IS ISLAM UNDEMOCRATIC?

Modernity has given us a de-divinized public order. It has suppressed the truth of the Soul for the harmony of the City. It has reduced the mandate of Divine Vicegerency to a commitment to civil morality. Our civilization no longer represents any cosmic truth, it partakes of no transcendent order of being and recognizes no human purpose beyond existence. Indeed, by redefining the End (eschation/Akhira) as an immanent order of society, modernity has abolished quest for transcendence from public order altogether. In place of the bliss of the soul, it offers peace in the city, and for the mystery of the Here-after, it substitutes the promise of the Here-now.

Contrary to the modern truth, Islam holds that salvation of the Soul takes precedence over peace in the City. The believer confronts the mystery of being as l'homme and not as le citoyen. The sacrosanct discourse of the Law addresses the individual soul, the singular Muslim who is not a political being. Indeed, for all the compelling logic of its communitarian ethic, the Islamic vision is more transcendent than mundane, more symbolic than pragmatic, more paradigmatic than strategic. The true guardian of Islam would rather damn the whole of history a thousand times than part with a single text. Faith not existence is the real home of the believer.


Today, the faith of Islam is under siege by a new worldliness. Challenged by the immanentism of the state-idea from within and by the secularism of the modern orthodoxy from without, the Islamic tradition stands indicted for being hostile to the humane values of democracy, freedom and tolerance. The Islamic truth of the
 believer, it is claimed by outsiders, cannibalizes on the right of the citizen. The sovereignty of Islam as a trans-temporal and trans-existential faith, then, compels us to sift the half-truth of the world from the full truth of our faith. In combating the new worldliness, in other words, the believer need to identify the true demons of our age and not exhaust himself in a futile game of shadow-boxing.Paradoxically, the Sacred, long banished from the precincts of the Secular City, now besieges it with a vengeance. Donning the garb of ‘fundamentalism’, it challenges secularity on its own immanentist ground. Realizing that the problems of a historically existent society cannot be exhausted by waiting for the end of the world, faith now promotes itself as the politics of immediate return. Indeed, committed to the glories of this world, it proffers its own model of the earthly paradise. Thus, while the Leviathan of modernity has not succeeded in devouring religious faith, the faith that has resurfaced from the abyss of secularism is afloat the raft of Messianism: it is immanentist, radical and totalitarian.


In reflecting over the dialectics of faith and existence, we would do well to remember that while Islam is pre-eminently a religious faith, a doctrine of truth, modernity's mistresses - freedom, democracy and secularism - are all ideologies of method. They are all theories of practice, philosophies of means and instrumentality that care nothing for any ultimate cause or goal. Whereas the revealed truth of Islam cannot allow itself to be disenfranchised by any human - democratic or despotic - dictate, the methodological half-truths of the world, having no stake in man's ultimate purpose or goal, are concerned only with the niceties of procedure and form. Hence, only when democracy, wedded to atheistic humanism, lays claims to being a doctrine of truth, or when secularism interprets itself as an epistemology, does it clash with the faith of Islam. For by conceiving itself as a doctrine of truth, democracy does not merely affirm the political idea of the will of the people, it repudiates the religious idea of the truth of God as well! In sum, where there is no temptation on the part of the collective will to suppress the truth of the Soul, to subjugate the autonomy of individual conscience, the truth of faith and the method of democracy can cohabit within the same existential chamber. And that goes for the historical space occupied by the Muslim polity as well.

The morally binding Law of God, it goes without saying, is not contingent upon the ordinances of any ruler or state: it is truly trans-political. Or, as understood by our classical tradition: after the termination of Prophecy, no rule has the right to demand absolute obedience. For every post-Prophetic rule is worldly rule, and every post-Prophetic state, Muslim or non-Muslim, under the guidance of the Faqih or under the governance of the Sultan, is 'fallible'. The state, as a historical phenomenon, accordingly, neither ‘incarnates' the Law nor ‘represents' the truth of faith but constitutes a contingent entity that has its jurisdiction over the bodies of men, not over their conscience. Hence, the same rationale for submission, which ties the moral man and his conscience to the imperatives of the revelation, cannot be applied to the citizen's relationship with the temporal state. Revelational conscience of the individual and not the political power of the state is sovereign in the House of Islam.As for liberty, the revealed faith of Islam holds that, whatever the contingencies of existence, the moral man is always bound to God's law. He is the one who barters his freedom for obedience, submits his will to God's will, and becomes a Muslim. Hence, the Islamic tradition knows of no ‘libertarian discourse of rights' against God's revelation and its injunctions. It is also because of the revelational imperative that the faith of Islam can never free itself from the ‘ultimate ends of existence' and degenerate into a mere stratagem for survival. Indeed, Islamic existence may neither become a Promethean bid for an earthly paradise nor remain a pathetic quest for security in the ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short' life of man.

Given the insight that Islamic conscience must always ...

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