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The Political System of Islam in Light of the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw)

The Political System of Islam in Light of the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ

Sheikh Dr. Suhaib Hasan

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم


Undoubtedly, the mission of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was to bring out the people from the darkness of ignorance to the light of Islam, and from the tyranny of the prevailing ways of faith and belief to the just way of Islam, and from a narrow concept of living for this world and its enjoyment to the vast expanses of the hereafter.

But does it mean that he had no role to play in politics and rule? That is what some thinkers in the past tried to prove.

The reading in the Quran and in the lifetimes of the Prophet ﷺ proves otherwise.

Unlike Mūsa and īsa ﷺ, the Prophet ﷺ laid the foundation of an Islamic rule in Madinah, made treaties and pledges with Jews, Christians and Idolaters of Makkah, fought a number of battles to defend the tiny state of Madinah and eventually emerged as a sole undisputable leader of Arabia.

In very clear words he prophesised that a bright future is destined for Islam and that the Muslim Ummah is to lead the entire globe to a peaceful life. Let us read his words as narrated by Thaūbān, one of his Companions:

Thaūbān reported that Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said:

Allah drew the ends of the world near one another for my sake. And I have seen its eastern and western ends. And the dominion of my Ummah would reach those ends which have been drawn near me and I have been granted the red and the white treasures and I begged my Lord for my Ummah that it should not be destroyed because of famine, nor be dominated by an enemy who is not amongst them to take their lives and destroy them root and branch, and my Lord said: Muhammad, whenever I make a decision, there is none to change it. Well, I grant you for your Ummah that it would not be destroyed by famine and it would not be dominated by an enemy who would not be amongst it and would take their lives and destroy them root and branch even if all the people from the different parts of the world join hands together (for this purpose), but it would be from amongst them, viz. your Ummah, that some people would kill the others or imprison the others.[1]

It shows very clearly that the Ummah would be involved in the rule which would expand to a great part of the world.

This is what is echoed in this statement of ‘Ali bin Muhammad Al-Māwardi (d.450AH):

Imamah (the leadership) is introduced to succeed the prophethood in order to guard the religion and to deal with (Siyasa) the worldly matters. It becomes a duty to someone who can do it from among the Ummah by consensus against the odd opinion held by Al-Asamm.”[2]


In short, the system that regulated the lives of the Muslims, both at individual and collective level (known later as ‘Khilafah’) could be summarised in three words:

Following the legacy of the Prophet 

Here we note the prominent features of his legacy which stood as guiding factors for this Successors:

  1. The Prophet ﷺ as a Messenger of Allah guided the Ummah how to strengthen their ties with Allah the All-Mighty by way of worship and devotion. He showed them that he is the Sovereign and to him belong the creation and the command
  2. He was there to establish the Sharia of Allah in the land: Sharia which is inspired by the Divine revelation: The Book and the Sunnah
  3. As an Amir (the Ruler), he consulted his companions in all matters of major concern. With his practical example. He showed them how to abide by the decisions reached at through consultation (Shurā)
  4. He taught them how to exercise Ijtihād (the independent reasoning) wherever they did not find evidence from the Book and the Sunnah.

He himself exercised Ijtihād but he could not stay on error because Allah corrected him immediately as he remains an example for the entire Ummah.

  1. The institution of judiciary remained in his hand in Madinah but he used to appoint governors and judges for other towns and provinces and he used to choose the most capable ones for such responsibilities.
  2. ‘Absolute Justice’ even if it is at the expense of his own self, his dear ones, was the most prominent feature of his rule.
  3. To take care of the poor and needy, he introduced the institution of Bait-Ul-Māl, which was the source for the distribution of all types of income like Zakat, Jizya and war-booties.
  4. To create a transparent just system, he held everybody accountable for his duties; each according to his role in the life. With his own example, he proved that no one stands above the law: The Sharia.
  5. As an Amir, he was responsible to implement the Sharia: a bond between him and the Ummah by way of pledge known as Baya’h’.
  6. He himself took the banner of Jihad for protecting the boundaries of the state, expelling the evil and establishing the Truth. As complimentary to Jihad, he was the one to hold peace treaties, distribute the war booties and send the troops to maintain peace throughout the state.
  7. He established the principle of equality among the mankind as for their status, duties and privileges. However the people with greater services for Islam were given certain privileges on a token of honour and respect.
  8. He did not name his successor before his death but he left a number of sayings and signs to suggest that one of his closest companions and a most pious and capable one i.e. Abū Bakr is worthy to be elected as his Successor (Khalifah) by the Ummah. So the succession was left for the most pious, trustworthy and capable person and not on the basis of hereditary rule.

