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I. Yusuf: Quest for Participatory Government in Thailand

Since the end of the colonial era, when the Muslim nation-states emerged on the scene, we have had nation-states with flags but without any values or a political culture, a political ideology based on Islam. They tried to form their frameworks as functioning states, as governments, as societies, and we saw what happened. When I was a young person, I saw that the ideologies placed in front of us were either a mixed type or a single type. They were based on Arab socialism, Islamic socialism, nationalism, and so on.

Everything coming from the West was being justified in the name of Islam. We had monarchical states, military regimes, dictatorships, all in the Muslim world. And that is the reason that even today we don’t have democracies, yet we talk about democracy and human rights.

Whenever any agenda was put forward by the West, we responded by saying that we also had the same, but without presenting our own true Islamic position. There were attempts by Muslim scholars, Muslim thinkers, Muslim political leaders to respond. But they were marginalized.

Generally, most Muslim political thinkers concur that there is agreement between the Qur’anic concept of the a and democracy. Islam respects human rights in the sense that the Qur’anic message is itself directed to humanity. And the Qur’an talks about the rights of God and the rights of worshipers. So the topic we are discussing is not new. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) discussed it and put it into practice during his lifetime. But unfortunately, what we Muslims have gone through paints a very bad picture. In a way I’m pessimistic because we have reached the 21st century but are still discussing these issues.

But it is better to discuss, and insh’allah (God willing), we can proceed from here. In spite of much effort by Muslim communities, we have not attained much success in the areas of democracy and human rights. When I use these terms I’m using them in an Islamic framework. That’s why you have this largely false image of Islam, which is being spread from all over the world.

I live in Thailand, a country with a Muslim minority, but the image of Islam that passes in the streets of Thailand and Bangkok is not different from that which passes in New York and London. Of course, we also have our foes, and seen from the other side, this undesirable image of Islam has been created by us.

I see only two events that have played an important role in contemporary history in promoting democracy and human rights in the Muslim world, at least at the political level. One is the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Whatever its ideological framework, at least it was an event that took place in the Muslim world. The other is Forum Democracy, initiated by Abdurrahman Wahid in Indonesia, which led to the Reformasi movement and eventually to the end of the Suharto regime in Indonesia. The repercussions of the Reformasi movement were also felt in neighboring countries and in the Muslim world. So there have been calls by Muslims demanding participatory forms of government. This is in urgent need of discussion, for it is related to social justice. Muslim masses desire the same type of peace, stability, and development as seen in non-Muslim countries.

Many Muslim refugees are coming into Thailand. I ask them, “Why do you come here?” They say, “There is peace, there is development. We don’t have this in our country so we come here.” When I come to London I see Muslims from different parts of the world here. Why are we here? Because of peace and development. These issues are related to the Muslim world and are very relevant.

[Source: Islamic Perspectives on Peace. Tarrytown, US: Universal Peace Federation, 2006]