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Islamic State

Although the original Islamic sources (the Qurn and the adths) have very little to say on matters of
government and the state, the first issue to confront the Muslim community immediately after the death of its
formative leader, the Prophet Muammad, in 632 CE was in fact the problem of government and how to select a
successor, khalfah (caliph), to the Prophet. From the start, therefore, Muslims had to innovate and to improvise
with regard to the form and nature of government. The first disagreements that emerged within the Muslim
community, which led to the eventual division of Islam into Sunns, Khawrij, Shs, and other sects, were
undeniably concerned with politics. But theorizing about politics was very much delayed, and most works of
Islamic political literature seem to have emerged when the political realities that they addressed were on the

Historical Islamic States.

Islam is indeed a religion of collective morals, but it contains little that is specifically politicalthat is, the
original Islamic sources rarely convey much on how to form states, run governments, and manage organizations.
If the rulers of the historical Islamic states were also spiritual leaders of their communities, this was not because
Islam required the imm (religious leader) to be also a political ruler, but becauseon the contraryIslam had
spread in regions where the modes of production tended to be control-based and where the state had always
played a crucial economic and social role. The monopoly of a certain religion had always been one of the
state's usual instruments for ensuring ideological hegemony, and the historical Islamic state was heir to this
The main piece of political literature inherited from the Muammadan period is al-afah, the document often
known as the constitution of Medina, the text of which is attributed mostly to the hijrah episode of 622 to 624
CE This constitution speaks of the believers as forming one ummah (community), which also includes the Jews
of Medina. Although composed of tribes, each of which is responsible for the conduct of its members, the
ummah as a whole is to act collectively in enforcing social order and security and in confronting enemies in
times of war and peace.
Given the limited nature of political stipulations in the Qurn and the adths, Muslims have had to borrow and
to improvise in developing their political systems. These systems, however, have been inspired by sharah
(Islamic law), as represented in the Qurn and the sunnah; by Arabian tribal traditions; and by the political
heritage of the lands Muslims conquered, especially the Persian and Byzantine traditions. The influence of the
first source was more noticeable during the era of the first four rshidn (rightly guided) caliphs (632661 CE),
the second during the Umayyad dynasty (661750 CE), and the third during the Abbsid (7491258 CE) and
Ottoman (12811922 CE) dynasties.
Muslims had indeed been state builders, in the practical sense, in such fields as military expansion, government
arrangements, and administrative techniquesin this respect they probably preceded Europeans. But these were
not really states in the modern sense of the term: they were externally imperial systems, and internally dynastic
systems, akin to many other ancient and medieval systems that are normally distinguished from the modern state.
Since the state is a Western concept, representing a European phenomenon that developed between the sixteenth
and twentieth centuries in relation to various factors including the Renaissance and the growth of capitalism and
individualism, it is natural not to find such a concept in Islamic thought prior to the modern era. However,
Islamic political thought did have much to say about the body politic and, of course, about rulers and
governments: this, when examined and reconstructed, can give us an understanding of what is the closest thing
to the concept of the state in traditional Islamic thinking. If the concept of the state in Europe cannot be
understood in isolation from the concepts of individualism, liberty, and law, the Islamic concept of the body
politic cannot be understood in isolation from the concepts of jamah or ummah (the group or the community),
adl or adlah (justice or fairness), and qiydah or immah (leadership). Basically, the category of politics in
traditional Islamic thought is a classification of types of statesmanship, not types of state; it pertains to the
problem of government and especially to the conduct of the ruler, not to the polity as a social reality or to the
state as a generic category or legal abstraction.

Islamic political theory took shape subsequent to the historical development that it addressed, and indeed most
major political concepts did not develop except during periods when the political institutions about which they
were theorizing were in decline. Thus, for example, the caliphate theory goes back to the period of the
deterioration of the caliphate as an institution during the Abbsid dynasty, the appearance of more than one
caliph in several Muslim cities (i.e., the division of the Islamic ummah), and the growth of opposition
movements of Shs, Khawrij, Mutazils, Ikhwn al-af, and others, against the Sunn ruler in Baghdad.
Indeed, the caliphate theory was mainly a Sunn refutation of the arguments put forward by the escalating
opposition movements (including the Sh), and it represented a quest for the ideal, not a positive description of
what was actually there. It was only with the process of tadwn (inscription and registration) in the middle of the
ninth century that writings on the caliphate emerged, first among the Shs, then by way of reaction among the
Sunns, but most particularly after Muammad ibn Idrs al-Shfi (d. 820 CE), a founder of one of the four legal
schools, had specified the methodological rules of Sunn thought and had enumerated the sanctioned sources of
sharah: the Qurn, the sunnah, ijm (consensus of the learned), and qys (reasoning by analogy).

Juridical Theory of the State.

