With the Pope visiting Britain, amidst a sea of controversy, last night seemed an apt time for the Young Fabians to stage a debate on religion and democracy, in this case a debate on Islam and democracy, at the Embassy of the most populous Muslim democracy in the world – Indonesia.
A fascinating country, with a rich and diverse history, Indonesia has made the transition from Dutch colonoy, post-war independence, the regimes of Sukarno and Soeharto to modern democracy – in some respects more modern, some may contend, than ourselves. Just over a decade since emerging from dictatorship, the proportion of women elected to Indonsia’s parliament is 27.3 per cent; in Britain, the figure is only 21 per cent.
“… 47% of Swedish Members of Parliament are female … in Rwanda … 56 per cent of legislators are women.
“Britain’s measly 21 per cent ranks 41st out of 184 lower chambers, in terms of representation of women.”
So that’s one myth about a Muslim nation and democracy knocked down. Another, that of Islam subsuming all other religions and driving them out, is neatly dispelled by the map below, which shows the breadth and spread of religions in Indonesia:
For the record, the figures are 86.1 per cent Muslim, 8.7 per cent Christian, 3 per cent Hindu, 1.8 per cent Buddhist or other.
In the debate, the speakers were Dr Hargey, chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre in Oxford and trustee of the board of British Muslims for secular democracy and Dr Sukma, a leading Indonesian academic in this field who is visiting the UK, with Dr Hargey quoting chapters from the Qur’an to make the case for why Islam is perfectly compatible both with other religions and democracy, hitting out at extremist Wahhabi preachers in east London.
As we were reminded by a question from the floor, the effect of these preachers can be corrosive, a primary school teacher from Newham telling the story of a Muslim boy in his class who’d been told it was irreligious to bow to non-believers – this, coming from a British-born child in London 2010.