Islam is not the greatest obstacle to democracy in Muslim
countries, according to a report from the Islam Program at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies.
Powerful militaries, poverty and a weak private sector, not religion or
culture, are the real problems, the study found.
Islam "is neither a tremendous help nor a hindrance" in promoting
democracy, said Shireen T. Hunter, director of the CSIS Islam Program, who
prepared the report.
The report, "Modernization and Democratization in the Muslim World:
Obstacles and Remedies," is based on research by three different study
groups of scholars. Each investigated a category of possible causes for the
lack of democracy in the Muslim world: cultural, internal and external
Many ideas in Islam support democracy rather than discourage it, said
Hunter. She cited the concept of baya, or consultation (sic), which "means
giving support and acceptance to a leader. And also withdrawing that if the
leader did not perform for the benefit of society."
The report calls for "reviving the spirit of earlier democratizers and
reformers in the Muslim world" and promoting the rationalist and
progressive traditions of Islam as a way to promote democracy.
"If there is going to be peaceful change, there needs to be change through
the cultural tradition of the society," said Hunter.