Democracy and Islam: Are They Opponents or Allies?

Democracy and Islam: Are They Opponents or Allies?


Fethullah Gülen stressed that when comparing Islam with democracy, we must remember that democracy is a system that is being continually developed and revised, on the one hand. It also varies according to the places and circumstances where it is practiced. On the other hand, religion has established immutable principles related to faith, worship, and morality. Thus, only Islam’s worldly aspects should be compared with democracy.

He argues that democracy -in spite of its shortcomings- is now the only viable political system, and people should strive to modernize and consolidate democratic institutions in order to build a society where individual rights and freedoms are respected and protected, where equal opportunity for all is more than a dream. According to Gülen, mankind has not yet designed a better governing system than democracy. Fethullah Gülen also maintains that as a political and governing system, democracy is, at present, the only alternative left in the world (Yilmaz 2005c:396).

As for Islam, it is characterized by immutable religious and ethical values. But it does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances. If we approach the matter in this light and compare Islam with the modern liberal democracy of today, we will be better able to understand the position of Islam and democracy with respect to each other (Gülen 2004:220).

Along with this idea Fethullah Gülen refers to the following fundamental principles of Islamic form of government:

– Power lies in truth, a repudiation of the common idea that truth relies upon power.

– Justice and the rule of law are essential.

– Freedom of belief and rights to life, personal property, reproduction, and health (both mental and physical) cannot be violated.

– The privacy and immunity of individual life must be maintained.

– No one can be convicted of a crime without evidence, or accused and punished for someone else’s crime.

– An advisory system of administration is essential

Fethullah Gülen does not see a contradiction between these principles and democracy. The duties entrusted to modern democratic systems are those that Islam refers to society and classifies as absolutely necessary, relatively necessary, and commendable to carry out. People cooperate with one another in sharing these duties and establishing the essential foundations necessary to perform them. The government is composed of all of these foundations. Thus, Islam recommends a government based on a social contract. People elect the administrators, and establish a council to debate common issues. Also, the society as a whole participates in auditing the administration. In short, Islam addresses the whole community and assigns it almost all the rights and duties entrusted to modern democratic system.

Answering a question whether Islam can live in democracy and vice versa Fethullah Gülen said: “It’s wrong to see Islam and democracy as opposites” (Unal and Williams 2000:150).


This is a section from Prof. Sykiainen’s paper titled “The Relevance of Fethullah Gülen’s Thoughts for Democratic Reforms in the Muslim World”, which was presented at the International Conference on Peaceful Coexistence: Fethullah Gülen’s Initiatives in the Contemporary World, held at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands on 22-23 November 2007. Click here to download conference proceedings.

Leonid R. Sykiainen: Professor and Chair of Theory of Law and Comparative Law, School of Law, State University-Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and (from 2000) Professor of Institute of Asian and African Countries, Moscow State University. Prof. Sykiainen is the author of more than 160 learned works on Islamic law and comparative legal studies.

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