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Ayubi, Nazih N. , Nader Hashemi and Emran Qureshi. "Islamic State." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Jan 23, 2022. <>.


Ayubi, Nazih N. , Nader Hashemi and Emran Qureshi. "Islamic State." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Jan 23, 2022).

Islamic State

Although the original Islamic sources (the Qurʿān 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 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, Shīʿīs, 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 imām (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 CE 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 Qurʿān and the ḥadīths, Muslims have had to borrow and to improvise in developing their political systems. These systems, however, have been inspired by sharīʿah (Islamic law), as represented in the Qurʿān and the sunnah; by Arabian tribal traditions; and by the political heritage of the lands Muslims conquered, especially the 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 CE), the second during the Umayyad dynasty (661–750 CE), and the third during the ʿAbbāsid (749–1258 CE) and Ottoman (1281–1922 CE) 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 jamāʿah or ummah (the group or the community), ʿadl or ʿadālah (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 ʿAbbāsid 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 Shīʿīs, Khawārij, Muʿtazilīs, Ikhwān al-Ṣafāʿ, 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 Shīʿī), 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 Shīʿīs, then by way of reaction among the Sunnīs, but most particularly after Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (d. 820 CE), a founder of one of the four legal schools, had specified the methodological rules of Sunnī thought and had enumerated the sanctioned sources of sharīʿah: the Qurʿān, the sunnah, ijmāʿ (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 ʿUmar, 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), ʿaqd (ruler-ruled contract), and bayʿah (oath of allegiance). This method was used in the appointment of their successor, ʿUthmān. Gradually, however, shūrā was overlooked, then ʿaqd and bayʿah were also dropped with the establishment by the Umayyads of a hereditary, semi-aristocratic monarchy. During the ʿAbbāsid era, the contradiction between the legitimacy of government and the unity of the ummah came to the fore. Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 855 CE), 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 jamāʿah as a human base. The classical writings of Abū al-Ḥasan al-Māwardī (d. 1058 CE) and Abū Yaʿlā al-Farrāʿ (d. 1066 CE) 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 CE), was to shift to sharīʿah 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 foreign enemies and keep them at bay.

Writings on the caliphate by such jurists as al-Māwardī, al-Farrāʿ, and ʿAlī ibn Ḥazm (d. 1064 CE) are concerned mainly with the caliph—his qualifications and traits. Rights are classified mainly into those of the imām and those of the ummah. There is very little written on the rights of the individual. Even Ibn Taymīyah, who subtitled one of his major works Fī ḥuqūq al-rāʿī wa al-raʿīyah (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 almost no political connotation. When explaining the French notion of political freedom (ḥurrīyah) to his nineteenth-century readers, the al-Azhar scholar Rifāʿah Rāfiʿ al-Ṭahṭāwī (1801–1873 CE) was obliged to liken it to the Arab-Islamic concept of al-ʿadl wa al-inṣāf (justice and equity).

The Shīʿī jurists were in a somewhat different position, since many Shīʿīs had to take office under Sunnī rulers. The Shīʿīs held that all government in the absence of the twelfth Shīʿī imām, who is believed to have gone into occulation, was usurped, and so they were not concerned to legitimize the authority of government given this belief and their minority status. Their concern was to justify dealings between their followers and the government and to allow some degree of participation by Shīʿīs in public affairs. Unlike the Sunnīs, Shīʿī 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 of political authority rather than de jure legitimization. The Sunnīs therefore ended up legitimizing government power, and the Shīʿīs evaded the issue—but in both cases, the end result was popular acquiescence and political quietism. Because the Shīʿīs were not politically dominant for much of the time and because they adopted the concept that all government in the absence of the twelfth imām 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 not easy to incite disobedience against the usurping or unjust ruler and still 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 torturous 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 fāḍilah) 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 sharīʿah. 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-sharīʿah, 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 sharīʿah. The ideal Islamic state is therefore not an autocracy or a theocracy, but rather a nomocracy, or government ruled by law. 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-maʿrūf wa al-nahy ʿan 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 sharīʿah. A certain element of equilibrium and balance is presumed among three powers: the caliph as guardian of the community and the faith; the ʿulamāʿ (religious scholars) involved in the function of rendering iftāʿ (religio-legal advice); and the judges who settle disputes according to qaḍāʿ (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., “power”) 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 that does not recognize any separation between private and public ethics and which accepts no physical or ethnic boundaries—its civilizational target is the entire world.

