Democracy and the Islamic world

Category: World Affairs Topics: Iraq Views: 4509

In February 2004, the Bush Administration put forward an ambitious initiative to promote freedom and democracy in the "Greater Middle East." Along with key European Allies, the United States will call on Arab and South Asian governments to adopt major political and economic reforms and be held accountable for human rights abuses. Details of the plan will be given out in stages, beginning this summer at the summit of the Group of Eight nations. 

What is most interesting--and most heartening--about this "Greater Middle East Initiative" is that the proposal seeks to avoid creating committees to monitor progress and issue report cards according to U.S. officials. It also seeks to avoid appearing to dictate to the Islamic world and say, in the words of a senior Administration official, "This is how the West thinks you guys should live." I support in broad terms such an initiative, as freedom and democracy are long overdue in the Middle East in particular and the Muslim world in general. 

It seems, however, that L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Occupied Iraq, does not think such an approach can work in Iraq. Speaking at an inauguration ceremony of a women's center in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, Bremer suggested he would use his veto if Iraqi leaders wrote into the constitution Islamic Sharia as the principal basis of law in Iraq. "Our position is clear," said Bremer. "It can't be law until I sign it." Any measure passed by the U.S. appointed Iraqi Governing Council must be signed by Bremer in order for it to become law. 

Bremer said that the current draft of the constitution would make Islam the state religion of Iraq and "a source of inspiration"--as opposed to the "principal basis"--for the law. Quite interesting. Is this not dictating to the Iraqi people "how the West [namely, the United States] thinks you guys should live"? Should it not be left up to the people of Iraq whether or not to make Islamic law the basis of their constitution? Wouldn't Paul Bremer's suggestion that he would veto Islamic law be anti-democratic? 

It definitely would. If the Iraqi people want Islamic law to be the "principle basis" for the law of the land, then that should be their right and prerogative. It should not left up to the whims of Paul Bremer to determine the ultimate form of the new Iraqi constitution. Democracy is a very fluid and malleable organism, and although Iraqi democracy, Islamic law and all, may not look like America's version--something Bremer himself admitted--it still would be legitimate. To continually push for more democracy in the Middle East, but then turn around and deny the Iraqi people that very same thing is disingenuous at best. 

Yet, there is a caveat to that statement. When Bremer suggested he would veto Islamic law, to what concept of "Islamic law" did he refer? Does he see "Islamic Law" through the lens of some misguided applications of Islamic law by some groups? Is he thinking about an "Islamic law" that stones only women to death based on circumstantial evidence? or does he perceive an "Islamic law" that denies women the right to an education and political participation?

This question is extremely important. In many parts of the Islamic world, Sharia law is grossly misinterpreted and ignorantly applied, leading to horrible injustices done to people and in particular to women in the name of Islam. An example of this is the case of Amina Lawal in Nigeria where she was condemned to death, by stoning, for allegedly committing adultery. At the same time the alleged father of her baby daughter - was released on the basis that there was insufficient evidence against him.

Misapplication of Islamic law serves to perpetuate the image of Sharia as a backward, barbaric system of law, which it is not. Perhaps it was this image of Sharia that Bremer had in his mind when he made his comments about vetoing Islamic law.

The Sharia is a just system of law that can work in today's world. It was an Islamic court citing Islamic law, in fact, that freed Amina Lawal from her sentence of death by stoning. Islamic law and democracy are miscible substances. Rather than "vetoing" any form of Islamic law, Bremer and others in the Bush Administration should work with all those in the Islamic world who are struggling to establish democracy, including those who advocate establishing Islamic law. This will go a long way in fostering understanding and cooperation between the West and the Islamic world, something that is still heretofore desperately needed. 

