Political Aspects Of Islam
Traditional political concepts in Islam include leadership by elected or selected successors to the Prophet known as Caliphs, (Imamate for Shia); the importance of following Islamic law or Sharia; the duty of rulers to seek Shura or consultation from their subjects; and the importance of rebuking unjust rulers.
A significant change in the Islamic world was the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. In the 19th and 20th century, common Islamic political theme has been resistance to Western imperialism and enforcement of Sharia through democratic or militant struggle. The defeat of Arab armies in the Six-Day War, the end of the Cold War and collapse of the Soviet Union with the end of communism as a viable alternative has increased the appeal of Islamic movements such as Islamism, Islamic fundamentalism, and Islamic democracy, especially in the context of popular dissatisfaction with secularist ruling regimes in the Muslim world.
Origins of Islam as a political movement are to be found in the life and times of Islam’s prophet Muhammad and his successors. In 622 CE, in recognition of his claims to prophethood, Muhammad was invited to rule the city of Medina. At the time the local Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj dominated the city, and were in constant conflict. Medinans saw in Muhammad an impartial outsider who could resolve the conflict. Muhammad and his followers thus moved to Medina, where Muhammad drafted the Medina Charter. This document made Muhammad the ruler, and recognized him as the Prophet of Allah. The laws Muhammad established during his rule, based on the revelations of the Quran and doing of Muhammad, are considered by Muslims to be Sharia or Islamic law, which Islamic movements seek to establish in the present day. Muhammad gained a widespread following and an army, and his rule expanded first to the city of Mecca and then spread through the Arabian peninsula through a combination of diplomacy and military conquest.
Today many Islamist or Islamic democratic parties exist in almost every democracy with a Muslim majority. Many militant Islamic groups are also working in different parts of world. The controversial term Islamic fundamentalism has also been coined by some non-Muslims to describe the political and religious philosophies of some militant Islamic groups. Both of these terms (Islamic democracy and Islamic fundamentalism) lump together a large variety of groups with varying histories, ideologies and contexts.
While the Quran does not dwell on politics it does make mention of the concepts of the oppressed (mustad’afeen), emigration (hijra), the Islamic community (Ummah), and fighting in the way of God (jihad), that can have political implications. A number of verses (such as Q.4:98) talk about mustad’afeen which can be translated as “those deemed weak”, “underdogs” or the oppressed, how they are put upon by people such as the pharaoh, how God wishes them to be treated justly, and how they should emigrate from the land where they are oppressed (Q.4:99). Abraham was an “emigrant unto my Lord” (Q.29:25). War against unbelievers (kufaar) is commanded and divine aid promised, although some verse(s) state this may be when unbelievers start the war and treaties may end the war. The Quran also devotes some verses to the proper division of spoils captured in war among the victors. War against internal enemies or “hypocrits” (munafiqun) is also commanded. Some commands did not extend past the life of the prophet such as ones to refer quarrels to God and his prophet or not to shout at or raise your voice when talking to the prophet. Limiting its political teaching is the fact that the Quran does not mention “any formal and continuing structure of authority”, only orders to obey the Prophet, and that its themes were of limited use when the success of Islam meant governance of “a vast territory populate mainly peasants, and dominate by cities and states” alien to nomadic desert life.
Islamic State of Medina
The Constitution of Medina was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, Christians and Pagans. This constitution formed the basis of the first Islamic state. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter intertribal fighting between the clans of the Aws (Aus) and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community—the Ummah.
The precise dating of the Constitution of Medina remains debated but generally scholars agree it was written shortly after the Hijra (622).It effectively established the first Islamic state. The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, a judicial system for resolving disputes, and also regulated the paying of blood money (the payment between families or tribes for the slaying of an individual in lieu of lex talionis).
Early Caliphate and political ideals
After death of Muhammad, his community needed to appoint a new leader, giving rise to the title Caliph, meaning “successor”. Thus the subsequent Islamic empires were known as Caliphates. Alongside the growth of the Umayyad empire, the major political development within Islam in this period was the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims; this had its roots in a dispute over the succession of the Caliphate. Sunni Muslims believed the caliphate was elective, and any Muslim might serve as one. Shi’ites, on the other hand, believed the caliphate should be hereditary in the line of the Prophet, and thus all the caliphs, with the exception of Ali, were usurpers. However, the Sunni sect emerged as triumphant in most of the Muslim world, and thus most modern Islamic political movements (with the exception of Iran) are founded in Sunni thought.
Muhammad’s closest companions, the four “rightly guided” Caliphs who succeeded him, continued to expand the state to encompass Jerusalem, Ctesiphon, and Damascus, and sending armies as far as the Sindh. The Islamic empire stretched from Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) to the Punjab under the reign of the Umayyad dynasty.
An important Islamic concept concerning the structure of ruling is shura, or consultation with people regarding their affairs, which is the duty of rulers mentioned in two verses in the Quran, 3:153, and 42:36.
One type of ruler not part of the Islamic ideal was the king, which was disparaged in the Quran’s mentions of the Pharaoh, “the prototype of the unjust and tyrannical ruler” (18:70, 79) and elsewhere. (28:34)
Election or appointment
See also: Islamic democracy
Al-Mawardi, a Muslim jurist of the Shafii school, has written that the caliph should be Qurayshi. Abu Bakr Al-Baqillani, an Ashari Islamic scholar and Maliki lawyer, wrote that the leader of the Muslims simply should be from the majority. Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man, the founder of the Sunni Hanafi school of fiqh, also wrote that the leader must come from the majority.
Western scholar of Islam, Fred Donner, argues that the standard Arabian practice during the early Caliphates was for the prominent men of a kinship group, or tribe, to gather after a leader’s death and elect a leader from amongst themselves, although there was no specified procedure for this shura, or consultative assembly. Candidates were usually from the same lineage as the deceased leader but they were not necessarily his sons. Capable men who would lead well were preferred over an ineffectual direct heir, as there was no basis in the majority Sunni view that the head of state or governor should be chosen based on lineage alone.
Deliberations of the Caliphates, most notably Rashidun Caliphate were not democratic in the modern sense rather, decision-making power lay with a council of notable and trusted companions of Mohammad and representatives of different tribes (most of them selected or elected within their tribes). (see also: Shura).
Traditional Sunni Islamic lawyers agree that shura, loosely translated as ‘consultation of the people’, is a function of the caliphate. The Majlis ash-Shura advise the caliph. The importance of this is premised by the following verses of the Quran:
“…those who answer the call of their Lord and establish the prayer, and who conduct their affairs by Shura. [are loved by God]”[42:38]
“…consult them (the people) in their affairs. Then when you have taken a decision (from them), put your trust in Allah” [3:159]
The majlis is also the means to elect a new caliph. Al-Mawardi has written that members of the majlis should satisfy three conditions: they must be just, they must have enough knowledge to distinguish a good caliph from a bad one, and must have sufficient wisdom and judgment to select the best caliph. Al-Mawardi also said in emergencies when there is no caliphate and no majlis, the people themselves should create a majlis, select a list of candidates for caliph, then the majlis should select from the list of candidates. Some modern interpretations of the role of the Majlis ash-Shura include those by Islamist author Sayyid Qutb and by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the founder of a transnational political movement devoted to the revival of the Caliphate. In an analysis of the shura chapter of the Quran, Qutb argued Islam requires only that the ruler consult with at least some of the ruled (usually the elite), within the general context of God-made laws that the ruler must execute. Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, writes that Shura is important and part of “the ruling structure” of the Islamic caliphate, “but not one of its pillars,” and may be neglected without the Caliphate’s rule becoming un-Islamic. However, These interpretations of Shura (by Qutb and al-Nabhani) are not universally accepted and Islamic democrats consider Shura to be an integral part and important pillar of Islamic political system.
