Islamic democracy refers to two kinds of democratic states that can be recognized in the Islamic countries. The basis of this distinction has to do with how comprehensively Islam is incorporated into the affairs of the state.[1]

  1. A democratic state which recognizes Islam as state religion, such as Malaysia, Algeria, or Maldives are examples of Islamic Democracy. Some religious values are incorporated into public life, but Islam is not the only source of law.
  2. A democratic state which endeavours to institute Sharia. It is also called as Islamist democracy.[1] Islamist democracy offers more comprehensive inclusion of Islam into the affairs of the state. States like Iran are firm proponents of this form.[1]

On democracies with religious law, see religious democracy.

The compatibility of Islam and democracyEdit

See also: Shura, Ijma, Political aspects of Islam, Islamic state, and Islam and secularism

The concepts of liberalism and democratic participation were already present in the medieval Islamic world.[2][3][4] Azizah Y. al-Hibri, for example, argues that Medina during Muhammad's time was an early example of a democratic state but that the development of democracy in the Islamic world eventually came to a halt following to the Sunni–Shia split.[5]

According to Michele Campopiano, during the Islamic Agricultural Revolution, Al-Mahdī (ruled 775-785) introduced a new taxation system based on a share of the crops." According to Ibn aṭ-Ṭiḳṭaḳā (c. 1302), "the new system was introduced thanks to Abū ‘Ubayd Allāh." The initiative "for the tax reform came from the ‘people’ (nās in the Arabic text of Balādhurī)," and was then "further promoted by a minister." [2]

Sunni viewpointEdit

See also: Caliphate and The election of Uthman

A study by Monash University professor Sayed Khatab discussed the compatibility of Islam and democracy. His book Democracy in Islam, (Routledge 2007) is a challenge to extremism. This book is also a significant contribution to the UNESCO program of intercultural relations. He outlined that the democratic ideal of a "government by the people" is compatible with the notion of an Islamic democracy. Deliberations of the Caliphates show that appeals to popular consent are permissible within Islam.[6] (see also: Shura).

In its earliest days, the first caliphate, the Rashidun Caliphate, exhibited elements of direct democracy (shura).[7]

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, were ideally elected by the people or their representatives,[8] as was the case for the election of Uthman and Ali as Caliph. After the Rashidun Caliphs, later Caliphates during the Islamic Golden Age had a lesser degree of democratic 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.[9]

The power of the Caliph (or later, the Sultan) was restricted by the scholarly class, the Ulema, a group regarded as the guardians of the law. Since the law came from the legal scholars, this prevented the Caliph from dictating legal results. Laws were decided based on the Ijma (consensus) of the Ummah (community), which was most often represented by the legal scholars.[10] In order to qualify as a legal scholar, it was required that they obtain a doctorate known as the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") from a Madrasah.[11] In many ways, classical Islamic law functioned like a constitutional law.[10]

Democratic religious pluralism also existed in classical Islamic law, as the religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as seen in the early Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Islamic India, and the Ottoman Millet system.[12][13]

Much debate occurs on the subject of which Islamic traditions are fixed principles, and which are subject to democratic change, or other forms of modification in view of changing circumstances. Some Muslims allude to an "Islamic" style of democracy which would recognize such distinctions.[14] Another sensitive issue involves the status of monarchs and other leaders, the degree of loyalty which Muslims owe such people, and what to do in case of a conflicting loyalties (e.g., if a monarch disagrees with an imam).

Shi'a viewpointEdit

According to the Shi'a understanding, Muhammad named as his successor (as leader, with Muhammad being the final prophet), his son-in-law Ali. Therefore the first three of the four "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 Shi'a 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 Shi'a are waiting for his reappearance. Since the revolution in Iran, Twelver Shi'a political thought has been dominated by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Imam 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."[15] To that end they must turn to scholars of Islamic law (fiqh) who are qualified to interpret the Qur'an and the writings of the imams. Khomeini distinguishes between Conventional Fiqh and Dynamic Fiqh, which he believes to also be necessary.

Khomeini divides the Islamic commandments or Ahkam into three branches:

  • the primary commandments (Persian: حكم اوليه‎)
  • the secondary commandments (Persian: حكم ثانويه‎) and
  • the state commandments (Persian: حكم حكومتي‎).

