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September 05, 2003

Democracy and Demagogue: Is there a meeting place?
Niyayesh Afshordi  [info|posts]

demogogue.jpgLast night, I spent more than three hours talking to an old friend who happens to be a cleric (molla). The subject was if, in principle, democracy can be consistent with Islam or not. He had earlier pointed out a verse in Quran which says:

"...and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the transgressors." 5:47, Shakir's Translation

as well as other verses which say God is the only one fit to judge ( ... enel hokm ella lellah ...). So does this make democracy, which replaces the rule of God by the rule of People, un-Islamic? ... when my calling card alerted the last minute, I was starting to wonder if it is ever possible to convince the powerful self-righteous.

Don't get me wrong. My friend is not a government official or a powerful ayatollah. He is a simple university instructor who probably earns less than most of us. But, still, he belongs to the the powerful class, the class whose ideology rules the society, the class that, unlike others, does not need to hide its beliefs to stay safe.

In a closed society, the praise of this class is exaggerated, up to the only ones who deserve to rule, while the criticisms are either banned or branded as heresy or foreign imperial influence. They have answers to every question and of course your objection is always seen by them as your ignorance. So, can we ever convince the self-righteous?

Arash at September 5, 2003 05:48 AM [permalink]:

You asked: "... can we ever convince the self-righteous ?" I ask: "Need we ever ?" But, let's for the moment assume that we need to. My answer to your question is a "No" for the following reasons:

1- From a purely theoretical point of view, I think one can never argue with them, i.e. Islamic clerics, in a correct setting, because the differences are not quite in the way the both sides argue but in the axioms each take as their premise. Well, of course that is the case for almost all philosophical arguments. The way people, i.e. scholars, argue is roughly and sometimes strictly syllogistic and the differences are mainly in the premises and both sides of the argument try to reject those premises by either trying to deduce absurdities from them or simply by showing their lack of generality. The problem with debating with Islamic, and generally religious, clerics is that they take their premises to be holey, sacred and therefore not subject to any kind of dispute. It's a dogma and no matter how many calling cards you use, they simply will not allow their sacred axioms to be even subjected to questioning. The situation becomes even more impossible in a setting where they have power and you by the rule of law are not allowed, and quite frankly do not dare, to question those axioms.

2- I cannot make any claims as to whether or not Islamic clerics of a reasonable amount of intelligence actually believe in what they preach deep down their hearts. Therefore, I take the verb "convince" here, to mean making them by means of argument explicitly admit fallacy which should probably lead to them putting their turban and shawl aside for good. Now, from a pragmatic point of view, I claim one can never "convince" them because that would simply put them out of business. One should remember that it is the clerics' job to preach Islam. They are not mere scholars. A physics professor is not put out of commission simply because the theory he has been teaching for years is proven to be invalid in certain domains. He still is a physics professor; but the mullahs, well, they are like salesmen. They have dedicated their life, studying Islam, learning all aspects of it, and most of them now make a living out of it. I think it would be too much to ask for them to simply give it up.

Having said that, I really do not think we need to "convince" them. However, this does not mean arguing with them is useless either. It is indeed useful to make them bring on their best defense or else we will either have to study all they have studied all their life or we will never know if they are actually not right. I should like to mention this quote from John Stuart Mill:

"If there are any persons who contest a received opinion...let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labor for ourselves." - On Liberty

Saeed at September 5, 2003 12:15 PM [permalink]:

What about "La ekraha fe'ddin"? I think a new generation of people who have a modern interpretation of Quran might convince "the self-righteous".

Ali didn't come to power till "people" wanted him to. " ... enel hokm ella lellah ... " -as I understand it- dosn't mean "forcing" people to accept one form of government. If one day a lot of people in a particular society accept " ... enel hokm ella lellah ... " they will think about ways to meet that. Otherwise "La ekraha fe'ddin"!

Niyayesh, the problem is our society is going to be polaraized more and more so it's become more and more difficult to convince those people because you are dealing with people who hate each other.

Senior Grad at September 5, 2003 01:15 PM [permalink]:

Arash's rate of productivity amazes me!... I read somewhere recently that Emadeddin Baghi is one of those (ex-)clerics who voluntarily put aside his turban and clerical robe for good. :-) I think mullahs' dependence to that clerical robe for making a living is a big (but not he only)obstacle for them to change their mind...

Niayesh at September 5, 2003 01:27 PM [permalink]:

Saeed and Arash,

In fact, I was careful not to mention if I believe Islam is consistent with democracy or not and why. This is a matter for another post and, interestingly, your opinions belong to different ends of the spectrum on this matter.

As to Arash's first point, as Saeed mentions, Islam is not axiomatically opposed to democracy, and that is why that there are prominent clerics like Ayatollahs Montazeri, Sistani and Sanei who oppose the religious rule in one way or another.

Being an optimist, I cannot accept that the majority of clerics are evil people who, consciously, do everything to remain in power. What is more probable is that the power and the lack of free criticism may impair the clerics' judgement, up to the level that they don't see the other side of the argument, i.e. brain-wash them. Unfortuantely, unlike what Saeed suggested, this could be more of a problem for the younger generation of clerics who have spent all their time within the propaganda environment. May be the next generation, who is exposed to the era of Khatami's free press and internet have a better take on the issue.

Behrooz at September 5, 2003 01:35 PM [permalink]:

"Familiarize the people with the truth of Islam so that the young generation may not think that the men of religion in the mosques of Qum and al-Najaf believe in the separation of church from state, that they study nothing other than menstruation and childbirth and that they have nothing to do with politics.

The colonialists have spread in school curricula the need to separate church from the state and have deluded people into believing that the ulema [religious experts] of Islam are not qualified to interfere in the political and social affairs. The lackeys and followers of the colonialists have reiterated these words.

In the Prophet's time, was the church separated from the state? Were there at the time theologians and politicians? At the time of the caliphs and the time of Ali, the Amir of the Faithful, was the state separated from the church? Was there an agency for the church and another for the state?

The difference between the Islamic government and the constitutional governments, both monarchic and republican, lies in the fact that the people's representatives or the king's representatives are the ones who codify and legislate, whereas the power of legislation is confined to God, may He be praised, and nobody else has the right to legislate and nobody may rule by that which has not been given power by God. This is why Islam replaces the legislative council by a planning council that works to run the affairs and work of the ministries so that they may offer their services in all spheres." (Source: Islamic Government)

Reza at September 5, 2003 02:21 PM [permalink]:

The people who believe in a legislator god fail to share modernity project of man’s self-‎legislation which has actualized itself in free democratic societies. It is God/people relation that finally ‎determines people's political destiny. ‎

hajir at September 5, 2003 03:21 PM [permalink]:

There is no way to misinterpret the verses that cleric has mentioned to Niyayesh. All muslims believe that god is the only legislator but as Imam Ali in Saffeen reminded Khawarij: Quran can't speak and we have to speak for it i.e interpret it. I personally think there is no place for democracy in Islam but I am still a muslim and a democrat. This is a contradiction hence I don't exist ;)

West-Ender at September 5, 2003 03:28 PM [permalink]:
Interpretation of both verses you mentioned, are your own (or your friend's) interpretation of Koran which is definitely not shared amongst the majority of Iranians now; the same applies to the hardcore right-wing conservatives. How did you get to the concept "Rule of God over people" using those verses? Literally, they talk about God's judjement. Here are some points: 1- Not all students of religious studies think that way. Your friend definitely belongs -- or has certain relations with -- the fraction of clerics who are in power. If your friend insists on what he says is correct no matter what you are telling him, then let him stay in his deep ignorance (jahl e morakkab), as he seems to be alien to the concepts of a logical debate in a scientific way. In the opposite front - as you mentioned - there are clerics like Motahhari, Sanei, Taleghani and Kadivar (I'm not sure about Montazeri, as he was once part of the government and is also very old now). 2- Every religious text is ambigous by nature. It is almost impossible in most cases (not all though) to make a religious decision only by referring to Koran itself; the hottest example be the Hejab, Halal-Meat and Alchohol issues [*]. Therefore a lot of interpretations are done by referring to instances in history, to find out what the Emams did in their own life time (~sonnat) and how grand clerics decided to deal with an issue in their own era. This is indeed a very positive point about the Shia religious system, as the initiators/inventors (whatever you call them) of this branch of Islam wanted it to remain dynamic, open and adaptable to any specific time and problem. It's ironic how some of today's molla's completely ignore this fact, insisting that a decision which was made for example by the n-th Imam or Sheykh blabla is the only and only possible solution. If Sheykh blabla could decide how to deal with problems of his time, we can also do that - in accordance to the same religion. 3- Years ago, when clerics were not in power and never dreamed of it, the biggest threat to religion in Iran was communism and its revolutionary challenging ideas. In order to confront this big threat, many religious clerics/academics spent enormous amount of time and energy on professional debates, writing lots of books, giving thousands of speeches and so on. Probably the government of that time also supported this kind of debate (in fear of communists). So in general, a "good" amount of decent theoretical work has been done on communist ideology, but democracy was not only a good thing, but it was one of the biggest mottos in the revolution (to get rid of the dictator shaah and let people rule). Democracy was never thought to be against religion. 4- However, the right-wing clerics in Iran are now afraid of democracy because it is against their rule, so they denounce it all together from head to toe, and they don't let any official debate/research on that issue to be performed. They also try their best to fool illiterate clerics, and make them believe anything democratic is against all religious beliefs - as you saw in the events in city of Qom [**]. Fortunately information is easily available to everyone these days, and those self-righteous people are able to read very many different ideas from the comfort of their hojreh wearing aba and naleyn! If your friend is open-minded enough, suggest him to run a regular debate session about this issue, having guests with different ideas. --------------- ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
saoshyant at September 5, 2003 03:47 PM [permalink]:

Niyayesh, thank you for reviving the democratic debate in a more focused manner:
(West-ender, I thank you for your contribution, while I was preiviewing my comment you posted yours, I appologize for any repitition).

