My preliminary reading on some past/classical materials/literatures on the subject of Islamic political science or political theory there is no mention of either the concept of electoral democracy or its equivalent concepts if there is any, or democratization. It is very interesting to note here that instead of conceptualizing democracy or its equivalent terms, most scholars write in greater details the concept and institutions and institutionalization derived from justice ('adl). My questions are:
- Why the total absence or lacking of concept or idea of democracy or democratization in the political thoughts and writings of our past scholars?
- What are other terms that existed then that either close or resemble (electoral) democracy?
- Some Muslim scholars put up an interesting argument that some political theorists and philosophers like Imam Mawardi and Imam Ghazali did visualize and entertain this very concept of electoral democracy even though pax-Islamica then was a kingdom. These scholars were in dilemma: to proceed with this kind of political experiment of which they can ill effort or to provide solution to fast disintegration of the pax-Islamica. They decided to save the ummah from further territorial fragmentation. As a result a lot of political literatures were written not only to justify the kingship from Islamic perspective but to islamize/strengthen the kingship. Ahkam al sultaniyyah is one of them. Eversince the ummah was locked up with a governing system that is ruler-centered rather than people-centerd. My question: Is the above premise historically correct?
I was informed that the late Abul A'la Maududi wrote a comprehensive argument to support election as a preferable and constitutional mean of transferring power. How could I hold of this article? So far I have not seen its English translation.
I really appreciate if you could recommend me some materials/ literitures/ books on Islamic perspective on electoral democracy/ democratization/ election
Thank you for contacting JI dear Jamaludin Mohyiddin!
Wa ‘alaikum assalam wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatohu.
Structures and forms took shape through evolution. That is very natural and understandable. The democracy, as we understand today, is not very old. It however, took a bloody struggle for humanity to reach this stage, and it was still not perfect. Afterall democracy does not simply mean to vote once in a given period and then let the representative act at his whims till the next polling day.
A true democracy entails meaningful consultation and participation in policy-decisions and accountability from top to bottom. If that is ensured, then the type of government – parliamentary, presidential, central or federative – makes no difference. In the pure Islamic governance during the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the four right-guided Caliphs, we find all shades. Yet the basic elements of consultation and accountability were always there. The Qur‘an ordained Shura that makes the essence of participative approach.
Sayyid Mawdudi was quite clear in this respect. In his varied voluminous works he repeatedly noted that democracy in Islam will not be un-bridled. According to him first of all, true. Sovereignty rests with Allah. Bearing this basic principle in mind, when one examines the premise as to what should be the status of those who undertake to enforce Allah’s rule in the Universe, the spontaneous response will be that they should be reckoned as the vicegerents of the real Ruler.
For human beings Islam applies the term vicegerency in place of sovereignty. Therefore, whoever rules this world under the Islamic constitution, must indispensably be the vicegerent of the Sovereign who would be empowered to exercise that much of authority as delegated to him.
What is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an (Al-Nur: 55) is the promise that every Muslim has been made His vicegerent; not that He will exalt some one of them as viceroy. It goes to establish that each and every faithful bears the responsibility of vicegerency. The vicegerency bestowed by Allah is common for all believers and not specified for any one person, family, race or class. Every believer is vicegerent in his capacity and all individuals are answerable to Allah, severally.
“Every one of you is a ruler and all of you are answerable for you subjects.” (al-Hadith), and no one vicegerent is inferior to another in any respect. This is what provides real basis of democracy in Islam.
Analyzing concept of vicegerency, these points thus accrue:
A society in which every one is vicegerent and equal partner in vicegerency, cannot give way to class distinction, or privilege by birth or place in the society – every one shall enjoy the same status and the same rank. Preference (if any) shall be according to personal ability and conduct. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) specifically mentioned this in clear terms.
In such a society there can be no impediments for any individual or for any group of persons due to reason of birth, status in society or profession barring the growth, personal capabilities of a person or the development of individual’s personality. One should avail opportunities for development on equal basis like all other members of the society. All avenues should be open to him to grow according to his capability to the extent possible, but without constraining others in advancing similarly.
