The Islamic state is a state which is committed to upholding the Sovereignty of God. It is expected to use its power to implement divine sovereignty through Islamic laws and a social and cultural moral code which ensures that piety prevails and conditions are created which enable individuals to not only to life a meaningfully chaste life on earth but also to qualify for salvation in the hereafter. It draws a line between Muslims and non-Muslims and confers rights upon them according to that principle. There are hardcore versions of the Islamic state and moderate ones as well but all of them in different ways reject secular, liberal-democracy as the appropriate model of legitimate government for Pakistan.
Liberalism: liberalism is based on the centrality of the individual to the political dispensation. Ontologically liberalism presupposes that human beings are intelligent beings who are capable of making independent decisions in their best self-interest. Epistemologically liberalism relies on material evidence and reason as the source of true knowledge. In different ways the scientific method of testing hypotheses in the light of evidence is considered as reliable knowledge. Therefore, intellectually liberalism is wary of absolute truths.
Early liberalism emphasized negative freedom, but in the 19th century positive freedom was added to enable the individual to live her life freely.
Modern liberalism has two big names to consider. John Locke who advanced arguments in favour of inalienable rights of individuals, including especially the right to private property and of limited government. He underlined the importance of government by consent of the citizens and obedience to it as long as it protected the rights to life and property of the individuals. However, the category of citizens Locke had in mind were the old nobility and the new middle class of bankers, businessmen, traders and others who had acquired wealth through colonial adventures. Women and the poor were not entitled to vote or contest public office.
The American and French Revolutions were typical liberal revolutions.
The second important theorist of liberalism was John Stuart Mill. He advocated the freedom of speech unfettered by any limitations except that liberty being used to harm others. Strangely he considered agitations by workers as dangerous and was against such expression of freedom of ideas. He wanted educated public entitled to freedom of speech without censorship and for all.
As regards democracy, it is a system of government in which power is vested in the people, who elect their government or exercise power directly. Decisions are made by majority vote.
Classical Athenian Democracy was organic and collectivist and not individualistic. While Plato held democracy in unmitigated contempt Aristotle preferred a mixed government of all classes. He too considered democracy based on majority support a dangerous system of government which empowered ignorant and irresponsible masses.
The great suffering caused by unbridled capitalism as a result of the industrialization, urbanization and lousy working conditions in factories and mills led to socialist ideas being expressed to challenge capitalism by several intellectuals including the Englishman Robert Owen, the Frenchmen Saint-Simon and revolutionaries such as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The socialist movement which emerged in Western Europe became a major political force. Marx and Engels led the struggle for workers to acquire the right to vote and for education. Both were granted.
From the early 20th century women began to win the right to vote and in the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War, voting rights were extended to ethnic and religious minorities, and from the 1970 onwards Western democracies began to adopt generous policies on granting citizenship to immigrants. The welfare state became the standard model after World War II.
Contemporary democracy is therefore a synthesis between liberalism and democracy as well as socialist principles of the state providing welfare to the people. While the idea of inalienable human rights is now the norm, government is by majority while the minority is entitled to provide alternatives to the government and seek a mandate in the next election. Majority and minority are political and therefore not permanent. Free and fair elections and a system of multiple parties are considered essential for forming the government. Civil society and a free media are also considered imperative for democracy to flourish.
Of course, the freedoms which are guaranteed are not absolute and states do adopt measures restricting abuse of freedom through laws making slander and libel penal offences. States also invoke security concerns to limit freedom.
Modern democracy is therefore secular, pluralist, inclusive and universal.
In the light of this we can proceed to examine the relationship between modern democracy and the Islamic state. I refer to the discussion I examined in my PhD thesis on the Concept of an Islamic State among intellectuals and ideologues in Pakistan.
While some thinkers and movements adhering to a strong version of the Islamic state reject democracy out of hand, others advance a range of arguments which make concessions to democracy but in a limited sense. Their versions of Muslim/Islamic/Spiritual Democracy introductions qualifications and limitations which are not consistent with contemporary democracy, which is not simply about the right to vote and majority rule but also about inalienable individual rights, as presented above.
