Islam and Democracy: Dr Hassan Saeed

“The myth that Islam and democracy are incompatible should be discarded for good. Now we should talk less about the ‘transition to democracy’ and start talking more about the daily trials and tribulations of democracy. The international community should avoid the mistakes they committed in the Maldives,” writes the President’s Special Advisor and head of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Dr Hassan Saeed.

The article is the latest in a series of pieces Dr Hassan has written for local newspaper Haveeru.

“If we take just five countries Egypt (population 81 million), Indonesia (239 million) Pakistan (174 million), Bangladesh (148 million), Turkey (73 million), we see nearly three-quarters of a billion people on the Earth living in countries that would call themselves democracies and the vast majority of whose population celebrate the Muslim faith. The Maldives along with an increasing number of other smaller countries are also now in this position too.

As a result, the myth that Islam and democracy are incompatible should be discarded for good. Now we should talk less about the ‘transition to democracy’ and start talking more about the daily trials and tribulations of democracy. In other words we should see our Islamic faith and our democracy as a mainstream part of our lives. In doing this we demonstrate to the whole world that the extremists and terrorists who claim to act on their faith, without any popular mandate from the population they claim to represent, to be a tiny minority mainly hiding out in small failed states.

Stalwarts of democracies around the world have an obligation to ensure that the emerging Muslim democracies succeed. They should use every possible means to build and strengthen institutions, invest heavily in voter education and development of civil society. These are key to any successful transformation to a democracy. Only then the East and West can start speaking a common language – ie. the language of democracy.”

Read more


12 thoughts on “Islam and Democracy: Dr Hassan Saeed”

  1. Who are you kidding. Islam in its pure form, no equals, originated from the most backward and ignorant imbeciles on earth. Which is the reason why it spread. It is easy to convince imbeciles.

    The closest to it's origin is till practiced in KSA. Saudi.

    Democracy is completely incompatible with Islam. Those who say they align is trying to grab power and intimidate everyone to stay in power until they die.

    Doc or no doc, please do not lead us astray anymore...

  2. Turkey is probably the only democracy in the islamic world and that is because it is SECULAR.....Maldivians are advised to look up the meaning of SECULAR in the dictionary because you don't have the foggiest concept of the word.
    Egypt a democracy?.....ask an Egyptian coptic christian that question.
    Pakistan a democracy?.....ask the shias and ahmaddiyas that question.
    There is no such movement as 'emerging muslim democracy' 'Doctor' Hassan is a figment of your imagination.....and judging by the pathetic example of Maldives, only growing intolerance and fanatism in the islamic world.
    Democracy will be a long time coming the the have just deposed a democratically elected are an intolerant 100% sunni muslim nation.....and you have some of the most discriminatory religious based laws in the world.
    It seems ANYBODY can prefix 'Sheikh', 'Islamic Scholar' and 'Doctor' to their name in the Maldives!!

  3. our country is flushed with ignorant anglophiles who gets their education mostly from google. that's why they say Muslims are backward. If you say a country or a people are backward, then no more needs to be said. you just proved your ignorance.

  4. Is there such a thing as a Muslim democracy?

    There are Sahih Ahadith which, if applied out of context, are incompatible with democracy. For example, one Hadith says that, if the Imam (implying Political leader and not just Prayer Leader or religious Leader in this context) is challenged, kill the challenger. Should we apply this literally, it does not exactly make it easy to have free and fair elections now, does it?

    We can, of course, see MANY deeply democratic sentiments and ideas in Hadith and Qur'an as well, and we could argue that it is ludicrous to think of applying such Ahadith out of context. In the above example, we can see that the Hadith was given in a time of extreme anarchy and brutal warfare, and that, order (Muwahidd or Oneness) had to be preserved at any cost to preserve life.

