Is Islam compatible with democracy?
The relationship between religion and politics is central to any discussion of Muslim politics. More important in recent decades has been the intensifying trends of religious resurgence and democratisation that continue to define the political landscapes of the Muslim world. Beginning with the late 1960s and early 70s, the growing significance and vigor of political Islam in the majority of Muslim countries and globally has made it an indispensable element in any attempt to direct the social, political and economic organisation of society. Concurrent with this trend is the increasing demand by Muslim publics for greater participation in the activities of their governments and general call for a more democratic kind of politics. These trends have resulted in the emergence of a vast literature that analyses both processes of Islamisation and democratisation in Muslim countries while also seeking to ascertain if Islam and democracy are compatible in any sense. Understandably, different perspectives exist over the extent to which Islam and democracy can be reconciled. Certain scholars and ideologues try to present Islam as anti-democratic and inherently authoritarian, precluding the possibility of some form of an ‘Islamic democracy’. In a different manner yet arriving at the same conclusion are certain Islamic activists that use notions of secularism and sovereignty to argue for the outright rejection of democracy, while also perceiving it as an extension of Western cultural imperialism. This article will not strictly follow either of these camps, but will instead offer an analysis that shows how such perspectives are grave misinterpretations that ignore the ways in which Islam and Muslim societies accept and practice different forms of democratic governance.
Before any discussion of the compatibility between Islam and democracy can take place, it is necessary to understand that the ‘totality’ of either Islam or democracy does not actually exit. In other words, Islam, Islamist politics and democracy do not represent monolithic terms and can be interpreted in various ways. In its classical sense, democracy is understood as ‘direct rule by the people’. The triumph of a liberal understanding of democracy is linked to the increased importance of the rights of individuals, private property, party politics and electoral politics. The conventional definition of democracy used by many social scientists often identifies it with major elements of the political traditions of Western Europe and the United States; hence, debates on democracy reflect the primacy of the Western experience. This narrowly defined conception of democracy tinted by a hegemonic liberalism precludes the perception of different forms of democracy that are linked to particular social contexts out of which they emerge. A more useful understanding of democracy should emphasise its malleable nature. Different social and political theorists have correctly pointed out that democracy is an ‘essentially contested concept’ that requires the recognition of the validity of rival definitions. John Dryzek asserts that democracy instead of being understood in procedural terms must be defined as a ‘project’, one that is the product of political struggle over the degree to which the public can participate in ordering the conditions of their lives. Even in Western countries, democracy is constantly debated and re-conceptualised to suit the social, economic and political conditions it is in. The official insistence on a single, relatively specific model of democracy is detached from a reality in which a very broad debate over the definition of democracy occurs in the West and globally.
In terms of reviewing Islamist attitudes towards democracy, there has been a tendency to overlook the diversity of opinion within the Islamic political camp. Although Islam is considered to be a religion which directs all spheres of life based on the Quran and path of the prophet Mohammed, numerous aspects and issues within the religion are open to discussion and can be interpreted in different ways. One such issue-area is the proper form of political organisation of an Islamic society. Since Islamic groups and Muslim thinkers vary in their understanding of and orientation towards democracy and pluralism, it is unfeasible to locate a unified perspective on the issue of democracy and pluralism. There are militant and radical voices within the Islamic camp that are firmly opposed to democracy and what it entails, leading many to point out the authoritarian tendency in Muslim politics. Yet, this is but one narrative/viewpoint out of many and it is vital to be aware that there are those who believe that genuine democracy can exist in an Islamic context. Those who take this line of thought claim that within the Islamic heritage is a reserve of concepts and principles that encourage a democratic organisation of society. Islamic principles of Tawhid, Khilafah, Shura, Ijma and Ijtihad can be re-defined and re-envisioned in ways that can accommodate and strengthen the process of democratisation in Muslim societies. Thus, a discussion of the compatibility between Islam and democracy necessitates the broadening of the scope of definition of both terms while also recognising the variety of perspectives and opinions on the issue.
An examination of the variety of works by Islamic political thinkers, the different concepts and principles within the Islamic heritage, and Islamist movements and organisations will explicitly reveal different attitude towards democracy. One important theme in democratic theory and in the ongoing process of democratisation in Muslim society is opposition and dissent. In simple terms, the democratic tradition perceives opposition and pluralism as essential elements in the functioning of democratic governance. Since no political system is perfect, then principles of democracy dictate that individuals and groups in society are entitled to disagree with their governments. This is further supported by the postmodern attitude of multicultural pluralism that stresses conflict, division and negotiation in society. Within the Islamic heritage, the two concepts of Fitnah and Ikhtilaf and the ways in which they can be interpreted define the limits of opposition and the appropriate form of dissent in society. Fitnah is defined as some kind of civil disorder, an opposition that threatens the Islamic community and the very faith of Muslim believers. John Esposito asserts that Fitnah is often a label given to opposition or disturbances that diverge in their doctrinal substance from the Islamic heritage in a way that endangers the purity of the Muslim faith. Such dissent and disturbances are to be condoned and actively opposed. The implication of this is that freedom of expression is limited in a way that does not allow certain groups in society to express views that lie outside the confines of an Islamic framework. Nevertheless, what is often neglected is that the concept of Fitnah can also be used to legitimise opposition. In addition to limiting oppositional forces in society, the concept can be reversed and lead to a struggle by the citizenry against oppressive rulers. This suggests that citizens or the ummah in Islamic political thought hold a central position in commending the good and prohibiting the evil. It can further be inferred that according to this view a more participatory role is assigned to the masses in judging government policies and actions.
The other concept of Ikhtilaf further endorses a plurality of opinion within an Islamic framework of thought. Keeping in mind the emphasis on Tawhid and the fundamental principles of Islam, within an Islamic society it is seen legitimate and at times commendable to have a diversity of views. Ikhitalf is often related to Islamic jurisprudence; however, it shows a more general attitude towards the acceptance of diverse perspectives on Islamic issues. Disagreement in the Muslim community throughout history has led to the development of four schools of law, each having their own interpretations and norms of Islamic conduct. This Fatima Merniessi claims is usually ignored in Western analysis of Islamic politics where emphasis is placed on the intolerance and militancy of Islam. Yet she shows that the rationalist tradition which is often forgotten provides a way of establishing diversity and opposition in Muslim communities. Islam as religion is never about complete obedience or ta’a, but rather it advocates the use of reason and the cultivation of individual thinking. The Mutazila tradition is a strong testament to the importance of the use of reason, thinking and discussion, and the openness of Islamic culture in preventing the despotism of rulers. Diversity and openness are not only found in Islamic legal thought, but also in political thought where in the Sunni tradition there is no one definitive form or theory of a caliphate. It is this aspect of Islam which is often ignored; consequently, much of the discourse reinforces the idea that opposition within Muslim communities is impossible. Furthermore, Islamic acceptance of diversity is further demonstrated by the treatment of non-Muslims. Although non-Muslim groups, called Dhimmi, had important restrictions on their activities and were considered second-class citizens, overall their treatment is evidence of the Islamic recognition of the legitimate diversity of opinion and customs and the acceptance of non-Muslim/minority participation.
Perhaps more important is the way in which the Islamic tradition can be redefined to strengthen the dynamics of democratisation. One such example is the principle of Tawheed (Unity of God- recognition that there is no God but God) in Islamic doctrine. Frequently, the principle of Tawheed is acknowledged by conservative Muslims and non-Muslims alike as a formidable barrier to the development of an Islamic democracy since the concept of sovereignty of God is very different from the sovereignty of the people. Various commentators following this line of thought believe that there is no place for democratic ideals within Islamic political theory because of the rigid adherence to God’s word and therefore the limitations imposed on the role of the community. Again, Tawheed can be reinterpreted in a different manner so as to produce a stable synthesis between democracy and Islam. John Esposito shows clearly how the insistence on Tawheed by Muslim scholars does not preclude the possibility of a democratic political system. Abu al-Ala al-Mawdudi claims that in an Islamic ‘theo-democracy’: ‘The entire population runs the state in accordance with the Book of God and the practice of His prophet… The executive under this system of government is constituted by the general will of the Muslims who have also the right to depose it.’ From this it is possible to conceive of a more participatory role for the Muslim community in the conduct of their political and social affairs. In addition to this, the Muslim individual is responsible and entitled to interpret the law when it becomes necessary. Another dimension often not noticed is how human hierarchy becomes impossible when the absolute sovereignty of God is accepted since all humans are equal before one God. The point is that all this should be carried out within the framework and worldview of Tawheed, but the insistence on Tawheed should not prevent such democratic workings being carried out.
