak, and defend the rights of the oppressed and the victims?
We can list many more of these questions: What kind of strategy do they pursue to dismantle the idea of autocracy that has penetrated right to the bones of Eastern societies? What measures do they have against the exploiters who are waiting for the opportunity to seize power and strength to use it for their own desires and interests? Are they able to protect the rights of individuals against the conception of the holy state that has been rooted in the minds for many centuries, and persuade the world that even one individual cannot be sacrificed for the vital interest of the state? Are they able to prevent the rulers from making arbitrary laws, giving state facilities under the orders of an oligarchic minority, and enslaving the people? What kind of solutions do they have against the use of religion as an abused tool to come to power and for the people who legitimize the personal interests of politicians under the cover of religion?
As long as they cannot provide convincing answers to all these questions, which democracy provides a solution in one way or the other, and develop alternative solutions about these issues, the words of the Muslims and their reasons against democracy will not be taken seriously by others.
Another topic closely related to sovereignty is the legislative power. Anti-democratic people consider leaving the legislative authority to the parliaments as replacing the will of Allah with the human will. First of all, it should be noted that the jurisprudence activity is inevitable due to the fact that the number of provisions determined by the nas (verses of Quran and Hadiths) is limited and legal events are unlimited. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the provisions in state administration, country politics, and administrative affairs are made up of universal principles and these issues are left to the discretion of the human mind and human experience in general. The fact that there is a customary law in addition to sharia law in the Ottoman Empire shows this.
On the other hand, it is certain that democracy and especially the legislature will present some different features according to the characteristics of the societies. In this case, the society in question is a Muslim society, at least a predominantly Muslim society. We are discussing whether it is possible to implement democracy in such a society. It is not plausible to assume that a Muslim community, or proxies elected by it, will completely disregard religion and impose provisions against it. As a matter of fact, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said that his ummah (followers) would not be in accord with heresy. (Al-Tirmidhi, Fiten 7) If this happens, there are more priority problems that need to be addressed such as the loss of religious sensitivities, the dominance of severe pressure and coercion on society, and ignorance.
In countries such as Turkey where laicism and secularism are turned into an anti-religious ideology and imposed on society, there will be problems towards the will of the Muslim community having an impact on legislation and the government. However, the way to overcome these problems is not to have hostility towards democracy or to see democracy as an anti-Islamic system. On the contrary, the solution lies behind trying to overcome these problems through democratic mechanisms.
It is a fact that today’s democracies are not sufficiently interested in the spiritual and ethereal needs of the people and they do not debate on the demands and needs of the people in order for them to live their religion sufficiently. An important reason for this is the influence of positivist and rationalist philosophy on Western societies and democracies. In addition, the absence of laws to regulate the family, social, conventional and legal areas in Christianity prevented the multidimensional and in-depth understanding of the relationship of religion with legislation. Since the experiences of democracy in the Muslim world are still taking their first steps, this issue has not been enlightened sufficiently, and appropriate solutions have not been developed for Muslim societies.
As it is known, the main thing in democracies is the compliance of the rules of law with the culture, social considerations, and the customs and traditions of the people. In other words, the most important “creative resource” that will bring out the laws is the custom. Religion is the dynamic force that shapes and determines the common values, cultures, and customs of Muslim societies. For this reason, if the legislative activity is carried out in a manner that is independent or contrary to religion, the legislation shall be unrequited in public conscience. Therefore, the laws and provisions enacted by the state will have limited sanction power on society. In fact, in some cases, there will be dual laws in the form of “state law” and “Islamic law” among the people. For this reason, it is not possible to establish a real democracy in Muslim countries where religion and state are not at peace and people’s demands and expectations cannot be expressed in the political field.
On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that some of the principles and rules that Islam has established regarding individual and social life are a normative assurance of the rule of law. Because these rules limit the power of rulers on one hand, and on the other hand prevent the ruling classes from playing with the laws according to their interests. In addition, the existence of certain constants imposed by the Sharia in Islam is an expression of the fact that the head of state, the lawmakers, or the majority of people do not have absolute authority.