These were the prominent features of his legacy in the matters of running a state. By accepting Abū Bakr as his successor (Khalifah), the companions introduced the term of ‘Khalifah’ for the political system of Islam.

The rule closest to this model was known as ‘Khilafah Rashida’ (guided succession). Less closer to this model was known as Kingship during the later period but became of adhering to the most of that legacy, it was still known as Khilafah like that of Bani UmayyaBani ‘Abbas and the Ottomans.

In the following two sayings of the Prophet ﷺ the fate of the Ummah after him is well prophesised:

Abū Umama Al-Bahili reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“The knots of Islam are going to break one after the other. Whenever one of them breaks, people will stick to the following one. The first one to break would be the rule and the last one, the prayer.”[3]

The second prophecy speaks about the state of affairs of the Ummah as a whole.

Al-Nūman bin Bashir reported by saying:

“We were sitting in the mosque of the Prophet ﷺ”

Bashir was known with the Hadith.

“Abū Tha’laba Al-Khushani came and said: “O Bashir bin Sa’d, do you remember the Hadith of the Prophet ﷺ about the rulers (Amir)?”

Hudhaifa said “I remember his sermon.”

At that point Abū Tha’labah seated himself

Hudhaifa said that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ has said:

“The Prophethood remains among you as long as Allah wanted it to remain. Then he would withdraw it when he wanted to withdraw it. Then there would be Khilafah based on the methodology of the Prophethood which would remain as long as Allah wanted it to remain.

Then Allah would withdraw it when he wanted to do so. Then it would be a biting kingship which would remain as long as Allah wanted it to remain. Then Allah would withdraw it when he wanted to do so. Then it would be a forced rule which would remain as long as Allah wanted it to remain. Then he would withdraw it when he wanted to do so. Then there would be a Khilafah on the methodology of Prophethood.”

Then he kept silent.

Habib (The reporter) said:

“When ‘Umar bin Abdul Aziz became a Khalifah (And Yazid, the son of Al-Nūman bin Bashir was among his courtiers) I wrote this Hadith to him as a reminder and I said to him:

“I hope that the Amir of the Believers i.e. ‘Umar bin Abdul Aziz would be the one coming after the biting kingship and the forced rule.”

My letter was shown to ‘Umar bin Abdul Aziz and he was very pleased with it.” [4]


Among these characteristics of the legacy of the Prophet ﷺ, some are very obvious and could be traced easily in the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ.

Here we are concerned with two, very important among them:

  1. The institution of Shura (Consultation)
  2. The matter of Responsibility and Accountability

Let us elaborate them in detail:


It came as a commandment from Allah All-Mighty when He addressed the Prophet ﷺ by saying:

فَبِمَا رَحۡمَةٍ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمۡ‌ۖ وَلَوۡ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ ٱلۡقَلۡبِ لَٱنفَضُّواْ مِنۡ حَوۡلِكَ‌ۖ فَٱعۡفُ عَنۡہُمۡ وَٱسۡتَغۡفِرۡ لَهُمۡ وَشَاوِرۡهُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَمۡرِ‌ۖ فَإِذَا عَزَمۡتَ فَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يُحِبُّ ٱلۡمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

It was by the mercy of Allah that thou wast lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if thou had been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from round about thee. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah. Lo! Allah loveth those who put their trust (in Him).

(Surah Āl-Imran 3:159)

وَٱلَّذِينَ ٱسۡتَجَابُواْ لِرَبِّہِمۡ وَأَقَامُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَأَمۡرُهُمۡ شُورَىٰ بَيۡنَہُمۡ وَمِمَّا رَزَقۡنَـٰهُمۡ يُنفِقُونَ

And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them

(Surah Al-Shūra 42:38)

Is it just recommended as it should be binding? The verse of Āl-Imran leaves no doubt that consultation is required as mandatory and once a matter is decided, there is no option left for the subjects but to obey that decision as deduced from this verse of Surah Al-Nisā:

يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓاْ أَطِيعُواْ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِى ٱلۡأَمۡرِ مِنكُمۡ‌ۖ فَإِن تَنَـٰزَعۡتُمۡ فِى شَىۡءٍ۬ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمۡ تُؤۡمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلۡيَوۡمِ ٱلۡأَخِرِ‌ۚ ذَٲلِكَ خَيۡرٌ۬ وَأَحۡسَنُ تَأۡوِيلاً

O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority; and if ye have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah and the messenger if ye are (in truth) believers in Allah and the Last Day. That is better and more seemly in the end.

(Surah Al-Nisā 4:59)

There are a number of events where the Prophet ﷺ was seen consulting his companions and acting according to their majority opinion. The most glaring example is that of the Battle of Uhud in the second year of Hijrah.

When the idolaters of Makkah advanced towards Madinah, the Prophet ﷺ consulted the companions and narrated to them his dream which revealed disturbing signs as for the consequences of the battle. In view of this vision, he was of the opinion to stay fortified at Madinah and let the enemy face a ferocious fighting if the dared to enter into the city.

Let us see the account of his consultation as given by Ibn Kathir:

‘Those who did not attend the battle of Badr said: “We were waiting for this day, we have prayed to Allah as well. Now He brought us to this day and made for us a short journey (to meet the enemy).”

A man from the Ansār said: “O Messenger of Allah! When are we going to fight them if we do not fight them on our own mount?”

Some others said: “What are we going to defend if we do not defend the battle by terrorising (them).”

Some other people said (similar) things and stood by them in all sincerity. One of them was his uncle, Hamza bin Abdul Muttalib who said: “By Whom who revealed the Book to you, we are going to combat them.”

Na’im bin Malik, from the tribe of Banu Sālim said: “O Prophet of Allah! Do not deprive us from entering into the Paradise. By Whom in whose hand is my soul, I would enter it.”

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “With what?”

He said: “With my love for Allah and his Messenger and I am not going to turn away from the day of the Raid.”

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “You have said the truth.”

He was martyred that day.

Most of them declined except to meet the enemy and did not hearken to the saying of the Prophet ﷺ and his opinion. Had they shown their pleasure to his opinion, better it would have been but the destiny had to prevail eventually.

Most of those who were of the opinion to go out, were the ones who did not witness the battle of Badr and they knew how great was the excellence of the participants of Badr.

According to Muhammad Ibn Ishaq, the Prophet ﷺ narrated his dream to the companions, then said to them “How do you see, if you stay at Madinah and let them camp wherever they want. If they stay, their stay will be vicious and if they try to enter, we are going to fight them?”

Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salūl showed his agreement to the opinion of the Prophet ﷺ.

A man from among the Muslims (who later was blessed with martyrdom at Uhud) and some others who missed the day of Badr said “O’ Messenger of Allah! Come out with us to our enemies. They must not see that we have fallen weak and coward.”

At this point, Abdullah bin Ubayy bin Salūl said “O’ Messenger of Allah! Do not go out towards them. By Allah! Whenever we have left Madinah to an enemy, we had suffered and whenever they entered upon us, they had suffered.”

This is how they were with the Prophet ﷺ until he entered his house and then came out wearing his shield. That was a Friday when he has already finished his prayers and had prayed the funeral prayer on a man from Bani Najjar who died that day. Then he came out.