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is author of "Why I Love the Ten Commandments," published in the book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for 2003 Best Religion Book of the Year by the Religion Communicators Council.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Iraq
Views: 4509

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Older Comments:
This answer is for Romesh Chander. Maybe you forgot something Romesh. Islam is not a tribal religion, it is not linked to a "Promised Land" nor to shrines. If we were to populate the universe, other planets in far away solar systems, go there with the knowledge of no-return, we will still exercise our Islamic faith as we did on earth without the Hajj to Mecca. We would find a substitute on a remote planet. Although Mecca and Medina are Holy places to us and very venerated, if they would ever be blast out would not mean the end of Islam. Moreover, if the whole earth would be blast out and only a couple of muslims would survive in a sea of non-Muslims, Islam would regenerate itself. Islam is here to stay, you cannot possibly wipe it out, never ever. Today we are everywhere, in the old and new world, next neighbour, next man in the street, citizens of the Western world, part of the political body, part of the military and police force. As longer the Israelis tarry in their supposed bombing of Mecca and Medina the more difficult they will find to do it. We are not living in the Middle Ages and the Israelis are no Crussaders, they are Zionists that would nuke New York if they would be cornered by the Americans and they wouldn't fear a retaliation that would wipe them out. Think about, how many Jews are there? 20 000 000? How many of these are actually Zionists, maybe half of it. There are over one billion Muslim in the world, how could they be finished off? By creating the Greatest Genocidical Holocaust in the Known History of Mankind? Would the human race live with this guilt and call themselves humans? I don't think so. The Jews themselves were subjected to their Temple distruction by Vespasianus the Roman, Hitler tried to rid the world of them..., these things don't work, simply because there is an element to all human actions: the will of God. Having stated this, I think is fullish of anyone to believe that any nation could be done away with.

Hopefully, I would not dream of asserting that the attacks of 9/11 would never have been part of any sort of American or Zionist conspiracy. I would however be curious about whether or not all those anti-American, anti-Zionist Muslims who proclaimed the 19 hijackers to be heroes might, themselves, be considered a party to such a conspiracy. (For whatever it might be worth, I would hopefully have more respect for a person who berates my stupidity than for a person who hopes to profit by it.) Wassalam.

9/11 conspiracy exposed. Read this article:

Assalaamu'Alaiykum br. A. Ali,

JazakAllah. I respect the fact that not all Muslims share my experience in Canada. If I were to say that or believe it, I'd be kidding myself.
It is great to hear how you have kept your insurance premiums low, and that you had maintained a small student loan, that is really great news for me to hear - Allah hu Akbar!

Still, Muslims should not be discouraged from living comfortably in ease, as long as it does not draw you away from maintaining your obligations in Islam whether it be praying on time to maintaining your health, to good behaviour with others, or providing for your family, to raising good kids. My case is not the same and I think it's fair to say that all Muslims in Canada, have different conditions of living, and we experience different circumstances when we interact with society here. I agree with you that one can easily reduce or offset the interest we collect or pay, and that we can ultimately avoid using it, but it is, at this present time, impossible to do that. For example I cannot go to the bank and demand that they stop giving me interest on my money in my savings account, because the bank will not do it - it is the procedure of these banks to use and trade the money people deposit into their institutions. On the other hand, as I have said before, we cannot avoid paying premiums on automobiles as well; if you have ever owned property, you will know that if you take the risk of not having property insurance, then if someone (let's say for example your tenant slips and breaks their back on a staircase) without insurance on that property, the tenant can sue the landlord who will have to dish out thousands of dollars in damages which could ruin his/her life (lawyer fees on top of that!). I have seen such things happen before. It is commendable the route you take, but we must start having patience and understanding each others' conditions, to ERASE RIBA from our lives forever INSHA'ALLAH!

Reply to Akbar Khan: I sympathize with your debt and insurance costs but not all muslims (myself included) share your experience in Canada.

I started from humble beginnings in Canada, working as a busboy to pay my way thru University. I eventually finished with two degrees and very little student loan (interest free), which I paid six months after graduating.

I've worked as a professional since, supporting my family also helping with my elderly parents. I own two old cars, simply because I don't wish to pay interest or lease for newer ones. My insurance for both cars is about $Cdn 73/month, (about $US 55). I pay cash for everything except my home, which I shall own soon. How did I do it? Hard work, saving and spending wisely.