This last includes all commandments which relate to public affairs, such as constitutions, social security, insurance, bank, labour law, taxation, elections, congress etc. Some of these codes may not strictly or implicitly pointed out in the Qur'an and generally in the Sunnah, but should not violate any of the two, unless there's a collision of rules in which the more important one is given preference (an apparent, but not inherent, violation of a rule). Therefore, Khomeini emphasized that the (elected) Islamic state has absolute right (Persian: ولايت مطلقه‎) to enact state commandments, even if it (appears as if it) violates the primary or secondary commandments of Islam. This should happen when a more important primary or secondary commandment is in danger because of some limitations.

For example an (elected) Islamic state can ratify (according to some constitutions) mandatory insurance of employees to all employers being Muslim or not even if it violates mutual consent between them. This shows the compatibility of Islam with modern forms of social codes for present and future life,[16] as various countries and nations may have different kinds of constitutions now and will may have new ones in future.[17]

Philosophical viewpointEdit

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.[18] Al-Farabi departed from the Platonic view in that he regarded the ideal state to be ruled by the prophet-imam, 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-imam, 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.[19]

A thousand years later, the modern Islamic philosopher, Muhammad Iqbal (1877–1938), also 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 "germs of an economic and democratic organization of society", but that this growth was stunted by the expansive Muslim conquests, 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."[20]


"Today, two groups prevent the genuine reform movement seeking religious democracy: One group consists of those who think the less freedom a society enjoys, the stronger religion will be. They oppose the democratic process. The second is the group including those who believe that religion should be put aside from the scene of life in order to establish democracy and freedom."[21]

Two major arguments against the possibility of a democratic Islamic state are as follow:

  • The Secularist argument is that democracy requires that the people be sovereign and that religion and state be separated. Without this separation there can be no freedom from tyranny. This does not apply however when people themselves choose Islam as the 'religion of the state'.[Citation needed] In democratic terms, this is not inherently different from ratifying non-Islamic rules.[Citation needed]
  • The Legalist argument is that, democracy may be accepted in a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. society but it can never enjoy a general acceptance in an Islamic society, because non-Muslim societies do not have Sharia, the comprehensive system of life to which its adherents should be committed. In this view anything outside of the rigid, but pervasive, interpretation of the Sharia is rejected and the absolute sovereignty of God prevails such that there is no role, but interpretation, for the sovereignty of people in the ethics of the state. Mohammed Omar and his followers never made any claims that the Islamic State of Afghanistan was any sort of democracy, while the leaders of Iran do (they call it 'mardomsalarie dini', which means 'religious democracy').

Some matters which may cause friction include appeasing anti-democratic Islamists, non-Muslim religious minorities, the role of Islam in state education (especially with regard to Sunni and Shia traditions), women's rights (see: Islamic feminist movement). This is further complicated by the deriving of punishments from Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, where, as in other legal systems, precedent assists the judiciary to come to a decision. Since the judiciary is not independent of a system of religious codes that are essentially the teachings of the Life of Mohammed and that all understanding of Allah and the world is fixed therein and is not subject to human understanding outside of the inspired wisdom of Mohammed, Islam itself has been hampered from developing new ideas.[22]

In addition, while some Islamic democracies ban alcohol to some extent, as it is against the religion, other governments allow the individual to choose whether to transgress Islam themselves. In these instances, while the act will be considered wrong by Muslims, the penalty is seen to be a spiritual not a worldly one.

A minority viewpoint is presented by the group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has published a book titled "democracy is a system of kufr" (i.e. unfaith, denial of the teachings of the Islam) that argues the view that Islam and democracy are incompatible.[23] However, the majority of Islamic scholars and political parties in Muslim countries reject such an assertion.

Islamic democracy in practiceEdit

See also: Shura and Ijma

Historical practiceEdit

See also: Islamic ethics and Sharia

In its earliest days, the first caliphate, the Rashidun Caliphate, exhibited elements of direct democracy (shura).[24]

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, were ideally elected by the people or their representatives.[25] After the Rashidun Caliphs, later Caliphates during the Islamic Golden Age had a lesser degree of democratic 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.[26]

Electing or appointing a CaliphEdit

Fred Donner, in his book The Early Islamic Conquests (1981), argues that the standard Arabian practice during the early Caliphates was for the prominent men of a kinship group, or tribe, to gather after a leader's death and elect a leader from amongst themselves, although there was no specified procedure for this shura, or consultative assembly. Candidates were usually from the same lineage as the deceased leader, but they were not necessarily his sons. Capable men who would lead well were preferred over an ineffectual direct heir, as there was no basis in the majority Sunni view that the head of state or governor should be chosen based on lineage alone. Al-Mawardi has written that the caliph should be Qurayshi. Abu Bakr Al-Baqillani has said that the leader of the Muslims simply should be from the majority. Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man also wrote that the leader must come from the majority.[27]

Majlis ash-ShuraEdit

Traditional Sunni Islamic lawyers agree that shura, loosely translated as 'consultation of the people', is a function of the caliphate. The Majlis ash-Shura advise the caliph. The importance of this is premised by the following verses of the Qur'an:

“...those who answer the call of their Lord and establish the prayer, and who conduct their affairs by Shura. [are loved by God]”[42:38]

“...consult them (the people) in their affairs. Then when you have taken a decision (from them), put your trust in Allah”[3:159]

The majlis is also the means to elect a new caliph. Al-Mawardi has written that members of the majlis should satisfy three conditions: they must be just, they must have enough knowledge to distinguish a good caliph from a bad one, and must have sufficient wisdom and judgment to select the best caliph. Al-Mawardi also said in emergencies when there is no caliphate and no majlis, the people themselves should create a majlis, select a list of candidates for caliph, then the majlis should select from the list of candidates.[27] Some modern interpretations of the role of the Majlis ash-Shura include those by Islamist author Sayyid Qutb and by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the founder of a transnational political movement devoted to the revival of the Caliphate. In an analysis of the shura chapter of the Qur'an, Qutb argued Islam requires only that the ruler consult with at least some of the ruled (usually the elite), within the general context of God-made laws that the ruler must execute. Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, writes that Shura is important and part of the "the ruling structure" of the Islamic caliphate, "but not one of its pillars," and may be neglected without the Caliphate's rule becoming unIslamic. Non-Muslims may serve in the majlis, though they may not vote or serve as an official.

Rule of lawEdit

Islamic jurists anticipated the concept of the rule of law, the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land, where no person is above the law and where officials and private citizens are under a duty to obey the same law. A Qadi (Islamic judge) was also not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion, race, colour, kinship or prejudice. There were also a number of cases where Caliphs had to appear before judges as they prepared to take their verdict.[28] The following hadith established the principle of rule of law in relation to nepotism and accountability:[29]

Narrated ‘Aisha: The people of Quraish worried about the lady from Bani Makhzum who had committed theft. They asked, "Who will intercede for her with Allah's Apostle?" Some said, "No one dare to do so except Usama bin Zaid the beloved one to Allah's Apostle." When Usama spoke about that to Allah's Apostle Allah's Apostle said: "Do you try to intercede for somebody in a case connected with Allah’s Prescribed Punishments?" Then he got up and delivered a sermon saying, "What destroyed the nations preceding you, was that if a noble amongst them stole, they would forgive him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would inflict Allah's Legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad (my daughter) stole, I would cut off her hand."

Various Islamic lawyers do however place multiple conditions, and stipulations e.g. the poor cannot be penalised for stealing out of poverty, before executing such a law, making it very difficult to reach such a stage. It is well known during a time of drought in the Rashidun caliphate period, capital punishments were suspended until the effects of the drought passed.

Religious freedomEdit

Democratic religious pluralism and freedom of religion existed in classical Islamic Sharia law, as the religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as seen in the early Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Indian subcontinent, and the Ottoman Millet system.[30][13] In medieval Islamic societies, the qadi (Islamic judges) usually could not interfere in the matters of non-Muslims unless the parties voluntarily choose to be judged according to Islamic law, thus the dhimmi communities living in Islamic states usually had their own laws independent from the Sharia law, such as the Jews who would have their own Halakha courts.[31]

