In the article “Islam and Democracy,” Asef Bayat reminds us of the persistent Western interpretation of the East (the Middle East in particular) as a society regulated by religious extremism and incompatible with democratic principles. Bayat suggests that this view originates from three sources: “The first is the continuing prevalence of Orientalist/essentializing thought in the West, the second element is the persistent authoritarian rule of the local regimes, and the third factor has to do with the fact that within the Muslim region, there has been an expansion of Islamist movements” (7). These three components continue to enforce the notion that Islamic government and democracy are incompatible. Therefore, a religious system that is portrayed as unwilling to embrace freedom while imposing its theological vision on its citizens can never thrive in justice and harmony.
“Islam and Democracy” challenges the definition of democracy provided by the West. The author suggests that “there is nothing intrinsic in Islam, and for that matter any other religion, which makes them inherently democratic or undemocratic” (10). Instead, those who interpret religion and assume positions of power determine whether or not democracy can coexist with religion. The author reminds us that democratic values have been interpreted in numerous ways and challenges the role of capitalism and its corporate emphasis in a democratic system. Bayat reminds us of the historical incompatibility of Christian values and democracy and the transition that took taken place (approximately fifty years ago) in the West where Christianity and democracy are now viewed as compatible systems. In sum, the author suggests that religions are not necessarily incompatible with democracy, but those in political powers decide its compatibility.
In addition, Bayat studies the role that language and culture play in the interpretations of sacred texts. As he challenges Foucault’s emphasis on the power of words, Bayat argues, “power does not simply lie in words, in the ‘inner truth’ expressed in words, but primarily in those who utter them, those who give truth and power to these words” (13). Bayat suggests that the compatibility of religion and democracy is not subjected to linguistic and philosophical arguments only, but instead remains connected to the leaders running the political game. Furthermore, the author implies that the reality of a world with divergent religious and political views generates resentment against those who seek to impose their foreign cultural values on those seeking to preserve their own. This imposition gives rise to Islamism which often rejects the Western presence in the Middle East. Bayat argues that within this radical movement, “freedom from foreign domination would take precedence over freedom at home” (15).
Bayat’s article explores the diversity of thought that is prevalent in Muslim “societies. This study is of importance since it demonstrates the erroneous interpretations of the Muslim world offered through the Orientalist perspective. For instance, Bayat reminds us that “many Islamist departed from their earlier totalizing discourse or violent methods, and began to develop a more democratic vision of their Islamic projects” (16). This reformation of Islamic values within Islamism does not incorporate secular or anti-Islamic principles, but instead seeks for the coexistence of faith and freedom. The willingness to change is at the core of Islamic traditions, yet it searches for a meaningful balance between society and God.
The search for balance between the secular and the religious is explored more in depth by political philosopher and theologian Abdolkarim Soroush, in the book Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush. Throughout Soroush’s writings, the reader continuously finds arguments exploring the relationship between the secular and the religious. The author describes the origin of the secular mind as he explains that secularism is born from two sources: “the growth of modern scientific thought and rationality and the profound changes in the meaning and relationship of rights and duties” (57). The first source refers to the development of a cultural resentment against the imposition of religious doctrines. The second introduces us to the fundamental differences between religion and the secular which lies primarily in the relationship between duties and rights. The second points is of significance importance since it demonstrates that religious people see their purpose in the world through a medium of duty and obligation to God while the secular one interprets our role in society as one where the humanistic vision must be preserved. Soroush’s conclusions lead us to the recognition that the secular and the religious can coexists through a medium of tolerance and understanding that balances the rational and the spiritual. Through this form of mutual respect societies can thrive and coexist within their differences.
The Western depiction of Islam as a religion incompatible with modernity undermines the divergent perspectives existing within the Islamic faith. The assumption that Islam is interpreted and practiced equally among Muslims ignores the historical efforts to adapt and reconcile modernity with spirituality. We can assume that the Western and Eastern world continuously struggle to adapt in order to uphold certain values; therefore, the actions of corrupt politicians along with the existence of radical movements do not reflect the true sentiment of a religious community seeking for a harmonious balance between the laws of god and the laws of men.
 “Many social scientists believed that Christianity and democracy were incompatible” (10).
 “The compatibility or incompatibility of a religion, including Islam, with democracy is not a matter of merely philosophical speculations, but of political struggle (13).
 “The designation ‘Muslim societies’ understood as plural and complete entities, allow a self-conscious Muslim majority to define their own reality in an inevitably contested, differentiated and dynamic fashion” (6).