For example, the Munir Report of 1954 provides a vivid and pithy account of the outright rejection of democracy by the ulema. According to them, a present-day Islamic state engages only in law-finding and not law-making and these can be identified by the procedures laid down by the Imams. Tanzim-i-Islah-e-Islam organization led by former Justice Kaikaus of the Pakistan Supreme Court takes an identical stand. Thus for example it says, ‘There is no such thing as a man-made law in an Islamic state. Even the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) possessed no powers of legislation proper though whatever he said was binding’. Such an Islamic state is saddled with duties which the modern state in general and the democratic state in particular do not uphold.
The Amir of the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami Syed Abul Ala Maududi, however, does not take such an extreme position and talks about unoccupied areas in which the Quran is silent. In such areas he asserts that through ijtihad new laws can be made but they have to be consistent with the overall supremacy of God’s will. Maududi however rejects secularism and liberal democracy as wholly inappropriate for Muslims.
The human rights he elaborates are more about human dignity rather than human freedom. Thus for example, with regard to the freedom of religion it works only in one direction. Non-Muslims can always convert to Islam but a Muslim cannot change his religion. Although he declares the system of elections and the right to vote as permissible for an Islamic state with regard to political rights, only Muslims are entitled to hold key positions and elect the government.
Allama Muhammad Asad talks of vicarious sovereignty exercised by the people of Pakistan. While Pakistan has come into being as a result of the will of the Muslims, he argues, but sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God. The Sharia is the supreme law of the land, and the government should be elected by the widest suffrage of Muslim men and women. Although he would grant the freedom of opinion, it must be respectful of the Sharia. However, unlike the absolutists and Maududi who rely on extensive Fiqh rulings applicable to all sectors of life he limits such binding Sharia laws only to the explicit laws revealed in the Quran and practised by the Prophet (PBUH).
Ghulam Ahmad Pervaiz who is considered the ideologue of the Ahle Quran Movement favours a controlled democracy which describes that ‘An Islamic state can neither be a monarchy, nor a theocracy, nor a secular democracy. It is based on controlled democracy, which means that the Quranic injunction form the absolute, unalterable supreme law of the land, and the people exercise their freedom within the limits imposed by the Quran’. He too disqualifies non-Muslims from holding and contesting public office.
Khalifa Abdul Hakim asserts that the sovereignty of God does not necessarily entail the denial of the sovereignty of the people. Non-Muslims will enjoy full civil rights and protection by paying jizya. However, men and women will enjoy equal rights.
The most elaborate argument in favour of a spiritual democracy is set forth by Dr Javid Iqbal. Referring to the 11 August 1947 speech of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, he says that all Pakistanis irrespective of their religion are ‘citizens of the State of Pakistan on equal terms’. However, he then goes on to say, ‘ Pakistani nationhood is not the real basis for the unity of the state of Pakistan. ; it is merely an apparent basis… the primary being Islam, which cements us as a nation and also provides the basis for the unity of the State.
On the other hand, he favours the sovereignty of the people but such a state is obligated to ‘defend the Law of God derived from the Quran and Sunna’. He favours modern human rights but restricts the right to contest the presidency or to be members of the Muslim Assembly entitled to make laws for Pakistan only to Muslims.
Former law Minister S. M. Zafar and Professor Muhammad Usman favour a Muslim democracy bound by explicit Quranic laws but otherwise based on Islamic socialism.
Only Justice Muhammad Munir favours a secular-democratic state, including universal and equal human rights and inclusive citizenship. He invoked a hadith or saying of the Prophet, 'Follow me when I instruct you on something spiritual but regarding worldy affairs I am just human being'. On such a basis Munir argues that it is possible to establish a secular state with a Muslim majority. On the other hand, he supports the idea that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations - an idea based on religion and therefore a contradiction in Munir's secular stand.
In the light of such discussion, we can conclude that an Islam state based on Sharia is the antithesis of democracy, while ideas of Muslim democracy too are not wholly compatible with contemporary democracy which separates religion and state and maintains inalienable rights of citizens to follow any religious beliefs or not to have any religion at all.