Islam and Democracy
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Islam and Democracy

There exist a number of perspectives on the relationship of Islam and democracy among Islamic political theorists, the general Muslim public, and Western authors.

In 2021, a number of Muslim majority countries are Islamic democracies. Indonesia is currently the democratic country with the largest Muslim majority population in the world.

Some modern Islamic thinkers, whose ideas were particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s, rejected the notion of democracy as a foreign idea incompatible with Islam. Others have argued that traditional Islamic notions such as shura (consultation), maslaha (public interest), and ?adl (justice) justify representative government institutions which are similar to Western democracy, but reflect Islamic rather than Western liberal values. Still others have advanced liberal democratic models of Islamic politics based on pluralism and freedom of thought.[1] Some Muslim thinkers have advocated secularist views of Islam.[2]

A number of different attitudes regarding democracy are also represented among the general Muslim public, with polls indicating that majorities in the Muslim world desire a political model where democratic institutions and values can coexist with the values and principles of Islam, seeing no contradiction between the two.[3][4][5] In practice, the political history of the modern Muslim world has often been marked by undemocratic practices in states of both secular and religious character. Analysts[weasel words] have suggested a number of reasons for this, including the legacy of colonialism, oil wealth, the Arab-Israeli conflict, authoritarian secularist rulers, and Islamic fundamentalism.

Traditional political concepts


Muslim democrats, including Ahmad Moussalli (professor of political science at the American University of Beirut), argue that concepts in the Quran point towards some form of democracy, or at least away from despotism. These concepts include shura (consultation), ijma (consensus), al-hurriyya (freedom), al-huqquq al-shar'iyya (legitimate rights). For example, shura (Al Imran - Quran 3:159, Ash-Shura - Quran 42:38) may include electing leaders to represent and govern on the community's behalf. Government by the people is not therefore necessarily incompatible with the rule of Islam, whilst it has also been argued that rule by a religious authority is not the same as rule by a representative of God. This viewpoint, however, is disputed by more traditional Muslims. Moussalli argues that despotic Islamic governments have abused the Quranic concepts for their own ends: "For instance, shura, a doctrine that demands the participation of society in running the affairs of its government, became in reality a doctrine that was manipulated by political and religious elites to secure their economic, social and political interests at the expense of other segments of society," (In Progressive Muslims 2003).

Sunni Islam

Deliberations of the Caliphates, most notably the Rashidun Caliphate, were not democratic in the modern sense rather, decision-making power lay with a council of notable and trusted companions of Muhammad and representatives of different tribes (most of them selected or elected within their tribes).

In the early Islamic Caliphate, the head of state, the Caliph, had a position based on the notion of a successor to Muhammad's political authority, who, according to Sunnis, was ideally elected by the people or their representatives,[6] as was the case for the election of Abu Bakr, Umar ibn Al Khattab, Uthman, and Ali as Caliph. After the Rashidun Caliphs, later Caliphates during the Islamic Golden Age had a much lesser degree of collective participation, but since "no one was superior to anyone else except on the basis of piety and virtue" in Islam, and following the example of Muhammad, later Islamic rulers often held public consultations with the people in their affairs.[7]

The legislative power of the Caliph (or later, the Sultan) was always restricted by the scholarly class, the ulama, a group regarded as the guardians of Islamic law. Since the law came from the legal scholars, this prevented the Caliph from dictating legal results. Sharia rulings were established as authoritative based on the ijma (consensus) of legal scholars, who theoretically acted as representatives of the Ummah (Muslim community).[8] After law colleges (madrasas) became widespread beginning with the 11th and 12th century CE, a student often had to obtain an ijaza-t al-tadris wa-l-ifta ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") in order to issue legal rulings.[9] In many ways, classical Islamic law functioned like a constitutional law.[8]

Shia Islam

According to the Shia understanding, Muhammad named as his successor (as leader, with Muhammad being the final prophet), his son-in-law, and cousin Ali. Therefore, the first three of the four elected "Rightly Guided" Caliphs recognized by Sunnis (Ali being the fourth), are considered usurpers, notwithstanding their having been "elected" through some sort of conciliar deliberation (which the Shia do not accept as a representative of the Muslim society of that time). The largest Shia grouping--the Twelvers branch--recognizes a series of Twelve Imams, the last of which (Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Hidden Imam) is still alive and the Shia are waiting for his reappearance.

