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ALİ BULAÇ

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ALİ BULAÇ
February 25, 2013, Monday

Who is testing whom?

Liberal critics make some correct observations about the Islamic world: They say Islamists have been unable to reconcile their existentialist problems with democracy. The consequence of getting involved in politics without solving these fundamental problems is what we see in Turkey today and what we will possibly see in Tunisia and Egypt. Those who reject the "Islamist" designation for their political identities and who stay away from "Islamist" politics, i.e., "those who keep certain injunctions of the Quran and Sunnah that relate to politics out of the agenda, but suffice with plain Islam," do not have such existentialist problems. They may even be described as the pious people acceptable to liberal political theory and to the proponents of a democratic model. However, unfortunately, even if all actors agree to keep away the profane and social aspects of Islam out of the political and public sphere, this problem cannot be solved. Those aspects are there in the book. Someone may emerge to read and think about them and ask, "Why shouldn't we develop a political theory based on these aspects?"

Existentialist problems with democracy do not belong only to Islamists or those Muslims who reduce religion to mere religious rituals (those who refrain from seeking help or guidance from religion in arranging their worldly affairs), but also to liberal thinkers or advocates of liberal politics. Indeed, if we are to seek the formula of peaceful coexistence in an ever-complex world, all groups must make special efforts to understand each other.

In this regard, by "testing Islamists with democracy," the West's global discourse is really hurting Muslims who adhere to Islam. Before focusing on "Islamists," this discourse should discuss the value and role of "Islam as a religion." A true Muslim will see it as a radical intervention with their beliefs, as if they are being tested by democracy. For any Muslim who is knowledgeable about his/her religion and takes it seriously, Islam is undoubtedly the highest reference and uppermost language. Religion is based on divine revelations. In religion, prophets and divine books are here to teach people about divine intentions. Religion has been around since Adam as the first man, but democracy is just a recent development. Religion will be here until the end of the world, but we cannot be sure that democracy will survive so long. Even if there may be diverse interpretations, rulings and schools within religion -- which signifies pluralism -- all of these interpretations and rulings unite at a higher reference; therefore, there is no higher point of reference for a sect or interpretation than religion.

Democracy is not in a position to specify the valid questions for its subjects. It is religion that decides whether human society will obtain salvation in this world and the next. If democracy proposes a method of politics that enables people to coexist with each other and try to solve their problems through politics and which prohibits any group from dominating others and which is based on elections and consent, then it may be acceptable to religion. If you test religion and the pious people with democracy, then democracy emerges as an alternative to religion. And democracy as a religion starts to set criteria for true belief and false belief, evil and goodness, right and wrong, beneficial or harmful, etc. The Quran describes such definitions as "furqan" (criterion). It is the Quran that is entitled to set such criteria, not democracy. Otherwise, democracy is no longer merely a political system, but a philosophy or religion marketed as a lifestyle.

And many people tend to promote democracy as a religion or philosophy, not as a method of showing people how they can govern themselves. Actually, those who do this are being unfair to democracy, as they are creating obstacles to democracy being welcomed by the collective conscience of Muslims by attempting to test Islamists and Islam with democracy.

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