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The Principles of Western Democracy and Islam

by Anna Jordan

The current issue (Dec.1998) of Life Magazine sports an interesting cover which poses the following question: 


The article by Frank McCourt of the same title could not be better timed for the purposes of this paper. The opening paragraph reads: 

America’s God is vaguely defined. Ours is not a mono cultural nation like, say Iran, Italy or Ireland, but a proudly diverse one. In many countries, the state, so entwined with a national religion, paints a picture of God no less stark than a portrait of the ayatollah, of the pope, of Saint Patrick. Everyone knows what God looks like, and accepts the image or leaves it alone - this latter option sometimes at one’s peril. America, meantime, makes it society’s business to support, protect and nurture minority viewpoints, values and traditions. Within these are many different views of God (sometimes Gods, plural; sometimes "exalted beings" possessing a divine essence). Americans answerable only to their God, can choose. 

Depending on one’s religious persuasion, people may form many different images of God. Individuals often become so convinced that the image of God each holds dear is the right image, religious dogma replaces what can only be considered conjecture. 

If one mentions the Quran , the holy book of Islam, it is quite likely many people will recall images of an ayatollah intolerant towards American government. Most people would be shocked if they were told that the Quran supports the eight principles of western democracy as outlined in Today’s Ism’s by William Ebenstein and Edwin Fogelman. Yet that is the thesis of this paper. What currently passes for Islam as practiced by the majority of Muslims is a form of religious dogma in contradiction to the teachings of the Quran. 

It is hoped that by the conclusion of this paper, the reader will see Islam in a new light, not as a form of religious dogma, but as a guide to making choices based on intelligence and reason. 

There are eight criteria or elements by which a democratic society can be evaluated or judged according to William Ebenstein and Edwin Fogelman. 

1. Rational empiricism

2. Emphasis on the individual

3. Instrumental theory of the state

4. Voluntarism

5. The law behind the law

6. Emphasis on means

7. Discussion and consent in human relations

8. Basic equality of all human beings

1. Rational empiricism. All our knowledge comes from experience with the confidence to apply reason to human relations. Truth is not a given but is subject to change requiring continuous reevaluation and verification. What may seem true today may be altered tomorrow with the input of additional information or by changes in circumstances. Applied to a democracy, all sides must be heard on any issue, or at least as many as possible, thereby allowing for free speech, publication, assembly and association. 

A dogmatist believes he knows the truth with absolute certainty and will accuse anyone who opposes his version of the truth guilty of intellectual subversion. Therefore, the dogmatist will not inquire further into matters. The only input he will allow is that information which will strengthen his position. It is this certainty of knowledge that opens the door to fanatic sentiment. 

John Locke (1632-1704) believed that all our knowledge derives from experience. 

"In this conception, truth ... is tentative, changing, and subject to constant checking and verification." 

It follows that the rational empiricist believes that one never fully arrives at the truth, or the final answer to any question. In fact, the more one may learn about a given subject, the more ignorant one may realize he is. New awareness almost always creates more questions to answers than answers to questions. It is this mode of thinking that allows for scientific progress. In principle, a democratic process allows and encourages all questions and points of view, even those which challenge the principles of democracy, although this is the ideal more often than the reality. When the ideal is the reality, the process remains dynamic. In a dogmatic regime, the process becomes static, even in a supposedly democratic regime. The truth has been declared and no other point of view will shake it or change it. 

The Quran makes the point for rational empiricism in short order: 

And follow not that of which you have not the knowledge; surely the hearing and the sight and the heart, all of these, shall be questioned about that. 17:36 

This verse describes the process of gaining empirical knowledge quite clearly. Our knowledge is gained from the evidence of our senses. What we see and what we hear are processed by the brain and become the foundation for what we know. We are responsible for the interpretation of what we see and hear. Generally, no one can ascertain the truth by one observation. If one observation is sufficient for drawing a conclusion it is because reason has been applied to previously gained information. For example, one might never have been an eye-witness to an automobile exploding, yet one’s knowledge and experience may be sufficient to know that if an automobile explodes in the course of impact with another vehicle, the occupants inside will likely come to be harmed, if not killed. However, in another example, a small child will not understand that placing her finger in a fire will burn her if she has never had any experience with fire. 