The people realised that they had forced the Prophet ﷺ to come out. They showed their regret and said to him “If you like, you can stay.” To which he replied, “It is not befitting for a Prophet, when he has worn his shield, to remove it until he has fought.”

He left Madinah with a thousand warriors to meet an enemy three thousand strong.

On his way to Uhud, Abdullah bin Ubayy left him along with his three hundred supporters saying “He obeyed them and went against me. We do not know why we are apt to kill ourselves here.”’[5]end quote

This narrative proves that:

  1. The Prophet ﷺ did consult his companions at this crucial moment of his life
  2. Everyone was free to give his opinion without any coercion or force

iii.                He followed the majority opinion which did not agree with his own

  1. Abdullah bin Ubayy, the leader of the hypocrites, on the contrary, did not abide by the majority decision and this is why he has been condemned.

In addition to that, there a number of occasions in which he consulted the companions.

For example:

  1. When he left Madinah on his way to Badr
  2. About the camping place near the wells at Badr
  3. About the fate of the captives after the battle of Badr; an event about which some verses of the Quran were revealed.
  4. On his way to Makkah in year 6th of Hijrah when he intended to perform ‘Umrah
  5. He consulted even his wife Umm Salama when he saw that the Companions were reluctant to undo their Ihram at Hudaibiya after they had been prevented to enter Makkah.

Responsibility & Accountability

In Islam, these two characters are required on each and every level of society.

An individual as for his own actions;

Head of a house, an institution or an official post along with all those who work under him;

An Amir (the authority) whether for a party of travellers, a contingent for a military expedition or a commander in-charge for the whole fighting force.

The Head of state (Khalifah) with all his ministers.

Because a person may avoid to meet this requirement in the worldly affairs through excuses and fake evidences, he is constantly reminded of his being accountable to Allah on the day of judgement.

فَوَرَبِّكَ لَنَسۡـَٔلَنَّهُمۡ أَجۡمَعِينَ عَمَّا كَانُواْ يَعۡمَلُونَ

By your Lord, We shall question, everyone. Of what they used to do.

(Surah al-Hijr 15:92-93)

أَفَحَسِبۡتُمۡ أَنَّمَا خَلَقۡنَـٰكُمۡ عَبَثً۬ا وَأَنَّكُمۡ إِلَيۡنَا لَا تُرۡجَعُونَ

Did ye think that We had created you in jest, and that ye would not be brought back to us (for account)

(Surah Al-Muminūn 23:115-116)

مَّا يَلۡفِظُ مِن قَوۡلٍ إِلَّا لَدَيۡهِ رَقِيبٌ عَتِيدٌ۬

He uttereth no word but there is with him an observer ready

(Surah Qāf 50:18)

وَلَا تَقۡفُ مَا لَيۡسَ لَكَ بِهِۦ عِلۡمٌ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱلسَّمۡعَ وَٱلۡبَصَرَ وَٱلۡفُؤَادَ كُلُّ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ كَانَ عَنۡهُ مَسۡـُٔولاً۬

And pursue not that of which thou hast no knowledge; for every act of hearing, or of seeing or of (feeling in) will be enquired into (on the Day of Reckoning).

(Surah Al-Isra 17:36)

One of very explicit saying of the Prophet ﷺ in this regard is the one reported by ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar.

He said that I heard the Messenger of Allah saying:

“Beware, every one of you is a shepherd and every one is answerable with regard to his flock. The Caliph is a shepherd over the people and shall be questioned about his subjects (as to how he conducted their affairs). A man is a guardian over the members of his family and shall be questioned about them (as to how he looked after their physical and moral well-being). A woman is a guardian over the household of her husband and his children and shall be questioned about them (as to how she managed the household and brought up the children). A slave is a guardian over the property of his master and shall be questioned about it (as to how he safeguarded his trust). Beware, every one of you is a guardian and every one of you shall be questioned with regard to his trust.”[6]

Another very pressing statement, comes from the Prophet ﷺ in this Hadith, narrated by Abū Humaid as-Sāidī who said:

