Is it wrong to say, Shiite Muslims support democracy and Sunny Muslims support monarchy? To me mingling political system with religious faith is wrong even though scattered examples, may reflect support both positive and negative views.
The historical background of the Sunni and Shiite split reflects the reason behind some of the views of these two sects of Islam.According to the Foreign Council Relations, ‘Prophet Mohammed (SM) unveiled a new faith to the people of Mecca in 610. Known as Islam, or submission to God, the monotheistic religion incorporated some Jewish and Christian traditions and expanded with a set of laws that governed most aspects of life, including political authority.’The Sunni-Shia conflict is 1,400 years in the making, dating back to the years immediately after the Prophet Mohammed’s (SM) death in 632 (AD), based on the question of succession to the Prophet’s (SM) religious and political leadership. John Hall, in his article has mentioned that, ‘the arguments are complicated but essentially boil down to the fact that Sunni’s believe the Prophets’ trusted friend and advisor Abu Bakr was the first rightful leader of Muslims or “caliph”, while Shias believe that Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law Ali was chosen by Allah to hold the title.’
According to a CRS Report, authored by Christopher M. Blanchard, ‘the majority of the world’s Muslim population follows the Sunni branch of Islam, and approximately 10-15% of all Muslims follow the Shiite (Shi’ite, Shi’a, Shia) branch.’ There are specific countries in different regions the majority of these sects may be traced. For example, the author has mentioned, ‘Shiite populations constitute a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, and Azerbaijan. There are also significant Shiite populations in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen.’ The author has correctly stated that, differences sometimes have been the basis for religious intolerance, political infighting, and sectarian violence.
It is interesting to note that, what started as a religious leadership debate among the Muslims in 632(AD) creates a confusion about the two sectsin the modern legal systems of democracy and monarchy. It is wrong to say that, Sunny group support Monarchy and Shiite support Democracy.
It is true that, in a number of jurisdictions, the Sunny group supports Monarchy. For example, Michael Slackman has mentioned in his article, about a supporter of the Monarch, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa in Bahrain, “I don’t want a democracy,” said Rayyah Mohammed, 32, an art project director and strong supporter of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. “I want a monarchy. I like how things are. I have a job. I have a house. I have free health care.” It may just be an individual, supporting a form of government based on his personal benefits. This should not be a justifiable argument for supporting the statement that ‘Sunny Muslims support Monarchy’. If that was true, then all the Sunny followers would have supported or lived in the United Kingdom.
In addition, Iran (Shiite Ruled) and Saudi Arab (Sunny Ruled), both countries base their judicial systems on Islamic principles. Author Cameron Glenn, in his article, Iran v Saudi Arabia: Islam’s Arch Rivals, wrote ‘In Iran, the theocracy strongly rejects monarchies and the penal code of Iran permits traditional Islamic punishments, such as stoning, flogging, and amputation.’ Iran has the second-highest execution rate in the world, after China. Iran has executed ‘at least 289 people in 2014. More than 800 people were executed between January and October 2015 alone.’ According to the author, ‘SaudiArabia also has a network of civil and criminal courts, which issue rulings based only on Sharia but judges have unparalleled flexibility in judgments and punishments since the kingdom has no formal penal code and individuals have few specified rights. Saudi violations of due process, arbitrary arrests, and torture are common and widely documented.’
The difference between the two sects then does not lie in the form of government. It lies in their faith. Each of the sects and their followers believe that they are correct. So, the question comes at the end is, are we tolerant? Tolerance in coexistence may be the best solution. Electing or choosing a form of government is just the part of a political system but co-minglingfaith and political systems will only escalate the tension and hostility among each other instead of resolving it.
Author: Senior Legal Research Specialist at Law Library of Congress