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Islamic State

Nazih N. Ayubi
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World What is This? Provides global coverage of the Muslim experience from the end of the eighteenth century through the twentieth century

Islamic State

Although the original Islamic sources (the Qur'ān and the ḥadīths) 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 Muḥammad, in 632 CE was in fact the problem of government and of how to select a successor, khalīfah (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 Sunnīs, Khawārij, Shī῾īs, 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 decline.

Historical Islamic States

. Islam is indeed a religion of collective morals, but it contains little that is specifically political—that 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 imam (religious leader) to be also a political ruler, but because—on the contrary—Islam 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 tradition.

The main piece of political literature inherited from the Muḥammadan period is al‐ṣaḥīfah, the document often known as the Constitution of Medina, the text of which is attributed mostly to the Hijrah episode of 622 to 624. 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 Qur'ān and the ḥadīths, Muslims have had to borrow and to improvise in developing their political systems. These systems, however, have been inspired by sharī῾ah (Islamic law) as represented in the Qur'ān and the sunnah; by Arabian tribal traditions; and by the political heritage of the lands Muslims conquered, especially Persian and Byzantine traditions. The influence of the first source was more noticeable during the era of the first four Rāshidūn (rightly guided) caliphs (632–661), the second during the Umayyad dynasty (661–750), and the third during the ῾Abbāsid (749–1258) and Ottoman (1281–1922) dynasties.

Muslims had indeed been state builders, in the practical sense, in such fields as military expansion, government arrangements, and administrative techniques—in 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 jamā῾a or ummah (the group or the community), ῾adl or ῾adālah (justice or fairness), and qiyādah or imāmah (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 ῾Abbāsid 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 Shī῾īs, Khawārij, Mu῾tazilīs, Ikhwān al‐Ṣafā', and others, against the Sunnī ruler in Baghdad. Indeed, the caliphate theory was mainly a Sunnī refutation of the arguments put forward by the escalating opposition movements (including the Shī῾ah), and it represented a quest for the ideal, not a positive description of what was actually there. It was only with the process of tadwīn (inscription and registration) in the middle of the ninth century that writings on the caliphate emerged, first among the Shī῾īs, then by way of reaction among the Sunnīs, but most particularly after Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al‐Shāfi῾ī, (d. 820), a founder of one of the four legal schools, had specified the methodological rules of Sunnī thought and had enumerated the sanctioned sources of sharī῾ah: the Qur'ān, the sunnah, ijmā῾ (consensus of the learned), and qīyās (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, Abū 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 shūrā (inner consultation), ῾aqd (ruler‐ruled contract), and bay῾ah (oath of allegiance). This method was used in the appointment of their successor, ῾Uthmān. Gradually, however, shūrā was overlooked, then ῾aqd and bay῾ah were also dropped with the establishment by the Umayyads of a hereditary, semiaristocratic monarchy. During the ῾Abbāsid era, the contradiction between the legitimacy of government and the unity of the ummah came to the fore. Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 855), founder of the Ḥanbalī 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 jamā῾a as a human base. The classical writings of Abū al‐Ḥasan al‐Māwardī (d. 1058) and Abū Ya῾lā al‐Farrā' (d. 1066) 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 Taqī al‐Dīn Ibn Taymīyah (d. 1328), was to shift to sharī῾ah 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 the foreign enemy and keep it at bay.

Writings on the caliphate by such jurists as al‐Māwardī, al‐Farrā', and ῾Alī Ibn Ḥazm (d. 1064) are concerned mainly with the caliph—his qualifications and traits. Rights are classified mainly into those of the imam and those of the ummah. There is hardly any trace of rights of the individual. Even Ibn Taymīyah, who subtitles one of his major works Fī ḥuqūq al‐rā῾ī wa‐al‐ra῾īyah (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 had hardly any political connotation. When explaining the French notion of political freedom (ḥurrīyah) to his nineteenth‐century readers, the al‐Azhar scholar Rifā῾ah Rāfi῾ al‐Ṭahṭāwī (1801–1873) was obliged to liken it to the Arabo‐Islamic concept of al‐῾adl wa‐al‐inṣāf (justice and equity).

