Democracy in action

Democracy in action

By: Dr. Abdelwahab El-Affendi

(Ref: Islam21, Issue 28, April 2001)

It is reliably reported that the Prohphet (peace be upon him) commended the Pact of the Virtuous, which was concluded in pre-Islamic era - Jahilyyah (and to which he was a party) and said that if he were to be invited to act on that pact (which committed the parties to defend people against injustice) in Islam, he would not hesitate to resond.

The Quran requires the Prophet and all Muslim to rule according to justice. Therefore, whatever achieves justice is in accordance with Islam. It is possible, as the Quran reveals, that some Prophets may understand better than others how to reach a just ruling (e.g. Sulayman vs. Dawood). It is also that the Prophet himself may make an injust ruling due to the evidence in front of him. That is why he warned litigants not take his ruling in their favour as a license to take what is not theirs. (Muslim and Bukhari)

The beievers are not computers who, when you programme with Islamic texts, automatically “rule according to Islam”. There is no way to ensure that all human rulings could coincide with divine law. In fact the majority of decisions are based on ijtihad,which is ultimately human opinion. If it was so simple, then the Sahabah would not have argued in the Saqifa about who to rule, and Imam Ali and Uma al-Mu’mineen Ayishah would not have fought each other. And we would not have had all these madhahib. Islam has offered us general rules about how to conduct ourselves. How we do this is up to us.

Whether the Khalifa is one man, or whetehr there is a council, they are likely to make decisions (that is the essence of rule) on the basis of their own judgement. Muslims have learned from others, and the Khulafa (even the Prophet, peace be upon him) did learn.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, listened to Salman’s advice and dug the ditch in the battle of al-Khandaq. Omer learned from the Persians also the Diwan (bureaucratic register) and employed Persian staff to do it. It actually continued to be written in Persian until al-Hajjaj Arabised it.

The Khulafa al-Rashidun, by the way, did not understand their role as that of dictators, but followed Abu-Bakr’s admonition “I have been made your ruler, and I am not the best among you. If I do right, help me, if I do wrong, correct me.” In this, he follows the Quran and Sunnah, which, as I said, have vested authority in the community as a whole. If you have so much as glanced at the Quran, you would have understood what I mean. Look for example at Surat al-Hujurat and see how believers are directed to resolve disputes between them. The injunction is directed to the community as a whole. Even the order to obey the rulers “from amongst you” is directed to the community as a whole, which is very significant, and indicates it is the community which determines who the rulers are. This is democracy in action!

Reprinted with permission of author.