The webinar revolved around the topic of Democracy and its relevance in the Sunni Islamic concept. Professor Bencheikh argues that Sunni Islam is not entirely incompatible with democracy, as it’s clear that the Islamic tradition, mainly the Quran, provides a framework for the principles of democracy, such as equality, participation, and accountability. In fact, he points out in a historical introduction about the development of religious authority that the Quranic concept of Shura, or consultation – done by the college of Ulama’a, or the doctors of law- is an important aspect of Islamic governance and a key component of democracy. Shura is mainly built on seeking advice and diverse opinions of religious authority experts during decision-making, which is similar to democratic participation.
On another note, Bencheikh argues that some of the challenges regarding the coexistence of Democracy and Sunni Islam can be seen today in most Muslim-Sunni majority countries where there is no real democracy. At best, there would be a dominance of authoritarian regimes, with the influence of fundamentalist-conservative religious scholars who oppose political democratic reform or even intellectual reform. He also argues that whenever politics and religion collide, the interest of political power always prevails and never spiritual elevation.
From this point, the speaker emphasized that Education is key to promoting actual social-political change. As he mentioned that there can be no political modernity without intellectual, theological, and philosophical modernity; which is sidelined in the education system of some modern Sunni Muslim regimes. He also mentioned that modern scholarly Islamology could revive the Islamic tradition and save it from “suicidal thought” and intellectual destruction. This intellectual modernity must tackle main concerns regarding:
– Freedom of conscience, religion, and press.
– Ontological and Juridical equality between human beings (beyond religion, gender, race…)
– Matters of violence, especially by radical Islamists (to stop decreeing that it is ordered by the divine)
At the end, Bencheikh states that Democracy sets a base for social change that must be a rational emanation of man, applying to man, for the good of man. From this point, he refuses any discursive regime of truth claimed by the religious elite, as he believes that the separation of political and religious orders is a considerable step towards creating a balance between these two powers. He also called for Muslims to advocate for a model of governance that rejects any form of compulsion or extremism, guarantees freedom of conscience, promotes equality of citizens by law, and respects the diversity of beliefs and values in modern societies.