Islam and state: Conflict and compatibility with modern democracy


Dr Shujaat Ali Quadri

Since the very advent of Islam and the early life of first generation of Muslims, the role of scholars and their relations with the daily functioning of the state has been subject of historical curiosity and legal correctness. While many experts of Islam have seen Islamic scholarship as synonymous with Islamic governance, others have viewed Islam or the scholarship based on its laws and the state as two separate entities. Similarly, there have never been examples that renowned scholar of the day supported any unjust ruler or interfere state governance. In fact, on deeper scrutiny, Islam seems comfortably compatible with modern democracy.
The question of ‘Islam versus the state’ has assumed enormous importance as this binary has been at the centre stage of many an Islamic conflict of our age. The situation which has been created today for Islam and Muslims in the whole world by certain extremist organisations is an evil consequence of the ideology taught in particular religious seminaries, and also propagated day and night by Islamic movements and religious political parties like Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat e Islami.

Message of Islam
The message of Islam is primarily addressed to an individual. It wants to rule the hearts and minds of people. The directives it has given to the society are also addressed to individuals who are fulfilling their responsibilities as the rulers of Muslims. Hence, it is baseless to think that a state also has a religion and there is a need to Islamise it. People who presented this view and were successful in having it implemented actually laid the foundations of a permanent division in the nation states of these times: it gave the message to the non-Muslims that they are in fact second rate citizens who at best occupy the status of a protected minority and that if they want to demand anything from the real owners of the state must do this in this capacity of theirs. This position will put off anyone who is interested to know Islam or live in a society governed by Islamic laws.

Khilafah versus brotherhood
Neither is khilafah a religious term nor its establishment at the global level a directive of Islam. After the first century hijrah, when celebrated jurists of the Muslims were among them, two separate Muslim kingdoms, the Abbasid kingdom in Baghdad and the Umayyad kingdom in Spain had been established and remained established for many centuries. However, none of these jurists regarded this state of affairs to be against the Islamic Shari’ah. The reason is that there is not a single directive found on this issue in the Qur’an and the Hadith. On the contrary, what everyone does say is that if at any place a state is established, rebelling against it is a heinous crime. Such is the horrific nature of this crime that the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said that a person who does so dies the death of jahiliyyah.
The basis of nationhood in Islam is not Islam itself, as is generally understood. At no place in the Qur’an and Hadith has it been said that Muslims must become one nation. On the contrary, what the Qur’an has said is: (49: 10) اِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُوْنَ اِخْوَةٌ (All Muslims are brothers to one another, (49:10)). Thus the relationship between Muslims is not based on nationhood; it is rather based on brotherhood. While being divided into several nations, countries and states they are brothers in faith. Hence, what can be demanded from them is that they should keep themselves aware of the circumstances of their brothers, help them in their troubles and tribulations, support those who are oppressed among them, give them preference in economic and social ties and in no circumstances close their doors on them. However, what cannot be demanded from them is that they give up their nation states and national identities and become one nation and one state. Just as they can create separate nation states, in the same way if they have the freedom to follow their religion, they can live in the capacity of citizens of non-Muslim states and adopt their nationality. None of this is forbidden by the Qur’an and Sunnah.
If some Muslims of the world declare themselves as Muslims and, in fact, insist on this and adopt a belief or deed which is not approved by one or more scholars or the rest of the Muslims, then this deed or belief of theirs can be regarded as incorrect and even a deviation and departure from Islam, yet these people cannot be regarded as non-Muslims or disbelievers (kuffar) because these people adduce their views from the Qur’an and Hadith. For the ruling of God on such beliefs and deeds, we must wait for the Day of Judgement. Their proponents in this world in accordance with their own acknowledgement are Muslims, must be regarded as Muslims and must be dealt with in the same way as a Muslim is dealt with. It is the right of the scholars to point out their mistake, to invite them to accept what is correct, to regard what they find as constituting polytheism and disbelief in their ideology and also inform people about all this. However, no one has the right to declare them as non-Muslims or to ostracise them from the Muslim community because only God can give this right to someone, and everyone who has knowledge of the Qur’an and Hadith knows that God has not given this right to anyone.

Mutual consultation, or shura, or democracy
Centuries before the thinkers of the present age, the Qur’an had declared: اَمْرُهُم شُوْرٰی بَينَهُمْ (42: 38) (the affairs of the Muslims are run on the basis of their mutual consultation, (42:38). This clearly meant that an Islamic government would be established through their consultation, everyone would have equal rights in this consultation, whatever done through consultation could only be undone through consultation and every individual would become part of the consultative process. Moreover, if a decision could be reached through a consensus or total agreement, then the opinion of the majority would be accepted as the decision.
This is precisely what democracy is. Thus dictatorship is not acceptable in any case whether it is of a dynasty or a group or of a national institution and not even of religious scholars in the interpretation of issues related to religion and Shari’ah. These scholars indeed have the right to present their views and express their opinions; however, their view can only become a law for the people to follow when the majority of the elected representatives accept it. In modern states, the institution of the parliament has been constituted for this very purpose. It holds and should hold the final authority in the system of a state. People do have a right to criticize the decisions of the parliament and point out their mistakes; however, no one has the right to disobey them or rebel against them. Neither scholars nor the Judiciary is above the Parliament. The principle of اَمْرُهُم شُوْرٰی بَينَهُمْ (42: 38) binds every individual and every institution to practically submit to the decisions of the parliament even though they may differ with them.

(The Author is Chairman of Muslim Students organization of India)

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