The scientific method requires repeated testing with the outcomes remaining consistent before we can accept the results with any confidence. Likewise, truth can only be ascertained by examining all sides, or at least as many as are available for review. As it is always likely that one may never have all points of view at any given time, it is safe to infer that truth is always subject to revision. So, while we are expected to use our senses to receive information, we are also expected to apply that knowledge in a rational manner, remaining open to the possibility that new information may expand or change our understanding. 

2. Emphasis on the individual. Ebenstein and Fogelman contrast liberal democracy with both authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. The latter two view the individual as the servant of the state. The individual lives to serve the state, being only one small part of the whole with the "concept of citizenship as duty, discipline, and death for the state." The state is not to be questioned but is to be obeyed. 

Locke first emphasized the rights of the individual when he wrote in his essays that the individual had the right to pursue life, liberty and property; and if the individual was not happy with the laws under which he was living, he should be free to remove himself to a place where such laws could not compel him into compliance. However, he also believed that if a government usurped the rights of the people, the people had the right to revolt and change the government. This thinking became the foundation for what was to become the American Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, the principle drafter of that document, slightly modified Locke’s principles of individual rights, and Americans have come to accept that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights. Like Locke, Jefferson believed that when a government interfered with these rights, the people had the right to alter or abolish that government and to institute a new one which would better secure their safety and happiness. 

Locke’s contention that one should be free to move if one was unhappy with the conditions imposed on him is supported by the Quran, as well the right to revolt against the government if it usurps the rights of the people. 

He who forsakes his home in the cause of Allah, finds in the earth Many a refuge, wide and spacious: Should he die as a refugee from home for Allah and His Messenger, His reward becomes due and sure with Allah, and Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. 4:100

Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah's cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah. they are the people who will achieve (salvation). 9:20

O ye who believe! Take your precautions, and either go forth in parties or go forth all together. 4:71

Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of Evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan. 4:76

While the Quran speaks of emigrating and fighting in the cause of God, it may seem misleading in the context of politics. No specific mention of government is made. There are several possible explanations for this. One reason is that at the time Muhammad begin reciting the Quran, the Arabs were primarily tribal nomads. Government as twentieth century Americans know it, or as Locke knew it in seventeenth century England, did not exist for them. Another reason that government is not specifically mentioned would be that these passages do not refer only to governments, but also to any conditions that would impose unfair limitations upon an individual or groups of individuals, as within a family, the tribe, the community, or the larger nation state. The fact that the term government is not specifically used does not mean that these passages do not support the right to leave or to abolish the state. What it does imply is a broad application. Tyranny is still tyranny be it on the personal level between spouses or between the ruler and the ruled. When Paine stated that he believed the Almighty would separate America from England because of the latter’s abuses against humanity, it was no less a spiritual plea for divine intervention. The Declaration of Independence states in part: 

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable [sic] Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shown, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. 

This document equates inalienable rights with God-given rights as stated in the first sentence above. 

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression. 2:190-193

Does it seem a stretch of reason to apply the previous verses to the human condition of which history abounds with examples of abuse? Jefferson makes the point that people too often accept the status quo and allow themselves to continue suffering under oppressive forms of government rather than stand up and fight such oppression. Are we to assume that fighting oppression has nothing to do with God? If our inalienable rights are God-given as the Declaration of Independence asserts, then what right does a government, a group of individuals, or one individual have to abuse such rights? Are we not fighting in the cause of God when we defend that which we believe is God-given? 

And why should ye not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)?- Men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from thee one who will protect; and raise for us from thee one who will help!" 4:75

Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of Evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan. 4:76

Paine echoed similar words in his pamphlet Common Sense when "he denounced the British ruling classes for exploiting the lower classes in America and in England, and urged the colonies to declare themselves free and independent states so that they might establish in America a haven of refuge for the oppressed peoples of Europe." 

Ebenstein and Fogelman state that the historical roots of individualism stem from three sources: 

First, the Jewish concept of one God leads to the idea that all men, as children of God, are brothers to each other. Second, the Christian doctrine of the indestructibility of the human soul maintains that whatever social, economic,  and political inequalities may exist, all men posses a spiritual equality and uniqueness that no earthly power can override. Third, in the stoic view, the one principle of action that governs all things is to be at one with oneself, to know oneself, and to act in conformity with one’s rational principles and purposes. The true self of man, according to the stoics, is not flesh or bones, but  the faculty that uses them, the reason, the part that more than anything else  characterizes one as human. 

At no time, of course, has this individualism been fully accepted, and the counter forces of collective solidarity always threaten it. 

Although the Quran is supportive of the Judeo-Christian ideas expressed above, Ebenstein and Fogelman do not demonstrate how individualism has developed from either of the first two sources. That all men are brothers does not clarify the concept of individualism. That all men possess a spiritual equality does not sufficiently support the premise for individualism. The stoic view comes closer to establishing a precedent for individualism and it is this point of view which is supported by the Quran: 

Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts. 22:46

The blindness of the hearts inside the chest is the metaphorical description of the faculty of reason, and failure to use it is an individual dilemma, although many individuals may be guilty of such failure. 

3. The instrumental theory of the state. This is the view that the state is a mechanism to be used for ends higher than itself. In order to accept this theory, one must reject the concept of the state as the ultimate authority. One must also define ends higher than itself. Returning to the Judea o-Christian viewpoint, "the highest values in man’s life relate to God and that no earthly law can claim to supersede God’s. From the rational-humanist viewpoint, the instrumentalist theory of the state affirms that the ability of the individual to use his reason in discovering what is right and wrong is the ultimate test of political authority." 

Allah Most Gracious! It is He Who has taught the Qur'an. He has created man: He has taught him speech (and intelligence). The sun and the moon follow courses (exactly) computed; And the herbs and the trees - both (alike) bow in adoration. And the Firmament has He raised high, and He has set up the Balance (of Justice), In order that ye may not transgress (due) balance. So establish weight with justice and fall not short in the balance. It is He Who has spread out the earth for (His) creatures. 55:1-10

Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe. 45:3

Then We put thee on the (right) Way of Religion: so follow thou that (Way), and follow not the desires of those who know not.

They will be of no use to thee in the sight of Allah. it is only Wrong-doers (that stand as) protectors, one to another: but Allah is the Protector of the Righteous. 45:18-20

These verses support the premise that no earthly law is higher than God’s law. He taught them how to distinguish affirms that the individual must use his reason in discovering what is right and wrong. 

4. Voluntarism. This principle first meant the freedom to associate religiously with any group the individual chose. It has since come to represent the freedom to associate with any group of one’s choosing, be it political, educational, or economic in nature, to name a few. Generally, it represents an association with a smaller group that is influenced more by localized input and less by a centralized government. As the name implies, association is voluntary, an important principle in the concept of democracy. It is this voluntary association which also has a charitable connotation. 

They ask thee what they should spend (In charity). Say: Whatever ye spend that is good, is for parents and kindred and orphans and those in want and for wayfarers. And whatever ye do that is good, (Allah) knoweth it well. 2:215

O ye who believe! Give of the good things which ye have (honourably) earned, and of the fruits of the earth which We have produced for you, and do not even aim at getting anything which is bad, in order that out of it ye may give away something, when ye yourselves would not receive it except with closed eyes. And know that Allah is Free of all wants, and worthy of all praise.  2:267

The following verse makes the point for freedom to associate with whomever the individual chooses. 

It is not required of thee (O Messenger., to set them on the right path, but Allah sets on the right path whom He pleaseth. Whatever of good ye give benefits your own souls, and ye shall only do so seeking the "Face" of Allah. Whatever good ye give, shall be rendered back to you, and ye shall not Be dealt with unjustly. 2:272

Why was there not a single township (among those We warned), which believed,- so its faith should have profited it,- except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the penalty of ignominy in the life of the present, and permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while. If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! 10:98-99

The state cannot turn evil into good or wrong into right solely because it possesses the means of physical coercion...in the classical liberal doctrine...the state is to step in only when the voluntary efforts of society fail." 

Then We put thee on the (right) Way of Religion: so follow thou that (Way), and follow not the desires of those who know not. 45:18

O ye who believe! Take your precautions, and either go forth in parties or go forth all together. 4:71 

The state is not explicitly mentioned above but the admonition to be alert to changing conditions is apparent and the command, or authorization if one prefers, to take action on the individual level or on the broader level, be it on the state or national level is clear when warranted. Mobilizing is not limited to warfare as in military-style warfare. We may mobilize to bring aid and assistance to victims of earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes or we may participate in a nationwide Great American Smoke Out Day. 