Separation of powers
In the early Islamic Caliphate, the head of state, the Caliph, had a position based on the notion of a successor to Muhammad’s political authority, who, according to Sunnis, were ideally elected by the people or their representatives, as was the case for the election of Abu Bakar, Uthman and Ali as Caliph. After the Rashidun Caliphs, later Caliphates during the Islamic Golden Age had a much lesser degree of democratic participation, but since “no one was superior to anyone else except on the basis of piety and virtue” in Islam, and following the example of Muhammad, later Islamic rulers often held public consultations with the people in their affairs.
The legislative power of the Caliph (or later, the Sultan) was always restricted by the scholarly class, the ulama, a group regarded as the guardians of Islamic law. Since the law came from the legal scholars, this prevented the Caliph from dictating legal results. Sharia rulings were established as authoritative based on the ijma (consensus) of legal scholars, who theoretically acted as representatives of the Ummah (Muslim community). After law colleges (madrasas) became widespread beginning with the 11th and 12th century CE, a student often had to obtain an ijaza-t al-tadris wa-l-ifta (“license to teach and issue legal opinions”) in order to issue legal rulings. In many ways, classical Islamic law functioned like a constitutional law.
Practically, for hundreds of years after Rashidun Caliphate and until the twentieth century, Islamic states followed a system of government based on the coexistence of sultan and ulama following the rules of the sharia. This system resembled to some extent some Western governments in possessing an unwritten constitution (like the United Kingdom), and possessing separate, countervailing branches of government (like the United States) — which provided Separation of powers in governance. While the United States (and some other systems of government) has three branches of government — executive, legislative and judicial — Islamic monarchies had two — the sultan and ulama.
According to Olivier Roy this “defacto separation between political power” of sultans and emirs and religious power of the caliph was “created and institutionalized … as early as the end of the first century of the hegira.” The sovereign’s religious function was to defend the Muslim community against its enemies, institute the sharia, ensure the public good (maslaha). The state was instrument to enable Muslims to live as good Muslims and Muslims were to obey the sultan if he did so. The legitimacy of the ruler was “symbolized by the right to coin money and to have the Friday prayer (Jumu’ah khutba) said in his name.”
Sadakat Kadri argues that a large “degree of deference” was shown to the caliphate by the ulama and this was at least at times “counterproductive”. “Although jurists had identified conditions from mental incapacity to blindness that could disqualify a caliph, none had ever dared delineate the powers of the caliphate as an institution.” During the Abbasid caliphate:
When Caliph Al-Mutawakkil had been killed in 861, jurists had retroactively validated his murder with a fatwa. Eight years later, they had testified to the lawful abdication of a successor, after he had been dragged from a toilet, beaten unconscious, and thrown into a vault to die. By the middle of the tenth century, judges were solemnly confirming that the onset of blindness had disqualified a caliph, without mentioning that they had just been assembled to witness the gouging of his eyes.
According to Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University, the legal scholars and jurists lost their control over Islamic law due to the codification of Sharia by the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century:
How the scholars lost their exalted status as keepers of the law is a complex story, but it can be summed up in the adage that partial reforms are sometimes worse than none at all. In the early 19th century, the Ottoman empire responded to military setbacks with an internal reform movement. The most important reform was the attempt to codify Shariah. This Westernizing process, foreign to the Islamic legal tradition, sought to transform Shariah from a body of doctrines and principles to be discovered by the human efforts of the scholars into a set of rules that could be looked up in a book. […] Once the law existed in codified form, however, the law itself was able to replace the scholars as the source of authority. Codification took from the scholars their all-important claim to have the final say over the content of the law and transferred that power to the state.
Obedience and opposition
According to scholar Moojan Momen, “One of the key statements in the Qur’an around which much of the exegesis” on the issue of what Islamic doctrine says about who is in charge is based on the verse
“O believers! Obey God and obey the Apostle and those who have been given authority [uulaa al-amr] among you” (Qur’an 4:59).
