The venerable author of the essay on "Paradox of Islam and Democracy" [Mr Hamid Paydar] observes: "Islam and democracy can not be combined, unless Islam is thoroughly secularized." ... Democracy, however, does not require believers to abandon their convictions, secularize their creed, and lose faith in divine protection. Why should a religion that is freely and enthusiastically adopted be cast away? Why shouldn't the believers be allowed to strengthen and spread their belief? The practice that truly violates democracy is not embracing a faith but the imposition of a particular belief or punishment of disbelief. Needless to say, these practices are impermissible and undesirable in a democratic religious government...
The only thing that is required of a democracy is tolerance of different points of view and their advocates. Who says the precondition for tolerance of ideas and their bearers is the renouncing of one's own beliefs? One may consider an idea absolutely false while judging its bearer blameless, respectable, and even commendable. Consider the current debates among the scientists and the philosophers. They, too, do not always proceed from skepticism. It is not as though undecided schoars allow and appreciate criticism and deem their opponents worth of dialogue and debate. The purveyors of certitude do the same. Tolerance, as astute observers have maintained, concerns believers not beliefs.
This insight emanates from a second-order knowledge, a vantage point above and beyond the battlefield of ideas, from which one can survey complex causes and means that make minds receptive, hearts committed, and believers devoted to ideas. From this viewpoint, we can appreciate how one dedicates and truth-loving individual, Mohammed al-Ghazzali (1058-1111) turns his back on pleasure and power, endures years of agony, asceticism, and relentless search for the truth, and finally arrives at the validity of Sunni Islam, while another, Saint Francis (1182-1226), spends his youth in pursuit of worldly pleasures and is ultimately set ablaze by the love of Jesus and is led to a new life of mysticism and monasticism. Neither were, in the least, derelict in their respective quests, even though they reached different results. So it is that the "battle of seventy-two denominations" is excused, and the combatants (but not their ideas) are absolved. Each is deemed praiseworthy and honorable in his or her own place. Furthermore, divine guidance is believed to spread so widely that seekers can bask in its blessed rays. "Excusing the battle of the seventy-two nations" is the wise counsel of our righteous sages and is not a result of their "liberal-mindedness," faithlessness, or skepticism. It is the result of their profound philosophical anthropology and their intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the human heart.
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