Although external conquests slowed in the ʿAbbāsid period, the universalist ideal came nearer to realization through a process of internal islamization with the opening up of the non-Arab communities. 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 Qurʿān and was indeed used by medieval Muslim authors. However, in its verbal form, the word originally meant “to turn, rotate, or alternate.” In the ʿAbbāsid 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, 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 DAWLAH.

Islamic thinkers, however, were in no hurry to espouse this new concept of the state. This was because the modern Middle East state system did not emerge until after World War I. Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1839–1897) and Muḥammad ʿAbduh (1849–1905), therefore, still spoke in terms of the Islamic ummah and its “tight bond” (al-ʿurwat al-wuthqā) and of the Islamic ruler and his good conduct. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Kawākibī (1854–1902) went a step further by talking about the Islamic league (al-jāmiʿah 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 ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (r. 717–720 CE).

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 Rashīd Riḍā (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 book Caliphate (al-Khilāfah) 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 ḍurūrah (caliphate of necessity or urgency) and maintained that this would give both Muslim and non-Muslim Arabs 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, ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Rāziq (1888–1966) published his most controversial book, al-Islām wa uṣūl al-ḥukm (Islam and the principles of governance), 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 ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Zahrāwī [1871–1916]) the unambiguous, hard-hitting style of ʿAbd al-Rāziq 's book was unprecedented and provoked a vigorous reaction and an extremely heated debate that reverberates to this day.

ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-Sanhūrī (1895–1971) (the distinguished jurist who later codified Egyptian, Iraqi, and other Arab civil laws in a modernized form combining sharīʿah 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 Saʿīd al-ʿAshmāwī 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 political context was marked by British colonialism and the Indian-Pakistani writer Abū al-Aʿlā Mawdūdī (1903–1979) was its major proponent. 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 Qurʿān 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. He was also prominent in agitating against the Pakistani Aḥmadī Muslim minority, and authored a polemic against them entitled “The Qādiānī Problem.”

Ḥasan al-Bannā (1906–1949), who founded 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.” Such a formulation becomes even more extreme with his fellow Muslim Brother ʿAbd al-Qādir ʿAwdah (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 jamāʿah (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 such as al-Qaʿida; 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 twelfth imām (as in conventional Shīʿī teaching) in order to have a just government: an Islamic state can be established here and now, provided that its leadership come under wilāyat al-faqīh (“guardianship of the Islamic jurist”). The “obligatoriness” of Islamic government, and more particularly the requirement that a learned Islamic jurist 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 sharīʿah to the Islamic jurist, any act of rulership that the latter might deem appropriate could then be defined as 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 in January 1988, in which he argued that the Islamic state “is a branch of the absolute trusteeship of the Prophet … and constitutes one of the primary ordinances of Islam which has precedence over all other derived ordinances such as prayer, fasting and pilgrimage” (Schirazi, p. 213). In other words, reasons of state take precedence over the requirements of the sharīʿah. Wilāyat al-faqīh (“guardianship of the Islamic jurist”) was a minority position within the Shīʿī seminaries when first articulated and three decades under the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran has not added to its popularity among Shīʿī Muslims. See ʿABDUH, MUḥAMMAD; AFGHāNī, JAMāL AL-DīN AL-; BANNā, ḤASAN AL-; KAWāKIBī, ʿABD AL-RAḥMāN AL-; KHOMEINI, RUHOLLAH AL-MUSAVI; MAWDūDī, ABū AL-AʿLā; QUṭB, SAYYID; RIḍā, RASHīD; and SANHūRī, ʿABD AL-RAZZāQ AL-.

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 Qurʿān 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, or 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-Islamic 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 to maintain the cohesion of the regime. It does not have a constitution (the Qurʿān being its fundamental law), nor does it have a parliament or political parties, although it has a modern-looking cabinet and bureaucracy. Socially, it is extraordinarily 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 ʿulamāʿ, who, following a strict Ḥanbalī/Wahhābī tradition, exercise an unmistakable influence by issuing fatwās (counsel) on social and political matters, controlling sharīʿah courts, and directing the morals police.

