Recent events in the Middle East have many commentators frantically speculating about what the future holds for Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and any other country whose citizens are choosing to rise up in protest. Across the region, people are bravely standing up, with many common demands -- chiefly, social and economic reforms, as well as an end to rampant corruption and human rights abuses. Who could find fault with that? Unfortunately, a whole lot of people.
Among Western nations and their respective media outlets, an intense fear has been perpetuated as a result of these protests: namely, that of an "Islamized" (whatever that means) Middle East. In this case, world leaders and commentators seem to be on the same page. They are terrified that more regimes will go the way of post-revolutionary Iran and become Islamic Republics as well. Stop there.
Is Iran really an Islamic Republic? No. The mullahs and ayatollahs have created a brutal dictatorship that is about as legitimately Islamic in nature as the Ku Klux Klan is Christian. In fact, the protests in Iran (both in 2009 after the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and more recently this week) have shown the world that even the Iranian people aren't moving in the direction of Iran circa 1979. Far from it.
But does that mean that Iranians are turning away from their Islamic roots? Again, no. In fact, they are turning toward a more Islamic republic, or better put, a true Islamic republic. So too, others across the Middle East (whether they recognize it or not) are turning toward more genuinely Islamic states.
If Western nations understood what a true Islamic republic looked like, I expect that they wouldn't be nearly as jarred or frightened by the recent wave of popular protests spreading across the Middle East. A bona fide Islamic republic is one that respects the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, one that doesn't torture, one that eschews institutionalized sexism and honors human rights. But above all, an authentic Islamic republic is one that is both democratic and secular.
The Holy Quran, the only uncontested source of revelation for all Muslims, explicitly states that there should be "no compulsion in religion" (2:256). Key to all Islamic belief and practice is the concept of niyyat or "intention." And no full, pure and independent intention can be achieved under a theocratic regime, especially (as is the case in Iran) when that regime is trying to force its adulterated interpretation of Islam down its people's throats.
Thus, the phrase "Islamic republic" is an inherently misleading one, for a theocratic state is, by definition, an un-Islamic state -- not merely because it interferes with the establishment of the pure intentions necessary to practice Islam, but also because it assumes the impossible. To become a Muslim, one must make the following proclamation of faith, or shahada: "I bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His messenger."
As much as the leaders of the "Islamic" Republic of Iran would like us to believe that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the voice of God on earth, they are sorely mistaken. Why? Because la ilaha ilallah. Translation: There is no god but God. For Muslims, God speaks through the Holy Quran, which teaches that God is as close to any human being as his or her jugular vein (50:16). As such, Muslims seeking union with the Divine possess no need for an intermediary -- no ayatollahs or mullahs or even imams.
Muslims around the Middle East are demanding their rights today -- not just as granted by their constitutions or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are demanding the rights guaranteed to them by the Holy Quran itself: rights to freedom, democracy, independence and yes, secular rule.