A brief examination of the main propositions of the juristic theory of the caliphate is helpful here, starting with
the issue of legitimacy. Initially, Ab Bakr and Umar, the first two rightly guided caliphs, had emphasized the
aspect of legitimacy by resorting as much as possible to the nomadic-inspired tripartite principle of shr (inner
consultation), aqd (ruler-ruled contract), and bayah (oath of allegiance). This method was used in the
appointment of their successor, Uthmn. Gradually, however, shr was overlooked, then aqd and bayah were
also dropped with the establishment by the Umayyads of a hereditary, semi-aristocratic monarchy. During the
Abbsid era, the contradiction between the legitimacy of government and the unity of the ummah came to the
fore. Amad ibn anbal (d. 855 CE), founder of the anbal school of law, established a precedent by opting for
unity of the community over legitimacy of government in case the two were irreconcilable.
From then on, the emphasis in the juridical theory was on the authority of the caliph as a political symbol and the
unity of the jamah as a human base. The classical writings of Ab al-asan al-Mward (d. 1058 CE) and Ab
Yal al-Farr (d. 1066 CE) are illustrative of such an emphasis. Later on, when the authority of the leader and
the unity of the community ceased to be intact and absolute, the emphasis, as in the work of Taq al-Dn ibn
Taymyah (d. 1328 CE), was to shift to sharah as a basis for ideological unity, since political and human unity
were no longer obtainable. From the twelfth century onward, the main realistic source of legitimacy for the
regional dynasties might have become the defending of Muslim lands militarily against invaders, whether
Crusaders, Mongols, or Latins. This might have given the regional sultanic dynasties a new type of legitimacy
for as long as they could confront foreign enemies and keep them at bay.
Writings on the caliphate by such jurists as al-Mward, al-Farr, and Al ibn azm (d. 1064 CE) are
concerned mainly with the caliphhis qualifications and traits. Rights are classified mainly into those of the
imm and those of the ummah. There is very little written on the rights of the individual. Even Ibn Taymyah,
who subtitled one of his major works F uqq al-r wa al-rayah (On the rights of the ruler and the
subjects), speaks only of civil individual rights over one's life and possessions and does not mention public or
political rights of any sort. The subject of individual rights and the related subject of liberty receive very little
attention from the jurists. This has indeed been the case until well into the nineteenth century: the Arabic concept
of liberty has usually implied authenticity and lack of bondage and has almost no political connotation. When
explaining the French notion of political freedom (urryah) to his nineteenth-century readers, the al-Azhar
scholar Rifah Rfi al-ahw (18011873 CE) was obliged to liken it to the Arab-Islamic concept of al-adl
wa al-inf (justice and equity).
The Sh jurists were in a somewhat different position, since many Shs had to take office under Sunn rulers.
The Shs held that all government in the absence of the twelfth Sh imm, who is believed to have gone into
occulation, was usurped, and so they were not concerned to legitimize the authority of government given this
belief and their minority status. Their concern was to justify dealings between their followers and the
government and to allow some degree of participation by Shs in public affairs. Unlike the Sunns, Sh jurists
did not strive to impart legitimacy to government in favor of stability; rather, by having recourse to taqyah
(concealment of belief in adverse conditions), they were able to cooperate for specific purposes with the holders
of power while refusing to accept any responsibility for the existence of an unjust governmentthis was, in
other words, a de facto recognition of political authority rather than de jure legitimization. The Sunns therefore
ended up legitimizing government power, and the Shs evaded the issuebut in both cases, the end result was

popular acquiescence and political quietism. Because the Shs were not politically dominant for much of the
time and because they adopted the concept that all government in the absence of the twelfth imm was
usurpatory, their jurists had much more leeway in the condoning or condemning of specific rulers.
In the Sunn tradition, however, which merged spiritual immah with political leadership (imrah; mulk) in the
institution of the caliphate, it was not easy to incite disobedience against the usurping or unjust ruler and still
remain firmly within the tradition. To resist government one had to resort either to open militancy or to
spiritualistic disdain. In the first case, the group was subjected to unrelenting war from the state; in the second
case, the individual was often subjected to a torturous ordeal. The Sunn juridical theory of the Islamic state was
obsessed with an attempt at rescuing the community from its unhappy destiny by overemphasizing its presumed
religious character. It pictured a utopian ideal of how things should be in a sort of pious polity (madnah filah)
far more than it described how things were in reality. The theory of the Islamic state was in fact little more than
elaborate fiqh (jurisprudence) presented as though it were pure sharah. But as this fiction was elaborated on
and repeated over time, in volume after volume, it came to represent to subsequent generations not simply an
ideal that should be aspired to, but a reality that is believed to have existedhistory is read into the fiqh (which
was prescribed by the jurists) and is then taken to be a description of what things were like in reality. Hence the
continued political potential (and even power) of that fiqh-cum-sharah, especially among the contemporary
militant movements.
Political authority was understood within this jurisprudence as the instrument through which the application of
the main tenets of the divine message is overseen. Sovereignty is not therefore for the ruler or for the clergy, but
for the Word of God as embodied in sharah. The ideal Islamic state is therefore not an autocracy or a
theocracy, but rather a nomocracy, or government ruled by law. The state is perceived merely as a vehicle for
achieving security and order in ways conducive to Muslims attending to their religious duties, which are to
enjoin good and to prevent evil (al-amr bi al-marf wa al-nahy an al-munkar). Legislation is not really a
function of the state, for the (divine) law precedes the state and is not one of its products. The legal process is
confined to deducing detailed rules and akm (judgments) from the broader tenets of sharah. A certain
element of equilibrium and balance is presumed among three powers: the caliph as guardian of the community
and the faith; the ulam (religious scholars) involved in the function of rendering ift (religio-legal advice);
and the judges who settle disputes according to qa (religious laws).
The social functions of the state are the subject of very little attention. The concept of tadbr (administration;
management; possibly economy) is sometimes invoked, and the caliph is likened to a shepherd attending to his
flock, but this is less typical of the juridical writings. The concept of siysah (politics) itself was originally used
in the sense of dealing with livestock; its usage with regard to humans implies having to persuade or coerce the
presumably less wise and capable. The leader in such a case must possess a certain clout (shawkah; lit., power)
in order to secure obedience. The main function of the state in juridical Islamic writings is really ideological: the
state is an expression of a militant cultural mission that is religious in character and universalist in orientation.
The state has no cultural autonomy from the society; it has an emphasized moral content that does not recognize
any separation between private and public ethics and which accepts no physical or ethnic boundariesits
civilizational target is the entire world.
Although external conquests slowed in the Abbsid period, the universalist ideal came nearer to realization
through a process of internal islamization with the opening up of the non-Arab communities. The state became
less ethnically derived and more abstract and autonomous through the creation of a regular army and
differentiated administrative and financial institutions, while maintaining a cosmopolitan but broadly Islamic
character. Gradually, an Islamic political theory would be elaborated, premised on the principle of obedience to
the ruler and the necessity of avoiding civil strife. This theory would gradually owe less and less to the nomadic
egalitarian ethos and would become increasingly orientalized. From Iranian culture in particular the concept
was borrowed of a whole cosmology in which everything is arranged in a certain order, governed by a universal
principle of hierarchy: a hierarchy of things, of organs, of individuals and groups. Everyone has a proper
station and rank in a stable and happy order, with the caliph/king standing at the top of the social pyramid. His
authority is made to sound almost divine (he is now the successor of Godnot of Muammadon earth), and
opposition to him, bringing strife to the Islamic community, is made to sound tantamount to downright
blasphemy. And so it continued until the end of the eighteenth century.

