Islam and democracy in the Bangsamoro

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014


EVERY now and then, I am asked about my stand regarding the recent developments on the peace process. In all honesty, I am still supporting it. However, I am left wanting of answers to so many questions and doubts as to its actual implementation on the ground. With the risk of sounding pessimistic, I would rather take the role as the "devil's advocate" to encourage every stake holders to challenge themselves of finding ways of improving it.

Whether we agree or not with the way the peace process is moving, we have to consider the possibility that the political discourse that gave life to the notion of Bangsa-Moro may eventually marginalized the voices and views of Muslim Filipinos who have transcended from the religious and ethnic divides. If we ignore the fact that the Bangsamoro people is NOT a monolithic group, there is a danger of losing the diverse identities of different peoples in Mindanao.

During the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), after they captured Mecca, he said, "the real jihad has just begun". He talked about the highest form of jihad, the JIHAD AKBAR (Tazkiyatun Nafs) or the purification of the soul. This jihad is wage against against one's own self and desires.

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As the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF) appro end, debates at the Congress and the public about the future political order in Bangsamoro is well under way. For the remainder of the term of President Aquino, most of us will be debating what kind of nation within a nation be within the Bangsamoro, and what kind of political system it should have.

Questions about the legitimacy of traditional leaders, moro fronts (MNLF, MILF) to represent the Bangsamoro people, the relationship between Islam and the state, the role of the armed combatants in politics, potential for democratization, the transition to a post-revolutionary era, and the nature of economic development, will dominate political discourse today and be part of history of Mindanao.

Debates over these issues are often framed in reference to the acceptability of the Bangsamoro identity. In its simplest expression, Bangsamoro is rooted to a political identity propagated by the Moro fronts, back up by the academic work of Cesar Majul, and the Tri-People framework of the civil society. It is therefore important to know what will be the relationship of Islam and Democracy within the Bangsamoro.

Democracy can be defined as government by the people (rule of the majority); a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; the common people especially when constituting the source of political authority; the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges. [Merriam-Webster Dictionary]

The reality is that Islam, Democracy, and Bangsamoro are external concepts that were introduced to us. Is democracy and Islam compatible in our context? According to Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq, ?(i)f we can cut through the labels and semantics, we find that Islamic governance, when distilled from all the extraneous aspects, has at least three core features, based on the Quranic vision and guidance on one hand and the experience under the Prophet (SAW) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs on the other?.

These three concepts as discussed by Dr. Farooq are as follows:

a. CONSTITUTIONAL: Islamic government is essentially a "constitutional" government, where constitution represents the agreement of the governed to govern by a defined and agreed upon framework of rights and duties. For Muslims, the source of the constitution is the Qur'an, the Sunnah, and anything deemed relevant, effective, but not inconsistent with Islam. No authority, except the governed, has the right to put away (abrogate) or change such a constitution. Thus, Islamic governance cannot be an autocratic, hereditary or military rule. Such a system of governance is egalitarian in nature, and egalitarianism is one of the hallmarks of Islam. It is also widely acknowledged that the beginning of the Islamic polity in Madinah was based on a constitutional foundation and pluralistic framework involving non-Muslims as well.

b. PARTICIPATORY: An Islamic political system is participatory. From establishing the institutional structure of governance to operating it, the system is participatory. It means that the leadership and the policies will be conducted on the basis of full, gender-neutral participation of the governed through a popular electoral process. Muslims can use their creativity using the Islamic guidelines and human experience to date to institute, and continuously refine, their processes. This participatory aspect is the Islamic process of Shura (mutual consultation).

c. ACCOUNTABLE: This is an essential corollary to a constitutional/participatory system. The leadership and the holders of authority are accountable to people within an Islamic framework. Islamic framework here means that all Muslims are accountable to Allah and his divine guidance. But that is more in a theological sense. The practical accountability relates to people. Thus, the Khulafa ar-Rashidoon were both Khalifatur Rasool (representative of the Messenger) as well as Khalifatul Muslimeen (representative of the Muslims).

This I believe need to be communicated at all levels in our Muslim communities. With the Madrasah schools, concepts of good governance must also be taught in our students. This has to be translated in the local language and context. Most Muslims abide to the principle that “democracy is based on the notion that in Islam sovereignty belongs to God, while in democracy it belongs to people”. Honestly, this is a naive and erroneous notion or interpretation. God is the true and ultimate Sovereign, but he has bestowed a level of freedom and responsibility upon the human beings in this world.

Thus, if we try to examine the socio political context in the Bangsamoro, will democracy work with the existence of “datuism”? Will it work with a political military structure? No one can best answer this except us. The future of Bangsamoro lies in our own choices. It is a matter of choice, there is no room for compulsion or imposition.

(For questions/feedback please email: mslidasan@outlook.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 05, 2014.

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