Muslim Grassroots in the West discuss Democracy
Explanatory Note on Project
The question of the relationship of democracy and Islam was examined. The opinions of lay Muslims throughout Britain and the US were sought in discussions on democracy, human rights and the rule of law among 400 lay Muslims in 38 groups involving 250 hours annotated comments. As the Report closely concerns the question of an inherent “clash of civilisations” it has been put on the website of the United Nations high-level group, the Alliance of Civilizations, which is dedicated to responding to the threat of such a clash. The Muslims taking part were guaranteed anonymity. Lay Muslims were consulted because there is a division of opinion on the issue among Muslim scholars and clerics.
Muslims did not find democracy incompatible with Islam and therefore there was no inherent "clash of civilizations". None of them accepted democracy as a principle or ideal: Islam is the only principle / ideal and it is "drawn down from heaven". Muslims regarded democracy only as a pragmatic means of government, for them it is simply a technology of government, with views ranging from "democracy is probably the best of a bad lot in practice" as Winston Churchill said, to considering it to fail to represent the views of the electorate. However, a strong reaction was that in a democracy in a Muslim country "nothing shall happen contrary to the Qur'an". This has consequences for criminal law and the position of women.
The objective is to encourage wider discussion and understanding in the West of Muslim attitudes to democracy in the context of Islam. This is particularly important in view of the lack of certainty in the West as to Muslim attitudes in general.
The Advisory Council of the Anglican Observer to the United Nations set out to tackle the subject of the "clash of civilisations" as alleged by Samuel Huntington, specifically with regard to Islam and the West. It decided that the feature of the West which should be considered in relation to a potential clash with Islam was democracy. Of course a clash can always be precipitated: but the question is, is one inherent from the nature of Islam and of democracy? It is recognised that some Muslim scholars and clerics find incompatibility on religious grounds and that political extremists do so on political grounds. The question put was what was the opinion of ordinary Muslims who have experienced democracy in the West.
Democracy was defined for the purposes of the discussions as including: the one person one vote (but not "one person one vote one time") secret ballot; and the government to follow the view of the majority and to protect minorities where these are unlikely ever to form a government. Those taking part were asked to ignore the peculiarities in the British and US systems. In fact they considered a notional Muslim country as the possible subject for democracy. They showed little interest in existing Muslim democracies.

The limitations on the practice of democracy of the proviso that 'nothing shall happen in a democracy contrary to the Qur'an' affect particularly crime and punishment and human rights. These limitations imposed are examined.

The merits and demerits of the rough-and-ready Anglo-American first-past-the-post swing between two major groups versus the broad coalitions found on the continent resulting from proportional representation are compared for their compatibility with Muslim principles and practice