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Islam and Democracy

Event raises the question, “Can the two disciplines coexist?”

by Published: Feb 9, 2011

With the current political crises in Egypt and Tunisia, spectators and speculators across the globe are left wondering if the Muslim world is truly ready to accept democracy.

That was precisely the subject of an open discussion held for students, faculty and community members alike on Feb. 3 in FLITE 408.

Ferris professors Krishnakali Majumdar, Meral Topcu, Donald Roy and J. Randall Groves moderated the debate arranged to answer the question, “Is Islam compatible with democracy and women’s rights?”

The objective of the planned talk was to consider the ins and outs surrounding democracy and Islam in a way that was not hostile to Islam or its followers.

The subject was a controversial one, as are all subjects that distinguish conflict between religion and modern philosophy. The turnout was small—nearly 20 audience members in attendance—and even fewer questions were asked.

Despite underwhelming audience participation, a wide range of perspectives were presented.

According to Professor Topcu, the Middle East is still having “growing pains.” She said it is inevitable they will one day embrace democracy, but it will hurt getting there. Topcu, a native of Turkey, considers herself Muslim.

“Religion, as it was taught to me, is the relationship between you and God,” said Topcu.

Then again, Christianity and Judaism follow the same doctrine. All three Abrahamic religions are, according to Dr. Roy, “authoritarian by nature.”

In recent history, some Islamic cultures have been having issues regarding the treatment of women.

Speakers at the discussion had no problem weighing the taboo issues, as clitoridectomy, stoning and the mandatory wearing of burqas were all mentioned.

According to Dr. Majumdar, the covering of a woman’s hair and face is considered decent in many societies, including our own in the case of a bridal veil.

One subject that comes to mind when referring to a woman’s rights is that of abortion. Some Muslim countries have a relatively lenient view of abortion.

According to the Qur’an, the soul doesn’t enter the body of a child until it begins to move—around 120 days into the woman’s pregnancy. And it is 120 days that, in most Muslim cultures, is considered the cutoff point for a legal abortion.

The repression of women is a common theme in many religions, with Catholicism, Judaism and Christianity all sharing similar histories with Islam in that sense.

“Religions reflect the times they were created,” said Dr. Groves. “Women’s rights are a relatively new thing.”

The world is changing and some parts of it, despite having struggles, are actually trying to adapt to the new environments.

“Democracy is what one is always struggling to achieve, rather than some nice resting place,” said Dr. Roy.

The “Is Islam compatible with democracy and women’s rights?” discussion was one in a series of speaking events that are part of Ferris’ globalization initiative. n