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Political aspects of Islam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Political aspects of Islam are derived from the Qur'an, the Sunnah (the sayings and living habits of Muhammad), Muslim history, and elements of political movements outside 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.[1]

A significant change in the Islamic world was the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924.[2] 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 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.[citation needed]

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  • ✪ Islam and Politics: Crash Course World History 216
  • ✪ The Failure of Political Islam - Hamza Yusuf
  • ✪ PressTV - Islam and Life: Political Aspects of Islam | Tariq Ramadan
  • ✪ The Future of Political Islam: Trends and Prospects
  • ✪ Islam and Democracy in East Asia


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crashcourse World History and today we’re going to talk about the Islamic state. A story ripped from the headlines! JFTP: Mr. Green? Wait. No, no, no, no this is not history this is news and also for me it’s not even news - it’s the future. Yeah, Me from the Past, it turns out that history is a continuous process, and that even current events have a history. INTRO Alright, let’s begin with the headlines. In 2014 ISIS – the Islamic State In Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL and Islamic State, and many other things. Anyway, they declared a caliphate in the territory that the group controls, prompting many Americans to wonder what a Caliphate is. Well, if you’ve seen our episode on the emergence of Islam, the caliphate is an Islamic state, modeled on the original Islamic community that was founded by the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century. Now Muhammad was not a caliph, because the word means successor and they were the successors to Muhammad. But the first four political leaders who led the community and turned it into an empire have come to be known as the Four Rightly Guided caliphs. And when groups like ISIS that are trying to reestablish this kind of government look back on it they see it as being kind of the golden age. That this was a time of not just of growth for the Islamic empire but also of political stability and unity. Which as it happens it really wasn’t. Like even under the Four Rightly Guided caliphs the Islamic world was tremendously diverse and had huge disagreements. I mean of the Four Rightly Guided caliphs, three were assassinated. But anyway, the ideal version of that type of state is what ISIS and some other Islamists mean when they talk about reconstructing a caliphate although what the boundaries of a modern-day Caliphate might be are far from clear. I mean are you going to try to include Indonesia, but anyway, according to historian Michael Cook, “the restoration of the caliphate is a political ideal for many Islamists – and for some a political project,” But I want to be clear, that is not the case for the vast majority of Muslims. So when I use the term Islamism I mean something very specific. For me, Islamism is the idea that Islam can be the basis of government; it’s not the same as fundamentalism, although it’s often related to it. And it’s certainly not the same thing as Islam - which is a diverse and complicated and world wide religious tradition. Now, Islamism is a potent political force, but it’s a relatively recent one, and in many ways it developed as a response to our old friend, Western-style nationalism. That said, the idea that Islam can guide nation states or new kinds of states is much older than, you know, 2001. But it became much more relevant to Americans with the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Since then there has been more and more attention paid to the argument that Islam and Western civilization were at-best incompatible and at-worst locked in a mortal clash of civilizations. That clash of civilizations idea has become so ingrained that even though I don’t really agree with it i think we need to at least acknowledge what we’re talking about when we talk about us and them. Us, usually refers to European style nation states such as those which became dominant in the 19th century. These states tend to value democracy or at least pluralism, and, to varying degrees, they espouse political values such as egalitarianism and individualism. National identity in these states has at least traditionally been in a sense ethnic – based on some sense of shared language and culture if not exactly kinship – and it’s secular rather than religious. And then the arguments goes that the Islamic world is the opposite of this, but I am not convinced that that’s accurate. For instance, there are lots of religious connections in European nation states and there are lots of conversations about strengthening those religious connections or even making laws according to religious dictates. And in the Islamic world there are lots and lots of nation states. But let’s start with the idea that the Islamists are out of step with the modern political reality of the nation state. Let’s go to the thoughtbubble. So Islam is a universal religion that is supposed to transcend ethnic