Islam's False Claim to Democracy
The Islamic Republic of Iran held parliamentary elections a couple of months ago, and the second round will be held on 11 September 2020. The Iranian regime is desperate to secure a smooth election in the fall, like the legislative one in Egypt scheduled for this November. In Muslim states that hold elections, it would seem that Islam has incorporated a democratic body politic. This is a definitely a ploy of the mainstream media and Islamists, such as House representative Ilhan Omar and the Islamic feminist Linda Sarsour. After all, Muslims sustain "it was, in fact, the Prophet Mohammed who established the first known [democratic] constitution in the world — the Medina Charter — and that his life and the principles [were] outlined in his constitution."
They maintain that the Medina Charter, traditionally delineated by the Prophet Muhammad in 622 A.D., was the first ever constitution to historically establish certain democratic principles and peace among nations. Far be it to challenge that it brought political harmony with the non-believers, let alone fostering human rights as the precursor to democracy, for historically, as soon as Muhammad had the upper hand with the tribes and nomadic peoples he negotiated with, he reneged on his promises.
It must first be pointed out that the Medina Charter was more of an agreement among tribal groups that singled out certain individual privileges and duties among them, as well as the limitations placed on non-Muslims.
A constitution, instead, is the fundamental and organic law of a nation or state that establishes the institutions and apparatus of government, whereby the scope of governmental power is defined, in addition to guaranteeing individual civil rights, as our U.S. Bill of Rights — something the Charter of Medina did not do. That being said, a constitution presupposes democracy, something completely absent in a state that relies on sharia law.
The concept of an Islamic constitutional tradition is complex in light of orthodox Islamic understandings of the utter sovereignty and agency of Allah over the entire world, governments and governed alike. In any case, as the 20th-century Arab scholar Robert Bertram Serjeant explained, the Charter as a constitution is pretentious, especially since there is doubt among scholars as to whether it was written as a unitary document. There is also a question as to its historicity — I being one of the doubters — since only fragments from early Islamic sources survive; most of it can be found in Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, the first biography of Muhammad two hundred years after his death.
Humoring the argument that the Charter is a constitution, two technical points are to be looked at that would disclaim this. The first is that the Medinan period, in which the Charter was apparently written, occurred after Muhammad and a handful of followers were forced to leave Mecca since he was incapable of converting his fellow Meccans to his teachings. Having heard of his gift of prophecy, he was invited to Medina to act as a judge to mediate disputes among the various clans and clan chiefs. In Western terms, Muhammad was primus inter pares (first amongst equals), and the intent of the invitation did not include changing the status quo of power relationships within Medina beyond recognizing him as a prophet able to give rulings on behalf of God.
The second point to be looked at as that Ibn Ishaq relates: "The apostle wrote a document concerning the emigrants and the helpers in which he made a friendly agreement with the Jews and established them in their religion and their property, and stated the reciprocal obligations."
This seems an odd introduction for something that is often referred to as a type of constitution. In the first place, it mentions an agreement only between the emigrants and the helpers and the Jews, rather than with the people of Medina, as one might expect. It clearly delineates a separate identity between the Muslims and the Jews rather than a unified populace. What one may assume is that this served the purposes of Ishaq's narrative in explaining the eventual falling out between Muhammad and the Jews, an assumption bolstered by the fact that Muhammad himself went on to contradict this division when he asserted that various groups of Jews are one community with the believers.
President Bush, during his speech on the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, stated: "It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule. More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments." This could not have been any farther from the truth.
As I explain in my book Islam: Religion of Peace? The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up, an Islamic country cannot separate itself from its religion since such unity is anthropologically based on sharia — the daily guide for Muslims forged from the Quran and the hadiths — which negates any sort of equity or social development within the socio-political field. The problem between the unity of Islamic religion and the state, as has been historically shown, is sharia's refusal to allow any sort of equity or social development within the political field.
Democracy, from our Western perception, prevents government from making laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion, or abridge the freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to peacefully assemble, or the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Even in those states that have adopted a "democratic" structure of government, such as Iraq, which has a constitution that stipulates: "No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy," the same article (Art. 2, A) that says so states, "Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation source of legislation[.] ... No law may be enacted that contradicts the established provisions of Islam." In like-minded countries, such as Egypt and the Kingdom of Morocco, there are still draconian laws, like the death penalty for apostasy or the suppression of the right to speak and the press, which is not unlike those of Iran and Saudi Arabia, where sharia law is the norm.
In Islam, society is ordained to be passive and socially underdeveloped because the sharia-based tenets, whether officially incorporated within a constitution or not, prevail. This state of affairs automatically discourages people from thinking and deliberating in rational terms — not to mention that neither the rulers nor the ruled can reason beyond their divine legislation. Man cannot exercise his free will and becomes a functionary individual. Democracy in the Islamic world, therefore, becomes nothing more than a façade for oligarchic rule: the umma — i.e., the élite of society — who keep the poor and underdeveloped marginalized. So much for the democracy the Prophet of Islam instituted.