As for the Canadian Liberal Party (similar ideology to U.S. Democrats) and their scandals, it has been going on for years yet almost all minorities (and in particular Muslims) vote for them each election. Toronto, which has 1/3 the country's population with a disproportionately high amount of newcomers, will vote Liberal as usual, mostly because Liberals support higher taxes and handouts to 'poor' (and to their Liberal friends & families). These recipients have little reason to hustle or work, seemingly preferring the 'state' to take care of them with gracious benefits (vote buying) they're entitled to at the expense of other hard working Canadians.

Were it not for Canada's natural resources and our proximity and trade agreements with the U.S., our economy (and social programs) would collapse overnight.

The only trouble with Canada's Democracy is that its electoral has been spoiled into thinking that money grows on trees, by 1960's pot-smoking hippies (Liberals) that run its gov't and bureaucracies.

The prerequisites for a sound Democracy is an informed and educated population, with strong common values for freedom, ethics & fair play.

Akhee don't need to apologize you made a valid statement it is true what you said and you offered a prayer upon me - I am not upset with you or hold anything against you - I am also sorry if I seemed to be defensive. We're brothers in Islam, we should be strong enough to take each other's criticisms :-D. That is probably the most important thing that is lacking amongst our community, the ability for us to have constructive criticism for each other. Not only does it improve you and I, but it multiplies with the next person you meet.

I was just trying to make the point of how, many of us, like myself, have parents who came here to the West decades ago, for my father it's been over 40 years. He had no Muslim community here really and he had no choice but to work amongst those who were living here. He never once forgot that he is still a Muslim, and did not forget and neglect hi native language or history. But he did get into the real estate business and restaurant business. Basically when you say you're in debt up to your eyeballs I can so relate. I know you wish the best for their entire Ummah, as do I, I share your feeling wholly. Please accept my aplogies if I seemed to portray that I was being defensive - that's just the way I communicate LOL.


ahubak-Allah-zee Ah-bub-thanee-lah;

La-hoo qurbathun ilaiyka yaow-mal qiyamaath.
(Oh Allah, to any believer whom I have insulted, let that be cause to draw him near to You on the Day of Resurrection.)

Subhan-Allahee wa-bee-Hamdee-hee wa subhan-Allahil-Azeem (How perfect Allah is and I praise him, and how perfect Allah is, The Supreme).

if there was anything allowed in islam which tells muslim we can accept alternatives to Quran and Sunnah from a non-muslim, then there would be no need for Jihad (holy war).

Well Islam is Islam, it has no relation with democracy. Why? because democracy was based on Human Thought. And for years there's no democracy system in any moslems country allowed Islam Law. Islam came from Allah SWT. it has Syura but it doesn't mean alike with democracy. We have our on that is Qur'an.
Western use democracy for their interest to monopolize the moslem world. Islam doesn't prohibit to make contact with others but always bear in mind that everything we do is always based on Islam rules. If we never trust Islam as our way of life and savior why we become a moslem?

Anyone who believes in God and really understands what the day of judgement is, would NEVER be a big fan of Western Democracy.

The Western democracy promotes indecency, immorality, lewd activities, paganism, sexual violence, oppression of women and so many acts of stupidities. All of these take place under the banner of individual freedom. There are no "DIRECTOR of DECENCY" in these socities.

I am Not surprised. If mommies, daddies, and the politicians are themselves drunk, how do you expect them them to direct their nations and their kids to toward the right course....

I just came back from an American Mall. I am shocked to find out that little kids' pants' are falling off in broad daylight. Do their parents know how their kids lost their attire? All of these happening in the name of freedom.

Have people forgotten that "...Excess of anything is bad..."? Where is the moderacy variable?

I don't think any adult with real human brains in his or her head would permit people to do what's going on in the West. It's extermely sick and very sad. The Western countries are playing with fire. It's inviting its own self-destruction. It's just a matter of time....

People can do whatever you want, but there is a limit to everything...The people in the west have already crossed the limit.


Akbar Khan, I beg you to forgive me. I am in debt up to my eyeballs as it were. I meant no offense. I thought about saying that I hoped the whole Ummah could escape the effects of usury but I was trying to keep the comment (and hence the prayer) for you personally for sincerity's sake (at least that was my wish).

Assalamu alaikum!

What's happening to my dear brother Ramesh Chander? May be old age taking its toll.... At t =1, he was rational, and now at t=2, he sounds irrational, what is going to happen to him at t=3? H.A. is worried tremendously.

