The Political Life

             Like the social and economic life, the political life of Islam is based on sound spiritual and moral foundations, and is guided by Divine instructions. The political system of Islam is unique in its structure, its function, and its purpose. It is not pragmatic or instrumentalistic. It is not theocracy whereby a certain class of people assumes divine rights, hereditary or otherwise, and poses above other citizens, beyond accountability. Nor is it a proletariat whereby some revengeful laborers capture power. It is not even democracy in its popular sense. It is something different from all that. To appreciate the political outlook of Islam one has only to know that it is based on the following principles:

1.         Every deed of the Muslim individual or group of individuals must be inspired and guided by the Law of God, the Qur’an, which is the constitution chosen by God for His true servants. And if any do fail to judge (or rule) according to what God has revealed, they are the unbelievers . . . they are the wrong-doers . . . they are the rebels (5:47-50). Verily this Qur’an does guide to that which is most right and best (17:9).

2.         The sovereignty in the Islamic State does not belong to the ruler nor even to the people themselves. It belongs to God, and the people as a whole exercise it by trust from Him to enforce His law and enact His will. The ruler, any ruler, is only an acting executive chosen by the people to serve them according to the Law of God. This is the foundation of the Islamic State and is only consistent with the general outlook of Islam on the universe of which God is the creator and in which He is the Sole Sovereign. In the Qur’an, one comes across statements like these: Authority, power and sovereignty belong to none but God, or Blessed be He in Whose hands is dominion, and He over all things has power (Qur’an, 67:1), or Verily God does command you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due; and when you judge (or rule) between people that you judge with justice. Verily how excellent is the teaching which He gives you! (4:58) or And to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth, and all that is between, and unto Him is the final goal (of all) (5:20).

3.         The aim of the Islamic State is to administer justice and provide security and protection for all citizens, regardless of color or race or creed, in conformity with the stipulations of God in His constitution, the Qur’an. The question of religious or racial minorities does not arise so long as they are law-abiding and peaceful citizens. The Qur’an says:

             O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is most close to piety, and mind God for God is well-acquainted with all that you do (5:9; cf. 4:135).

             Verily God will defend those who believe, - - - - , those who, if We establish them in the Land, establish regular prayers and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. With God rests the end (and decision) of all affairs (22:38-41).

4.         Formed for the above-mentioned purposes and established to enforce the Law of God, the Islamic State cannot be controlled by any political party of a non-Islamic platform or subjected to foreign powers. It has to be independent to exercise its due authority on behalf of God and in His cause. This originates from the principle that a Muslim is one who submits to God alone and pledges loyalty to His Law, offering utmost cooperation and support to those who administer the Law and observe its stipulations. It is incompatible with Islam, therefore, for a Muslim nation to pledge support to any political party of a non-Islamic platform or to yield to a non-Islamic government of alien origins and aims. And never will God grant to the Unbelievers a way (to triumph or rule) over the Believers (4:141). The answer of the Believers, when summoned to God and His Messenger, in order that He may judge (or rule) between them, is no other than this: they say ‘We hear and we obey’ - - - - God has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, make them His vicegerents in the land, as He made those before them; that he will establish in authority their religion – the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived), to one of security and peace: ‘They will worship Me (alone) and not associate any partner with Me.’ (24:51, 55). God has decreed: It is I and My apostles who must prevail. Verily God is one full of strength, able to enforce His will. You will not find any people who believe in God and the last Day, loving those who resist God and His apostles, even though they were their fathers or their sons, or their brothers or their kindred. For such believers He has written Faith in their hearts and strengthened them with a spirit from Himself (58:21-22).

