Politics of Islam
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God has created human being in the ideal and perfect shape. According to religious scholars, life is a holy trust between the God and the man and must be led carefully and consciously. All the human actions spring from inmost thoughts, for thoughts precede actions. Man, being an intelligent and rational creature is responsible for all his actions. The human power of discriminating between good and evil, fair and foul, right or wrong, just or unjust, springs from moral sense, which is due to the given spiritual values.
Now coming to the mundane scene, everybody has to obey someone, some authority, or some laws. This is how the affairs of the daily life run. However, the question arises regarding the authority and regulations that should be followed to live faithfully. (Sheikh, pp. 78-85) Here begins the altercation between the spiritual values and the command from human-made sources. If the human command conflicts with duties given by God, it is obvious that such commend would be defied. Now the paper will discuss some of the practices noted before the advent of Islam that will allow us to understand the guidance given by this religion in a better manner.
World at the advent of Islam:
The condition of world in the sixth century AD was equally dark and dismal. The great religions, Christianity, Judaism, etc. were in a state of decline and demoralization. Except in Europe, where the great Pope Gregory had improved it, the eastern Christianity of the Byzantine Empire was in a complicated stage due its quarrelling monks and bishops, emperors and followers, who were cutting each other’s throats in the crisis. The condition of Jewish and Magian religions was equally corrupt. Just like the Greek and Persian Empire, the conditions in India were deplorable. Buddhism was on the decline; a new Hinduism was resurgent. However, the new Hinduism was also caste-ridden, ritualistic, and full of superstitions and fetishism. Hence, in India, as in Iran and in the Byzantium, all the forces of evil, immorality, etc were in ascendancy.
Political System of Islam
In Islam, all sovereignty belongs to Allah (God) and power to rule is a Holy trust, as all laws are given in the Holy Quran. They are just and for all times. The Parliament in any Islamic country has no right to change the priorities laid down in the Holy Quran; nor can it finish or suspend the right granted by the Quran and the Shariah (Islamic law). According to scholars, the Quran has addressed the entire humanity, transcending all barriers and limitations of color, race, religion, or time. (Saliba, pp. 29-33)
It is the best guide and guardian of humankind and guides man in all the spheres of temporal, spiritual, individual, as well as, collective life. (Milton-Edwards, pp. 57-62) It contains instructions for the conduct of the head of the state, as well as, for simple and common man, for rich as well as the poor, for men and women, for judges and the businesspersons, for peace and war, for home, for commercial and material prosperity, as well as, spiritual well-being and moral excellence.
The Muslims are commanded to hold fast to the rope (religion) of God. In this, lies success as well as salvation in this, as well as, the other world. This idea of life hereafter dominates the functioning of governing institutions in Islamic countries. In politics, governing bodies are not allowed to transgress the limits of justice, social and economic equality granted by Quranic laws at all the costs. The second source of laws in Islam is the Sunnah – the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) that represents the will of the Supreme Sovereign Allah. The Sunnah interprets and supports the purpose of the Holy Quran. The Prophet was not only a messenger; however, Allah in the Holy Quran appointed him as a leader, head of the state, and teacher. Thus, in Islam, Sunnah is the second source of law that is referred to control different aspects of life, and particularly, political system in any Islamic country. (Saliba, pp. 46-50)
In the Holy Quran, there is no reference to any political system except monarchy. The Quranic stories converse that there had been good, as well as, ruthless kings in the past, and thus, Allah likes honest and truthful people, and has an aversion to dishonest and cruel people. In opinion of the Great Sufi and Spiritualist; Shah Waliullah, solution of all the social, political, and economic ills and evils lies in a Muslim State according to the teachings of Holy Quran. In other words, edifice of real Muslim State can be based on the Islamic Laws laid down in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. (Sheikh, pp. 19-25) According to him, Islam teaches creation of an Islamic state with Presidential and Unitary form of government having its own organizational powers and duties.
In Western democracy, executive office and legislature parliament consist of head of the state and ministers, and the judiciary consists of chief justice and judges. On the other hand, in Islamic state, Caliph is the Head of State while the Legislature Parliament is called ‘Majlis-e-Shura’ and Judiciary consists of Chief and his Assistants. In early days of Islam, Caliph who was the supreme head of the government was assisted by a council of intellects involving principal companions of the Holy Prophet who held their sitting in the principal mosque, often assisted by the city notables and Bedouin chiefs present in Medina. Several of the companions were entrusted with special duties.