    However, not all Muslims who reject what a Westerner may mean when he says a democracy are extremists. Many moderates for example, would argue that, Allah's Will is Sovereign ONLY, and to recognize the sovereignty of the will of the people, (which is the case in democracy) is Taghut, Shirk, that is to say - idolatry... Therefore, even moderate Muslims who claim to be democrats, though they may uphold many liberal democratic values, such as free and fair elections, rule of law, separation of powers, constitutional rstraints etc etc... May be actually some form of theocrats, because, they may argue that all laws must ultimately conform to Allah's Law.

    There are many many contested understandings of democracy. I certainly cannot claim to have a monopoly on the meaning of these terms, liberty, democracy, what you envisage about the meaning of liberal democracy may be better than mine. But words are sign posts, so we need to be sure we are talking about the same thing.

    I reiterate, the Maldives is free to be what it wants and to call itself what it wants. You can be a Dictatorial Theocracy and call yourself democratic if you choose. I personally had grown to love the Islamic nature of the Maldives, but I would be lying to call it a liberal democratic nation in accordance with my understanding of liberal democratic. There are many aspects of what I understand liberal democratic to mean which I hate, yet again, I would simply ask, please, don't pretend you are speaking the same language, when you use such terms, frankly it is confusing, and dare I say it, misleading.

    For example, take the word used here civil, are we really thinking of the same concept, because, to me, part of being civil means to respect others freedom to choose - even freedom of religion. I suspect that civil, for many using this term in the Maldives, implies respecting others freedom so long as that freedom is in the framework of Islam, so, are we really using the same language just because we are using the same words?

    So, please expalin to us, Dr. Saeed, what do you envisage for Maldives as a democratic Maldives? By this I mean, what is your perception of the exact nature of the relationship between the State and the Religion which should be in a democratic Maldives? What is the extent Shariah Law is to be upheld as the framework of law, in which courts? Whose understanding of Shariah would that be, what understanding? What would be the, epistomological underpinnings (ways one comes to one's perceptions) of your ideas of what is legal and illegal, how would Shariah be interpreted? What would you mean by civil society, by civil liberty.

    It is not only what you mean by democracy which should be explained. Please explain, for the benefit of many who would like to know, what exactly you mean by Muslim in your word 'Muslim democracy...'

    In the eyes of many liberals, a 'Muslim Democracy' may not be a democracy at all. And in the eyes of many Muslims, a Muslim Democracy may not be Muslim at all.

  5. @Ben Plewright
    When judging a hadith 'sahih', one needs to clearly understand what 'sahih' (sound) means in this context. I think what it means is that it complies with the criteria set by the hadith scholar. Therefore, when a hadith is judged as sahih it means that it is technically authentic; it does not necessarily mean that the hadith is a verbal utterance of the Prophet. In order to further see this point, one needs to compare the term hadith with the term sunna which predates hadith. Sunna refers to the normative practice which came to be understood as the practice established or given tacit approval by the Prophet. Later, i.e. after Shafii (d.204 A.H), the established practice was deemed insufficient as legal evidence and textual proof was demanded and this lead to the collection and compilation of the bulk of the hadith material.
    Many including al-Bukhari consider the 'political hadith' of spurious nature that reflect the political turmoil of the later years of the Orthodox Caliphate.
    As for Islam's compatability with liberal democracy as understood in the West (Western Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc), it cannot be said that they are compatible if one takes Islam to refer to the political Islam construed by today's Islamists in the light of their understanding of Islamic Law (Fiqh), the first concrete formulation of sharia which of course pre-dates modernity and are to a large extent influence by the cultural and intellectual developments of that era. However, if Muslims were to take up the challenge of reformulating sharia, i.e. producing a new fiqh, an Islamic Law, and deal positively and in a creative manner with modernity, which other major religions including Judaism and Christianity had already done, then Islam and liberal democracy could be compatible. This is not an easy process, but nevertheless, it is not unachievable. To begin with, one needs to look into a number of things: to identify the mutable and the immutable components of Shari'ah; differenciate between the forms and priciples of the concrete Shariah rulings and determine, through contextual interpretation of the shariah texts and also with reference to the pre-fiqhi period (the formative years of Islamic law, roughly the first two hundred years AH) whether the form or the principle is more important. My personal understanding is that in matters related to the societal organisation, the emphasis is on principle, and if this is the case, new forumalations would be given to the principles. Just to make this a little more clear: certain punishments are prescribed in Islamic penal law which are to serve justice. The form is definitely influence by the cultural practices of the time and a contexulasied reading of these texts (e.g. Qur'an: 5:33-40)clear indicates that the emphasis is NOT on form rather the priciple. This is also reflected (albeit ignored by many an Islamist of today) in the fiqhi elaborations! As such new forms of punishment may be formulated to fit in with moden day developments (e.g. human rights issues).

