By Rehan Khan
September 1, 2019
Islam appeared as a religious dispensation in the desert of Arabia in the early eighth century. But it took more than three hundred years for the scholarly elite of Muslims to develop a sophisticated system of theology, positive law, creedal formulations, and mystical Gnosticism. Classic Islamic Political Thought in the early Islamic scholasticism was divided into three formulations, Ann Lambton stated in her book “State and Government in Medieval Islam.”
The first formulation was designated as the “Philosophical strand,” which borrowed heavily from the Greek political theorists. The second formulation was called the “Advice-to-King Strand” or the “Nasihat-ul-Muluk.”
This genre of the scholarship was deeply steeped in Iranian ancient lore. The third formulation was dubbed as the “Juridico-political Strand” or “Siyasi-as-Sharaeya.”
The last stream of political thought claimed to anchor its reasoning solely in the religious scripture of the Quran and the normative practices of the Prophet. Together, these three formulations defined the wide range of political literature produced by Muslim scholars in the classical Islamic period.
The Philosophical strand originated in the intellectual oeuvre of Farabi. He was the first Muslim scholar to have philosophically engaged in politics. Borrowing extensively from Greek philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, he laid down the foundations of Islamic Political Philosophy. Muhsin S Mahdi asserted this in his book “Farabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy.”
Farabi’s magnum opus “Al-Madina al-Fadila” is considered a classic for its originality in Political Theory. Following in the footsteps of Al-Farabi, Ibn-e-Sina also contributed extensively to the philosophical strand of Islamic Political Thought.
Ibn-e-Bajja and Ibn-e-Tufail built on the works of their predecessors in Andalusia. But the most systematic political philosopher of Andalusia was Ibn-e-Rushd.
His famous work on Aristotle earned him the title “The Commentator.”
Ibn-e-Rushd was arguably the last great exponent of Islamic Political Philosophy, Muhamad Arkoun revealed in his book “Rethinking Islam.”
The Advice-to-King genre, as mentioned, was rooted in an idiom of Iranian mythology and historiography. Nizam-ul-Mulk, the Prime Minister of the Seljuk dynasty, gave this strand of scholarship a definitive shape. His book “Siyasatnama” turned into one of the most important works ever to be written on governance and administration in the medieval Islamic period. The great Shiite philosopher Nasiruddin Tusi also wrote an immensely powerful work. His book “Ikhlaq-e-Nasiri” goes down in history as a literary masterpiece. Jalaluddin Diwani, an outstanding philosopher from Iran, represented the culmination of this stand of scholarship.
The “Juridico-political” strand of Islamic Political Thought received the bulk of attention by Muslim scholars. Ibn-e-Muqaffa, an exceptionally brilliant translator and civil servant, was one of the earlier scholars to have engaged in political reasoning, Anthony Black contended in his book “The History of Islamic Political Thought.”
Ibn-e-Muqaffa wrote the famous epistle to Caliph Mansur; advising him to weld together the religious and the political authority. Dialectician of a rationalist bent, Jahiz also contributed to the political literature of his period. Until the late 10th century or early 11th century, scholars from this strand discussed politics only in their works of theology.
Abul Hassan al-Mawardi, the great Muslim jurist, was the first scholar to discuss politics even in his legal treatises. His work “Al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyah” appeared as the first book ever by a Muslim scholar to have discussed Public Administration by bringing into use legal and philosophical reasoning, Patricia Crone informed in her book God’s Rule: Government and Islam.
Contemporaneous with Mawardi, Baqillani also contributed to Islamic Political Theory. Soon after them, Juwayni chipped in with his books on Islamic Political Thought. His precocious student, Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali was the most prolific scholar of his time. Ghazali was an excellent philosopher, jurist, mystic, and political theorist. His book “Mustazhir” brought forth the central tenets of the Islamic Political System. Ghazali was the first to have introduced the idea of a legitimate sultanate in his works. Soon after Ghazali, Razi and Ibn Jamah followed. But the most prolific scholar of the 14th century was Ibn Taymiyah. His magnum opus “Siyasi-as-Sharaeya” proved to be a milestone in the intellectual history of Islamic scholarship. Ibn-e-Khaldun, after Ibn Taymiyah, came into limelight and contributed extensively. His famed work “Muqaddimah” is noted in the entire world for its originality. The last great scholar in this strand was Shah Waliullah. He was not only a Hadith scholar but was also an incredible political theorist. His famous books “Izala-tul-Khifa,” “Qurrat-ul-Aeynan” and “Al-Insaf” address politics, sociology, religion, and law.
Moving on, the Modern Islamic Political Thought was primarily a response to the intellectual challenge posed by the rising Western Civilization. The colonial expansion of the European empires in the Islamic World prompted Muslims to revisit their Traditional Political Thought along modern lines. As a consequence, three broad camps came into being: a) The Traditionalism b) The Secularism c) and Pan-Islamism, later on, morphed into Islamism. These three responses still define the political canvas of the broader Contemporary Islamic Political Thought.
The Traditionalist scholars were the ones who held back on their traditional heritage as the only fortified resort. They banked on their conventional style of political reasoning and embodied the continuation of Classic Islamic Political Thought of yore. The school of Deoband, Berelvism, Salafism, Al-Azher, and Muhammadiyah in the Sunni denomination and the Hawza of Qom and Najaf in the Shiite denomination represent the traditionalist strand. In contrast, the secular scholars were the ones who advocated a break with the past intending to explore new ways to understand politics. They advocated a divorce of religion from politics. Abd al-Raziq in his book “Islam and the Foundations of governance” posited the basic postulations of Islamic secularism. Khalid Muhammad Khalid, Taha Hussain, Muhammad Arkoun, and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi represent this secular camp.
Intriguingly, Pan-Islamists were those scholars who championed the idea of getting all the Muslim polities united under the banner of a single empire (Ottoman Empire in those days). Syed Jamaal Uddin Afghani, Khairuddin Tunisi, Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida were the exponents of Pan-Islamism. After the abolishment of the Caliphate in 1924, Pan-Islamism died its death after having given birth to Islamism. The architects of Islamism are Mawlana Mawdudi, Muhammad Asad, Syed Qutb, Hassan al-Banna, Ayatollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati. Islamists are mostly educated at modern universities and enjoy a wider constituency in modern institutes. They demand strict implementation of Islamic law to Islamize society and state simultaneously. In short, the three strands of Modern Islamic Political Thought still compete for a greater constituency in the Islamic World. The Traditionalists have been pushed back considerably, the seculars have been making inroads, and the Islamists have been on the rise since the 1970s.
Rehan Khanis a prospective candidate for the PhD program at New York University
Original Headline: Classic and modern Islamic political thought: an overview
Source: The Daily Times