Written by Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Translation by Umm Hajar (ummhajar@gmail.com)

To some people, democracy has become more like a religion than just a system of governance. More than that, some have even placed it at a much higher position than the principles of their religion. If we tell them that their actions contradict the principles of the religion, they will say, “We have to abide by the requirement of democracy”.

More often that not, democracy bears various interpretations. However, it all can be summarized into ‘a system that refers to the government’s adherence to the authority of the people or to the people’s voice of majority’. In addition to that, it is also stated that democracy respects the rights of the minority.

‘A government that is for the people and to the people’ is one of the interesting slogans carried by democracy. Without doubts, democracy is a much better political system compared to autocracy that favors unlimited authority by a single individual without regarding the people’s sentiments and needs.

In countries that are being gripped by tyrannical government, the people continuously dream of having a democratic government. They revere democracy as much as they revere their religion. Even more, they are willing to be jailed or die for it. Despite of the fact that there is no chapter on Paradise or Hell after death in the democracy doctrine, men are willing to sacrifice them selves for democracy. This is driven by the human need to have freedom and to be treated justly which coincidentally corresponds to the slogans being flaunted by the flag of democracy.

Many of the advocates of democracy perished without having the chance to see the voice of majority dominates their country. Who knows how many have died in captivity without having the chance to see the establishment of ‘the people’s government’ that they longed for. Nevertheless, they were eager and keen to sacrifice themselves even without the spiritual supply of religious texts on ‘jihad and syahid’ to give them strength. On the other hand, the concept of justness fits human nature perfectly and the system of democracy seemingly has a place for it in its system.

However, there is no need for the Muslim world to revere democracy. Islam provides its followers with a system called syura that is just and founded on the principles blessed by Allah. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Muslim world abandon the system of syura causing the Muslims to be ignorant of it and at the same time, the slogan of democracy being cried out by the West is reverberating all around the world. Through its democracy campaign, the West is trying to expand its political power. In the end, the slogan of democracy echoes in the Muslim world and adopted as the people’s dream.

To make things worse, many of the rulers of the Muslim world are oppressive and tyrannical and this deepens the yearning of the Muslims for the freedom to speak, to have their rights protected and to see justice prevails. Consequently, they borrow the slogan used by the West that is democracy. Moreover, the West has successfully proven that the freedom of speech and the voice of the majority are being acknowledged in that part of the world.

Therefore, the West becomes the Muslims’ political point of reference for them to have a taste of how rights and freedom feel like. In the end, the West is deemed as a model in all matters, negative and positive alike, including issues related to religion and custom. All these come about because of the wickedness committed by the Muslim rulers who confiscate freedom from the people causing them to lose their way.

Some avow that even though syura and democracy have different names but they are essentially the same. I do not wish to debate on terminology because everyone has the rights to have his own comprehension on the terminology he is using. Instead, to know what are the principles being embraced is more important than knowing the brand being assumed.

The principles of genuine syura are based on divine revelations whereas the principles of democracy are based on human thoughts. In general, democracy does not contradict Islam since the basis of governance in Islam is fairness to the people as directed by the Islamic decree. However, in principle, there is a significant difference between democracy and the principles of syura.

In the system of syura, the majority voice is respected just as the rights of each citizen are preserved. At the same time, there are principles in Islam that have to be abode by specifically the Islamic decree that Allah lays down for the benefit of humankind. If the majority voice contradicts Allah’s decree, the system of syura will abide by the Islamic decree and will not legalize the haram for the sake of ‘majority voice’. For instance, if the people wish to ‘legalize’ alcoholic drinks or gambling or adultery or homosexuality, a democracy based government has to recognize that.

On the other hand, in the system of syura, the ruler will honor the divine teachings and consequently, the majority voice that contradicts the divine teachings will be rejected. Moreover, it is the ruler’s duty to educate the people with the teachings of Allah so that the people are properly guided enabling them to differentiate between the rights and the wrongs. Majority voice is acknowledged but it is not always right. If the majority voice wishes to legalize the wrongs, we do not conform to it.

Allah says (translated as):

“And if you obey most of those on earth, they will mislead you far away from Allâh’s Path. They follow nothing but conjectures, and they do nothing but lie. Verily, Your Lord! It is He who knows best who strays from his way, and He knows best the rightly guided ones.” (Surah al-An’am: 116-117)

In an electoral ballot, the voting of a prominent scholar whose brain is crammed with various analysis and researches is not much different from the voting of someone who has no education and votes thoughtlessly. If majority in a society wish for negative elements, democracy has to accept it whereas the system of syura does not. Even more, the duty of the rulers is to execute Allah’s command (translated as):

“Those (Muslim rulers) who, if we give them power in the land, (they) order for Iqamat-as-Salât. [i.e. to perform the five compulsory congregational Salât (prayers) (the males In mosques)], to pay the Zakât and they enjoin Al-Ma’rûf (i.e. Islâmic Monotheism and all that Islâm orders one to do), and forbid Al-Munkar (i.e. disbelief, polytheism and all that Islâm has forbidden) [i.e. they make the Qur'ân as the Law of their country in all the spheres of life]. And with Allâh rests the end of (all) matters (of creatures).” (Surah al-Hajj: verse 41)

A ruler with a soul of syura islami will preserve his emotional bond with Allah that has assigned to him the power of authority for him to govern with fairness. A ruler’s faith is Islam and his fairness is for the people. A leader shall not direct his faith to the people and shall not try to make decisions for the religion. If democracy based politics is left unchecked, it will substitute divine teaching with the majority voice.

Days and nights, the power that be dreams of the people’s votes that makes it possible for them to stay in power because power is seen as the people’s trust only and not Allah’s trust. Similarly, the opposing political party that also has complete faith in the principles of democracy will do anything to get the people’s support. In the end, money politics is born. To gain votes, politicians will backstab each other, sacrifice the principles of their struggle and many more. It is to the extent that even the ones carrying an Islamic slogan will change their belief to gain votes or keep tight-lipped about the wrongdoings done by their voters.

In Malaysia, we will see the principles of Islam being abandoned one by one amidst the obsession to gain the people’s support or to win the ballot. The party carrying an Islamic brand is also holding themselves from doing anything when they see that by upholding their principles, it does not benefit them. That is the bad side of democracy that is based on the people’s voice without divine guidance.

I am not suggesting that the name democracy is changed into syura. The point that I am trying to make is that as a Muslim, no matter what is the name of the system that we use or that we have to interact with, we must always apply it based on the divine teachings. We have to have our own distinctive form of principles. If we are incapable to change the name then probably the name democracy can be used. However, the principle that we have to embrace as Muslims is the system of syura that is founded on the duty that a ruler will be questioned about in front of Allah.

If not, democracy will overwhelm the principles of Islam and will cause both the rulers and opposition to lose their idealism. They will be so engrossed in trying to cope with the people’s desire that is being influenced by various requirements of globalization. In the end, both the rulers and the opposition strive to fulfill the whims of the people rather than educating and guiding them. As a result of that, the country is ruined.