Dhimmis were allowed to operate their own courts following their own legal systems in cases that did not involve other religious groups, or capital offences or threats to public order. However, in the Ottoman Empire of the 18th and 19th centuries dhimmis frequently attended the Muslim courts. This was not only when their appearance was compulsory (for example in cases brought against them by Muslims) but also in order to record property and business transactions within their own communities. Cases were taken out against Muslims, against other dhimmis and even against members of the dhimmi’s own family. Dhimmis often took cases relating to marriages, divorces and inheritance cases to the Muslim courts so that these cases would be decided under shari’a law. Oaths sworn by dhimmis in the Muslim courts were sometimes the same as the oaths taken by Muslims, sometimes tailored to the dhimmis’ beliefs.[32]

Non-Muslims were allowed to engage in religious practices that was usually forbidden by Islamic law. For example, non-Muslims were allowed to consume alcohol and pork, both of which were forbidden to Muslims. In some cases, even religious practices which Muslims found repugnant were also allowed. One example was the Zoroastrian practice of incestuous "self-marriage" where a man could marry his mother, sister or daughter. According to the famous Islamic legal scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350), non-Muslims had the right to engage in such religious practices even if it offended Muslims, under the conditions that such cases not be presented to Islamic Sharia courts and that these religious minorities believed that the practice in question is permissable according to their religion. This ruling was based on the precedent that the prophet Muhammad did not forbid such self-marriages among Zoroastrians despite coming in contact with them and having knowledge of their practices.[33] Religious minorities were also free to do whatever they wished in their own homes, provided they did not publically engage in illicit sexual activity in ways that could threaten public morals.[34]

Freedom of expressionEdit

Another reason the Islamic world flourished during the Middle Ages was an early emphasis on freedom of speech. This was first declared in the Rashidun Caliphate by the second Caliph, Umar, in the 7th century:[35]

"Only decide on the basis of proof, be kind to the weak so that they can express themselves freely and without fear, deal on an equal footing with litigants by trying to reconcile them."

Another such example can be found in a letter written by the fourth Caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib to his governor of Egypt, Malik al-Ashtar. The Caliph advices his governor on dealings with the poor masses thus;

"Out of your hours of work, fix a time for the complainants and for those who want to approach you with their grievances. During this time you should do no other work but hear them and pay attention to their complaints and grievances. For this purpose you must arrange public audience for them during this audience, for the sake of Allah, treat them with kindness, courtesy and respect. Do not let your army and police be in the audience hall at such times so that those who have grievances against your regime may speak to you freely, unreservedly and without fear." Nahjul Balaagha letter 53

Citizens of the Rashidun Caliphate were also free to criticize the Rashidun Caliphs, as the rule of law was binding on the head of state just as much as it was for the citizens. For example, there was an incident when Umar heard loud sounds from a drunkard inside a house. After knocking on the door and no one answered, Umar climbed over the roof and into the courtyard, where he saw the owner and criticized him for letting a drunkard into his house. In turn, the owner of the house criticized Umar for breaking the law by entering his house without permission. After Umar forgave him, the owner criticized him again, asking him who gave him the right to "forgive what God has condemned as a crime?"[36] There were also numerous other situations where citizens insulted Caliph Umar, but he tolerated the insults and simply provided them explanations. Similar situations also occurred during the time of Caliph Ali. For example, there was an occasion when he was giving a Khutbah speech and a Kharijite rudely interrupted him with insulting language. Ali's companions urged that the man be punished but Ali declined on the grounds that his "right to freedom of speech must not be imperilled."[37]

During the Abbasid Caliphate, freedom of speech was also declared by al-Hashimi, a cousin of Caliph al-Ma'mun, in the following letter to a non-Muslim he was attempting to convert using reason:[38]

"Bring forward all the arguments you wish and say whatever you please and speak your mind freely. Now that you are safe and free to say whatever you please appoint some arbitrator who will impartially judge between us and lean only towards the truth and be free from the empery of passion, and that arbitrator shall be Reason, whereby God makes us responsible for our own rewards and punishments. Herein I have dealt justly with you and have given you full security and am ready to accept whatever decision Reason may give for me or against me. For "There is no compulsion in religion" (Qur'an 2:256) and I have only invited you to accept our faith willingly and of your own accord and have pointed out the hideousness of your present belief. Peace be with you and the blessings of God!"

According to George Makdisi and Hugh Goddard, "the idea of academic freedom" in universities was "modelled on Islamic custom" as practiced in the medieval Madrasah system from the 9th century. Islamic influence was "certainly discernible in the foundation of the first delibrately-planned university" in Europe, the University of Naples Federico II founded by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor in 1224.[39]

Human rightsEdit

See also: Sharia, Early reforms under Islam, Caliphate, and Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective

In the field of human rights, early Islamic jurists introduced a number of advanced legal concepts which anticipated similar modern concepts in the field. These included the notions of the charitable trust and the trusteeship of property; the notion of brotherhood and social solidarity; the notions of human dignity and the dignity of labour; the notion of an ideal law; the condemnation of antisocial behavior; the presumption of innocence; the notion of "bidding unto good" (assistance to those in distress); and the notions of sharing, caring, universalism, fair industrial relations, fair contract, commercial integrity, freedom from usury, women's rights, privacy, abuse of rights, juristic personality, individual freedom, equality before the law, legal representation, non-retroactivity, supremacy of the law, judicial independence, judicial impartiality, limited sovereignty, tolerance, and democratic participation. Many of these concepts were adopted in medieval Europe through contacts with Islamic Spain and the Emirate of Sicily, and through the Crusades and the Latin translations of the 12th century.[40]

The concept of inalienable rights was found in early Islamic law and jurisprudence, which denied a ruler "the right to take away from his subjects certain rights which inhere in his or her person as a human being." Islamic rulers could not take away certain rights from their subjects on the basis that "they become rights by reason of the fact that they are given to a subject by a law and from a source which no ruler can question or alter."[41] There is evidence that John Locke's formulation of inalienable rights and conditional rulership, which were present in Islamic law centuries earlier, may have also been influenced by Islamic law, through his attendance of lectures given by Edward Pococke, a professor of Islamic studies.[42]

Contemporary practiceEdit

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 Qur'an and the Sunnah, Muslims are fully capable of preserving spirituality and self-rule.[43]

Furthermore, counter arguments to these points assert that this attitude presuppose democracy as a static system which only embraces a particular type of social and cultural system, namely that of the post-Christian West. See: constitutional theocracy.

Muslim democrats, including Ahmad Moussalli (professor of political science at the American University of Beirut), argue that concepts in the Qur'an 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 (Aal `Imran 3:159, Ash-Shura 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 Allah. This viewpoint, however, is disputed by more traditional Muslims. Moussalli argues that despotic Islamic governments have abused the Qur'anic 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).

A further argument against Islamic democracy in practice, is that some democratic governments in Islamic states are not homegrown, but imposed by the West, such as the one in Afghanistan and the nascent post-Baathist regime in Iraq.[44]

As of 2010, U.S.-based organization Freedom House claims that Indonesia and Mali are the only Muslim-majority countries that are fully-fledged free electoral democracies.[45]


In the early 1970s, Muammar Gaddafi pioneered a new system of governance called the Jamahiriya, based on the principles of direct participatory democracy, a more direct form of democracy than the representative parliamentary democracy used in much of the world today. He outlined his political philosophy in The Green Book (1975), where he rejected modern representative democracy based on electing representatives, and also criticized capitalism. Instead, the book proposed a type of direct democracy overseen by the General People's Committee which allow direct political participation for all adult citizens. This Jamahiriya direct democracy system was used in Libya from 1977 up until 2011, when it came to an end during the Libyan Civil War and the succeeding National Transitional Council announced its intention to replace it with a more traditional representative democracy that is compatible with Sharia.

Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives. Participatory democracy is a process emphasizing the broad participation of constituents in the direction and operation of political systems. This was the form of governance used by the former Libyan Arab Jamahiriya up until 2011.

In contrast, representative democracy is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. A parliamentary system is a system of democratic government in which the ministers of the Executive Branch derive their legitimacy from and are accountable to a Legislature or parliament; the Executive and Legislative branches are interconnected. This is the traditional form of democracy most common in much of the world today (particularly the Western world), and the form of governance being implemented by the current National Transitional Council in Libya.

The "remaking of Libyan society" contained in Gaddafi's ideological visions began to be put into practice in 1973 with a so-called cultural or popular revolution. This "revolution" was designed to combat bureaucratic inefficiency, lack of public interest and participation in the subnational governmental system, and problems of national political coordination. In an attempt to instill revolutionary fervor into his compatriots and to involve large numbers of them in political affairs, Gaddafi urged them to challenge traditional authority and to take over and run government organs themselves. The instrument for doing this was the "people's committee." Within a few months, such committees were found all across Libya. They were functionally and geographically based and eventually became responsible for local and regional administration.

