Democracy in Islamic Political Thought

[Khairuddin At-Tunisi (1810-99)]

One important landmark in this regard was the contribution of Khairuddin At-Tunisi (1810-99), leader of the 19th-century reform movement in Tunisia, who, in 1867, formulated a general plan for reform in a book entitled Aqwam Al-Masalik Fi Taqwim Al- Mamalik (The Straight Path to Reforming Governments). The main preoccupation of the book was in tackling the question of political reform in the Arab world. While appealing to politicians and scholars of his time to seek all possible means in order to improve the status of the community and develop its civility, he warned the general Muslim public against shunning the experiences of other nations on the basis of the misconception that all the writings, inventions, experiences or attitudes of non-Muslims should be rejected or disregarded. Khairuddin further called for an end to absolutist rule, which he blamed for the oppression of nations and the destruction of civilizations.[^7]

Ghannouchi believes that neither Khairuddin nor any of the Islamic scholars of his time had intended to cast doubt on Islam or introduce changes to it. They only sought to understand Islam better and explore new means and methods to implement it, relying on the explanations of both ancient and contemporary scholars. They sought to legitimize borrowing from the West on the basis that ' . wisdom (or knowledge) is a believer's long-cherished objective', that ' . religion has been revealed for the benefit of the creation', and that ' . [the] Shari’ah and the vital interests of the community are fully compatible'.[^8] To implement his reform plan, Khairuddin established the As-Sadiqiyah School for teaching modern arts and sciences within an Islamic framework. The purpose of the School, according to the founding declaration, was: 'To teach the Qur'an, writing and useful knowledge, i.e. juridical sciences, foreign languages, and the rational sciences that might be of use to Muslims being at the same time not contrary to the faith. The professors must inculcate in the students love of the faith by showing them its beauties and excellence, in telling them the deeds of the Prophet, the miracles accomplished by him, the virtues of the holy men . .'[^9] Khairuddin At-Tunisi believed that ' . kindling the Ummahh's potential liberty through the adoption of sound administrative procedures and enabling it to have a say in political affairs, would put it on a faster track toward civilization, would limit the rule of despotism, and would stop the influx of European civilization that is sweeping everything along its path.'[^10]