Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Muslims and Democracy; But not the Usual Suspects...

I am sick of people saying things like "first constitution in the Arab and Muslim world" and that "Muslims have no experience with democracy" and that it's a new experience for Muslims to operate within a constitutional democracy. Of course, the examples we give to refute that are often from Iran, Pakistan, and the Arab World. Here's one that's not from the Middle East or South Asia.

A Muslim leader from the mid-20th century who very much operated within a multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country and negotiated the transition from a theocratic/monarchical system to a modern democracy, leading his community as an elected leader. Coming from a line of religious scholars and leaders, he did not take the line we so often hear in the Muslim community that democracy is unIslamic or that constitutions are haraam. And it was policies he and others set in place that took people like my parents and others like them from Pakistan and India, in particular, to work in his country, in large part because they wanted to show their people that one can be a practising Muslim and be educated in English and other "modern" things.

If I remember right, it is about this person that Martin Lings relates in one of his books, that when, as a leader of a newly independent country, he received a letter from the Pope, he kept the Papal Representative standing while he read and re-read the letter with tears in his eyes.

Alhaji Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, Premier of Northern Nigeria:

http://www.arewa-online.com/sardau.html

PS: On second thought, the story from Martin Lings was most probably about Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria an another person who merits mention in this regard.
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