identity. According to the Quran, “The believers indeed are brothers.” (Q49:10) The universal nature of Islam didn’t mean that ethnicity didn’t matter at all of course; it did. Early on and for a long time Arab ethnicity was privileged in the Islamic world and this was especially true during the period of conquest. This was despite Muhammad saying “Truly the Arab has no superiority over the non-Arab, nor the non-Arab over the Arab, nor the black over the white, nor the white over the black, except in piety.” But their amazingly rapid and far reaching conquest granted the Arabs huge prestige that lasted until the 18th century. Now, from the beginning being a Muslim meant being part of a political community, because unlike Jesus or the Buddha, Muhammad was also a political leader in addition being a religious one. But at least to an extent the tight connection between political and religious identity really ended with the assassination of the Fourth Rightly Guided Caliph Ali. According to the writer Tamim Ansary, “After Ali’s death, the khalifate was just an empire.” But as the empire grew and became more diverse, it became impossible to hold it together as a political unit. So, even though the idea of a caliphate doesn’t square so well with western notions of ethnically homogenous nation states, ethnicity has always mattered in the Islamic world, as we can see if we go to Turkey, or Egypt, or Pakistan. In each of those places, the experience of being a Muslim is affected by the experience of one’s ethnicity. Thanks, Thoughtbubble. So this idea that the Islamic empire wasn’t always a caliphate for much of its history, was just an empire is really important. Because it gets to how not-different ways of organizing people are when it comes to like us and them. Now I’m not trying to make a false equivalence or say that all people are the same or whatever But like let’s look at a defining western political value - egalitarianism. In its earliest incarnations, Islam was unusually egalitarian, especially for its time. The religion structurally avoids hierarchy except perhaps based on piety. The Quran (49:13) states: “the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most godfearing of you,” and there’s a quote from Muhammad that “people are equals like the teeth of a comb.” To which I say. What’s a comb? Also, Islamic law, unlike, say Hammurabi’s code, doesn’t make class distinctions among Muslims, only between Muslims and non-Muslims, and Muhammad is quoted as saying that the blood of believers is always of equal value. In fact, that Islam lacks caste or formal aristocracy was noted by many Europeans, who thought it was weird. Now this canonical idea egalitarianism is not the same thing as equality - at least the equality that we’ve come to think about in the present day. Like in the Quran, and in the sayings of Muhammad called Hadiths, Women and men are alike in the performance of prayer and their obligation to pay the alms tax and their expectations of eternal life in paradise And women did have some inheritance rights in the early Islamic community that they did not enjoy in pre-Islamic Arabic communities. And that they also wouldn’t have had in Byzantium or, god forbid, Rome. And then there’s the inequality between Muslims and ‘unbelievers’ which is pretty well known; like other “peoples of the book” Christians and Jews, could live and work in Muslim empires provided they paid a special tax called the jizya. Which was far better than the life of a Muslim under Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain. And then there’s the issue of slavery, which the Quran accepts. In general Muslims have avoided enslaving other Muslims, showing that there is a sense of brotherhood and solidarity among believers, but overall to quote a historian “Islamic egalitarianism was … limited to free Muslim males.” Of course, if you’ve watched our US History series you may remember that early American egalitarianism was limited to like land-owning Christian males. My point here, is that if you look for historical precedence, you can generally find them. That’s true in the Islamic world, it’s also true in the rest of the world. Now today, in Europe and the United States, most citizens expect their states to be, in at least some degree, democratic, and republican, and constitutional. So when people in the west look at the early Islamic empire we have a way of imaging Caliphs as kings because, like, you know, we had kings. But Caliphs were important in different ways, for starters, they were the successor to the prophet. Now, maybe that’s similar to what the Roman Catholic papacy became over time but it’s not like a king - except for the king of England. King Henry VIII, founder of my church, who was like “I need to be the head of the church so I can get divorced.” But this combination of religious and political authority is important as is, at least initially, there was no hereditary succession of caliphs. And then there’s the concept of bay’a which is a kind of political allegiance, like according to Michael Cook, “an agreement is made between the future caliph and the future subject whereby each party is to have specified rights and duties.” A closely related theme is shura, “the duty of the caliph to consult with others before making his decision.” Like, according to tradition, when Abu Bakr accepted the role of the first Caliph he claimed that Muslims had no duty to obey him if he disobeyed God and the Prophet. Now that’s not democracy, but it is limited rule and it gives people some participation in the government. And then there’s another Western value that is often bandied about as something that isn’t part of the Islamic world - freedom. Islam, as you may know, means “submission.” And a Muslim is a person who submits to God. And to some Westerns that seems like the opposite of freedom. But the tradition within Islam, is that by releasing people from domination by other people, and making them servants of God - there is freedom. Freedom is a famously abstract concept, but if we think of it as the opposite of slavery, then being free from having to serve other people is freedom. That said, in contemporary Islamism, political freedom is not particularly held in high esteem. Which is one of the reasons why Islamists were less relevant in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 than people tend to think. But in at least one way, the caliphate can be thought of as enshrining republican (with a little “r”) values; Islamism emphasizes the rule of law and that even the caliph is subject to it. Since ultimate sovereignty belongs only to God, men to quote Michael Cook, “are not entitled to exercise lordship over each other.” And the much talked about Shari’a law, coming from a source outside the political process (whether that’s God or scholars) acts as a huge check on rulers becoming dictators. Right. like Iran’s government has many problems, but its president is not a dictator. But that same complete sovereignty of God over the people makes it difficult for Islamists to embrace democracy, because it’s based on the idea that the people themselves are sovereign. And the most radical Islamists, like Ayman al Zawahiri of Al-Qaeda really do hate democracy. He called democracy, “a new religion that deifies the masses.” And the completely extreme and absolutely horrifying Boko Haram in Nigeria have exclaimed that they, “will never accept any system of government apart from on stipulated by Islam,” and will, “keep on fighting against democracy, capitalism, socialism and whatever.” Yes, the “and whatever” is a quote. If you belong to a group that is fighting blank, blank, blank, and whatever - you need to leave that group. So it’s easy and relatively common for people in the West to say that Islam is inimical to political values like freedom, equality and democracy. And when we talk about certain groups of radical Islamists, that’s true. But in the West we also really, really struggle to see the other complexely, and to understand the incredible diversity in response to the revelation of the Quran. In my opinion, the clash of civilization model oversimplifies the world into this group and that group, and imagines that this group sees the world only that way and that group sees the world only this way. In fact, it’s complicated. For one thing, modern Islamism itself, is a very recent phenomenon, and in large part it’s a reaction to western imperialism and nationalism, and it doesn’t always reflect the ideas of Islam OR Islamic history. Humans have a storied tradition of calling upon certain facets of our history to inspire us toward what we already kind of want. And those seeking to recreate the caliphate want a more powerful and unified Arab world, if not, an Islamic world. And so they look toward history for inspiration, taking parts and leaving many others. What really happened, is that for the most part European style nationalism took hold in the Islamic world at the same time it rose in Europe, as the creation of Turkey shows quite clearly. But in trying to understand the allure of the caliphate it’s important to understand that Islam is not just a religion. From the beginning, it was a civilization. As the historian Tamim Ansary wrote: “Islam might just as validly be considered as one item in a class whose other items include communism, parliamentary democracy, fascism, and the like, because Islam is a social project like those others, an idea for how politics and the economy ought to be managed, a complete system of civil and criminal law.” But it’s also a very diverse system shaped by everything around it and everything inside of it - like any civilization. So when we try to discuss a topic as complex and charged as contemporary Islamic thought and practice and political worldviews, we don’t just need to be sure that we have some sense of history. We also need to be sure that we’re all talking about the same thing. There is nothing bright about the lines between politics and religion and history and nation. Thank you for watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is filmed in the Chad and Stacey Emigholz studio here in Indianapolis. It’s made possible thanks to the hard work of all of these people. And also your subscriptions on Subbable. Subbable is a voluntary subscription service that allows you to support Crash Course directly so we can keep it free for everyone forever. You can also support Crash Course by buying some of our awesome merch like t-shirts or posters. Thank you for watching. And as we say in my hometown, “don’t forget to be awesome.”



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.

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[3] and Pagans.[4][5][6] 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.[7]

The precise dating of the Constitution of Medina remains debated but generally scholars agree it was written shortly after the Hijra (622). [Note 1] [Note 2] [Note 3] [Note 4] 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).[citation needed]

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.[14] 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.[15] The Islamic empire stretched from Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) to the Punjab under the reign of the Umayyad dynasty. The conquering Arab armies took the system of Sharia laws and courts to their new military camps and cities, and built mosques for Friday jam'at (community prayers) as well as Madrasahs to educate local Muslim youth. These institutions resulted in the development of a class of ulema (classical Islamic scholars) who could serve as qadis (Sharia-court judges), imams of mosques and madrasah teachers. The political terminology of the Islamic state was all the product of this period. Thus, medieval legal terms such as khalifa, sharia, fiqh, maddhab, jizya, and dhimmi all remain part of modern Islamic vocabulary.

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.[16]

One type of ruler not part of the Islamic ideal was the king, which was disparaged in Quran's mentions of the Pharaoh, "the prototype of the unjust and tyrannical ruler" (18:70, 79) and elsewhere. (28:34)[17]

Election or appointment

According to a number of scholars and preachers, the concepts of liberalism and democratic participation were already present in the medieval Islamic world.[18][19][unreliable source?][20][dubious ] Rashidun Caliphate was an early example of a democratic state[dubious ] but the development of democracy in the Islamic world eventually came to a halt following to the Sunni–Shia split.[21]

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.[22] Western scholar of Islam, Fred Donner,[23] 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.

Majlis ash-Shura

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).[24] (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.[22] 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.

Non-Muslims may serve as members of majlis (council) of Shura, but they can not become candidates for position of head of Islamic state.

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,[25] 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.[26]

The legislative power of the Caliph (or later, the Sultan) was always restricted by the scholarly class, the Ulema, a group regarded as the guardians of the law. Since the law came from the legal scholars, this prevented the Caliph from dictating legal results. Laws were decided based on the Ijma (consensus) of the Ummah (community), which was most often represented by the legal scholars.[27] In order to qualify as a legal scholar, it was required that they obtain a doctorate known as the ijazat attadris wa 'l-ifttd ("license to teach and issue legal opinions") from a Madrasah.[28] In many ways, classical Islamic law functioned like a constitutional law.[27]

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.[29]

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."[30]

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.[31]


Sunni Islamic lawyers have commented on when it is permissible to disobey, impeach or remove rulers in the Caliphate. This is usually when the rulers are not meeting public responsibilities obliged upon them under Islam. Al-Mawardi said that if the rulers meet their Islamic responsibilities to the public, the people must obey their laws, but if they become either unjust or severely ineffective then the Caliph or ruler must be impeached via the Majlis ash-Shura. Similarly Al-Baghdadi believed that if the rulers do not uphold justice, the ummah via the majlis should give warning to them, and if unheeded then the Caliph can be impeached. Al-Juwayni argued that Islam is the goal of the ummah, so any ruler that deviates from this goal must be impeached. Al-Ghazali believed that oppression by a caliph is enough for impeachment. Rather than just relying on impeachment, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani obliged rebellion upon the people if the caliph began to act with no regard for Islamic law. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said that to ignore such a situation is haraam, and those who cannot revolt inside the caliphate should launch a struggle from outside. Al-Asqalani used two ayahs from the Qur'an to justify this:

"...And they (the sinners on qiyama) will say, 'Our Lord! We obeyed our leaders and our chiefs, and they misled us from the right path. Our Lord! Give them (the leaders) double the punishment you give us and curse them with a very great curse'..."[33:67–68]

Islamic lawyers commented that when the rulers refuse to step down via successful impeachment through the Majlis, becoming dictators through the support of a corrupt army, if the majority agree they have the option to launch a revolution against them. Many noted that this option is only exercised after factoring in the potential cost of life.[22]

Rule of law

The following hadith establishes the principle of rule of law in relation to nepotism and accountability[32]

Narrated ‘Aisha: The people of Quraish worried about the lady from Bani Makhzum who had committed theft. They asked, "Who will intercede for her with Allah's Apostle?" Some said, "No one dare to do so except Usama bin Zaid the beloved one to Allah's Apostle." When Usama spoke about that to Allah's Apostle Allah's Apostle said: "Do you try to intercede for somebody in a case connected with Allah’s Prescribed Punishments?" Then he got up and delivered a sermon saying, "What destroyed the nations preceding you, was that if a noble amongst them stole, they would forgive him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would inflict Allah's Legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad (my daughter) stole, I would cut off her hand."