  6. @The Mullah:

    I am deeply greatful for your thoughtful response to my questions.

    This what you say seems very similar to what Professor Abdullah Saeed from Melbourne also teaches. I really love Professor Saeed's work.

    Professor Saeed has done more for Da'wa in our nation, Australia, than any other Muslim in this country, through articles promoting the true concept of Islam in The Australian Newspaper, through books about Islam and etc... eetc... He, the Professor, should be considered a hero amongst Maldivians, for his Da'wa work and efforts to elevate the perception of Islam amongst us generally ethnocentric, or IGNORANT Australians.

    I was deeply upset at the failure of the Zahirite Maldivian Sheikh's to respect Professor Saeed because of his understanding of freedom of religion, especially because his primary motive for his work seemed to be esteem the dignity of Islam and people's perceptions of it.

    However, as you said, it takes so much knowledge of context and background to reformulate and re-apply Shariah Law in accordance with human rights. Can you see how in order to have human rights respecting Shariah Law the knoweledge, dissemination, application of Islam would have to be controlled, defined by elitists and alternative understandings repressed? Do you see that, to empower such a liberal authority on Islam so that THAT authority would be respected, obeyed, would need to imply doing some rather un-Islamic things, because, to maintain such authority, power corrupts, and that would give a bad example of Islam as in Islam the Mullah's are meant to be examples of the Sunnah (Ones who follow the Beaten Path...)

    Perhaps, however, given the reality of the need for human rights and the need for it coming through an Islamic perspective because MANY Maldivians won't take it from anything else... this is an unavoibable dilemma (I have run out of creative ideas about this for now) Maybe this Liberal Islamic Version of Plato's Philosophy ruler model (from The Republic) is the best of a bunch of fairly AVERAGE alternatives??? Yet, aren't we then really talking about the construct I call - Maumoonism - and don't we see where the Maumoonic institution took the Maldives in terms of its patronisation of some ruthless elements for stability and maintenance, and the destruction that caused????

    There HAS to be a more creative way, a road out of this seemingly inescapable paradox of Maldivian political reality, as, history will just keep repeating itself as Maldives keeps going around in big circles, from a "LIBERAL Muslim" dictatorship which brews hatred, and explodes into an anarchic, lawless "democracy" hijacked by Islamic extremists, gangsters, drug runners and hedonists which then swings back to the Muslim liberal distatorship, a big merry go round of pain!

    Anyway, whatever happens, I love Maldives, I feel deeply sad to be away from Maldives every day, and I wish Maldives all the best...

  7. @Ben Plewright
    Thanks for your comments.
    I think what's happening in the Maldives is quite natural (I do not condone it and please dont get me wrong.)From time immemorial we have lived through dictatorships and it's only a few years since we have had some freedom. And we are in the process of learning to use it rather than abuse it. I think in the past, even in the west (think of the American civil war, the French revolution) such a major shift in paradigm without problems. Therefore, you do not have to give up thinking or trying to come up with creative ideas!

    As you seem to have implied, the reform has to come within; Muslims themselves must critically examine their traditions and adjust it according to the current realities. In the past, Islam did absorb many cultures and adjust to many different realities. This process, as you may know, is referred to as tajdid, renewal and is a genre by itslef in the cultural history of Islam.
    The systematic beginings of modern tadjid - attempt to deal with modernity, perhaps could be traced to Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan of India. He attempted to distinguish between what he termed as 'essentials' and 'non'essentials' of shari'ah. This later was followed by among others by the poet-philosopher Iqbal in his Reconstruction of Islamic Thought. Later Fazlur Rahman, another scholar of Pakistani origin who spent much of his academic life in Chicago Univ,wrote in much detail on this issue. You may find his writings, especially Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition and Islamic Methodlogy in History very useful in this regard and may help to come up with new ideas. Kind regards

  8. *such a major shift in paradigm did not come about without problems.

