Islam is more than a religion - it's a way of life, adherents believe.
A cornerstone of the faith is shariah, or Quranic law. It's seen as the ultimate frame of reference, governing everything from permissible food to marriage and divorce.
Most of the world's Muslim nations are ruled by military strongmen or kings. A recent push toward democratization has been accompanied by regime change and war.
As Muslims struggle to take their place in an increasingly global community, they must address some big questions: Is separation of church and state possible? What would an Islamic version of democracy look like? Is there a peaceful means to get there?
Two scholars tackled the questions at a forum on Islam and Democracy at the University of Arkansas on April 11. Sponsored by the Al-Islam (The Peace) Students Association and the UA Multicultural Center, the forum was one of a series hosted by the student organization to educate the community about Islam.
Najib Ghadbian, associate professor of political science and Middle East studies at UA, laid the framework for understanding the relationship between democracy and Islam. Imam Mubasher Ahmad, an Islamic missionary based in Chicago, detailed Quranic teachings that support democratic principles.
Room For Both Democracy and Islam
A Western misperception is that Muslims are intolerant of other people's faiths, Ghadbian said.
"The general perception of Islam in the West is negative. ... Popular opinion is that democracy and Islam are incompatible."
The reasons for this view are varied. One is the lack of democracy in most Muslim countries today, Ghadbian said. Westerners believe that the fault lies in the religion of Islam rather than the individual governments themselves.