THE WISDOM FUND: Issues & Answers

Democracy and Islam

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition
Traditionally a republic is distinguished from a true democracy in that the republic operates through a representative assembly chosen by the citizenry, while in a democracy the populace participates directly in governmental affairs. In actual practice, however, most modern representative governments are closer to a republic than a democracy.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
We can have a democratic society or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.
George Kennan, Policy Planning Study 23
... we have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population ... Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity ... To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality ... We should cease to talk about vague and ... unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. (From a Top Secret study for the U.S. Dept. of State. Mr. Kennan was awarded The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.)
John Pilger, The War on Democracy (documentary)
James Madison, The Federalist No. 10
Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
Howard Zinn, A People's History of The United States
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. . . Some Americans were clearly omitted from this circle of united interest drawn by the Declaration of Independence: Indians, black slaves, women. . . . . . the reality behind the Declaration of Independence was that a rising class of important people needed to enlist on their side enough Americans to defeat England, without disturbing too much the relations of wealth and power that had developed over 150 years of colonial history. . .

At the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton suggested a President and Senate chosen for life. The Convention did not take his suggestion. But neither did it provide for popular elections, except in the case of the House of Representatives, where the qualifications were set by the state legislatures (which required property-holding for voting in almost all the states), and excluded women, Indians, slaves.

Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated
The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. The republic existed for three-quarters of a century before formal slavery was ended; another hundred years before black Americans were assured of their voting rights. Only in the twentieth century were women guaranteed the vote and trade unions the right to bargain collectively. In none of these instances has victory been complete: women still lack full equality, racism persists, and the destruction of the remnants of trade unions remains a goal of corporate strategies. Far from being innate, democracy in America has gone against the grain, against the very forms by which the political and economic power of the country has been and continues to be ordered. . . .

The genius of our inverted totalitarian system "lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual. A demotion in the status and stature of the 'sovereign people' to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of 'popularizing' power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed."

Noam Chomsky, Secrets, Lies and Democracy
A society can have the formal trappings of a democracy and not be democratic at all. The Soviet Union, for example had elections.

The US obviously has a formal democracy with primaries, elections, referenda, recalls, and so on. But what is the content of this democracy in terms of popular participation?

Over long periods, the involvement of the public in planning or implementation of public policy has been quite marginal. This is a business run society.

Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election
Riveting documentary film about the battle for the Presidency in Florida and the undermining of democracy in America.
Madinah Charter and Last Sermon
Written in 622 CE, the Madinah Charter, a treaty among Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs, and Jews of Madinah draws parallels with the Mayflower Compact of 1620 CE. The Prophet's last sermon draws parallels with the Bill of Rights. The Prophet's instruction to select his successor by consensus may be interpreted as democratic election.
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian
[The Muslim Emperor] Akbar not only made unequivocal pronouncements on the priority of tolerance, but also laid the foundations of a secular state, which included the duty to ensure that 'no man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him.' . . .

Akbar's own political decisions reflected his pluralist commitments, well exemplified by his insistence on filling his court with non-Muslim intellectuals (including the great Hindu musician Tansen) in addition to Muslim one, and, rather remarkably, by his trusting a Hindu former king (Raja Man Singh), who had been defeated earlier by Akbar, to serve as the general commander of his armed forces.--p. 18

Karen Armstrong, A History of God
Henceforth women were marginalized and became second-class citizens in the new civilizations of the Oikumene. Their position was particularly poor in Greece, for example - a fact which Western people should remember when they decry the patriarchical attiudes of the Orient. The democratic ideal did not extend to the women of Athens, who lived in seclusion and were despised as inferior beings.
HRH, The Prince of Wales, Islam And The West
Islamic countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Syria gave women the vote as early as Europe did its women -- and much earlier than in Switzerland! In those countries women have long enjoyed equal pay, and the opportunity to play a full working role in their societies. The rights of Muslim women to property and inheritance, to some protection if divorced, and to the conducting of business, were rights prescribed by the Quran twelve hundred years ago, even if they were not everywhere translated into practice. In Britain at least, some of these rights were novel even to my grandmother's generation!
Jawarharlal Nehru
In an unfinished review of Bertrand Russell's 1918 book Roads to Freedom Nehru had already laid out the basics of his political philosophy. "Present-day democracy," he wrote (in 1919), "manipulated by the unholy alliance of capital, property, militarism and an overgrown bureaucracy, and assisted by a capitalist press, has proved a delusion and a snare." -- Shashi Tharoor, "Nehru: The Invention of India," Arcade Publishing (2003), p. 174
Indian Ambassador M. N. Masud, Understanding Islam
If true democracy is not confined to the form or model of government but is the way of life of a people wherein man is treated with respect and given dignity, irrespective of what he is or what he is not, then Islamic society, from the very birth of Islam, has been nearest to the ideal, much nearer to it than has been, perhaps, any other society in the recorded history of man.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Impact International, April 2003
He stressed time and again . . . that there was no need to borrow the concept or practice of democracy from others because Muslims had learnt democracy 1300 years ago; . . . The Quaid believed that as the Prophet signed pacts with the Christians, Jews and other minorities in Madinahal-Munnawwarah, his example would be followed in Pakistan. That the minorities would enjoy equal rights was a consistent part of his political theme and belief. . . .

Replying to a question whether Pakistan would be a secular or theocratic state? the Quaid rebuked: "You are asking me a question that is absurd. What I have already said is like throwing water on a duck's back. When you talk of democracy, I am afraid you have not studied Islam. We learned democracy 13 centuries ago."

Noah Feldman, After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy
An illuminating survey of the intellectual and geopolitical terrain of the Muslim world and of the many Muslim democrats who reject religious violence.
Jahangir Mohammed, "Democracy for Sale"

Charley Reese, "Islamic Democrats"

Michael Neumann, "Has Islam Failed?"

Andrew J. Bacevich, "They're doing it without us"

"Do democracies fight each other?"

back button