Hence,H.A, would like to meet my DEAR BROTHER in front of Taj Mahal for a BIG MUSLIM-STYLE BROTHERLY HUG. It's Mother Eve's order, and we, the offsprings, must NOT be disobedient to her. It's time for a family re-union.

We must respect MOTHER EVE's order!!!
In addition, we must NOT blame her for eating the apple. It's our dear Daddy, Adam, who is the real culprit. The West/the Civilized ones seems to put all the blames on Mother Eve, NOT THE MUSLIMS.

How discriminatory the WEST can be against women!!! I, H.A., is humungously shocked.

I don't believe that true freedom can exist under an Islamic state. The reason why I say this is that Islamic states generally put prejudicial limits on speech and religion that would not exist under a truly free democratic state. For example, Christians would be forbidden from preaching that Islam is a distorted religion while Muslim Imams would be free to point out Christianity's supposed theological weaknesses. Furthermore, followers of the ancient pagan religions like Wicca and Hinduism, as well as political groups who support unpopular causes like Zionism and radical feminism would likely face state-sponsored discrimination and restrictions that mainstream Islamists would not encounter.

Now of course there might be a logical policy rationale for such limits. But such limits cannot be considered freedom or democracy.

Reply to Ms Chander

You and your hate filled ilk forget one thing. If Israel tried to nuke Medina or Mecca it is committing suicide, by necessity it has to nuke it is own territory thereby committing suicide, what is more it has to nuke every Muslim country on the face of earth and every country with substantial Muslim population including your beloved India, and places like Russia! I guess once you ponder a little it would not be appealing to nuke Medina after all.

You seem to have low opinion of the Israeli leaders and their mental capacity by implying their willing of destroying their neighbourhood unnecessarily. The Israeli leaders whatever else they might be they are not mad, and unlike you and the writer of the article you quoted they know the consequence of their actions. As rational beings they recognize the value of their weapon system namely, it is deterrence's. Once used it loses it is utility. Just imaging the consequence to the world of Israel nuking Mecca... no oil, no industrial production, no travel. I should think even a person of your mental capacity should be able to imagine that world just described!

One more thing, where does your Guru get the idea if Mecca is nuked the Muslims will abandon their religion, isn't that a wishful thinking?


Brother Yahya,if I am taking/giving interest by having insurance on my car,it is because if I do not get it, it is ILLEGAL. There is a difference between taking interest, paying interest by choice, as compared to by necessity. If it was the case, then all of us Muslims in Canada who put our money into banks, are committing usury to the same degree. I try my best to avoid it and remember that I do my best to offset the interest I collect by paying off realty taxes for example. Just remember, Allah Taala is the Most Beneficient, Most Merciful. Let us work on building our community locally by working within the system of society that we live in, instead of trying to avoid it by hiding from society. In such a case where I have leased a car to buy, it is the easiest way for an individual such as myself to have a necessary means of transportaion, and pay theleast amount of interest on it as the end I own the car as well. Please try to be understanding of other Muslims, instead of hitting on our faults. Many Muslims have mortgages on their homes, because we are trying to build a community. Speaking in terms of survival, I find that Muslims should not be criticized forbeing able to take mortgages if they have no alternative interest free mortgage plans available to them. They are coming to Toronto soon though andI will be changing over, Insha'Allah. Sabr is the greatest virtue. Jazakum'Allah khairun for your comments.

Comment on post by Chander: there seems to be some kind of frustration! well, Sharia has prevailed for centuries be it in India, the Arab pagan or the old Europe. Islam has been a religion with vast Empire the world has ever seen. And inshallah (Allah willing!) Shariah will come back again very soon, even Jesus will be the follower of Islam. There will be peace and justice all over in the world. The Indian sub-continent as a whole will be full of faithfulls let alone USA and Europe where Islam is the fastest growing religion. This is the destiny of this world, written by its creator! like it or not!

So Jerry Bremer says "It can't be law until I sign it". I have not come across one Arab or muslim or Iraqi who says "Jerry, you are not an Iraqi; you will not be allowed to sign it". Don't the Arabs/Muslims/Iraqis have any backbone. When Sistani can gather hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in hours, why can't he come up with the above statement. Are Arabs only good at suicide bombing and not at any kind of thinking at all.

How dare they tell us how to live our lives in our own lands. Who gives Bremer/Bush the authority to dictate their rule over Iraqi or any Muslim people in their own lands.

The problem is that we have not heard any opposing voice from one Middle Eastern country or Islamic organisations to tell these people to take a hike and get back to their own countries.

How dare they tell Iran/Syria not to interfer in Iraq whilst they themselves drop uranium depleted missles by the thousands and troop with the lastest amunitions to forcefully control that land. Is this not interference?

The attack on Iraq was illegal and the damage done to this country must be repaid in full and troops withdrawn so that Iraqis can control their own fate. Jeffersonian democracy is not like a Pentium upgrade you can just install it in the box!

It must have regards to religion, local customs, history and social norms. Europe took over 200 years to arrive at their from of democracy. Iran is going through a similar phase and it beats the hell out of dropping d.u. bombs on defenseless people in the name of freedom. What utter nonsense and we fall for such rubbish.

Iraqis are educated people and as Bush said "are plenty cpable to rule themselves." So, I tell him deliver on that promise.

But, ney, these people are liars and the only reason they are in Iraq is to plunder its wealth, curb Islam and protect Israel.

God has warned us from taking 'arbab' (rulers) from amongst those who are not from us. We shall pay a high price for disobbeying God's instructions. Only Iraqis should rule Iraq and do so independantly from any other country.

Muslim countries should stand untied in opposing America/Zionist aggression, otherwise the next taret is Syria, then Iran, then Somali, etc.

The problem is that we are weak and have become diverted. Sad but true and we pay the price for it.

AHMED said:
What a magnificent idea ! Democracy ! Yeah ! How about the crusaders actually instituting "democracy" in their own countries first ? Morever History shows that they arent insterested in any such thing. They want compliant regimes who simply obey. If we had some real democracy in the Middle East, Uncle Sam would be in DEEP trouble.

I suppose one could ask, why is America funding the establishment of a Judaic state while refusing to endorse the establishment of an Islamic state? As I recall, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer didn't seem to have a fundamental objection to Islamic governance - and, if my memory serves us correctly, he's actually Jewish.

As for the question by Akbar Khan (assalamu alaikum) regarding the possible merits or demerits of democracy, I would imagine that any system of government could put a highly competent ruler on the throne. Show me the system of government which can unseat an INCOMPETENT ruler, with the least threat to the state itself, and I will imagine (insha'Allah!) that you have shown me the best system of government currently in use (providing that the system has a proven potential for longevity). You mentioned a scandal in the Government of Canada. Can you think of any countries, anywhere, in which a scandal of a similar magnitude wouldn't even be mentioned, let alone threaten to unseat that country's leaders? May Allah enable you to escape usury (Ameen).

And yes, ahmed (usa), Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala is the best of planners. Jazak Allahu khair.


Comment on post by Ahmed:

No, there is no war on islam yet. When war on islam comes, you will know it. Read this post very carefully.


This war is deeply religious. This makes it a demographic war. Israelis are losing this war in the bedroom.

In Europe the same war is in progress. Muslims are winning it in the same place: the bedroom. If the trend continues - and there is little evidence that it won't - the result is inevitable. Christian Europe, which is in fact secular Europe, is going to be replaced. I can think of only one event that might reverse this process. No one ever mentions it in polite company. It is officially unthinkable. Yet it is being thought in high places. It would change everything geopolitically. The Israelis could launch a pre-emptory nuclear strike against Mecca and Medina. The primary symbols of Islam would be reduced to radioactive dust. If the Israelis used a cobalt-tipped bomb, Muslims could not visit Mecca for millennia. Yet Muslims are told to do so at least once in a lifetime.

This tactic is Israel's trump card strategically. Everyone in power in the Middle East knows it, but no one ever mentions it publicly. Muslims venerate Mecca and Medina and their monuments. When veneration becomes superstition, monuments become primary military targets for the enemy. If the Jews blast Mecca's rock into radioactive dust, the fallout will be more than radioactive dust. It could be the end of Islam.