5. The law behind the law. This concept stems from the federal view of state and society in classical liberalism which considers society to be basically self-sufficient. The state is an essentially voluntary body with its authority being derived from the consent of the governed. Because classic liberalism has always adhered to the idea that the relations between state and society, between government and individual, are ultimately defined by a law higher than that of the state...the law is not the product of the state, but precedes it. 

As stated earlier in the introduction, the Declaration of Independence mentions this higher authority as Divine Providence. The Constitution also discusses this concept in defining due process whereby the rights of all are protected based on the principles of reason. No laws can be legislated that violate those basic rights. 

Say: "O Allah. Lord of Power (And Rule), Thou givest power to whom Thou pleasest, and Thou strippest off power from whom Thou pleasest: Thou enduest with honour whom Thou pleasest, and Thou bringest low whom Thou pleasest: In Thy hand is all good. Verily, over all things Thou hast power. 3:26

Hast thou not turned Thy vision to those who claim sanctity for themselves? Nay-but Allah Doth sanctify whom He pleaseth. But never will they fail to receive justice in the least little thing. Behold! how they invent a lie against Allah. but that by itself is a manifest sin! Hast thou not turned Thy vision to those who were given a portion of the Book? they believe in sorcery and Evil, and say to the Unbelievers that they are better guided in the (right) way Than the believers! They are (men) whom Allah hath cursed: And those whom Allah Hath cursed, thou wilt find, have no one to help. Have they a share in dominion or power? Behold, they give not a farthing to their fellow-men? 4:49-53

There is no god but He: It is He Who gives life and gives death,- The Lord and Cherisher to you and your earliest ancestors. 44.8

The founding fathers shunned the dogma of existing religions when they established the new American government. They considered God the only moral authority to which they owed any accounting. Consider this next verse in light of this thinking: 

Allah has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religion - the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived), to one of security and peace: 'They will worship Me (alone) and not associate aught with Me. 'If any do reject Faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked. 24:55

Today, the American people are sovereign with respect to the government. No one religion dominates our society. We have been a melting pot for European and African cultures since our inception as a nation. We are increasingly becoming a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society with the continued flow of Asian, Middle Eastern and 

Indo-European cultures. Tolerance and respect for one another is a two-way conduit; it must take precedence in our relationships within society if our peace and security is to continue. 

6. Emphasis on the means. The state does not have the right to achieve it’s objectives by any means no matter how desirable the end may be. This relates back to the rational-humanist viewpoint in determining the use of political authority, where the individual uses his reason to determine what is right and wrong. The state cannot justifiably force an outcome through physical coercion just because it has the physical power to do so. Any ends achieved must be accomplished through due process. 

An example is given in the Quran that illustrates its support for due process. King David was asked to settle a dispute: 

When they entered the presence of David, and he was terrified of them, they said: "Fear not: we are two disputants, one of whom has wronged the other: Decide now between us with truth, and treat us not with injustice, but guide us to the even Path. "This man is my brother: He has nine and ninety ewes, and I have (but) one: Yet he says, 'commit her to my care,' and is (moreover) harsh to me in speech." (David) said: "He has undoubtedly wronged thee in demanding thy (single) ewe to be added to his (flock of) ewes: truly many are the partners (in business) who wrong each other: Not so do those who believe and work deeds of righteousness, and how few are they?"...and David gathered that We had tried him: he asked forgiveness of his Lord, fell down, bowing (in prostration), and turned (to Allah in repentance). So We forgave him this (lapse): he enjoyed, indeed, a Near Approach to Us, and a beautiful place of (Final) Return. O David! We did indeed make thee a vicegerent on earth: so judge thou between men in truth (and justice): Nor follow thou the lusts (of thy heart), for they will mislead thee from the Path of Allah. for those who wander astray from the Path of Allah, is a Penalty Grievous, for that they forget the Day of Account. Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between! that were the thought of Unbelievers! but woe to the Unbelievers because of the Fire (of Hell)! 38:22-27

