Democracy

Most British Muslims cherish the democratic norms and traditions of Britain. While there may be a few people that reject democracy, this is an old debate that is now settled.

The acceptance of democracy was seen to be a controversial point some decades ago in certain Muslim circles. However, the point has been made that the Islamic sources do not identify a single model of governance; rather, values such as justice, accountability, equality of subjects do come across as prominent Islamic notions. Islamic practice sets precedence for strict accountability and transparency in leadership roles, where the head of state was described as the ‘servant of the people’ and the endorsement of the popular will was always paramount.

This was seen in the early history of Islam. But monarchy quickly became prevalent, under which dynastic rule became entrenched. The lawyers and scholars were at great pains to protect the domains of the courts and religious / civic institutions from the overbearing power of the state – leading to a de factodifferentiation of powers and realms of authority, even if this was never historically articulated in the form of modern secular administration.

Many Muslim thinkers view democracy as a system that manifests the above values most authentically, however imperfect it may be. It is definitely preferable to monarchy, oligarchy or dictatorship, and in the words of Churchill democracy could be seen as “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”!

It must also be acknowledged that there is no single form of democracy – British, American, French, Canadian, Indian; all function differently with quite different constitutional frameworks, legal frameworks, relationships between religion and politics, etc. In this context, Muslim countries may also evolve new models of democracy, in which the rule of law, separation of powers, equality of citizens, freedom of speech, accountable governance can all be combined with respect for Islamic traditions and culture.