5.         The ruler, any ruler, is not a sovereign over the people. He is a representative employee chosen by the people and derives his authority from his obedience to the Law of God, the Law which binds the rulers and the ruled alike by a solemn contract over which God is the Supervisor. The political contract of Islam is not concluded between the administration and the public alone. It is between these combined on one side and God on the other, and it is morally valid and binding only as long as the human sides fulfill their obligations to the Divine. The rulers who are chosen by their people to administer the words of God are entitled to support and cooperation from the public in as much as they observe the very words of God. Should the public or any member of society fail to render support to and co-operation with such administrators, their act would be considered an irresponsible offense against the administration as well as against God Himself. Likewise, if the administration swerves from the Path of God or fails to observe His Law, it is not only committing a like offense but also has no right to the support and loyalty of the public. The Qur’an says:

             O you who believe! Obey God, and obey the Messenger (of God) and those charged with authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to God and His Messenger, if you do believe in God and the Last Day. That is the best, and most suitable for final determination (4:59).

             Obedience to those charged with authority is conditioned by their own obedience to the Law of God and the Traditions of His Messenger. In one of his conclusive statements Muhammad said that there is no obedience or loyalty to any human being, ruler or otherwise, who is not himself obedient to God and bound by His Law. The early successors of Muhammad understood this principle very clearly and declared in their first statements of policy that they were to be obeyed and helped by the public as long as they themselves obeyed God, and that they had no claims to obedience from the people if they were to depart from the way of God.

6.         The rulers and administrators must be chosen from among the best qualified citizens on the basis of their own merits of virtue, fitness and competence. Racial origin or family prestige and financial status do not in themselves make any potential candidates more or less qualified for high public offices. They neither promote nor hinder the merits of the individual. Every candidate must be judged on his own merits of which family prestige, wealth, race and age as such constitute no significant part. The candidates may be chosen by public consent through general elections, or they may be selected and authorized by public leaders, who are, in turn, entrusted to leadership by the free accord of the various sections of society. Thus, an Islamic State can have as many representative councils or municipal governments as desired. The right of election or selection and the conduct of administration are governed by the Law of God and must be aimed at the best interest of society as a whole. Prophet Muhammad said: “Whoever entrusts a man to a public office where in his society there is a better man than this trustee, he has betrayed the trust of God and His Messenger and the Muslims”. In a political sense this means that the electorate cannot, morally speaking, be indifferent to public events and that they, whenever they cast ballots, vote after careful investigations and premeditated choice. In this way the State could have the best possible safeguard of security and responsible citizenship, something which many democratic states of modernity lack.

7.          After the people make their choice through election or selection of their ruler, every citizen is enjoined to supervise, with his means, the conduct of the administration and question its handling of public affairs, whenever he sees anything wrong with it. If the administration betrays the trust of God and the public, it has no right to continue in office. It must be ousted and replaced by another, and it is the responsibility of every citizen to see it that this is done in the public interest. The question of hereditary power or lifetime government is therefore inapplicable to an Islamic State.

8.         Although the ruler is chosen and appointed by the people, his first responsibility is to God and, then, to the people. His office is not just symbolic nor is his role simply abstract. He is not a helpless puppet whose function is to sign papers or execute the public will invariably, i.e., whether it is right or wrong. He must exercise actual powers on behalf of the people for their best interest in accordance with the Law of God, because he has a dual responsibility. On the one hand, he is accountable to God for his conduct and, on the other, he is responsible to the people who have put their trust in him. He will have to give full account before God of how he treated his people themselves or their representatives. But both the ruler and his people will also have to give full account before God of how they treated the Qur’an, how they regarded the Law of God which He has given as a binding force. It is by his responsibility to the people that he should handle their affairs in the best common interest, and it is by his accountability to God that he should do so according to the Law of God. Thus, the political system of Islam is fundamentally different from all other political systems and doctrines known to mankind, and the ruler is not to govern the people according to their own desires. He is to serve them by making justice a common law, by making their genuine obedience to the Sovereign Lord of the universe a regular function of the state, and by making sound morality a noble undertaking of the administration.

