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Islam and democracy: the emerging consensus - ii
By Mumtaz Ahmad
|The Islamists obviously cannot and do not subscribe to this view of politics and political process. Since Islamists define their mission in terms of resacralization of polity, economy and society, politics for them is a means to establish a just social order as defined by the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet. Hence, all outcomes are not equally legitimate; only those outcomes are legitimate which conform to and are sanctioned by shari'ah or are shown to serve the cause of the shari'ah.
The Islamists have not only wrestled with the theoretical questions of the role and place of democracy within the framework of shari'ah, they have also incorporated democratic practices and institutions in their policies, demands and praxis. The Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Turkish, Malaysian, Egyptian, Jordanian, Algerian, Tunisian and Moroccan Islamists have already accepted the Islamic legitimacy of popular elections, the electoral process, the multiplicity of political parties and even the authority of the popularly-elected parliament to legislate not only on socio-economic matters but also on Islamic doctrinal issues. Islamists in Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey and Malaysia have been actively participating in the electoral processes of their respective countries and through their presence in legislative bodies have been pushing their Islamic agenda through coalition-building.13 Even on the issue of a woman holding political office in an Islamic government, Islamists seem to have revised their earlier position. The Jamaat-i-Islami in Pakistan endorsed the candidacy of Miss Fatima Jinnah in the 1964 presidential election and accepted Ms. Benazir Bhutto's premiership in 1988 and 1993 "in good faith." The Jamaat-i-Islami of Bangladesh also endorsed the prime ministership of Begum Khalida Zia, thus accepting the Islamic legitimacy of a woman ruler of a Muslim state.
Despite the Islamist's acceptance of modern democratic practices and institutions, however, a crucial question remains: is their acceptance of democracy substantive or instrumental? If the establishment of an Islamic state or the enforcement of the shari'ah is the ultimate and the only legitimate goal of their political activities, can we then say that democracy is only one way to achieve power and implement this ultimate goal and that other (non-democratic) ways and means are equally legitimate and acceptable? The answer of the Pakistani, Malaysian, Tunisian and Egyptian mainstream Islamists of today is an emphatic no. According to Maududi, whose writings have had great impact on the hearts and minds of Muslim youth in countries of South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Islamic movements must operate within the legal and constitutional frameworks of their respective societies and should use only peaceful and democratic means to educate, mobilize and prepare people for an Islamic change. He denounced the change of political leadership through agitational politics, coups d'etat, revolutions and assassinations; he described these violent means not only as unjustifiable in Islamic terms but also as detrimental to the prospects for a lasting Islamic change. To quote Maududi: "Both the ends and means must be clean, commendable and based on majority consensus in order that a healthy, peaceful and harmonious Islamic order can take shape."14
A case in point is the Islamic movement of Turkey, the Refah Party of Najmuddin Erbakan which recently formed the first ever Islamic government since the end of the Caliphate. The Refah Party has been a target of state oppression since the 1970's. As a prime manifestation of "political Islam" in Turkey, Refah has changed its name many times during the past thirty years because of periodic bans on its activities. Established as the Milli Nizam Party in 1970 by Najmuddin Erbakan, it was banned in 1971 following the military intervention in March 1971 on the ground that it wanted to restore theocratic order in Turkey. In 1972, Erbakan revived it under the name of the National Salvation Party (Milli Selamat Party). It was banned once again following another military take-over in September 1980. Erbakan and other party leaders were tried in a military court for having conspired against the secular state and were given prison terms.
Before it was declared illegal in 1980, the Milli Selamat Party took part in 1973 and 1977 parliamentary elections and obtained 11.8 percent and 8.6 percent of the popular votes with 48 and 24 parliamentary seats, respectively. In 1973 elections, it emerged as the third largest parliamentary group. It is also important to note that because of the peculiar parliamentary arithmetic of the 1970’s, the Milli Selamat Party played a key role in all coalition governments during the decade.15 In 1991 elections, the Refah Party - the successor to the Milli Selamat Party - polled 17 percent of the popular vote and secured 62 seats in parliament. When the Refah Party won a plurality in 1995 elections with more than 21 percent of the popular votes, one could hear the alarm bells in Western capitals as if a new and totally unknown dark force had descended on Ankara. The Western media conveniently ignored the fact that Erbakan had been the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey in the past and that his party had played an important role in earlier coalition governments ranging from center-left to center-right parties.
The Refah Party has accepted and operated within a secular constitutional framework and pluralist democratic process, trying at the same time to increase the influence of Islam in Turkish society and public policies.16 The Refah and its predecessors have been in the forefront of the struggle to "pressure the democratic consensus" and the competitive party system in Turkey. Even the harshest critics of Erbakan have acknowledged the fact that when Turkey was embroiled in vicious political violence and terrorist activities during the late 1970's, "it goes to the credit of NSP [National Salvation Party] that it did not take part in political violence." In fact, Najmuddin Erbakan "kept channels of communication and dialogue open with other parties when such dialogue between the two major parties was almost non-existent."17
The Refah Party of Turkey thus represents a prime example of an Islamic movement which has accepted and practiced democratic methods, demonstrated clearly its ability to govern in a pluralistic context, join coalitions with other parties, form political alliances, make compromises, accept defeat and act as a "loyal opposition," and act responsibly in victory.