Islamic Iran, by contrast, is a republic with a constitution, a president, a parliament, a cabinet, bureaucracy, a court system along with regular elections (for regime loyalists); none of these institutions is particularly Islamic. The current state owes its existence to a multi-class popular revolution within which the religious wing, led by a politicized segment of the Shīʿī ʿulamāʿ, was able to assume the upper hand. Islam played a mobilizing role and Khomeini 's discourse made it possible to combine social conservatism with populism and political radicalism and to construct a basically étatist economy in post-revolutionary Iran. The distinct features of such a regime have been the role of an Islamic jurist as the “Leader of the Islamic Republic,” the high representation of clerics in the parliament (majlis) and the court system, the key part they perform in the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts, and the important role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards and the Basīj paramilitary corps.

Two decades after the 1979 revolution, the consensus on what constituted legitimate political authority among the Islamist supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini was shattered and Iranian society found itself engaged in full scale internal debate about the relationship between religion and democracy, tradition and modernity, reason and revelation, an Islamic state versus a liberal-democratic state. This coincided with the reformist presidency of Mohamed Khatami and a more tolerant atmosphere for publishing, political and cultural criticism, and civil society activity that emerged during his first term as president.

Two figures stand out: the philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush (ʿAbd al-Karīm Surūsh) and the theologian Mohsen Kadivar (Muḥsin Kadīvar). In a series of influential lectures, articles and books, in particular his magnum opus, Qabẓ va basṭ-i tiʿūrīk-i sharīʿat (Hermeneutical contraction and expansion of sharīʿah), Soroush sought to separate religion (which is pristine and divinely inspired) from religious knowledge (which is subject to human interpretation and is fallible). The political consequences of this argument were profound as it undermined the ruling ethos of the Islamic Republic by suggesting that there can never be an official interpretation of Islam by an Islamic jurist or council of clerics. Kadivar 's attack was more bold, direct, and penetrating. In a series of influential books in the late 1990s, he provided an exhaustive critique of Khomeini 's doctrine of wilāyat al-faqīh that garnered him publicity and eventually landed him in jail. Relying exclusively on Shīʿī sources, Kadivar launched a solid theological and scholarly refutation of the ruling ethos of the Islamic state while simultaneously remaining within the bounds of Shīʿī jurisprudence. Kadivar 's argument in Naẓarīyaʿhā-yi dawlat dar fiqh-i Shīʿī (Theses on the state in Shīʿī jurisprudence) was that Khomeini 's theory on the guardianship of the Islamic jurist was simply one thesis among many that Shīʿī theologians have expounded over the years, ranging from a religious justification of monarchy to democracy and thus can in no way be considered the definitive or authoritative political model for the Shīʿī school of jurisprudence. In his follow-up and more controversial book, Ḥukūmat-i valāyī (Government by mandate), Kadivar painstakingly investigated and refuted Khomeini 's doctrine of government by divine mandate by arguing that Khomeini 's religio-political thesis, upon investigation, does not stand up to critical scrutiny even from within the paradigm of Shīʿī Islamic religious and political thought. He writes:

"The principle of velayat-e faqih [wilāyat al-faqīh] is neither intuitively obvious nor rationally necessary. It is neither a requirement of religion (din) [dīn] nor a necessity for denomination (madhhab). It is neither a part of the Shīʿī general principles (osul) [uṣūl] nor a component of the detailed observance (foruʿ) [fur ūʿ]. It is, by near consensus of Shīʿī ulama [ʿulamāʿ], nothing more than a jurisprudential minor hypothesis."

(Kadivar, Hukumat-iValāyī, 237). See SURūSH, ʿABD AL-KARīM; and KADIVAR, MOHSEN.

Sudan is another country where the establishment of an Islamic state was attempted by a military regime, in this case the process was resumed later by another military regime. Jaʿfar 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 sharīʿah 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 ʿUmar al-Bashīr installed another military regime in 1989, it was markedly influenced by the National Islamic Front. See TURāBī, ḤASAN AL-.

Yet another variety of regime claiming to construct an Islamic state has its origins in a military coup d ’état. Pakistan under the military dictator Zia ul-Haq (r. 1977–1988) is one such example. The military regime attempted to derive political legitimacy from its program of “Islamization.” Initiating the process in 1980, an Islamic legal code, to be applied through sharīʿah courts, was issued by decree, but this was strongly resisted by the Shīʿīs 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 Jamāʿat-i Islāmī, Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-i Islām, and Jamʿīyatul ʿUlamāʿ-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 Sharīʿah Front prompted Sharif to introduce his own sharīʿah 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.