Theoretical perspectives on democracy


The early Islamic philosopher, Al-Farabi (c. 872-950), in one of his most notable works Al-Madina al-Fadila, theorized an ideal Islamic state which he compared to Plato's The Republic.[10] Al-Farabi departed from the Platonic view in that he regarded the ideal state to be ruled by the prophet, instead of the philosopher king envisaged by Plato. Al-Farabi argued that the ideal state was the city-state of Medina when it was governed by Muhammad, as its head of state, as he was in direct communion with God whose law was revealed to him. In the absence of the prophet, Al-Farabi considered democracy as the closest to the ideal state, regarding the republican order of the Rashidun Caliphate as an example within early Muslim history. However, he also maintained that it was from democracy that imperfect states emerged, noting how the republican order of the early Islamic Caliphate of the Rashidun caliphs was later replaced by a form of government resembling a monarchy under the Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties.[11]

Varieties of modern Islamic theories

Muslih and Browers identify three major perspectives on democracy among prominent Muslims thinkers who have sought to develop modern, distinctly Islamic theories of socio-political organization conforming to Islamic values and law:[1]

  • The rejectionist Islamic view, elaborated by Sayyid Qutb and Abul A'la Maududi, condemns imitation of foreign ideas, drawing a distinction between Western democracy and the Islamic doctrine of shura (consultation between ruler and ruled). This perspective, which stresses comprehensive implementation of sharia, was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s among various movements seeking to establish an Islamic state, but its popularity has diminished in recent years.
  • The moderate Islamic view stresses the concepts of maslaha (public interest), ?adl (justice), and shura. Islamic leaders are considered to uphold justice if they promote public interest, as defined through shura. In this view, shura provides the basis for representative government institutions that are similar to Western democracy, but reflect Islamic rather than Western liberal values. Hasan al-Turabi, Rashid al-Ghannushi, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi have advocated different forms of this view.
  • The liberal Islamic view is influenced by Muhammad Abduh's emphasis on the role of reason in understanding religion. It stresses democratic principles based on pluralism and freedom of thought. Authors like Fahmi Huwaidi and Tariq al-Bishri have constructed Islamic justifications for full citizenship of non-Muslims in an Islamic state by drawing on early Islamic texts. Others, like Mohammed Arkoun and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, have justified pluralism and freedom through non-literalist approaches to textual interpretation. Abdolkarim Soroush has argued for a "religious democracy" based on religious thought that is democratic, tolerant, and just. Islamic liberals argue for the necessity of constant reexamination of religious understanding, which can only be done in a democratic context.

Secularist views

In the modern history of the Muslim world, the notion of secularism has acquired strong negative connotations due to its association with foreign colonial domination and the removal of religious values from the public sphere. Traditional Islamic theory distinguishes between matters of religion (din) and state (dawla), but insists that political authority and public life must be guided by religious values.[12] Some Islamic reformists like Ali Abdel Raziq and Mahmoud Mohammed Taha have advocated a secular state in the sense of political order that does not impose any single interpretation of sharia on the nation, though they did not advocate secularism in the sense of a morally neutral exercise of state power. The Islamic scholar Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im has argued for a secular state built on constitutionalism, human rights and full citizenship, seeking to demonstrate that his vision is more consistent with Islamic history than visions of an Islamic state.[2] Proponents of Islamism (political Islam) reject secularist views that would limit Islam to a matter of personal belief and insist on implementation of Islamic principles in the legal and political spheres.[12] Moreover, the concept of 'Separation of Powers' was propounded by Ruhollah Khomeini.

