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In Muslim nations, democracy will eventually prevail

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By Feisal Abdul Rauf

From Tunisia to Pakistan, the Muslim world is in turmoil, as each country struggles to find its own path to an Arab Spring.

Pessimists say that, in the end, all of these countries will end up with some form of authoritarian regime either because Islamic parties cannot accept democracy or out of a fear that these regimes will keep a nation out of the modern world.

But I am an optimist. I believe that eventually the democratic ferment in the Arab world will bring an era of relative democracy, religious tolerance and good governance. And I believe guiding Islamic principles will lead the way.

Without a doubt, revolutions are messy.

When revolutions occur after decades of authoritarian rule, the next stage is often chaotic and sometimes violent. In this region, there are many examples of long-simmering distrust between ethnic and sectarian groups that go back centuries that had been held in check by despotic rule. Now, suddenly, the grip that had stifled these competing groups has been released.
But I believe after an initial flailing about, conflicts between sectarian groups will slowly abate. 
Most Muslims want to join the modern world. They want to be part of the international community, not held in suspicion. They want governments that serve them. They do not want to serve the government. They want the freedom to develop their own ideas and live their own lives in harmony with their neighbors.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
In short, they want a government that is as responsive to their needs as a Western democracy.

Many people, both in the West and the Middle East, believe that a Western-style democratic government would preclude including Islamic principles. That's because in the past 40 years, throughout the Muslim world, Islamic law has become dominated by narrow and literalist interpretation that has many Westerners and Muslims believing it is all about regulations on what people can wear and archaic ways that people are punished.

I view this transition as a native Egyptian knowing Egypt as a center of Islamic learning with universities dating back 1,200 years. I have a hard time with how Islam is being used by political groups and governments.

But to think a democratically elected government in a Muslim-majority country will not have some kind of Islamic influence is naïve. The question is what form of Islamic law will have the most influence.

Islamic law is based on six objectives. The law must protect and promote life, human dignity, property, religion, family and intellect. The law is about enhancing the human experience, not restricting it. The Quran contains specific demands from God about justice, about feeding and helping the poor, about taking care of orphans, about the rights of women, about religious freedom and tolerance and about human rights.

In order to be truly an Islamic state, a country needs to pay close attention to these principles. Yet if one were to look closely at the six objectives, one can almost hear Thomas Jefferson talking about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Once a country has embraced democracy, then radical Muslims no longer have a home. Whoever is elected to leadership must then join the political world that requires compromise and coalition building. Radical Islamic regimes can only be imposed by countries ruled by tyrants or ayatollahs who have rejected democracy.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood may want to impose more Islamic values in the government as a result of their election to power. But if the Muslim Brotherhood governs by a strict, literalist interpretation of Islam, they will see the backlash.

Women in Egypt are highly educated. They are not going to acquiesce to losing their rights. The people of Egypt want to be part of the modern world. They will have to insist, as should we, that what the Muslim Brotherhood enacts is, in fact, Islamic law that promotes social justice by protecting the people from tyranny.

This transition period provides a great opportunity for American diplomacy. Instead of fighting the influence of Islam in government, U.S. diplomats should explore with their counterparts in the Middle East the positive aspects of it and how it can be implemented to create a form of government that expands human rights, religious freedom and dignity for all.

If they succeed, both the U.S. and Muslim countries will recognize that they have more in common than they ever thought.

[Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of Moving the Mountain, Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America, is Chairman of Cordoba Initiative.]

(Courtesy: Detroit Free Press)
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