9.         Although the Qur’an is the Constitution of the Islamic State, Muslims are ordained by God to handle their common affairs through consultative methods. This makes room for legislative councils and consultative bodies on the local as well as on the national and international levels. Every citizen in the Islamic State is enjoined to offer his best advice on common matters and must be entitled to do so. To insure fulfillment of this obligation in a practicable and useful way, the rulers must seek the advice of the learned and experienced people in the state. But this does not in any sense deny the right of average citizens who must speak out whenever the occasion arises.

             In this way every citizen of the Islamic State has an obligation, in one capacity, or another, to fulfill and is deeply concerned, directly or otherwise, about the conduct of public affairs. Islamic history provides authentic records of how the chief rulers and Caliphs were questioned, advised and corrected by common people, men and women alike. The principle of mutual consultation is so fundamental in Islam that not only has one to speak up his mind, but also to do so in the sincerest and most effective manner, for the best interest of society. Consultative methods in politics, or in any other field for that matter, are not only a democratic formula of government, but a religious injunction and a moral duty enjoined upon the rulers as well as the ruled. Besides his constant practice of this principle, the Prophet said that it is an essential part of religion to give good counsel. The purpose of such counsel is to insure that the Law of God is observed and that the rights of citizen are honored and their obligations fulfilled. To prevent the rise of professional politics and counteract the underground politicians of opportunist platforms, the Prophet, speaking on the authority of God, said that whoever speaks – be it in a form of counsel or any other form – must say the right and good things; or else he had better keep silent. This is to warn counselors and advisers against selfish inclinations or egoistic temptations. It is to guarantee that counsel is given with the sincerest intentions and in the best interest of the public, because it is authorized by God, carried on His behalf and aimed at the common welfare. The seeking of counsel on the part of the ruler and rendering it on the part of the public is not a matter of choice or a voluntary measure. It is an article of Faith, a religious ordinance. Muhammad himself, although wise, “infallible” and unselfish, was not above the maxim or an exception to the rule. God instructs him in this way :

             It is by the mercy of God that you dealt gently with them (your people). Were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you. So pass over their faults, and ask for (God’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust (in Him) (3:159).

             Enumerating the characteristics of Believers, the Qur’an makes clear mention of mutual counsel as an article of Faith. The Believers are those who believe in God and put their trust in their Lord, those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and, when they are angry even then forgive; those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular prayer, and conduct their affairs by mutual consultation, and spend out of what We bestow on them for sustenance (by way of charity); and those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) help and defend themselves (42: 36-39).

10.         Under the political system of Islam, every citizen is entitled to enjoy freedom of belief and conscience, and freedom of thought and expression. He is free to develop his potentialities and improve his lot, to work and compete, to earn and possess, to approve and disapprove of things, according to his honest judgement. But his freedom is not, and cannot be absolute; or else it amounts to chaos and anarchy. It is guaranteed by the Law of God and governed by the very same Law. As long as it is in line with this Law it is the rightful privilege of every individual citizen; but if it transgresses the limits of Law or conflicts with the common interest, it becomes a violation of God’s Law must, therefore, be controlled. The individual is part of the whole universe, so he must adjust himself to the Law and order of God, the Law by which the entire universe is administered. On the other hand, he is a member of his community or nation, and must adapt his own rights and interests to those of others in a mutually beneficial manner. If the individual takes an independent attitude on a certain matter of public concern and finds the majority taking a different attitude, he must in the end side with the majority to maintain solidarity and co-operation, provided the majority’s decision is not contrary to the Law of God. Yet in the process of forming a public opinion he is fully entitled to express his own opinion and persuade others of his convictions without disturbance or distortion. When it becomes clear that the majority have chosen a different course, then he is bound to go along with them, because the matter in question is no longer under individual consideration or deliberation but is undergoing public implementation (3:102-105; 8:46).