A few questions:

a) Is there one single political Islam? What if I would like to favour the political Islam of Omar or Abubakr who were also called the Amirs of the Faithful?

b) Considering the differences between Sunni and Shiites narratives of Islam, and considering the different trends within each of them regarding the ideal of Islamic state that has a history as long as 1400 years, those who suggest that familiarizing oneself with Islam is required because the conlonialists have brain-washed everybody, but those who claim to be the faithful, I have a set of questions:

1) Which democracy should be considered consistent with Islam? I would not be surprised if , hypothetically speaking, the Athenian Republic existed at the time of Islam and they would have been invited to convert to Islam, they would have found it an appealing religion: First, they would not be forced to free their slaves. Second, they could continue treating their wives as the women of the household with ensuring that they have ask to be allowed to get out (well, they had to compromise that women could own property and should be given Mahr). Other than that, and other than that they had to get rid of their nasty habit of worshiping a dozen gods and goddesses and perhaps drinking alcohol. Finally, they would have certainly greeted the idea of polygamy with much fanfare, while they had to compromise over Hijab.

2) Hence, the question is what democracy are we talking about? 21st century idea of democracy or Athenian idea of democracy, which one with which version of political Islam does one want to find compatible? (I do not know if I even need to mention the book concerning Religion and Democracy by Soroush and/or theoretical interventions of Mujtahed Shabestari into the idea of Reason and Religion).

c) Religious clerics, in all religions have happened to declare each other heretic as soon they would happen to clash over certain issues. They are even further enclosed within themselves. I think we have to consider that as a pathological symptom of any system of belief that tends to create hierarchical clerical systems.

d) From “c”, I think it is fair to ask, if not to conclude, whether democracy, understood as a system of elected representation with varying degrees of freedom of speech and tolerance, may come to clash with any system of belief whose self-acclaimed, self-appointed and fallible guardians (who claim that they are of course appointed by the Mahdi or St. Peter), happen to constantly reject or declare as heretic “their own colleagues” who would beg to disagree.

e) From “d” I cite Arash’s view concerning dogmatism, and would like to remind Niyayeh that the question of compatibility of Islam and democracy immediately comes to mind when one reads your exchange with the so-called University Professor. What happened to the “fact” that we are all fallible? What happened to the fact that his understanding of the mentioned verse can be challenged (I have had many encounters with the Fiqh and if you wish me to arrive at a different interpretation that by the same standards is different, I will gladly take up the challenge).

Saeed at September 5, 2003 04:01 PM [permalink]:

Hajir, you answered yourself. The beleif "god is the only legislator" can't go far untill you interpret god words and this is the place that knowledge comes in.

It's obvious to me that ( ... enel hokm ella lellah ...) doesn't mean "velayete faghih". The simplest reason is that Khomeini's theory is NEW. If it wasn't room for interpretation people would have come with Khomenini's idea a long time ago!

You said there is no place fo democracy in Islam. Do you mean democracy or "US constituition"? If 90% of people of a society want to act according to some interpretations of Quran they will act by democratic measures. Is there a contradiction here?

You should differ between "democratic" values and "current human rights" values. Although there are contraditions between islamic Laws and human rights according to United Nations, there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy.

Saeed at September 5, 2003 04:05 PM [permalink]:

by reason in 2nd paragraph I meant clue ...

West-Ender at September 5, 2003 05:20 PM [permalink]:


1- Democracy is a way of creating/running a government, human rights is a different issue, you can't mix them together. I don't think you can find any decent person in the world who rejects human rights, I mean the one which is respected in the United Nations (I'm not talking about what Bush government clings to).

2- You mentioned "Although there are contraditions between islamic Laws and human rights according to United Nations, there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy". What do you mean by this sentence? Do you mean you can not fully accept the human rights as a muslim? Do you necessarily see yourself living under an "islamic state", and then try to justify or reject compatibility of democracy and human rights with your favourite government system? Why not have a neutral government that tolerates every ideology and belief under a neutral and widely-accepted frame? Look at India, only heavens know how many different religions live together!

What's wrong with living in a neutral state, and letting people practice what they like? By this I don't mean letting drug and porn in streets; but living under a constitution which is defined by common law and community values, and tolerate everything within that framespace. You don't need religion to "rule" and then try to convince the church to accept democracy as part of the system. Kick the church off the top of the pyramid, establish a neutral system and then believe/practice what you wish.

Behrooz at September 5, 2003 05:34 PM [permalink]:

I'll attempt to clarify some of the points from the quote I previously posted.

"The power of legislation is confined to God...". How is this possible? There is room for democracy within Islam, but to some extent only. Democracy by definition means, "a system by which political power resides in all the people, excercised by the people directly or through their elected representatives."

So now, suppose if 75% of the people in a Muslim society wanted to allow abortion. According to the democratic principles, they ought to have a right to excercise their will. However, Islam is still there, and if they are truly Muslims, Islam says that abortion is haram. Now that is what is meant by the fact that "legislation is confined to God"!

Moreoever, the definition of Islam itself is very important! When we talk about Islam, we talk about the submission of ourselves to God! Submission to God takes away our right to make decisions that the Quran and Prophet (saw) have made. The Quran mentions this explicitly,

"It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong Path." (33:36)

saoshyant - I don't know if you're being sarcastic about the political Islam of Abu Bakr and Omar, but the fact that Imam Ali (as) (who is unquestionably infallible) questioned and challenged them points to errors in their ways. Maybe we ought consider the political Islam of Yazid as well?

West-Ender at September 5, 2003 06:58 PM [permalink]:


All that you said, is considered a personal belief. If you are a strict muslem and don't believe in abortion, then don't do it. Legalising abortion does not mean that the government will force you to do abortion. In a democratic system, if you believe abortion is haram, you don't do it. But at the same time there are facilities for those 75% who want to do abortion. If you want your daughter to inherit half the amount your son does, then do it. How do you expect people to live under a system which "you" believe is good? How do muslims live in America and Europe?

Senior Grad at September 5, 2003 07:05 PM [permalink]:

Intereting comments on a very interesting subject.


I do not share Saeed's position, but there is no such thing as "neutral" system. We, who believe in the "righteousness" of democratic practices, would like to think of democracy as above all religions. A system that provides an opportunity for all religions to coexist peacefully under one umbrella. But, as Behrooz quoted from Ayatollah Khomeini's treatise, many muslim clerics do not consider Islam as merely a personal matter. They do not believe that it's not their business if their neighbor believes in many gods. They must, because of teachings of their religion, take care of whoever actively disagrees with their beliefs, even verbally. They want their communities to be run and their youth to be indoctrinated by the teachings of the Islamic dogma. Here's where the theoretical conflict appears, as Arash in his first comment beautifully explained. If muslims today had the military and political power of the secular countries then only God knows what would happen to the non-muslim population of the world: either become a muslim or pretend to have become a muslim (similar to what happened in our society after the revolution) or suffer the consequences, like pay extra tax or be persecuted and murdered. I'm glad they don't have the power. :-)

West-Ender at September 5, 2003 07:21 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad, you are right about that, but how many of those clerics live in Iran (percentage of clerics comparing to non-clerics)? Yes we're having many troubles at the moment, just because clerics who think that way now have strong influence in the government. That's exactly what I oppose, because a cleric who runs a government and has political and financial power, is 100% not the man of faith and religion and truth etc.

I just wonder, why people like Behrooz - who probably truly believe in and practice the religion, want every other person to live under a system which imposes religious values over others whether you like it or not?

Finally, about your statement ( If muslims today had the military... ): Yes, if a fanatic government with a leader like Ayat. Jannati or the Saudi government gets all that power, yes god knows what will happen to the world. But fortunately that has not happened. Also, have really not seen many people who wanted to impose their values to their neighbours in Iran.

Senior Grad at September 5, 2003 07:30 PM [permalink]:

I have good news! I found an article on the net that I had pretty much enjoyed reading a while back. It's a long one, by Stanley Fish. Allow me to quote from it, what I was not able to put in words myself (about the "non-neutrality" of democractic thinking).

"... Who is it that is authorized to determine which version of Islam is the true one? What religious faith has ever looked outside the articles of its creed for guidance and correction? What is the difference between the confident pronouncements that the Al Qaeda brand of Islam is a deviant one [...] ? Merely to pose these questions is to realize that the specification of what a religion is and the identification of the actions that may or may not be taken in its name are entirely internal matters. This is, after all, the point of a religion: to follow a vision the source of which is revelation, ecclesiastical authority, a sacred book, a revered person. One who adheres to that vision does not accept descriptions or evaluations of it from non-adherents citing other revelations, authorities, and texts; and the fact that non-adherents regard some of the convictions at the heart of the vision as bizarre, and regard the actions generated by those convictions as inadvisable or even evil, is merely confirmation, again from the inside, of the extent to which these poor lost souls are in the grip of error and too blind to see....

... there is nothing remarkable in a faith's refusal of a transformation that would undo it. Privatization and secularization are not goals that Islam has yet to achieve; they are specters that Islam (or some versions of it) pushes away as one would push away death..."

It is a long article, but very much worth noting. The focus of Fish's essay seems to be on Al Qaeda, but I would think of the events of 9/11/01 as just an excuse for him to argue that no belief system, not even the democratic one, is neutral.


Senior Grad at September 5, 2003 07:55 PM [permalink]:

Seems like West-Ender wrote a comment while I was trying to select some part of Fish's essay. You wrote: "I just wonder, why people [...] who [...]believe in and practice the religion, want every other person to live under a system which imposes religious values over others whether you like it or not?"

It shouldn't be that hard to understand why this is the case: It is exactly what their faith dictates them to do. Put yourself in their shoes for a few minutes! If you "know" what the truth is (e.g. God revealed to the Prophet rules about how humans should live on earth and these rules are collected in a script) and also "know" how humans should live to achieve salvation (e.g. pray and fast and kill the apostates), then of course based on your "knowledge" (that is, your conviction) you would do the same. You would want to guide all humans to the "right path", perhaps out of mercy, because they're all ignorant not to see the truth that is all too clear to you.

Can you see their point now?

Senior Grad at September 5, 2003 08:19 PM [permalink]:

I should apologize for my long numerous comments, but as I have onfessed before, there's sometimes a conceptual link between my sentences that may not be clear to the reader. On second (or third!) reading they come to my attention. You may have wondered what was the relevance of the sentence that Behrooz also quoted to the whole topic of democracy under Islam? I'm afraid I don't have the mental organization that some of you have (The ones with numbered comments, in particular), so hear's an attempt to clarify my point.

I think democracy and its tenets and its moral imperatives constitute yet another "faith" which relies on certain assumptions (axioms?) that are not provable from outside. Exactly the same way that those who believe in Islam being the right way cannot convince non-muslims of the "truth" of their beliefs merely by logic, those who believe that democratic ways are the right way will not be able to convince muslim scholars that, say, women should have an equal status vis-a-vis men, either. Simple because, as Arash pointed out, the two factions start from different assumptions.

