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Democracy And Islam: An analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2298 words Published: 3rd May 2017

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The Arab spring has been the most important event since the independence of the Arab countries. This revolutionary movement, which has started in Tunisia, resulted in the toppling of the well-known dictatorships and in the organization of the first democratic elections in the Arab world. The democratic elections were well perceived by the West. Nonetheless, the success of parties such as Annahda in Tunisia and the Freedom and Justice party in Egypt has sparked skepticism of western scholars and politicians towards the establishment of democracy in the Arab world. Certain Western scholars such as Michel Onfray even consider that voting for Islam means standing against the Occident and democracy (Arfaoui, 31). We must notice though that certain examples such as Indonesia and Turkey demonstrate that Islam and democracy are perfectly compatible. Hillary Rodham Clinton stated concerning Indonesia: “If you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia” (Andreas , 2012). Mark Levine, on the other hand, Professor of history at U.C Irvine, asserts that Turkey is becoming a model of democracy, and it can serve as a model for the Islamist trend that has started in the Arab world since the Arab spring (Levine, 2011). In this paper we are going to define Democracy and Islam, the Turkish example will be examined, and the last part will try to demonstrate that the non-existence of democracy in Arab countries is linked to the Arab culture and history.

To have a better understanding of the connection amidst democracy and Islam, we should bring precise definitions about both democracy and Islam. Moreover, the correlation between Islam and democracy will be displayed through the components of Islam.


The word Democracy is derived from two Greek words “demos” which means people and “kratia” which signify power (Manson, 2009). The word came out in the 5th century BCE and the most important historical figure is Cleisthenes known as the father of the Greek democracy (Meiggs, 2012). The word Democracy has different interpretations, and multitudes of definitions to the word exist. These Definitions contradict on certain aspects. John Calhoun for instance asserts that democracy is the demonstration of interests and the respect of minorities (Graham, 2011). Otto Bauer, a socialist Austrian politician, confirms Calhoun’s definition by stating” Democracy is the form of state within which the distribution of power in the state is determined exclusively by the social factors of power, but is not shifted in favor of any one class through the application of material means of coercion” (Graham, 2011). On the other side, Pennock claims that there is no division between minorities and majorities within a democratic system since the government belongs to the whole population, and reaching the utmost of liberty, equality and fraternity, which are the main principles of the French constitution, is the main objective of the democratic system. (Graham, 2011) . Nowadays, people elected have to gratify the different needs of the society such as the freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom of the different medias and the equality between genders. In countries wherein democracy has been established long time ago, minorities, like homosexuals and people who belong to deviant groups, are asking for the perception of their needs as rights that the laws should allow. In France for instance, the homosexual marriage is a very debatable issue, and the ruling party wants to institute a law that allows the marriage for this part of the population that was considered 30 years ago as mentally ill (Chianale , 2012).


The word Islam is derived from the Arabic word Salema which means submission and compliance (Bargouti, 2010). Islam is considered as the last monotheist religion, and Nowadays 1.3 billion People are considered as Muslims (Hawassi, 2012). The majority of Muslims live in Asia and Africa, and Indonesia is the country with the highest number for Allah worshipers (). As it was mentioned earlier, many scholars estimate that Islam and democracy are incompatible. However, some components of Islam prove the opposite. Indeed, Shura that signifies in Arabic consultation, and Ijmaa which is the Arabic translation for the word Consensus prove that the discrimination of minorities cannot be part of Islam, and of democracy also as the definitions of Bauer, Calhoun, and Pennock demonstrate.

Shura was first initiated by Omar Ibn Al Khatab, the second khalifa. The Shura was instigated in order to choose the next khalifa through a group of electors .this term was afterward used for the council of state or the leaders’ advisers. (Bitss, 2011)

Ijmaa this one of the four parts of Islamic jurisprudence ” Usul Al Fikh”. It has the main prominence in defining the other Usul. (Peaters, 2010)

Ijtihad is defined by the Britannica encyclopedia as “the original interpretation of problems not precisely covered by the Qurʾān, ḤadÄ«th (traditions concerning the Prophet’s life and utterances), andijmāʿ (scholarly consensus).” Ijtihad can be therefore defined as re-contextualizing of Islamic notions according to the present time;

2) Turkey democratic state led by an Islamic party

Islam is seen by many western and democratic countries as a handicap for democracy, yet Turkey is seen as a model for democracy knowing that it is led by an Islamic party (AKP). In fact, even if Turkey is considered as an Islamic country it is also considered as a democratic state; as another example, Indonesia is a Muslim state and also a model for democracy and human rights. Turkey has been considered from the 20th century as a democratic country; how can we explain the achievement of democracy in Turkey and not in other Muslims countries or in countries led by Islamic parties?

Historical review

Turkey was colonized by the Ottoman Empire for many years. After the First World War the Ottoman Empire lost a lot of territories which make it weaker ( sick man of Europe), a thing that helped the Turkish Grand National Assembly to abolish the Ottoman Empire. In 1923, after the Treaty of Lausanne, the Turkish state was recognized and had as a head of government Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Mustapha Kamal Ataturk made many changes. In fact he created a secular state, developed the economy of the country, women were allowed to vote (…). At that time, thanks to Ataturk, Turkey made a big step to the road of democracy comparing to the other Muslim countries.

The geographic location of Turkey

Turkey is located in southeastern of Europe and southwestern of Asia. Turkey is bordering the Black Sea, in the middle of Bulgaria and Georgia, and near the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegean Sea, in the middle of Greece and Syria. Its strategic emplacement on the border of the Asian and European continents gives the country an exceptional combination of Eastern and Western traditions and culture. In fact, thanks to its location, Turkey is in the middle of all the exchanges between Asia and Europe which makes it more powerful since it is a kind of link between the two continents.

The well-being of the country over Islam

The Turkish Islamic party is a very popular party in Turkey and it was voted and known for its moderation and respect for human rights and freedom. In fact, even if most Islamic parties and states are based on Islamic rules, the Islamist Turkish party has not given as much importance to religion as the other Islamic parties. In fact, the Turkish state has made of the economy, unemployment, education its major priority; in other words, the well-being of the country first. The religious interrogations such as banning the Burka or not, or serving alcohol during Ramadan doesn’t concern the state.

The Turkish state has been proving that an Islamist party can achieve democracy within a country. In fact the Islamic Turkish party (AKP) has proved that an Islamic party could govern a developed country with a good economy and achieve many democratic goals.

The Turkish state was seeking to enter the European Union, yet it did not succeed. Despite its geographic location, political system, infrastructure (…) some European countries were against this ides, such as France, mainly because of Islam.

So we can conclude that Islam is not a handicap to achieve a democratic state, but its view within the whole world could be the problem.

Arab Islamic countries are seen as the least democratic countries in the world. However, Islam is not the cause for the rise of undemocratic Arab countries, the issue then is with cultural and historical nature of the Arab culture and not with Islam itself. One important reason that prevents Arab countries from being democratic is the Arab history itself. In fact, after the prophet Mohamed’s death begins a huge takeover of foreign territories ( Chaney, 2012). This had led to the constitution of Imperial Arab countries. These imperial Arab states have encapsulated in the Arab culture, poor civil societies, hostile authoritarian regimes with strong concentrations of power and a large role for the government in the economy. These early Arab Imperial communities were based on a tough and exaggerated use of power in order to eradicate any form of protest. The civil society is composed of associations, and social and pressure groups. Therefore, these early Imperial Arab societies had a lack of civil organizations which prevented citizens from their freedom of speech and right to protest. Moreover, as Beyers (2011) said “Religion becomes the enemy of civil society”, especially when religion manipulates society and it’s institutions to gain self-interest and dictate community life.

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In addition to the lack of civil institution in the Arab countries, religious and military powers have been used to rule undemocratic Arab countries. Religious and military powers have combined into a new presumed authoritarian Islamic-Law with both the interest of religious and military leaders. This is very important for the Arab-Muslim countries that are preoccupied by dictatorships. As stated Al-Samak “People in Islamic societies tend to have a propensity towards democracy but what makes it less possible for them to achieve democratic political governance is the nature of the over stated, over blown and over stretched state structure and the heavy-handed authoritarian regimes (in most cases) in power at present.”(Al-Samak, 2010); Iraq is a one of many concrete examples representing the fear phenomenon previously stated. Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq with an iron fist for over than 35 years; several efforts have been made in order to overthrow the regime but they all failed miserably. The authoritarian regime of Saddam Hussein collapsed in 2003; the Iraqi’s incorporated democracy in their new political system. Most of the Iraqis are Muslims but this sudden change in their political system did not impact their preference for democracy. We can conclude from this example that even today, many Muslims pursue vigorously a democratic political system, but “hostile dictators actively seek to silence them.” (Al-Samak,2010).

Another important trait preventing democracy in Arab countries is gender inequality. As a matter of fact, the majority of women in Arab countries do not have the right to enjoy vital human rights. Women are considered as items as they do not have the right to education, employment, political participation or even to show their faces on public places (UNDP Human Development Report, 2001). Gender inequality is clearly predominant in the Arab world as women are not on the same social level as men(ElSafty, 2003). Many Western scholars associate this gender inequality to Islam and religion; but, in fact, Islam was considered as revolutionary concerning women rights. For example, baby girls were buried alive before the apparition of Islam because they were presumed to bring disgrace to their families; women were not even considered as human beings. The rise of Islam gave more liberty and rights to women at that time; to be fairly and equally judged by god was one of the first rights given by Islam to women. But nowadays, Muslim scholars believe that several issues such as polygamy and the veil should be taken into consideration and should immediately be put into “Ijtihad” studies. Moreover, Islam is not responsible of gender inequality because non-Arab Islamist countries such a Turkey provide gender equality even though they are Muslim countries. Therefore, as a conclusion, gender inequality is not related to Religion but rather to the Arab communities.

Democracy and Islam is considered by many scholars one of the most complex and debatable topics; this issue raised several questions between scholars and politicians. the argument presented in this paper displays that Islam when moderated can be compatible with democracy. As a matter of fact, Islam is based on three main notions that are “Ijtihad”, “Shura” and “Ijma” and which support the importance of consensus in decision taking and as Democracy is defined as the rule of the majority, democracy and Islam are compatible. The Turkey case proved that Islam and Democracy can co-exist in the same political system. The non-existence of democracy in Arab countries is not due to Islam but rather to historical and cultural aspects of the Arab countries .


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