Here, it is worth mentioning a possible question that could be raised. In states where a whole society is composed of Muslim individuals, it is a necessity for the democracies to make sure that the expectations and demands of Muslims regarding their religion are reflected in the legislative activity. But in societies where people from different religions or people who do not believe in any religion live under the same roof, how will coexistence be ensured and rights and freedoms will be protected without any pressure on the other?
In fact, the real purpose of those who want to isolate the political sphere from religion completely is to prevent religion from being an element of oppression that would restrict the freedom of minority groups. The triangulation point here is the Muslims to live their religion freely without any pressure without imposing their own beliefs and lives on others.
Although some Muslims display an opposite image, it is not difficult to achieve this in terms of Islamic provisions. Because Islamic provisions bind only Muslims. Islam does not force members of other religions to believe, nor does it force them to abide by the provisions. The Quran emphasizes this clearly and explicitly through its verses. (Surah Al-Kafirun, 109 / 3-6) It is for this reason that in today’s world, where pluralism has become an important social phenomenon, democracy is the most important solution of the coexistence of all religions, ideologies, and ideas in the same society without conflicts.
Gains from Other Cultures
One of the objections raised about democracy is that it is a product of Western origin. In this respect, we would like to briefly emphasize whether this is important in accepting or rejecting democracy by Muslims.
Does the fact that democracy came from the West and is a production of humans makes it deficient or does it require its rejection? The Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “Seek knowledge even if it is in China”(Al-Bayhaqi, Shuab-Ul-Iman 2/253),”‘Wisdom is sought by a believer; wherever he finds it, he makes use of it” and in terms of these hadiths, it will not be difficult to find the answer to this question. Moreover, in the early periods of Islam, Muslims had no problems in obtaining many administrative and political institutions that belonged to Byzantium and especially Sassanids. In fact, according to Shayegan’s words, one of the elements that make Islam great is that it absorbs the multifaceted effects of various elements during the birth period and mixes them in a box of extraordinary synthesis. (Daryush Shayegan, Wounded Consciousness, p. 37)
Islamic Scholar Bediuzzaman Said Nursi explains the permissibility of exploiting other cultures in his specific manner of approach: “There is no obligation for all Muslims to have all attributes of a Muslim, and not every disbeliever needs to be a disbeliever for their attributions and occupation. Therefore, why shouldn’t it be permissible to have attribution or occupation which belongs to the Muslims? (Bediuzzaman, Munazarat, p.70-71)
Why would a value that comes from the West require a rejection? What is important here is that the ideas, values, and systems obtained from other cultures and civilizations not to contradict the principles of religion. Particularly, the rejection of democracy due to the fact that it is a production of humans can only be explained by bigotry or ignorance. Because the Quran invites believers to think, contemplate, and operate their minds. For this reason, judging from the fact that it is a product of Western civilization and human minds, it is not an attitude that neither mind nor religion would approve.
Moreover, it is a fact that today’s Muslims, including those who oppose democracy, benefit from the West in many areas, from electronic devices to technological devices, from digital programs to computer applications, from scientific research to social sciences. Even the practices such as Islamic insurance and participation banking in the modern era are based on the insurance and banking system developed in the West in terms of system and method. It is also possible to benefit from the developments in the political field in the West.
If democracy is to be assessed as a proper regime for Muslims, then this should not be the starting point On the contrary, it should be looked at whether it is in conformity with the spirit of Islam, the charities and promises it makes for Muslims, and to what extent it will or will not protect the human rights.
Content is Important Not Names
There is no need to focus on the names in the evaluations about democracy. Because the important thing is not the name but the content and essence. Islamic ulama also argued that the debate about names and concepts was unnecessary. In the time of our Prophet (PBUH) and al-Khulafa ur-Rashidun, no names were given to the state and the regime. The problems do not disappear in the Muslim countries when the established states are called “Islamic state”, likewise, calling “democracy” to the regime of the states where Muslims live will not have any advantages or disadvantages alone. What matters is content; that is, ensuring justice, protection of rights, providing freedom and security.
To be continued…
Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religious Studies.