Various Islamic lawyers do however place multiple conditions, and stipulations e.g. the poor cannot be penalised for stealing out of poverty, before executing such a law, making it very difficult to reach such a stage. It is well known during a time of drought in the Rashidun caliphate period, capital punishments were suspended until the effects of the drought passed.[citation needed]

Islamic jurists later formulated the concept of the rule of law, the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land, where no person is above the law and where officials and private citizens are under a duty to obey the same law. A Qadi (Islamic judge) was also not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion, race, colour, kinship or prejudice. There were also a number of cases where Caliphs had to appear before judges as they prepared to take their verdict.[33]

According to Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University, the legal scholars and jurists who once upheld the rule of law were replaced by a law governed by the state due to the codification of Sharia by the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century:[27]

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."[34]

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.[35]

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.[36]

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."[37][38]

Shi'a tradition

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."[39]

Khawarij tradition (Political extremist)

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.[40][41][42]

Modern era

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."[43]

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".[44]

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.[44] 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."[45]

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.[46] 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-Quada was prominent for being part of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s.[47] 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.[47] 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.[47]

20th and 21st century

Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent dissolution 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.

Contemporary movements

Some common political currents in Islam include

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."[51]

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."[52]

See also


  1. ^ W.M. Watt argues that the initial agreement was shortly after the hijra and the document was amended at a later date specifically after the battle of Badr (AH [anno hijra] 2, = AD 624).[8]
  2. ^ R. B. Serjeant argues that the constitution is in fact eight different treaties which can be dated according to events as they transpired in Medina with the first treaty being written shortly after Muhammad's arrival. [9] [10]
  3. ^ Julius Wellhausen argues that the document is a single treaty agreed upon shortly after the hijra, and that it belongs to the first year of Muhammad’s residence in Medina, before the battle of Badr in 2/624. Wellhausen bases this judgement on three considerations; first Muhammad is very diffident about his own position, he accepts the Pagan tribes within the Umma, and maintains the Jewish clans as clients of the Ansars[11][12]
  4. ^ Moshe Gil, a skeptic of Islamic history, argues that it was written within five months of Muhammad's arrival in Medina.[13]