The interrelation between the three concepts of consultation (shurah), consensus (ijma) and independent interpretive judgment (ijtihad) in a specific way further enhances the prospects of an Islamic democracy. The concept of ijma, or collective judgment of the community, can also be used to encourage a conception of an Islamic democracy. Within Sunni doctrine, the notion of consensus features prominently, being a fundamental source of law and legal norms. Throughout Islamic history, consensus as a source of Islamic law was limited to the learned religious scholars – ulema – and this kind of consensus is often labeled as ‘exclusive consensus’. The modernist critique of this exclusive consensus is one that perceives it to be a mechanism of ‘traditional authoritarianism’ coloured with undemocratic procedures. As with shurah, efforts in the 19th and 20th centuries were carried out to extend the concept of ijma so as to include a wider range of voices in a changing consensus. Muhammad Qasim Zaman demonstrates how the modern Islamic thought of Muhammad Abduh and Muhammad Rashid Rida attempts to broaden the scope of consensus so that the jurists and ulema become but one component out of many. Thus emerges the attempt to weaken the monopoly of consensus by the ulema. In addition to this is the realisation by modern Islamic thinkers that the consensus of the jurists should not be deemed infallible and authoritative for all times and places. Rather, those deliberating on important issues are not immune from error and therefore consensus should take into consideration the public interest. The implication of this line of thought is that ijma would take on a more important, formal and institutional role where it would be equated with a collectively undertaken ijtihad. This comes from Muhammad Iqbal’s idea which is: ‘The transfer of the power of Ijtihad from individual representatives of schools to a Muslim legislative assembly which, in view of the growth of opposing sects, is the only possible form ijma can take in modern times, will secure contributions to legal discussion from laymen who happen to possess a keen insight into affairs.’ What is important to note is that ijtihad, or judgment that concerns the affairs of the community, need not be monopolised by the ulema, rather, it should include a more diverse and popular dimension to it. With this in mind, John Esposito points to the vital argument that since in the Quran there is no explicit formulation of state institutions and that the legitimacy of such state institutions is derived from ijma, then ‘consensus can become both the legitimation and the procedure of an Islamic democracy.’ A more inclusive consensus that includes various groups within society and the ability of such an institution to legitimate majority rule represent important shifts that have the potential to strengthen the process of democratisation.
After looking at the theoretical dispositions of Muslim thinkers and Islamic doctrine towards democracy, it is necessary to see how Islamist groups in different Muslim countries and settings have engaged with the process of democratisation. The case of Islamic political activism in Egypt illustrates the ways in which the dominant literature has not acknowledged how the Muslim Brotherhood is an organisation that stimulates change in Egyptian society through its participatory character. Within the literature, there is an evident argument that the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and the greater Islamic movement in Egypt are in many instances different from the liberal democratic civic activism found in Western democracies. This line of thought examines the ways in which associational life dominated by Islamist institutions and ideas in Egypt does not correspond to the conventional model of civil society devised by democratic theorists. In Benjamin Barber’s participatory democracy groups and individuals in civil society compete, engage and cooperate with each other in a sphere that is guided by principles of toleration, liberty and civility. This is not only Barber’s view, rather democratic theorists from Tocqueville to Dryzek to Putnam have stressed that civil society is a public sphere where individuals and groups come and debate issues and preferences within a framework that does not lend superiority to one group or idea.
Evidence suggests that in different examples, the Muslim Brotherhood being the key player in civil society does not correspond to what such democratic theorists propose. In Mustapha Al-Sayyid’s study of civil society, he shows that one of the essential features of civil society is the large measure of respect to freedom of conscience and thought or in other words a spirit of tolerance. This condition he claims is not met in Egypt because of the lack of tolerance demonstrated especially by young Islamist militants but also by some members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This has taken the form of assaults, condemnations, assassination and threats of assassination to those individuals and groups that do not conform to their idea of an Islamic state and society. The assassination of Farag Fouda in 1992 by the radical Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya group is testament to the limits imposed on tolerance and freedom of thought, conscience and belief in present day Egypt. Therefore it would be difficult from the evidence above to notice any correspondence between Barber’s vision of participatory democracy and the Islamist groups in Egypt precisely because dissent and opposition to a specific Islamist political order cannot be tolerated. Furthermore, John Esposito and other authors illustrate the ways in which Islamists in Egypt during the 1980s and 90s adopted an uncooperative violent attitude towards other non-Muslim groups within Egyptian society, especially the Christian Copts.
Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist political activism in Egypt are not monolithic categories; rather, within Egyptian society Islamist groups are different in their understandings and orientations. This is in accordance with the interpretation that although there might be the presence of one culture influenced predominantly by Islam in Egypt, this gives rise to different types of behaviour and attitudes concerning democracy, dissent, and authoritarianism. This allows for a greater consideration of groups within the Islamist camp that do not condone the use of violence against opposition and even those that call for a more democratic, pluralist and moderate approach to politics. One such group is the Centre Party, which has defied the common perception of the incompatibility between democratic politics and Islam. The chief goal of the party was to attain a more prominent role in civic life within a more democratic environment. Keeping in mind some of the essential principles in democratic theory, the party’s encouragement of dissent, tolerance and multiplicity of views within a framework of an inclusive community makes it an important actor in the attempt to construct a viable Islamic democracy.
A critical aspect of a stronger democracy is ways in which interaction, participation and engagement come to define the self and community. In other words, through participatory deliberation and ongoing dialogue, we define and redefine the crucial terms that we in turn use to define our common identity and lives. In Egypt, the literature on democratisation and liberalisation has tended to focus on changes in the formal political arena – rules, laws and procedures. Instead, the political and social change that Islamist movements have brought about in Egypt should be located at the informal realm outside political structures and elites. As with Barber, Islamic activists in Egypt developed an alternative domain in which values are being cultivated and new styles of participation being forged. Carrie Wickham argues that what is often ignored is how the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist organisations in Egypt created independent sites of social and political expression that define new models of political leadership and community while also posing a moral alternative to the secular state. This Islamic alternative sphere/domain has been forged as a result of the successful development of a parallel network of Islamic institutions and mass institution-building from below. It is important to note that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist movements did not impose their activities and order on Egyptian citizens, rather, the emergence of the Islamic political and social alternative to the state is the result of the gradual interaction and participation of Egyptian citizens with and in such Islamic socio-economic institutions. John Esposito claims that: ‘The major accomplishment of the Islamic movement and the Brotherhood in particular, and the source of its strength and credibility, is the extent to which, motivated by religion as well as political, social and economic considerations, it has created an alternative, normative order.’ In practice, Islamic values and norms have come to inform the political, economic, social, and educational spheres of Egyptian society. Central to Barber’s argument for strong democracy is that participation, interaction and public activities should in the long-run alter the way in which we see and understand the world. This is in turn will create a community defined by participation. In Egypt, Islamic political activism has transformed society in just this way. As many authors observe, the Islamic alternative public domain has changed how individuals in Egypt perceive problems in society and how they seek to resolve them.
Another Muslim country that is appropriate for the current discussion of the relationship between Islam and democracy is Iran. In many ways, the Iranian model represents an important experiment in trying to create a modern-religious state, one that attempts to include democratic practices in an Islamic context. The predominant staring point for such analysis is the examination of the constitution of Iran and the institutionalisation of the notion of Vilayat -e- Faqih. The final version of the constitution declared in November 1979 was based upon Ayatollah Khomeini’s concept of Islamic government, or more aptly rule by the jurisconsult, thus establishing the ultimate authority of clerics in the management and guidance of the state. While the primary purpose of the clerical majority in the assembly of experts was to enshrine the supremacy of the Faqih/jurist and Islamic law, it also provided a framework for popular participation and democratic governance.
A comparison between Maimon Schwarzchild’s views on constitutionalism and the Iranian constitution will show that such a constitution is inherently undemocratic. In accordance with Isaiah Berlin’s liberal tradition, Schwarzchild argues that in a liberal democratic society it is indispensable to defend individual freedom and the natural, private rights of individuals to determine what values and ends are worth pursuing. As with Berlin, the plurality of irreconcilable values for individuals in society necessitates the recognition that ‘human values are many, not all of them commensurable, and in perpetual rivalry with one another’. This leads Shwarzchild to propose the ‘state action’ doctrine, which is basically: ‘the principle that the laws and policies of government must respect due process, equal protection, and free speech, but that there is no constitutional obligation on the private citizen or private organisation to do likewise. Laws must be constitutional, but not private acts unless the private act is prescribed by public law – and then it is the law, not the private act, that is subject to challenge’. Succinctly put, the state action doctrine implies that in the public sphere, the state using the constitution has a monopoly over the determination of public values that govern the ‘vertical’ relationship between the state and its citizens. The private sphere is considered the place where citizens in their ‘horizontal’ relations with each other are not bounded by the monopolistic values governing the public sphere. Instead, the private sphere is where genuine value pluralism can be found and state toleration is mandatory.