Muhammad Iqbal

The modern Islamic philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal, viewed the early Islamic Caliphate as being compatible with democracy. He "welcomed the formation of popularly elected legislative assemblies" in the Muslim world as a "return to the original purity of Islam." He argued that Islam had the "gems of an economic and democratic organization of society", but that this growth was stunted by the monarchist rule of Umayyad Caliphate, which established the Caliphate as a great Islamic empire but led to political Islamic ideals being "repaganized" and the early Muslims losing sight of the "most important potentialities of their faith."[13]

Muhammad Asad

Another Muslim scholar and thinker, Muhammad Asad, viewed democracy as perfectly compatible with Islam. In his book The Principles of State and Government in Islam, he notes:

Viewed from this historical perspective, 'democracy' as conceived in the modern West is infinitely nearer to the Islamic than to the ancient Greek concept of liberty; for Islam maintains that all human beings are socially equal and must, therefore, be given the same opportunities for development and self-expression. On the other hand, Islam makes it incumbent upon Muslims to subordinate their decisions to the guidance of the Divine Law revealed in the Qur'ãn and exemplified by the Prophet: an obligation which imposes definite limits on the community's right to legislate and denies to the 'will of the people' that attribute of sovereignty which forms so integral a part of the Western concept of democracy.[14]

Abul A'la Maududi

Islamist writer and politician Abul A'la Maududi, conceived of an "Islamic state" that would eventually "rule the earth".[15] The antithesis of secular Western democracy, it would follow an all-embracing Sharia law. Maududi called the system he outlined a "theo-democracy", which he argued would be different from a theocracy as the term is understood in the Christian West, because it would be run by the entire Muslim community (pious Muslims who followed sharia), rather than ruled by a clerical class in the name of God.[1][16] Maududi's vision has been criticized (by Youssef M. Choueiri) as an

ideological state in which legislators do not legislate, citizens only vote to reaffirm the permanent applicability of God's laws, women rarely venture outside their homes lest social discipline be disrupted, and non-Muslims are tolerated as foreign elements required to express their loyalty by means of paying a financial levy.[17][18]

L. Ali Khan

Legal scholar L. Ali Khan argues that Islam is fully compatible with democracy. In his book, A Theory of Universal Democracy, Khan provides a critique of liberal democracy and secularism. He presents the concept of "fusion state" in which religion and state are fused. There are no contradictions in God's universe, says Khan. Contradictions represent the limited knowledge that human beings have. According to the Quran and the Sunnah, Muslims are fully capable of preserving spirituality and self-rule.[19]

Javed Ahmed Ghamdi

Religious scholar, Javed Ahmed Ghamdi interprets the Quranic verses as ''The collective affairs of Muslims are run on the basis of mutual consultations'' (42:37).[20] He is of the view that all the matters of a Muslim state must be sought out through consultations.The parliamentary bodies would provide that platform to practice and implement those consultations.

Views of the general Muslim public

Esposito and DeLong-Bas distinguish four attitudes toward Islam and democracy prominent among Muslims today:[21]

  • Advocacy of democratic ideas, often accompanied by a belief that they are compatible with Islam, which can play a public role within a democratic system, as exemplified by many protestors who took part in the Arab Spring uprisings;
  • Support for democratic procedures such as elections, combined with religious or moral objections toward some aspects of Western democracy seen as incompatible with sharia, as exemplified by Islamic scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi;
  • Rejection of democracy as a Western import and advocacy of traditional Islamic institutions, such as shura (consultation) and ijma (consensus), as exemplified by supporters of absolute monarchy and radical Islamist movements;
  • Belief that democracy requires restricting religion to private life, held by a minority in the Muslim world.

Polls conducted by Gallup and PEW in Muslim-majority countries indicate that most Muslims see no contradiction between democratic values and religious principles, desiring neither a theocracy, nor a secular democracy, but rather a political model where democratic institutions and values can coexist with the values and principles of Islam.[3][4][5]

Islam and democracy in practice


There are several ideas on the relationship between Islam in the Middle East and democracy. Waltz writes that transformations to democracy seemed on the whole to pass by the Islamic Middle East at a time when such transformations were a central theme in other parts of the world, although she does note that, of late, the increasing number of elections being held in the region indicates some form of adoption of democratic traditions.[22]

Following the Arab Spring, professor Olivier Roy of the European University Institute in an article in Foreign Policy has described political Islam as "increasingly interdependent" with democracy, such that "neither can now survive without the other".[23]

Orientalist scholars offer another viewpoint on the relationship between Islam and democratisation in the Middle East. They argue that the compatibility is simply not there between secular democracy and Arab-Islamic culture in the Middle East which has a strong history of undemocratic beliefs and authoritarian power structures.[24] Kedourie, a well known Orientalist scholar, said for example: "to hold simultaneously ideas which are not easily reconcilable argues, then, a deep confusion in the Arab public mind, at least about the meaning of democracy. The confusion is, however, understandable since the idea of democracy is quite alien to the mind-set of Islam."[25] A view similar to this that understands Islam and democracy to be incompatible because of seemingly irreconcilable differences between Sharia and democratic ideals is also held by some Islamists.

