Friday, December 30, 2011

Two political principles of Islam

Above: a woman casts vote in the elections in Iran, 2010

This is the third part of Iqbal's paper 'Political Thought in Islam' (1908). Parts 1 and 2 were presented earlier.
Before, however, I proceed to describe these theories [Sunni, Shia and Khwarij theories of Muslim politics], I want to draw attention to the following two points:

1. That the Muslim Commonwealth is based on the absolute equality of all Muslims in the eye of the law. There is no privileged class, no priesthood, no caste system. In his latter days the Prophet once ascended the pulpit and said to the people: "Muslims! If I have struck any one of you, here is my back that he may strike me. If anyone has been wronged by me let him return injury for injury. If I have taken anybody's goods, all that I have is at his disposal". A man arose and claimed a debt of three dirhams (about three shillings). "I would rather", said the Prophet, "have this shame in this world than in the next." And he paid him on the spot.

The law of Islam does not recognise the apparently natural differences of race, nor the historical differences of nationality. The political ideal of Islam consists in the creation of a people born of a free fusion of all races and nationalities. Nationality, with Islam, is not the highest limit of political development; for the general principles of the law of Islam rest on human nature, not on the peculiarities of a particular people. The inner cohesion of such a nation would consist not in ethnic or geographic unity, not in the unity of language or social tradition, but in the unity of the religious and political ideal; or, in the psychological fact of "like-mindedness," as St. Paul would say. The membership of this nation, consequently, would not be determined by birth, marriage, domicile or naturalisation. It would be determined by a public declaration of "like-mindedness" and would terminate when the individual has ceased to be like-minded with others. The ideal territory for such a nation would be the whole earth. The Arabs, like the Greeks and the Romans, endeavoured to create such a nation or the world-state by conquest, but failed to actualise their ideal. The realisation of this ideal, however, is not impossible; for the ideal nation does already exist in germ. The life of modern political communities finds expression, to a great extent, in common institutions, Law and Government; and the various sociological circles, so to speak, are continually expanding to touch one another. Further, it is not incompatible with the sovereignty of individual States, since its structure will be determined, not by physical force, but by the spiritual force of a common ideal.

2. That according to the law of Islam there is no distinction between the Church and the State. The State with us is not a combination of religious and secular authority, but it is unity in which no such distinction exists. The Caliph is not necessarily the high priest of Islam; he is not the representative of God on earth. He is fallible like other men, and is subject, like every Muslim, to the impersonal authority of the same law. The Prophet himself is not regarded as absolutely infallible by many Muhammadan theologians (e.g. Abu Ishaq, Tabari). In fact, the idea of personal authority is quite contrary to the spirit of Islam. The Prophet of Arabia succeeded in commanding the absolute submission of an entire people; yet no man has depreciated his own authority more than he. "I am," he says, "a man like you; like you my forgiveness also depends on the mercy of God." Once in a moment of spiritual exaltation, he is reported to have said to one of his companions, "Go and tell the people - he who says there is only one God will enter the paradise", studiously omitting the second half of the Muslim creed - "And Muhammad is his prophet". The ethical importance of this attitude is great. The whole system of Islamic ethics is based on the idea of individuality; anything, which tends to repress the healthy development of individuality, is quite inconsistent with the spirit of Islamic law and ethics. A Muslim is free to do anything he likes, provided he does not violate the law. The general principles of this law are believed to have been revealed, the details, in order to cover the relatively secular cases, are left to the interpretation of professional lawyers. It is, therefore, true to say that the entire fabric of Islamic law, actually administered, is really judge-made law, so that the lawyer performs the legislative function in the Muslim constitution. If, however, an absolutely new case arises which is not provided for in the law of Islam, the will of the whole Muslim community becomes a further source of law. But I do not know whether a general council of the whole Muslim community was ever held for this purpose.

To be continued on Tuesday


  1. As soon as western secular democracy removed ruling authority from the church they were digging their own graves... ok the church laws are not based on authentic scripture but what remains of the churches teachings has to be better then man made laws. I'm just glad we have Qur'an and Sunnah... Alhamdullilah

  2. I must say Mr. Shafique After reading, the two political principles of Islam,I feel this is a very important fact for all of us to know and remember.