Taking into consideration the social and political context out of which the Iranian constitution emerged, it attempts to combine a diversity of ideologies and principles which in certain instances has lead many to point out its contradictory nature. As Tamadonfar claims: ‘On the one hand, this document accounts for the secular principles of rights, equality, and justice and, on the other hand, it acknowledges the supremacy of restrictive Islamic views on rights, justice and equality.’ What constitutional and democratic theorists worry about is that the Iranian constitution and the way it has been set up gives unprecedented absolute power to the clergy to govern the affairs of the state and society in a way that mainstream Islamic political thought does not. For reasons of space only a few examples from the constitutions and the way it is implemented will attest to the undemocratic nature of the Iranian constitutions. The most evident clash in the constitution is between article 5 and article 56. The question here is not about general sovereignty which in Islam belongs only to God, but instead the debate centres on temporal sovereignty. Article 56 states that: ‘Absolute sovereignty over the world and man belongs to God, and it is He who has placed man in charge of his social destiny. No one can deprive man of this God-given right, nor subordinate it to the interest of a given individual or group’. This is contradicted by article 5 which establishes that the sovereignty of God on Earth is exercised by deputies – the Shi’i clergy. Once this is accepted then the Faqih and the clergy enjoy paramount, absolute and extensive and executive powers that are further entrenched by other articles in the constitution such as 107, 109, and 110. These three articles make the election of the Faqih the responsibility of the committee of experts, not by a popular mandate, while recognising the infallibility of such a figure, thus giving the supreme leader a wide range of executive absolute powers. The Iranian constitution does not correspond to the liberal/democratic blueprint of Shwarzchild because it allows the values advocated in the public sphere by the state to be extended to the private sphere, thus reducing the pluralism and toleration in that sphere.
In addition to the undemocratic elements in the Iranian constitution, the conduct of affairs by the Fuqha and religious establishment is evidence of an increasingly authoritarian Islam in power. Although the populist revolution of 1979 enjoyed mass support from the population, once in power the clerically run state began to resemble the royal authoritarianism of the Shah’s period. As part of the project of imposing an Islamic order while Islamising society, Khomeini and the militant clergy supporting him were repressive and intolerant of dissent and opposition. Even after after Khomeini’s death, under the new Faqih, Ali Khamenei, imprisonment, arbitrary trial, torture and censorship, along with the widespread repression of dissent continued. This has led many to claim that the ‘royal reign of terror’ of the previous era was replaced with a ‘clerical reign of terror’ in which repression was justified in the name of Islam. All this and more suggest emphatically that in the practical application of some form of an Islamic democracy, the tendencies of authoritarianism are the ones which reign.
However, Anthony Shadid attempts to present the case that in post-revolutionary Iran, there has emerged a trend that continues to re-consider the relationship between Islam (the revolution and Islamic resurgence) and ideas of democracy and individual freedom. One obvious proponent of this trend is the former president of Iran, Mohammad Khatami, who endorsed an evolutionary Islamic theology that can accommodate modern day democratic values. He strongly criticised the inflexibility of religious theology and warned of the dangers of the monopoly of interpretation by the ulema and clergy. For him any interpretation is fallible and human; therefore, the right of interpretation should be broadened where a multiplicity of views becomes the norm. Khatami’s work and perspective is critical in debates on Islam and democracy because he shows an appreciation of the Western development of democratic institutions and proposes that the foundation of any Islamic democracy should be that of a democratic civil society. Such an Islamic civil society is defined by its pluralism and one where the concept of Fitna does not obstruct genuine diversity. Shadid contends that: ‘They (Khatami and his supporters) were not against the idea of an Islamic Republic. But like others, they wanted to blend it with democracy, individual freedom, civil society and tolerance, and by the end of the 1990s, they had drawn many of the revolution’s staunchest defenders to their ranks.’
