In the first place, it is to be noted that Islam is the main source of legislation in an Islamic state. “Theocracy” has been explained by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Encyclopedic Dictionary as: “(country with a) system of government by priests or a priestly class in which the laws of the state are believed to be the laws of God.” Thus, a ‘theocracy’ by its very nature requires that the rulers be selected from a certain class of people, considered as ‘priests’ in the society. Far from proposing a
“theocracy”, the principle of governing the collective affairs of the people, as given in the Qur’an is: “And their affairs are based on mutual consultation.” (Ash-Shura: 38)
This directive of the Qur’an clearly requires the Muslim state to implement a system of government, which is based on ‘mutual consultation. Such Qur’anic directive is a clear evidence of the fact that the proposed system of government in a Muslim state, in its essence, is quite different from that of ‘theocracy’.
An Islamic state bases its laws on the decisive rulings of Shari`ah. No ruler is authorized to administer whatever changes he likes to such rulings. Bearing this mind, we can make it clear that an Islamic state cannot be classified as democratic, since democracy means that people can choose for themselves whatever laws or regulations to abide by. However, if we mean by democracy that people have the right to express themselves and choose their rulers, then there is nothing wrong in describing the Islamic state as being democratic in this sense, for in such a case, democracy will be compatible with the teachings of Islam. Being given the name ‘Islam’, we cannot describe Islam as being communist or secularist or whatever.
Making this concept clear, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, deputy chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, states the following:
“First: we could say that the Islamic society agrees with the best features of democracy. That is to say; people have the right to choose the ruler, to reckon him and oust him if he proves to be irresponsible. People have also the right of freedom, accepting the other’s right to express himself. Also, they have the right of non-violent opposition of the existing regime.
One crucial difference between the Islamic state and a democratic one is that under the democratic state people can choose for themselves any laws to abide by. In an Islamic state, people are bound to abide by the decisive rulings of Shari`ah. It is for this that we cannot describe the Islamic state as being democratic. Yet, it has some common features related to democracy such as standing for people’s freedom. Such aspects of difference and similarity are to be made clear so as to avoid any confusion.
Second: the Islamic state has something in common with a theocratic one (here the best example of the theocratic state is the Christian state that was based in Europe during medieval ages) in the sense that both are ruled according to the teachings of a religion. However, there is a deep gulf between the two in the sense that an Islamic state is not ruled by priests; rather, the ruler is chosen by the free will of its people. He may not be a scholar at any rate. However, a ruler is to refer to the scholars who is supposed to tell him the ruling of Shari`ah in any case he faces. People has the right to bring him to justice in case there is violation from his part or even to oust the ruler.
In addition to this, Shari`ah provides the main principles of establishing a government in addition to some details. In a theocratic state, priests can use their reasoning to choose what course to follow. A theocratic state is thus ruled by priests while an Islamic state is governed according to the principles of Shari`ah. In the Islamic state, both rulers and subjects are to refer to the Qur’an and Sunnah once a difference erupted among them.
Based on the above-mentioned, it is safe to say that Islam cannot be described as being democratic or secularist or communist, for Islam is a Divinely-revealed course of life of unique nature. It has something in common with democracy. Yet there are some aspects of difference between them. The same applies to secularism, and communism. Thus, it is inappropriate to dub it as being a synonymous to any of the above-mentioned ideologies. Almighty Allah says: “ This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion AL- ISLAM.” (Al-Ma’idah: 3) Almighty Allah also says: “ He hath named you Muslims of old time and in this (Scripture), that the messenger may be a witness against you, and that ye may be witnesses against mankind.” (Al-Hajj: 78)
However, it should be noted that Muslims are allowed to live in a democratic, secular or communist society as long as it grants them the freedom of religion. Muslims are also permitted to abide by the laws of such societies so long as they are not incompatible with Islam. They are to claim their rights and carry out their duties according to the laws of the country provided that nothing of Shari`ah stipulations is harmed in the least.”