One possible way in which one might answer the question, “Whither Islam,” is to comment on the tendency toward adaptation that is expressed at some level in Arab states. According to the view posited by John Obert Voll in his book Islam, Continuity and Change in the Modern World, European domination in the Islamic world has often led to criticism of adaptation as surrender to the supremacy of Western culture.
However, there are those who have considered one of the main Western ideologies—that of democracy—to be an area in which adaptation might actually concur with the ideas and teachings put forth in the Muslims’ most holy book, the Qur’an (000). Muslim adaptation of democratic methods represents an important way in which the Arab world can respond to the question “Whither Islam? ”
While many have considered the idea of democracy in Islamic states to issue from an alien concept championed by Westerners and imposed on the Arab world through Imperialist strategies, there are many who consider democracy to be compatible with the Islamic law or Shari’ah. Democracy’s ability to survive in Islamic states is supported by the interplay between the Shari’ah and the executive powers of the state. The caliphate system has been considered representative of God’s divine rule upon the earth, and the achievement of justice through such a system involves the co-operation of the general population.
In fact, such a government is established as one that depends not upon itself (as in an autocratic regime) but upon the will of a divinely endowed power external to the ruler. It might be argued that such a power is found in the Islamic populace as they are viewed by the Qur’an and Shari’ah. One of the ideas of the Qur’an is that within humans (vicegerents) God has placed a certain level of divinity that accords them (that is, grants to them the rights of) dignity and fair treatment. In addition, the divinity granted them by God ascertains a level of legitimacy in their participation in government.
However, because humans are not endowed also with perfection, it becomes difficult for the common or dignified man (by himself) to be the sole arbiter of justice. In his book Islam and the challenge of democracy, Abou El Fadl has proposed the idea that democracy constitutes of itself a moral good, and that its virtues are found in the existence of the vote, the separation of powers, and the pluralism it guarantees (2004). One particular view of the role of the Caliph narrows the gap between Islam and democracy. This view presents the Caliph the people’s representative rather than solely as God’s deputy.
The theory of the Sunni sect expands this view to present a contract as the basis upon which the Caliphate rests. This contract is formed between the Caliph and the people, who are considered as having the power of the contract. This power is represented by the allegiance they show to the Caliphat (Abou El Fadl, 2004). Somewhat like this is also the mutual consultation of the Shura system, which has made the union of Islam and democracy seem inevitable to those who have considered it (Farroq, 2002; Sullivan, 2002).
However, although this kind of consent or allegiance appears to demonstrate a remarkable similarity to democracy, it must be noted that the true definition of consent is more akin to the definition of acquiescence—which grants to the people a more passive role than democracy is usually thought to contain (2004). The idea of “the people who have the power of the contract” gives rise to the question of exactly who these people are supposed to be. Should this be a right granted to all citizens or solely to a special category of people?
Furthermore, if such a special category were to exist, how would such a group be defined? Should those persons be elected by the general populace or should selection come via a more naturalistic process, such as via lineage? In answer to these questions, some have considered that the “laity” (or the general population) has no ability to truly express the divine nature through suffrage because of its tendency to be influenced by changing ideologies put forth via propaganda (Abou El Fadl, 2004).
Yet, Abou El Fadl argues that such a comment was made before the implementation of literacy on a massive scale and also before democracy was practiced to a wide extent within nations. Therefore, education of the masses (which is now in effect) has the power to produce an informed laity that can exercise a divine right to act on the behalf of the God they represent. Therefore, such Islamic citizens might be accorded the knowledge and skills necessary to grant to representatives the right of government via some universal form of suffrage.