  9. "In doing this we demonstrate to the whole world that the extremists and terrorists who claim to act on their faith, without any popular mandate from the population they claim to represent, to be a tiny minority mainly hiding out in small failed states."

    Maybe it was possible this guy missed the paper his compatriot Dr. Jameel wrote about President Nasheed colluding with the Jews and Christians? Otherwise he would have the gall to make the above statement without condemning Jameel.

  10. @Mullah: As you expressed, the European Renaissance and our philosophies of science and reason came directly from this Tajdid you described, they were translated from Arabic into latin in Southern Spain. This Tajdid started in Bagdhad, spread to Morrocco, Egypt, and even Southern Spain.

    Our so called Western epistomoligies, science and reason, do not have to be incompatible with Faith, indeed, ʾAbū l-Walīd Muḥammad bin ʾAḥmad bin Rušd (Arabic: أبو الوليد محمد بن احمد بن رشد‎), better known just as Ibn Rushd (Arabic: ابن رشد‎) was inspired by sentiments in the Qur'an appealing to reason and observation. THAT was why he delved so deeply into, explained better than anyone, and gave us all interpretation and understanding of Aristotle's rules and guidelines for both our inductive - deductive reasoning (or logic and our empirical methods for acquiring knowledge.)

    The early philosophers in the Muslim world were known as Mutazili. THEY, and the Muslim philosophers which proceeded them, such as our "Averroes", were actually the ones who taught our early scientists to stare down religious authorities who were against knowledge not routed in Wahi (revelation) alone.

    They believed in the Qur'an very deeply, but the philosophers had a different understanding of how to understand it. For example, they could contextualize it more because they were more given to the notion of the subjectivity of the nature of Wahi. Also, the Mutazili did not take the anthropomorphic language as literal.

    This fits into what you desrcribed as the ruling, the Hadd, upholding the principle rather than the literal application of an Ayat.

    However, this thinking, in this day and age, is dangerous in the Muslim world, because of the battle that Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal went through over the eternal, objective nature of the Qur'an.

    The more modern Muslims combined literalism with the approach of reason, the Asharites, I describe most modern contextualists as neo-Asharites.

    The literalists which have gained the ascendancy in the Muslim world, who ironically also talk so much about Qur'an and science, were part of the reason for the decline of the growth of creative thought, science and civililzation in the Muslim world.

    I say this to make the point that for humanity to continue to arise in the Maldives, it is essnetial that those with different opinions about religion than the orthodox Sunni Ulemma (learned ones) in Maldives(Islamic Minsitry)are not repressed by the Orthodox Ulema.

    This is all of course YOUR original point about context, but I am just reiterating it in order to emphasize this one important aspect of this liberal Islam talk. One has to be very very strong, self sacrificially courageous, to disseminate liberal Islam. There has to arise scholars who not only have a lot of Ilm about this, but also have a lot of Ruh in order to stare down the literalists.

    This is a battle for the dignity of the Dhivehi humanity which must be won, but, it is a battle which has to be conffronted on many different levels.

    Not only does one have to repress radical Islamists, but laws have to be ennacted which protect the expression and cultivation of liberal thought.

    Also, to route out radical Islam, the social injustices which cause it must be dealt with.

    Ultimately, there has to arise liberals who are filled with the Rahmatullah for ALL HUMANITY, like our Beloved Nabi who was a Mercy to the Worlds, as at the end, it is this Mercy which we must all aspire towards, and it is only the expression of this Mercy which can change hearts!

  11. @Ben Plewright
    "Also, to route out radical Islam, the social injustices which cause it must be dealt with."

    Fully agree. A very important point, I think.


Comments are closed.