Democracy In Islam

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I I December 07, 2014

Democracy is a form of government in which people’s representatives manage the socio-political affairs of society. This system is a natural system. Islam is a religion of nature, and so Islam also accepts this form of rule.

There are two different domains of human life: individual and social. In personal affairs, everyone is free to adopt any way of life, provided it is not harmful to the society. Islam allows personal freedom to every individual. There is no restriction at all in this regard, except that a person’s activities should create no problems for the society.

However, when it comes to the society, we should keep in mind that there are many people who form it. Here, everyone wants to live according to his or her own self. Islam gives us a very practical formula for this state of affairs. That is, in social matters the society has the right to decide how to manage social affairs. This formula is given in the Quran in these words: “Amruhum shura baynahum.” (42:38) This means: “[Those] who conduct their affairs by mutual consultation.” This is the formula of democracy according to Islam. It means that at an individual level everyone is free to act according to his or her own choice. But, as far as social affairs are concerned, they will be managed by way of social consultation. This is the true meaning of democracy, and Islam advocates this form of governance.

Democracy is not a religious concept. In fact, it is a social concept. Democracy is basically a secular formula, which means accepting the principle of non-interference towards religion. Democracy does not allow intervention in religious affairs. Religious affairs are strictly an individual’s own domain. In the system of democracy, religion is left wholly to the individual. Democracy covers only those affairs that are common to all members of society. This is democracy, and Islam accepts this form of democracy.

Some Muslims wrongly claim that Islam only allows limited democracy. That is, Islamic democracy does not allow freedom of expression, especially in religious affairs. For example, if someone wants to issue a negative remark about the Prophet of Islam, he will not be allowed to do so. But if he insists, he would be killed. However, this kind of thinking has nothing to do with Islam.

Islam allows complete freedom of expression. The only restriction being that freedom should not be used to cause physical harm to anyone in society. If someone claims that his sentiments were hurt, then that is not the concern of democracy. If someone feels hurt, he should manage his sentiments on his own, rather than demanding others to not hurt him.

Present democracy has adopted the form of holding elections. Islam also believes in this method. The only condition is that elections must be free and fair. If an election is free and fair, then Islam would accept it without any conditions.

In present times, some Muslim countries claim that they are republics which have adopted the democratic system of politics. But, the fact is that these countries have adopted democracy only in the partial sense. This kind of democracy is not acceptable in the present universal culture.

One principle of Islam is that in purely religious matters Muslims must adopt the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. But in political matters, they should adopt the universally accepted norms. For example, in the matter of prisoners of war, the principle of repatriation will be followed. Any other method in this regard will not be acceptable according to Islam.

It is a fact that in the later history of Islam, Muslims adopted the dynastic pattern of rule. But, this was a deviation from Islam, and not in accordance with the true teachings of Islam.