Freedom versus coercion in Islamic education, parenting, and governance
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Discussion of coercion versus freedom, whether in education or any other field, raises the issue of governance, especially through the almost diametrical opposites of democracy and a republic. By definition, democracy is authoritarian. The authority is the will of the people, including a mob, or the power of one-man-one vote as the source of truth, or one-dollar-one-vote as the de facto power behind the scenes. As a technique of governance, and only as such, namely, not as a source of authority, democracy may be a better system than any other, simply because there is no perfect system of anything involving human beings.
A republic is a much more ambitious undertaking. By definition a republic poses a duty on everyone to seek ultimate truth beyond man’s alleged power to create it. The legislature has the duty to seek truth, motivated by human nature or fitra to give rather than take in life, also known as infaq and more broadly as love. This is done by relying on haqq al yaqin or divine revelation in the world religions, on ‘ain al yaqin or observation and analysis of the physical laws of the universe, including sentient beings, and on ‘ilm al yaqin or one’s rational intellect to understand the first two sources.
Governance in a republic relies on two sets of triads. The first of the two is the standard concept of three branches of government. The legislature makes policy to translate the triple sources of truth into a decision-tree of principled justice and then to translate this further into specific rules and laws for implementation. The executive branch of government is bound to execute these policies and laws. The judicial branch exists to assure that both of the first two branches of government do their job.
The second triad of governance is the responsibility of civil society, which in a republic is just as important as the first triad. This consists of three basic branches: 1) the public and private media to maintain transparency in governance; 2) the community of think-tanks and academia working together freely to explore new visions and paradigms in order to shape the agendas for public policy and maintain balance among competing special interests; and 3) education, both private and public, which consists of primary and secondary education, designed to maintain the civilization’s heritage of wisdom and virtue, and higher education, designed to maintain this heritage and create and develop higher paradigms to provide guidance to the think-tanks.
When Benjamin Franklin was asked at the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1789, “What have you created?”, he replied, “A republic, if we can keep it”. All of the Founders were hopeful but also skeptical about whether the Great American Experiment in self-determination would succeed. After all, it took almost a century to abolish slavery, at least in its most gross form, and more than another half a century to permit women to vote, and may take another quarter century to reform the system of money and banking in order to broaden rather than concentrate individual ownership of the means of production and thereby make truly representative government possible.
The key to America’s success was formulated in the words of Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence: “A people can remain free only if they are properly educated. Proper education consists of teaching and learning virtue. And no people can remain virtuous unless both the personal and public lives of the individual are infused with awareness and love of Divine Providence”, by which he meant God. By this he profoundly articulated the essence of both America and Islam and laid the groundwork for pursuing peace, prosperity, and freedom through the interfaith harmony of compassionate justice for everyone.
Dr. Robert Crane is currently Professor, Center of the Study of Contemporary Muslim Societies Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies Hamad Bin Khalifa University