  1. ^ Abu Hamid al-Ghazali quoted in Mortimer, Edward, Faith and Power: The Politics of Islam, Vintage Books, 1982, p.37
  2. ^ Feldman, Noah, Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Princeton University Press, 2008, p.2
  3. ^ R. B. Serjeant, "Sunnah Jāmi'ah, pacts with the Yathrib Jews, and the Tahrīm of Yathrib: analysis and translation of the documents comprised in the so-called 'Constitution of Medina'", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1978), 41: 1-42, Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ See:
    • Reuven Firestone, Jihād: the origin of holy war in Islam (1999) p. 118;
    • "Muhammad", Encyclopedia of Islam Online
  5. ^ Watt, William Montgomery. Muhammad at Medina
  6. ^ R. B. Serjeant. "The Constitution of Medina." Islamic Quarterly 8 (1964) p.4.
  7. ^ Serjeant (1978), page 4.
  8. ^ Watt, William Montgomery. Muhammad at Medina. pp. 227-228
  9. ^ R. B. Serjeant. "The Sunnah Jâmi'ah, Pacts with the Yathrib Jews, and the Tahrîm of Yathrib: Analysis and Translation of the Documents Comprised in the so called 'Constitution of Medina'." in The Life of Muhammad: The Formation of the Classical Islamic World: Volume iv. Ed. Uri Rubin. Brookfield: Ashgate, 1998, p. 151
  10. ^ see same article in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 41 (1978): 18 ff. See also Caetani. Annali dell’Islam, Volume I. Milano: Hoepli, 1905, p.393.
  11. ^ see Wellhausen, Excursus, p. 158.
  12. ^ Julius Wellhausen. Skizzen und Vorabeiten, IV, Berlin: Reimer, 1889, p 82f
  13. ^ Moshe Gil. "The Constitution of Medina: A Reconsideration." Israel Oriental Studies 4 (1974): p. 45.
  14. ^ Lewis, Bernard, The Middle East : a Brief History of the last 2000 Years, Touchstone, (1995), p.139
  15. ^ [1] Archived September 30, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ Lewis, The Middle East, (1995), p.143
  17. ^ Lewis, The Middle East, (1995), p.141
  18. ^ Judge Weeramantry, Christopher G. (1997), Justice Without Frontiers, Brill Publishers, pp. 134–5, ISBN 90-411-0241-8
  19. ^ Sullivan, Antony T. (January–February 1997), "Istanbul Conference Traces Islamic Roots of Western Law, Society", Washington Report on Middle East Affairs: 36, retrieved 2008-02-29
  20. ^ Lenn Evan Goodman (2003), Islamic Humanism, p. 155, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-513580-6.
  21. ^ al-Hibri, Azizah Y. (1998–1999), "Islamic and American Constitutional Law: Borrowing Possibilities or a History of Borrowing", University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, 1 (3): 492–527 [507–25]
  22. ^ a b c Process of Choosing the Leader (Caliph) of the Muslims: The Muslim Khilafa: by Gharm Allah Al-Ghamdy Archived 2011-02-14 at WebCite
  23. ^ The Early Islamic Conquests (1981)
  24. ^ Sohaib N. Sultan, Forming an Islamic Democracy
  25. ^ Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World (2004), vol. 1, p. 116-123.
  26. ^ Judge Weeramantry, Christopher G. (1997). Justice Without Frontiers. Brill Publishers. p. 135. ISBN 90-411-0241-8.
  27. ^ a b c Noah Feldman (March 16, 2008). "Why Shariah?". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-05.
  28. ^ Makdisi, George (April–June 1989), "Scholasticism and Humanism in Classical Islam and the Christian West", Journal of the American Oriental Society, 109 (2): 175–182 [175–77], doi:10.2307/604423
  29. ^ Feldman, Noah, Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Princeton University Press, 2008, p.6
  30. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam by Olivier Roy, translated by Carol Volk, Harvard University Press, 1994, p.14-15
  31. ^ Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... Macmillan. pp. 120–1. ISBN 9780099523277.
  32. ^ Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 56, Number 681
  33. ^ Weeramantry (1997), pp. 132 & 135
  34. ^ Momen, Moojan, Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985 p.192
  35. ^ Freedom and Justice in the Middle East
  36. ^ Lambton, Ann K. S. (2002). State and Government in Medieval Islam. Routledge. p. 145. Retrieved 19 September 2015.
  37. ^ Ibn Taymiyya, Le traite de droit public d'ibn Taimiya. Translated by Henri Laoust. Beirut, 1948, p.12
  38. ^ Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... macmillan. p. 139. ISBN 9780099523277.
  39. ^ Momen, Moojan, Introduction to Shi'i Islam, Yale University Press, 1985 p.194
  40. ^ "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail.
  41. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-02. Retrieved 2015-11-17.
  42. ^ Mohamad Jebara More Mohamad Jebara. "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". Ottawa Citizen.
  43. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam by Olivier Roy, translated by Carol Volk, Harvard University Press, 1994, p.32
  44. ^ a b Feldman, Noah, Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Princeton University Press, 2008, p.71-76
  45. ^ Feldman, Noah, Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, Princeton University Press, 2008, p.79
  46. ^ Benhenda, M., Liberal Democracy and Political Islam: the Search for Common Ground, SSRN 1475928
  47. ^ a b c Hunt, Michael (2014). The World Transformed, 1945 to the Present. New York City: Oxford. p. 495. ISBN 978-0-19-937102-0.
  48. ^ Roy, Failure of Political Islam, (1994) p.30-31
  49. ^ Roy, Failure of Political Islam, (1994) p.31
  50. ^ Roy, Failure of Political Islam. (1994) p.35-7
  51. ^ Shia Revival : How conflicts within Islam will shape the future by Vali Nasr, Norton, 2006, p.148-9
  52. ^ Fuller, Graham E., The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, (2003), p.26


The following sources generally prescribe to the theory that there is a distinct 20th-century movement called Islamism:

  • "Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews" Khalid Duran with Abdelwahab Hechiche, The American Jewish Committee and Ktav, 2001
  • "The Islamism Debate" Martin Kramer, 1997, which includes the chapter The Mismeasure of Political Islam
  • "Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook", Charles Kurzman, Oxford University Press, 1998
  • "The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder", Bassam Tibi, Univ. of California Press, 1998

The following sources challenge the notion of an "Islamist movement":

These authors in general locate the issues of Islamic political intolerance and fanaticism not in Islam, but in the generally low level of awareness of Islam's own mechanisms for dealing with these, among modern believers, in part a result of Islam being suppressed prior to modern times.

Further reading

On democracy in the Middle East, the role of Islamist political parties and the War on Terrorism:

External links

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