Breaking the Democratic Taboo

I am often invited by religious authorities in the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia to attend meetings that are held to urge people to follow Islamic faith and law, while avoiding any debate connected to politics or political rights. Political rights, my hosts insist, are maintained by the ruling regimes themselves, and these follow the teachings of the Koran.

But recently an invitation came from the Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, which actually wanted me to talk about democracy, or “good governance,” as the participants called it.

Until recently, this topic was taboo in Saudi Arabia, where the regime doesn’t allow any margin for political debate, and commands people to listen, obey, and leave matters of government to their rulers.

It was obvious that the conference organizers’ goal was to revive religious and political speech in order to find a middle ground between Islamic faith and democracy. I argued that, as many Islamic scholars have recognized, Islamic jurisprudence is compatible with democratic values. Every country that has chosen democracy has come closer to achieving Islam’s goals of equality and social justice.