Although Iran’s political system lacked many of the attributes of a fully democratic state, in its regional context when compared with the neighboring Arab countries, it appears to be more democratic. Concentrating solely on the undemocratic nature of the Iranian political system obscures the democratic elements in that system as well as making difficult the possibility of perceiving more participatory behavior and attitudes at the informal political landscape. In the first place, the Iranian constitution does include democratic institutions, and this becomes apparent in the parliamentary system of government with legislative, executive and judicial branches. Furthermore, within the Iranian regime is a system of checks and balances in which the president is elected popularly and the ultimate word is that of the Faqih. The heavy emphasis by the regime and its proponents on public opinion and electoral politics attests to the centrality of political participation. The importance of electoral politics is derived from the fact that the president and representatives of the National Consultative assembly are elected by the masses. John Esposito presents the most persuasive argument for the democratic effectiveness of the Islamic Republic when he claims that the major achievement of the regime was closing the paralysing gap between state and society that has long existed in Iran. He believes that: ‘Whether or not this bridging of the gap between state and society marks a move in the direction of a more democratic political system can be debated. However, it has provided the basis for greater public debate and for a consensus allowing for the successful transition to the post-Khomeini era.’ From this perspective, the post-revolutionary state in Iran is more democratic than its predecessor as it has involved more regime bargaining, national debate and the forming and reforming of a consensus to which the majority approve of. In other words, democracy in some sense implies that people, if not actually in control their future, at least have a say in it. Compared to the neighboring Arab countries, the Islamic Republic’s greatest achievement is getting people more involved in their country’s future. Thus, Iran represents an evolving attempt to implicate democracy in an Islamic context.
In conclusion, the complexities and contested nature of both Islam and democracy along with the different ways in which they are articulated makes the task of finding whether they are compatible extremely difficult and one that is beyond the capacity of this article. Nevertheless, any analysis of the compatibility between Islam and democracy should not be based on narrow definitions. Such analysis should not use both terms in an essentialist or monolithic manner, rather, it should acknowledge their flexibility and adaptability and the diversity of actual experiences. A liberal conception of democracy is but one, and a militant/radical Islamist worldview is also but one. An important aspect of the debate surrounding the relationship between Islam and democracy often ignored in the literature is the ways in which Islamic principles and themes can be redefined and re-envisioned in ways that can accommodate and strengthen the process of democratisation in Muslim countries. Within Islamic tradition, concepts such as Fitnah and ikhtilaf can be interpreted to limit opposition and diversity in an Islamic society, but they can also be reinterpreted to provide means for legitimate opposition and encouraging diversity of opinion. The history of Muslim societies attests to their pluralism and diversity, with the Mutazila tradition and Muslim treatment of non-Muslims being prime examples. Perhaps more important is the process of revisiting the Islamic tradition in order to redefine essential principles and ideas so as to accommodate democratic forms of governance. This will allow for a more participatory role for the Muslim community in the conduct of their political and social affairs to be conceived. The concepts of shurah, ijma, and ijtihad can be understood in a manner which empowers the Muslim community to take collective action while also broadening the scope of those included in decision-making procedures. The case of Egypt demonstrates how certain strands within the Muslim Brotherhood can be considered undemocratic because of their intolerant treatment of social and political affairs. Yet this is just one strand and the Centre Party is an example of an Islamist party that supports a vibrant civil society infused with democratic principles. At the more informal political level, the Muslim Brotherhood in the past four decades has been able to change the ways Egyptians defines themselves and their common problems and solutions. While often neglected in the secondary literature, the Muslim Brotherhood in many ways corresponds to Barber’s vision of a strong democracy. The case of Iran shows that although the constitution can be perceived to be undemocratic and not in accordance with the liberal conception of democracy (not applying the state doctrine), there exist groups in society that fully endorse an evolutionary Islamic theology that can accommodate modern day democratic values. At the more informal political level, the Islamic Republic of Iran has narrowed the gap between state and society that in the post-Khomeini era has involved more regime bargaining, national debate, and the forming and reforming of a consensus of which the majority approve. In addition to these examples, the case of Turkey illustrates the general acceptance of democratic principles and mechanisms, such as elections, by the major political Islamist parties. Bearing in mind Schumpeter’s argument for a representative kind of democracy, elections in Turkey have served to increase the importance and influence of an Islamic ideology that has to contribute to the social and political spheres.
What this article has attempted to argue is that in a discussion of the compatibility between democracy and Islam, the underlying mode of analysis should be as broad as possible. To elaborate, different religious traditions have sets of symbols that believers use to construct narratives about all great issues of human life. A more sophisticated outlook recognises that symbols can be put together in different packages and as such there can be no single or ‘total’ Islam that is compatible with democracy. Accordingly, just as it is possible to construct a Christian political theology of authoritarianism as was done in the divine right kings (religious doctrine of royal absolutism), similarly, it is possible to construct a worldview or political programme that is authentically Islamic and authoritarian. Yet, as a Christian theology of democracy developed, so too can an Islamic political theology of democracy. Not only is this feasible in theoretical terms, but also in empirical terms where the growing support for democratic institutions and norms is evident in the dispositions of Muslim thinkers and masses alike.