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Are Islam and Democracy Compatible?

Reader comment on item: The Problem with Middle East Studies

Submitted by Carl Goldberg, PhD (United States), Jul 14, 2008 at 09:25

Dear Dr. Pipes,

You wrote:"Islam and democracy are indeed compatible." And, under that link you wrote: "Islam, like all pre-modern religions is undemocratic in spirit. No less than the others, however, it has the potential to evolve in a democratic direction. ... To render Islam consistent with democratic ways will require profound changes in its interpretation.

For example, the anti-democratic law of Islam, the Shari‘a, lies at the core of the problem." In fact, history has shown that Islam, FAR LESS than other religions, has the potential to evolve in a democratic direction. Where is your evidence for "no less than others"??? When you use the word "democracy", do you mean merely holding elections?

In that sense, Communist USSR was a democracy; so was Saddam's Iraq; so is Khomeini's Iran; etc. Or do you mean democracy in our sense of the term, that is, a system which guarantees the principles laid out in American Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? If you think that Islam and democracy (in our sense of the term) are compatible, then you must say explicitly which portions of the Koran and the Hadith need to be officially rejected.

Or, if you think that it is only a matter of reinterpretation rather than rejection, then you must show how those specific passages can be reinterpreted so that they mean the opposite of what they so obviously appear to mean. So far, neither you nor anyone else who says Islam has the potential for reform has been able to do this. It is not a matter of simply rejecting some Islamic scholar's radical interpretation of Shariah. Since so much of the Shariah is based directly on the Koran and the Hadith, that is what must be rejected in order to make Islam compatible with democracy (in our sense of the term).

But, Islam, by its nature, cannot reject even one passage of the Koran or the accepted Hadith, let alone many passages. After all, the bedrock principle of Islam, without which Islam as a belief system falls like a house of cards, is that the Koran -- every jot and title of it -- is the literal word of Allah -- perfect, complete, immutable and valid for all of eternity. It is not helpful to awaken false hopes that Islam can somehow, some day, be reformed. Any policy based on that false assumtion is doomed to failure.


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Daniel Pipes replies:

"When you use the word 'democracy,' do you mean merely holding elections?"

No, I mean the whole range of attitudes and institutions that constitute true democracy. For more on this topic, see my article, "A Democratic Islam?"

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