The program of Islamization in Pakistan has resulted in a strengthening of exclusionary sectarian Sunnī and Shīʿī identities. The Pakistani Sunnī paramilitary organization, Sipah-e Sahaba founded in 1985 has called for the Pakistani state to declare Shīʿī non-Muslim, and engaged in campaigns of violence. Its founder Mawlana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi had earlier participated in agitations against Aḥmadī Muslims who were declared non-Muslims by the Pakistani state in 1971.

The Taliban, an Afghan militia organization, seized and held control of a large portion of Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001. It proclaimed itself to be an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Lurking behind the pronouncement of an Islamic Emirate was a tribal façade that represented the power and influence of Afghan Pashtuns over other Afghan tribes. The Taliban have had close ties with Pakistani Sunnī Deobandīs, and many of the Taliban leadership trained with them. It has periodically issued constitutions, which set forth their ideology undergirding a uniquely harsh and punitive sharīʿah-based state.

Al-Qaʿida is the most prominent example of de-territorialized jihādī organizations that rationalize a call to violence with the goal of creating an Islamic sharīʿah state. That rhetoric is exemplified in the pronouncements of Osama bin Laden. This vision is predicated upon the assumption that existing Muslim states will be subsumed within a unitary caliphate state for the entire Muslim ummah.

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

Mainstream political Islamists argue that there is a distinct Islamic model of the state and government whose immediate application is mandatory. Their main textual evidence is the verses of the Qurʿān that condemn those who do not “judge” according to what God has revealed: “Wa man lam yaḥkum bimā anzala Allāhu fa-ulāʿika hum al-kāfirūn” (And for those who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are, indeed, unbelievers of the truth). 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. Islamists would like nonetheless to impute the modern meaning of government to this Qurʿānic term. They also assert that Islam, unlike Christianity, never had a priestly class, and that Christianity 's priestly class, especially during the medieval period, was tyrannical and hostile to science, unlike Islam. Islamists also argue that Islam from its very inception was both a state and religion.

On the question of non-Muslim minorities and citizenship in an Islamic state there is ambiguity. Centrist Islamists would afford full citizenship to non-Muslim minorities except that key government posts such as head of state would be occupied by a Muslim. Others are not so generous; when asked to enumerate the political features of such an Islamic state or government, they either evade the question or speak in vague generalities. One development, however, was the release in October 2007 of a draft political platform by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which envisions a council of religious experts to oversee government. This bears a striking resemblance to the Guardian Council in Iran. In both cases the concern is to ensure the Islamic character of any new political order by dividing sovereignty between various institutions of the state.

Generally, the goal to define the proper relation between Islam and the state remains a central and unresolved question. Among the chief questions are whether or not revealed sacred text is the exclusive or principle source of political legitimacy, and whether or not government should enforce a particular religious doctrine. The events of 9/11 and the war in Iraq have strengthened Islamist movements globally. Though their ideological positions vary greatly and are contingent upon local circumstances, they all insist on the primacy of the sharīʿah, even though they may interpret it in vastly different ways. Secularist discourses, particularly in the Arab world, remain marginal, but are influential, paradoxically, because they provoke an Islamist backlash.

Support for the ideal of an Islamic state today needs to be situated against the broad failure of the secular post-colonial Muslim-majority state. Although there are a few countries that may qualify as exceptions, such as Turkey and Indonesia, most states in the Muslim world today have been characterized by corruption, cronyism, authoritarianism, and varying degrees of political repression. It is in this context that the “Islamic state” option appears most attractive. At times, Muslim political identity today is formed in opposition to and rejection of “the West.” Thus Western support for secularism and liberal democracy, while it pursues foreign polices that are viewed as inimical to Muslim interests, engenders a reactive oppositional Muslim political identity. The consequences of this identity construction lend support to the abstract idea of an “Islamic state” as an alternative to Western models. Following the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, both in the name of liberal democracy, the sentiments and the desire for an “Islamic state” are destined to attract increasing support across the Muslim world.



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