Islam’s Problem with Democracy
Iraq and America have won Mosul from ISIS (with significant help from Shia Iran). Mosul is Iraq’s 2nd largest, predominantly Sunni, city. Yet, the news, pictures and videos of the victory are heart breaking. It will cost $1 billion to rebuild the bombed ruins. Shattered hearts, bereaved families and broken bodies may never be healed of their pain, distrust, and despair. Over 900,000 people are still homeless — “Displaced”, “Refugees.” Widows and orphans are not being counted. They are despised as burden left behind by ISIS fighters.
Images from Mosul could help one feel the pain President Abraham Lincoln would have felt on 19 November 1863, He went to Gettysburg, PA for the dedication of the National Soldier’s Cemetery but spoke only for 2 minutes. The trip made him sick. Divided States of America had as much room for mutual hatred as Iraqis do today.
Iraq’s Prime Minister, Dr. Haider al-Abadi, PhD in Engineering from Manchester UK, seems to be a good man. Mosul’s painful victory presented him an opportunity that Gettysburg had given to Lincoln. Sadly, the Doctor did not bring a healing touch to his wounded nation. Could he have freed a chained ISIS soldier and embraced him as a brother? Could he have invited his enemy to help rebuild Mosul? Could he have offered Amnesty to ISIS soldiers if they came out of their holes and rubble to dine with him and dedicate their lives to rebuild the ruins — at least for fellow Sunnis?
Sounds too fantastic to merit consideration? Well, it will take a divine miracle to bring healing to a “bruised reed”, hope to a “flickering flame” (Isaiah 42:3).
Why couldn’t Dr. Haider al-Abadi inspire his nation with a vision of liberty, equality, and sovereignty for all? Lincoln’s little oration began with that theme and stayed focussed on it:
“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. . . It is . . . from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Islam and Christianity agree that God is Sovereign. One point of disagreement is: Does God want a Caliph to rule this earth or does He want very child of His to sit on His throne, to become a ruler like Him, and reign with Him?
America accepted Lincoln’s vision of Popular Sovereignty because Lincoln’s educated contemporaries knew that he was simply quoting the Wycliffe Bible. In the 1380s’s John Wycliffe and his friends translated the Bible from Latin — the language of the elite — into ‘vulgar’ English in order to take (linguistic, intellectual, religious and political) power from corrupt priests and kings to give it to the meek and lowly: to the sheep, for whom the Lord Jesus came and died. In the preface to the very first English Bible, Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation, wrote, “This Bible is translated and shall make possible Government of people, by people, for people.”
in Wycliffe’s day (470 years before Lincoln), Europe did not have printing. People who spoke English dialects did not read English. There was no English literature. (Chaucer was inspired by Wycliffe) Soon, his hand-copied Bible was banned and yet it inspired England’s first “democratic” movement, Lollardy.
The Bible’s vision of the power to little people made religious and political leaders hate Wycliffe and later reformers. As Oxford historian Alister McGrath puts it, through his Bible translation,
“Wycliffe threatened to destroy the whole edifice of clerical domination . . . the translation of the Bible would be a social leveler onto a hitherto unknown scale. . . The very idea [of the Bible in the language of ordinary people] sent shockwave throughout. . .”
English elite did not allow printing of Wycliffe’s Bible. Therefore, it was printed in Republican America after it became independent of Britain, only a few years before Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech.
Rulers of Muslim nations court and support America (or Russia) to fight against anyone who wants to be Caliph. They don’t want a Ruler over them. However, all Muslims know that Islam is for Caliphate. Muslim rulers (e.g. Saudi Arabian) who support America’s fight against Caliphate, do so in their self-interest. They will oppose America’s attempt to institute sovereignty of the people over their authoritarian rule. These ruling elite will rightly claim that according to Islam, sovereignty belongs only to God, not to man.
Why does Islam deny sovereignty to man, made in God’s image; made to be God’s child; made to rule?
Islam rejects the Bible’s teaching that man is so precious to God that He sent the Lord Jesus to this earth to become the sacrificial lamb for man’s salvation. It reject’s Jesus’ claim that his mission on earth was to restore sinners to God’s sonship. . . . so that God could give to sinners His kingdom (John 1: 11-13 & Luke 12:32). Islam doesn’t believe that the resurrected Jesus promised God’s children, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21).
The historical fact is that equality, political freedom, and the doctrine of human sovereignty came to the West from the Gospel, which is the Bible’s central teaching. The Lord Jesus came to fulfil the promise God had made to Abraham and Sarah that from them will come kings of the nations. (Genesis 17: 5,-6, 16 etc) It was the Bible that taught Wycliffe his radical, reforming vision of government of, by, and for ordinary people.
Wycliffe’s phrase, popularized by Lincoln, summarised the Bible’s political philosophy. The following are a few texts from the Bible that teach that the human beings were created to govern this world and the Lord Jesus came to save them from sin, in order to restore God’s kingdom to man:
Genesis 1: 26 – 28:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, . . . let them have dominion over. . . all the earth. So God created man in his own image . . ,And God blessed them. . . , “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over . . . every living thing that moves on the earth.”
When man sinned, we lost much of God-given kingdom. The Saviour came to restore to us God’s kingdom:
Revelation 1: 5-6:
“Jesus Christ, who is . . . the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
“Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood . . .” And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
The Lord Jesus explained the purpose of salvation to his disciples. Luke 12: 32:
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
‘Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Kingship of all believers was a central point of Christ’s mission. He invited the oppressed . . . Matthew 11:28:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
What is the Messiah’s yoke?
Isaiah 9: 6-7 had explained that yoke seven centuries earlier:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
This willingness to take the yoke of governance upon his shoulder was one factor that set Jesus apart from Moses.
Moses was a great leader. Yet, he told Hebrew slaves whom God had liberated that his shoulders were not strong enough to carry the burden of governing them. They were too difficult. They needed to elect their own Elders who will rule over them:
Deuteronomy 1: 9:
“At that time I said to you, ‘You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone [therefore, I won’t be your king]. . . How can I bear your problems and your burdens and your disputes all by myself? Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each tribe [or caste], and I will set them over you.”
This began the Jewish tradition of people electing their own Elders (Members of Parliament) to rule over them. This was the background of Jesus’ liberating promise to his colonized, oppressed audience . . .
Matthew 5: 2-12:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. . . Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. . . Blessed are those who are persecuted [by the upper castes or Sunnis or Shia] because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
This understanding of God’s kingdom culminated in John’s Revelation. He saw the kingdom of God governed not by kings and bishops, but by Elders. . . Revelation 4: 2-5:
“At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it . . . surrounding [God’s] throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were . . . elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.”
Apostles Peter and John, incidentally, did not brand themselves as “Apostles” “Prophets” or “bishops” in their epistles. They preferred to call themselves ‘Elders’. See 1 Peter 5:1 and 2 John 1:1& 3 John 1:1.
The climax of John’s Revelation is not that Christ will rule on earth with the saints . . . but that saints will rule on the earth with Christ . . . Revelation 20: 6:
“and they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him [with his yoke upon them] for a thousand years.”
Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus that their eyes may be opened to see God’s great purpose in saving them. Just as the ascended Christ is seated on the throne, so is every believer seated with him in the place of authority.
Ephesians 1: 18 – 2:6:
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you . . . and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, . . . But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ . . . And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”
In passages such as the above, Paul is simply saying what the Lord Jesus himself says.
Revelation 2: 26-27:
“To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father.”
Revelation 3: 20-21:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
The Jews were forbidden from worshiping men or the idols men make. Yet. his Jewish disciples worshipped the resurrected Jesus once they understood that “All authority in heaven and on earth” was given to the Messiah. (Matthew 28:18). An important aspect of the Gospel is that Jesus gives his authority to his disciples. (Matthew 10:1)
Apostle Peter summed it all up in his memorable phrase that Christ’s purpose in saving sinners is to make them a Royal Priesthood. 1 Peter 2:9:
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
John reinforces that dual understanding of the calling of the believers to be kings and priests when he describes the vision of Elders seated on the thrones rising up to worship God and the lamb . . . Revelation 4: 9-11:
“the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God…”
Many of my American friends “hate” me because I believe that Bush Administration’s great success was that it splintered Iraq that Saddam Hussain held together — albeit brutally. (American bombardment of Mosul has been just as brutal). In order to bless Iraq, President Bush needed to embrace Saddam as a brother and help him become a servant leader. Dr. Haider al-Abadi is merely following post-Christian America’s foreign policy. To trust in America’s airpower against authentic Islam (ISIS) is to condemn Iraq to earthly hell. Postmodern America misguides Muslim nations because as a philosophy Western Secularism (rejection of the Sacred) is plagiarism. It steals Bible’s idea that God wants His every child to be a king. As a philosophy-without-God, secularism cannot transmit faith in Popular Sovereignty. This is because Secular worldview has no philosophical basis — none whatsoever — for affirming what Abraham Lincoln affirmed in Gettysburg Address. . . equality of all men, and equal participation of Shia, Sunni, Kurds, and Christians in governance of Iraq.
Prof Vishal Mangalwadi directs the Centre for Human Resource Development in a Unversity in North India. He has authored 20 books and lectured in 40 countries. His exposition of Indian philosophy and Western thought and culture In books such as “The World of Gurus”, and “The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” are studied at university level.