Contrary to the beliefs of some, the primary sources of Islam – the Quran and Sunnah – do not expound a specific political order or ‘system’ of bringing about change in governance and leadership. Instead Islam talks in general terms about the importance of justice, fairness and equity, for ‘the people’ to live in harmony with each other. The Quran also emphasised that people should manage their affairs by mutual consultation (Shura). This was 14 centuries ago and in today’s terms those ideas could be translated as ‘the people’ being the ‘demos’, the citizenry that form the backbone of a healthy, free society.
Perhaps even more importantly early Islamic practice was rich in examples of strict accountability and transparency in leadership roles, where the head of state was described as the ‘servant of the people’ and the endorsement of the popular will was always paramount.
However this was only the early history of Islam. Monarchy quickly set in, under which dynastic rule became entrenched. The lawyers and scholars were at great pains to protect the domains of the courts and religious / civic institutions from the overbearing power of the state – leading to a de factodifferentiation of powers and realms, even if this was never historically articulated in the form of modern secular administration.
Many Muslim scholars today feel that democracy represents an important, powerful and healthy model for governance that can allow for the crucial Islamic principles of justice, accountability, the involvement of citizens and peaceful transition of power to be actualised in the best form possible.