An Interesting Fact:
Almost 75% of Islamic schools indicate that they are operating either independently or autonomously.
By Karen Keyworth 2003
Your attention to the governance system (decision-making system that determines how you govern yourselves in your school) at your school is critical. Not everyone appreciates the importance of governance when they are pulling a school together. Unfortunately, it is often a poorly designed governance system that hurts or even kills a school. Very few schools close down because of a true lack of money or interest. They close because they cannot find a WAY to make decisions about their scarce resources.
I can offer you this advice that the League has learned over the last several years. A healthy school likely has a governance system with most of these characteristics:
PARENTS have a decision-making role (serious decisions, not window dressing).
At least ONE (preferably two) professional educator with some administrative experience is on the Board. This does not mean just any professor from a university or college. They are often so involved in their discipline/field that they have little experience with the administration of education. I also do not want to imply that I mean K-12 only. The experience can come from any aspect of education, but that person should have experience in the administration of education HERE IN AMERICA. I stress this because our American system of education is different from overseas, and the experience in our system is critical. All educators on your Board should be either trained in America or have had the bulk of their experience in an American school.
A teacher (American trained) is in an advisory position on the Board. This could be a teacher from the Islamic school or one who is retired, from another district, currently teaching in a public school but interested in the Islamic school, etc.
The current Director/Principal is in an advisory/resource position on the Board.
The Board is independent of the Masjid or any other controlling body.
One financially astute person who has DEMONSTRATED an ability to make good financial decisions (usually a successful business person) is a voting member of the Board.
Q-1: How are the school board members chosen (e.g. by appointment or by election)?
KK: I assume the overall number of Board members would be about 7 members. Some of the seats need to be designated in terms of the abilities needed by the school, for example, an educator, a parent, and a financially sound businessperson. Oftentimes there is only one person both qualified and willing to serve in that seat. However, if you have CHOICE within those designated seats, I suggest an election (see Q-2 below). For any seats where there is choice (some designated seats and all non-designated seats), nominations should be sought from your community at large, time given for nominees to get their philosophy OUT to the community for review and consideration, and elections held. I recommend that the Board be allowed to choose its own Chair after the elections.
Q-2: How are the parents involved in the process (e.g. general election)?
KK: Parents are important stakeholders and should be acknowledged as such. In addition, EVERYONE on the Board with school-aged children must have his/her children attending the school. Not all Board members need to have children, but if they have eligible children, those children should be in the school. At least two (possibly three) of the Board seats should be designated for Parents. The Parents ALONE should nominate and vote for these seats. These seats should not go to the general community for a vote. Other seats should be voted upon by the general community with the parents ALSO participating as part of that general community. (Since the Parent seats are designated and set aside from the other seats, the parents' votes will not count twice.)
Q-3: What process do you have to monitor the performance of the Board, and who is the board accountable to?
KK: This is very tricky. Most Boards are not accountable to anyone. Boards are elected, and they should be subject to recall. Make the system for recall a reasonable system that makes the threat of recall a serious threat. A very IMPORTANT note: School Boards should work to be (or become) a separate governance structure from their local Masjid governance. Boards that are connected and accountable to masjid governance structures are usually ineffective and unpopular.
by Safaa Zarzour 2003 (IECN)
Democracy in its pure philosophical and theoretical form is what you are describing and that form of democracy is not advocated anywhere in any serious way. We certainly do not have that here in the U.S.
What people talk about when they say democracy is constitutional democracy. This means that within a broad framework of values people have the right to choose who govern them and the mechanisms of such governance. In such constitutional democracy the constitution would put certain things outside the law or forbidden even if the majority wants them. In that sense Islam calls for nothing less or more than a constitutional democracy, where the constitution embodies Islamic values and Qur’anic teachings.
As far as your question about the Khalifa who was elected popularly. It was our first Khalifa Abu Baker. He was democratically elected in the same way early U.S. presidents were elected to a tee.
The gathering of a large number of Sahaba in the Saqifa where different parties put forward different names for Khalifa and debated them then they came out with a single name, Abu Baker, may Allah be pleased with him, as the consensus nominee for Khalifa, is the same as what is called caucuses in the different parties in a constitutional democracy.
In fact at the time of the election of Abu Baker there were not two parties but three. They initially met separately and came up with their own candidate and means of choosing the Khalifa. The three parties were as follows: Majority of Almuhajeroon with Abu Baker and Omar, may Allah be pleased with both of them, as their leaders were one party. Alansar with Saad bin Ubada, may Allah be pleased with him, I am not sure of the name here, as their leader were second. And finally Ali Bin Abi Talib and Abdullah Ibn Alzubir, may Allah be pleased with both of them, in a mixture of Muhjeroon and Ansar were the third party.
Go read the entire account of that moment of history and you will be shocked at the similarities between that and what the founding fathers of this country did in choosing their first president, George Washington, and then subsequent presidents. Reading both accounts have made me wander many times if the founding fathers of this nation or some of them have actually read the history of choosing the first Khalifa of Islam.
After the individual caucuses the three major groups met in the Saqifa of Banu Saeda and agreed on Abu Baker after much heated and some times not very polite exchanges. Abu Baker finally emerged as the nominee and he was presented to the masses as the candidate. And history tells us that he then went out to the Masjid were the lay people came and gave him "Biya" or their vote. In other words elected him. He did not become Khalifa until the masses gave him the Biya. This is no different from the system of caucuses in the Democratic or Republican parties. The difference is in the constitution.
In my opinion, based on my study of Islam, Islam advocates a constitutional democracy in which the values of the Qur’an form the bases of the constitution. And I believe that humanity through human experience and a lot of blood shed are edging closer and closer to that constitutional model and even our current U.S. constitution curries a lot of the Qur’anic elements in it already and could represent a starting point for a model constitution.
Ironically many of the amendments in the U.S. constitution represent steps in the direction of the model constitution. The bill of rights, and the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments represent the best examples in that regard. However, sometimes this nation has taken steps backward on that road. The constitutional amendment in the U.S. constitution forbidding Alcohol which unfortunately was repealed few years later is an example of taking a step forward and another backward in reaching the model constitution. What is sad is that we have been absent from moving this experiment in the direction that pleases Allah. Perhaps it is time for us to do that.
And by the way the early Muslims took giant step forward in choosing the first four Khalifas in consultative manner. And the fact that we did not have a single model described in the Qur’an shows that the model is not intended to be one for all times but it should always have an element of democracy or shura. But even the early Muslims took a step backward by accepting turning the Khilafa from elected position into kingship.
This evolution of human governance in my mind is the fulfillment of the Ayah in the Qur’an that says "we will show them our signs in the world around them and in themselves until they discover that it is the truth". Mankind in spite of everything is moving in the direction of Allah's guidance. It is up to us how fast humanity will get there and at what cost. The more we understand the bigger picture and the difference between the constant and the evolving in Allah's guidance and how dynamic that process is the better off we are and the more likely we are to be able to establish Allah's guidance among us. And the more simplistic and narrow focused we are the longer and the more painful and bloody the journey will be.
Let me give you another example, what we call today human rights were very strange to humanity before Islam. Today majority of humanity agree on them despite the hypocrisy in the application. Should we reject human rights if advocated through a united nation document? When people establish democracy on the proper value system they will have arrived at Islam pure and simple. Whether we call it democracy or Shura, or any other name is a different matter.
As for the wars of Alridda, please go read the discussions among the Sahaba about whether to go to war with them or not and compare that to any congressional and executive debate about going to war in the U.S. in modern time. Omar, may Allah be pleased with him, for example initially was of the opinion of not fighting the people of Alridda (I was surprised to learn that of Omar too). Many other Sahaba agreed with him and many agreed with Abu Baker who saw a dangerous precedent being set if he does not deal with the people of the Ridda swiftly. Each had their argument rooted in their understanding of Islam. The debate was real and rooted in Islam and it could have resulted in not fighting the wars of Alridda just as much as it did end up in fighting these wars.
Similar to this debate was the fate the POW's after The battle of Bader were Omar, may Allah be pleased with him, thought they should not be spared but made a lesson of to Qureish, while Abu Baker, may Allah be pleased with him, asking the prophet to spare them and get some benefit for the Ummah out of them. The Prophet, peace upon him, sided with Abu Baker and Allah sided with Omar as the Qur’an tells us.
I am so scared of how simplistic our view of events in Islamic history and the conclusions it leads us to. Democracy or call whatever else you wish was at the heart of our religion at every step of the way.
I am afraid that when we try to talk about Islam verses democracy, (meaning Islam being against, opposite, or incompatible with democracy), we are setting our self up to reaching very dangerous conclusions. Including the conclusion that old and new Khawarij have arrived at. Namely, having few people give themselves the right to know what God wants and did not want for humanity and find the blood of a human being including Muslim blood so easy to spill with no checks or balances of any kind if they stand in their way. How dare any one question their interpretation of Islam! after all this is no democracy. And if we do not end up in that position we end up being bitter, isolated, and unable to shape our world around us in any positive way. By the way even less than perfect democracy is preferable to such a way of thinking.
When I think how the Khawarij justified to themselves the murder of our fourth elected Khalifa Ali Bin Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, (yes he was elected, differently, but in a constitutional democracy you can do that). ALi, the first boy to embrace Islam, the cousin of the prophet, peace upon him, the husband of Fatima,may Allah be pleased with her, the daughter of the prophet peace be upon him, and the father of Alhasan and Alhussain, may Allah be pleased with both of them.
They murdered the rightly elected Khalifa while he is on the pulpit during the Juma’a khutba thinking that they are carrying out God's will. And the excuse they used to do so is the same as the one used today to plunge Muslims and humanity into mayhem namely they said " La hukma ila lillah " (There is no right to rule except for Allah). The trick is that they only get to decide what God's ruling should or should not be and anyone who disagree with them deserve punishment or death. In their opinion Ali even though he was the Khalifa have accepted the opinion (HUKM) of men instead of Allah when he agreed to settle his dispute with other Sahaba through arbitration. So according to them Ali, the other Sahaba he disagreed with, and any one who followed either one of them deserved to die. And they carried out many murders before and after him. I never understood the statement that said: "A truth used to perpetuate untruth" which reads in Arabic: "Kalimatu Haq Ureeda Biha Batil" until I read the battle cry of Alkhawarij "LA HUKMA ILA LILLAH". How true of a statement used to justify such cruelty and unIslamic behavior. I feel the same way when I hear the rhetoric of modern day Khawarij.
I shiver every time I think that people can justify that to themselves. But they did and in a way they did it through a slogan very similar to the one that say there is no democracy in Islam. I know it is not exactly the same justification but both justifications come from the same logic.
The logic is tempting but dangerous. I think these are some of the topics our kids in Islamic schools should be exploring so we would not keep on repeating our mistakes.
Pitting Islam against democracy is wrong from the start. They are not substitutes of each other and should not be made so.