Last updated on: 5/16/2008 12:34:00 PM PST
Is Islam Compatible with Democracy?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
Robin Wright, Global Affairs Correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, in a 1996 essay titled "Islam and Liberal Democracy: Two Visions Of Reformation," wrote:

"Reformers [of Islam] contend that human understanding of Islam is flexible, and that Islam's tenets can be interpreted to accommodate and even encourage pluralism. They are actively challenging those who argue that Islam has a single, definitive essence that admits of no change in the face of time, space, or experience -- and that democracy is therefore incompatible or alien. The central drama of reform is the attempt to reconcile Islam and modernity by creating a worldview that is compatible with both."

1996 - Robin Wright 



PRO (yes)

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, PhD, Egyptian-born Islamic cleric and scholar and contributor to Al-Jazeera's weekly call-in television program "Al-Shariaa wa Al-Haya (Islamic Law and Life)," in an article published in the Apr./May 2002 edition of The Message International titled, "Islam's Approach Towards Democracy," wrote:

"On the other hand, we saw the Islamic Movement and the Islamic Awakening bear fruit and flourish at the times of freedom and democracy, and in the wake of the collapse of imperial regimes that ruled people with fear and oppression. Therefore, I would not imagine that the Islamic Movement could support anything other than political freedom and democracy. The tyrants allowed every voice to be raised, except the voice of Islam; and let every trend express itself in the form of a political party or a body of some sort, except the Islamic current which is the only trend that actually speaks for this Ummah and expresses its creed, values, essence and its very existence.

However, some Islamists still have their reservations on democracy and are even wary of the word 'democracy' itself. What I wish to stress here is that Islam is not democracy and democracy is not Islam. I would rather say that Islam is not attributed to any principle or system. Islam is unique in its means, ends and methodologies, and I do not wish that Western democracy be carried over to us with its bad ideologies and values without us adding to it from our values and ideologies in order to integrate it into our comprehensive system.

However, the tools and guaranties created by democracy are as close as can ever be to the realization of the political principles brought to this world by Islam to put a leash on the ambitions and whims of rulers. These principles are: shura, nasihah (advice), enjoining the good and forbidding the evil disobeying illegal orders, resisting unbelief and changing wrong by force when possible. It is only in democracy and political freedom that the power of parliament is evident that people's deputies can withdraw confidence from any government that breaches the constitution. It is also only in such an environment that the strength of free press, free parliament, opposition and the masses is most felt."

Apr./May 2002 - Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, PhD 



Louay Safi, PhD, a Board Director of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), as quoted by Brian Hadwerk in an Oct. 2003 National Geographic article titled "Can Islam and Democracy Coexist?":

"I think that Islam as a set of norms and ideals that emphasizes the equality of people, the accountability of leaders to community, and the respect of diversity and other faiths, is fully compatible with democracy."

Oct. 2003 - Louay Safi, PhD 



Khaled Abou El Fadl, PhD, JD, Distinguished Fellow in Islamic Law at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in an essay titled "Islam and the Challenge of Democracy," published in the Apr./May 2003 issue of Boston Review, wrote:

"Democracy is an appropriate system for Islam because it both expresses the special worth of human beings...and at the same time deprives the state of any pretense of divinity by locating ultimate authority in the hands of the people rather than the 'ulama [Islamic religious leaders]."

Apr./May 2003 - Khaled Abou El Fadl, PhD, JD 



Asghar Ali Engineer, an Islamic scholar, in an Aug. 2003 commentary posted on the Dawoodi Bohra website titled "Is Islam Compatible with Democracy and Modernity?" wrote:

"The absence of democracy in Muslim countries is by no means on account of Islamic teachings or the incompatibility of democracy with Islam, but due to a host of factors political, historical and cultural."

Aug. 2003 - Asghar Ali Engineer 



CON (no)

Amir Taheri, Iranian writer and commentator on Middle East affairs, in a May 23, 2004 article in The Sunday Times (London) titled "Islam and Democracy: The Impossible Union," wrote:

"Democracy means the rule of the demos, the common people, or what is now known as popular or national sovereignty. In Islam, however, power belongs only to God: al-hukm l'illah. The man who exercises that power on Earth is known as Khalifat al-Allah, the regent of God. Even then the Khalifah, or Caliph, cannot act as legislator. The law has already been spelt out and fixed forever by God...

But the bottom line is that no Islamic government can be democratic in the sense of allowing the common people equal shares in legislation. Islam divides human activities into five categories from the permitted to the sinful, leaving little room for human interpretation, let alone ethical innovations.

To say that Islam is incompatible with democracy should not be seen as a disparagement of Islam. On the contrary, many Muslims would see it as a compliment because they believe that their idea of rule by God is superior to that of rule by men, which is democracy."

May 23, 2004 - Amir Taheri 



Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, Ayatollah and Iranian Shia cleric and politician, was quoted from a statement made in 1998 by Nazila Fathi in a Sep. 25, 2006 New York Times article:

"Democracy means if the people want something that is against God's will, then they should forget about God and religion. Be careful not to be deceived. Accepting Islam is not compatible with democracy."

1998 - Muhammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi 



Daniel Pipes, PhD, Director of the Middle East Forum, in an Aug. 14, 2000 Insight essay titled "Are Today's Islamic Movements Compatible with Democracy?," wrote:

"If by democracy one means an occasional election, with a limited choice of candidates who cannot speak freely, and no voting for the most powerful position - then sure, Islamism has no problems with democracy. But if the term refers to a system in which citizens have those rights (freedom of speech, the rule of law, minority rights, an independent judiciary) needed to make free and intelligent decisions, that they have a real choice of candidates, and that they can vote for the top leader - then no, Islamism is resoundingly not democratic."

Aug. 14, 2000 - Daniel Pipes, PhD 



Adeed Dawisha, PhD, Professor of Political Science at Miami University, at a Mar. 28, 2000 Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy discussion titled "Arab Nationalism & Political Islam: Issues of Identity & Problems of Democratization," stated:

"One thing, in particular that Islamists cannot accept about Western-style democracy is the notion of sovereignty in the people. To Islamists, there can be sovereignty only in God -- not in the people who are the servants of God. Moreover, the idea that the laws are given by the people is rejected as absolute apostasy. Laws are God-given in 'shari'ah,' or Islamic holy law, which is divine and hence timeless and immutable."

Mar. 28, 2000 - Adeed Dawisha, PhD