Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Can Islam have a democratic future? It has a glorious past and present

By Surin Pitsuwan - posted Wednesday, 18 June 2003

I was born Abdul Halim bin Ismael from Nakhon si Thammarat, southern Thailand. I was born in a Pesantran. In Southern Thailand we call it Pondok. I was born in a Madrassah. I was born in a Madhhab, a basic Muslim Islamic education institution.

But here I am. If the Thai government could make me a spokesman, I think there is value in trying to understand Islam and what it can contribute to democracy.

Let me tell you a story. Thirteen days before September 11, 2001, the government of Austria called a meeting, A Dialogue Among Civilizations, attended by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan.


At that dialogue were Rabbi Schneider, from New York, Hans Kung, Professor of Catholic Thought, from Switzerland, an adviser to President Khatami of Iran, the proponent of this dialogue, a few others, and myself.

The Secretary-General proposed that we talk about global civilisation. I, being from a Buddhist-majority country, raised my hand and said "Maybe it is not time yet to talk about global civilisation because I can sense that exponents and representatives of those great civilisations are still very attached and emotionally hanging on to them".

I proposed that we talk about global awareness, which I see emerging everywhere. I think this meeting was in the spirit of mutual respect in search of something that will help us bridge the gaps between us.

You can find the seeds of ideas and principles of all political ideologies in the fundamental teachings of any religion. If you think of democracy as a mixture of various ideas, values and cultures from across the world and from all civilisations, it is something of a modern invention.

Islam is the same. It is a continuation of the tradition of monotheism from Judaism, to Christianity, to Islam. Its uniqueness is that we count every prophet all the way back to Adam. Adam, Moses and Jesus are prophets of Islam. The only difference is that we believe that Mohammed is the last prophet.

The Jews stopped at Malachi - Jesus is not one of their prophets. The Christians do not consider there were any prophets after Jesus. However all three traditions belong to the same monotheistic tradition.


It is important to understand the frustration, emotions and feelings of Muslims. Muslims are very proud of their past but are reminded of the injustices that have been imposed upon them. Muslims are frustrated by the present injustices they feel but are inspired by the unwavering fate that they will be vindicated in the end.

Islam has a very strong identity, sometimes uncompromisingly so. But, given that the last two or three hundred years have produced a record of interference, invasion and colonialism the process of evolution, diversification and development has not been continuous in the Muslim world.

Muslim scholars, when Europe was in the Dark Ages, studied the texts of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They produced texts on medicine, astronomy and philosophy. They passed this wisdom on to the Christian fathers in the monasteries in Rome. From there it flowed through to the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, the Age of Enlightenment and to the power that would lead Europe into the Levant, into the Middle East and into the Holy Land in the form of colonialism.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

Article edited by Rick Brown.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This is an edited transcript of an address given to the Centre for Democratic Institutions, Australian National University, on 30 April 2003.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Surin Pitsuwan is a former Foreign Minister of Thailand.

Related Links
Centre for Democratic Institutions
Thai government
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy