Friday, October 20, 2006

Islam, democracy in essence the same

By Motiur Rahman Nizami
Wed, 13 Sep 2006, 10:11:00

Right to choose is the core principle of Islam to the extent that Almighty Allah Himself accorded man the freedom to choose between faith in Him and disbelief. Since right to choose is also the fundamental principle on which democracy is evolved, I will argue that as far as system of governance is concerned Islam and democracy is in essence one and the same. Islam rejected hereditary Kingship, autocratic rule as well as use of force to gain power. While describing an ideal Muslim society the Qur'an recommends consultative political process in these words : "And their affairs are administered in a consultative way". The time of democratically elected rightly guided Khalifs is considered as the golden period of Islamic history.

The politics of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh is based on this core Islamic principle. It works to bring about political change employing only democratic means even if it takes a hundred years. It would be wrong to think that this is a new opportunistic approach just to comply with the new feverish attempt to export democracy to Muslim lands; in fact ever since its inception the Jamaat made it clear that 'political power must stem from approval of the populace. According to Maudoodi resorting to undemocratic methods to bring about political change in democratic country is unislamic. The Permanent Programme and Procedure Section of the Constitution the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh stipulates for lawful movements to bring about political change. Maudoodi also made it clear that the Islamic movement cannot adopt a clandestine and secretive approach.

Not just in theory the Jamaat has demonstrated this unflinching commitment to democratic means through its long and distinguished history of political participation. It has taken part in the electoral process ever since the creation of Pakistan and refused to resort to any violent or undemocratic means even in the face of ruthless persecution and extreme provocation. True to its expressed ideals the Jamaat worked to change autocratic government by taking part in various opposition alliances both during the Pakistan period and in the Independent Bangladesh. During the Pakistan period it played a very important role in Combined Opposition Party (COP), Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Democratic Action Committee (DAC) in the fight against the autocratic dictatorship of President General Ayub Khan and during the Bangladesh period it joined the Awami League and other opposition parties against the military Dictator General Ershad's autocratic rule. It is currently taking part in the governance of the country as a result of its participation in a four party alliance against Awami misrule. Such alliances were always constituted and run in a democratic and peaceful manner.

Even its opponents accepted Jamaat proposed Caretaker Government, a system that resolved political stalemate, consequently started democratic political process. Today it is widely recognised that the Jamaat enjoys a reasonable popular support in the country. It may not be enough to win power in its own right but it remains significant nonetheless and is rising. So much so that during pre-independence 1970 election, the Jamaat came second only to the Awami League with about 10% popular vote and won at least one seat while every other party was totally wiped-out by the all-engulfing Awami League landslide. The constant barrage of hostile propaganda by the pro-India politicians and media failed to dent such support. The party continues to make progress in every election by improving its popular support. Jamaat's democratic credential is now widely acknowledged by independent observers both inside and outside the country. As early as September 1988 Library of Congress Country Studies commented that 'it advocated the resignation of Ershad and restoration of democracy'. Recently US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher and former US Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry K. Thomas acknowledged that the Jamaat is a democratic party.

One of the aims of the Jamaat is to cleanse politics from the scourge of corruption and establish honest and sincere leadership in the country. While I do not wish to blow my own trumpet, yet it has to be said for the sake of record that it has succeeded to demonstrate that even in the midst of widespread corruption, it is possible to conduct a clean and efficient administration. Philip Browning writing in the International Harold Tribune wrote, 'The Jamaat has not pressed an Islamic agenda too overtly, but its ministers have acquired a reputation for being competent and uncorrupt, which could serve it well if disillusion with the major parties spread'. The Jamaat firmly believes that if this could be replicated across the board it has the potential to rid the nation from much of its miseries.

The Jamaat rejects the view that it is Bangladesh's destiny to remain poor; the history of the country tells us otherwise. There was a time when this part of India was considered most rich. Not long before the British arrived 1/3rd of a ton of rice used to cost only one Taka (less than 100th of a pound). Europeans used to flock to the country much the same way people from the subcontinent now flock to Europe. This is evidenced by the formation of a series of East India Companies, British, French and Dutch. They all were fighting with each other to secure a share in the resources of the country. The Jamaat believes that with competent and honest management the country's fortunes could be changed for the better. The picture is already looking promising under the leadership of Alliance Government.

Bangladesh's GDP has grown from 5.3 percent in the financial year 2003 to 5.5 percent in 2005 and is expected to be 6.5 percent in 2006, the foreign export has gone up from million $6492 in 2003 to Million $8579 in 2005 with an expected amount of million $9773 in 2006. Goldman Sachs predicts that 11 developing nations including Bangladesh have the greatest potential to emulate the long term economic success expected from China, India, Brazil and Russia and can succeed in long term. According to Ifzal Ali, Chief Economist of Asian Development Bank the country's growth now 'stands between 6 to 7 percent'.

The Jamaat also wishes to establish a welfare state based on justice and fair play, where the state will guarantee the provision of work, housing, education and healthcare. It will try to ensure common good and opportunities for all. By curbing unlimited greed and implementing the Islamic principle of zakat it will work towards lifting up the poorer section of the community.

Keeping to the rich Islamic tradition of fair treatment of the minorities the Jamaat will ensure that the minorities' rights and properties are fully protected and they enjoy their life with full respect and freedom. Throughout history Muslim states provided such rights to their minority citizens, they were allowed to be governed by their own religious laws, their faith institutions were maintained and renovated with state funds. In Bengal for example a fourteenth century Muslim ruler Hussain Shah commissioned and paid for the translation of great Hindu religious texts the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. More recently, Mr. Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid the Secretary General of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Country's Social Welfare Minister risked criticism from some extreme religious leaders for visiting the Durga Puja pandels and reassuring the Hindu minority that the state will take full responsibility so that they can enjoy their festivities in total security.

This, is a very brief outline of the Janiaat approach within the democratic process in Bangladesh. However, I must also mention here that apart from the Jamaat some other Islamic political parties also contribute to the democratic process of the country. They include the Nizame Islam Party, the Khilafat Majlis, Islami Oikko Jote and the Muslim League.

In conclusion I would like to point out that religion plays a very important role in Muslim societies and will continue to do so in countries like Bangladesh for the foreseeable future. Artificial attempts to sanitise politics from religion did not work in Muslim lands, despite outward pretence even secular parties are forced to tinge their political presentation with religious flavour. Today we are witnessing a gradual progress of Islamic political parties across the Muslim World and they are going to shape and reshape Muslim nations whether others like it or not.

The Western policy planners and the media on the other hand continue to do disservice to them by refusing to acknowledge this truth. They still prefer to remain comfortable with the spoon-feeding of their secular clones in those countries and get biased lies or at best half-truths. The West must make a fundamental paradigm shift in their attitude if they wish to develop productive relations with Muslim nations.

(Motiur Rahman Nizami, Minister for Industries and Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh made this presentation on "Islamic political parties within the democratic process in Bangladesh: The Jamaat approach" at Chathan House on Asia programme Meeting on September 11, 2006 in London)

© Copyright 2003 by The New Nation

No comments: