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The Baseless Doctrine of Vicegerency of Man
Political Issues
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)

The doctrine of vicegerency of man has, over the years, remained the basis of Muslim political thought. In this regard, some of our scholars have also coined the term of ‘popular vicegerency’ as against ‘popular sovereignity’ of a democratic order. According to this doctrine, every man has been delegated some powers by the Almighty and as such he is His deputy on earth. We are afraid that the doctrine has no basis at all in the Qur’ān. The verse most often quoted in its support is the one which goes against it the most. We quote from the Qur’ān:

“I am going to make a Khalīfah in the earth.” (2:30)

The word Khalīfah in the Arabic language has two meanings:

1) a person who succeeds someone by assuming his position of power and authority.

2) A person vested with power and authority.

The exponents of this doctrine attribute the first meaning to the word Khalīfah in the above verse, as indeed they do wherever the verse occurs in the Qur’ān. In our opinion, in this verse, the word Khalīfah has been used in the second meaning ie. a person vested with power and authority. Linguistically, it is not possible to adopt the first meaning. Grammatical principles dictate that the word Khalīfah which actually occurs as a common noun in the verse, should have either been defined by the article alif laam or by a determining noun (mudhaaf ‘ilaih) if the first meaning were to be attributed to it.

Someone may question whether the word has ever been used in the second meaning ie. ‘a person vested with power and authority’ in the Arabic language. The following verses of the Qur’ān, the most authentic Arabic work, conclusively use the word in this meaning:

“And remember when He made you Khulafā [people vested with authority] after Noah’s folks.” (7:69)

“O Dawood! We have made you a Khalīfah [a person vested with authority] on the earth, so rule with justice among men.” (38:26)

The verb istakhlafa derived from Khalīfah is also used in the same meaning:

“Allah has promised those among you who have accepted faith [in the actual sense] and have done righteous deeds, that He will make them Khalīfah in this land as He had made their ancestors Khalīfah before them [ie bestowed them with political authority].” (24:55)

The people of ‘Ād have been addressed in the first of the above verses, as is evident from its context. It is a historically proven fact that there exists a time lapse of many centuries between the People of ‘Ād and the People of Noah, during which many other nations arose to a position of political ascendancy. Moreover, the places where these two nations gained power were in totally different parts of the Arabian peninsula. Keeping in view these historical facts the first meaning cannot be attributed to the word Khulafāa in this verse. In the second and third verses similar contradictions result if the word is used in the conventional meaning. In the second verse, why is the Almighty singling out the Prophet David as His Khalīfah when according to the doctrine every man on earth is God’s Khalīfah? Again, in the third verse, howcome the believers are being promised khilaafat, a position they already have by birth.?

It would be appropriate here to point out that the second meaning ie. ‘a person who succeeds someone by assuming his position of power and authority’ is actually a developed form of the first ie. ‘a person vested with power and authority’. Such developments in the meaning of a word often occur in a language, which is always under a state of evolution. The word waarith and mīrāth can be presented as examples. Waarith originally means ‘an heir ie. the owner of a legacy’. But it also means ‘an owner’ simply, as is evident from the following Qur’ānic verse:

“Indeed, We give life and death and We are the Waarith [Owners] of all.” (15:23)

It would be quite ridiculous to interpret the verse in the light of the first meaning.

Similarly the word mīrāth originally means ‘inheritance’. But the following Qur’ānic verse clearly testifies that it also means ‘possession’:

“And the heavens and the earth are the mīrāth [possessions] of Allah and Allah is aware of your deeds.” (3:180)

Again, if the first meaning is attributed to mīrāth in this verse, an absurd interpretation would result.

Apart from these linguistic considerations, if the doctrine is viewed purely on the grounds of common sense, it contradicts the very concept it stands for. According to the doctrine man is the deputy of God on earth because God has delegated some powers to him. It should be kept in mind that a person who deputizes for someone actually uses some of his powers on his behalf. Also, due to this delegation of powers someone who originally had the powers is no longer in a position to exercise them. Immediately, a question tickles the mind: What exactly are the powers the Almighty has authorised man to exercise on His Own behalf, which as a consequence, He no longer has? The answer is obvious and as often the most ignored: Not one example can be cited in this regard. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that the doctrine is a logical fallacy.

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