When you think about it, human beings are not equal at all. Equality of (the rights of) human being, therefore, is just an assumption, BUT a very useful assumption. When Jannati (or was it Yazdi?) says the vote of a Faqih should not count the same as the vote of a layman, he has a point. But then, you tell me, who is to decide the vote of whom is worth how much? See, democracy is not without its flaws, but it seems to be the most reasonable practical compromise. Sounds like I'm digressing here. Let me put myself back on track.

Now, if it's all "relative", if those doctrines, Islam on one hand and democratic thinking on the other, are both based on assumptions that are not verifiable from outside themselves which one to choose? I personally would choose the one which is closer to *my* common sense. In particular, I choose not to choose Islam, not because it is "wrong" (because, as I tried to argue, it is as "wrong" (or "right") as any other belief system, including democracy) but simply because I don't particularly *like* the consequences of living in a world dominated by muslims who find it their duty to shove their beliefs down my throat. It's just a matter of taste, after all. :-)

Saeed at September 5, 2003 08:38 PM [permalink]:


You got me wrong. I was implicitly saying that democracy is a model for governing and in my view doesn't have a contradiction with ‎Islam. If 90% of people want some law which could be Islamic in nature they will have the law. Is that strange? In India there can not be any law with religious color exactly because of what you said.

In US for example gay marriage is not recognized because -in a way- US is a religious society. It’s absolutely democratic. Please note that I am not talking right or wrong I am talking democratic or non-democratic!

Be careful that in my arguments I don't consider religion as a heavenly recipe but as something that "people" think it's true. People have the right to choose, isn't it? Do you have problem if they want to choose some laws in a religion? If you have a problem you should begin a campaign to educate people to forget about their religion. Before that you should accept what they want.

…About human rights, I meant more controversial issues like death penalty which is very ambiguous and there are a lot of arguments for or against it and in Islamic laws for example death penalty is recognized...

Senior Grad at September 5, 2003 09:02 PM [permalink]:

What Behrooz (I think it's safe to assume that the last comment addressing West-ender is by him) brings up gets us close to what may be called a paradox of democracy. Let me go to an extreme, for the sake of argument, and ask: what if 90% of people in a society vote, by their free will, for a non-democratic government, say, for a dictator (whom they may revere very much for whatever reason) to rule over them and who would abolish all existing democratic institutions? Would (or should) a democracy allow that to happen?!

Likewise, if 90% of the population in a society, because they believe in Islam, vote that anybody who abandons her/his ancestral religion should be given the capital punishment, would a "democracy" allow that? Wouldn't it somehow contradict itself (or other related concepts such as human rights) by allowing such legislation? So where are we to draw the line?!

You are saying if a society is mostly mulsim, then imposing a democratic method of government on it would not un-Islamize it, because the *majority* of people choose Islam over its possible rivals. BUT, when the years pass and the world changes, then the youth in that society may not want to adhere by what their parents and white-bearded scholars adhered to. It is then, that the conflict between Islam and democracy will be crystal clear. You should either take one, or the other, because if you want to stick to democracy, then you cannot have Islam because *now* the majority votes against it, or at least against its being so powerful in making decisions for people, as is manifested by the institution of Velayat-e Faqih. Also, if you want to stick to Islam, then you should abandon democracy, because of the same token.

Am I making sense here?

Behrooz at September 5, 2003 09:41 PM [permalink]:


1. I don't think that you are seeing the subtly to my point. As soon as a person considers themselves to be an adherant of Islam (by following the Quran and Ahlul Bayt), there are automatically limits to they type of democracy that one can practice. Senior Grad correctly points out that like Islam, the whole theory of a "secular democracy" is a doctrine, with its own precepts and assumptions.

2 "Behrooz - All that you said, is considered a personal belief."

So too is is your "belief" in democracy. Whether you want to believe in Quran 33:36 is a matter of your own belief as well. However, in an Islamic Democracy, limitations exist.

3. "I just wonder, why people like Behrooz - who probably truly believe in and practice the religion, want every other person to live under a system which imposes religious values over others whether you like it or not?"

Again, your views about democracy also constitute a belief system. You also seem to have a gross misunderstanding of Islam, at least for those who don't practice it. Remember, "there is no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

So again, all I can say is that yes, Islam is compatible with democracy, but with certain limitations. In a non-Islamic state, we've also seen limitations in democracies. Take Canada's example of attempting to legalize homosexual marriage. In an Islamic state, because certain legislation has been ordained, it is clear that it could never be legalized even if 75% of the population was for it. However, in Canada, it seems that even the democracy isn't working, as a group of unelected Judge's have practically made it law. I hope what I am making clear is that whatever "democratic" dogma you believe in will have its limitations and problems.

saoshyantperseh at September 5, 2003 09:45 PM [permalink]:
My questions have been left unanswered. Perhaps, they were not found relevant. 1) Behrooz, the justification of Yazid, Ma'aviyah, and even Osman, Omar and Abubakr before them was one of those differences over interepretation arising from tradition, "the sunna". The believed that when it has been said "uti'ollah and uti'ur-rasul va ulul-amri menkom" (obey god, his prophet, and those who are in charge of your affairs". It is not refering to Ali or the children of Fatima. It is a reference to any ruler who is Muslim (and of course by their standards also "Arab"), and even if he commits opression he should be obeyed regardless (even if he commits sins, he should be obeyed). Conclusion, any interpretation can be challenged. You do not beleive in this interpretation, many in the Sunni world justify the rule of many rulers in this way. The only problem that they have with Algeria military or Mubarak is that they are the puppets of the infidels. If they were not such puppets, even if they would be such oppressors in the end of the day, these Sunni muslim berthrens of yours preach their obediance. 2) Democracy understood as liberal democracy does not pose any paradox towards the issue of substance. It is a way of thinking that can be ideologized, but is heavily dependent upon a moral premise: pluralism. 3) Pluralism requires that majorities cannot in the name of democracy disregard minorities and rule them out, put them in ghetos, or in concentration camps. Pluralism also requires seeking the consultation and consent of all citizens (I know I am harboring a very ideal model of liberal democracy). 4) Throughout the past 250 years, those who believed in (3) were not successful in advancing their ideal in due to two major trends: a) counter enlightenment forces; b) capitalist colonialism. 5)Counter-enlightenment forces were the forces that supported aristocratic ideologies, feudalism, slavery and inequality between peoples due to their colour and gender. They wanted the Bible be the guiding book for the legislation. In many young Western democracies of late adn early 19th century, such as Belgium, Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands, Christian Democrats and/or Cosnervatives were exteremely strong. In fact, due to the strength of Christian conservatives many issues that are sanctioned by the liberal democracies were not allowed by them: refusal to grant the right of vote to women and/or refusal of allowing people of colour to be treated as equals. 5) Is such universalism that is so humanist a religion? Perhaps. Is it better or worse than "an" Islam whose one of its greatest leaders, Ayatollah Khomeini, started his movement in 1960s partly with a campaign that supported feudalism and rejected the right to vote for women? Is not this true that Sheikh Fazollah Noori one of the most important opponents of Constitutional Democracy in one of his treatise in response to Emado-ulama Isfehani (who supported constitutionalism) said that "Zartoshtis who are definitely infidels should not have the right to sit in the Parliament" and that Fereydun Zartoshti's murderer (who was murdered by a Muslim in 1901 or 1902 and Constitutionalist wanted the execution of the murderer) should be freed because he was Muslim and so had superior blood as opposed to "the Zoroastrian dog". (quote is from Noori I can provide the citation should any one require). 6) If democracy in its idealism represents such a humanism I would aspire to that not to a religi ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Saeed at September 5, 2003 09:49 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad, it is not crystal clear. New generation will change the law when they want to.

I didn’t go through the details. For example it is nonsense to change constitution every while (for each generation). The constitution should certainly be clever enough to consider the change in the society. Not like our constitution which even the Arabic language education is included in it.

My point was about axiomatic contradiction of Islam with democracy. That's all.

saoshyantperseh at September 5, 2003 09:55 PM [permalink]:

I know that neither of Khomeini and/or Noori never claimed Massumiah, but I have to mention that they effectively supported/established as system that claimed whoever that it was dealing with it was in the name of the divine and so they were exempt. In fact, Khomeini in a letter concerning Maslahat told Khamenei that Valiyeh Fqih holds a position "parallel to that of the Prophet". Moreover, Khalkhali with reference to Makarem Shirazi and Misbahi Yazdi has every now and again mentioned that those that he killed at the beginning of the revolution would go to Paradise if they were innocent.

I might have confused historical Islam to a degree with ideal democracy, and I accept the onus of blame if some one raises such an objection.

But what I would like to point out is that these idealists of Islam who keep putting to practice their ideals do not even want to give a chance to any form of democracy, even though they know that the colour and smell of any such democracy in a Muslim society like Iran will not be completely without the traces of Shiism (in whatever form or substance). Moreover, they reject even those of their own who have happened to change their mind, which brings us back to the question of lack of pluralism from within.

Behrooz at September 5, 2003 11:02 PM [permalink]:


I actually agree with much of what you are saying. Islam and democracy are not only compatible, so too is their association. In an Islamic society, one without the other is not perfect.

On this, Abdolkarim Souroush has said, "I have given two bases. The first pillar is this: To be a true believer, one must be free. To become a believer under pressure or coercion will not be true belief. And this freedom is the basis of democracy. The second pillar in Islamic democracy is that interpretation of religious texts is always in flux. Those interpretations are also influenced by the age you live in. So you can never give a fixed interpretation."

Thus, everyone is entitled to an interpretation. Although some may be more scholarly than others, no one version is automatically more authoritative. Of course there is an obvious exception with the Prophet's and Imams which of course necessitated their infallibility. However, for the fallible among us, history usually decides, and as Imam Ali (as) has said, "If two opposite theories are propagated one will be wrong." (Nahjul Balagha) And hence, my (sarcastic) remark about Yazid.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 03:28 AM [permalink]:

It is intersting to see the turn that the discussion is taking. Although I intended to save it for a different post, I should have expected that it would be inevitable. Apparently, the principles that the clerics abide by are more fascinating than their psychological state.

