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The Political Directives of Islam
Political Issues
Dr. Shehzad Saleem


During the past two centuries, a lot has been written and said about the political philosophy of Islam. In particular, subsequent to the dismemberment of the institution of Khilāfat in the first quarter of the last century, which signaled the end of the great Ottoman Empire in Turkey, Muslim scholarship endeavored to frame and formulate the political set-up envisaged by Islam. Without taking anything away from this enterprise, this effort would have been more fruitful and productive had it not been for one misconception: Islam provides a complete political system requiring only implementation in favorable circumstances. In spite of the tremendous amount of work being produced in this regard, Muslim scholarship today appears defeated in part because of this misconception. This misconception, can, seemingly, only be removed if the whole issue is approached and reviewed with primary attention on the Qur’ān and Sunnah.

We must appreciate that man has been blessed with the faculty of intellect and reason, as well as with innate guidance regarding good and evil. In the affairs of life, his intellect and innate guidance are generally enough to guide and show him the righteous way. It is only at certain crossroads that he needs divine guidance to assist in choosing the right course. In addition, at these crossroads, a detailed system of directives has not been divinely revealed to guide mankind: only a broad outline has been given comprised of a set of rules and regulations which must be adhered to. With this in mind, intellect and reason must evolve a system suited to the requirements and needs of a society. Since these requirements vary with time and place, the resulting systems will also vary accordingly. However, these systems shall be based on the same set of rules and regulations. In other words, the law, which is a set of rules and regulations is divine and, therefore, eternal, but the system administering this law is a human inference and, therefore, flexible. This flexibility, obviously, has been left to accommodate changing circumstances and evolutionary developments in human societies.

Therefore, instead of extracting a political system from the Qur’ān and Sunnah which, of course, does not exist, dedicated efforts should be made by Muslim scholars to understand the political law of Islam. The task of formulating a system on its basis should be left to political scientists and to those who understand the intricacies of this field.



Working on the pattern outlined above, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi (b:1951), has attempted to derive the political law of Islam from the Qur’ān and Sunnah. Some of the important issues he has discussed and the conclusions he has drawn are summarized below:

First, the form of government envisaged by Islam is neither a theocracy nor a monarchy. It is more akin to democracy as a Muslim government comes into existence on the basis of a public mandate and continues to exist as long as it commands the support of the majority.

The second issue which is somewhat linked to the first pertains to the interpretation of the Hadīth ‘اَلاَِْئمَّةُ مِنْ قُرَيْش’ ([After me], the rulers shall be from the Quraysh). Regarding this Hadīth, most Muslim authorities are of the opinion that the ruler of an Islamic State must belong to the tribe of Quraysh. Ghamidi argues that this Hadīth must be understood on the basis of the Qur’ānic verse: ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation). An obvious corollary of this verse is that in case of a difference of opinion in any matter, the opinion of the majority shall prevail. Therefore, in the election of a Muslim ruler, the person who commands the support of the majority shall stand elected. Consequently, in his opinion, the Prophet (sws) has only applied this principle in the circumstances which prevailed in Arabia in his times and has stated the result in the above mentioned Hadīth. It is evident that after the conquest of Makkah, the Quraysh held the support of the majority; consequently, they were considered eligible for this position of authority. Similarly, in the election of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs this principle was also adhered to. Today, only that person shall be elected to rule who enjoys the support of the majority. In other words, the Hadīth stated above is only an application of the Qur’ānic principle of ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation) in the period of the Prophet (sws) and as such is not a universal directive.

The third issue concerns the conditions of citizenship, which, when fulfilled, permit a Muslim’s participation in the affairs of state through stating his opinion whenever it is required. The Qur’ān explicitly states that once a person establishes the prayer and pays Zakāh, he shall legally be regarded as a Muslim and be entitled to all the rights a Muslim has in an Islamic State. As far as non-Muslims are concerned, the Sharī‘ah has not legislated anything regarding the nature of their citizenship. It has left their matter to specific circumstances and to international agreements and accords that may exist.

The fourth issue relates to the extent of legislation which can be done by the parliament of an Islamic State. According to the Qur’ān, besides two positive demands – the prayer and Zakāh – there is only one basis of legislation: only those laws can be enacted that enforce what has been prohibited in Islam. For example, laws can be enacted against theft, adultery, murder and things which endanger the life, wealth and property of the people, but except for the prayer and Zakāh, an Islamic State cannot forcefully demand anything from the believers. It cannot, for example, compel a Muslim to fast nor can it compel him to perform Hajj even if he has the financial position to do so.

For the benefit of the English reader, I have attempted to render Ghamidi’s article in English from Urdu1 so that readers may critically analyze and judge the arguments which have led him to the above mentioned conclusions.




1. The article appears in his book: Mīzān, 1st ed., Dāru’l-Ishrāq, Lahore, 2001

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