By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray
Feb 13 2019
This is in continuation to my previous column, dated 3rd Feb’2019, which was in response to Mehmood-ur-Rashid’s weekly GK column, “In defence of ISIS” (5th Jan’19), intending to highlight the approach of, and the visions of Maulana Mawdudi, Rachid al-Ghannouchi (Tunisia) and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi vis-à-vis Islam-politics discourse. Below is presented Ghannouchi’s reconciliatory approach on the issue under discussion.
Rachid al-Ghannouchi’s Reconciliatory Approach
Rachid al-Ghannouchi (b. 1941, Tunisia)—the Islamic leader of Tunisian Renaissance Party (Hizb an-Nahdah)—is an influential political leader and thinker of contemporary Muslim world, who is considered as a prominent voice of political pluralism, democracy, human rights, power-sharing Islam, etc. His thought has been conditioned and transformed by multiple influences, ranging from Islamic traditions to his experiences of life under an authoritarian government, and from his exile in the West to re-establishing/ consolidating his party as well as nurturing himself into an ‘Activist-Thinker’ (Esposito and Voll, 2001). His overall approach, methodology, and thought reflect that occurrence of change and transformation is conditioned by socio-political contexts and realities.
Described as a “Democrat within Islamism” (Azam Tamimi, 2001) and a “Key Muslim Thinker of the 21st Century” (Dawood Sofi, 2018), he has been featured as one of the nine (9) influential intellectuals in John Esposito and Jon Voll’s Makers of Contemporary Islam (2001) as well as in Esposito and Emad El-Din Shahin’s The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics (2013). His thought reflects a masterly understanding of Western and Islamic philosophies and a genuine concern for reconciling the basic tenets of Islam with modernity and modern issues/ challenges, especially Islam and: political pluralism, democracy, human rights, power-sharing, and West. In the 21st century, he has emerged as one of the dominant entities who: cogently express Islam-democracy compatibility; is an active contributor in championing the trend of democratization; and is rightly described as ‘one of the leading Muslim figures heavily engaged in blending Islam with democracy’.
Ghannouchi believes democracy to be a set of mechanisms for guaranteeing the sovereignty of the people and for supplying safety valves against corruption and the hegemonic monopoly of power. He acknowledges democracy as among the positive contributions or accomplishments of the West. In his book Al-Hurriyya al-Amma (Civil Liberties in Islamic State; 1993: 77), he writes: Democracy is an authority practiced [by the people] through a set of constitutional techniques that may differ in their particulars in any system but agree in terms of equity, selection, separation of authorities, political pluralism, freedom of expression, freedom of gathering, setting up of associations, acknowledgement for the majority to decide and rule, and for the minority to oppose for the sake of reciprocation.
Like other Muslim supporters of Islam-democracy compatibility, Ghannouchi finds no contradiction between democracy and the traditional Islamic tenets—governing the relationship between the political authority and the people—such as Ijtihad (independent interpretive reasoning), Ijma (consensus), Ba‘yah (oath of allegiance), and Shura (consultation). He has been in agreement with the view that the system of democracy is a direct consequence of a particular western experience. Perceiving democracy as not merely a method of government but also as a philosophy, to him, Muslims don’t have any problem with democratic institution, but with the secular and nationalistic values behind democracy. Islamic democracy is distinguished from other systems by its moral content as derived from the Shari‘ah.
In an attempt to find a historical link between development of Western democracy and Islam, Ghannouchi maintains that democratic notions and liberal democratic values were derived from medieval Europe, which in turn was influenced by Islamic civilization. Democracy offers the means to implement the Islamic ideal today: ‘Islam, which enjoins the recourse to Shura (consultation) … finds in democracy the appropriate instruments (elections, parliamentary system, separation of powers, etc.) to implement the Shura’—which is, in itself, ‘a statement acknowledging the deputized community’s right to participate in ruling matters’. Similarly, Ijma‘(consensus), for him, provides the basis for participatory government or democracy in Islam. He believes that democracy in the Muslim world as in the West can take many forms; and he (himself) favours a ‘multiparty system of government’. Ghannouchi emphasizes that the democratic values of political pluralism and tolerance are perfectly compatible with Islam; that Islamic system accommodates majority rule, free election, multi-party system, religious or secular alike, freedom of expression, equality of all citizens and women’s rights and gender equality. He categorically rejects theocracy or ‘the rule of mullahs [clergy]’, arguing that ‘government in Islam embodies a civilian authority whose political behaviour is answerable to public opinion’. He maintains that “If by democracy is meant the liberal model of government prevailing in the West, a system under which the people freely choose their representatives and leaders, and in which there is an alternation of power, as well as all freedoms and human rights for the public, then the Muslims will find nothing in their religion to oppose democracy” (Italics mine).
He believes that once the “Islamists are given a chance to comprehend the values of Western modernity, such as democracy and human rights, they will search within Islam for a place for these values where they will implant them, nurse them, and cherish them” (Robin B. Wright, 1996). He advocates an Islamic system that features majority rule, free elections, a free press, etc., and he rejects the Islamist’ labelling democracy with foreign intervention and non-belief, saying it is a set of mechanisms to guarantee freedom of thought and assembly and peaceful competition for governmental authority through ballot boxes. For him: “The Islamisation of democracy is the closest thing to implementing [the Islamic concept of] Shura (consultation)”.
Writing on the legality of participating in non-Muslim regimes, Ghannouchi points to a Muslim’s duty to advance whatever Muslim goals are within his power to advance. He also believes in the concepts/ theories of political pluralism and power-sharing. In his recent work on Ghannouchi, Sofi (2018: 110) summarizes his thoughts on Islam-democracy compatibility as: “his style and approach regarding Islam-Democracy compatibility or incompatibility is quite different from that of other Muslim thinkers, particularly when viewed in the context of his emphasis and acceptance of Western form of multi-party system”. He is of the belief that ‘civilisational products and achievements are universal’.
All these views and interpretations, collectively, leads us to the assumption that Ghannouchi frequently tries to convey that several Islamic practices and traditions—like Shura, Ijma‘, and Ijtihad—are in harmony with democracy. Moreover, it is ‘one of the best tools that can guarantee the sovereignty of the people and can also help to end corruption and hegemonic monopoly of power in the Muslim world’. The life, legacy, and ‘transformations’ of Ghannouchi from a ‘Democrat within Islamism’ to a ‘Muslim Democrat’ gives us many clues in adopting a ‘narrative’ that is practicable as well as direly needed for the Muslims, globally. [To Be Contd.]
Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Pulwama, Kashmir