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ appointed a man from the Asad tribe who was called Ibn Lutbīyya in charge of Sadaqa (i.e. authorised to receive Sadaqa from the people on behalf of the state). When he returned (with the collections), he said: This is for you and (this is mine) it was presented to me as a gift. The narrator said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ stood on the pulpit and praised God and extolled Him. Then he said: What about a State official whom I give an assignment and who (comes and) says: This is for you and this has been presented to me as a gift? Why didn’t he remain in the house of his father or the house of his mother so that he could observe whether gifts were presented to him or not. By the Being in Whose Hand is the life of Muhammad, any one of you will not take anything from it but will bring it on the Day of Judgement, carrying on his neck a camel that will be growling, or a cow that will be bellowing or an ewe that will be bleating. Then he raised his hands so that we could see the whiteness of his armpits. Then he said twice: O God, I have conveyed (Thy Commandments).[7]

The following Hadith as narrated by Abū Dharr establishes a golden rule for appointing a person on an authoritative post.

It has been reported on the authority of Abū Dharr that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

“Abū Dharr, I find that thou art weak and I like for thee what I like for myself. Do not rule over (even) two persons and do not manage the property of an orphan.”[8]

A person failing in his duty is reminded how would he be disgraced and punished on the day of judgement.

‘Amr bin Murrah al-Juhani once said to Mu’āwiya:

I heard the Messenger of Allah saying:

“The Imam who shuts his gate against the people of need, poverty and humility, Allah is going to shut the Heaven’s gates against his needs, poverty and humility.”

After listening to this, Mu’āwiya appointed a person to look after the needs of people.[9]

The concept of accountability led to the institution of Hisbah: To enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil. Any evil which affect the society was meant to be checked and the convicts to be punished.

The legacy of the Prophet ﷺ, as projected in the above-mentioned twelve characteristics was later developed by his successors in all three major components of a political system: Legislative, Juristic and executive.

No doubt that all present systems of rule, crowned by democracy, benefitted from the legacy of the Prophet ﷺ and that of his successors.

For example, the modern law makers speak about the necessity of preserving the religious rights, the human soul, the intellect, the wealth, the human race and the dignity and honour of an individual. Long before them, Imam Ghazali mentioned them as five maxims for the protection of Deen (religion), Nafs (soul), ‘Aql (intellect), Māl (wealth) and Nasab (the lineage). These five maxims, in addition to the protection of ‘Ird (honour) found to be regulating the Sharia as a whole. They stand in face of:

  1. i)A violation against the religious values and symbols
  2. ii)Killing and murders

iii)               Whatever spoils the intellectual functions of a person like drinking, drugs and narcotics.

  1. iv)Theft and fraudulent activities to deprive someone’s wealth and savings.
  2. v)Fornication, rape and adultery which deprive a child from a legal valid lineage and a woman from disgrace
  3. vi)False allegations against one’s dignity and honour

In our present times, democracy has been taken as the most palatable political system throughout the world. With a blend of some Islamic features, it has been accepted by a number of Muslim countries. Hence, a brief discussion about Democracy, its origin, its history and its prominent features is needed.

Chapter 3: On Democracy

The origins of the word go back to ‘Demo’ in Greek meaning ‘people’ and ‘Kratos’ meaning power i.e. the power of the people.[10]

As for its historical background, it had its root in the sayings of the early Greek philosophers and its manifestation in the Greek capitals like Athens and Sparta.

No doubt that Hammurabi (2067-2025 BC) was known to be the oldest creator of the legal code but democracy itself showed its colours in the Greek communities in the fifth century BC, during the days of Socrates (469-399 BC), Plato (428-348 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC) and the rest.

Most of our deliberation in this chapter is indebted to the writing of Bertrand Russell in his masterly piece of research ‘History of western philosophy.’

The story begins with the civil societies of Athens and Sparta, two rival cities moving from monarchy to aristocracy with elements of democracy in the fifth century.

Athens, in comparison to Sparta, was found to be more democratic than its rival apart from their treatment of slaves and women. Wealthy people were left to enjoy the fruits of their wealth. The judges were taken from the common folk and for short periods.

They were found in great numbers to facilitate a speedy judgement in all disputes. The court, allowed the plaintiff and the respondents to appear by themselves and present their cases without the involvement of any solicitors. At the most they were allowed to get their speeches written by Sophists (teachers of great eloquence and skills) to impress the judges.

‘For Athens, though much addicted to persecution, was in one respect less illiberal than modern America, since those accused of impiety and corrupting the young were allowed to plead in their own defence’[11]

War between the two rivals (405 BC) led to a victory by Sparta who introduced their own model of oligarchy (a rule by rich aristocrats) to Athens by appointing thirty tyrants. Socrates’ trial leading to his death in 399 BC was led by them.

How Socrates viewed the rule, is well depicted in his statement:

“‘This is what deters me from being a politician.’

He goes on to say that in politics no honest man can live long. He gives two instances in which he was unavoidably mixed up in public affairs:

In the first, he resisted the democracy; in the second, the thirty Tyrants, in each case when the authorities were acting illegally.” [12]

Plato (b. 428 BC) believed that the fall of Athens and the execution of Socrates were due to the case of democracy. He speaks about wisdom and whether it exists or not. And if there is such a thing, can any constitution be devised that will give it political power? He is very doubtful whether aristocrats, kings, pope, could be suitable to run a state wisely. He suggests whether university graduates or doctors of divinity could be a better option.

In the end he says:

‘It might by suggested that men could be given political wisdom by a suitable training. But the question could arise: What is a suitable training? And this would turn out to be a party question.

The problem of finding a collection of ‘wise’ men and leaving the government to them is thus an insoluble one. That is the ultimate reason for democracy.’[13]

Aristotle (b. 384 BC) speaks of magnanimous man, a person of distinctive qualities with powers and pride, the most suitable to be in a place of authority. Comparing this concept to that of democracy Russell says:

‘’ A modern democracy – unlike that of antiquity – confers great power upon certain chosen individuals, Presidents or Prime Ministers, and must expect of them kinds of merits which are not expected of the ordinary citizen.

In a democracy, a President is not expected to be quite like Aristotle’s magnanimous man but still he is expected to be rather different from the average citizen, and to have certain merits connected with his station.’’ [14]

According to Aristotle, democracy remains better than oligarchy with less possibilities of rebellions or revolution. In the latter, there had been always been more chances of disputes and confrontation. In the latter, there had been always more chances of disputes and confrontation among the wealthy ruling elites.

In Rome, Christianity tried its best to combat the aristocratic rule and after a very hard struggle it was able to liberate itself from the clutches of the feudal lords and bring an end to the dark ages.

And by the flourishing of trade and emergence of new commercial cities, democracy penetrated its way through the remaining alliance between the church and the nobles.

In other words, nationality and science helped establishing the foundations of the new system.

‘‘The first serious interruption of science was the publication of the Copernican theory in 1545, but this theory did not become influential until it was taken up and improved by Kepler and Galileo in the 17th century.’’[15]

Russell shows how wealth had played its role in consolidating the powers of the ruling elites in different parts of Italy. For example, he speaks of Medici (1389–1464) and his grandson Lorenzo who succeeded him and ruled till his death in 1492.

‘‘Both these men owed their position to their wealth, which they had acquired mainly in commerce, but also in mining and other industries. They understood how to make Florence rich, as well as themselves, and under them the city prospered.’’[16]

There is an interesting note about the Emperor Frederick II of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily ‘who had introduced an absolute monarchy on the Mohammedan model, enlightened but despotic, and allowing no power to the feudal nobility.’[17]

Now we move to the reformation period which not only witnessed a revolution in Christianity by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his successors but in the political philosophy from sixteenth century to the present times. That is the time during which democracy emerged in its present shape and form. To make it concise and brief, the main contribution by the prominent thinkers are given below:

  1. Machiavelli (1467-1527) remarks that

“All armed prophets have conquered and unarmed ones failed.’’ He is famous for his theory that to achieve the end, the means are justified.

  1. Spinoza (1632-1677) follows the footprint of Hobbes (1588-1679).

“His political theory is, in the main, derived from Hobbes, in spite of the enormous temperamental difference between the two men. He holds that in a state of nature there is no right or wrong, for wrong consists in disobeying the law. He holds that the sovereign can do no wrong, and agrees with Hobbes that the Church should be entirely subordinate to the State. He is opposed to all rebellion, even against a bad government, and instances the troubles in England as a proof of the harm that comes of forcible resistance to authority. But he disagrees with Hobbes in thinking democracy the ‘most natural’ form of government. He disagrees also in holding that subjects should not sacrifice all their rights to the sovereign. In particular, he holds freedom of opinion important. I do not quite know how he reconciles this with the opinion that religious questions should be decided by the State. I think when he says this he means that they should be decided by the State rather than the Church; in Holland, the State was more tolerant than the Church.”[18]

  1. John Locke (1632-1704) speaks about a social construct as a basis for the government. He believes that in a democracy, the implementation of natural laws holds an esteemed position.

To elaborate this point, let Russell explain it as follows:

“Legal theory will be based upon the view that the ‘rights’ of individuals should be protected by the State. That is to say, when a man suffers the kind of injury which would justify retaliation according to the principles of natural law, positive law should enact that the retaliation shall be done by the State. If you see a man making a murderous assault upon your brother, you have a right to kill him, if you cannot otherwise save your brother. In a State of nature—so, at least, Locke holds—if a man has succeeded in killing your brother, you have a right to kill him. But where law exists, you lose this right, which is taken over by the State. And if you kill in self-defence or in defence of another, you will have to prove to a law-court that this was the reason for killing.

We may then identify ‘natural law’ with moral rules in so far as they are independent of positive legal enactments. There must be such rules if there is to be any distinction between good and bad laws. For Locke, the matter is simple, since moral rules have been laid down by God, and are to be found in the Bible. When this theological basis is removed, the matter becomes more difficult. But so long as it is held that there is an ethical distinction between right actions and wrong ones, we can say: Natural law decides what actions would be ethically right, and what wrong, in a community that had no government; and positive law ought to be, as far as possible, guided and inspired by natural law.”[19]

Having said that he comes to conclude that these laws can only take shape by the will of the majority: a basis for democracy.

He believes in the freedom of press. When a bill for this was presented to the parliament he came out openly to defend it. He used to say that a man should have complete freedom to publish whatever he could say verbally.

  1. Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), a Geneva born thinker and philosopher, the author of ‘Social contract’ (1762) opens the first chapter with a very forceful piece of rhetoric:

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the monster of others, but remains more of a slave than they are. His doctrine of ‘’Free Will’’ dominates his writings but it is not identical with the will of majority or even with the will of all the citizens. It seems to be conceived as the will belonging to the body politics as such.”[20]

To elaborate further, Russell explains is as follows:

“The conception in Rousseau’s mind seems to be this: every man’s political opinion is governed by self-interest, but self-interest consists of two parts, one of which is peculiar to the individual, while the other is common to all the members of the community. If the citizens have no opportunity of striking logrolling bargains with each other, their individual interests, being divergent, will cancel out, and there will be left a resultant which will represent their common interest; this resultant is the general will. Perhaps Rousseau’s conception might be illustrated by terrestrial gravitation. Every particle in the earth attracts every other particle in the universe towards itself; the air above us attracts us upwards while the ground beneath us attracts us downward. But all these ‘selfish’ attractions cancel each other out in so far as they are divergent, and what remains is a resultant attraction towards the centre of the earth. This might be fancifully conceived as the act of the earth considered as a community, and as the expression of its general will.[21]

  1. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a German philosopher talks about the treatment of each man as an end himself.