However, within Islam there are ideas held by some that believe Islam and democracy in some form are indeed compatible due to the existence of the concept of shura (meaning consultation) in the Quran. Views such as this have been expressed by various thinkers and political activists in the Middle East.[26] They continue to be the subject of controversy, e.g. at the second Dubai Debates, which debated the question "Can Arab and Islamic values be reconciled with democracy?"[27]

Brian Whitaker's 'four major obstacles'

Writing on The Guardian website,[28] Brian Whitaker, the paper's Middle East editor, argued that there were four major obstacles to democracy in the region: 'the imperial legacy', 'oil wealth', 'the Arab-Israeli conflict' and ' "militant" Islam'.

The imperial legacy includes the borders of the modern states themselves and the existence of significant minorities within the states. Acknowledgment of these differences is frequently suppressed usually in the cause of "national unity" and sometimes to obscure the fact that minority elite is controlling the country. Brian Whitaker argues that this leads to the formation of political parties on ethnic, religious or regional divisions, rather than over policy differences. Voting therefore becomes an assertion of one's identity rather than a real choice.

The problem with oil and the wealth it generates is that the states' rulers have the wealth to remain in power, as they can pay off or repress most potential opponents. Brian Whitaker argues that as there is no need for taxation there is less pressure for representation. Furthermore, Western governments require a stable source of oil and are therefore more prone to maintain the status quo, rather than push for reforms which may lead to periods of instability. This can be linked into political economy explanations for the occurrence of authoritarian regimes and lack of democracy in the Middle East, particularly the prevalence of rentier states in the Middle East.[29] A consequence of the lack of taxation that Whitaker talks of in such rentier economies is an inactive civil society. As civil society is seen to be an integral part of democracy it raises doubts over the feasibility of democracy developing in the Middle East in such situations.[24]

Whitaker's third point is that the Arab-Israeli conflict serves as a unifying factor for the countries of the Arab League, and also serves as an excuse for repression by Middle Eastern governments. For example, in March 2004 Sheikh Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's leading Shia cleric, is reported as saying "We have emergency laws, we have control by the security agencies, we have stagnation of opposition parties, we have the appropriation of political rights - all this in the name of the Arab-Israeli conflict". The West, especially the US, is also seen as a supporter of Israel, and so it and its institutions, including democracy, are seen by many Muslims as suspect. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a lecturer in Islamic law at the University of California comments "modernity, despite its much scientific advancement, reached Muslims packaged in the ugliness of disempowerment and alienation."

This repression by secularistic Arab rulers has led to the growth of radical Islamic movement groups, as they believe that the institution of an Islamic theocracy will lead to a more just society. These groups tend to be very intolerant of alternative views however, including the ideas of democracy. Many Muslims who argue that Islam and democracy are compatible live in the West, and are therefore seen as "contaminated" by non-Islamic ideas.[28]



Early in the history of the state of Pakistan (March 12, 1949), a parliamentary resolution (the Objectives Resolution) was adopted stating the objectives on which the future constitution of the country was to be based. It contained the basic principles of both Islam and Western Democracy, in accordance with the vision of the founders of the Pakistan Movement (Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan).[65] It proclaimed:

Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.

  • The State shall exercise its powers and authority through the elected representatives of the people.
  • The principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed.
  • Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accordance with the teachings of Islam as set out in the Quran and Sunnah.
  • Provision shall be made for the religious minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures.

This resolution was included in the 1956 constitution as preamble and in 1985[66] it was inserted in the constitution itself as Article 2 and Schedule item 53[67] (but with the word "freely" in Provision shall be made for the religious minorities to freely profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures, removed.[68]). The resolution was inserted again in the constitution in 2010,[69] with the word "freely" reinstated.[68]

However, Islamisation has proceeded slowly in Pakistan, and Islamists and Islamic parties and activists have expressed frustration that sharia law has not yet been fully implemented.


