Friday, April 22

Book: The West and Islam: Western Liberal Democracy Versus the System of Shura, Mishal Fahm Al-Sulami

I mentioned that I had begun to read up on political theory - well this was one of the books I was talking about. Primarily it's a comparative study of democracy (as we in the west understand and practise it) and a possible Islamic equivalent as suggested by the Sudanese Al-Turabi. However since an agreed concrete definition of democracy (Islamic or otherwise) doesn't exist you should bear in mind that a lot of this, although academically sound, is subjective with respect to western practise and Al-Turabi himself.

Apart from the comparison itself, the book makes as an excellent introduction to the fundamentals[1] of democracy, breaking the concept down into basic components like sovereignty, decision making, the selective process and interest groups. For the purpose of comparison the author then attempts to break these down even further in order to find counterparts in Al-Turabi's system of Shura.

Al-Turabi himself created his system by either taking examples of the above components from the life of The Prophet and the first four caliphs, or if this was lacking, by establishing a legal version of that component within the framework of the Shariah. What Al-Sulami, the author, concludes is that the two systems of Al-Turabi's Shura and what is generally regarded as western liberal democracy are very similar; in fact only totally contradicting each other in the case of political parties (in the west) and trends (in Al-Turabi's Shura).

However, it should also be noted that Al-Turabi's system relies on a lot of Islamic principles and good will - for example it repeatedly assumes that losing political parties would compromise and follow the winners or that there would not be any argument or corruption. The book doesn't assure me that that would actually happen in practice; Al-Turabi in the book certainly doesn't convey how he would enforce such good will (if indeed it's possible to do such a thing).

Specifics aside, the book makes as both a good reference to democracy and it's components as well as an academic comparison with a possible Islamic solution. It is also easy to read cover to cover as an introduction to the topic. Highly recommended for those who wish to sample political theory - and even better for those who want to look into the subject of modern Islamic politics and governance in general.