Dr. Soroush's “Muslim Democrat of the Year Award” Acceptance Speech
In the Name of God the Compassionate the Merciful
May 28, 2004
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with deepest regret that I have had to forfeit the opportunity to be in your company this evening. Were it not for unforeseen but unavoidable medical exigency, I had all intentions to be there with you. Yet, once again I am reminded of the wise Islamic adage that one of the ways for recognizing the omnipotence of God Almighty is to see one’s own plans thwarted and one’s intentions and desires dissolved.
Nevertheless, allow me to express my heartfelt gratitude toward the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington DC for bestowing upon me the “Muslim Democrat of the Year Award” for 2004.
It gives me particular delight to note that the theme of this year’s conference organized by CSID is justice. In the course of my career as a Muslim thinker, I have grappled with the idea of justice and I must confess that I continue to be bewildered by the intricacies of this deep concept.
Justice constitutes the key to formulating such a notion of democracy that is not only compatible but rather concomitant with the teachings of Islam. We should remember the Qur’anic injuction: inna-Allāh ya’muru bi al-‛adl wa al-ihsān (al-Nahl/16:90) verily God commands justice and doing good (that goes beyond the requirements of simple justice.)
Formal and procedural tenets of a truly democratic form of government, including the fair treatment of fellow human beings, equitable distribution of economic, political and other forms of power, and the holding of wielders of power accountable to public checks and balances, are all consistent with the fundamental Muslim duty of commanding good and condemning evil (al-amr bi al-ma‛arūf wa al-nahy ‛an al-munkar). Furthermore, what we may characterize as “political secularization,” in contrast to “philosophical secularism” is also fully consistent with an Islamic way of life. Unlike the latter dogma that seeks to explain the universe without the guiding hand of the Divine, the former process rejects any a priori religious right to any position of power.
The desirability of democracy as a form of governance lies in its close association with the proper exaction of justice. In other words, we value democracy so far as it is conducive to the goal of justice.
However, the story of liberal democracy is different, and excesses often perpetrated under this aegis, may not always be deemed consistent with Islamic doctrines. Expanding the sphere of liberties to the extent that interferes with the fundamental principle of justice and undermines axioms of ethics is unjustified.
Atrocities that we sadly witness in our world today that are falsely marketed with the label of exporting democracy stem from extremist irreverence for the supreme principle of justice and from utter disregard for basic human values. If the pursuit of liberties should ever contradict the very principle of justice, for example by giving way to moral depravity, unbridled greed, and unwarranted aggression, we should stop and critically scrutinize and reverse every step that may entail a violation of justice. We should take notice that ends do not always justify means. As thinkers and scholars with a commitment to the study Islam and democracy we should constantly remind ourselves that there can be no sustainable democracy without justice. The well-remembered biblical wisdom that enjoins, “do unto others as you wish others do unto you” still provides a concise guideline to observe in the process of expanding democracy.
In the end, allow me to close this statement by a saying of Imam Ali b. Abi Tālib, who said should you ever feel that adhering to justice binds your freedoms, beware that violating justice is always more constraining.
Once again, allow me to express my thanks to the Center for the Study of Islam and democracy for this award and to wish every one of you ladies and gentlemen success on the perilous but ultimately rewarding journey of studying Islam and democracy.
May Divine peace be with you.