People's committees were established in such widely divergent organizations as universities, private business firms, government bureaucracies, and the broadcast media. Geographically based committees were formed at the governorate, municipal, and zone (lowest) levels. Seats on the people's committees at the zone level were filled by direct popular election; members so elected could then be selected for service at higher levels. By mid-1973 estimates of the number of people's committees ranged above 2,000.

In the scope of their administrative and regulatory tasks and the method of their members' selection, the people's committees embodied the concept of direct democracy that Gaddafi propounded in the first volume of The Green Book, which appeared in 1975. The same concept lay behind proposals to create a new political structure composed of "people's congresses." The centerpiece of the new system was the General People's Congress (GPC), a national representative body intended to replace the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).

On 2 March 1977, Gaddafi stepped down as the de facto ruler and handed power over to the GPC, which adopted the "Declaration of the Establishment of the People's Authority" and proclaimed the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Arabic: ‏الجماهيرية العربية الليبية الشعبية الاشتراكية‎ al-Ǧamāhīriyyat al-ʿArabiyyat al-Lībiyyat aš-Šaʿbiyyat al-Ištirākiyyat). In the official political philosophy of the state, the Jamahiriya system was unique to the country, presented as the materialization of the Third International Theory, proposed by Gaddafi to be applied to the entire Third World. The Libyan Jamahiriya was a direct democracy without any political parties, governed by its populace through local popular councils and communes (named Basic People's Congresses).


Pakistan started off as an example of the first category, but has moved towards a more religiously conservative state during Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization in the 1980s. Since then, the relation of state and religion fluctuates with the party in power, though frequent military coups have halted its democratic evolution.

Middle EastEdit

See also: Democracy in the Middle East

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.[46] There are several ideas on the relationship between Islam in the Middle East and democracy. Writing on The Guardian website,[47] 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 or "backward-looking" 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.[48] 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.[49]

Whitaker's third point is that the ArabIsraeli 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 USA, 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 Arab rulers has led to the growth of radical Islamic movements, as they believe that the institution of an Islamic theocracy will lead to a more just society. However, these groups tend to be very intolerant of alternative views, 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.[47]

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.[49] 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."[50] 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 Qur’an. Views such as this have been expressed by various thinkers and political activists in the Middle East.[51] 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?" [52]


Theory Edit

The idea and concept of Islamic democracy has been accepted by many Iranian clerics, scholars and intellectuals.[21][53][54][55][56] 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 Makarim al-Shirazi[57] 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."[58] Also Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi has more or less the same viewpoint.

On the other hand, clergy like Yousefi Eshkevari believe that: The obligatory religious commandments in public domain not necessarily imply recognition of religious state. These obligations can be interpreted as the power of Muslims' religious conscience and applying that through civil society.[59] These clergies strictly reject the concept of Islamic state regardless of being democratic or not. They also believe no relationship between Islam and democracy at all, opposing the interpretation of clergy like Ayatollah Makarim al-Shirazi from Islamic state. But they do not mention how legal laws as an example can not be implemented using civil societies and how to administer a country relying on conscience only.


Some Iranians, including Mohammad Khatami, categorize the Islamic republic of Iran as a kind of religious democracy.[60] 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).

Other 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."[61] (Although it is in contrast with his commandment to Bazargan (see Iranian Revolution). 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.[62] 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.


Islamic democracy entered into mainstream politics after the government and the Moro National Liberation Front signed a peace deal establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. A political party (Union of Muslim Democrats of the Philippines) was established in order to allow Muslims to participate further in the democratic system. This party became the ruling party of that region. Currently, the party has merged with a major party of the nation Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, a political party incorporating elements of both Christian and Islamic democracy.

Islamic democratic partiesEdit

The following political parties have been described as Islamic democratic parties:

The National Transitional Council in Libya, which has no officially recognized political parties, has also expressed its intention of leading the country based on a civil, representative democracy state in which sharia will be the main source of legislation,[63] in contrast to the direct democracy of the previous Jamahiriya system.

See alsoEdit

Islam and politics:


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  43. See abstract
  44. - US influence in Iraq constitution ‘excessive’
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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 linksEdit

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