Long before the United Nations’ Declaration of the Charter of Human Rights, the great Prophet of Arabia taught the principles of democracy.
Today, the world is moving more and more towards a form of democratic way of life, which can be seen in every field of human activity. True democracy should not only aim at political equality but to social justice and a better sense of moral and spiritual values, without which, our whole social structure will naturally crumble. To bring about right understanding, harmony and peace in society, moral and spiritual codes are necessary for without these elements in our daily lives, man obviously will tend to egoism and animalism, forgetting his true nature and place in society as a material and spiritual being. Two disastrous world wars have been fought in the name of democracy and a third one is undoubtedly in the making without our realising that true democracy cannot be won by wars.
Nearly fourteen centuries ago the great founder of Islam proved this great truth when he taught the true principles of democracy, giving the world a democratic code of life as a God-given right to humanity, in the divine revelation of the Holy Qur’aan. He laid the foundation of democracy on the belief that all mankind are creatures of God, irrespective of race, colour or creed or social status, and as such are entitled to equal rights and opportunities in every sphere of life. He emphatically declared:
“All creation is the family of Allaah and of all creation the most beloved of Allaah is he who does most good to mankind.”
He was a teacher of true democracy and it was destined that no less a person than his noble grandson, Hazrat Imam Hussain (R.A.), had to suffer martyrdom in the cause of democracy, in a most heart-rending and tragic episode confronting humanity and thus be honoured as the first martyr to the cause of democracy.
Islam is undoubtedly the first religion to teach democracy, not as a political slogan but as a religious creed.
The five pillars on which the superstructure of the teachings of Hazrat Muhammad (S.A.W.) stands – The Declaration of the Oneness of God – Prayer – Fasting –Almsgiving – Pilgrimage to the Holy Shrine of Mecca – all bear outstanding testimony of the principle and practice of democracy by the great Prophet of Allaah.
In the institution of Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca), we see a unique demonstration of the spirit of democracy as taught by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). It is the greatest annual assembly on earth of people from every part of the world, gathered in one centre, representing the world’s races, languages, customs and cultures – the king and the servant, the highest and the lowest, mingle freely together in similar garb living under identical conditions and equally performing the same rituals in a true spirit of democracy, as one nation of people.
Professor Dr. A. K. Germanus, Head of the Department of Oriental and Islamic studies at the Budapest University, writing on the role of democracy in Islam, admits that democracy in the modern world has not yet reached the advanced standard Islam gave to the world. He states:
“Islam as a religion, and as a social structure, has been built upon a truly democratic principle. It is the people who are addressed in the Qur’aan, and it is for the benefit of the people and their salvation that all the injunctions of the rituals and beliefs are imposed on the believers. It is not a class privileged by descent or esoteric love which can rule the oppressed and cowed en masse but every individual man and woman stands directly before God in worship, duty and right. Modern democracy has not yet reached the basic principles of Islam.”
He further states:
“Islam has never suffered from the shackles of a centralised church or a professional clergy. Islam recognises no ruling sect, tolerates no single despotic claimant to Allaah’s Regency on earth. Power can be vested only in the people, the umma, the whole spiritual community.”
Hazrat Muhammad’s (S.A.W.) task was no easy one. It was to preach to a people the doctrine: Unity – Liberty – Fraternity – Equality – when there was no law and order, and moral and spiritual darkness prevailed. Writing on the condition of Arabia at the time of the Holy Prophet, Dr. Galwash in his book, “The Religion of Islam,” states:
“The absence of any stable government had led to the prevalence of anarchism and criminal excesses. The whole peninsula was in a pitiful state of chaos, sin, impurity and wickedness.”
To such a society, Hazrat Muhammad (S.A.W.) taught that all men are equal before God, and declared that an Arab was not superior to a non-Arab, emphasising that humanity were creatures of God, and descended from father Adam (peace be on him). He proclaimed on the mount of Arafat that the aristocracy of the Arabs was trampled under his feet.
Islam destroyed a state based on racial grounds replacing it by a secular form of government based on the spiritual equality of men, a system unique in political history. In his book, “History of Arabs,” Phillip K. Hitti, describing the Islamic Commonwealth, writes:
“This Islamic society or the commonwealth which the Prophet (of Islam) set up, was based on perfect equality and justice for all, with divine sovereignty as its cardinal principle. This commonwealth, based as it was on Divine sovereignty, was free from the vices and corruption peculiar to the monarchy or republic based on the concept of popular sovereignty. The law in that state was not the expression of the general will of the community as Rousseau propounded, nor was it an expression of the arbitrary will of a despotic ruler, but it was the expression of the infallible Divine Will. Therefore these laws were decidedly perfect and conducive to the well-being of society”
In pre-Islamic Arabia woman had no place in society; and was considered an inferior creature.It was Muhammad (peace be on him) who liberated her and gave her both spiritual and material equality with man, and established her democratic rights. He declared:
“Whosoever doeth right, whether male or female, for him verily, we shall quicken good life and recompense. And they (women) have rights similar to those of men.”
In his drive for equality he encouraged his companions to purchase slaves for the purpose of liberating them from their cruel masters. He preached the emancipation of slaves as a virtue of the highest order. Hazrat Bilal (R.A.), an African slave who became the famous Muezzin of Islam, was bought by Hazrat Abu Bakr (R.A.), and given freedom from his master. Hazrat Bilal (R.A.) has been given a very exalted position by the Prophet, who declared that he was considered as a member of his own family. Hazrat Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave freedom to the slave Ziad, who was presented to him as a gift.
Betrand Thomas writes:
“And so with slavery: he laboured for the amelioration of the slaves’ lot, liberating any that were presented to him. He taught that the slave-mother should not be separated from her children.”
In a country where might was right, when men boasted of wealth and power and even of their vices, when tyranny, oppression and tribal wars were the order of the day, democracy was like a dark cloud in the horizon. Therefore the great teacher of democracy faced the bitterest far reaching reforms and established a democratic form of government in which he claimed that everything belongs to God, Who is the Head of the state, and that all humanity being His creatures are entitled to equal rights.
According to him, he was nothing more than a servant in the kingdom of God, appointed to teach the law and as such was subject to the law as anyone else. A non-Muslim writer, Asad Bey, in his book entitled “Mohammed,” translated by H. L. Ripperger, pays tribute to the democracy founded by Muhammad (peace be on him) in these words:
“Muhammad and Islam deserve credit for having been the first to give democracy (that is the thesis of absolute equality of mankind) development on a broad scale. The equality of mankind remained a fundamental axiom until the downfall of the caliphate. For hundreds of years races, classes and castes disappeared in this world-embracing system.”
The Holy Qur’aan remains the guiding code of democracy, with Muhammad (S.A.W.) as the expounder and examplar of that great code. Islam established the Oneness of God and the brotherhood of man as the basis of true democracy. The great contribution Hazrat Muhammad (peace be on him) made in the cause of democracy – the far reaching influence of the ideals he successfully struggled for is admitted today. In his book, “The Making of Humanity,” Professor Briffault writes:
“The ideals of freedom for all human beings, of human brotherhood, of the equality of all men before the law, of democratic government by consultation and universal suffrage, the ideals that inspired the French Revolution and the Declaration of Rights, that guided the framing of the American Constitution and inflamed the struggle for independence in the Latin-American countries were not inventions of the West. They find their ultimate inspiration and source in the Holy Qur’aan. They are the quintessence of what the intelligentsia of Medieval Europe acquired from Islam over a period of centuries through the various channels of Muslim Spain, Sicily, the Crusaders, and of the ideals propagated by the various societies that developed in Europe in the wake of the Crusades in imitation of the brotherhood associations of Islam.”
Any form of democracy which preaches class-hatred, exploitation, domination and is devoid of moral and spiritual values will naturally lead to social injustice and unrest, and cannot lead to lasting success.
The form of democracy taught by Hazrat Muhammad (peace be on him) was not man-made, and was therefore, all-embracing, universal, free from any class-system and the many evils in modern democracy. He gave to the world a democracy based on the equality and justice for the establishment of the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God, which is a solution for world peace.