Do I think this attack will ever happen? Yes. The Israelis know they are in a fight to the death. They know they will never be accepted by Arabs as lawful residents in the region. Over time, they will be overcome demographically. They know it. Their enemies know it. So, when push comes to shove, Mecca and Medina will disappear.

Salaam Calaykum

Democracy! Does the noble lie ring bell? Can someone please define "democracy" for me and explain why we Muslims have to follow it. Call me nave but I thought we Muslims have our system of governance and what is more it is divinely ordained. Why do we have to imitate other people's system?

American vicory not allowing Iraq Muslim constitution is most logical thing for Imperialist conqueror to do. Why else take the trouble of sending half a million soldiers costing vast amounts of money round the world and in the process kill thousands of natives?

The American administrator who said we should not say to the Muslims, "This is how the West thinks you guys should live." But supports the democracy imitative is too clever to even notice logical fallacy of his words.

So, US does not want Sharia for Iraq. Well, in the new constitution of Afghanistan, promulgated recently under the auspices of US, "ISLAM IS THE RELIGION OF AFGHANISTAN, AND ANY LAW PASSED CONTRARY TO ISLAM WILL BE NULL AND VOID".

So, in one muslim country (of relatively little importance, no oil there), US accepts Sharia; but in the important country (it has oil), it refuses to accept sharia. May be it should ask Saudi Arabia to get rid of sharia.

Strange are the ways of US.

By the way, personally, I am against sharia. However, I want Sharia to be IMPOSED on all muslims living in US/Canda and western Europe (and sharia laws to be adminstered by non-muslims only; the role of muslims shall be advisory only)

Interesting to see a woman's perspective on this law. Easy for a man to uphold this kind of law, isn't it?

Thank you Mr Hesham for sighting that example that shows how nonsensical your article is. The shari'a that says no stoning to death of a married person proven to have committed adultery is no shari'a. Quote me anywhere. And if that is the shari'a you are advocating for Iraq then there is no difference between you and Bush or excuse me, Bremer!

I don't know even the purpose for your article cos' even the dumb knows that your beloved country will never acceed to given Iraqis any freedom to determine their future. Why else do you think even the UN did'nt sanction the war in the first place! You supported the attack of Iraq, go ahead and find a way out for her, if you can! You think we will be fool by your article?

And many will swear that this was never ment to be a war against Islam. Only the naive Muslims and the hypocrites saw it that way. But, again, Allah (swt) said, "They plan, and I plan".

Jazak Allahu Khairun Br. Hesham, It is always a pleasure to read your enlightning articles.

Let it be made clear to the world, that there is no such thing as democracy, and it has never existed in the world. I was born in Canada, Alhumdulillah that Allah has given me htis blessing, but at the same time, I know the truth from first hand experience, that the experiences of Canadians who have been here for many generations. We all agree that democracy is a myth - it may be better percentage wise for more people compared to the average life of a person who lives under a tyrant such as Hosni Mubarak, but that does not mean that the Canadian system is not worse in many ways. For example, I live in a house, and I drive a car. I do not really own this house or this car. I pay 20,000 dollars in taxes on this house to a government that does nothing to earn that 20,000 dollars, and I pay almost 5000 dollars Canadian for insurance on my car - the car itself is leased to buy. I do not really OWN anything, it is a material myth, in which I have realized that stature and position and wealth are all pretense in Canada, a "democracy," while the Liberal party of Canada in control of the nation right now, stands accused of a sponsorship scandal involving $300 million Canadian. The Canadian intelligence agency (CSIS) has the right, under Canadian laws such as the "anti-terrorism bill" to come into my house now without a search warrant, and they have the right to take my under custody, and question me as to why I went to Montreal, or Buffalo or anywhere else for the weekend. On the basis that I am East-Indian looking and travelled somewhere raising the suspicion of some lunatic in our spy agency, therefore gives our officials the right to sacrifice my liberties for their interpretation of security, in order to preserve freedom and liberty. What sort of reasnoning is this?

Denying Iraqi ppl the liberty to choose Sharia, is undemocratic.