Modern Intellectual Contributions.

It is possible to say that up to the beginning of the nineteenth century Muslims thought of politics in terms of the
ummah (a term originally connoting any ethnic or religious community but eventually becoming nearly
synonymous with the universal Islamic community) and of a caliphate or a sultanate (i.e., government or rule of
a more religious or a more political character, respectively). A concept of the state that might link the community
and the government was not to develop until later on. The term dawlah (used today to connote state in the
European sense) existed in the Qurn and was indeed used by medieval Muslim authors. However, in its verbal
form, the word originally meant to turn, rotate, or alternate. In the Abbsid and subsequent periods, it was
often used to describe fortunes, vicissitudes, or ups and downs (e.g., dlat dawlatuhu; his days have passed).
Gradually the word came to mean dynasty, and then, very recently, state. Al-ahw paved the way for a
territorial, rather than a purely communal, concept of the polity when he emphasized the idea of waan (or
fatherland, as expressed in the French, German, and Russian words patrie, Vaterland, and rodina). Nonetheless
he could not break away completely from the (religious) ummah concept, nor did he call for a national state in
the secular European sense. According to Bernard Lewis, the first time that the term dawlah (Tk., devlet) appears
in its modern meaning of state, as distinct from dynasty and government, is in a Turkish memorandum of
about 1837. See DAWLAH.
Islamic thinkers, however, were in no hurry to espouse this new concept of the state. This was because the
modern Middle East state system did not emerge until after World War I. Jaml al-Dn al-Afghn (18391897)
and Muammad Abduh (18491905), therefore, still spoke in terms of the Islamic ummah and its tight bond
(al-urwat al-wuthq) and of the Islamic ruler and his good conduct. Abd al-Ramn al-Kawkib (18541902)
went a step further by talking about the Islamic league (al-jmiah al-Islmyah) as a religious bond. He used the
term ummah not in an exclusively religious but sometimes in an ethnic sense and the term waan when he spoke
of what united Muslim with non-Muslim Arabs. He also distinguished between the politics and administration of
religion (al-dn) and the politics and administration of the kingdom (al-mulk), saying that in the history of
Islam the two had only united during the rshidn era and that of Caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Azz (r. 717720
The modern concept of the Islamic state emerged as a reaction and response to the demise of the last caliphate in
Turkey in 1924. Muammad Rashd Ri (18651935) started the move in that direction when, as a protest
against the Turkish decision after World War I to turn the caliphate into a purely spiritual authority, he published
his book Caliphate (al-Khilfah) or Grand Imamate, in which he argued that the caliphate had always been, and
should continue to be, a combination of spiritual and temporal authority. He called for an Arab khilfat urrah
(caliphate of necessity or urgency) and maintained that this would give both Muslim and non-Muslim Arabs a
state of their own.
The well-known dictum about Islam being a religion and a state (al-Islm dn wa dawlah) owes its origins to
the alarmed reaction in Muslim circles to the final abolition of the caliphate at a time when most Muslim
communities were suffering from territorial division under the impact of European colonialism. In 1925, the alAzhar shaykh, Al Abd al-Rziq (18881966) published his most controversial book, al-Islm wa ul al-ukm
(Islam and the principles of governance), in which he argued that Islam was a message not a government: a
religion not a state. Although there had been earlier indications of this idea (such as in the writings of the Syrian
Abd al-amd al-Zahrw [18711916]) the unambiguous, hard-hitting style of Abd al-Rziq's book was
unprecedented and provoked a vigorous reaction and an extremely heated debate that reverberates to this day.
Abd al-Razzq al-Sanhr (18951971) (the distinguished jurist who later codified Egyptian, Iraqi, and other
Arab civil laws in a modernized form combining sharah and European principles) could hardly ignore the
controversy over the abolition. In his book Le Califat (Paris, 1926) he called for a new caliphate to preside over a
general assembly composed of delegations from all Muslim countries and communities. Although al-Sanhr
was almost a secularist (or only a cultural Islamist), the contemporary writer Muammad Sad al-Ashmw
credits him with having coined the phrase al-Islm dn wa dawlah in an article published in 1929.
The intellectual evolution of the concept of al-Islm dn wa dawlah took another step forward about a decade
later. The political context was marked by British colonialism and the Indian-Pakistani writer Ab al-Al
Mawdd (19031979) was its major proponent. Indian Muslims had indeed reacted most vociferously to the
demise of the Ottoman caliphate by, among other things, forming the Khilfat movement. Partly the product of a
siege mentality, most of Mawdd's political ideas were developed in India in the turbulent period between 1937
and 1941. But whereas many saw the emergence of Pakistan as grounds for optimism, what Mawdd wanted
was not a Muslim state but an Islamic state, an ideological state run only by true believers on the basis of the
Qurn and sunnah. Consequently, Mawdd directed much of his writing against nationalism and against

