Claims that Islam is incompatible with democracy are commonplace. In his presentation, Youcef Soufi refutes these claims by showing that the moral values and general principles of Islamic teachings legitimate and support democratic institutions. He compares the historical similarities between Islam and democracy by turning towards a key pillar of democratic society: a public sphere characterized by the free exchange of ideas between citizens. Soufi examines the practice of munazara (disputation) in which Muslim scholars freely debated the merits of different possible legal positions. Similar to the exchange of ideas that occurs today in parliaments, newspapers, websites, and public presentations, the munazara allowed Islamic societies to arrive at the best laws possible and to include and respect a multiplicity of viewpoints on what the law should be. Scholars in fact considered this practice to be an act of worship (‘ibada) which God commanded them to do, suggesting that Islam itself imposes the duty to debate the laws that best benefit society.
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Youcef Soufi is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto’s Religious Studies Department. He’s been a fellow at the University of Victoria’s Centre for Studies in Religion and Society and at the Jackman Humanities Institute. He is currently lecturer of courses on the history of Islam at the University of Toronto and has previously taught a course on the Arab Spring.
Burnhamthorpe Community Centre
Room: Applewood Hills – West
1500 Gulleden Drive, Mississauga, ON, L4X 2T7