Islam, Western Democracy and Imam WD Mohammed

by Salahuddin Muhammad

Is Islam compatible with democracy? This is a question we often here in the media but is also asked by Muslims themselves. According to Imam W. D. Mohammed Western democracy is something Muslims living in America should not fear, but engaged because of its positive attributes. The fear that some Muslim immigrants have of Western democracy is that it is a secular ideology that conflicts with Islam. Muslim Scholars from the past divide the world into two categories, Dār al-Islam and Dār al-Harb. Dār al-Islam is translated to mean house or abode of Islam and refers to those countries where Muslims can practice their religion freely. Dār al-Harb is translated to mean the house or abode of war and refers to those countries where Islamic law is not enforced and Muslims are not protected nor are they able to worship freely. Here we can see that the concept of Dār al-Islam is connected to a society where Muslims are free to practice their religion.

Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan

Thus, Dār al-Islam is not a residence of just Muslims countries but also dwells in the West, where democracy is promoted. Likewise, Dār al-Harb is not just found in Western countries, but also in Muslim countries where Muslims are treated wrongfully by dictators and tyrannical leaders. Accordingly, the renowned European Muslim intellectual Tariq Ramadan argues:

Muslims may feel safer in the West, as far as the free exercise of their religion is concerned, than in some so-called Muslim countries. This analysis could lead us to conclude, on the basis of the criteria of safety and security, that the description Dar-Al-Islam is applicable to almost all Western countries.”[1]

Further, in a 1992 interview Tunisian Islamist leader and political exile, Rashid Ghanoushi said:

“If by democracy is meant the liberal model of government prevailing in the West, a system under which the people freely choose their representatives and leaders, in which there is alternation of power, as well as all freedoms and human rights for the public, then Muslims will find nothing in their religion to oppose democracy, and it is not in their interests to do so.[2]


Rashid Ghanoushi

Ghanoushi viewed democracy as a model that Muslims should not see as a contradiction to Islam. He points out that as long as democracy allows people to freely choose their leaders also have freedoms and human rights for the public then democracy is in harmony with Islam.

W.D. Mohammed’s notion of democracy is akin to both Ramadan’s and Ghanoushi’s view of democracy. W. D. Mohammed explained that the kind of freedom that is found in Western Democracy is one that respects the freedom for Muslims to practice and to live an Islamic life in the American Society. He further argued that Islam was first to introduce this concept of Freedom of religion. He said:

“So Muhammad the Prophet had to fight for the Freedom of religion long before the West started talking about the Freedom of religion. In fact, it was a thousand years or more before the West started talking about the Freedom of religion.[3]

He also quoted a verse from the Qur’an that states:

And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah.[4]

W. D. Mohammed stressed that the idea of Freedom of religion in Western democracy is not foreign to Islam, but an idea that finds its origin in Islam.


Sahifat al-Madinah

When we look at the roots of Freedom of religion in Islam, we find it in the Sahīfat al- Madinah (Charter or Constitution of Madinah). Sahīfat al-Madinah was drafted by the Prophet Muhammad. It constituted a formal agreement between Muslims and all of the significant tribes and families of Madinah, including Jews, Christians and pagans. This constitution was formed on the basis of the first Islamic state. Sahīfat al- Madinah also established a number of rights and responsibilities for Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans of Madinah. The Sahīfat al- Madinah gave religious autonomy to all parties included in the Sahīfah. It created a pluralistic society in Madinah and made a covenant with its residents as long as they did not violate the Sahifah. Dr. Muqtedar Khan capsulizes what the Sahīfat al-Madinah is in a nutshell and its significance for examining. He says:

“The Constitution of Medina establishes the importance of consent and cooperation for governance. According to this compact Muslims and non-Muslims are equal citizens of the Islamic state, with identical rights and duties. Communities with different religious orientations enjoy religious autonomy. Which essentially is wider in scope than the modern idea of religious freedom. The constitution of Medina established a pluralistic state — a community of communities. It promised equal security to all and all were equal in the eyes of the law. The principles of equality, consensual governance and pluralism are beautifully enmeshed in the compact of Medina.”[5]

W.D. Mohammed also distinguishes how freedom would look in an Islamic society. He says:

“Here is the difference between what Islam wants for society and what America wants for society. In principle, America and Islam want the same thing for man. That’s in principle. But in practice, they are different. America seems to put the emphasis and light on freedom, more so than on justice. The result is that the society is turned on to freedom, but not necessarily turned on to justice. My freedom, then will disrespect your freedom, and my freedom may clash with your freedom. Then the society suffers, because we are going after freedom, but have lost the connection of freedom with justice. Freedom and justice are born together and are to live together always. You can never separate justice from freedom.”[6]

This critique and comparison of what America’s democracy comprehends as freedom of its society and how Islam comprehends freedom to be for society done by W. D. Mohammed is not to discredit or taint America’s perception of freedom, but to improve it. He wanted to show that justice has to be a central element that is conjugal with freedom. So he was not just focusing on the best of American democracy, but also the imperfections. He would give recommendations on how to make American democracy robust. This recommendation was seen through his leadership.

Part 2 to follow …

[1] Ramadan, Tariq. Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Print..,66

[2] John L. Esposito and John O. Voll; “Islam and Democracy ”;

[3]  Imam Warith Deen Mohammed “Man Can Have Nothing But What He Strives For Part 1” Muslim Journal  23 June 2000

[4] Qur’an 2:193


[6] Imam W. Deen Mohammed, “Justice In Islam: How Close Are We Muslims To Western Democracy?” Muslim Journal 2001-August-24

salahuddin-muhammadSalahuddin Muhammad comes from rich religious traditions on both sides of his family and is a third generation Muslim American. He is married with three children; two girls and one boy. He was born in Durham, NC to Oliver and Rhonda Muhammad. His maternal grandparents, Kenneth and Margaret Murray Muhammad were instrumental in bringing Islam to North Carolina in 1955 as members of the Nation Islam. His entire family transitioned to Islam proper under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed.

Salahuddin Abdullah Muhammad has a Master degree in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations from Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut. He is also a student of the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed. Salahuddin introduces Imam Warith Deen Mohammed’s comprehensive understanding and application of Islam in the context of the American society. He also shows how Imam Warith Deen Mohammed’s perspective of Islam promotes inclusiveness for Muslims living in America.

He is the author of the newly released book America’s Imam: Warith Deen Mohammed’s Interpretation of Islam in the Milieu of American Society.

Share Post
Latest comments
  • Islam dominates the news. It looks like an invasion no matter how you say it.

  • Great articles very much informative, and wonderful insight of Imam WD Mohammed. Thank you.

  • Democracy is the best form of our government as long as it allows people to follow their belief systems. It should encourage leaders of some belief systems to change their thinking in regards to women’s rights. It is too bad that some leaders resist change in order to hold on to their leadership role.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.