In conclusion, it may also be pointed out that if democracy has to take roots in Muslim societies, it will have to seek legitimacy from Islam, otherwise it will remain an alien idea. Democratic movements in Muslim societies that are based primarily on secular liberalism will have little, if any, prospects of reaching the Muslim masses. The West's fascination with secular elites in the Muslim world - perhaps as a counter force to check the Islamists - is based on two false assumptions: the popular support base of secular liberals, and their commitment to the ideals and practices of democracy and liberalism.
Developments in the Islamic world since the Iranian revolution of 1979 have clearly demonstrated that secularism has no future as far as the Muslim masses are concerned. As for the commitment of the Muslim secular elites to democracy, liberalism, and pluralism, one has only to look at the recent performance of the three most important segments of secular elites in the Muslim world: (1) the military and the higher bureaucracy, (2) the institutional intellectuals, and (3) the emerging Muslim bourgeoisie. We all know the military's commitment to democracy and liberalism from the experience of Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Indonesia, and more recently, of Algeria. Secondly, majority of the institutional intellectuals - the Pan-Arab secular nationalists of yesteryears - were the ones who were closely associated with, and apologists for, socialist dictators of various colors. Until very recently, these intellectuals were an integral part of the oppressive state apparatus in all its versions18 - Arab nationalist, Nasserist, Ba'athist, socialist. They may have converted to the doctrine of free market and capitalist economy after the collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union but their political alternatives are far from liberalism, democracy and pluralism.
As for the emerging bourgeoisie and the MUMPS (Muslim Upwardly Mobile Professionals) - the product of infitah (openness) in Egypt and elsewhere - their modernism remains essentially what Marshall Hodgson once described as "technicalist"19 : it is consumeristic - capitalist type of modernism with its fascination with modern technological gadgets and toys. As Professor Leonard Binder has suggested, without a "vigorous Islamic liberalism," political liberalism will not succeed in the Middle East, despite the emergence of bourgeois states.20 It is obvious, therefore, that Islamists are the only important segment of Muslim societies who are agitating for openness of their respective political systems, and for democratization.
Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad is a professor of political science at Hampton University, at Hampton, Virginia.
1 - It is interesting to note here that the terms of Islamic discourse keep on changing on the basis of what is currently fashionable and of value in the West. During the 1950's and 1960's, the major debate among the Western scholars of Islamic societies and Islam was whether Islam was compatible with development and modernization, measured primarily in economic terms. A subtext of this discourse revolved around the problem of Islam's compatibility with socialism, a popular mode of rapid economic development for many Muslim intellectuals and leaders in the late 1960's. Looking at the entire corpus of literature produced in the 1960's - especially the Princeton series on political development with contributions by Almond, Riggs, La Palombara, Huntington, Coleman, Weiner and Pye - it was obvious that the primary thrust was not on democratic values but on skills and capabilities in complex organizations of modern societies. Samuel Huntington was especially concerned about the imperative need of "institution building" in developing societies. Hence, we see that development experts from the United States were busy in building state institutions, strengthening the military and bureaucratic structures, and increasing the extractive and coercive apparatus of the state. It was believed that participatory democracy could be postponed in this formative phase of economic development and institution building. For a representative sample of this literature, see: G.A. Almond and J.S. Coleman, The Politics of the Developing Arabs (Princeton, 1960); D.E. Apter, The Politics of Modernization (Chicago, 1965); C.E. Black, The Dynamics of Modernization (New York, 1966); R. Braibanti (ed.), Asian Bureaucratic Systems Emergent From the British Imperial Tradition (Durham, N.C., 1966); A. Diamant, Bureaucracy in Development Movement Regimes (Bloomington, 1964); S. Huntington, "Political Development and Political Decay," World Politics XVII (1965); J. LaPalombara (ed.), Bureaucracy and Poliical Development (Princeton, 1963); L.W. Pye, Communications and Political Development (Princeton, 1963); and F.W. Riggs, "The Theory of Developing Politics," World Politics XVI, I (1963).
2 - For this view, see, for example: Elie Kedouri, Democracy and Arab Political Culture (Washington, DC, 1992); A.E. Mayer, Islam and Human Rights (Boulder, 1991); Judith Miller, "The Islamic Wave," The New York Times Magazine, May 31, 1992; Amos Perlmutter, "Wishful Thinking About Islamic Fundamentalism," Washington Post, January 19, 1992; Robin Wright, "Islam, Democracy and the West," Foreign Affairs, 71 (2), 1992; P.J. Vatikiotis, Islam and the State (London, 1987); Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago, 1988); Henry Munson, Jr., Islam and Revolution in the Middle East (New Haven, 1988); Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (New Haven, 1985); Emmanuel Sivan and Menachem Friedman (eds.), Religious Radicalism and Politics in the Middle East (Albany, 1990); Michael C. Dunn, "Revivalist Islam and Democracy: Thinking About the Algerian Quandary," Middle East Policy, 1:2, 1992; Lahouari Addi, "Islamicist Utopia and Democracy," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, No. 524, 1992; and William I. Zartman, "Democracy and Islam: The Cultural Dialectic," Annals, No. 524, 1992.
