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Most theories about the negative relationship between Islam and democracy rely
on an interpretation of the Islamic political tradition. More positive accounts are also
anchored in the same tradition, interpreted in a different way. While some scholarship
relies on more empirical observation and analysis, there is no single work which
systematically demonstrates the relationship between Islam and democracy.
This study is an attempt to fill this gap by defining Islam empirically in terms of
several components and democracy in terms of the components of democratic culture—
social capital, political tolerance, political engagement, political trust, and support for the
democratic system—and political participation. The theories which assert that Islam is
inimical to democracy are tested by examining the extent to which the Islamic and
democratic components are negatively associated.
Indonesia was selected for this research as it is the most populous Muslim country
in the world, with considerable variation among Muslims in belief and practice. Two
national mass surveys were conducted in 2001 and 2002.
This study found that Islam defined by two sets of rituals, the networks of Islamic
civic engagement, Islamic social identity, and Islamist political orientations (Islamism)
does not have a negative association with the components of democracy. The only
negative relationship is found between Islamism and tolerance toward Christians.
However, intolerant Islamism is not a real threat to democratic stability because
intolerant Islamists tends to be passive, not active, political participants. There is no
association between intolerant Islamism and protest activity that might have the potential
to destabilize the democratic system.
On the contrary, almost all components of Islam have a positive and significant
relationship with secular civic engagement, with political engagement, and with political
participation. These three components of democracy reinforce support for the democratic
system as whole. Therefore, Islam helps Muslim citizens to be active in politics and this
activity is congruent with the democratic system as a whole. What emerges is not
religious Muslims who are against democracy, nor non-religious democrats, but rather
religious Muslims who contribute to strengthening democracy. They are religious