Indonesia officially does not have a state religion, and is in many respects a secular democracy. The Indonesian constitution guarantees all people in Indonesia the freedom of worship, each according to his or her own religion or belief. This is based on the state ideology, "Pancasila", in the first tenets "Ketuhanan yang Maha Esa" which is better translated as that there is a supreme god (or there are supreme gods) as uniter of the nation. It does not specify any religion, though this is also sometimes mistranslated as only endorsement for monotheism. "Ketuhanan" is religions or any beliefs, "Yang" is a sign for descriptor. "Esa" which is from Sanskrit, in this sense means Supreme, not one. "Maha," also from Sanskrit, is to further exaggerate the "Esa" quality. As a result, Indonesians do have a religion column in their identity card, however it is not mandatory (an empty column will indicate not having a religion, i.e. traditional beliefs) and is only used for census (which is a Dutch colonial legacy). Sukarno's conception of Pancasila's ideology is not 'secular' in the Western sense, although he agreed with Mahmud Esad Bay and Mustafa Kemal Ataturks' view that Islam should be free of government control. In his speech titled "Islam Sontoloyo" or "Foolish Islam", he was critical of Islamic leaders misuse of authority to justify wrong actions. According to Yudi Latief, Indonesia's founding leaders while thoroughly educated and motivated as secularist at the time, cannot comprehend an Indonesian society without religion.[70] Sukarno also banned the most popular Islamic party at the time of Masjumi, as they were allegedly involved in the PRRI rebellion. During the Soeharto era, Islamic parties are even more controlled by his government by the state formation of the United Development Party, not only that Islamic veils were banned. Nurcholis Majid one of the prominent young Islamic thinkers at the time, in his speech "The Need for Reform in Islamic Thinking and The Problem of Ummah Integration", he considered Indonesian Muslims to be stuck in ideological dogmatism, and as a result lose dynamism. As a result he coined the famous slogan; "Islam Yes Islamic Party No".[71] Most of his colleagues considered this to be an endorsement of secularism. However, as noted by Abdurrahman Wahid and his contemporaries, the fourth president of Indonesia explained it as "Mild Secularism"[72] Neither of them considered themselves to be secularist and prefer to use 'secularisation', acknowledging the reservation that secularism as an ideology can become a new closed world view which functions very much like a new religion. However, there is another political movement of Tarbiyah movement centered in universities students small groups called "liqo", started in 1970, which is directly inspired by Hasan al-Banna's Muslim Brotherhood, the proponent of which is Hilmi Aminuddin, which advocates for a gradual change to become more ideal Muslim. This coalesced in the formation of KAMMI in 1998, which is alongside of Abdurahman Wahid's NU and Amien Rais' Muhammadiyah as student leaders formed the groups of student protests against Suharto's government. After the fall of Suharto, KAMMI become the political party Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), while NU and Muhammadiyah chose to not involved in practical politics of winning elections and instead forming independent political parties which are aligned but independent of their Islamic organization, in the form of the National Awakening Party (PKB) and National Mandate Party (PAN). The democratic reformation gave impetus to the adoption of Islamic sharia law in the form of adoption of the Jakarta Charter was pushed to the national legislative body (MPR) in 2002, however it was rejected with even PKB and PAN rejecting it.

This is because the two largest Muslim organizations of Indonesia, Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, very much accepted the pancasila 'secularism' basis of the country. NU and its most associated party PKB (Abdurrahman's party), is member of centrist democrat international which also contain famously German's CDU as well as Hungary's Fidesz party,[73] it is more common with Christian Democrat politics in the West. There are parties associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of PKS but even they have to commit to the state ideology, which means they are pluralist.[74] Islamic groups that stray from and tried to change Pancasila such as HTI (Indonesian branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir) even though they 'participated' in a democracy.[75] However, democratization and the increase in regional autonomy of Indonesia becoming more federalised, regions can enact their own laws "Peraturan daerah" or "Perda". Islamisation (and growth of religion conservatism) in Indonesia was noted by foreign and domestic observers can be noticed in the adoption of many religiously inspired Perda, which still need to be adapted democratically and is seen to be easier compared to fighting it nationally in the central government. This can be seen in the adoption of sharia-based laws in Muslim-majority provinces, as well as adoption of other locally-majority religion-inspired laws, as the case of Hinduism in Bali, as well as Christian-based laws in Papua and West Papua provinces.[76]

In a practical sense, in central government levels, Indonesia has 6 state religions, as these are the recognized majority religions of most Indonesians and received state support.

