Is Islam compatible with any form of democracy?


by Diba

By: Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD Int. Law

Some of the Iranian ruling groups and a large number of the Reformists believe that the Western democracy (and human rights) cannot be transferred to the societies like Iran. (1) They think and argue that a different kind of democracy (religious democracy or Islamic democracy), which uses the religious teachings, is needed for this purpose. Of course, as far as the Islamic countries, like Iran and Iraq are concerned, they recommend the Islamic tenets as the basis of such democracy. Speaking in London, Sayyed Mohammad Khatami, the former president of Iran, had said: “democracy was a right for all people in the East and West, but there was no one-size-fits-all model…democracy needed to be tailored to the social, historical, cultural and religious make-up of an individual nation.” (2)

Several questions are here:

1- Is democracy dividable into various forms?

Democracy means the government of people. It may have many forms (like direct and indirect democracies), but it must be based on several clear and simple principles. These principles are the backbone of any democratic system, and lack of them makes the political system avoid of democracy. Some of these rudimentary principles are:

a- People are the source of the legitimacy of the government. This clearly means that the governing body owes the legitimacy to rule to the people and no other source. Therefore, as soon as the people do not want a government, it has lost its legitimacy.

b- People have the right to choose those who govern them. People may choose the governing body through the institutions that they create such political parties.

c- People can change those who govern them. This means that the peop0le have the right to set aside those who have been ruling for any reason that looks proper for the people.

2- Are religions compatible with democracy?

Religions are not generally compatible with democracy for many reasons. Some of them are as follow:

a- The religions believe in the divine sources of power for the rulers and religious leaders.

b- Religions are based on fixed ideas that are supposed to have come from divine sources and therefore they are not subject to discussion, scrutiny and rejection or change.

c- Religious regimes have proved in the past that they are not able to accommodate democracy.

d- The era of renaissance and progress of the Western societies began when they separated the church from the politics. (until then the Eastern societies were in a higher level of development as compared to the Europeans).

3- Is Islam compatible with democracy?

First of all, there is not a unified or standard definition of Islam. The religious leaders of the “Islamic Republic” of Iran keep talking about the teachings of “Islam”, while they are Shiite and 90% of the Muslims are Sunnis. Many Sunnis do not consider the Shiites as Muslim. There is not even unity in the interpretation of Islam among the Iranian Mullahs.

Hassan abbassi, the Director of Center of External security analysis of the Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic republic of Iran has said: “…the leaders of the Islamic world should have the courage to declare: Islam and Western democracy are not compatible. Islam has nothing in common with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Islam has nothing in common with the Western liberalism.” (3)

People like Khatami that have clearly chosen a special ideology as the source of all truth, and reject the others as the wrong paths, cannot talk about democracy. They are like a researcher that set the results of the research from the beginning. They are not after finding the truth; they only intend to defend the one that they have already convinced themselves as being the only source of truth.

It seems that democracy is not compatible with any religion, especially Islam. The only way to create democracy in any country is the secularism (separation of the religion and politics). This does not mean the elimination of religion, but keeping it away from the political administration of the state affairs. What demagogues like Khatami are talking about is only a way of saving the undemocratic and tyrannical regime of Iran under the pretext of the “religious democracy” and other baseless and oxymoron expressions.

(1) //,

(2) ibid.

(3) FAQs about the nuclear case of Iran, Bahman Aghai Diba, Booksurge LLC, 2006, page 4.


more from Diba

Bottom Line

by ayatoilet1 on

Religion is a private matter, a personal matter...not a public matter. Religion, ANY RELIGION, should be kept out of the public domain. That's it.

Whether its a soverign head (king or queen) that declares they recieve their status and power divinely or a religious titular head (like the pope or a supreme leader ayatollah) that declares they recieve their staturs and power divinely - it all adds up to the people becoming less important, their will becoming 'secondary' and these leaders putting their own (and their circle's) interests above the people's. And this sort of divinity is completely at odds with democracy - i.e. government by the people for the people. I still find it odd that someone can claim they have a special relationship with God - more special than anyone else's! That someone has a monopoly on truth. That God (if you believe God exists) appoints sole brokers and agents on earth regularly to represents God's interests. Its comical!

Khatami (and everyone that thinks like he does) has a warped sense of how democracy actually works. Let the people, freely and openly, use their cultural, moral, and religious values to decide who they want to represent them.  If what he says is true, then the people will very naturally decide on more conservative, more religious representatives and the policies and laws will represent their point of view. If what he says is true, then they do not need to pre-screen candidates, disqualify former member of the majlis from running, and in effect force the people to elect former IRGC guards to the majlis.