For Sunnis, uulaa al-amr are the rulers (Caliphs and kings) but for Shi’is this expression refers to the Imams.” According to scholar Bernard Lewis, this Qur’anic verse has been
elaborated in a number of sayings attributed to Muhammad. But there are also sayings that put strict limits on the duty of obedience. Two dicta attributed to the Prophet and universally accepted as authentic are indicative. One says, “there is no obedience in sin”; in other words, if the ruler orders something contrary to the divine law, not only is there no duty of obedience, but there is a duty of disobedience. This is more than the right of revolution that appears in Western political thought. It is a duty of revolution, or at least of disobedience and opposition to authority. The other pronouncement, “do not obey a creature against his creator,” again clearly limits the authority of the ruler, whatever form of ruler that may be.
However, Ibn Taymiyyah — an important 14th century scholar of the Hanbali school — says in Tafseer for this verse “there is no obedience in sin”; that people should ignore the order of the ruler if it would disobey the divine law and shouldn’t use this as excuse for revolution because it will spell Muslims bloods. According to Ibn Taymiyya, the saying, ‘Sixty years with an unjust imam is better than one night without a sultan`, was confirmed by experience. He believed that the Quranic injunction to “enjoin good and forbid evil” (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-n-nahy ʿani-l-munkar, found in Quran 3:104 and Quran 3:110 and other verses) was the duty of every state functionary with charge over other Muslims from the caliph to “the schoolmaster in charge of assessing children’s handwriting exercises.”
Sharia and governance (siyasa)
Main article: Siyasa
Starting from the late medieval period, Sunni fiqh elaborated the doctrine of siyasa shar’iyya, which literally means governance according to sharia, and is sometimes called the political dimension of Islamic law. Its goal was to harmonize Islamic law with the practical demands of statecraft. The doctrine emphasized the religious purpose of political authority and advocated non-formalist application of Islamic law if required by expedience and utilitarian considerations. It first emerged in response to the difficulties raised by the strict procedural requirements of Islamic law. The law rejected circumstantial evidence and insisted on witness testimony, making criminal convictions difficult to obtain in courts presided over by qadis (sharia judges). In response, Islamic jurists permitted greater procedural latitude in limited circumstances, such as adjudicating grievances against state officials in the mazalim courts administered by the ruler’s council and application of “corrective” discretionary punishments for petty offenses. However, under the Mamluk sultanate, non-qadi courts expanded their jurisdiction to commercial and family law, running in parallel with sharia courts and dispensing with some formalities prescribed by fiqh. Further developments of the doctrine attempted to resolve this tension between statecraft and jurisprudence. In later times the doctrine has been employed to justify legal changes made by the state in consideration of public interest, as long as they were deemed not to be contrary to sharia. It was, for example, invoked by the Ottoman rulers who promulgated a body of administrative, criminal, and economic laws known as qanun.
In Shia Islam, three attitudes towards rulers predominated — political cooperation with the ruler, political activism challenging the ruler, and aloofness from politics — with “writings of Shi’i ulama through the ages” showing “elements of all three of these attitudes.”
Main article: Khawarij
According to some Muslim authors, extremism within Islam goes back to the 7th century to the Kharijites. From their essentially political position, they developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shiʿa Muslims. The Kharijites were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death.
Reaction to European colonialism
In the 19th century, European colonization of the Muslim world coincided with the retreat of the Ottoman Empire, the French conquest of Algeria (1830), the disappearance of the Moghul Empire in India (1857), the Russian incursions into the Caucasus (1828) and Central Asia.