3 - S3 For summary description and analysis of the ideas of these Islamic thinkers, see: Hamid Enayat, Modern Islamic Political Thought (Austin, 1982); John L. Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam (New York, 1983); Seyyed Vali and Reza Nasr, Maududi and the Making of Islamic Revolution (New York, 1996); Mumtaz Ahmad, "Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia," in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby (eds.), Fundamentalisms Observed (Chicago, 1991); Richard Mitchell, The Society of Muslim Brotherhood (New York, 1969); Walid Abdelnasser, Islamic Movement in Egypt (London, 1993); Sami Zubaida, Islam, The People and the State: Political Ideas and Movements in the Middle East (London, 1993); Arthur Lowrie (ed.), Islam, Democracy, the State and the West: A Round Table with Dr. Hasan Turabi (Tampa, Florida, 1993); Hasan Turabi, "Islam as a Pan-National Movement and Nation-States: An Islamic Doctrine on Human Association," Islamica, 1:2, 1993; "Challenging Times: An Interview with Dr. Hasan Turabi," Impact International, 23:3-4, 1993; Linda G. Jones, "Portrait of Rashid al-Ghannoushi," Middle East Report, July-August, 1988; and The Movement of Islamic Tendency (Washington, D.C., 1987).
4 - See: S. Abul Ala Maududi, Islamic Law and Constitution (Lahore, 1960).
5 - For a detailed discussion on this, see: Mumtaz Ahmad, "Islamic Political Theory: Current Scholarship and Future Prospects," in M. Ahmad (ed.) State, Politics and Islam (Indianapolis, 1986).
6 - S. Abul Ala Maududi, Caliphate and Monarchy [Urdu], (Lahore, 1963); Ayatollah Khomeini, Islamic Government (Washington, DC, 1980); Hamid Alger, trans. Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (Berkeley, 1981).
7 - Mumtaz Ahmad, "Islamic Fundamentalism and the Gulf War," in James Piscatori (ed.) Islamic Fundamentalisms and the Gulf Crisis (Chicago, 1991).
8 - For Shi'ite political theory, see: Jassim M. Hussain, The Occultation of the Twelfth Imam (London, 1982); William C. Chittick (ed.), A Shi'ite Anthology (Albany, 1981); and Said Amir Arjomand (ed.), Authority and Political Culture in Shi?ism (Albany, 1988).
9 - Fazlur Rahman, "The Principle of Shura and the Role of the Umma in Islam," in Mumtaz Ahmad (ed.), State, Politics and Islam (Indianapolis, 1986).
10 - Abdulhamid Abu-Sulayman, "Islamization of Knowledge with Special Reference to Political Science," American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 2:2, 1985.
11 - See, for example: S. Abul Ala Maududi, Islamic Law and Constitution, op. cit. See also: Mumtaz, Ahmad, "Parliament, Parties, Polls and Islam," American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences.
12 - The following statement of Rashid Ghannoushi of the Islamic Tendency Movement (al-Nahda) of Tunisia is pertinent: The People are the only power which can accept and support any political party. We do not oppose at all the existence of any political movement whose ideology may be radically against us, including the Communist party. From the Islamic point of view, we have no right to interpose between the people and those whom the people choose and elect. This quotation is cited in Fathi Osman, The Muslim World: Issues and Challenges (Los Angeles, 1989).
13 - For Malaysia and Jordan, see: Alias Mohamed, PAS Platform: Development and Change (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 1994); Chandra Musaffar, Islamic Resurgence in Malaysia (Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 1987); B. Gale (ed.), Readings in Malaysian Politics (Kuala Lumpur, 1986); Hussin Mutalib, Islam in Malaysia: From Revivalism to Islamic State (Singapore, 1993); Abla Amawi, "Democracy Dilemma in Jordan," MERIP Report, 22:1, 1992; and Kazumi Shimada, State, Power and Legitimacy: A Case Study of Jordan (Niigata-Ken, Japan, 1993).
14 - Cited in Mumtaz Ahmad, "Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia," op. cit.
15 - Ergun Ozbudun, "Islam and Politics in Modern Turkey: The Case of the National Salvation Party," in Barbara Stowasser (ed.), The Islamic Impulse (London, 1987).
16 - Ibid. See also: Murat Yetkin, "Islamic Movement in Turkey," Turkish Probe, 2:14, 1993.
17 - Ozbudun, op. cit., p. 154.
18 - For a devastating critique of Arab nationalist intellectuals and their collaboration with republican dictators, see: Kanan Makiya, Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World (London, 1993).
19 - Marshall G.S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization, vol. 3 (Chicago, 1974), pp. 182-186.
20 - Leonard, Binder, Islamic Liberalism (Chicago, 1988).
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