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Nature of democracy in Islam

08:00 AM June 09, 2013

Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do righteous deeds that He will assuredly make them  succeed (the present rulers) and grant them vicegerency  in the land just as He made those before them succeed.’
The verse illustrates very clearly the Islamic theory of state. Two fundamental points emerge from it.
1.The first point is that Islam uses the term ‘vicegerency’ (Khilafah) instead of sovereignty. Since, according to Islam, sovereignty belongs to God alone, anyone who holds power and rules in according with the laws of God would undoubtedly be the vicegerent of the Supreme Ruler and would not be authorized to exercise any powers other than those delegated to him.
2.The second point stated in the verse is that the power to rule over the earth has been promised to the whole community of believers. It  was not  stated that any particular person or class among them will be raised to that position. From this it follows that all believers are repositories of the Caliphate. The Caliphate granted by God to the faithful is the popular vicegerency and not a limited one. There is no reservation in favor of any family, class or race. Every believer is a Caliph of God in his individual capacity. By virtue of this position he is individually responsible to God. The Holy Prophet has said: ‘Everyone of you is a ruler and everyone is answerable for his subjects.’ Thus one Caliph is in no way inferior to another.
This is the real foundation of democracy in Islam. The following points emerge from  an analysis of popular vicegerency:
a) A society where  everyone is a caliph of God and an equal participant in this caliphate, cannot tolerate any class divisions based on distinctions of birth and social position. All men enjoy equal status and position in such a society. The only criterion of superiority in this social order is personal ability and character. This is what has been repeatedly and explicitly asserted by the Holy Prophet:
‘No one is superior to another except in point of faith and piety. All men are descended from Adam and Adam was made of clay.’
‘An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab over an Arab; neither does a white man possess any superiority over a black man nor a black man over a white one, except in point of piety.
After the conquest of Mekka, when the whole of Arabia came under the dominion of the Islamic state, the Holy Prophet addressing the members of his own clan, who in the days before Islam enjoyed the same status in Arabia as the Brahmins did in ancient India, said:
‘O people of Quraysh! Allah has rooted out your haughtiness of the days of ignorance and the pride of ancestry. O men, all of you are descended from Adam and Adam was made of clay. There is no pride whatever in ancestry; there is no merit in an Arab as against a non-Arab nor in a non-Arab against an Arab. Verily the most meritorious among you in the eyes of God is he who is the most pious.’
b) In such a society no individual or group of individuals will suffer any disability on account of birth, social status, or profession that may in any way impede the growth of his faculties or hamper the development of his personality.
Everyone would enjoy equal opportunities of progress. The way would be left open for him to make as much progress as possible according to his inborn capacity and personal merits without prejudice to similar rights of other people. Thus, unrestricted scope for personal achievement has always been the hallmark of Islamic society. Slaves and their descendants were appointed as military officers and governors of provinces, and noblemen belonging to the highest families did not feel ashamed to serve under them. Those who used to stitch and mend shoes rose in the social scale and became leaders of highest order (imams); Weavers and cloth-sellers became judges (muftis) and jurists and to this day they are reckoned as the heroes of Islam.

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