Islam in America: Islam and Democracy; the Struggle Continues

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ISLAM IN AMERICA: Islam and Democracy; The Struggle Continues

Dr. Muqtedar Khan is director of international studies at Adrian College in Michigan and a member of the board of directors of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. His articles are archived at

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), a Washington-based think tank, held its second annual conference at Georgetown University on April 7. The think tank is the initiative of Muslim intellectuals, academics, and activists seeking to promote democracy in the Muslim world, along with several non-Muslim academics who have over the years demonstrated a remarkable lack of prejudice or ill will toward Islam and Muslims in their scholarship and their politics.

In the two years since its inception, CSID has grown in its role as well as its membership, becoming an important institution of American Muslim civil society. It has been joined in its mission by Muslim scholars and activists from all over the world. CSID and its ideas now receive attention from Western as well as traditional Muslim scholars, all of whom have welcomed its endeavors to increase an appreciation for democratic values in the Muslim context. CSID's contributions are particularly exceptional because, by underscoring the Islamic basis of many democratic ideals such as equality, justice, tolerance, freedom and openness, they demonstrate the compatibility between democracy and Islam.

CSID's founders share two fundamental ideas. One, that democratic values--and by that I mean much more than just the procedural elements of democracy--are indispensable for establishing a society that can pursue the will of its people, whatever that will may be (including Islamization). Two, the absence of democracy in the Muslim world, particularly in the Arab world, is not the fault of Islam.

These shared ideas have galvanized CSID into launching two parallel programs. The first project promotes activism among Muslims, educating them about the Islamic basis of democratic values and encouraging them to seek the institutionalization of democratic practices as a means to reform their societies and renew the spirit of Islam.

The second project is intellectual. The scholars involved with CSID have undertaken the challenging task of exploring the philosophical roots of democracy and examining its compatibility with the Maqasid al-Shariah (the objectives of the divine path of Islam). In so doing, they indeed are attempting to develop a political theory of Islam. CSID's newsletter, The Muslim Democrat, along with its annual conferences and its lecture and seminar series, are instrumental in both programs.

Two extremely different groups, one from the West and one from the Muslim world, have been arguing vehemently that Islam and democracy are incompatible.

On the one hand, some Western scholars and ideologues have tried to present Islam as an anti-democratic and inherently authoritarian ethos that precludes democratization in the Muslim world. By misrepresenting Islam in this way they are seeking to prove that Islam as a set of values is inferior to Western liberalism and is indeed a barrier to the global progress of civilization.

This argument also is helpful to Israel, which, despite its egregious human rights violations against Palestinians, continues to enjoy the reputation as the sole democracy in the Middle East. …