Following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian Islamic Scholar Abd Al-Karim Bakkar, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on March 6, 2009.
Abd Al-Karim Bakkar: At one point, 40 or 50 years ago, some Islamic writers conveyed the impression to people... I feel we still suffer from this impression to this day, especially in the circles of the Islamic awakening... They conveyed the impression that Western societies have no values or principles, and that if a Westerner says hello to you, it is only because it serves his interests. Otherwise, he wouldn't say hello to you. This notion is incorrect and contradicts reality. People today believe this notion because they confuse politics with everyday life in the West. These are two different things. In my view, there is no nation, anywhere in the world, that has no values. Even thieves have values. A thief who breaks into your home to steal your gold does not kill you once he finds the gold, because a thief does not consider murder to be a trivial matter. He feels that by killing, he would be committing a grave crime. Values are to be found everywhere around the world, but obviously, the values of people are not identical.
Interviewer: But the peoples of the world share most values.
Abd Al-Karim Bakkar: Undoubtedly. I once asked someone how come students in our universities, when left unsupervised during an exam, cheat in the exam, even though they observe their fast and prayers. On the other hand, how come students in most, if not all, American universities consider it to be an insult if you supervise them, because by no means will they cheat in the exam?
Principles do not grow in a vacuum. Telling people to be honest is not enough to make them honest. There should be transparency in our lives – in politics, in the economy, and in society – as well as in our family lives. There should be a degree of liberty. If I live all my life under constant pressure – as soon as I get a chance to release myself from all this pressure, I take this opportunity to explore all the things that were forbidden to me.
Interviewer: What is your position, as an Islamic scholar, on democracy?
Abd Al-Karim Bakkar: Democracy runs counter to Islam on several issues.
Interviewer: You mean it contradicts Islam on these issues?
Abd Al-Karim Bakkar: Yes. But democracy is compatible with Islam on other issues. In democracy, legislation is the prerogative of the people. It is the people who draw up the constitution, and they have the authority to amend it as well. On this issue we differ. On the fundamental issues of Islamic society... People do not have the right to legislate a law permitting fornication, for example. This holds true for all nations, I believe. There are established principles... The Americans cannot replace English as their official language, even if they all voted for it, because this is an established principle of the constitution.