In the Ministry of Religions there are separate religious leaders administrators for each of the 6 major religions. Sometimes the president or government members in a formal speech will greet in all 6 religious greetings. Example of which in President Joko Widodo's speech on March 26, 2021.[77] In which he used all religious greetings including:

-"Assalamu'alaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh" for Muslims

-"Salam Sejahtera" and "Shaloom" for Christians and Catholics

-"Om Swastyastu" for Hindus

-"Namo Buddhaya" for Buddhists

-"Salam Kebajikan" or "Wei De Dong Tian" (?) for Kong Hu Cu (Confucians)

Some Indonesian Muslims in its history had always had problems with the implementation of sharia law, seeing it as not necessary and infringing on the non-Muslim population, while others see the implementation of some sharia-based laws as a solution to a failed and corrupt democratic process, while also inspired by Aceh successfully push for local sharia law to be adopted. Indonesian history had a rebellion in the 1960s known locally as "Darul Islam" rebellion which tried to forcefully formed an "Islamic State of Indonesia" although they were eventually defeated, its regional offshoot based in Aceh advocating independence, however they managed to continue an insurgency for a separate Islamic Aceh country, as a result of the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and negotiations facilitated by the Swedish government (Hasan di Tiro had a Swedish passport and lived there in exile) as well as Finnish government, Helsinki MoU was signed. Indonesia would allow Aceh to adopt its own version of shariah law called Qanun, and Aceh would stop fighting for independence and adopt special autonomy law. Still it would be wrong to describe Indonesia as an Islamic country as it would refer to that rebellion and denote Indonesia's official religion as Islam or describe Indonesian society as "Islamic". This was a common misconception by foreign journalists to describe Indonesia as such or Indonesia as "the largest Muslim democracy" which is also inaccurate. A better description of Indonesia would currently be a "democracy with the largest Muslim population".



Since the revolution in Iran, the largest Shia country, Twelver Shia political thought has been dominated by that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and leader of the revolution. Khomeini argued that in the absence of the Hidden Imam and other divinely-appointed figures (in whom ultimate political authority rests), Muslims have not only the right, but also the obligation to establish an "Islamic state".[78] To that end they must turn to scholars of Islamic law (fiqh) who are qualified to interpret the Quran and the writings of the imams.

Once in power and recognizing the need for more flexibility, Khomeini modified some earlier positions, insisted the ruling jurist need not be one of the most learned, that Sharia rule was subordinate to interests of Islam (Maslaha--"expedient interests" or "public welfare"[79]), and the "divine government" as interpreted by the ruling jurists, who could overrule Sharia if necessary to serve those interests. The Islamic "government, which is a branch of the absolute governance of the Prophet of God, is among the primary ordinances of Islam, and has precedence over all 'secondary' ordinances."

The last point was made in December 1987, when Khomieni issued a fatwa in support of the Islamic government's attempt to pass a labor protection bill not in accordance with sharia.[80][81] He ruled that in the Islamic state, governmental ordinances were primary ordinances,[82] and that the Islamic state has absolute right (Persian: ‎) to enact state commandments, taking precedence over "all secondary ordinances such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage".

Were the powers of government to lie only within the framework of secondary divine decrees, the designation of the divine government and absolute deputed guardianship (wilayat-i mutlaqa-yi mufawwada) to the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) would have been in practice entirely without meaning and content. ... I must point out, the government which is a branch of the absolute governance of the Prophet of God is among the primary ordinances of Islam, and has precedence over all secondary ordinances such as prayer (salat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj).

The idea and concept of Islamic democracy has been accepted by many Iranian clerics, scholars and intellectuals.[83][84][85][86][87] The most notable of those who have accepted the theory of Islamic democracy is probably Iran's Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who mentions Islamic democracy as "Mardomsalarie Dini" in his speeches.

There are also other Iranian scholars who oppose or at least criticise the concept of Islamic democracy. Among the most popular of them are Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi[88] who have written: "If not referring to the people votes would result in accusations of tyranny then it is allowed to accept people vote as a secondary commandment."[89] Also Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi has more or less the same viewpoint.


