What Islam Says, and Doesn’t Say


Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author of “Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters” and the editor of “Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism.”
The New York Times
October 5, 2012

Modern nation states utilize political models that were unanticipated in any of our premodern scriptures. It is anachronistic to ask whether “Islam” endorses constitutionalism or democracy. Islam as such does not proscribe any one particular system of government. (Of course “Islam” doesn’t do anything, Muslims do. We human beings are the agents of our religious traditions.)

Rather, there are general ethical principles that have to be guaranteed under any system of government that Muslims adopt, like social justice; protection of life, property, and honor of humanity; accountability of rulers to law; distribution of wealth; and protection of minorities. All systems of government are imperfect, and it is not only good but also healthy to be perpetually vigilant against abuses of any form of government. However, it may also be the case that a genuine and robust democracy is the least imperfect of all imperfect political models today, as others before us have said.

By speaking of a robust democracy, we are not talking about simply copying the American model of democracy, which is in many ways broken — beholden to special interest groups, and perhaps better labeled as an oligarchy or plutocracy. The ideal model that I see for Muslims would be more akin to some of the European models that combine democracy with guaranteed social services like universal health care, widespread education, respect for human rights and minimized military spending. Then again, we see some of those same European models struggling today with their own inherent racism toward Muslims, so we have to be honest enough to admit that the “perfect” system is one that we will have to adapt, rather than adopt wholesale.

The conversation is ultimately about citizenship, not some mythical blending of “Islam” and “democracy.” All of us, Muslim and non-Muslim, are now citizens of pluralistic societies where we live together as neighbors. We have to begin by realizing the holistic nature of justice (and injustice); that what happens to the least of us has a profound political and moral impact on all of us.

If we are going to insist that Muslim Americans are full and complete citizens, not merely tolerated guests (and we do); if we are going to insist that Muslim Indians are full and complete citizens of India, not the tolerated descendants of “foreign invaders” (and we do); and if we are going to insist that Palestinian Muslims (and Palestinian Christians) are not second-class citizens in Israel but fully deserving of the exact same set of rights, responsibilities and privileges that Jewish citizens of Israel receive (and we do) — then moral consistency demands of us that we recognize the exact same set of rights and responsibilities for non-Muslim citizens of Muslim-majority societies. In other words, quite apart from world opinion and public relations, the fundamental commitment of justice demands that our commitment to democracy goes hand in hand with a robust notion of citizenship that encompasses every citizen of a country regardless of race, religion, gender, class and ethnicity.

To sum up, there may not be an “Islamic democracy” any more than there can be a “Christian democracy” in American that privileges Christians over non-Christians or a “Jewish democracy” that privileges Jewish citizens of Israel over Palestinians, but there can be — and today, must be — a democracy of Muslims who live side by side in a commitment to a “greater we” alongside our neighbors.

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  1. #1 by monsterball on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 1:19 am

    Please do not bring religions into politics.
    The more we discuss what this is saying….what that saying are all interpretations…that have others interpret with similar powerful arguments…and logic….and no end to it.
    Remember….humans are most cunning and greedy animals and religions are created to control the monkey minds…thousands of years ago.
    You can see clearly….countries that have greedy and cunning politicians love to use religions to win supports.
    In South East Asia….only Malaysia with the ruling party…Umno B love to prove they are protecting race and religion.
    T

  2. #2 by Jeffrey on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 7:03 am

    Are these articles posted here intended to discourse with and change mindset of fellow supporters in PAS??? According to Omid Safi Muslim and non-Muslim, are now (in many places living together) as “citizens of pluralistic societies where we live together as neighbors”. Omar argues that we have to realize “the holistic nature of justice (and injustice)” as it relates to citizenry whether muslims or non muslims; and that in democracy “general ethical principles” including minority rights are guaranteed! If this applies in Muslim minority society, so he argues that “moral consistency demands of us that we recognize the exact same set of rights and responsibilities for non-Muslim citizens of Muslim-majority societies.” Easy for him to hold forth and prescribe such a view when he’s from a Muslim minority society fighting for equal rights. Will Muslim religious/political leaders of Muslim majority societies agree with Omid Safi’s viewpoint ? I don’t think so.

  3. #3 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 8:45 am

    ///Rather, there are general ethical principles that have to be guaranteed under any system of government that Muslims adopt, like social justice; protection of life, property, and honor of humanity; accountability of rulers to law; distribution of wealth; and protection of minorities.///

    Hmmmm… I think the good professor has mistaken the point slightly. Perhaps he really meant protection of “majority”.

    Hoi ibrahim bin perkasa and umno, go and protest. Kasi bakar itu profesor punya poster. Suruh askar semua kasi itu profesor tengok butt show.

  4. #4 by limkamput on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 10:07 am

    Sage, I want to move one step further. It is my humble observation that Muslims in non-Muslim states are enjoying far greater freedom and rights than non-Muslims in Muslim states today. So typical of egocentric argument! Democracy can’t guarantee anything, but among whatever models we have today, which of those is able to consistently provide “social justice; protection of life, property, and honour of humanity; accountability of rulers to law; distribution of wealth; and protection of minorities” and don’t forget gender equality and those with different sexual orientation? It is so typical of us to criticise whatever we have when viable alternatives are not available.

  5. #5 by bush on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 12:58 pm

    This article is from intenet.
    Try to find logic in that !

    MUSLIMS ARE NOT HAPPY

    They´re not happy in Gaza .
    They’re not happy in Egypt .
    They’re not happy in Libya .
    They’re not happy in Morocco .
    They’re not happy in Iran .
    They’re not happy in Iraq .
    They’re not happy in Yemen .
    They’re not happy in Afghanistan .
    They’re not happy in Pakistan .
    They’re not happy in Syria .
    They’re not happy in Lebanon .

    So, where are they happy?

    They’re happy in Australia .
    They’re happy in England .
    They’re happy in France .
    They’re happy in Italy .
    They’re happy in Germany .
    They’re happy in Sweden .
    They’re happy in the USA .
    They’re happy in Norway .

    They’re happy in almost every country that is not Islamic!
    And whom do they blame?
    Not Islam…
    Not their leadership…
    Not themselves…

    THEY BLAME THE COUNTRIES THEY ARE HAPPY IN!
    And they want to change the countries they’re happy in, to be like the countries they came from, where they were unhappy.

    Try to find logic in that !

  6. #6 by limkamput on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 1:11 pm

    Bush, i wish i am as articulate as you!, good job.

  7. #7 by cintanegara on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 2:24 pm

    Sometime I wonder…why LKS likes to talk about Islam la….Malay la…this la..that la…bla bla bla…why cant he talk about low fertility rate among certain community…gambling addict….or other key subjects like…poor leadership of Penang state government….traffic congestion in Penang…..how to deal with Nepotism ka…reminds me of an idiom….gajah di depan mata mereka tak nampak, tapi kuman di seberang laut jelas kelihatan…

  8. #8 by dagen wanna "ABU" on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 2:46 pm

    Hey that rambutan boy is here.

    Hoi, cepat kasi jib dua biji buah tu.

  9. #9 by monsterball on Monday, 8 October 2012 - 3:59 pm

    Cintanegara can keep on wondering and wondering.
    His long absence seems to sharpened his teeth.
    Will he dare to tell off Ibrahim Ali and Hassan Ali same thing?
    Why that son of g…n…teeth maybe sharpened…but his rambutan tree still bears rotten fruits.

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