"Is Western-style democracy compatible with non-Western religions? Discuss primarily the question of the Islamic religion."
Although the suggestion that certain religious traditions were more suitable for democracy came under increasing attack from the early 1980s onwards, scholars as Huntington state a link between spread of democracy and religion. Thus in his book on democratization's third wave, Huntington starts by noting the ongoing relationship between democracy and Protestantism, quoting a 1960s study which suggested that in 91 countries studied, the greater the proportion of protestants the higher the level of democracy. In the same way, he links the catholic tradition with the democratic transition from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s since around three-quarters of the countries had a predominantly catholic tradition. So, according to Huntington Western Christianity is a crucial element for the implementation of democracy (Anderson citing Huntington, 2004). Then, in his later Clash of Civilizations, Huntington tackles the question of the compatibility of democracy with some non-Western religions. He argues that democracy might have reached its civilizational limits, and seeing Islam in particular as provided infertile ground for the development of democratic institutions (Anderson citing Huntington, 2004). So what is stated is that if Western religions are suitable with democracy, non-Western are not. In fact, one can take the example of the Middle East, the core of the Muslim world, in which apart from Israel, very few evidence of democratic transition can be found. Yet, one can wonder to what extent the lack of democracy in these countries can be linked with a religious factor.
To tackle the question of the compatibility of Western-style democracy with non-Western religions, especially with the Islamic religion, one can try first to analyze the Islamic traditions and precepts to see to what extent they can be compatible with democracy. In a second part, one can examine the current polities in the Muslim world to see to what extent democracy is compatible in practice.
[...] After the death of Zia, the government of Nawaz Sharif was brought to power in 1990 with a coalition including the Islamic parties, and Sharif introduced his own shari'a bill for islamizing the state which was duly given the vote of approval by the National Assembly. Thus the process of islamizing the state introduced under military rule has been continued by a government brought to power by elections. Therefore one can say that although so-called Islamic states may adopt similar practices with regard to moral and social issues there is hardly any similarity in the political features of such states. [...]
[...] At the heart of its teachings resides an ethical message based on tolerance and the quest for individual pursuit of moral behaviour and enlightenment. In theory, Buddhism rejects hierarchy and promotes ideas of equality. However the Thai State has manipulated Buddhism in a sense of deep conservatist Buddhist order in order to subordinate citizens, employing an officially sanctioned form of religion to provide a source of legitimacy (McCargo, 2004:1). Therefore it is interesting to analyse the regimes of countries with dominant Muslims population to see practically the compatibility of Islamic religious and democracy. [...]
[...] Then, other concepts could facilitate the process of democratisation in Muslim states such as shura or consultation, ijma or consensus, and ijtihad or independent interpretive judgement. The necessity of consultation is a political consequence of the principle of khalifah of human beings. Because all sane adult Muslims, male and female, are vicegerents, it is they who delegate their authority to the ruler and whose opinion must also be sought in the conduct of the state. The importance of consultation as Islamic rule is widely recognised (Esposito and Voll, 1996:28). [...]
[...] Analysing the compatibility between the Islamic traditions and precepts and the Western-style democracy implies first the definition of what must be understood by Western-style democracy. Within the Western tradition, democracy is an essentially contested term. Yet, in spite of the very broad scope of the debate over the definition of democracy within the West, one can try to find a minimum definition. Thus, according to Beetham, the meaning of democracy can be summarised as mode of decision-making about collectively binding rules and policies over which the people exercise control, and the most democratic arrangement is that where all members of the collectivity enjoy effective equal rights to take part in such decision-making directly; one that is to say, which realises to the greatest conceivable degree the principles of popular control and equality in its exercise” (Grugel citing Beetham, 2002:12). [...]
[...] The most obvious examples are the fact that women in Islam are generally entitled to inherit only half the amount allotted to men, that women's testimony are assigned half the value of a men's, or that men are permitted to divorce their wives unilaterally (Ayubi, 1997:355). So from all what has been said appears that Islam encompasses both elements favourable and unfavourable to democracy. Yet, in fact what really matters is how political leaders manipulate such concepts. All religious traditions are multi-vocal and would-be democrats and authoritarians can find and interpret elements within the tradition to support their own political preferences. Evidence of it can be found in the relations between other non-Western religions and political regimes. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee