The Idea of an Islamic State

The Idea of an Islamic State


The Idea of an Islamic State

So I’ve gotten several questions on the possibility of an “Islamic State.” I wanted to post this so that there is some guidelines as to what that would entail. Do I have more to say? A lot more. However, I think this would be a good introduction to thinking about an Islamic State, and this is by no means exhaustive, but I hope this helps.

Let’s look at the idea of an “Islamic State” properly. What do we mean by this? Is there a single style of “Islamic State” that has existed in history? The simple answer is, no.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves the question: what do we mean by “Islamic State?”

Do we mean a State that follows the institutional structures of those before us?

Do we mean a State that is governed by the Shariah?

Do we mean a State that is guided completely by The Qur’an and the Sunnah and nothing else?

I think all these questions are important to understanding what we mean and what is possible. Most importanly, though, we should understand how Islam interacted with the State historically, so that we are all clear as to what exactly we’re dealing with.

Here’s the bottom line: there is no “format” for how an Islamic state should function. The Qur’an’s main concern is ensuring that there is social justice among all the people of a governed locality. The tricky question becomes how do you reach that end goal?

For instance, during the times when the Abbasid Caliphs were weak, they were nominally the Caliph and the real power of the State was ruled by their Sultans, who were actually Shia. This institutional arrangement was nearly identitical to the Emperor-Shogun relationship of Japan, where the Emperor held abstract power and legitimacy, and the Shogun needed that “stamp of approval” from the Emperor in order to uphold power. However, the Shogun controlled the Emperor, because he held all the real power. These Shia Sultans had no reason to challenge the authority of the Sunni Caliph because it did not affect their political power.

In another instance, the Khalifa was elected by his peers, this was maintained by the Khulifa al-Rashidun (the first four, rightly guided Caliphs), through which Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali were all elected to their positions. This procedure tragically ended after the death of Ali. In fact, the legal process of ijma (rule by consensus) was originally a legislative tool used by the earlier Sahaba, where they would get the leaders of various groups to come together to essentially vote on various issues. This practice ended because of the difficulty in logistically bringing people together. Let’s please not make this a point of contention between Sunni and Shia, this is a historical account I am stating. 

When people speak of an “Islamic State” they don’t usually refer to the institutional arrangement between Caliph and Sultan, nor do they look at the Ottoman Sultan and his Ulema, and they generally ignore the democractic procedures found with the Rashidun. However, they tend to refer to an Islamic State based on the “model” of the Rashidun, but forget to deal with the most important question: how do you decide who is/are your leaders? How do you make new laws?

As a result of these considerations, it is my assertion that we cannot use the Khulifah al-Rashidun as a complete guide for how to structure a state, but we can clearly use them as a guideline for several things. Things that they didn’t have to deal with: large-scale public education, economic structures and markets of today, traffic courts, free-trade agreements, etc.

I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have been able to handle these things. I’m pretty sure they would have given us amazing answers to these questions (obviously assuming that in this hypothetical, that they would be socialized by the passage of history and be brought up to date with our current concerns and desires, etc, wow that was long, but I think you get the point)

I’m sure you’re thinking: “great Osama, you’ve just given me a bunch of facts that you clearly used to make yourself sound smart, and then, said, everything we think of is terrible, why am I listening to you?”

First, I’m sorry, but the reason why I did that is to help you understand what is the situation we’re dealing with and what we must consider both for constructing an Islamic state and how Muslims governed themselves historically.

Therefore, an Islamic State must first establish what its foundational basis is (identity of citizens, its state borders, and ideological guide or goals) and once this is affirmed it must consider the three basic functions of government: 1) Who makes the laws? 2) Who enforces the laws? 3) Who judges the laws?

Again, in Islamic history, in different times, different people have taken on different degrees of control over the job of making and enforcing the law. So, sometimes the Sultan would make the law, other times it was be a Vizier (minister) or a group of them, thus there’s no set “way” of doing this (notice the theme?)

So in order for an Islamic state to be viable, we must establish who gets these jobs. Do we have a Prime Minister? President? Sultan? King? Chancellor? And who makes the laws? The positions I named earlier? Or do we have legislatures? Parliment? Congress? One house? Two house? How many? Representational? Etc etc.

The only relative constant in Islamic history was its legal system. Now, different systems used different methods, but they all relied upon the people we call “scholars” to judge the law. I have an article on the Ulema, which you can read an in-depth explanation of their role in society and the state. However, the only place where “formal” religion entered into the governmental system was in this aspect, otherwise known as the judiciary. So, outside of being judges and lawyers, no Muslim State ever had Islam as the central governing force in the everyday politics of the state.

With all this to consider, do I think that there can be an Islamic State? Of course, I do. I just think Muslims have to understand that the legislature (who makes the laws) and the executive (President/PM [who enforces the laws]) do not have an Islamic basis. The only people who would have to consider Islam would be those dealing with the Shariah-based legal system, which would be our judges and lawyers, who would therefore need to learn law in a different way, meaning we’d have to make new law schools, and new court systems.

The problem is no one is dedicated enough to create even a hypothetical system. That’s what prevents this possiblity from happening. I would like to do that, one day, as that’s what my studies are directed towards doing, Insha Allah.

Insha Allah you found this informative, and please send me any questions you have on this article or others.

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