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Western-style Democracy and non-Western religions – the case of Islam

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  1. Introduction
  2. Compatibility of western style democracy with non-western religions
    1. Religious traditions
    2. Compatibility between the Islamic traditions and precepts and the western-style democracy
    3. The dynamics of democratization in Muslim societies
    4. The responsibility of the khalifah and society
    5. Different Islamic concepts
    6. The important role played by the Islamic Republican Party and the Islamic revolutionary guards
  3. Conclusion
  4. Bibliography

"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. [...]


[...] Yet all we can say concerning their consequences on democracy and therefore concerning their practical compatibility can be summarised as said by Anderson: ?religious tradition still matters, albeit often indirectly, and does so as much by ruling out certain ways of ?doing politics' or setting cultural constraints on politicians seeking to advance the cause of democratisation as by prescribing any specific political form. Religious tradition cannot determine outcomes, but when the factors working for or against democratisation are finely balanced, then whose God is prevalent may just make a difference? (Anderson, 2004:13). [...]

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