The truth is, they know what they say is not true. Free and fair elections in Iran would not reflect his statements. Democratic systems do not need to be 'modified' to reflect the people's will! The people's will, actually modifies the result of the democratic process...i.e. people elect who they want to office. The Democratic process itself is a maleable, changing, evolutionary, dynamic ...allowing for constant change within the process itself. New candidates, new governments, etc. Neither Khatami nor his cohorts get it. They have a primitive understanding of the human condition, civilization and indeed the role of relgion. They preach the status quo.

They simple do not understand that nothing human is static. That there is a need for constant improvement, constant innovation, constant re-invention. That long-term and permanent prosperity and happiness both derive from constant search... constant exploration ...constant work ...constant pursuit for prosperity and happiness - not from standing still or the status quo.

Only a true democratic process enables a society to make the changes it deems neccessary to improve its condition. Life my friends is actually a series of tragedies; it only hope that keeps man alive. Without democracy there is no hope.


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan


by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


All forms of Islam encourage violence. Bush said Islam is a religion of peace. He was wrong. Islam means submission. It is based on forced submission. You do as you are told or else. Followers of it do as they are told.

The clergy tell them to blow themselves up and they follow. All forms of reasoning are discouraged. Sunni or Shia is not the issue. It is the basic approach of submission. Once you buy into it then you do what you are told.


Out of curiosity, asadabad

by Rea on

Is it why followers of Sunni islam keep blowing themselves up? Because their religious variance give them more "latitude" ?


Shiism isn't compatible with any democracy

by asadabad on

As you all know, the only legitimate political leaders in Shiism are the 12 imams.  This concept of  the hidden imam has created a lot of problems for the shia masses not to mention many splits among the shia (Usulli/Akhbari/Shaykhi).  The only way that shia countries can form some type of government is by abandoning Shiism and adopting the Sunni approach to political leadership, also known as Shura.  Sunni Islam give its followers a lot more latitude when it comes to governing.  Their leaders are supposed to be chosen by the people.  Their legitimacy is derived from the concept of Shura.


"Is Islam compatible with any form of democracy?"

by Rea on

Wrong question to start with.

Is religion compatible with democracy? Yes, it is. Providing it stays out of public domain. Simple as that. No need to have PhD in Int. Law.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear Divaneh

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I have very high respect for you and know what you mean. In time Islam will pass like all other ideologies. 3000 years ago Greeks believed in Zeus; now in Jesus. In time Islam will be gone and people will laugh at it in disbelief.

Meanwhile we create our own world. I live in the United Sates. Most people I know go to church and do all kinds of crazy things. I do not. I make my own little bubble. Like we all do but being with like minded people. Maybe that is our solution. 


Dear VPK

by divaneh on

You know that I am a secular person and do not believe in god and religion supernatural and fairy tales. I used the phrase "Muslim Country" as the country where majority of population are muslims and not that they should have dominance over anyone with a different set of beliefs. I wish they would all renounce this foreign fascist ideology but I think somehow that will not happen.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

What is a

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


A Muslim Country? The dirt and the rocks have no religion. The people should be free to have or not have a religion. So there should be no Muslim or any other religion country.

Allow people to be as they want to be. Do not demand a religion from people. A "Muslim" country does not even make sense. Iran is multi cultural. It is an Iranian nation not an Islamic nation.

Tiger Lily

of woods and trees, here's a dangling leaf:

by Tiger Lily on

'interesting' to see that neither the blogger nor any commentators, somehow remember this alien species called 'females' in all this. By the gods of Ancient Greece, Captain Cook knew what to do with all states of Abrahamina.


Islam is a fascist ideology

by divaneh on

The fascism in Islam has its root in the instructions in Quran about people with different beliefs and deeds of the prophet of Islam who did not tolerate anyone with different opinion once he gained power. He killed some of his critics and the rest were forced to submission. Hassan Abbasi is right and Khatami is wrong.

There is only one way, Religion out of Politics. Only then we can have a democratic Muslim country.


Two major qualities enable democracy

by jasonrobardas on

  1) the ability to compromise

  2)  Tolerance for different view points.

      Religious law in general (no matter what religion)does not brook any compromise. Obviously , inability to compromise blocks the democratic prospects .

      This is why Thomas Jefferson  opposed the establishment of religion by the government . Through his legislature: "Virgina statute of freedom of religion" he declared that it was the "Reason" of man that may be trusted rather than "Faith".

Maryam Hojjat

I love the Comment of ELS

by Maryam Hojjat on

Great Comment.

Thanks Dr. Diba for your enlightening Iranians. 


Just Look At What's Going On In Turkey Today ....

by R2-D2 on

Its Prime Minister is a very devout Muslim - Yet the Military keeping a very close eye on him :)




It's not compatible with Iranian Culture

by amirparvizforsecularmonarchy on

or irans monarchy based on results.

Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime

The only thing Islam is cmpatible with is ...

by Everybody Loves Somebody ... on



Can I cordially invite...

by پندارنیک on

...our friend Salman Farsi to respond...