There is a lot of literature written on Islam and democracy where most of the authors and scholars argue that Islam is not compatible with modern-day democracy owing to the latter’s origin from the West, and differences between the two. But, this seems to be a myopic view as they focus, mostly, on differences only. If we analyze deeply, there are a number of fundamental areas that overlap one another, e.g. giving choice to the people to elect their representatives, accountability, rule of law, protection of minorities and provision of justice are the essence of both Islam and democracy. It is also important to note here that Islam is not a religion only; it’s a complete code of life and covers all aspects of human affairs whether social, political, economic or religious. In this write-up, an attempt has been made to explore whether democracy is compatible with Islam or not by highlighting the points of convergence and divergence in them. Besides, there will be an effort to dig out why democracy has low profile in Pakistan.
Democracy is a form of government in which people elect their representatives who, in turn, are responsible for formulating policies and implementing plans in the best interest of the people. One of the most prominent definitions of democracy is attributed to former President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who termed democracy as “government of the people, for the people, by the people”. An etymological analysis of the word ‘democracy’ suggests that it is derived from two Greek words: demos, meaning “the common people,” and kratos, meaning “rule”. So, in simple words, it means “rule of the common people” and it adequately complements the perfect definition given by Abraham Lincoln. Thus, democracy empowers people and gives them the authority to elect their representatives through the voting process.
However, to discuss whether democracy and Islam can complement each other, we need to go through the history of Islam and its principles. It is a known fact that Islam emerged in the Arabian Peninsula in the sixth century AD. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was the last messenger of Allah Almighty to all the worlds. He (ﷺ) invited people to the religion of Islam at a time when the Arabs were plunged into darkness. They used to kill each other on petty issues. Arrogance, obstinacy and ignorance were at their peak. The Arabs would consider a great shame if a baby girl was born, to them, to such an extent that they would commit infanticide and some also didn’t shy away from burying their daughters alive. Such despicable was the social status of the Arabs.
However, with the advent of Islam and the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), social, political, economic and religious status of the Arabs changed. He (ﷺ) did not approve of this inhuman practice and advised people not to be ashamed of giving birth to a baby girl. He (ﷺ) emphasized on the provision of rights as well as protection to women. In this regard, he (ﷺ) ordained, “Don’t treat your wives harshly, give them respect and love.” With preaching of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), things started changing slowly, yet gradually, and Islam soon emerged as the second largest religion in the world.
If we look at commonalities between Islam and democracy, we find that both of them have almost similar principles and values; and both advocate tolerance, adaptability and adjustability, provision of justice, rule of law, consent and consultation, accountability and protection of minorities, and so on. However, there are some scholars and authors who opine that Islam and democracy are incompatible and they cannot go hand in hand. One such person is Tor. G. Jakobsen who writes in his seminal work ‘Islam and Democracy’ about the incompatibility in the following words:
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