The first Muslim reaction to European colonization was of “peasant and religious”, not urban origin. “Charismatic leaders”, generally members of the ulama or leaders of religious orders, launched the call for jihad and formed tribal coalitions. Sharia in defiance of local common law was imposed to unify tribes. Examples include Abd al-Qadir in Algeria, the Mahdi in Sudan, Shamil in the Caucasus, the Senussi in Libya and in Chad, Mullah-i Lang in Afghanistan, the Akhund of Swat in India, and later, Abd al-Karim in Morocco. All these movements eventually failed “despite spectacular victories such as the destruction of the British army in Afghanistan in 1842 and the taking of Kharoum in 1885.”
The second Muslim reaction to European encroachment later in the century and early 20th century was not violent resistance but the adoption of some Western political, social, cultural and technological ways. Members of the urban elite, particularly in Egypt, Iran, and Turkey advocated and practiced “Westernization”.
The failure of the attempts at political westernization, according to some, was exemplified by the Tanzimat reorganization of the Ottoman rulers. Sharia was codified into law (which was called the Mecelle) and an elected legislature was established to make law. These steps took away the Ulama’s role of “discovering” the law and the formerly powerful scholar class weakened and withered into religious functionaries, while the legislature was suspended less than a year after its inauguration and never recovered to replace the Ulama as a separate “branch” of government providing Separation of powers. The “paradigm of the executive as a force unchecked by either the sharia of the scholars or the popular authority of an elected legislature became the dominant paradigm in most of the Sunni Muslim world in the twentieth century.”
Modern political ideal of the Islamic state
In addition to the legitimacy given by medieval scholarly opinion, nostalgia for the days of successful Islamic empire simmered under later Western colonialism. This nostalgia played a major role in the Islamist political ideal of Islamic state, a state in which Islamic law is preeminent. The Islamist political program is generally to be accomplished by re-shaping the governments of existing Muslim nation-states; but the means of doing this varies greatly across movements and circumstances. Many democratic Islamist movements, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood have used the democratic process and focus on votes and coalition-building with other political parties. Radical movements such as Taliban and al-Qaeda embrace militant Islamic ideology. Al-Qaeda was prominent for being part of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Both of the aforementioned groups had a role to play with the September 11 attacks in 2001, presenting both “near” and “far” enemies asregional governments and the United States respectively. They also took part in the bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. The recruits often came from the ranks of jihadis, from Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco.
Compatibility with democracy
General Muslim views
Esposito and DeLong-Bas distinguish four attitudes toward sharia and democracy prominent among Muslims today:
- Advocacy of democratic ideas, often accompanied by a belief that they are compatible with Islam, which can play a public role within a democratic system, as exemplified by many protestors who took part in the Arab Spring uprisings;
- Support for democratic procedures such as elections, combined with religious or moral objections toward some aspects of Western democracy seen as incompatible with sharia, as exemplified by Islamic scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi;
- Rejection of democracy as a Western import and advocacy of traditional Islamic institutions, such as shura (consultation) and ijma (consensus), as exemplified by supporters of absolute monarchy and radical Islamist movements;
- Belief that democracy requires restricting religion to private life, held by a minority in the Muslim world.
Polls conducted by Gallup and PEW in Muslim-majority countries indicate that most Muslims see no contradiction between democratic values and religious principles, desiring neither a theocracy, nor a secular democracy, but rather a political model where democratic institutions and values can coexist with the values and principles of sharia.
Islamic political theories
Muslih and Browers identify three major perspectives on democracy among prominent Muslims thinkers who have sought to develop modern, distinctly Islamic theories of socio-political organization conforming to Islamic values and law:
- The rejectionist Islamic view, elaborated by Sayyid Qutb and Abul A’la Maududi, condemns imitation of foreign ideas, drawing a distinction between Western democracy and the Islamic doctrine of shura (consultation between ruler and ruled). This perspective, which stresses comprehensive implementation of sharia, was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s among various movements seeking to establish an Islamic state, but its popularity has diminished in recent years.
- The moderate Islamic view stresses the concepts of maslaha (public interest), ʿadl (justice), and shura. Islamic leaders are considered to uphold justice if they promote public interest, as defined through shura. In this view, shura provides the basis for representative government institutions that are similar to Western democracy, but reflect Islamic rather than Western liberal values. Hasan al-Turabi, Rashid al-Ghannushi, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi have advocated different forms of this view.
- The liberal Islamic view is influenced by Muhammad Abduh’s emphasis on the role of reason in understanding religion. It stresses democratic principles based on pluralism and freedom of thought. Authors like Fahmi Huwaidi and Tariq al-Bishri have constructed Islamic justifications for full citizenship of non-Muslims in an Islamic state by drawing on early Islamic texts. Others, like Mohammed Arkoun and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, have justified pluralism and freedom through non-literalist approaches to textual interpretation. Abdolkarim Soroush has argued for a “religious democracy” based on religious thought that is democratic, tolerant, and just. Islamic liberals argue for the necessity of constant reexamination of religious understanding, which can only be done in a democratic context.
20th and 21st century
Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent abolition of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (founder of Turkey), many Muslims perceived that the political power of their religion was in retreat. There was also concern that Western ideas and influence were spreading throughout Muslim societies. This led to considerable resentment of the influence of the European powers. The Muslim Brotherhood was created in Egypt as a movement to resist and harry the British.
During the 1960s, the predominant ideology within the Arab world was pan-Arabism which deemphasized religion and emphasized the creation of socialist, secular states based on Arab nationalism rather than Islam. However, governments based on Arab nationalism have found themselves facing economic stagnation and disorder. Increasingly, the borders of these states were seen as artificial colonial creations – which they were, having literally been drawn on a map by European colonial powers.
Some common political currents in Islam include
- Traditionalism, which accepts traditional commentaries on the Quran and Sunna and “takes as its basic principle imitation (taqlid), that is, refusal to innovate”, and follows one of the four legal schools or Madh’hab (Shaf’i, Maliki, Hanafi, Hanbali) and, may include Sufism. An example of Sufi traditionalism is the Barelvi school in Pakistan.
- Fundamentalist reformism, which “criticizes the tradition, the commentaries, popular religious practices (maraboutism, the cult of saints)”, deviations, and superstitions; it aims to return to the founding texts. This reformism generally developed in response to an external threat (the influence of Hinduism on Islam, for example). 18th-century examples are Shah Wali Allah in India and Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (who founded Wahhabism) in the Arabian Peninsula. Salafism is a modern example.
- Islamism or political Islam, embracing a return to the sharia or Islamic principles, but adopting Western terminology such as revolution, ideology, politics and democracy and taking a more liberal attitude towards issues like Jihad and women’s rights. Contemporary examples include the Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Islamic Revolution, Masyumi party, United Malays National Organisation, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and Justice and Development Party (Turkey).
- Liberal movements within Islam generally define themselves in opposition to Islamic political movements, but often embrace many of its anti-imperialist and Islam inspired liberal reformist elements.
Sunni and Shia differences
According to scholar Vali Nasr, political tendencies of Sunni and Shia Islamic ideology differ, with Sunni Islamic revivalism “in Pakistan and much of the Arab world” being “far from politically revolutionary”, while Shia political Islam is strongly influenced by Ruhollah Khomeini and his talk of the oppression of the poor and class war. Sunni revivalism “is rooted in conservative religious impulses and the bazaars, mixing mercantile interests with religious values.” … Khomeini’s version of Islamism engaged the poor and spoke of class war.
This Cleavage between fundamentalism as revivalism and fundamentalism as revolution was deep and for a long while coincided closely with the sectarian divide between the Sunnis – the Muslim world’s traditional `haves`, concerned more with conservative religiosity – and the Shia – the longtime outsiders,` more drawn to radical dreaming and scheming.”
Graham Fuller has also noted that he found “no mainstream Islamist organization (with the exception of [shia] Iran) with radical social views or a revolutionary approach to the social order apart from the imposition of legal justice.”
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia