Rejected by Religions, but Not by Believers


by Reza Aslan, an associate professor at the University of California is the author of “No God but God” and “How to Win a Cosmic War”
The New York Times
October 5, 2012

The question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy is nonsensical at its core, first because it ignores basic empirical evidence (the five most populous Muslim countries in the world are all democracies) and second because it presumes that Islam is somehow different, unique or special — that unlike every other religion in the history of the world, Islam alone is unaffected by history, culture or context.

Anyone who would answer “no, Islam is not compatible with democracy” does not even deserve a response; this is merely recycling the same old tired and disproven stereotypes about Islam that are frankly starting to get boring.

The truth is no religion either encourages or discourages democracy. Indeed, because religions are in their nature absolutist, all religions reject the principles of liberalism and popular sovereignty that are at the heart of the democratic ideal.

But so what? Religions do not exist outside of our interpretations of them. It is no coincidence that in the United States both slave owners and abolitionists not only used the same Bible to justify their arguments, but also used the exact same verses. The power and purpose of religion lies precisely in its malleability. The same gospels that compel a middle-class American Christian in the Midwest to “turn the other cheek” compel the pummeled and poverty-stricken Christian in the hills of San Salvador to “sell his cloak and buy a sword.” The same Torah that commands the elderly Jew in Palm Beach to love his neighbor as himself commands the zealot settler in Israel to violently cleanse the Holy Land of all Arabs. The same Quran that feeds the religious fascism of Iran’s supreme leader nourishes the young Iranian activist willing to risk his life for democracy.

Here is the simple, unavoidable truth: there is no such thing as Christianity, Judaism, Islam. There are only Christians, Jews, Muslims. Religion promotes neither love nor hate, neither war nor peace, neither democracy nor fascism. People do those things, and in religion they will find the justification for any and every answer to whatever question they ask.

So, the question is not whether Islam promotes democracy. The question should be: “Do Muslims promote democracy?” And the answer is some do and some don’t, as is the case with followers of every religious tradition on earth.

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  1. #1 by Jeffrey on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 6:45 am

    Reza Aslan goes to great tortuous length to pooh pooh the debate whether Islam were compatible with Democracy. He says it’s a nonsensical or irrelevant debate because “Religions do not exist outside of our interpretations of them”. If so according to his argument there are only religious believers but no independently verifiable religions existing on their own???? If what Reza Aslan says were correct, can it be equally extrapolated that, according to him, the concept of the Almighty/God also does not exist outside –except- believers’ beliefs and interpretation of it? He contradicts and destroys his own arguments that religions don’t exist independently of the interpretations of their believers -and hence the debate of whether Islam were compatible with Democracy is irrelevant/nonsensical – when by next breath he asserts that “the truth is no religion either encourages or discourages democracy. Indeed, because religions are in their nature absolutist, all religions reject the principles of liberalism and popular sovereignty that are at the heart of the democratic ideal.” This assertion implies that religions do independently exist and that all religions being “absolutist” are not compatible with Democracy. This is a sweeping statement. He has carried out the discourse without defining either “religion” or “democracy” on the assumption that all have pretty clear idea of what each means. Sounds a lot of crap to me what he says.

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