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Islam’s Democratic Imperative

Mahmoud Abbas’s election in Palestine and the forthcoming vote in Iraq on January 30 have pushed the question of Islam’s compatibility with democracy to the center of the world’s agenda. Sheik Dia al-Shakarchi, a leading Shi’ite theologian, argues that democracy is not only compatible with Islam, but is essential to it.

During the last 25 years, Islam has played an increasingly influential role in politics, and not only in the Islamic world, with political Islam frequently expressing itself in radicalism and terror. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have not always agreed on the extent to which this is compatible with genuine Islam.

How Islam is understood varies widely among devout, moderately religious, and non-observant Muslims, as well as among Islamic scholars, political parties, and organizations. Even western experts and critics of Islam hold different views. Overall, there are two conflicting images of Islam: a peaceful Islam, which is ready for dialogue and coexistence, and a fundamentalist Islam, which is militant and even terrorist.

There is a widespread misperception that Islam’s holy texts are written in a way that can justify both interpretations. But, in my opinion, the reason for different – and frequently contradictory – interpretations is an incompetent and incomplete approach that detaches individual texts from their context and construes them without a thorough understanding of the true spirit of the Koran.