11.         The governorship of the Islamic State is a public trust, to which the administrators are entrusted by the word of God as well as by the common consent of the people. With God being the Supreme Sovereign of the State, whoever represents Him in the top office must be faithful to the Entrusting Authority, must be a believer in God. And with the majority of the people being Muslims, whoever assumes the office of Presidency or Caliphate must be a true Muslim. These measures are taken to serve the common interest and fulfill all the obligations of the State to God as well as to the citizens. They are able to secure and honor the rights of the so-called religious or racial minorities.

             It is unfortunate for humanity that this ruling of Islam has been poorly understood and badly distorted. The fact of the matter is that this ruling is not discriminating against minorities but is rather protective and assertive of their rights. Whoever wishes to be a law-abiding citizen of the Islamic State is welcome to it, and shares with others the duties and prerogatives of responsible citizenship. His being a non-Muslim does not lower his status or drop him down to second  class citizenship, as long as he obeys the common Law of the State and exercises his rights in a responsible manner. If he wishes, for example, to pay the religious tax (Zakah) and other state taxes, like the Muslim citizens, towards the maintenance of the State and in return for his own security and welfare, he may do so. But if he thinks that paying the Islamic Tax (Zakah) is humiliating to his dignity or injurious to his feelings on account of his being a non-Muslim, he may pay his taxes in different form known as “tributes” or jizyah – so he in fact enjoys a choice which Muslims of the same state do not themselves enjoy. In return for his contributions to the State, he is fully entitled to protection and security by the State officials and the society.

             Similarly, if such a citizen wants to administer his personal life of marriage, divorce, foods, inheritance, and so on, according to the Islamic Law, his desire must be recognized, and his rights must be respected. But if he wishes to administer these affairs according to his own religious teachings, he is absolutely free to do so, and no one can hamper the exercise of his rights in that respect. So in personal or sentimental matters, he may resort to his own teachings or to the public regulations. But in matters of public interest and common affairs he must abide by the Law of the State, the Law of God. No matter what he chooses, he is no less entitled to protection and security than any other citizen. All this is not a dream of a heavenly kingdom yet to come. It is the teaching of the Qur’an, the practice of Muhammad and the record of Islamic history. It is reported, for example, that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Caliph after Muhammad, was once passing by a place where he found an old Jew in pitiful condition. ‘Umar inquired about the man and found out what his state was like. In a regretful tone he said to the man: “We collected tributes (taxes) from you when you were able. Now you are deserted and neglected. How unjust to you ‘Umar has been!” After he finished his remark, a regular pension for the old man was ordered and the order was made effective immediately. ‘Umar and other rulers received their political orientation at the hands of Muhammad, who in turn had been taught by God. These teachings are recorded in the Qur’an in verses like these:

             God forbids you not, with regard to those who do not fight you for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them. For God loves those who are just. God only forbids you with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support others in driving you out, from turning to them for friendship and protection. Those who turn to them for friendship and protection are the wrong- doers (60:8-9).

             Finally, it is a categorical error to compare the Islamic State and its need for a Muslim head with secular state where it is, theoretically, conceivable to have a head of state who may belong to a minority group. The comparison is fallacious and misleading for several reasons. First, it assumes that secularism, however superficial, is sounder than the Islamic ideology. Such an assumption or premise is pretentious. Secondly, the duties and rights of a head of state under Islam are quite different from those of his counterpart in a secular order, as outlined above. Thirdly, the modern secular spirit is for the most part a redemptive, apologetic restitution, a case which does not apply to Islam. Moreover, a head of secular state, if there can be a real one, may belong to a racial, ethnic, or religious minority. But he almost invariably has to join a majority party. What this does in fact is to substitute a political majority for a religious one, which is hardly an improvement of the minority status as such. Furthermore, the whole secular argument presupposes that the state headship is a right or privilege that may be conferred upon or denied to the individual. The Islamic position is radically different. In Islam, the state headship is first and foremost an obligation, a trying commitment, an awesome responsibility. It would be inequitable, therefore, if Islam were to impose such responsibilities upon non-Muslims.


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