As to the question of Islam vs. Democracy, like some of you, I also believe that they are compatible. As an evidence, I could point out how Abu-baker and Imam Ali reached power. Both processes seem to have been democratic. As Shiias, we believe that the first was "wrong" and second was "right". However, the infallable Imam (Ali) seemed to accept both, despite his religious beliefs or personal reservations. Doesn't this mean that democratic values are more important than religious ones and not the other way around?

It appears to me that democratic values are about feasibility of a government, which is required to establish a stable and fair system. I believe this is the logical pre-requisite of any lasting government which belives in justice. This supersedes any other religious observation which may contradict democracy. Everybody has a right to interpret God's word or which of his words he/she wants to listen to.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 03:46 AM [permalink]:

One thing that I wanted to add was that democracy and religion are very different things.

A simple analogy that I like is the way that we make a car. A good car is a reliable one, one that speeds up when you push the pedal and stops when you break. A good car takes its passengers to the their desired destination, may it be a worship or a prostitute house. In the same sense, democracy is the system that fulfills the desires of the citizens. A good democracy, may be an evil one, or a righteous one, depending on what the citizens want.

Therefore, I believe comparing religion and democracy are wrong as they are supposed to surve two very different purposes. Religion is ther to define good and evil, while democracy is merely the efficient and stable system of government. However, they seem to be comptaible (at least for Shiiate Islam) as I mentioned in the last comment.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 04:11 AM [permalink]:

Here are my answers to your questions about Islam:

a) The only logical and practical way of defining a political Islam is through a democratic process among Muslims or their elected representatives.

b-1) Democracy, defined as the rule of the people
is consistent with Islam in the absence of the prophet and Imam. Any addidtion to this concept should be individually checked, again through a democratic process, to see if it conforms with Islam. For example, both pluralism and freedom of speech, which are required for a successful democracy, are consistent with Islam (there are verses in Quran supporting each of them).

b-2)It is up to the people to see what they want.

c) I would call the Shiiate clerical system academic, instead of hierarchical. Accusations of heresy are typically by non-clerics or clerics with political motivations, not the ones with academic interests. Anyway, heresy should be clear enough so that you don't need a cleric to tell you if it is one or not.

d) A society that can maintain a democracy should be mature enough to disregard accustaions of hersesy or such non-sense.

e) What can I say? everybody is fallable, but it doesn't mean we cannot have any beliefs.

nina at September 6, 2003 08:01 AM [permalink]:

It is an existing question about them:"can we convince the self-righteous" at all?

If we see them as persons like your old friend, I could say it can't be only with words, ideas or thoughts to change their mind and ways .He need a more affective input because we are speaking about personal beliefs, which have been installed in a mankind since his childhood maybe. These more effective inputs include the events in circumstances around him such as observing that a narrow-minded manner could effects malignantly on which is around him, from persons and families to different systems such as economic system or government ;or observing even his friends' treatments and acts. Only VIEWING REAL THINGS and being effected could change a person basically. Of course it needs brightening in abstract meanings; maybe these controversies could accelerate this happening.

But viewing as a system which he belongs to, the matter is different a bit. Changing a system is accomplished by changing more members of that system personally (as said) then we could have possibly changing in system norms.

I agree that it's not an easy way but perhaps the only way to change existing circumstances and to set up our desiring system is to reveal our beliefs by words and acts.

BHS at September 6, 2003 09:08 AM [permalink]:

Senior Grad: ``[Islam] is as "wrong" (or "right") as any other belief system, including democracy. [...] It's just a matter of taste, after all.''

--I disagree! That we cannot decide on the truth of two belief systems on logical grounds does not mean that they are both as wrong or as right. Truth is undefined in logic, something we have to bring with ourselves into it. So it should be decided over in other ways. Taste could be one of them if the two conflicting individuals would not resort to violance. In fact, one of the necessary conditions of a democracy is that personal beliefs on how the society should be run (and these could be non-religious as well as relgious) are reduced to what I'd like to coin as matters of pseudo-taste: they are considered personal and not to commit violance over, but still allowed to play a role in the society through the individual's stance in elections, etc. That is, as far as these beliefs are not in conflict with the very idea of democracy: If these beliefs deny the democratic system altogether, e.g. as the conservatives do in Iran, the fate of the dispute cannot be determined only through debates, but actions. One may still refrain from (severe) violance as a matter of principle or whatelse, but there won't be an escape from taking action.

Saeed: ``If 90% of people want some law which could be Islamic in nature they will have the law.''

--I want to emphasise a point that Soashyant also pointed out: It seems to me that Saeed thiks of democracy as the rule of majority. Not So! Democracy is the rule of people, all people, hence Soashyant's comment on its pluralistic moral basis. Thus, recognition of an extended set of universal rights (Rights) for the individual and various minority groups, including a minimal fixed subset--see a few lines below, is necessary for a system to be considred democratic. By this very definition if 99.9% of the people of a muslim country want to impose a law that abolishes even one of the Rights--by this I mean, decrease its universal coverage, this wouldn't be considered democartic. You may still argue that one could set out an islamic set of Rights. I'd agree, subject to the inclusion of a few basic Rights. To give a few examples: (1) freedom of speech, (2) right to dissent, and (3) right to life and equal participation in the social life (education, health, vote, job, etc.) independent of race, gender, religion and ancestory.

I claim that thus, the whole theoretical discussion on the compatibility of Islam and democracy is reduced to the compatibility of this scheme of Rights with Islam.

Niyayesh: ``Religion is ther to define good and evil, while democracy is merely the efficient and stable system of government.

--I disagree! A religion that decides for the good and evil on a social level, and in particular prescribes ways of governance based on those social good and evil, is not disjoint from whatever form of government the society seeks. Unless you restrict the domain of the good and evil defined by the religion to the complement of whatever required by democracy (or any other system of government). The point is that any system of government, especially democracy, brings in its own set of good and evil at least on a social level.

Saeed at September 6, 2003 10:05 AM [permalink]:

I want to clear my 90% discussion. Obviously I did not mean that 90% can set a law to make the 10% in prison! In another comments I emphasized the fact that the constitution should consider all fractions of society and even the change that a society might take in the course of time. For example, in my opinion 40% of women should NOT be forced to have HIJAB just because the 60% want HIJAB. However, if 90% of a society wants one specific "foreign policy" at a time which might have ISLAMIC COLOR they should have it if you want democracy.

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 01:07 PM [permalink]:


I am willing to take back my assertion that any belief system is as wrong/right as the other one. This may be true from a non-human standpoint, but we, as humans, must believe something to be right and other things to be wrong. All in all, it is a difficult question, I agree.

You seem to believe in non-violence and non-violent action. I do agree with you on that, meaning you and I belong to the same camp here. But you should keep in mind that this doctrine itself is not a universally held imperative. In other words, whether violence is permissible or how much of it is advisable in what situations is a matter of taste or "pseudo-taste" itself! Many would simply disagree with us about the role of violence as well as many other matters that adherents of democracy take for granted...

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 01:41 PM [permalink]:

I'm glad saoshyantperseh brought up the issue of Ayatollah Khomeini's opposition to women's right to vote. I myself had no idea that it has been the case until I saw it in the biography of the ayatollah by Baqer Moin. (A surprisingly balanced presentation, an interesting read, and a must for every Iranian!) So what happened to that after the revolution? How come women got the right to vote? How come mullahs didn't require a woman's vote to be counted half the vote of a man, and then didn't sit in their madrasas and debate the important issue of how much, then, the vote of a transgendered person should count for long hours?

Did they really allow women to vote all of a sudden based on some ijtihad, or was it all due to the pressure of the political atmosphere then, and they did allow it for the greater good of preserving Islam or Islamic Republic? I am using the women's right to vote just as an example here, mind you. On many issues, they may at some point say that they have found a "reading" of the scripture and sunnah that makes Islam compatible with modernity, democracy, human rights, etc. Would they come up with these readings if these notions, that originated from the West, were not brought to their attention?

So I conclude that either they do not believe deep in their hearts about the validity of such "readings" and yield to them as a matter of urgency, or they're simply fooling themselves, in the latter case they remind me of those who were searching for hidden signs of modern science in Koran. They would find a verse, for example, that shows the Theory of Relativity was first pointed out to in Koran, or nonsense of this sort.

Now the question is who is supposed to decide what reading of the scripture is the correct one. As Fish points out very eloquently, there is not mechanism for making such decisions. So the more important question is, Will not mullahs return to their old readings of the Book and sunnah, once they gain enough power to allow them to impose their re-readings on the people they rule over? Will not they come out and say: When we accepted the Human Rights and told you people that it is in accordance with Koran and hadith, we did so only for the greater good of preserving Islam, but the truth of the matter is that women should not have the right to vote, because we, who are now in power, have found a new (or old) reading of the scripture to be more valid!?

Number 6 in saoshyantperseh's comment above attests to what I said re taste. You cannot really argue that Shaykh Fazlollah was right and wrong in an absolute sense. He was right (and I would like to think, more sincere in his beliefs than many of ruling mullahs today) within his own system of beliefs, his own reading of Koran. It is, therefore, a matter of taste to choose what kind of belief system you prefer to adhere to.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 02:50 PM [permalink]:


On your response to Saeed: What you seem to be talking about is an ideal democracy; something that only exists in your mind. A practical democracy does not have a fixed set of rights. One democracy that I am familiar with is America. Here you can take away any right based on national security reasons. It appears to me that every democracy may do similar things, given the circumstances. It is ultimately up to the people to regularize/educate their own votes/represntatives via the media, NGO's, etc. to keep as many rights as they want.

On your response to me: I have already argued that, even in Shiia tradition, the democratic values supersede the religious ones. I still would like to refer to my analogy of making cars. There is no good or evil car. However, the better cars are the ones that surve their purpose more efficiently/reliably.

All government systems are democratic by nature. In the more efficient ones, the constituents vote on paper ballots, while in the less efficient ones, they should use warm or cold weapons for this purpose. In the absence of an infallable Imam (or even in his presence, as in the case of Imam Ali), this has no contradiction with Islam, and more so, is inevitable. On the question of rights, there is no universal set. For example, you cannot just put pluralism in the constitution and expect people/government to respect it. This has worked for western countries, as they were plurlaist to begin with (having opposing branches of Christianity). In the end, it's what people want that counts and not some piece of paper that was written 200 years ago, no matter what you think is the right thing to do.

West-Ender at September 6, 2003 02:55 PM [permalink]:

In a democratic system, there is nothing wrong with people voting for example for a law which tastes islamic. Based on the posting, I feel some of you (Saeed, Behrooz, ...) have thought that others are trying to say there is room either for democracy or for islamic values.

I oppose the idea of having an "Islamic" state which imposes islamic values to people of every kind and belief. The difinition that Soachyantperse and BHS gave a few posts before about democracy and pluralism is very clear. All of population of a country like Iran have grown under Iranian traditions and values, which is influenced by their religion throughout centuries. The majority of the elected parliament will reflect that fact, although the minority will also have their own representatives to defend their own rights.

e.g.: If Zoroastrians in Iran want abortion while Shia's don't, the government system should be democratic enough to let both groups get the civil rights they want in order to survive; If Sunni's think going to shrines of saints is blasphemous but shia's love it, sunni's should not be able to prevent shia's even if they are the majority; and so on.

Religion as a belief - with all it's values and limiations/freedoms, should come UNDER the frame of democracy in a government system; because the government system and constitution are frameworks for people of every kind, belief, colour, age, religion, etc. Let me use the guardian council as an example. It's impossible to have a democratic islamic government when you have a guardian council which cuts and pastes every legislation passed by the parliament according to beliefs of a number of clerics of a certain religion.

On the other hand, existance of a filter called the guardian council is a natural consequence of having one religion being on top of the government pyramid. It's impossible to have an "islamic" state without a guardian council., and you can clearly see the consequences.

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 03:00 PM [permalink]:


I admire Soroush's tireless work during these years on the foundations of religious thought, even though he rarely, if ever, gives credit to the sources of his ideas, and understandably so, i.e. not to be stigmatized by being an agent of the West. This is not to say that he regurgitate what some Western scholars have said before him. On the contrary, I find him an original thinker, but one, who like all other thinkers, is inspired and by whatever he reads in the work of others.

But this is all beside the point. Soroush puts forward, according to you, freedom of choosing your belief system as a "pillar". The point is, by calling a certain idea a "pillar" it does not become more acceptable than it used to be when it was known as "opinion". It's good rhetoric, but it is not, I'm afraid to say, good logic.

Besides --and this must be the concern of a lot of mullahs-- what if you leave people free to choose their belief system and they just do not choose Islam? When I was a kid, we were told that any person should investigate the truthfulness of what they called The 3 Principles of Religion: Tawhid, Nabuwwat, Ma'aad. Nobody could answer the question, though, what if after conducting such investigation we ended up not believing in them? Some would even say, self-righteously, that no, if you carry out your investigations correctly, you *will* agree that Islam is the true religion!

What a ridicuolous circular argument, indeed.

About the "flux theory", and contraction and expansion of religious knowledge, isn't it the same as what mullahs themselves called ijtihad, stated in fancy words?! Regardless, the question remains: What authority, based on what criterion, should decide what interpretation of the religion is the correct one? It would be innocuous to have different, even diametrically opposite, readings of Koran, IF religious matters remained solely in the personal sphere of action. For example, those endowed with different interpretations of hadith would perform the ritual ablution before their prayers differently, as Sunnis and Shiis have been doing all along. But Islam also offers a whole judicial system, and our readings, or rather, the reading of those who are in *power* (they key word here), will affect the life of everybody else in the society they live in.

You also have said that Imams are infallible. The majority of muslims of the world today, I should inform you, do not subscribe to this belief. And the majority of human beings on earth, not all of them stupid or evil, do not agree with you about the infallibility of the Prophet either. :-)

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 03:22 PM [permalink]:


I agree with you, and in fact what you mentioned is the point that I was trying to make in my post. What is necessary to convince the "powerful self-righteous" is to take away

1- the power, by letting him visit other communities/countries where he has no poltical power.

2- and the "self-righteousness", by exposing him/her to the free media/freedom of speech and intellectual/social exchange.

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 03:33 PM [permalink]:

Niyayesh: I think your alluding to the case of Abu-Bakr and Ali is misleading, if not totally disnigenious. If you are a Shii, then you do not think, by the very definition of Shiism, that Abu-Bakr had the *right* to lead the muslim community after the passing away of the Prophet. In other words, according to Shii belief of all brands, Abu-Bakr, Omar, and Osman were all *usurpers* of Ali's right to Caliphate.

Ironically, Sunni version of Islam seems to show a lot more compatibility with democracy than the Shii version. Sunnis, as far as I can tell, do not believe in any infallible leader after the Prophet. They believed in BEY'AT which has the spirit of an election procedure, while Shiis believe that God himself ordained 12 (or 11?) Imams to follow the Prophet in leading the muslim community. Even today, there is a debate among those who believe in the institution of Velayat-e Faqih, as to whether this is a God-given position and the members of that whatever-it's-name-is committee *find* him (they way Catholics believe about Pope and how he is found) or Vali-e Faqih is just *elected* and God has no hand in choosing him.

Back to the issue of Ali and Abu-Bakr, I don't think Shiis believe Ali agreed to stay home bacause he thought it *right* to leave the power to Abu-Bakr, because he believed in some form of democracy! Rather, he simply did not have the power and was not in a position to do anything about it.

You wrote: "I believe [democracy] is the logical pre-requisite of any lasting government which belives in justice." Guess what! I do agree with you here, but then, as some of us have took pains to demonstarte here, this very belief can (and does) come in conflict with Islamic teachings. Islam has its own definitions for justice, which may not, and as it happens to be the case, *are* not in accordance with democratic definition of justice. In Islam, "justice" will be done when you bring me the head of Salman Rushdie, but in democracy justice will not require at all harming the likes of him.

So I disagree with your car analogy. I *wish* democracy were nothing but a vehicle that all religions and belief systems could use to get to their respective temple of whorehouse. This, however, is not the case. Democracy presumes conditions that are not compatible with dogmas of some religious beliefs, as it must be very clear by now. Using your own analogy, one cannot use your car if one's principles are somehow in contradiction with using your car, for example, if one believes, as a matter of religion, that using cars is not right (as Amishs believe). :-)

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 03:48 PM [permalink]:


You wrote: "[B]oth pluralism and freedom of speech, which are required for a successful democracy, are consistent with Islam (there are verses in Quran supporting each of them)."

If you allow me a little exaggeration for making a point, I should say that yes, depending how you *read* Koran, and what parts of it you choose to emphasise over other parts, you can stretch the meaning of those verses to derive all sorts of conclusions from it. For example, you, who've been exposed to American way of government and have come to *like* it better than non-democratic systems come up with a verse that, based on *your* interpretation supports democracy, and your opponent who's been in madrasa of Qum all his adult life sticks to another verse, which based on *his* interpretation, opposes democracy.

Let me reiterate: Who is, then, to decide what interpretation is correct? And based on WHAT?

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 04:00 PM [permalink]:

You wrote: "One democracy that I am familiar with is America. Here you can take away any right based on national security reasons." How unfair of you to say such a thing, Niyayesh. If you live in America, then you must have seen with your own eyes how the proponents of Civil Rights (part of the secular religion of America) voiced their oppostion against those who wanted to curb such rights based on the arguments related to national security. Those who did not share your religious beliefs, just because they believed in freedom of speech, came to streets to advocate your right. Would anything like this happen, I can't help wondering, if the situation was reversed? Would muslims come to streets to heatdely advocate the right of non-mulims to, say, freedom of speech, asuming that there is any such thing in Islam?

You have also claimed: "All government systems are democratic by nature." I think you mean in all systems of government some people will win and some will lose. But it is the *method* that they can win or lose which determines whether a system is democratic or not. If you win, just because you have more weapons, then it is not democracy. It is so clear that I don't even know why I am explaining it to you!

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 04:17 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad,

The point that I was trying to make is the distinction between "rational right" and "religious right", and that the former comes before the latter in any logical analysis. What I argue is that you should not believe in democracy as a principle. Instead, it is a rational guideline for having a stable system, which is tested through history (similar to using wheel, for lack of a better example).

What you mentioned about Imam Ali, exactly proves my point. Of course, he could have tried to rebel with the small group of friends that he had, if he thought he was right (like what Bin Ladan did, I suppose). However, he would probably have seriously hurt himself, his friends, and the young religion of Islam. More importantly, he would be set as an example for violent dissidence, instead of a lawful one...
We don't really know what went through his mind. What we do know is that he made the "rational" and "democratic" choice, instead of the apparent "religious right".

May be the followers of Khomeini think that killing Salman Rushdie is justice, however this view is not shared by the majority of muslims. The fact that some muslims think Islam is inconsistent with democracy does not mean that it is. In the absence of a universal belief (or reading of Islam), the only logical/stable way of defining justice is through a democratic process.

If a muslim thinks that you should ride a horse, and not use a car, then this makes that muslim's belief inconsistent with car and not Islam itself. If a Muslim think that Islam is not consistent with democracy and I think it is, the only way to decide is the democratic process itself.

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 04:44 PM [permalink]:


Introducing neologisms such as "rational right" vs "religious right" will not automatically solve any problem. I would also like to put your so-called rational right *before* any "religious rights", whatever that means. But who is to convince others (and how) who do not comply to our idea of which kind of "right" should supersede the other kinds? I suppose this is close to your own question. To play devil's advocate, I dispute your notion of rationality, as soon as it comes in conflict with my religious beliefs. Who is to decide what is "rational" and what is "logical analysis"? Okay, maybe God could help us, but we don't have direct access to Him right now and all different interpretations of His word are also adding to our confusion as what He really had meant in that verse of that surah.

Being tested during the history as a criterion is also easily refutable from the viewpoint of religious leaders/scholars. What they take to be the word of God, or more precisely, their reading of the revelation, is beyond historicity, and no matter what the experience of other peoples might have been throughout the centuries, they "know" what the correct system of government is. Did Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, consult the experience of the human kind in putting his treatise together? No religious scholar would.

You say Imam Ali didn't fight the usurpers of Caliphate because he didn't find it expedient to do so. But Imam Hossein tried that option; didn't he? The majority of muslims left him alone, but he didn't seem to care about the fact that "he would probably have seriously hurt himself, his friends, and the young religion of Islam". Why? Was he less democratic than his revered father?! Why didn't this great saint of Shii religion didn't try "to set as an example for violent dissidence, instead of a lawful one"? Of course, I'm not interested in detailed justifications. I've heard such explanations tens of times. It's a rhetorical question I'm asking to make a point.

BHS at September 6, 2003 05:07 PM [permalink]:
The following was written before Senior Grad's and Niyayesh's last two comments above. Forgive any repetitions. Niyayesh: Although Senior Grad has provided detailed answers to various points missed or misreprented in your comment, I still think it necessary to give my own answers as well, as your comment was directed to me. ``What you seem to be talking about is an ideal democracy; something that only exists in your mind.'' Quite to the contrary! True, I am idealising and simplifying things so they become suitable for a-few-line comment, but all my, let's say, `modeling' is based on live examples you can see around the world, in thriving democracies. Right, you may have objections to some parts and bits of them, as I do myself, but the main structure is there in a much more coherent and acceptable way than what we see in our example of Islamic Republic. ``[In America] you can take away any right based on national security reasons.'' But you can certainly protest these infringements of your rights, without fearing execution or being killed in a dungeon, right? That's the essence of democracy; the powerful may, and would, always try to extend their reign, what is so surprising about that? The whole point is the existance of checks and balances at the core of a democracy that chellenge the infinit extension of their power. ``It is ultimately up to the people to [...] keep as many rights as they want.'' Quite so! But for this to be at all possible in a humane way, it is essential to have a guarantee that people are not going to be persecuted just because they campaign for a right or a set of rights. If they are, the system does not have the tools necessary for a democracy. This guarantee is one that various peoples of the world have fought for over the centuries. As to your car anology, I have to repeat that democracy comes in with its own irreducible minimal set of values. That is to say, I don't think, as you do, that democracy is a neutral vehicle just to get a ride with to whatever destination. If your version of Islam does not accept this minimal irreducible set of values, then your Islam would be in contradiction with democracy. ``All government systems are democratic by nature. In the more efficient ones, the constituents vote on paper ballots, while in the less efficient ones, they should use warm or cold weapons for this purpose.'' This is in my mind an example of sophistry at its finest. If you think all governments are democratic by nature, what are we arguing about then? Frankly, an absurd statement! On the Rights: by `universal' I did not mean they should be reached at by logical reasoning on their truth. It's not universal truth that I'm referring to. The Rights should be universal in their coverage, that is, applicabililty to all members of the society, and not a designated group thereof, as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi thinks, for example, as examplified in his terminology of `second-rate citizens,' etc. Note that pluralism is not a Right itslef, it's the spirit of having a universal set of Rights, so I can't figure what you mean by ``you cannot just put pluralism in the constitution and expect people/government to respect it.'' ``In the end, it's what people want that counts and not some piece of paper that was written 200 years ago, no matter what you think is the right thing to do.'' I'm amazed how you use the exact same reason I'm arguing against you to prove me wrong! Granted, there is no reason why one should act by ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 05:12 PM [permalink]:

I have two comments regarding Dr. Soroush's "flux theory", if I have understood it correctly. This is going to be a lot like what I have been saying thus far in this column, so please bear with me.

1. (My! Numbering my comments feels really good. I should to do it more often. :-) ) Okay, if the religious knowledge (as opposed to the religion the way it is conceived in the mind of God) is subject to (unpredictable?) contraction and expansion, and therefore it admits various readings depending on what you have been exposed to during your life, then what authority is supposed to decide what reading is closer to the true religion, the way God had meant it, when it comes to matters of life-and-death, e.g. when the 12th Imam is not present to tell us whether we should kill Salman Rushide as many muslim leaders pronounced or let him live peacefully and write more blasphemous books? (By the way, I employed the case of Salman Rushdie just for an example. I'm sure you can think of many other less violent examples yourself.)

2. If the "true religion" remains hidden from us and we are bound, because of our human condition, to figure out what God had really meant in his Holy Book, by looking at history and observing the (political or scientific) advances among the secular Westerners and their advantages to our own lives, and then compare their achievements with the verses of the Book and try to twist the meaning of those verses to match whatever we see by our common sense to be true (for example, that democracy is better than despotism), then what is the use of such religion? Not only it is without a solid content, it seems to complicate our lives: If a century from now, the infidels come up with a slightly, but obviously better system of government, then we'll have to start over our search in Koran and sunnah and try to come up with interpretations, no matter how far-fetched, that confirm with the new advances in the West!

Senior Grad at September 6, 2003 05:27 PM [permalink]:

Very well said, BHS. I'm impressed.

Now I have to detach myself from the computer as I'm having a hot date tonight. ;-)

You guys keep the oven hot. :-)

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 06:12 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad (3:48 PM),

What I meant was that Islam is not clearly in contradiction with democracy or democratic values (not the same way that it is with, say, polytheism). Otherwise, muslims wouldn't be arguing about it.

The only feasible way to settle these arguments, at the end of the day, is a democratic process, if the argument needs to be settled. The alternative is that everybody fights for his/her belief which ends up in chaos and civil war, and is not consistent with the Shiiati tradition (not to mention its absurdity).

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 06:29 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad (4:00 PM),

All you are saying is that freedom of speech, at least on this issue, is observed in America. However, the Patriot Acts are still intact and Americans may be legally stripped of their rights, if the government decides that they are harmful to the national security. As far as I can tell, the protesters have failed.

All I am saying is that 20th-21st form of democracy is the most efficient way for the people to rule themselves. People were able to rule themselves in other systems too, but through more difficult/ less efficient avenues.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 06:59 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad (4:44 PM),

In Shiia scholarship, intelect comes before Quran and tradition. Something that is irrational cannot be Islamic. If, independent of Islam, you cannot agree on the rationality of something, then Islam doesn't help you either.

Yazid had inheritted the power from his father which is not democratic by any measure (as opposed to Abu-bakr who was elected democratically), and Imam Hossein simply was practicing his democratic right, by not accepting Yazid's rule. Violence was started by Yazid and what was done on Imam Hossein's side was simply self-defence.

hajir at September 6, 2003 07:11 PM [permalink]:
1. Niyayesh! Shias are against Caliphate of Abu Bakr because they think god "appointed" Ali as the leader not because they had a different vote. This is an important matter to acknowledge that in Shi'ism, one can never justify democracy through historical data. In theory however the situation is worse because shia believe that the true leaders are pre-determined and people dont have the right to choose and whatever they choose are false leaders that they have to put up with untill the hidden Imam comes. Khomaini's theory was that we can have true leaders in Shi'ism and they are "fuqaha" and hence the theory of "velayat faqih". In sunni tradition, however there is a history of electing the Khalifah but such election-like process was held only once (in saqifah) with a limited number of the elite and after that people would just give Bay'ah (that we can hardly call it "voting") and in Ali's case, people of Madinah (a small portion of muslims at that time) elected Ali. Other regions had to accept whoever people of Madinah had elected as Khalifah. When I say there is no place for democracy in Islam, I refer to the fact that muslims of that time did not think of the form of their government as democratic (in the spirit) in the sense that leaders were good enough to consider other people's opinions into account; they had democratic minds but not a democratic system of government. These two are very different. We may have a kingdom where the king is a democrat and listens to his peopl's voice. This doesn't make his kingdom a democracy. Any proof of the consistency of Islam and Democracy must be through Quran and Sunnah. As far as I know, Quran invites to following the leaders. Prophet himself was a charizmatic leader and talking about his democratic methods doesn't make sense. He would give orders as "orders from god" and hence god was the true leader in his time. Now let's get down to earth. If 99% of a society vote that Hijab must be obligatory and enforce that ruling, I would call that society "oppressive!". If the hands of a thief is cut (according to Quran) in a society, I would call that society "oppressive" except thieves themselves choose so. I am a supporter of mulit-court system. In such system we have different kinds of courts and people choose what court they want to refer their conflicts to. If one is muslim, he would go to an islamic court and so forth. I think citizens are not equal and must not be regarded as such. They are not equal not in the sense that we have citizens of degree one, degree two, etc but in the sense that they are different with different belief systems and values and it's not fair to impose a legal system on a people who consider it unjust. This is my solution: muslims register as muslims and if they steal, cut their hands, if they commit adultry, stone them to death, if they drink alchohol, lash them 70 times etc. A true muslim must adhere to the rules of Shari'ah. If human values are different and your perception of human rights is different from mine, it's ok; let me have my own legal system and you have your own legal system. Let's minimize our interaction and in any conflict between us, we refer to a legal system which is recognized internationally. If a muslim society reaches a conclusion (democratically)that they have to attack a neighbor (like Iran in Omar's time to spread Islam, similar to Bush's attack on Iraq to spread democracy) such an attack is justified both islamically and d ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Saeed at September 6, 2003 07:31 PM [permalink]:

"As far as I know, Quran invites to following the leaders." Please let me know a sentence that invites to follow a leader as a "governor" with force.

There is a fine line that you are crossing Hajir. The goal of Islam is not to lay out a way to govern. These are all "your" interpretation of Quran. When you see "Atiollah va atiorrasool" is with the assumption that the society has consensus to do it. You should see this in the shadow of "there is no compulsion in religion". As I said Khoemini's theory was NEW and was "his" interpretation!

Saeed at September 6, 2003 07:45 PM [permalink]:

Hajir: “This is an important matter to acknowledge that in Shi'ism, one can never justify democracy through historical data.”

Is that so? So why Ali accepted Abu’bakr and Omar and even helped them?

Shi’ites see Ali as the best choice after Muhammad there is no place that recommend to FORCE people to accept him as a governor. I would like to know if you have a hard evidence from Quran or Ali or Muhammad that suggest forcing people to accept him as a governor.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 08:42 PM [permalink]:

BHS (5:07PM),

Here are my answers to some of your objections. The rest, I agree with.

I never said that Islamic Republic is better than Western Democracies. My point is that your (or Western) ideal set of rights are not shared by everybody (including Iraninas), and therefore you won't have any way to enforce them in a democratic system. An Iranian democracy will have its own set of rights for its citizens which will probably be different from yours.
Even in different democracies, these rights, which may be nominally the same, have different interpretaions (see below).

Of course Americans enjoy many civil rights, including the freedom of speech, which citizens of many other countries can only dream of. My point is that democracies may take away some civil rights when they wish, and remain a democracy (become . A democracy with a guaranteed set of rights for its citizens does not exist.

An interesting example about the universality of freedom of speech, which is arguably the most fundamental civil right, is the trial of Roger Garaudi, the French Writer. Under the French law, any denial of the German persecution of Jews before and during the World War II era is illegal. Therefore, Garaudi was tried and fined twenty thousand dollars for his writings, that claimed the genocide of Jews in Germany was exaggerated. This is clearly a violation of freedom of speech, which is allowed under French democracy. Similar laws on sensitive issues may limit the freedom of speech in different democracies. However, as long as these are accepted by the majority, they are still considered democratic.

I understand that certain readings of Islam may not be consistent with democratic values. However, this is in no way a trivial matter, and Islam does not need to say anything about the optimum government, the same way that it doesn't about the optimum space-shuttle. In every democracy, there are always crackpots, terrorists, criminals, etc. that one has to deal with. Anti-democratic fanatics is simply one addition to the list.

Thank you for your compliment on my "sophistry"! What we are arguing about is the optimum form of government. You see, my definition of democracy is much broader than yours. However, I expect our ideal democracies to be much closer.

What I mean by "you cannot just put pluralism in the constitution and expect people/government to respect it.", is that if for example, the majority of citizens cannot stand living with the people of a certain cult, then they will not allow them to live freely, no matter how pluralist the constitution is. The only way that this cult can survive is by making itself acceptable to the citizens through whatever means they have. In this situation, mere reference to the constitution will eventually be futile.

I agree that, what you define as universality, what others call equality, is in the definition of democracy (even in my broad definition). However, what these rights are may change (expand or shrink) depending on the society that they are practiced in.

Behrooz at September 6, 2003 08:45 PM [permalink]:

1. There appears to be some confusion as to the nature of the "pseudo-democratic" process that led to the "election" of Abu Bakr. First, by no means did it have any legitimacy. One can simply look to the auspicious event of Ghadeer al-Khum where the Prophet (saw) designated Imam Ali (as) as his successor.

Now to answering Senior Grad on this point - belief is not requisite for the notion of infalliability to exist. As a matter of theology, we cannot have absolutely correct interpretation without infalliability. Thus, in the absense of the 12th Imam, interpretations can only be in a state of flux, and hence the necessity of ijtihad.

2. Back to the "election" of Abu Bakr. Imam Ali did not accept it as a mater of correct democratic practice, but "accepted" in order to not divide the Ummah at such a critical stage. The Imam, along with several other promenant companions were not even present.

In the Sermon of ash-Shiqshiqiyyah, he remarks, "Beware! By Allah the son of Abu Quhafah (Abu Bakr) dressed himself with it (the caliphate) and he certainly knew that my position in relation to it was the same as the position of the axis in relation to the hand-mill...I put a curtain against the caliphate and kept myself detached from it."

If you study how all the caliphs obtained their positions, Imam Ali was the only one to get his right as a matter of the will of the people. He even remarked that "if it were not for the force of the people..", he would not have bothered with the Caliphate.

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 09:11 PM [permalink]:

Senior Grad (5:12PM),

1- As a muslim, I am free to listen to every reading that I want. I believe the Rushdie ruling was both unwise and wrong. At the end of the day, religion will not, and is not supposed to, take away the pleasure (or pain) of analytic thinking and free will.

2- Everybody needs a criterion to decide what he/she should/shouldn't do. These are neither fixed nor trivial. However, if you don't complicate your life to pick one/a few, then how are you supposed to make decisions?

What we learn from our experience are facts and empirical laws, not rights and wrongs. Life is hard!

Niayesh at September 6, 2003 10:09 PM [permalink]:

Hajir (7:11PM),

As Saeed has already pointed out, there is no Shiiati recommendation to force Imam's authority to the people. In fact no Shiiati Imam, even though he may have considred himself the true leader, has tried to take the rule, unless he was put into power by the people. This is an excellent example of democractic values as they accepted the rule of majority, despite their religious beliefs.

I agree that there is no sign of today's democracy in the traditional Islam. In fact, I don't even think what we call democracy today was viable back then. However, the fact that cars were not mentioned in Quran does not make them inconsistent with Islam.

What needs to be proven is inconsistency of Islam and democracy and not their consistency ( I remember Rumsfeld's famous quote "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence"). People need to follow their leaders in any kind of government, democratic or not. This is abiding by law and being a good citizen. However, in democratic governments, people can change their leaders and give them feed-back. This does not contradict Islam. In the absence of the connection to God, there is no preferred leader.

The difference between the case of Islam vs. democracy and Father vs. Mother is that you cannot get different parents, but you can change your religion and/or government system. An inconsistent system of beliefs is at the least deficient and one should try to improve it by resolving the paradoxes. Good Luck!

I'm going to stop dealing with this column, which has taken most of my time for the past three days. May be we can finish our discussions in a new time/place. I hope that Senior Gard has enjoyed the hot date!

hajir at September 7, 2003 12:45 AM [permalink]:

Saeed, your understanding of Shi'ism is flawed. I don't think any scholar agrees with you and I doubt you are a scholar yourself. Shi'ism started off saying that god had appointed the ruler for them and they wouldn't need deciding or electing.

Ja'far Sadeq, for example, did not support any movement against caliphate, not because he respected the majority's rule (and caliphate was not the majority's rule), but because he didn't have enough followers 'to change' the government 'by force'. Imam Hossein thought he had enough followers to change the caliphate but his followers betrayed him.

about Ali's caliphate, as I said he was asked to be the Caliph only by people of Madinah and then he asked other Emirs to accept his power (and Mu'awiah didn't). So still you can't quite prove his election was democratic.

Saeed at September 7, 2003 02:06 AM [permalink]:


You didn’t answer me finally…if it wasn’t room for interpretation why Khomenin was among the very few people who came up with “rule of clerics” theory!

Do you really expect Ali to make an electoral vote for his governorship 1400 years ago of Arabia? You better ask a historian to see if this is realistic or not.

Hossein didn't want to get the power either. His "ONLY" motivation was "Amr be Maroof va Nahy Monkar" and he did his best through his speeches to avoid fighting. In fact he said the word "ONLY" in his statement about his motivation!

I don't think you are a scholar either. You have your own interpretation and I have mine. The difference is that you do not point to hard evidences from Quran or Muhammad or Ali about your "FORCING" claim to justify your interpretation. However, up to know I have referred 4 evidences one of them from Quran. Just saying what Jafar Sadeq motivation was without any evidence is neither scholar nor thoughtful.

You should not expect Islamic Models like Muhammad and Ali to praise democracy either. Democracy is just a model for governing people and there are lots of requirements that a society should have to have a successful experience of democracy. I don’t see the current concept of democracy as a model so perfect that can pass the test of time. So I don’t bother myself to find evidence of PRO-democratic Islam. I have more fundamental concerns in my life. I know this much that you did not present any evidence for your claim about ANTI-democratic Islam (or Shi’ism).

BHS at September 7, 2003 07:01 AM [permalink]:

Niyayesh (8:42PM),

Let me improve on my usage of the term `guaranteed set of Rights'. What I have in mind is not a personal take on the Rights, rather a few basic Rights without which the form of the government would hardly be considered democratic, including as I said before, freedom of speech, universality (equality in your language), etc. As I said, I agree that the actual complete set of Rights would depend on each specific society, however, a democracy should include a few basic ones.

I agree that the example of Roger Garoudy (and even the more sever case of Robert Faurisson) violates the freedom of speech in France. However, this stands as an exception to the rule, in that it is very specific in its form. Freedom of speech is still the rule in France, although I believe it should be extended beyond this particular exception as well. I should add that I don't consider a generic and vague conditionality on the freedom of speech as exception, however.

I believe it is an undemocratic act if a majority of people do not allow a certain cult they despise to live freely. It is the rule of majority all right, but not democracy. This would be in fact just what happened to the Jews under the Nazis, who had been elected by the majority, and why I so much insist on the basic Rights.

I agree we'd better continue this discussion some other time. Cheers!

Baltazar at September 7, 2003 05:29 PM [permalink]:
Firstly I would like to express my appreciation on postings by BHS and Senior Grad; man your explanations are so clear and well-structured. 1. As some of you pointed out, it must first be figured out what interpretation/version of islam we're trying to put in one bed with democracy (excuse mi french). It's clear that -- at least in case of shia faith - despite it's relatively dynamic system -- the faith has not changed or been upgraded in time by its scholars for a good number of hundred years. Unfortunately I don't know much about Sonni faith, but I guess that's pretty much the same. Consider every single public interpretation of islamic laws and rules that exists now; just grab every version of "Tozih-ol-Masayel" you find, see if you agree at all with very many of explicitly described rules, such as: The right of slavery, officially selling and buying people; the right to use prisoners of wars as slaves. The right of descrimination based on religion; for example non-mulsims get less blood money. The obligation of wife to be totally defered and compliant to husband in bed. and tens of other similar things... The first real changes which happened to the fossiled set of standard islamic rules was in the parliament; an effort to change some laws regarding women rights by strong effort of a few female MPs and support of many other MPs, and of course strong pressure of UN (and possibly EU) human rights watchdogs, which forced the guardian council not to veto the bills. 2. There is a lot to be said about history of shia and sonni faiths, which won't fit into the scope of this post and even this weblog. However I would like to reply to a few of you: Shia does not believe in the system in which the governor is democratically elected, at least there is no such an example in history. Emam Ali (A.S) and all the following 11 Emams were appointed by God (announced by their fathers). Interestingly, Shia believe that Saints (Emams, or Fatemeh (S.A.)) should be related to each other by blood-link; which means religious leadership in the Shia history is inherited from parents to child; which is very similar to the ancient Iranian belief that sovereignty is inherited from parents to child. After all, Shia is the version of Islam chosen and promoted by Iranians. Even both prophet himself and Ali are claimed to be descendants of prophet Abraham. Emam Ali (A.S.) was appointed by the prophet in Ghadir-e Khom, and because of prophet's charismatic firgure, most (though not all) people in the scene congratulated Ali in that day. It reminds me very much of Montazeri being promoted as the next leader by Khomeini for many years. It is wrong to try to extract democratic behaviour (in today's standards) by reading history of Islam. Based on all historic facts, when prophet announced his holy mission to public, there were less than 10 people (less than 17 in some versions) who could read and write in Arabia. All their values and standards were so different from today's world. Apart from Idolatry and a few (important) ideological and non-ideological things (burying daughters alive!), the prophet did not attempt to radically change every aspect of people's habits, i.e. 'force' a new government system on them. That's why old Arabic traditions like Slavery, now exist in the religion. Quite the opposite, the Arab invadors who conquered Iran during Omar's reign, imposed such a difficult Arabic-Islamic system on the country that forced a big group to migrate, create ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Saeed at September 7, 2003 07:20 PM [permalink]:

"Shia does not believe in the system in which the governor is democratically elected" Dear Baltazar , this is not a matter of beleif. Democracy is not a value, it's just a model. I don't think anybody here can claim that this will be the best model (as it is now) for the next 1400 years! Democracy is just a man-made model for a better life and I am pretty sure it will change during the course of time. Yes, Shii'te doesn't BELEIVE in the technology either, nor does recommend ANTI-technology doctrine.

