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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