The Shī῾ī jurists were in a somewhat different position, since many Shī῾īs had to take office under Sunnī rulers. The Shī῾īs held that all government in the absence of the imam was usurped, and so they were not concerned to legitimize the authority of government in either its central or delegated levels. Their concern was to justify dealings between their following and the government and to allow some degree of participation by Shī῾īs in public affairs. Unlike the Sunnīs, Shī῾ī jurists did not strive to impart legitimacy to government in favor of stability; rather, by having recourse to taqīyah (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 government—this was, in other words, a de facto recognition and compliance rather than legitimization. The Sunnīs therefore ended up legitimizing government power, and the Shī῾īs evaded the issue—but in both cases, the end result was popular acquiescence and political quietism. Because the Shī῾īs were not politically dominant for much of the time and because they adopted the concept that all government in the absence of the imam was usurpatory, their jurists had much more leeway in the condoning or condemning of specific rulers.

In the Sunnī tradition, however, which merged spiritual imāmah with political leadership (imārah; mulk) in the institution of the caliphate, it was less easy to incite disobedience against the usurping or unjust ruler and 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 tortuous ordeal. The Sunnī 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 (madīnah fāḋilah) 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 sharī῾ah. 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 existed—history 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‐sharī῾ah, 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 sharī῾ah. The ideal Islamic state is therefore not an autocracy or a theocracy, but rather a nomocracy. 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‐ma῾rūf 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 aḥkām (judgments) from the broader tenets of sharī῾ah. A certain element of equilibrium and balance is presumed among three powers: the caliph as guardian of the community and the faith; the ῾ulamā' (religious scholars) involved in the function of rendering iftā' (religio‐legal advice); and the judges who settle disputes according to qaḋā' (religious laws).

The social functions of the state are the subject of very little attention. The concept of tadbīr (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 siyāsah (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., “goad”) 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 which does not recognize any separation between private and public ethics and which accepts no physical or ethnic boundaries—its civilizational target is the entire universe.

Although external conquests slowed in the ῾Abbāsid period, the universalist ideal came nearer to realization by an opening up to the non‐Arab communities through a process of internal islamization. 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 God—not of Muḥammad—on 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 Qur'ān and was indeed used by medieval Muslim authors. However, in its verbal form, the word originally meant “to turn, rotate, or alternate.” In the ῾Abbāsid and subsequent periods, it was often used to describe fortunes, vicissitudes, or ups and downs (e.g., dālat dawlatuhu; “his days have passed”). Gradually the word came to mean “dynasty,” and then, very recently, “state.” Al‐Ṭahṭāwī paved the way for a territorial, rather than a purely communal, concept of the polity when he emphasized the idea of waṭan (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 (1988), 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 also Dawlah.]

Islamic thinkers, however, were in no hurry to espouse this new concept of the state. Jamāl al‐Dīn al‐Afghānī (1839–1897) and Muḥammad ῾Abduh (1849–1905) still spoke in terms of the Islamic ummah and its “tight bond” (al‐῾urwah al‐wuthqā) and of the Islamic ruler and his good conduct. ῾Abd al‐Raḥmān al‐Kawākibī (1854–1902) went a step further by talking about the Islamic league (al‐jāmi῾ah al‐Islāmīyah) as a religious bond. He used the term ummah not in an exclusively religious but sometimes in an ethnic sense and the term waṭan when he spoke of what united Muslim with non‐Muslim Arabs. He also distinguished between the politics and administration of religion (al‐dīn) and the politics and administration of the “kingdom” (al‐mulk), saying that in the history of Islam the two had only united during the Rāshidūn era and that of Caliph ῾Umar ibn ῾Abd al‐῾Azīz (r. 717–720).

The modern concept of the Islamic state emerged as a reaction and response to the demise of the last caliphate in Turkey in 1924. Muḥammad Rashī d Riḋā (1865–1935) 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 Caliphate 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 khilāfat ḋarūrah (“caliphate of necessity or urgency”) and maintained that this would give the Arab Muslims and the Arab non‐Muslims a state of their own.

The well‐known dictum about Islam being a religion and a state (“al‐Islām dīn 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 al‐Azhar shaykh ῾Alī ῾Abd al‐Rāziq (1888–1966) published his most controversial book Islam and the Fundamentals of Government 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‐Ḥamīd al‐Zahrāwī [1871–1916]) the unambiguous, hard‐hitting style of ῾Abd al‐Rāziq's book was unprecedented and provoked a vigorous reaction and an extremely heated debate.

῾Abd al‐Razzāq al‐Sanhūrī (1895–1971) (the distinguished jurist who later codified Egyptian, Iraqi, and other Arab civil laws in a modernized form combining sharī῾ah 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‐Sanhūrī was almost a secularist (or only a cultural Islamist), the contemporary writer Muḥammad Sa῾īd al‐῾Ashmāwī credits him with having coined the phrase “al‐Islām dīn wa dawlah” in an article published in 1929.

The intellectual evolution of the concept of “al‐Islām dīn wa dawlah” took another step forward about a decade later. The Indian‐Pakistani writer Abū al‐A῾lā Mawdūdī (1903–1979) was a major contributor to its promotion. Indian Muslims had indeed reacted most vociferously to the demise of the Ottoman caliphate by, among other things, forming the Khilāfat movement. Partly the product of a siege mentality, most of Mawdūdī'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 Mawdūdī wanted was not a Muslim state but an Islamic state, an ideological state run only by true believers on the basis of the Qur'ān and sunnah. Consequently, Mawdūdī 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 Khawārij‐inspired concept that al‐ḥākimīyah (total absolute sovereignty) should be for God alone, not for law and not for the people. Also influential was his emphasis on the Khawārij–Ibn Taymīyah concept that what makes a Muslim is not simply acceptance of the credo (Al‐Shahādatayn) that there is no god but God and that Muḥammad is his prophet, but rather active involvement in enforcing the Islamic moral order on the legislative, political, and economic affairs of the society.

Ḥasan al‐Bannā' (1906–1949), founder of 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‐Bannā' 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 aḥzāb (“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” (italics added). Such a formulation becomes even more extreme with his fellow Muslim Brother ῾Abd al‐Qādir ῾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 part—indeed it is the more important part.”

Sayyid Quṭb (1906–1966), 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 Jāhilīyah, total pagan ignorance. Inspired partly by Ibn Taymīyah but particularly by Mawdūdī, Quṭb gave this concept a universal validity to cover all contemporary societies, including Muslim ones. To counter this sad state, the concept of ḥākimīyah 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 jamā῾a (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 (minhāj Islāmī) that is purged of any non‐Islamic influences, such as those of patriotism and nationalism. Through jihād (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 in the Arab world; 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 (1902–1989). 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 Hidden Imam (as in conventional Shī῾ī teaching) in order to have a pious government: an Islamic state can be established here and now, provided that its leadership should come under wilāyat al‐faqīh (“guardianship of the jurisconsult”). The “obligatoriness” of Islamic government, and more particularly the requirement that the jurisconsult 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 Wilāyat al‐Faqīh]. The important point to observe is that by shifting the emphasis from sharī῾ah to the jurisconsult, any act of rulership that the latter might deem appropriate could then be defined as being Islamic. This was indeed the case during the years of Khomeini's leadership of the Iranian Revolution (1979–1989) and was particularly evident in his proclamations of December 1987/January 1988, in which he maintained that government has primacy in Islam over devotional matters, such as prayers, fasting, and pilgrimage. The Islamic government can thus break any contract or stop any activity based on sharī῾ah whenever this is considered to be in the interest (maṣlaḥah) of the country and Islam. [All of the major figures discussed in the preceding paragraphs are the subjects of independent entries.]

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 Qur'ān and the ḥadīths 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 (ḥudūd) or of trying to avoid the receiving or giving of banking interest (taken to be forbidden usury [ribā]), 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‐ 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 khādim al‐ḥaramayn (“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 for maintaining the cohesion of the regime. It does not have a constitution (the Qur'ān being its fundamental law), nor does it have a parliament or political parties, although it has a modern‐looking cabinet and bureaucracy. It is socially 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 ῾ulamā', who, following a strict Ḥanbalī/Wahhābī tradition, exercise an unmistakable influence through issuing fatwā (counsel) on social and political matters, controlling sharī῾ah courts, and directing the morals police.

