Published in ‘The Muslim Observer‘, a very reputable Muslim weekly journal in America
By Ruby Amatulla
It has taken a long bloody history to convince many parts of humanity that it is only through constructive engagements and integrated efforts– and not through wars, conflicts and exploiting others – that a win-win situation is possible in human affairs.
After hundreds of years of incessant bloodshed and violence, Europe finally came to grips with this truth. Seeing the enormous effects of the integration and cooperation of the diverse community of the 50 states across the Atlantic – Europe, after World War II and its massive death and destruction — started to pursue constructive engagement and integration in its own affairs.
Today, another vital part of humanity – containing 1.5 billion Muslims — appears not to take heed of this truth. A mosaic of different tribes, sects, ethnicities and groups of Muslims remain deeply divided, unstable and conflict-prone.
Despite controlling 76% of the world’s oil reserves, this huge community has failed to assert itself as a legitimate power-broker or a significant partner in the affairs of the world. The state of affairs of many key areas of the Muslim world remains degrading and disturbing.
The cause of the grim reality in the Muslim world is its failure to unite, integrate and engage constructively, both among its own populace and with others. And this failure is largely, if not entirely, due to the absence or lack of an ‘impartial’ and balanced rule of law.
We often talk about equality and freedom as being essential factors of democratic rule, but we fail to recognize its paramount influence in stabilizing and integrating a nation. With the existence of an ‘impartial’ rule of law that prohibits destructive ways of resolving issues in society and that does not allow any group to take undue advantage over others by virtue of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc., the people ultimately accept and build a culture of coexistence and constructive engagement.
This is the key to integrating a nation on the fundamental ideas of equality and liberty.
I am convinced that America, by providing the most forceful and impartial system of due process, has become the superpower in our time. By providing the most progressive program of integration to the most diverse community in the world it has tapped a treasure that is unparalleled in its importance and impact in leading a nation towards prosperity.
This is the secret of America’s enormous success.
Good governance is the solution for a dysfunctional state. An accountable, transparent and representative government stabilizes a society. Serious grievances and the possibility of turmoil are less likely, as the citizens hold the ultimate power. The legitimacy of that governance increasingly builds up trust and confidence among its people and institutions to participate and help sustain a stable and consistent pattern of rule. The broad decision making process and the balance of power in a democratically managed society work as shields against tendencies of tyranny and/or domination of one group by another. Self-rule offers important incentives for a society to become stable and progressive.
Importantly for the deeply-religious Muslim world, a democratic system does not need to be ‘secular,’ if secularism is defined as a system discouraging religion. A good governing system should not be averse to religion — as religions and religious institutions play a vital and profoundly important role in society — but it must be impartial as to a specific religion and/or a specific interpretation of a religion. ‘Impartial’ rule of law and avoiding endorsing a religion is how the conflict-prone Thirteen Colonies were saved from disintegration.
Democracy provides a secure environment for all its citizens to practice their respective faiths. If a government maintains neutrality in its rule of law and enforces the resolution of conflicts only through constructive engagements among its citizens, it builds a stable society with a mindset of coexistence, integration and collective welfare.
The Quran is unequivocal in commanding that: ‘There is no compulsion or imposition in religion.’ [2:256]. A faith or conviction must be the outcome of the exercise of free will, for which an individual is responsible only to God and to no one else in the society.
Therefore a state that enforces a religious injunction, or an interpretation [denominations or sects] thereof, violates this fundamental tenet of Islam by enforcing on those who do not believe or accept that interpretation of faith.
A democratic spirit was exemplified in the very first Muslim community under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad (s) in Medina fourteen centuries ago. The Charter of Medina has amazing similarities with the constitution drafted more than eleven hundred years later among the Thirteen Colonies who united to form the United States of America.
The similarities among these documents are to be found in their establishment of federalism, impartiality, consultative decision-making processes and the use of constructive engagement to resolve disputes.
These structures allowed the society to maintain security and functionality, as well as to provide freedom of religion. They also allowed diverse groups of people – in the case of Medina then, the Muslims, Jews, and Pagans – to manage their own community affairs and maintain their own lifestyles within the greater legal framework of society . This paramount example of the Prophet (s) has largely gone unnoticed by the Muslim world.
More than two hundred years ago a small pamphlet called “Common Sense” made a huge impact among the people of the Thirteen Colonies and their leaders. It allowed them to come together and fight against the British, the most formidable power then, to establish self-rule. How powerful and constructive this self-rule has been to integrate the most diverse community in the world and to create a superpower!
More than two hundred years later, a Muslim citizen of the nation that ‘Common Sense’ helped to establish is wondering what degree of human welfare could flow out of a new drive for common sense in one of the most vital parts of humanity: the Muslim world with which the interest and welfare of the world is intricately and profoundly connected! Facing the enormous challenges of our time, how badly needed is that drive!