Although David questioned his own decision, he was reminded that his personal biases had no place in judging between the disputes of the people. He was admonished to judge equitably. What is equitable? The process demands evaluation of all known 

material evidence, the chance to give testimony, the right to an impartial hearing by either a jury or an unbiased judge, and the right to appeal after the judgment if warranted. Another verse addresses the importance of fairness and an unbiased attitude: 

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well- acquainted with all that ye do. 4:135 

Another verse supports the rights of the accused: 

O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done. 49:6

Obviously, not all people who bring charges against other people are wicked. Nonetheless, everyone, including the guilty, are entitled to have any charges brought against them investigated and examined. This verse requires that any information that would be detrimental to any individual or group of individuals be thoroughly reviewed before drawing conclusions. 

7. Discussion and consent. Basically this means lay all the cards on the table, discuss the variety of options available, and then compromise if necessary to settle any differences. As stated earlier, truth is not a given but is subject to change. Since it is doubtful that any one individual ever knows all there is to know on any one issue, a democratic society operates on the premise that all individuals have the right to be heard, all available views must be aired followed with the necessary discussion. The reality is such that total agreement among individuals is rare, if not impossible, but discussion and consent allows for an exchange of information and provides for new information to be considered. This is not entirely unlike due process, but due process is more a guarantee for fair treatment under the law in legal situations, whereas discussion and consent is a code of behavior for daily problem solving in all aspects of society, from the House of Representatives to the classroom. 

Citing a different example, this time speaking to Muhammad, the need for discussion and consent is addressed: 

It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (Their faults), and ask for ((Allah)'s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when thou hast Taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him). 3:159

Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance. 42:38

The Quran has given support for the democratic principle of discussion and consent. When oppression is present and discussion has failed, the Quran has given society the authority to use aggression. Just as Locke suggests that the people have the right to change the government when it abuses their rights, the Quran supports this belief, also. 

8. Basic equality of all human beings. This democratic doctrine is frequently misunderstood according to Ebenstein and Fogelman. People are not identical, but they have certain inalienable rights as human beings. The Jewish-Christian tradition states that all people are equal before God; "God’s challenge to every human being is the same, although individual responses to it vary enormously." The Quran states: 

And their Lord hath accepted of them, and answered them: "Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, be he male or female: Ye are members, one of another: Those who have left their homes, or been driven out therefrom, or suffered harm in My Cause, or fought or been slain,- verily, I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath;- A reward from the presence of Allah, and from His presence is the best of rewards." 3:195

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 49:13

Say to My servants that they should (only) say those things that are best: for Satan doth sow dissensions among them: For Satan is to man an avowed enemy. 17:53.

O ye who believe! Let not some men among you laugh at others: It may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): Nor let some women laugh at others: It may be that the (latter are better than the (former): Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connoting wickedness, (to be used of one) after he has believed: And those who do not desist are (indeed) doing wrong. O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear Allah. For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. 49:11-12

"And swell not thy cheek (for pride) at men, nor walk in insolence through the earth; for Allah loveth not any arrogant boaster. And be moderate in thy pace, and lower thy voice; for the harshest of sounds without doubt is the braying of the mule." 31:18-19 

Thus basic equality is not the guarantee that all people will have equal property, the same jobs with the same pay, or the same size houses. Equality means that all individuals are of equal worth. The inalienable rights of life and liberty does not mean that no one can take either away. It means that all individuals are endowed with those rights just as each are endowed with the faculties to reason and rationalize, even though many will fail to use those faculties wisely. Individuals may be called upon singly or in groups to defend those rights. It is incumbent upon the individual and the society in which one operates and associates to respect the rights of all individuals and to submit to the higher laws of Creation, to those of the Creator. That many individuals fail to do so does not alter the fact that those inalienable rights still exist and are there for the taking. 

Our differences in color, culture, gender, skills and talents are blessings that are supposed to enrich our lives. In the course of two hundred or so years, we have abolished slavery, opened the doors of education and employment to both genders and people of all ethnicity. Furthermore, we are admonished to respect the privacy of individuals. Spying and entrapment, name-calling and other forms of social intolerance are denounced, as is suspicion without any basis. 

There is one last point to note before concluding. The U.S. Constitution contains what is called a necessary and proper clause, or an elastic clause. It reads in Article I, Section 8, Clause 18: 

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or any Department or Officer thereof. 

