The United Nations has been sponsoring an alliance of a civilizations project to bridge the gap, but we are yet to see the concrete and tangible results of it. I emphatically note that any project for promoting the alliance of civilizations, coexistence and a culture of sharing would be more successful and meaningful if it were carried out at the level of peoples and civil society organizations rather than at the level of governments.
Today, the question, “Is an alliance of civilizations possible?” quickly reminds one of another question, “Can Muslims peacefully coexist with Christians?” This question echoes another question, “Can Islam coexist with democracy?”
The answer to the second question is “yes.” Muslims can peacefully live together with practitioners of other religions, particularly Christians. There are numerous examples of this coexistence in the past, particularly from Anatolia. Moreover today, a mentality that attaches greater importance to humane values is becoming popular across the globe. A notion of democracy which is based on universal human values such as the freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of religion and conscience, rule of law, and accountability has become attractive to all countries and governments. To live together peacefully under a democratic rule where human dignity is safeguarded and everyone is endowed with equal citizenship rights has become easier than previous ages.
The answer to the third question, too, is “yes.” Islam and the form of democracy I described above can coexist. (We must not forget that democracy is form of governance while Islam is a religion).
First, democracy is human-oriented. Democracy preaches the significance of man. Likewise, our religion declares man as the most dignified of all creatures. Our human identity comes before our Muslim identity. Indeed, minors are not held culpable for their deeds under Islam. In the Quran, God swears by man. Both democracy and Islam seek to ensure peace and the welfare of human beings.
The principles of democracy are endorsed also by Islam. In the Quran, three basic principles are set for administration: justice, consultative decision-making processes and assigning positions to those who deserve them. Furthermore, rulers are supposed to be honest, morally upright, clement, merciful, relenting and affectionate. Are justice, lack of favoritism, and popular participation in the decision-making processes not the virtues exalted in a democracy?
Moreover, the freedom of expression and thought, the freedom of religion and worship, the protection of the rights of minorities, the importance of individuals (a person who wrongly kills a person is deemed to have killed the entire humanity), the prohibition of violence, pressure and oppression (there is no compulsion in religion), the participation of those ruled in the election of the ruler (monarchic governments emerged long after the end of the initial Islamic state) are all glorified both by democracy and Islam.
So the problem is whether to respect everyone's identity as and sincerely desire peaceful coexistence.