democracy, because he believed that either or both would result in a non-Muslim government. A particular idea
that would be widely echoed was his Khawrij-inspired concept that al-kimyah (total absolute sovereignty)
should be for God alone, not for law and not for the people. Also influential was his emphasis on the Khawrij
Ibn Taymyah concept that what makes a Muslim is not simply acceptance of the credo (al-shahdatayn) that
there is no god but God and that Muammad is his Prophet, but rather active involvement in enforcing the
Islamic moral order on the legislative, political, and economic affairs of the society. He was also prominent in
agitating against the Pakistani Amad Muslim minority, and authored a polemic against them entitled The
Qdin Problem.
asan al-Bann (19061949), who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928, appeared to arrive at
similar if less-sweeping conclusions about a decade after the movement's formation. From a moralistic and
social emphasis, al-Bann began to move in a political direction and to speak in his Tracts (Cairo, n.d.) of an
Islamic nationalism that is far superior to any local nationalism. In line with the Islamic distaste for azb
(parties), connoting division not unity, he denied that the Muslim Brotherhood was a political party, but he
admitted that politics on the foundation of Islam is at the heart of our idea. To him Islam was everything: a
belief and a form of worship, a fatherland and a nationality, a religion and a state, spirituality and action, a book
and a sword. Such a formulation becomes even more extreme with his fellow Muslim Brother Abd al-Qdir
Awdah (d. 1954), according to whom Islam is also a religion and a state. The two are so blended that they
cannot be distinguished: the state in Islam has become the religion, and religion in Islam has become the state.
And just as religion is [the first] part of Islam, so is government the second partindeed it is the more
important part.
Sayyid Qub (19061966), another member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been a most influential figure for
contemporary political Islamists. Arrested with other Muslim Brotherhood leaders following a major
confrontation with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954 and sentenced to hard labor, he produced
much of his politically relevant literature in the harsh conditions of imprisonment. The key concept in this
discourse (especially as it appears in Signposts on the road [1964]) is undoubtedly that of jhilyah, total pagan
ignorance. Inspired partly by Ibn Taymyah but particularly by Mawdd, Qub gave this concept a universal
validity to cover all contemporary societies, including Muslim ones. To counter this sad state, the concept of
kimyah must be adopted in order to revolt fully against human rulership in all its shapes and forms
destroy the kingdom of man to establish the kingdom of God on earth and cancel human laws to establish the
supremacy of Divine law alone.
To achieve this goal, the jamah (an organic, dynamic community inspired by the early companions of the
Prophet) should be reformed in isolation from all polluting influences and according to a purely Islamic method
and culture (minhj Islm) that is purged of any non-Islamic influences, such as those of patriotism and
nationalism. Through jihd (struggle) and not through mere teaching and preaching, such a group will be able to
establish the kingdom of God on earth. It is only after establishing such a new Islamic order, and not before, that
one should worry about the detailed laws and systems of its government. Such radical ideas have since guided
several of the militant Islamic groups such as al-Qaida; groups that have set themselves the task of confronting
the existing secularist states, which they find both alien in their spirit and ineffectual in their performance.
The one theory on the Islamic state that was to have the most direct impact on actual government was, perhaps
ironically, that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran (19021989). Khomeini's most daring contribution to
the modern debate on the Islamic state was his idea that the essence of such a state was not so much its
compliance with religious laws as it was the special quality of its leadership. Muslims do not necessarily have to
wait indefinitely for the return of the twelfth imm (as in conventional Sh teaching) in order to have a just
government: an Islamic state can be established here and now, provided that its leadership come under wilyat
al-faqh (guardianship of the Islamic jurist). The obligatoriness of Islamic government, and more
particularly the requirement that a learned Islamic jurist should become the guardian of such a government, was
not based directly on the religious texts but was deduced from the logic of Islam as understood by Khomeini.
See WILYAT AL-FAQH. The important point to observe is that by shifting the emphasis from sharah to the
Islamic jurist, any act of rulership that the latter might deem appropriate could then be defined as Islamic. This
was indeed the case during the years of Khomeini's leadership of the Iranian Revolution (19791989) and was
particularly evident in his proclamations in January 1988, in which he argued that the Islamic state is a branch
of the absolute trusteeship of the Prophet and constitutes one of the primary ordinances of Islam which has
precedence over all other derived ordinances such as prayer, fasting and pilgrimage (Schirazi, p. 213). In other
words, reasons of state take precedence over the requirements of the sharah. Wilyat al-faqh (guardianship
of the Islamic jurist) was a minority position within the Sh seminaries when first articulated and three

decades under the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran has not added to its popularity among Sh

Contemporary Islamic States.

Further evidence for the thesis that the form of the state and the nature of government cannot be deduced directly
and unambiguously from the Qurn and the adths is provided by the fact that the few contemporary polities
that call themselves, or are taken to be, Islamic states are very different from each other in their most important
political aspects. Such countries might be similar in terms of applying so-called Islamic penalties (udd) or of
trying to avoid the receiving or giving of banking interest taken to be forbidden (usury, or rib), yet they are very
different from each other with regard to their political forms and constitutional arrangements. Nor do they
usually have mutual recognition of each other as being Islamic states.
Saudi Arabia is taken to be the earliest contemporary Islamic state, dating at least to the early 1930s. It is a
monarchy (a form considered un-Islamic or even anti-Islamic by many), although the king has recently dropped
the title of his royal majesty and replaced it with the more Islamic one of Khdim al-aramayn (servant of
the two sanctuaries) of Mecca and Medina. Saudi Arabia owes its origins to tribal conquests and alliances, and
it continues to rely on tribal solidarity to maintain the cohesion of the regime. It does not have a constitution (the
Qurn being its fundamental law), nor does it have a parliament or political parties, although it has a modernlooking cabinet and bureaucracy. Socially, it is extraordinarily conservative, although in terms of employment
and services it functions in many ways as a welfare state. What gives the state its Islamic character is mainly the
role of its ulam, who, following a strict anbal/Wahhb tradition, exercise an unmistakable influence by
issuing fatws (counsel) on social and political matters, controlling sharah courts, and directing the morals
Islamic Iran, by contrast, is a republic with a constitution, a president, a parliament, a cabinet, bureaucracy, a
court system along with regular elections (for regime loyalists); none of these institutions is particularly Islamic.
The current state owes its existence to a multi-class popular revolution within which the religious wing, led by a
politicized segment of the Sh ulam, was able to assume the upper hand. Islam played a mobilizing role and
Khomeini's discourse made it possible to combine social conservatism with populism and political radicalism
and to construct a basically tatist economy in post-revolutionary Iran. The distinct features of such a regime
have been the role of an Islamic jurist as the Leader of the Islamic Republic, the high representation of clerics
in the parliament (majlis) and the court system, the key part they perform in the Guardian Council and the
Assembly of Experts, and the important role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the Basj
paramilitary corps.
Two decades after the 1979 revolution, the consensus on what constituted legitimate political authority among
the Islamist supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini was shattered and Iranian society found itself engaged in full
scale internal debate about the relationship between religion and democracy, tradition and modernity, reason and
revelation, an Islamic state versus a liberal-democratic state. This coincided with the reformist presidency of
Mohamed Khatami and a more tolerant atmosphere for publishing, political and cultural criticism, and civil
society activity that emerged during his first term as president.
Two figures stand out: the philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush (Abd al-Karm Sursh) and the theologian Mohsen
Kadivar (Musin Kadvar). In a series of influential lectures, articles and books, in particular his magnum opus,
Qab va bas-i tirk-i sharat (Hermeneutical contraction and expansion of sharah), Soroush sought to
separate religion (which is pristine and divinely inspired) from religious knowledge (which is subject to human
interpretation and is fallible). The political consequences of this argument were profound as it undermined the
ruling ethos of the Islamic Republic by suggesting that there can never be an official interpretation of Islam by
an Islamic jurist or council of clerics. Kadivar's attack was more bold, direct, and penetrating. In a series of
influential books in the late 1990s, he provided an exhaustive critique of Khomeini's doctrine of wilyat al-faqh
that garnered him publicity and eventually landed him in jail. Relying exclusively on Sh sources, Kadivar
launched a solid theological and scholarly refutation of the ruling ethos of the Islamic state while simultaneously
remaining within the bounds of Sh jurisprudence. Kadivar's argument in Naaryah-yi dawlat dar fiqh-i
Sh (Theses on the state in Sh jurisprudence) was that Khomeini's theory on the guardianship of the Islamic
jurist was simply one thesis among many that Sh theologians have expounded over the years, ranging from a
religious justification of monarchy to democracy and thus can in no way be considered the definitive or
authoritative political model for the Sh school of jurisprudence. In his follow-up and more controversial book,

