This is part three of a presentation delivered in April 2004 before visiting dignitaries and leaders from Afghanistan as part of an official U.S. State Department visit. The presentation’s purpose was to compare the elements of democracy established in Islam with the compatible values of representative democracy established in modern American society. The issues of diversity, tolerance, and pluralism are pragmatic characteristics of a more fundamental issue for all: How society values, respects and utilizes its group intellect. The remarks include how our U.S. Constitution and other founding documents reflect Qur’anic principles of leadership and responsible government.
“And follow or take the best thereof”
The Qur’an establishes fard Kifayah in the selection of leadership and in mutual consultation in the affairs of the people or state: Democracy is essentially respect for the group opinion, by which we manage our community affairs. Regarding the conduct of group affairs, Allah (SWT) says in Sura Ash Shura: “Whatever ye are given (here) is but a convenience of this life: but that which is with Allah is better and more lasting: (it is) for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord; those who hearken to their Lord and establish regular prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation.”
The idea of integrating the group intellect into the decision making process is a hallmark of American democracy, but is by no means unique to America. Long before America, the Qur’an and the example of our Prophet laid a powerful foundation for trust in the group intellect. Once a society understands how critical respecting and trusting the group intellect are to progress, the issues of discrimination dissipate in the face of moral decency, common sense and practicality.
“Have We not made the earth (as a place to draw together)…” Al-Qur’an, 77:25
What are the implications today for integrating the group intellect in the modern society? And what are the implications for leaders seeking to solve problems, and not only solve problems, but explore and create new opportunities? The answers lie in something the great physicist Albert Einstein said: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
World Historian J. M. Roberts published a work called The Twentieth Century, The History of the World 1901 – the present published in 2001 and he gives us something else and very important to consider. He puts forth 3 major global events or mega events or trends that shaped all others for the 20th Century and hence helped define the twentieth century and the beginning of the 21st Century. These events had a wider impact affecting more human beings than any other occurrences.
A. Population growth. In 1901, global population was an estimated 1.6 billion persons and today we are approximately 6 billion (now today 7 billion).
B. Decentralization and shifting of world power particularly from Europe. Within Europe a shift from autocracy to democracy. At the beginning of 1901, Europe had I believe 31 constitutional monarchies…today there are two.
C. The changing role of women which has far reaching implications for an altering economic, political and social power.
Women make up more than half the world’s population. Women are half of the creative capacity and half of our problem solving capabilities and it will become exceedingly difficult to deny half the group intellect its right of participation in the governance of its affairs…
“Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny (Al-Qur’an, 55:38)? ”
All three of these trends fundamentally alter the capacity, contribution, character, and complexity of integration for the global group intellect and mandates a corresponding respect and urgent need for participative responsibility in decision making. Such views were echoed by Secretary General Kofi Annan that the “structures, methods and processes for global decisions must be fundamentally reviewed in light of the new world order.” All governments, societies and leaders must look at the issues of respect for the group intellect.
Despite the emphasis in my comments today on respect for the group intellect, there are some particular dangers that can upset the balance of the political contract. The political contract in Islam is structured to establish a just order designed by the group intellect respecting the common human dignity of all its citizens. The contract is designed to bring the greatest good to the greatest number using the highest principles established in the Qur’an and the example of the Prophet.
Islam’s emphasis on freedom, justice and equality shares a spiritual kinship with the values found in the documents that established this democracy. For example, in the great Declaration of Independence which was a proclamation first to be free from oppression and to have among the rights of its citizens religious freedom, we read the words: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from consent of the governed.” These words carry the same spirit as the Ayats in Sura Shams.
Among the most common dangers that upset the balance of the political contract are the governmental denial of the G-d given rights of freedom of the individual and group intellect and what for us as an American citizenry appearing as great threats are the imposition of individual rights over societal rights to the point of endangering the nation and lastly and most egregious, seeking the removal of G-d from the political contract wherein “man thinks himself self-sufficient.” The latter two threats eviscerate common sense standards in the debate, formation and adoption of healthy public policy.
– To be continued.
Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.
Sincerely & respectfully,
P. S. May you and your family enjoy the day of commemoration
honoring the legacy of Dr. King.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated from its original posting for accuracy and comprehensiveness.