Although different in most respects, Morocco has sometimes been likened to Saudi Arabia in being an Islamic monarchy. The ῾Alawī tribal dynasty has been ruling Morocco since the seventeenth century, and part of its royal legitimacy is supposed to derive from its Sharīfian (related to the prophet Muḥammad) lineage. The state is constitutional with a certain measure of pluralism represented by the political parties and other associations. The constitution is unambiguous, however, about describing Morocco as an Islamic state and in describing the king as the Commander of the Believers and the Protector of the Religion (Amīr al‐mu'minīn …ḥāmī ḥima al‐dīn).

Islamic Iran, by contrast, is a republic with a constitution, a president, a Parliament, and political parties, as well as the cabinet, bureaucracy, and courts; none of these institutions is particularly Islamic. The current state owes its existence to a multiclass popular revolution within which the religious wing, led by the Shī῾ī ῾ulamā', was able to assume the upper hand. Islam played a mobilizational role and Khomeini's discourse made it possible to combine social conservatism with political radicalism and to construct a basically étatist economy in postrevolutionary Iran. The distinct features of such a regime have been the supreme role of the jurisconsult as “Leader of the Islamic Republic,” the high representation of clerics in the parliament (Majlis) and the key part they perform in the Council of Guardians and Assembly of Experts, and the important role played by the Islamic Republican party (until its dissolution in 1987) and by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.

Yet another variety of regime claiming to construct an Islamic state has its origins in a military coup d'état. Pakistan under Zia ul‐Haq (r. 1977–1988) is one such example. Initiating the process in 1980, an Islamic legal code, to be applied through sharī῾ah courts, was issued by decree, but this was resented by the Shī῾īs 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 Jamā῾at‐i Islāmī, Jam῾īyatul ῾Ulamā'‐i Islām, and Jam῾īyatul ῾Ulamā'‐i Pākistān. The political mobilization of the masses by the Islamic parties during the Gulf crisis of 1990–1991 and the formation of a United Sharī῾ah Front prompted Sharif to introduce his own sharī῾ah 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 elections.

Sudan is another country where the establishment of an Islamic state was attempted by a military regime, in this case with the process being resumed later by another military regime. Ja῾far Nimeiri's regime (1969–1985) 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 Ḥasan al‐Turābī. In 1983–1984 the application of sharī῾ah 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‐Bashīr installed another military regime in 1989, it was markedly influenced by the National Islamic Front.

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, drink, and so forth) there is hardly any similarity in the political features of such states or even in their socioeconomic orientations.

A heated controversy over the issue of the Islamic state has naturally accompanied the political revival of Islam, especially since the 1970s. A mainstream position recognizes that Islam is a religion pertaining to devotional as well as to social matters (dīn wa dunyā), that it is indeed concerned with the collective enforcement of public morals. Such people also acknowledge the actual unity between religious authority and political authority in many stages of development of the historical Islamic state, but they regard this unity as a historical reality and not a doctrinal requirement. They would indeed admit that the doctrine and the jurisprudence have far less to say about politics in the technical sense than they have to say about many other moral and social matters, and that Muslims need therefore to improvise and innovate with regard to the forms and systems of state and government according to the requirements of time and place.

The political Islamists argue, on the contrary, that there is a distinct Islamic model of the state and government whose immediate application is mandatory. Their main textual evidence is the verses in Ṣūrat al‐Mā'idah condemning those who do not “judge” according to what God has revealed (e.g., surah 5.44: “Wa‐man lam yaḥkum bimā anzala Allāhu fa‐ula'ika hum al‐kāfirūn”). The most crucial word here is yaḥkumu. 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 ḥukūmah to mean “government” is much more recent, apparently not predating the nineteenth century. The Islamists would like nonetheless to impute the modern meaning of government to this Qur'ānic term. However, when asked to enumerate the political features of such an Islamic state or government, they either evade the question by maintaining that an Islamic order will have to be created first and then its political features will become clear by themselves; or else they will refer to matters of moral conduct and collective penalties (ḥudūd) with regard to things like the relations between the sexes, or the manner of dressing, or with drinking alcohol, and so forth, but not to political aspects as such (the formation of states, the selection of governments, the making of decisions, the representation of interests, etc.). The emergence of various so‐called Islamic states in the contemporary period that have very different political origins, features, and orientations has not lent credence to the Islamists' thesis that the concept of the Islamic state is unambiguously enshrined in the religious text itself. But the heated controversy goes on and carries with it very important political implications.

See also Authority and Legitimation; Caliph; Ḥukūmah; Imāmah; Monarchy.


  • ῾Abd al‐Salām, Aḥmad. Muṣṭalaḥ al‐siyāsah ῾inda al‐῾Arab (The Term “Politics” among the Arabs). Tunis, 1985. Useful historical study of some political concepts in Arabic, including the state.
  • ῾Ashmāwī, Muḥammad Sa῾īd al‐. Al‐Islam al‐sīyāsī (Political Islam). Cairo, 1987. The best contemporary refutation of the dictum dīn wa dawlah.
  • 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.
  • Ayubi, Nazih N. Al‐῾Arab wa‐mushkilat al‐dawlah (The Arabs and the Problem of the State). London, 1992. Study of the ways Arab writers have conceptualized the state.
  • 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. Austin, 1982. Good introduction to Sunnī and Shī῾ī 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.
  • Halliday, Fred, and Hamza Alavi, eds. State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan. London, 1988. Good selection, including excellent pieces by Halliday, Alavi, and Batatu.
  • Ibn Taymīyah, Taqī al‐Dīn Aḥmad. Al‐siyāsah al‐shar῾īyah. Beirut, 1983. Major classic by a medieval jurist with great influence on modern political Islamists.
  • ῾Imārah, Muḥammad. Al‐Islām wa‐al‐sulṭah al‐dīnīyah (Islam and Religious Authority). Cairo, 1970. Balanced treatment of the relationship between religion and state in Islam.
  • Jābirī, Muḥammad ῾Ābid al‐. Al‐῾aql al‐siyāsī al‐῾Arabī (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.”
  • Kerr, Malcolm H. Islamic Reform: The Political and Legal Theories of Muḥammad ῾Abduh and Rashīd Riḋā. Berkeley, 1966. Subtle treatment of the ideas of two influential Islamic thinkers.
  • Khomeini, Ruhollah. Al‐ḥukūmah al‐Islāmīyah. Cairo, 1979. Arabic translation of Vilāyat‐i faqīh; English translations also available. Main statement of the novel theory of “guardianship of the jurisconsult.”
  • Lambton, Ann K. S. State and Government in Medieval Islam. Oxford, 1981. Solid introduction to the political theory of the Islamic jurists.
  • Laroui, Abdallah. Mafhūm al‐dawlah (Concept of the State). Casablanca, 1981. One of the best discussions by an Arab writer on the state.
  • Lewis, Bernard. The Political Language of Islam. Chicago and London, 1988. Useful, technically competent monograph.
  • Mawdūdī, Sayyid Abū al‐A῾lā. Al‐ḥukūmah al‐Islāmīyah (Islamic Government). Jeddah, 1984. Influential statement of the “Islamic state” position. English translations also available.
  • Naṣṣār, Nāṣīf. Taṣawwurāt al‐ummah al‐mu῾āṣirah (Perceptions of the Contemporary Nation in Modern Arabic Thought). Kuwait, 1986. Valuable, comprehensive survey of Arabic writing on community, nation, and state.
  • Quṭb, Sayyid. Ma῾ālim fī al‐ṭarīq (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.
  • Sayyid, Riḋwān al‐. Al‐ummah wa‐al‐jamā῾ah wa al‐sulṭah (Community, Group, and Authority). Beirut, 1984. Good discussion of some major political concepts in Islamic history.
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