The addition of this clause provided for future contingencies. It specified nothing other than the right to write laws in the future as times and conditions changed. It is interesting to note that the Quran also contains an elastic clause for just the same reason. Islamic scholars have tried to interpret every word of the Quran over the last fourteen hundred years based on the prevailing knowledge and understanding of each successive generation. Thus arose a dogma which is evident today that in no way resembles the true message of the Quran. It is for this reason that Islam is so grossly misunderstood and misrepresented. The Quran’s elastic clause reads: 

O ye who believe! Ask not questions about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if ye ask about things when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made plain to you, Allah will forgive those: for Allah is Oft- forgiving, Most Forbearing. 5:101.

Quoting Kassim Ahmad, a Malaysian writer, 

"God does not mention some things...because such things concern the forms their principles take at different times and different places. These forms are therefore decided by the society’s council or by customs or by personal preference." 

He cites another writer in his book in the following: 

"As Islam discouraged religious practices, such as monastic life, it also prohibited questions relating to details on many points which would require this or that practice to be made obligatory, and much was left to the individual will or circumstances of the time and place. The exercise of judgment occupies a very important place in Islam and this gives ample scope to different nations and communities to frame laws for themselves and to meet new and changed situations." 

It was pointed out earlier in this paper that certain passages from the Quran did not specifically mention government by name in determining the right of the individual to revolt or change the government if it became oppressive. Nor did it say specifically that individuals had the right to emigrate if the government usurped the rights of the people. Fourteen hundred years is a long time for a document to endure. Governments come and go; entire civilizations rise and fall; scientific advances are made. In order for a written guideline to have staying power, it is necessary that it be applicable to as many situations as possible. The U.S. Constitution has lasted for over two hundred years because it is a general guideline which allows for laws to be made or phased out as circumstances warrant. Thus, as one reads the Quran, it is up to the individual to use reason and common sense in applying the principles it supports. 

What passes for Islam today is not reliance on the Quran alone. Centuries of myth, superstition and cultural traditions have crept into the practice of Islam, so that a 

strict religious dogma based on numerous volumes of theological interpretation apart from the Quran have been established as part and parcel of Islam. 

While the Quran might seem to be just another religious book to some, perhaps to many, it is an endorsement for the rights of individuals and a guide to the authoritative allocation of values and resources for a society. It provides a way to deal with conflict without destroying society. It is a guideline calling upon the individual to think things through and use the faculties and the brain before making decisions or taking action. It is not a step-by-step book with all the answers spelled out. It does not tell us by name what type of government to form, but it does tell us how to treat one another, and thereby we can deduce from it what is appropriate and best for all concerned. It may be that one day no government will be necessary. Should that day ever come, the Quran will still be applicable in determining right conduct between individuals and societies. 

Whether one accepts the Quran as God’s word or that of an unknown source, it is hoped that enough proof has been given that the reader will come to view Islam in a new light, as a guiding principle of reason, tolerance, open-mindedness and fairness, which supports rational thinking, the rights of the individual, and an open democratic process, and not the man-made dogma that currently poses as Islam. 


1. Ahmad, Kassim. Hadith: A Re-evaluation. Translated by Monotheist Productions International: Tucson, Arizona, 1997. California: Universal Unity, 1997, p. 466 

2. Ebenstein, William, and Fogelman, Edwin. Today’s Isms. New Jersey: Prentiss-Hall, Inc., 1980, pp 170-178. 

3. Foner, Philip S. Introduction, The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine. New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, 1997, pp 11-12. 

4. Jefferson, Thomas. The Declaration of Independence. 1776. 

5. McCourt, Frank. "When You Think of God What Do You See?" Life Magazine, December 1998, p. 63. 

6. Paine, Thomas. "A Serious Thought." Pennsylvania Journal, October 18, 1775 

7. Schmidt, Steffen W., Shelley, Mack C., II, Bardes, Barbara A. American Government and Politics Today. USA: 1997, p. 6. 

8. Quran, The Final Testament. Translated by Rashad Khalifa, Ph.D., California: Universal Unity, p. 424. 

9. The Holy Quran. Editorial note, Muhammad Ali, p. 271, note 240. 

10. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co., 1979. 




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