By Syed Safdar Husain
IT is said by some that democracy has no place in the political system of Islam. Islam is not only a religion, rather it is a complete code of life. All aspects of Muslim society, individually or collectively, are covered by the social structure of Islam.
Hence a political system, an important aspect of human society, also comes very much under the banner of the Islamic hemisphere. The great Muslim thinker and poet Allama Iqbal has rightly said, “Juda ho deen siyasat se to reh jaati hai changezi” (take religion [morality] away from politics and you have despotism), for religion is the source of all morality, individual and collective.
The important manifestation of a political system is vindicated through the establishment of a state and the way of its governance. Our Holy Prophet (PBUH) established a state at Madina, of a unique type, based on consultation, justice, equality and accountability. After his passing his righteous successors maintained the same system of governance. The Holy Quran has mentioned the word ‘shura’ for governance. “They govern with mutual consultation.” The essence of a true democracy is also consultation.
The governing system of the Righteous Caliphs was the manifestation of this democracy. Today there is much talk about western democracy, but the aforesaid democracy presented by Islam is more accomplished. The basic pillars of a true democracy, i.e. consultation, justice, equality and accountability, are found in the governance of the Righteous Caliphs, Abu Bakar, Umar, Usman and Ali.
Presently, the UK and the US are regarded as the pioneers of western democracy. Are their rulers questioned so openly and bluntly by the common men in public places as the aforesaid caliphs used to be? Nowadays in a democratic system, the rulers are elected through votes and the candidates offer themselves for their election, utilising all kinds of sources for winning elections while none of the rightful caliphs offered himself for election. Each was selected by a majority of the people, after the proposal of their names by other people. Neither did they display any desire nor made an attempt to win their elections.
Furthermore, their deeds verify the highest democratic values in governance which are extinct today in the governance of so-called democratic rulers. The day after his election as the caliph, Hazrat Abu Bakar came out with pieces of cloth on his shoulder to sell, because before his caliphate, this had been his source of income. Hazrat Umar met him on the way and asked, “What are you doing?” He replied, “I have to support my family.”
The right of criticism and freedom of expression before the ruler, which are important features of democracy, were evident in the governance of these caliphs. Hazrat Salman Farsi, a respected companion of the Prophet (PBUH), questioned Caliph Umar in a public gathering, asking why he had taken two sheets while everyone else got a single sheet from the spoils. Hazrat Umar instantly called his son Abdullah who clarified the position of his father by replying that he had given his sheet to his father due to his tall height.
Hazrat Usman had to face very severe criticism by the people during his caliphate, but he did not attempt to stop them by any means; rather, in reply to their criticism he always clarified his position publicly. Hazrat Ali as the caliph tolerated the extreme abuses of the Khawarij.
Once the caliph saw a Jew selling his lost chain armour in the market. Being the ruler, he did not snatch his armour from that person but submitted his complaint in the court of a judge. The judge asked for the evidence and Hazrat Ali produced the evidence of his son, Hasan, but the judge did not accept this evidence as the latter was the son of the caliph, and gave judgment against the caliph. The Jew, observing this rare example of justice, accepted Islam at Hazrat Ali’s hands.
Today, out of the aforesaid examples, can any ruler of a democratic state present such an example? The leading pioneer of India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi, had once said that he wanted such a democratic state whose ruler followed in the footsteps of Hazrat Umar. Famous jurist Armanus Von Marie had confessed that Islam was the only religion among the universal religions to have democracy for its system of governance.
It may be rightly said that the true democratic government established during the early period of Islam had been that of the Righteous Caliphs. However, it has been a sad aspect of Muslim history that such an ideal rule concluded after the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali. It was succeeded by monarchy and despotism with the exception of the three-year rule of Umar Bin Abdul Aziz amongst the Umayyads, who wanted to revive the same justice, equality and accountability as found in the rule of the Righteous Caliphs.
Thereafter the system of governance prevailed on the same track of the preceding Umayyad rulers, subsequently succeeded by the Abbasids, and then successive rulers in the Muslim world who were either absolute monarchs or dictators, although a few of them individually established justice and equity in their governance. Nevertheless, the system remained undemocratic, which the Muslim world at large still has to contend with.
In conclusion, it may be said that Islam had been the pioneer of democracy, but its followers in general have forgotten their own values along with the democratic system of governance. Now vast swathes of Muslim lands exist under absolute monarchies or despotic rulers. It is an irony of history that contemporary Muslim political thinkers and intellectuals, too, should now begin to see western democracy as a model.
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan