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Democracy and Puritanism

OurIndonesia – The history of democracy in America is the history of religious people’s endeavor to live properly with their faith and belief. Freedom of religion cannot live in a country like England in the 17th century, where it is only the monarch’s church (Anglican Church) acknowledged as the legal religion. In America, the puritans were free to express their religious doctrines.

Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, pointed out an appealing statement: ”Puritanism is not merely religious doctrine, nevertheless it relates with theories of democracy and republic in many aspects.”

Puritanism means the attitude and desire to present and practice religious values and teachings incessantly in the daily life. Tocqueville observed that the protestant Puritanism that came from Europe, particularly England, sows the growth of American democracy in the beginning of 17th century.

The American puritans of the 17th century called them selves as pilgrims from the oppressed country of England. In England, they were small sects that is unacknowledged by the Anglican Church, the ruler’s religion. They were puritans since they performed the strict Christian doctrines and attempted to implement it in the wider social-political aspect.

They migrated to the new world of America because they cannot stand on the pressure of the ruler’s Church. In this new world, they searched a state “where they are able to live in accordance to their belief and to worship God in freedom.”

The history of democracy in America is the history of religious people’s endeavor to live properly with their faith and belief. Freedom of religion cannot live in a country like England in the 17th century, where it is only the monarch’s church (Anglican Church) acknowledged as the legal religion. In America, the puritans were free to express their religious doctrines.

In the beginning, those “pilgrims” from England built a social-political order based on their faith. That is why many articles of the law, the legal and social regulation in that time sourced from the Holy Book. To Tocqueville, many of those legal regulations are copied literally (verbatim) from the Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy: the murderer is executed, the rapist is stoned to death, and thief’s body is lashed.

Reading the history of American democracy trough Tocqueville, I remember the beginning of the Muslim pilgrims of Medina 15 centuries ago. They attempted to perform God’s law sourced from Koran: the murderer is executed, the rapist is stoned to death, and thief’s hand is cut off.

Nevertheless, the American democracy did not end here. Law is people’s reflection and must reflect the people’s dynamic. Without it, law will not run effectively. Therefore, the next generation of puritans attempted to revise and adjust the social, economic and political regulation based on the developing dynamic within society. American democracy afterward turned to be interesting and idealized by many people.

I think, it is better for the muslim to learn on the history of American democracy. If they really want democracy, they have to go beyond the “pilgrim” phase of the prophet Muhammad in the 6th century and of the American puritans in the 17th century. Expecting democracy by envisioning the “pilgrim” phase (hijrah) or becoming “pilgrims” (muhajirin) is deterioration. The history goes forward, not backward.

 

The Indonesian version of this article was published in IslamLib.

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