Islam and Rule of the People – I

Jun 25th, 2012 | By | Category: Latest, Pakistan, Religion, Social, World

Is there anything wrong with the idea that people should have the right to rule? Many people argue that there actually is something unacceptable and Islam does not permit such a thing; a blasphemy, maybe.  To say that the people have the right to rule, they argue, is to give away a right reserved for God alone as sovereignty belongs to God, no one should be allowed to be partner in it.

Seemingly, this does tend to make sense. More so, in times as ours when people have come to detest democracy in general after witnessing decades of jiyala politics in Pakistan, and hence express their frustration in various forms, including religious ones.

I, for one, cannot comprehend the absolutist condemnation of democracy. One may debate that politics in our country has degenerated to a very humiliating level (to which one can point out many other reasons besides ‘democracy’). But an outright condemnation to the point that one uses religion to oppose it brings many complications as the image of a religion – that is democratic to the core – is put at stake.

I believe that the argument above is based on certain confusions and mishandlings of conceptions in the Islamic tradition.

First of all, it is beyond doubt that God alone is sovereign. This concept emanates from the creed of Tawhid-the oneness of Allah.  This is undeniable and incontestable on all levels. But when we are talking about this world we have to be more explicit and clear in what we imply.

While we may recognize God’s supremacy in this world and the next, we never mean that humans don’t have worldly authority. To say that they don’t would be to deny both free will, everything we see all day and common sense, for the sake of it. It is people who already rule themselves; whether in the form of a singular individual, an institution, class, race, parliament and so on. If human rule is to be denied in its worldly sense then the only plausible form of government would be an anarchic one. Sadly maybe, neither God nor His angels come down on earth and take control of governments. It’s a human decision to make; with or without taking God into consideration.

The question that arises then is, in what form does an Islamic state manifest itself?

Islam has provided a socio-political framework and universal principles that guide us in this regard as well. While Islam recognizes the Divine authority, it fails to recognize a divinely class, and hence closes the doors of theocracy. In this sense, the Islamic ideal is not a religious state. Nobody represents God’s will on earth. Instead, God provides the legitimacy to people to rule on his behalf under the framework of His divine guidelines. He did this by making universal man (all humankind) His vicegerent on earth.

The Islamic principle of governance establishes itself on the basis of shoora (consultation) and Khalifat. Derived from these two principles, we can safely say that while western democracy champions popular sovereignty, Islam recognizes popular vicegerency. While there seems to be common ground on the functional level, conceptually both are worlds apart. It’s somewhat like praying in front of a rock; if your idea of the rock is that it is an idol worth worship then the same action – that would otherwise be completely appropriate – becomes a sin.

The Islamic ideal requires that the Muslim community be taken into confidence not only in the selection of the rulers but also in the decisions of the rulers. The welcoming attitude towards criticism by the Khulfa e Rashideen (the Pious Caliphs) is well established. The attitude of Hazrat Ali (RA) and Hazrat Usman (RA), for example, towards the rebels is without any precedent in history. At a moment, Hazrat Ali (RA) even refused to take action against a rebel who openly declared that he will murder the respected caliph. In both these cases, the caliphs in question had to bear many troubles to uphold such cherished ideals.

On an occasion, Hazrat Umer (RA) spoke unambiguously about the selection of the Muslim ruler. While explaining to people that the selection of Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) was not to be taken as a precedent because it was only adopted out of circumstantial necessity, he went on to say that “If someone gives pledge (bay’et) of allegiance to another (to become a Caliph) without consulting the Muslim community, then the one he has selected should not be granted allegiance, lest both of them should be killed.” * Obviously, the strict connotation at the end refers to carrying out a crime against both the state and the community. The same treatment would today be reserved for someone who breaks the constitution to usurp power.

Click here for Part II and Part III

Reference“ *Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 82, Number 817”

Saad Lakhani

About the author

Saad Lakhani is a student of Social Sciences based in Karachi. He tweets @Saadlakhani12

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9 comments
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  1. No doubt a well written piece, which was much awaited to clear the confusion.

  2. With all due respect, you completely fail to recognize their argument. The discussion you went into is superficial. When discussing the opinion of other side it is vital to first understand how they define these terms under discussion. No body disagrees to democracy if you simply define it as the right of people to choose their ruler. As you explained it, it is well established in Islamic traditions that people indeed had a say on election. However what people object to is its criteria and the added baggage that comes with this.

    Indeed as you wrote back in the days you could choose who your ruler would be, but whoever that ruler may be he would be bound by the laws of Shariah. As in the Islamic jurisprudence would serve as his constitution and he would work within the frame work of it. It was not a case where if you have two third majority you can amend the constitution and legalize homosexuality for example.

    The argument from that side is God created man and God is the best adviser and counselor for mankind. Just merely stating God is sovereign is not enough it has to be implemented on ground that indeed HE is AL Akbar and his laws are sovereign. This is not the case in present day democracy, where the law of state is sovereign. So if the God of Abraham made something haram we can change that if we have the majority in the Parliament and legalize it. That’s what happened in Europe. When you declare by actions that state is sovereign ( in terms of amending islamic shariah) rather than Allah its shirk. This i their argument and Allah knows best

  3. Omar Noor: Most of what you raised in the comments has been addressed in the coming parts of this article. This is the first of three.

    Yes, the part about being bound by Shariah is valid. This point too has been addressed in the coming parts. The problem is that people presume democracy to be a singular concept and that it has only one meaning. That’s the point of contention. The Islamic state is unique in that Shariah is always there to restrict rulers- be they individuals or parliaments-as well as to keep things in boundaries. Homosexuality, for example, cannot be legalized because the constitution cannot allow that. The constitution defines what power the parliament can have and what not. It cannot amend some things on an absolute basis.

    Yes, God is supreme but man is his vicegerent on earth. Your confusing terms and your statements are misleading. This point too has been addressed in more detail further. How can you amend Shariah in a democracy if Shariah is supreme. And wait, it is the law of the state too! So now the law of the state-Shariah- is supreme. Is that shirk too? Please be clear in what you are trying to imply

    I’ve also made a clear distinction of Democracy in an Islamic Framework with western liberal Democracy. This too has been further addressed in the next parts.

  4. Well akhi I was establishing the argument of the other side, one cannot go into a discussion unless you establish the argument well 🙂 You should have have established their argument first in order to make a discussion of it.The impression that i got from your article was that the other side opposes the idea of democracy because they think “there is something wrong with idea that people should have the right to rule” which is not the case.

    We can all write and like minded people would applaud us and the other half would condemn us 🙂 but the key is to understand why do they think the way they do? My premise was built upon that. I started my comment with emphasis on the pluralistic idea of democracy.When you say “The problem is that people presume democracy to be a singular concept and that it has only one meaning” have you tried to understand why they think so? They do so based on what they see on the ground not hypothetical ideal democracy. When they oppose democracy it is the democracy that is functional on ground today so lets not misrepresent their argument, be it unconsciously.

    If You establish that “unique” Islamic state with laws restricted by shariah then you are preaching a choir no one has objection to that sort of democracy 🙂 that’s all i was stating or implying in your words 😛

  5. […] Islam and the rule of  the people – Part I […]

  6. […] here for Part I and Part […]

  7. Good one bro..!! Islam will rule the world again one day!!

  8. […] here for Part […]

  9. AoA Saad bhai…

    In such debates, first you need to outline the fundamental axioms of the two system, the ideals, the process of the historical evolution, the ideals they are designed to achieve, the mechanism they have been using to achieve those ideals, in the past, and during present times. etc.

    So please do that first, before fitting Islam into democracy, or vice versa. The fundamental question which needs to answered is what is the source or criterion to establish the constitution, law, and what mechanism will be used to establish it… in hundreds of form of democracy which the world has see in practice or theory, one thing is common, that the source of law would be majority’s opinion, and that majority must also not be using any religious source whatsoever, rather use their own rational minds (if they have one) to determine their values, priorities, morals etc. The moment you say that some religious source has to be used as a basis of constitution, you are out of the domain of democracy, as it is defined in the modern western world.

    Another thing, if you want to invent something new by bringing religion as the source of law, then you will have to name it something else, so as to avoid any confusion.

    If you agree that Quran and Sunnah are the ultimate source of law and constitution, then what mechanism are needed for its enforcement on to the society. For example, if comes up with an idea that ok lets use a democratic type of a setup then first this idea needs to be tested in a pilot project, before applying it to the entire nation.

    There are two different set of questions: One, what religious segment in Pakistan can really do to prevent the existing secular system to go against Islam…. two, how to transform Pakistan into an the model of Khilataf -e-Rashida (or something close to it).

    Unfortunately the answer to the first one has been assumed to be valid for the 2nd question, and it is being assumed that one fine day when all members of the parliament will be practicing sincere Muslims then eventually they would reorganize themselves and the system to transform into a Khilafat kind of a model. Unfortunately this just an innocent and naive thought primarily because it is assumed that entire set of public and private, formal and informal institutional structure of Pakistan or anywhere else in a democratic system is subservient to the parliament.

    What people don’t realize is that the real drivers of the change in a mature democratic country (and we are not yet there) are not public representative elected through voting, but various stakeholders like Local and Multinational Corporations, Globally Connected Financial and Monetary System, Civil Society (which by definition is secular and liberal), Military Industry, Intelligence Agencies, Free (Sponsored) Media, NGOs (local and Foreign), Bureaucracy etc… All of them influence and derives the system indirectly, while the politicians remains in the front and indirectly serve the agenda of these stakeholders. This is the complete view of the system… changing of politicians through elections, is more like changing of salesmen as per the wishes of the customers, but the salesman would sell the same products manufactured by respective stakeholders, not exactly to serve the customer’s need but for their own benefit… If this is correct, then election is just a change of faces, nothing else!

    Therefore keeping this in view these barriers, some other strategy has to be formulated, and for that we need to take lessons from our own history regarding what has worked and what hasn’t worked to transform the state structure such that it help Islam to spread and enable to enforcement of Shariah in the contemporary society.

    But is it really possible without the demise of western world?

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