The West and Islam: Western Liberal Democracy versus the System of Shura

The West and Islam: Western Liberal Democracy versus the System of Shura

The West and Islam: Western Liberal Democracy versus the System of Shura

The West and Islam: Western Liberal Democracy versus the System of Shura

Synopsis

This book analyses the relationship between Western and Islamic political ideas and focuses on the similarities and differences between Western liberal democracy and shura - often seen as the Islamic counterpart to Western democracy.

Excerpt

The debate over the extent to which Islam is compatible with Western liberal democracy has been on-going for several decades. In this debate, reference is frequently made to the Islamic concept of shura (consultation), with an ensuing discussion as to whether this provides a basis on which liberal democracy can be legitimised as compatible with (and indeed required by) the Islamic framework.

Discussion about the role and significance of shura has mostly remained abstract and general. On one side, it has been contended that shura is too vague and imprecise a concept to provide a sound basis for democratic practice. The requirement for rulers to consult with their populations, it is said, evades the issue of where authority for decision-making actually lies. On the other side, it is claimed that the concept not only provides an Islamic legitimation for liberal democracy but also deepens the ensuing democratic experience. The latter occurs through providing a direct link with the wider framework of Islamic values, ensuring that the political system coheres with moral concerns and thereby enabling a socially productive political entity to be constructed.

This book seeks to provide greater depth to the discussion of shura and liberal democracy. This is done by examining the development of the concept of shura in Islamic history, considering in detail the requirements of Western liberal democracy, and then assessing how a prominent contemporary Islamist thinker has developed the notion of a political system based on shura. The choice of Hasan al-Turabi as the Islamist thinker is significant. The concept of shura has played a central role in al-Turabi’s political thinking, and his political activity in Sudan has required him to develop material proposals about how shura should be implemented. The emphasis which the book gives to the mechanics of Western democracy is also well justified. The comparison with al-Turabi’s shura-based political system has to be founded in a proper understanding of the dimensions and complexities of Western democracy, rather than on a perception that liberal democracy constitutes an undifferentiated and uncontested whole.

The conclusions of the book reinforce the contention that the concept of shura can be used to underpin key liberal democratic ideas rather than to destroy them. The views expressed by al-Turabi are largely compatible with liberal democracy. Most of them mirror the rationale found in liberal democratic theory, while

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