Some Iranians, including Mohammad Khatami, categorize the Islamic republic of Iran as a kind of religious democracy.[90] They maintain that Ayatollah Khomeini held the same view as well and that's why he strongly chose "Jomhoorie Eslami" (Islamic Republic) over "Hokoomate Eslami" (Islamic State).

Others maintain that not only is the Islamic Republic of Iran undemocratic (see Politics of Iran) but that Khomeini himself opposed the principle of democracy in his book Hokumat-e Islami: Wilayat al-Faqih, where he denied the need for any legislative body saying, "no one has the right to legislate ... except ... the Divine Legislator", and during the Islamic Revolution, when he told Iranians, "Do not use this term, 'democratic.' That is the Western style."[91] Although it is in contrast with his commandment to Mehdi Bazargan. It is a subject of lively debate among pro-Islamic Iranian intelligentsia. Also they maintain that Iran's sharia courts, the Islamic Revolutionary Court, blasphemy laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Mutaween (religious police) violate the principles of democratic governance.[92] However, it should be understood that when a democracy is accepted to be Islamic by people, the law of Islam becomes the democratically ratified law of that country. Iranians have ratified the constitution in which the principle rules are explicitly mentioned as the rules of Islam to which other rules should conform.Ayatollah khomeini fervently believed that principles of democracy can't provide the targeted justice of Islam in the Sharia and Islamic thoughts.(Mohaghegh.Behnam 2014) This contrast of view between the two Iranian head leaders of this Islamic country, as above mentioned about Khatami's and Khomeini's views have provisionally been being a case of disaffiliation of nearly half a country in most probable political coincidence, so the people cognizant of this heterogeneous political belief shall not be affiliated by newly formed views of democratic principles.(Mohaghegh, Behnam 2014)

A number of deviations from traditional sharia regulations have been noted in Iran

... the financial system has barely been Islamized; Christians, for example, are not subject to a poll tax and pay according to the common scheme. Insurance is maintained (even though chance, the very basis for insurance should theoretically be excluded from all contracts). The contracts signed with foreigners all accept the matter of interest.[93]

Indices of democracy in Muslim countries

There are several non-governmental organizations that publish and maintain indices of freedom in the world, according to their own various definitions of the term, and rank countries as being free, partly free, or unfree using various measures of freedom, including political rights, economic rights, freedom of the press and civil liberties.

The following lists Muslim-majority countries and shows the scores given by two frequently used indices: Freedom in the World (2018)[94] by the US-based Freedom House and the 2019 Democracy Index[95] by the Economist Intelligence Unit. These indices are frequently used in Western media, but have attracted some criticism and may not reflect recent changes.

