Sometimes we often think that democracy and Islam are two different things and cannot go together. People believe Islam is authoritative and thus allows no be dialogue on any issue. I think we blindly believe that Islam supports authoritative monarchy where the monarch enjoys absolute and uncontrolled powers and in which people lacks the right to free speech. If we look at different forms of government like monarchy and others then obviously democracy appears to us as the best form of government. It is so because people participate in choosing their leaders. It means people ruling themselves. Democracy is not merely about elections. Genuine elections must be built on democratic foundations that are based on equality. Democracy is a social, political, economic system based on human rights to liberty, equality, right to work, and a state based on civil and political institutions. In democracy all powers does not rest with anyone organ but power is shared among different organs. Another feature of democracy is rule of law.
Let’s delve into the idea of whether Islam supports democracy or not. We saw after the death of Prophet Muhammad (saw) that there was a need to select a caliph, a leader who would look after the affairs of state. For this purpose both Ansar and Muhajireen gathered. One of the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (saw) Abu Bakr suggested a person from Ansar and later he suggested two persons, namely Umer (RA) and Abu Ubedah Jurah, but they refused. Then Umer (RA) recommended Abu Bakr (RA). Abu Bakr (RA) firstly refused but when all people agreed then he became the first caliph. So he was the first person who gained people’s approval. Abu Bakr in his speech said: “O people, I was appointed by you and I am not best among you. If you find me right, support me. If you find me wrong then set me right”. So Abu Bakr (RA) gave people the right to criticise the government if it is wrong. This was the first time when people participated in selecting a leader.
When Abu Bakr (RA) felt ill, Al Shora, a consultative body of intellectuals and pious persons, was selected on the basis of capabilities rather than on the basis of class or caste to select the second caliph. A discussion was held and all members agreed to appoint Umer (RA). Then Abu Bakr (RA) addressed the people and said that he has selected Umer (RA) as second Caliph and asked for people’s reaction. All gave their consent. This was happening through democratic ways. If someone says that the appointment was made by Shora, then I would like to say that look at modern democratic states, where eaders are chosen by indirect election rather than direct participation of people. This was the democracy which Islam introduced. There was rule of law. No one was above the law. There were welfare measures for widows and children. Juciciary was there to settle disputes. In the latter years of Uthman’s rule there appeared problems like tenure of holding offices and hence the Caliphate was replaced by kingship.
According to Islam, if anyone commits a crime then the case will be referred to court and after completing judicial proceedings, the judge will give verdict and then police can implement the order, not any civilian. It is reported by Abdullah Bin Zubair that the Messenger of Allah said that both the parties must be brought before the judge. But what is happening in Muslim societies is against the law of Islam. People are being provoked in the name of saving Islam and in Pakistan we saw a person who was killed before judicial proceedings could take place. Wahiuddin Khan recalled that at the time of the Prophet there were some persons who used abusive language against the Prophet, but the Prophet directed Hassan bin Sabit to remove their misunderstanding through discussion. Islam has given this counsel to not judge everyone.
There is also the impression that Islam is cruel, which gives punishments like stoning, capital punishment, etc. However, Caliph Umer (RA) did not give any harsh punishment for those accused of theft during the famine in Medina. Prophet Muhammad (saw) also advised to refrain from giving hard punishments if there was a doubt. At the end I would say Islam promotes democracy, human rights and believes in debates and discussion, etc.
—The writer has an MA in Political Science from Central University Of Kashmir. [email protected]