For instance, during Abu Bakr’s caliphate, Omer had charge of the administration of justice and distribution of poor tax. Ali, as a scholar, was entrusted with the work of correspondence, the supervision of the captives of war and their treatment and ransom. Another companion presided over the equipment of troops. Every detail of the administration was thus looked after, but nothing was decisive without consultation. Such a practice was noted in earlier periods of Islam; however, such Islamic practice has become obsolete in its material form; however, major teachings of Islam related with division of work are still in practice in political systems of different Islamic countries; however, with an influence of modern democratic framework. (Lahoud, pp. 50-54)
The tenets and teachings of Islam are democratic in nature. Democracy is a way of living in society according to Islamic teachings. Islamic order recognizes equality of rights and privileges – political, social, and legal equality unlike capitalism, communism, socialism, or syndactinism. However, it is noted that all the modern and Western frameworks have focused on economic order, and have ignored the other aspects of life; social, religious, and cultural. (Milton-Edwards, pp. 29-43) Honest earning (Halal) is another major concept given in Islam that is playing an imperative role in controlling, especially the economic lives of Muslims.
Islam is more a totalitarian religion. It compasses the whole man, not his religious consciousness alone. It imposes a common veneer of general religious culture. It tells how to think correctly, how to live correctly, and how to organize correctly. In specific, Islam has forbidden some particular works that are considered harmful in other societies of the globe. Moreover, gambling, drinking, and similar practices have been considered as ‘haram’ (prohibited) in the Holy Quran, which advocates a social order in the society, and thus, plays a supportive role for peace and justice in the society. In Islam, social law is an integral part of religious law, and respect for the social law, an integral part of submission to Allah. Revelation is the joint basis for belief and temporal organization. (Tibi, pp. 67-79)
According to Islamic teachings, everything is from God and belongs to Him. He has sent Muslims in this world to uphold His laws, to follow the path of virtue, and shun vice, to establish justice, to weigh and measure honestly, to help the needy, etc. According to Islam, the Head of the State must be a good and practical Muslim. He must carry on the affairs of the state according to the laws laid down by the Quran and the Sunnah. If he digresses from the path of Islam as ordained by Allah, the people have right to remove him. However, they must obey the Head unquestioningly if he abides by Islamic laws. (Turner, pp. 28-34) Such teachings provide an aspect of morality and ethics in political system laid down in light of the Islamic teachings.
The head is to be assisted and advised by councils in carrying out the administration of the state. The Holy Prophet and the Caliphs were advised by the best-learned and honest intellects, and thus, it can be stated that Islam advocates the utilization of intellect in political system, rather than only usage of power. According to the studies, Islamic teachings allows consensus to choose head of state, which then becomes responsible to Allah. In this way, Islam provides a concept of democracy, as well as, monarchy of God. (Turner, pp. 66-69) All officers of the state are accountable for their action and they cannot digress from these standards and norms prescribed by the Quran and Sunnah.
Party system or opposition is against the teachings and spirit of Islam, as it breeds regionalism, factions, hatred, and disunity. Thus Islam stands for true democracy, social justice, equality, equitable distribution of wealth, regard for individual rights etc. Lastly, scholars have related the last Sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) with the Magna Carta of human rights and the gist of Islamic democracy, which is considered vital for creation of a political system in an Islamic country. Conclusively, the paper has discussed some of the significant aspects of Islamic teachings in specific with guidance related to the political control in Islamic states. It is hoped that the paper will be beneficial for students, teachers, and professionals in better understanding of the topic.
Lahoud, Nelly. Islam in World Politics. Routledge, 2005.
Milton-Edwards, Beverly. Islam and Politics in the Contemporary World. Wiley-Blackwell, 2004.
Saliba, Therese. Gender, Politics, and Islam. Orient Longman, 2005.
Sheikh, Naveed S. The New Politics of Islam. Routledge, 2003.
Tibi, Bassam. Political Islam, World Politics, and Europe. Routledge, 2007.
Turner, Bryan S. Islam: Islam, State, and Politics. Routledge, 2003.