There is no room for dictatorship of an individual or group in such society because here all are vicegerents. No Muslim can be deprived of his vicegerency by any one to usurp absolute power. Here the real position of a ruler is that all the Muslims together (or to use Islamic term, all the vicegerents) willingly repose their vicegerency in him. Thus he becomes answerable to Allah on the one hand, and to the common people who entrusted their vicegerency unto him, on the other hand. If that person gets irresponsible, assumes absolute powers and becomes a dictator, he turns to be a usurper, rather than being a vicegerent, because dictatorship is, in fact, negation of the vicegerency.
In such a society, every sane and mature person, man or woman should enjoy the right of vote, because he or she is the bearer of vicegerency. Allah has not conditioned his or her vicegerency with any particular standard of ability or wealth – rather it is conditioned with faith and one’s sedate conduct. Therefore, every Muslim enjoys equality of franchise with other Muslims.
In this way, Islam has established democracy of highest order.
When Islamic system of governance is discussed a term Hukoomat-e-Ilahiyya is used. But some people mix it up with theocracy of the type they visualize. Infact, of the three components of Western concept of theocracy, only one has been accepted by Islam, that is the faith in ‘Allah’s sovereignty. Its second component, i.e. a class of bishops to enforce God’s sovereignty by becoming His spokesmen, is absolutely non-existent in Islam. As for its third component – getting the self made commandments recognized as Divine Commands – the holy Qur’an fulfills this purpose with its comprehensive commandments. Further, for the interpretation and explanations of Holy Qur’an, both verbal and practical instructions (Hadith and Sunnah) from the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) are available. Established means are available to verify the veracity of the collection of Hadith. Only that much which comes through these two sources is from Allah. As against this, no jurist, imam, saint or a scholar enjoys the privilege that his words and deeds be followed unquestioned like the commandments of Allah. With this vivid difference, it is absolutely wrong to call Islamic state a theocracy in Western terms.
What the West calls democracy is a combination of two basic concepts:
Legal and political sovereignty of the people, that practically comes into effect through the majority of the people or their elected representatives, and;
Installation and dismissal of the government to administer the state with the free will of the people. Islam takes only the second concept. As for the first, Islam divides it into two parts, viz. legal sovereignty and political sovereignty. While legal sovereignty rests with Allah – the Creator – whose commandments whether in His Book or in the Sunnah of His Prophet (peace be upon him) are reckoned as unalterable laws of the state. The political sovereignty is named vicegerency (i.e. the vicegerency of the real Sovereign – Allah), which is entrusted to the Muslims at large, the citizens of the state. Thus, practically vicegerency shall come into effect through the majority of the trusted representatives of the people. Keeping in view this basic difference, it is again not correct to call it democracy in Western terms.
Vicegerency of the common Muslim makes the Islamic vicegerency a democracy as against Caesarism, priesthood or a religious theocracy of Western perception. The difference is that the word democracy for the Westerns means sovereignty of the people. Whereas the Muslims define democracy as the element of vicegerency, which rests with the people. In the Western democracy, governments are formed and changed with the vote of the common people to administer a country.
Islamic democracy also calls for the same approach, but with a difference. According to the Western concept, democratic government enjoys absolute powers and infinite freedom whereas Islamic vicegerency is bound by Allah’s commandments.
The Holy Qur’an states the pre-requisites of the above-said collective vicegerency in clear terms: “They (Muslims) conduct their affairs by mutual consultation”. (42:38)
The distinctive feature of Islamic system of life revealed in this verse is that all their collective affairs are conducted through consultation. Besides narrating this distinct feature, it carries the emphasis of Allah’s commandment. It is forbidden for this reason to conduct any collective affair without consultation.
This commandment is widely generalized, as no specific form of Shura (Consultation) has been determined. The reason being that Islam’s injunctions are meant for the whole universe and for all times to come. Had any particular method been prescribed, it could not have been universal and perpetual. Options have been kept open – whether all people be consulted or only their representatives? Should the representatives be elected through common franchise or by the gentry? Whether elections should be countrywide or in the capital city only? Should the representation be through proper election or only such people be selected whose representative character is already established and known? Should the parliament be unicameral or bicameral? These are the questions to which pre-determined reply does not suit uniformly to every society, period of history and civilization. It would differ in different situations and a variety of forms can be adopted along with changing situations. Therefore, the (Islamic) Shari‘ah has neither prescribed any particular form nor placed ban on other. Nevertheless the following three factors have been stipulated in principle by the aforesaid verse and by its explanatory traditions (Ahadith):
No collective affair of Muslims should be conducted without consultation. This approach strikes at the very roots of kingship because appointment of head is always the most important matter among the governmental affairs. If counselling is compulsory in all other matters, how can anybody’s becoming head of the state through sheer force (and without general consent) be valid? Similarly, it forbids dictatorship as well because dictatorship means despotism and that negates Shura (Consultation). Likewise, in view of this commandement, the authority to suspend the constitution temporarily or permanently cannot be conferred upon the head of the state, because during that suspension period he will work with absolute authority, which is forbidden.
All persons concerned with a collective matter should engage in counseling.
Counseling should be independent, indiscriminate and sincere. Getting a vote or a counsel under duress or temptation amounts to no counseling.
A constitution must invariably contain these three principles of Shari‘ah irrespective of other details. No room should be left for the government to ever function without the counsel of the people or their trusted representatives. It should suggest a system of elections wherein the consent of the whole nation is obtained. It should eliminate all those factors due to which it becomes possible to get votes from the people or from their representatives under threat, deception or temptation.
The above note is an effort to briefly highlight what Sayyid Mawdudi had to opine concerning governance under Islamic System. He has copiously dealt with the subject in his vast literary works. The most important of these appears to me is “Islamic Riyasat” rendered also into English under the title “Islamic State” [contact: IPS, Block-19, Nasr Chambers, F-7 Markaz, Islamabad, http://www.ips.org.pk/ - www.ips.org.pk . for a copy if so desired.]
I have my own understanding and views of why Mawardi and Ghazali could not openly entertain the idea of popular democratic rule. Sure they concentrated more on the possible proper shape of governance, as well as persuading the all powerful Khulafa to give back to public what was due and ensure justice in collective matters. You have rightly noted that the Ummah (rather the whole humanity) was locked up with a governing system that was ruler – captured. Even the public then would not have accepted the shape that you call people – centered.
I want to know that the selection of leader in Islam and the leadership characteristic in Islam - especially for nation leader. I know that Islam select the leader by an Elective Responsibility not by a Selection Affair.
Can you tell me the comparative between these two system in Islam sight?
Iskandar Zulkarnain Bin Bahzan
30, Jalan Emas11, Taman Sri Skudai
Johor Bahru, Johor Darul Takzim 81300
WaAlaikum Assalam dear Iskandar Zulkarnain, thank you for contacting JI.
Islam does not strictly suggest one particular way of making a leader. Whether we elect a person through vote - general franchise - or accept the consensus of some special intellectual group, or the passing leader makes his good judgment and nominates a suitable person for the post, will make no difference, provided:
1. the person elected or selected enjoys the common support of majority;
2. that he rules / governs according to the Shariah and through consultation;
3. and accepts people’s verdict, if they decide to dismiss him through a majority vote or some other legal form of expression.
Look at the mode of installation of the four right-guided Caliphs – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (R.A.). Everyone has a different pattern of coming to power. But all ruled according to the Commands of the Qur’an and Sunnah. They ruled in consultation with ahle Hall wal Aqd. And they always held themselves accountable before the people for all their policies and decisions. That was the true spirit of democracy, and provides guidelines for Muslims to follow.
Remember, the Islamic democracy is different from the Western democracy, because here the Law-Giver and final Authority is Allah, and not the people. People can only install and dismiss and government, but can not press their will to be made law, until it is in conformity with or derived from the Divine Commands - as contained in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah.
http://www.jamaat.org/qa/democracy.html#top - Top