During these 60 comments I haven't seen an evidence to suggest ANTI-democratic Shii'te.

We better be clear about the difference between democracy and freedom ....

BHS at September 7, 2003 08:09 PM [permalink]:

Saeed: all along in my comments here, I tried to convey that democracy does indeed have its own minimal irreducible value system. Of course you can add to that core, but you can't throw it away without abolishing the whole concept of democracy. Democracy is of course a model for goevrnance all right, and it comes with a big emphasis on freedoms (and a few other Rights). Of course they are not the same, that's why there are different words for them, but they are still closely connected. The difference is not an issue of misunderstanding, the close relation seems to be. Moreover, no democrat claims that democracy is going to be the way of governance for the next 1400 years, or even the next 200 years for theat matter, it's just that they think it's the best way right now. The same way we think our scientific knowledge is the best we could come up with so far.

I put foward an idea as to how to decide whether or not shiism and democracy could coexist: look at democracy's minimal universal (in application, not in truth, I should repeat) Rights: freedom of speech, right to dissent, equal right to life, vote, etc.; and see if those could be compatible with shiism. Personally, I think shiism has had a bad track record regarding these Rights, and that makes me inclined towards thinking that the bases of the so-called Islamic democracy are shaky, to say the least.

Saeed at September 7, 2003 08:23 PM [permalink]:

I am glad that we agree that democracy as a model is considered the best system "right now". So need to find democratic BELEIVES in Islam.

About the right issue I agree with you that reading "resalleh" gives a very dark impression of Shii'te. I consider "resalleh" as just an interpretation of a few people who are in the prison of Qum!

I am pretty sure that none of them including Khomeini has understood "La ekraha fe'ddin" := "There is no compulsion in the religion".

My understanding of Shii'te comes from reading "Nahjolbalaghe" by ALi and I haven't seen a single sentence to recommend FORCING people to accept 12 successors of Muhammad.


Senior Grad at September 8, 2003 12:07 PM [permalink]:
WOW! 63 comments so far. Some vacuous, to be sure, like my last comment about my hot date, who actually stood me up, which, looking at the bright side of it, provided more time for me to reflect on Niyayesh's original stand. So, I would like to write a few lines before reading all the other comments of yours, people. I think I didn't quite see Niyayesh's point back then. Niyayesh believes, it now seems to me, that democracy is such a trivial necessity for every form of "just" and "stable" government that it doesn't require disputing at all. Democracy is such an obvious thing to him that he suggests to take votes whenever we have a disagreement, to the extent that, even between those who are for democracy and those who are against it we should let ask all to vote and see if democracy wins or not. (I'm exaggerating a little bit, of course.) This may be due to Niyayesh's extreme exposure to democracy, because as both Behrooz and BHS noted, if you want Islamic democracy, you should either limit democracy OR cut off some parts of an Islam which may clash with the minimum irreducible core of democracy. So Niyayesh concludes that the reason why his mullah friend who doesn't see such a "triviality" (a "triviality" that we spent so much time to dispute here) is that he belongs to the powerful layer of the society AND the fact that he hasn't lived in an "open" (to use a vague word) society where the exchange of ideas is the norm, and therefore made him "self-righteous". So Niyayesh naturally wonders: How to eliminate these (or possibly other causes of such mullahs not seeing the clear truth, of, say democracy simply being a neutral tool, a vehicle for giving you a ride to your destination, whatever that may be) to make them see the truth? (I still find the car analogy flawed, as I explained.So don't get me wrong.) I think it cannot be arranged for all mullahs of Qum to come to the US, say, under an exchange progrtam, and stay long enough to have their eyes opened to such things. However, there are things that can be done, at least theoretically: They must be exposed to the ideas of Western thinkers of all various brands and take up the challenge of facing them head-on. Most fortunately, there is the tradition of logically arguing the matters (of religion) in Islamic madrasas, so they have the background. Of course, not all mullahs will be attracted to such intellectual endeavors, only the more philosophical-minded, but even a few Mottahari-like mullahs in any generation would suffice us for now. How can this be done? Books. But they are written in English (among other languages). So they must learn English, and not just at the "Hello, how are you? What's your name?" level. Much higher than that indeed. They must learn it so they can read philosophical works in English and argue in that language and exchange ideas with Western scholars. (Mohammad-Taghi Jafari claimed to have had some correspondence with Russell, but I doubt it if he could read and write English himself.) What will happen after they're exposed to the Western thought, or rather, thoughts, assuming that they don't face objections in their madrasas and strongly discouraged to read the misleading work of the infidels? The honest among them will probably put aside their clerical robe, as Ahmad Kasravi did. Some will stick to their "mullahic" position, curse the Satan for seducing them, and continue making a living by being a mullah... In any case, even assuming that our beloved ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
Senior Grad at September 8, 2003 12:56 PM [permalink]:

hajir, you wrote: "I am a supporter of multi-court system. In such system we have different kinds of courts and people choose what court they want to refer their conflicts to. If one is [a]muslim, he would go to an islamic court and so forth."

This may not turn out to be a fair system. In fact, we have a "multi-court" system in Iran. Mullahs have their own court and once committing a crime, a mullah will be tried behind the closed doors, as far as I know. Besides, the disputes that need settled usually have (at least) two sides: the plaintiff and the defendant. (Don't you ever watch Court TV, or at least Judge Judy?)

Who is, then, to decide what kind of court they should go to? For example, if a non-muslim thief has robbed a muslim fellow, then the thief would prefer a prison sentence to having his hands cut off. But the plaintiff wouldn't be happy, if he is a true muslim, with the prison punishment...

Senior Grad at September 8, 2003 01:25 PM [permalink]:

Niyayesh (if you are there!),

You wrote: "[I]f you don't complicate your life to pick one/a few, then how are you supposed to make decisions?"

Good question. Unlike some people, I do not believe in pre-packaged idealogies and I do not find it necessary for making decisions to cling to a certain fixed religion and adhere to it wholeheartedly. This passive option may be good for your peace of mind, but it does not satisfy me. As a Muslim/Christian/Jew, you should accept it (the respective religion) as a whole, and then whenever contradictions inside the teachings of that religion OR conflicts with other desirable commonsensical systems of thought (I think this includes your "rationality") surface, you should come up with justifications to explain away the apparent contradiction/conflict and call them new "readings" or whatnot. This is, I suppose, how great religions split depending on who likes what "interpretations" betters.

Example: I suppose there is a lot of sayings by the Prophet and or Shi'i imams against music. At some point, it becomes clear that living without music is not possible, not to mention perhaps not even worth it. Then the hadiths that were used to condemn music will all of a sudden played down and some ayatollahs bring out new hadiths from their large pockets and come up with new fatwas about music. So those followers who would like to enrich their lives with music, will separate their way from those "fanatics" who don't even listen to IRIB radio.

A non-religious person doesn't operate like that, however. S/he may think it a waste of time to be all the time trying to adjust the verses of Koran with what you find to be right according to your common sense, but by choosing not to accept the religion as a package (however in flux), s/he robs herself/himself of the tranquility that a religious person, by virtue of her/his faith, enjoys. So I agree with you that life is hard (compared to what?!), but we all make choices.

Niayesh at September 8, 2003 10:28 PM [permalink]:

I know I said I'd stop dealing with this column, but Senior Grad has brought up an almost independent issue which is rude to ignore. So here it goes:

Senior Grad (1:25PM),

In my viewpoint, at least for most of the religious people, religions do not come as solid, pre-packaged, sets of rules which should be obserevd at every cost. For the average Muslim (or follower of any other religion, for that matter), these pre-packaged ideologies serve as a starting point, which evolve through time, depending on the social conditions, how conservative they are, their education etc.

Logical deduction works only for a given set of assumptions (axioms). In the absence of any axioms (especially wrongs and rights, which cannot be gained through experience), logic cannot give you anything. A religious person starts with the pre-packaged set of assumptions (called Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc.), makes logical deductions (read "life decisions"), reaches contradictions, and tries to resolve the contradictions by modifying/ignoring certain assumptions based his/her taste/social standing/education etc.

In the end, I think for a religious person, no matter how conservative he/she might be, religion work as a starting point and what he/she ends up doing is according to his/her own subjective interpretation of religion, which is probably consistent with his/her own logic, and different from the original package.

As I argued above, in the absence of axioms, logic (read "rationality") does not tell you where to start. The only thing you can do is to check their consistency, given a set of axioms. For clear (and unclear) reasons many decide to start with the mainstream packages (i.e. popular religions). You may of course choose a different one, or make your own religion if you wish. However, your situation would be similar to a scientist trying to move a whole scientific field ahead single-handedly. It's possible, but not feasible.

On the other hand, common sense, which you prefer to mainstream religions, and is basically defined as the judgemnt of the average person, depends on the society that you live in. In the 18th century Iran, the music was considered evil according to the common sense, while in the 18th century Europe, it was associated with the church. Therefore, I argue, a simple reference to common sense would halt any progress in a society, while a combination of collective critical thought/analysis with moral/religious values may cause progress and enlightenment.

As to the religious ban on music, I think it was not about music itself, but about its application. My understanding is that, traditionally, as you see in Iranian poetry, music was mostly used for sexual pleasure (Ghena), but later found more respectable applications (may be by partial influence from western music). Of course my knowledge of Iranian music history is minimal, but, as far as I understand, what changed was the application of music and not the interpretation of the tradition.

Senior Grad at September 9, 2003 10:08 AM [permalink]:

Thanks Niyayesh. I do appreciate the explanation and I should try to see things from your point of view. I'm afraid I don't have anything at this point to offer in response, though. We may pick it up later on. All in all, it was an enjoyable exchange your posting provided the opportunity of. Thanks again for that.

Saeed at September 10, 2003 09:08 PM [permalink]:

You can't honey, you can't because You can't convince God!Thats all. Hell with hipocracy? Was this the word you were talking about? Oops no, Democracy it was. Wall, both are the same.