ukmat-i valy (Government by mandate), Kadivar painstakingly investigated and refuted Khomeini's
doctrine of government by divine mandate by arguing that Khomeini's religio-political thesis, upon
investigation, does not stand up to critical scrutiny even from within the paradigm of Sh Islamic religious and
political thought. He writes:
"The principle of velayat-e faqih [wilyat al-faqh] is neither intuitively obvious nor rationally necessary. It is
neither a requirement of religion (din) [dn] nor a necessity for denomination (madhhab). It is neither a part of
the Sh general principles (osul) [ul] nor a component of the detailed observance (foru) [fur ]. It is, by near
consensus of Sh ulama [ulam], nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis."
(Kadivar, Hukumat-iValy, 237).
Sudan is another country where the establishment of an Islamic state was attempted by a military regime, in this
case the process was resumed later by another military regime. Jafar Nimeiri's regime (19691985) started with
distinct socialist and Arabist leanings but was tempted, with the escalation in its economic and political
problems, to adopt an increasingly Islamist orientation, in alliance with the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood led
by asan al-Turb. In 19831984 the application of sharah laws was announced, combined with sweeping
powers for Nimeiri himself, stipulated in the emergency law of 1984. Courts were hurriedly formed, summarily
handing down severe punishments, including limb amputations. The escalating socioeconomic crisis and the
growing resistance in the non-Muslim South, combined with Nimeiri's eccentric arbitrariness, resulted in a
popular uprising that ousted him in 1985. But the Islamic movement had utilized its period in government with
Nimeiri to consolidate its organization and to spread its influence within the country's institutions, including the
army. This enabled the movement to win in various syndicate and political elections. When Lieutenant-General
Umar al-Bashr installed another military regime in 1989, it was markedly influenced by the National Islamic
Yet another variety of regime claiming to construct an Islamic state has its origins in a military coup dtat.
Pakistan under the military dictator Zia ul-Haq (r. 19771988) is one such example. The military regime
attempted to derive political legitimacy from its program of Islamization. Initiating the process in 1980, an
Islamic legal code, to be applied through sharah courts, was issued by decree, but this was strongly resisted by
the Shs and scorned by the women's movement. Tightly controlled elections were held without functioning
political parties. Interest-free banking was declared but faced serious difficulties, and commissions were formed
for the Islamization of the economy and of education. Such moves were halted by Zia's death in a plane crash in
1988, but the Islamization trend has continued its momentum. The government of Nawaz Sharif was brought to
power in 1990 with a coalition including the Jamat-i Islm, Jamyatul Ulam-i Islm, and Jamyatul
Ulam-i Pkistn. The political mobilization of the masses by the Islamic parties during the Gulf crisis of
19901991 and the formation of a United Sharah Front prompted Sharif to introduce his own sharah bill for
Islamizing the state, which was duly given the vote of approval by the National Assembly. The process of
Islamizing the state initiated under military rule was therefore continued by a government brought to power by
The program of Islamization in Pakistan has resulted in a strengthening of exclusionary sectarian Sunn and Sh
identities. The Pakistani Sunn paramilitary organization, Sipah-e Sahaba founded in 1985 has called for the
Pakistani state to declare Sh non-Muslim, and engaged in campaigns of violence. Its founder Mawlana Haq
Nawaz Jhangvi had earlier participated in agitations against Amad Muslims who were declared non-Muslims
by the Pakistani state in 1971.
The Taliban, an Afghan militia organization, seized and held control of a large portion of Afghanistan from 1994
to 2001. It proclaimed itself to be an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Lurking behind the pronouncement of an
Islamic Emirate was a tribal faade that represented the power and influence of Afghan Pashtuns over other
Afghan tribes. The Taliban have had close ties with Pakistani Sunn Deobands, and many of the Taliban
leadership trained with them. It has periodically issued constitutions, which set forth their ideology undergirding
a uniquely harsh and punitive sharah-based state.
Al-Qaida is the most prominent example of de-territorialized jihd organizations that rationalize a call to
violence with the goal of creating an Islamic sharah state. That rhetoric is exemplified in the pronouncements
of Osama bin Laden. This vision is predicated upon the assumption that existing Muslim states will be subsumed
within a unitary caliphate state for the entire Muslim ummah.

It should be clear from these cases that although so-called Islamic states may adopt similar practices with regard
to moral and social issues (pertaining to the family, gender, dress, alcohol, and so forth) there is little similarity
in the political features of such states or even in their socioeconomic orientations.
Mainstream political Islamists argue that there is a distinct Islamic model of the state and government whose
immediate application is mandatory. Their main textual evidence is the verses of the Qurn that condemn those
who do not judge according to what God has revealed: Wa man lam yakum bim anzala Allhu fa-ulika
hum al-kfirn (And for those who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are,
indeed, unbelievers of the truth). The most crucial word here is yakumu. This expresses the related notions of
judgment and wisdom, and in the verb form it means to judge or adjudicate. The use of the term
ukmah to mean government is much more recent, apparently not predating the nineteenth century. Islamists
would like nonetheless to impute the modern meaning of government to this Qurnic term. They also assert that
Islam, unlike Christianity, never had a priestly class, and that Christianity's priestly class, especially during the
medieval period, was tyrannical and hostile to science, unlike Islam. Islamists also argue that Islam from its very
inception was both a state and religion.
On the question of non-Muslim minorities and citizenship in an Islamic state there is ambiguity. Centrist
Islamists would afford full citizenship to non-Muslim minorities except that key government posts such as head
of state would be occupied by a Muslim. Others are not so generous; when asked to enumerate the political
features of such an Islamic state or government, they either evade the question or speak in vague generalities.
One development, however, was the release in October 2007 of a draft political platform by the Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood which envisions a council of religious experts to oversee government. This bears a striking
resemblance to the Guardian Council in Iran. In both cases the concern is to ensure the Islamic character of any
new political order by dividing sovereignty between various institutions of the state.
Generally, the goal to define the proper relation between Islam and the state remains a central and unresolved
question. Among the chief questions are whether or not revealed sacred text is the exclusive or principle source
of political legitimacy, and whether or not government should enforce a particular religious doctrine. The events
of 9/11 and the war in Iraq have strengthened Islamist movements globally. Though their ideological positions
vary greatly and are contingent upon local circumstances, they all insist on the primacy of the sharah, even
though they may interpret it in vastly different ways. Secularist discourses, particularly in the Arab world,
remain marginal, but are influential, paradoxically, because they provoke an Islamist backlash.
Support for the ideal of an Islamic state today needs to be situated against the broad failure of the secular postcolonial Muslim-majority state. Although there are a few countries that may qualify as exceptions, such as
Turkey and Indonesia, most states in the Muslim world today have been characterized by corruption, cronyism,
authoritarianism, and varying degrees of political repression. It is in this context that the Islamic state option
appears most attractive. At times, Muslim political identity today is formed in opposition to and rejection of the
West. Thus Western support for secularism and liberal democracy, while it pursues foreign polices that are
viewed as inimical to Muslim interests, engenders a reactive oppositional Muslim political identity. The
consequences of this identity construction lend support to the abstract idea of an Islamic state as an alternative
to Western models. Following the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, both in the name of liberal
democracy, the sentiments and the desire for an Islamic state are destined to attract increasing support across
the Muslim world.


Abd al-Rziq, Al. al-Islm wa ul al-ukm. Cairo, 1966. An explosive slender volume that
enunciates a reading of Islam, it is at odds with the conventional wisdom of the time and the newly
forming orthodoxy of political Islam.
Abdul-Haqq Ansari, Muhammad, ed.Ibn Taymyah Expounds on Islam: Selected Writings of Shaykh alIslam Taq al-Dn ibn Taymyah on Islamic Faith, Life, and Society. Riyadh. 2002. A Saudi rendering
of Ibn Taymyah's writings on Islam, government and society.
Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Constitutionalism and the Islamic Sunni Legacy.UCLA Journal of Islamic and
Near Eastern Law1 (Fall/Winter 2001/02), 67101. Explores the potential of Sunn political thought to
promote or subvert the emergence of constitutional practices in Muslim cultures.

Abou El Fadl, Khaled. Islam and the Challenge of Democracy. Edited by Joshua Cohen and Deborah
Chasman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004. An argument for liberal democracy from within
the framework of Islamic values.
Affendi, Abdelwahab, el-. On the State, Democracy and Pluralism, in Islamic Thought in the
Twentieth Century. Edited by Basheer Nafi and Suha Taji-Farouki. New York: I.B. Tauris, 2004. An
excellent overview of the twentieth-century debate on religion and state in the Muslim world.
Affendi, Abdelwahab, el-. Who needs an Islamic state?London, 1991. A critique of the ideology of an
Islamic state drawn from contemporary failures.
Afsaruddin, Asma. The Islamic state: Genealogy, Facts, and Myths.Journal of Church and State48,
no. 1 (January 2006). A useful debunking of the twentieth century ideological construction of the
Islamic state.
Ahmad, Eqbal. Islam and politics, in The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad. Edited by Carollee
Bengelsdorf, Margaret Cerullo, and Yogesh Chandrani. New York, 2006. An essay that critically
explores the historical understanding of the relation between Islam and state.
Akhavi, Shahrough. Iran: Implementation of an Islamic State, in Islam in Asia: Religion, Politics and
Society. Edited by John Esposito. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. Excellent examination of
the relevant historical background and the development of the Islamic Republic of Iran including a
discussion of clergy-state relations, political mobilization, and the implementation of Islamic law.
Ali, Souad. A Religion, Not a State: Abd al-Raziq's Islamic Justification of Political Secularism. Utah,
2008. A compelling study on the ideas and receptivity to Abd al-Rziq's conception of a secular
Islamic state.
Ashmw, Muammad Sad al-. Al-Islm al-sys (Political Islam). Cairo, 1987. The best
contemporary refutation of the dictum dn wa dawlah.
Ayubi, Nazih N.Al-Arab wa-mushkilt al-dawlah (The Arabs and the problem of the state). London,
1992. Study of the ways Arab writers have conceptualized the state.
Ayubi, Nazih N.Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World. London and New York, 1991.
Study of the intellectual sources, social origins, and political attitudes of the Islamists, who contend that
Islam has a theory of politics and the state, the implementation of which is mandatory.
Bayat, Asef. Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn. Stanford, Calif.,
2007. The author argues that Islamist movements are moving into a post-Islamist and less ideological
Brown, L. Carl. Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics. New York: Columbia University
Press, 2000. A good introduction to Muslim politics from a comparative historical perspective. Key
theoreticians of political Islam are introduced and explained.
Crone, Patricia. God's Rule: Government and Islam: Six Centuries of Medieval Islamic Political
Thought. Columbia University Press, 2005.
de Waal, Alex, ed.Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 2004.
Donohue, John J., and John L. Esposito, eds.Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives. New York,
1982. Good, balanced selection of excerpts by Muslim and Islamic authors.
Enayat, Hamid. Modern Islamic political thought. New York: Palgrave, 2005. Excellent introduction to
Sunn and Sh political ideas in the modern period.
Esposito, John L., ed.Voices of Resurgent Islam. New York and Oxford, 1983. Useful mix of analytic
and polemical articles on Islamic identity and Islamic resurgence.
Fealy, Greg, and Greg, Barton. Nahdlatul Ulama, Traditional Islam and Modernity in Indonesia.
Clayton, Australia, 1996. An excellent survey of Indonesian Islamic modernist political thought.
Feldman, Noah. The fall and rise of the Islamic State. Princeton, 2008. An interpretative analysis of
Islamic constitutional history emphasizing the role of the ulam in balancing executive power; the
collapse of this check in the period of Ottoman reform, and the consequences for modern majorityMuslim states.
Gallab, Abdullahi A.The First Islamist Republic: Development and Disintegration of Islamism in the
Sudan. Aldershot, England; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2008. Explores Islamism within the context of
Sudanese politics.
Hashemi, Nader. Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theroy for Muslim
Societies.New York:Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
Ibn Taymyah, Taq al- Dn Amad. Al-siysah al-sharyah. Beirut, 1983. Major classic by a medieval
jurist with great influence on modern political Islamists.

Imrah, Muammad. Al-Islm wa-al-sulah al-dnyah (Islam and religious authority). Cairo, 1970.
Balanced treatment of the relationship between religion and state in Islam.
Jbir, Muammad bid al-. Al-aql al-siys al-Arab (The Arab political mind). Beirut, 1990.
Interesting study of Islamic political thought and how it has been influenced by tribal and religious
factors and by the modes of production.
Kadivar, Mohsen. ukmat-i valy (Government by mandate). Tehran: Nashr-i Ney, 1999.
Kadivar, Mohsen. Naaryah-yi dawlat dar fiqh-e Sh (Theories of government in the Sh
jurisprudence). Tehran, 1999. Scholarly treatment of key positions by leading Sh theologians on the
question of government.
Kerr, Malcolm H.Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muammad Abduh and Rashd
Ri. Berkeley, calif., 1966. Subtle treatment of the ideas of two influential Islamic thinkers.
Khatab, Sayed. The Power of Sovereignty: The Political and Ideological Philosophy of Sayyid Qub.
New York, 2006. An excellent look at Sayyid Qub's idea of political sovereignty.
Khomeini, Ruhollah. Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Translated
and annotated by Hamid Algar. Berkeley, Calif.: Mizan Press, 1981. An authoritative translation of
Khomeini's key writings including his argument for Islamic Government.
Kull, Ann. Piety and Politics: Nurcholish Madjid and his Interpretation of Islam in Modern Indonesia.
Lund, Sweden, 2005. An exploration of the ideas of the Indonesian modernist thinker Nurcholish
Lambton, Ann K. S.State and Government in Medieval Islam. Oxford, 1981. Solid but very dated
introduction to the political theory of the Islamic jurists.
Lewis, Bernard. The Political Language of Islam. Chicago and London, 1988. Useful, technically
competent monograph.
Maudoodi, Syed Abul Ala. The Islamic Law and Constitution. Lahore: Islamic Publications, 1960.
Mawdd, Sayyid Ab al- Al. Al-ukmah al-Islmyah (Islamic Government). Jiddah, 1984.
Influential statement of the Islamic state position. English translations also available.
Naim, Abdullahi Ahmed an-. Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Sharah.
Cambridge, Mass., 2008.
Qub, Sayyid. Malim f al-arq (Signposts on the road). New ed.Damascus and Qom, 1985. Main
statement on the alterity of the contemporary social and political order and the necessity of a
complete Islamic reversal.
Rasheed, Madawi al-. Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation. New York,
2007. A textured study of the contestation of political and religious ideology within Saudi state and
Sadri, Mahmoud. Sacral Defense of Secularism: Dissident Political Theology in Iran, in Intellectual
Trends in Twentieth-Century Iran: A Critical Survey. Edited by Negin Nabavi. Gainesville: University
Press of Florida, 2003. A short but succinct introduction to the writings of Mohsen Kadivar in English.
Schirazi, Asghar. The Constitution of Iran: Politics and the State in the Islamic Republic, translated by
John OKane. New York: I.B. Tauris, 1997.
Soroush, Abdolkarim. Qab va bas-e tirk-i sharat (Hermeneutical contraction and expansion of
sharah). Tehran: Muassasah-i Farhang ir, 1990. The key philosophical tract from Iran's leading
reformist philosopher and theoretician.
Soroush, Abdolkarim. Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam, Edited by Mahmoud and Ahmad
Sadri. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Excellent translation and introduction to the writings
of Iran's leading reformist philosopher.
Watt, Montgomery. Islamic Political Thought. Edinburgh, 1998. A good survey to early Islamic
political thought.
Zubaida, Sami. Is Iran an Islamic State? in Political Islam: Essays from Middle East Report. Edited
by Joel Beinin and Joe Stork. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997. A critical examination of
Iran as an Islamic state that challenges the received wisdom.

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