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Islam and Politics ( 9 May 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Muhammad Asad’s Idea Of An Islamic State: Presidential Form Of Government Not Khilafat Compatible With Islam In The Modern Age



By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

09 May 2018

Muhammad Asad was a scholar of Islam who had converted from Judaism to Islam at the age of 26 years. After his conversion, he travelled extensively through the Muslim world and studied the Quran and Hadith comprehensively. He translated and wrote the commentary of the Quran which is one of the best English translations of the Quran. After the Second World War many Muslim nations became independent from the British Empire and the question of the form of government for them was of the utmost concern for them.

 In 1932 Muhammad Asad came to India and met Allama Iqbal who persuaded him to make India his home and work for the spiritual premises of the Muslim confederation of states within India he had envisaged. When India was divided and Pakistan was born as a Islamic country, he became the first passport holder citizen of Pakistan. He was appointed as Pakistan’s minister plenipotentiary to the United Nations. The new-born nation of Pakistan was struggling under the various ideological forces within the country who tried to shape the political structure of Pakistan according to their own vision.

Muhammad Asad saw in Pakistan a great scope of experimenting with Islamic principles of statecraft. Not only for Pakistan but also for other predominantly Muslim countries that had attained independence and were trying to shape themselves as Islamic countries but they did not have the theoretical basis for making themselves Islamic countries in the truest sense of the term, Muhammad Asad studies the Quran and the Hadith to draw an outline of the Islamic state and government. As result, he came up with his essays on the issue which later was compiled in the book titled Principles of State and Government in Islam. This book presented the theoretical basis for a clear cut idea of the form of an Islamic government. This was possible because being a convert, he was free of all the ideological and sectarian prejudices of a born Muslim and could study the Quran and the Hadith with an open heart and liberal mind.

Muhammad Asad wanted an Islamic state to be fully founded on Quran and Sunnah but on the spirit of Ijtihad considering the needs and requirements of the Muslims of the modern times. In his book he has given his idea of an Islamic state. But before giving out his findings on the subject, he first asks the question whether an Islamic state was necessary for Muslims to live successfully as a religious community and if yes, what should be its nature and form. He says:

“A state inhabited predominantly or even entirely by Muslims is not necessarily synonymous with an “Islamic state”: It can become truly Islamic only by virtue of a conscious application of the socio-political tenets of Islam to the life of the nation, and by an incorporation of those tenets in the basic constitution of the country.”

 As Maulana Abul Ala Maududi envisaged that Muslims should strive to establish Hukumat-e-Ilahiyya at all times and in all circumstances, Muhammad Asad tries to answer this question in the following words:

“Does Islam really expect the Muslims to strive, at all times and under all circumstances, for the establishment of an Islamic state – or is the desire for it based only on their historical memories? Is Islam really so constituted that it demands of its followers a definite course of political, communal action --- or does it perhaps leave, as other religions do, all political action to be decided by the people themselves in the light of the exigencies of the time? In short, is the “mixing of religion with politics” a genuine postulate of Islam, or not?”

Muhammad Asad feels that for Muslims to live up to the expectations of the Quran and the Sunnah, they should have a state of their own where they can fulfil their duty of Amr Bil Marul WA Nahya an Al Munkar. For that he argues;

 ‘The enjoining of what is right and forbidding what is wrong (Al Amr Bil Maruf Wan Nahy An Al Munkar) --- or to phrase it differently, the creation and maintenance of such social conditions as would enable the greatest possible number of human beings to live in harmony, freedom, and dignity. Now, it is obvious that anti-social behaviour on the part of one person may make it difficult for other persons to realize this ideal; and the larger the number of such “rebels”, the greater the difficulty for the rest.  In other words, the community’s willingness to cooperate in terms of Islam must remain largely theoretical so long as there is no worldly power responsible for enforcing Islamic Law and preventing rebellious behaviour – at least in matters of social concern - on the part of any of the community’s members. This responsibility can be discharged only by a coordinated agency invested with the powers of command (Amr) and prohibition (Nahya); that is, the state. It follows, therefore, that the organization of an Islamic state or states is an indispensable condition of Islamic life in the true sense of the word.”

So he comes to the conclusion that an Islamic state is indispensable for Muslims to be able to fulfil the requirements of the Quran and the Sunnah. Since almost all the Muslim scholars of the medieval and even 20th century were of the view that since the Caliphate of the four rightly guided caliphates was the most successful form of government that enabled Muslims to achieve the highest degree of material and spiritual success and prosperity, only Caliphate was the model form of government for Muslim dominated countries. Those who opposed this idea were termed anti-Islam and their reverence for the rightly guided caliphs was questioned. Muhammad Asad has his own views on this issue. He writes;

“There has never existed a truly Islamic state after the time of the Prophet and of the Medina Caliphate headed by the Prophet’s immediate successors, the four Rightly-Guided Caliphates, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. That Medina Caliphate was truly Islamic in the sense that it fully reflected the pristine teachings of both the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah and was as yet unburdened by later-day theological accretions and speculations. Whatever forms of state and government came into being in Muslim countries after that first, earliest period were vitiated, in a lesser or higher degree, by ideological deviations from the erstwhile simplicity and clarity of Islamic Law, or even by outright, deliberate attempts on the part of the rulers concerned to deform and obscure that Law in their own interests.” (Author’s note)

He also criticizes the Muslims’ preoccupation with Khilafat and their belief that only Khilafat can lead Muslims to the power and glory first generation of Muslims achieved. Muhammad Asad opposes this idea and belief of Muslims and conservative Islamic scholars. He argues that Khilafat was the earliest form of government and it was only an experimental phase not the end product and that Muslims have advanced from the sixth century to the 2oth or 21st century and so they should shape their state according to the needs and requirements of the age.

“I am referring, more particularly, to the idea prevailing among many Muslims, both in the past and in the present, that there could be but one form of state deserving the adjective “Islamic” ---- namely, the form manifest under the four Rightly-Guided Caliphs – and that any deviation from that model must necessarily detract from the “Islamic’ character of the state. Nothing could be more erroneous than this idea. If we examine objectively the political ordinances of Quran and Sunnah, we find that they do not lay down any specific form of state; that is to say the Shariah does not prescribe any definite pattern to which an Islamic state must conform, nor does it elaborate in detail a constitutional theory. The political law emerging from the context of Quran and Sunnah is, nevertheless, not an illusion. It is very vivid and concrete in as much as it gives us the clear outline of a political scheme capable of realization at all time and under all conditions of human life. But precisely because it was meant to be realized at all times and under all conditions, that scheme has been offered in outline only and not in detail. Man’s political, social and economic needs are time bound and, therefore, extremely variable. Rigidly fixed enactments and institutions could not possibly do justice to this natural trend towards variation; and so the Shariah does not attempt the impossible.” P 23

He further writes:

“The outward forms and functions of an Islamic state need not necessarily correspond to any “historical precedent”. All that is required of a state in order that it might deservedly be described as “Islamic” is the embodiment in its constitution and practice of those clear cut, unambiguous ordinances of Islam which have a direct bearing on the community’s social, political, and economic life.”

Therefore, Muhammad Asad is of the view that a modern Islamic country should be based on modern political structure according that fulfils both the requirements of the Quran and Sunnah and also corresponds to the political, social and economic conditions of the time. So, he opines that the modern forms of governments can be used by Islamic countries with variations that suits them in the application of the Quranic nusus and ordinances. However, he is against the use of Western terminology in the formation of a Islamic state. Though it may take most of the features of the modern Western forms of the state, it should make suitable modifications and changes to make it compatible with Quranic principles. Therefore, he is of the view the multiparty parliamentary democracy will be compatible to Islam. He also finds that the presidential form of government will be closer to the requirements of a model Islamic state. He writes:

“In view of all this, it would seem that a “presidential” system of government, somewhat akin to that practiced in the United States, would correspond more closely to the requirements of an Islamic polity than a “parliamentary’ government in which the executive powers are shared by a cabinet jointly and severally responsible to the legislature. In other words, it is the Amir alone to whom all administrative powers and functions should be entrusted and it is he alone who should be responsible to the Majlis – and through it to the people for the policies of the government.”

The basis of his conclusion is that fact that in Islam, the head of the community is the Amir or imam and he works in consultation with his close circle. Consultation is the basic principle in all the affairs of the Muslims. The Quran says; Amruhum Shura Baynahum (Their all communal businesses are transacted in consultation among themselves). The Amir will head the government who will work in consultation with his cabinet ministers who are responsible to the people for their policies and actions.

While shaping the contours of an Islamic state, Muhammad Asad advises Muslims to avoid the Western terminology because an Islamic state will be a pragmatic mix of the old and the new. So he writes:

“Not infrequently we find in the writings of modern Muslims the assertion that “Islamic is democratic” or even that it aims at the establishment of a ‘socialist’ society; whereas many Western writers refer to an alleged ‘totalitarianism” in Islam which must necessarily result in dictatorship.” While criticizing Muslim scholars, he probably kept Allama Iqbal who had the view that ‘Social Democracy” was most compatible with Islam. Muhammad Asad was against seeing the state of Islam from the prism of Western terminology. Muhammad Asad’s democratic state will be democratic in the sense that it will not be based on secularism but on religious values and principles. For his opposition to secularism, he gives the argues that:

“In a modern secular state there is no stable norm by which to judge between good and evil, and between right and wrong. The only possible criterion is the “nation’s interest”. But in the absence of an objective scale of moral values, different groups of people – even within one nation – may have and usually do have widely divergent views as to what constitutes the nation’s best interests. He has further said: “It has become evident that none of the contemporary Western political system – economic liberalism, communism, national socialism, social democracy and so forth – is able to transform that chaos into something resembling order: simply none of them has ever made a serious attempt to consider political and social problems in the light of absolute moral principles.”

Another example of the defect of a secular system is that moral and ethical values are ignored and suppressed in the name of freedom of expression and freedom of belief and ideology. For example, the practice of homosexuality which is a sin under Islam and other religions is permissible in a secular state on the basis of personal freedom. More examples of social and moral degeneration of society being promoted under the pretext of secularism and freedom of expression can be presented. That’s why Muhammad Asad believes that a government based on religious values will be more humane and just. He writes:

“It is reasonable therefore, to presume that a state built on the foundations of religion offers an infinitely better prospect of national happiness than a state founded upon the concept of a “secular” political organism; provided, of course,  that the religious doctrine on which such a state rests – and from which  it derives its authority  -- makes full  allowance, first,  for man’s biological  and social needs, and second,  for the law of historical  and intellectual  evolution to which human society  as a whole is subject.” P 10

Therefore, an Islamic state will be based on Shariah – that is the ordinances and injunctions laid down in the Quran and the Sunnah.

“Thus, the real source of all sovereignty is the will of God as manifested in the ordinances of the Shariah. The power of the Muslim community is of a vicarious kind, being held, as it were, in trust from God; and so the Islamic state -- which, as we have seen, owes its existence to the will of the people and is subject to control by them -- derives its sovereignty, ultimate, from God.  If it conforms to the Shar’i conditions on which I have dwelt in the preceding pages, it has a claim to the allegiance of its citizens in consonance with the words of the Prophet”

However, about the Shariah also, Muhammad Asad has his own unconventional views. He says that the large volumes of Fiqhi deductions made a thousand years ago by Islamic scholars under their own circumstances according to their individual understanding of the Quran and Sunnah in the light of the contemporary problems and issues has been given the status of Shariah which is not correct. He says that the original Shariah is very short and concise and based only on the nussus of the Quran and Hadith. He says:

“It is the nusus of the Quran and Sunnah – and only these – that collectively constitute the real, eternal Shariah of Islam”. P13

“The real Shariah is extremely concise and therefore easily understandable.” P 14

For his conclusion, he gives the following arguments:

“As is well known, not all the laws which form the subject matter of conventional Muslim jurisprudence (Fiqh) rest on injunctions expressed in clear cut terms of command and prohibitions in Quran and Sunnah. By far the larger part of Fiqhi rulings are the outcome of various deductive methods of reasoning, among which Qiyas (deductions through analogy) figures most prominently. The great Fuqaha (jurists) of the past arrived at their legal findings on the basis of their study of Quran and Sunnah, and there is no doubt that in the instance of the foremost exponents of Fiqh this study was extremely deep and conscientious. Nevertheless, the results of these studies were often highly subjective: that is, they were determined by each scholar’s personal approach to, and interpretation of the legal sources of Islam, as well as by the social and intellectual environment of his age.””p 11

“Originally, all such rulings were intended by their authors to facilitate the application of Shar’i principles to specific questions. In the course of time, however, these rulings acquired in the popular mind a kind of sacrosanct validity of their own and came to be regarded by many Muslims an integral part of the Shariah, the Canon Law itself.” -

“Thus, the true Shariah is far more concise and very much smaller in volume than the legal structure evolved through the fiq’h of various schools of Islamic thought.”  P 12

Muhammad Asad asks Muslims to take resort to Ijtihad in the formulation of the new shariah taking into consideration all the necessities and needs of the time and the challenges faced by the modern-day Muslims rather than sticking to Fiqhi deductions made one thousand years ago by the scholars of that time. He says that God wants Muslims to be a thinking community asking in Quran numerous times to think, to ponder and to do research. In other words Quran does not want Muslims to be parrots or a nation devoid of creative thinking. He says;

“The Law-giver meant us Muslims to provide for the necessary additional legislation through the exercise of our Ijtihad (independent reasoning) in consonance of the spirit of Islam. It must of course be understood that any Ijtihadi legislation we may evolve under the inspiration of Quran and Sunnah (occasionally even with the help of the Ijtihad of past generation) will always be subject to amendment by the Ijtihad of those who will come after us: that is to say, it can amount to no more than a temporal, changeable law subject to the authority of the irrevocable, unchangeable Shariah which is self-evident in the nusus of Quran and Sunnah.” Page 14

So, to solve the problem of different schools of Fiqh, Shafi’i, Hambali, Hanafi, Maliki and Jafria, he suggests that the Majlis-e-Shura of the Islamic state will select scholars of all the schools of Fiqh who will work on the preparation of a common fiq’h which will be acceptable to the followers of all the schools of fiq’h. He writes:

““The Majlis as Shurah shall elect a small panel of scholars representing the various schools of Fiqh, fully conversant with the methodology and history of the Quran and the science of Hadith and entrust them with the codification of Shariah laws.” P 103

However, he exhorts Muslims to interpret the Quran and Sunnah with the spirit of ijtihad because only with the spirit of Ijtihad, they can create a truly Islamic society and state. Those who are of the opinion that only Khilafat is the ideal form of government for an Islamic state live frozen in time as they do not understand that the world has moved on from the sixth century experimental age and new challenges and issues face the Muslims. He writes:

“A state which in the lifetime of the prophet embraced only agricultural and pastoral communities with simple needs and comparatively static problems suddenly became the heir to the most complicated Byzantine and Sassanian civilizations. At a time when almost all the energies of the government had to be directed toward military consolidation and ensuring the minimum of administrative efficiency, new, staggering problems were arising every day in the sphere of politics and economics. Governmental decisions had often to be made on the spur of the moment and thus of necessity many of them were purely experimental. To stop at that first splendid experiment and to contemplate, thirteen centuries after the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the organization of an Islamic state in exactly the same form, with exactly the same institutions in which their state was manifested would not be an act of true piety: it would be rather a betrayal of the Companions’ creative endeavour.”

On Minorities in Islamic State

On the issue of treatment of minorities or non-Muslims in a Islamic state, Muhammad Asad has his own views influenced by his own understanding of the Quran and Sunnah. He does not use the terms ‘Dhimmy’ and ‘Jizya’ while explaining their status in a Islamic state. He believes that non-Muslims should get equal treatment in the all the spheres of social life. He is also in favour of giving them important posts in the government. However, he says that a non-Muslim should not be given the post of Amir in a Islamic state. For his view, he gives the following argument:

“They must be accorded all the freedom and protection which a Muslim citizen can legitimate claim: only the may not be entrusted with the key position of leadership. One cannot escape the fact that no non-Muslim citizen – however great his personal integrity and his loyalty to the state – could, on psychological grounds, ever be supposed to work wholeheartedly for the ideological objectives of Islam.”

However, in all the other spheres of political life, the non-Muslims will enjoy all the freedom and care because Muslims are called the best Ummah that cares for all the humanity and not for Muslims alone. He writes;

“In order to overcome the apprehensions of the non-Muslim world in general and of our non-Muslim citizens in particular, we must be able to show that the socio-political scheme of Islam aims at justice for Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and that in our endeavour to set up a truly Islamic state we Muslims are move by moral considerations alone. It is, in short, our duty to prove to the whole world that we really intend to live up to these words of the Quran:

“You are the best community, raised for the welfare of the humanity because you enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and have faith in God.”

In the end he sums up his message to the Muslims in the following words:

“The ideology of Islam is as practicable or as impracticable as we Muslims choose to make it. It will remain impracticable if we continue to confine our concept of Islamic Law to the Fiqhi concepts of our past; but its practicability will at once become apparent if we have the courage and imagination to approach it with fresh unprejudiced minds and exclude from its orbit all conventional, Fiqhi “deductions”. P 107

Source: Principles of State and Government in Islam by Muhammad Asad

S. Arshad is a regular columnist for


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