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Commentary

Can Fundamentalist Islam and Democracy Coexist in a Country?

No: Nothing could have been more irrelevant to Muhammad than consent of the governed.

March 20, 2000|AUSAF ALI | Ausaf Ali, a former professor at the Graduate School of Business Administration of the University of Karachi, is the author of "Broader Dimensions of the Ideology of Pakistan" (Royal Book Co., Karachi, 1988)

It has been well said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I offer Pakistan as a case in point. In its 52 years of history, Pakistan--created on Aug. 14, 1947, out of British India, which became independent a day later--has been placed under military rule after the overthrow of the civilian government by the Pakistani army in 1958, 1977 and 1999. Even during civilian rule, the army has called the shots from behind the elected leaders of Pakistan. While India is the most populous democracy in the world, Pakistan has miserably failed at any kind of democracy, including Islamic. It is clear that along with democracy, all the Islamization programs have failed. Islam and the Sharia, or Islamic law, simply do not have the conceptual resources, flexibility and dynamism to suffice for the governance of a modern state and operation of a rational economy and an expanding civil society.

By now, Pakistanis have developed a sad conviction that democracy as we know it is just not a workable form of government for their country, because Pakistanis do not have the social psychology, the political culture, the social ethics or the common decency for making democracy work.

The difference in the fortunes of democracy in India and Pakistan is that the world view of Indians is derived from Hinduism and that of Pakistanis from Islam. Ideologically, Hinduism is quite compatible with secularism, democracy and democratic values. Islam is hostile toward all three. As the founder and chief executive of the first Islamic polity at Medina in what is today Saudi Arabia, Muhammad ruled in accordance with the will of Allah as revealed to him and translated into his own will. Nothing could have been more irrelevant to his rule than the consent of the governed. There was no room for "we the people" or for legislation by elected representatives of the people because the whole body of laws as laid down in the Sharia was valid and binding for all times. That is the reason why parliaments in Muslim countries even today are rubber-stamp bodies. Neither citizens' right to criticize nor to dissent from their rulers are recognized. Islam admonishes Muslims to obey Allah, his prophet and those in power, as it admonishes women to obey men, because "men are a degree above them."

Islam puts women, minorities and nonconformists at a disadvantage. Muslims do not recognize the idea of diversity in their own countries, though they take the fullest advantage of it in the West. To be sure, a woman rose to the position of the prime minister in Pakistan, but this was resented by fundamentalist Muslim men, because Muhammad prophesied that any nation or organization with a woman as its leader is headed for disaster. Non-Muslims, heretics, apostates and homosexuals are regarded as fit for persecution.

Given the attitudes Islam imparts to Muslims, it is apparent why democracy failed in Pakistan: because fundamentalist Islam and democracy are not compatible. Once this is realized, an honest search for a suitable form of political system, even if less satisfactory than democracy, can begin. As a Pakistani, I find it sad that a people who can master the rules of cricket should have failed so miserably at learning the rules of democracy, which are far simpler. So long as Pakistanis insist on applying the uncompromising demands of fundamentalist Islam, democracy has no chance in Pakistan. Sadly, democracy seems to be doomed in the foreseeable future in the whole world of Islam.

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