Key: * - Electoral democracies ? - Disputed territory (according to Freedom House)
Location Democracy Index Score Democracy Index Rank Democracy Index Category Freedom in the World Status Type of government Religion and State
Afghanistan 2.85 141 Authoritarian regime Not free Unitary presidential Islamic republic State religion
Albania 5.89 79 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary system Secular state
Algeria 4.01 113 Hybrid regime Not free Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic State religion
Azerbaijan 2.75 146 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
Bahrain 2.55 149 Authoritarian regime Not free Constitutional monarchy State religion
*Bangladesh 5.88 80 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic State Religion
*Bosnia and Herzegovina 4.86 102 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic Secular state
Brunei - - Authoritarian regime Not free Absolute monarchy State religion
Burkina Faso 4.04 112 Hybrid regime Partly free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Chad 1.61 163 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
Comoros 3.15 131 Authoritarian regime Partly free Presidential system, Federal republic State religion
Djibouti 2.77 144 Authoritarian regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Egypt 3.06 137 Authoritarian regime Not free Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic State religion
Gambia 4.33 107 Hybrid regime Partly free Presidential system Secular state
Guinea 3.14 132 Authoritarian regime Partly free Presidential system Secular state
Guinea-Bissau 2.63 148 Authoritarian regime Partly free semi-presidential Secular state
*Indonesia 6.48 64 Flawed democracy Partly free Presidential system Secular state
Iran 2.38 151 Authoritarian regime Not free Unitary presidential constitutional republic subject to a Supreme Leader State religion
Iraq 3.74 118 Authoritarian regime Not free Parliamentary republic State religion
Ivory Coast 4.05 111 Hybrid regime Partly free Presidential system Secular state
Jordan 3.93 114 Authoritarian regime Partly free Constitutional monarchy State religion
Kazakhstan 2.94 139 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
Kosovo - - - Partly free Secular state
Kuwait 3.93 114 Authoritarian regime Partly free Constitutional monarchy State religion
Kyrgyzstan 4.89 101 Hybrid regime Partly free Parliamentary republic Secular state
Lebanon 4.36 106 Hybrid regime Partly free Confessionalist Parliamentary republic Secular state
Libya 2.02 156 Authoritarian regime Not free Provisional government State religion
* Malaysia 7.16 43 Flawed democracy Partly free Constitutional monarchy, parliamentary democracy State religion
Maldives - - - Partly free State religion
Mali 4.92 100 Hybrid regime Partly free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Mauritania 3.92 116 Authoritarian regime Not free Islamic republic, Semi-presidential system Islamic state
Morocco 5.10 96 Hybrid regime Partly free Constitutional monarchy State religion
Niger 3.29 127 Authoritarian regime Partly free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Nigeria 4.12 109 Hybrid regime Partly free Federalism, presidential system Secular state, Islamic state (only in the northern Nigerian states)
Oman 3.06 137 Authoritarian regime Not free Absolute monarchy State religion
Pakistan 4.25 108 Hybrid regime Partly free Federalism, parliamentary republic Islamic state[96][97][98]
?Palestine (occupied by Israel) 3.89 117 Authoritarian regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state (in West Bank), de facto Islamic state (in Gaza Strip)
Qatar 3.19 128 Authoritarian regime Not free Absolute monarchy State religion
Saudi Arabia 1.93 159 Authoritarian regime Not free Islamic absolute monarchy Islamic state
*Senegal 5.81 82 Hybrid regime Free Semi-presidential system Secular state
*Sierra Leone 4.86 102 Hybrid regime Partly free Presidential system Secular state
Somalia Not free Federalism, Semi-presidential system State religion
?Somaliland (Somalia) Partly free
Sudan 2.70 147 Authoritarian regime Not free Federalism, presidential system Secular state (de jure), Islamic state (de facto)
Syria 1.43 164 Authoritarian regime Not free Semi-presidential system Secular state
Tajikistan 1.93 159 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
*Tunisia 6.72 53 Flawed democracy Free Semi-presidential system State religion
Turkey 4.09 110 Hybrid regime Not Free Presidential system Secular state[99][100]
Turkmenistan 1.72 162 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system, one-party state Secular state
United Arab Emirates 2.76 145 Authoritarian regime Not free Federalism, Constitutional monarchy State religion
Uzbekistan 2.01 157 Authoritarian regime Not free Presidential system Secular state
?Western Sahara (controlled by Morocco) - - - Not free -
Yemen 1.95 158 Authoritarian regime Not free Provisional government Islamic state

Islamic democratic parties and organizations

This is a list of parties and organizations which aim for the implementation of Sharia or an Islamic State, or subscribe to Muslim identity politics, or in some other way fulfil the definitions of political Islam, activist Islam, or Islamism laid out in this article; or have been widely described as such by others.

Country or scope Movement/s
 Bahrain Al Menbar[101]
 Bangladesh Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami[102][103]
 Finland Finnish Islamic Party
 Israel Ra'am
 Jordan Islamic Action Front[43]
 Kuwait Hadas
 Morocco Justice and Development Party[115][116]
 Rwanda Islamic Democratic Party
 Sudan National Umma Party Sudan
 Somalia Peace and Development Party
 Syria Muslim Brotherhood of Syria[121][122][123]
 Yemen Al-Islah

See also


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  • Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri (eds.) 2002 Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, Oxford University Press
  • Omid Safi (ed.) 2003 Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism, Oneworld
  • Azzam S. Tamimi 2001 Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat within Islamism, Oxford University Press
  • Khan L. Ali 2003 A Theory of Universal Democracy, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers
  • Khatab, Sayed & G.Bouma, Democracy in Islam, Routledge 2007

External links

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