“But what about if the interest of two persons conflict with each other? There is no solution but to give preference for the majority, by which the interests of some can, when necessary, be sacrificed to those of others and that is with the aim of having justice for the good of community. In essence, it means that each man is not an absolute end but that all men count equally, in determining actions by which many are affected. It can be taken as an ethical basis for democracy.”[22]

“To prevent wars, he propounds the idea of a federation of free states. He condemns wars and opines that only an international government can prevent it. Though he solicits for democracy but he is suspicious of it as well. In his words:

“‘The whole people’ so called who carry their measures are really not at all, but only a majority: so that here, the universal will is in contradiction with itself and with the principles of freedom.”[23]

  1. Hegel (1770-1831) another German philosopher, applies a dialectical method to analyse the phases of world political history. To him, the word had been a stage for the conflict of ideas: a positive one which comes to confront it from within, leading to a third idea to prevail. His pupil Karl Marx (1810-1883) turned his theory into the conflict of classes in a society which leads to socialism primarily and to communism eventually. Both these philosophers had a great impact on the political structure in Europe and America.
  1. Jeremy Bentham (b. 1748), the proponent of the theory of ‘greatest happiness principle’ contributed in the field of English law. He advocated abolition of the death penalty for all but the worst offences and before he died, the criminal law had been mitigated in this respect.
  1. Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), the great English philosopher is renowned for his advancement of socialism, his bold stand against forced army recruitment at the time of the first world war and against nuclear proliferation. His prediction in 1923 about America as to leading an imperialistic role on an economic level sometime in the future seems to have come true.

In the end, let us have a look at the salient points of the western political thoughts.

  1. Greek major towns witnessed the first democratic experience since the fifth century B.C. but each excluding women and slaves.
  2. Democracy was seen less subjected to revolutions than other prevalent types of rule.
  3. Intellect and not revelation had been the basis of western philosophy
  4. Sovereignty lies with the people, so a general will should be reflected in the government.
  5. Represented democracy is the best suitable political system based upon a social contract between the citizens and the government.
  6. Matters can only be decided by the majority.
  7. Democracy and nationalism work together gloves in hands.
  8. Freedom of press and expression of one’s thoughts provides basis for democracy.
  9. Religion has no rule to play in the political arena.
  10. The ends justify the means, especially when it comes to protect the state.
  11. To protect individual rights, capitalism is the way forward.
  12. Through political parties, the democratic process could be well organised


  1. The Prophet ﷺ has accomplished his mission by establishing the Tawhid and eradicating the basis of Shirk which were prevalent in the Arabia. As for managing the affairs of the state, he left a legacy of some very basic principles which led his successors to establish a rule of peace and justice. ‘Khilafah’ was the name by which this rule was known throughout the long history of Islam till it was abolished in 1924 as an end for the Ottoman empire.
  1. The concept of sovereignty is the most important feature by which Khilafah is distinguished from democracy. It belongs entirely to Allah Almighty in the former where it is given to the public in the latter.
  1. Legislation, in the Khilafah system rests completely on the two fundamental sources: the Quran and the Sunnah. In all such matters where a clear evidence from these two sources are not found, legislators are guided by consensus, analogy and other secondary sources. On the other hand, democracy gives a free hand to the law-givers on the basis of majority vote. It is said that the British Parliament, the mother of all parliaments, can whatever it likes apart from transforming a man into a woman and vice versa.
  1. The supreme body in Khilafah known as the Majlis Shura (consultative body) was originally recognised as a group of people who enjoy the authority of binding the Knots or undoing them i.e. appointing a Khalifah or withdrawing him. For their selection, a number of qualities, like morality, honesty and piety were primarily required. In democracy, any person could be elected on the basis of majority vote. He is liable for impeachment mostly on the basis of financial malpractice. It is rightly said that through the process of election in a democracy, all the rubbish could be collected from the four corners of the country and thrown in the centre.
  1. Among the primary duties of Khilafah is to establish the prayer and regulate the institution of Zakat, enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil as given in this verse:

ٱلَّذِينَ إِن مَّكَّنَّـٰهُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ أَقَامُواْ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتَوُاْ ٱلزَّڪَوٰةَ وَأَمَرُواْ بِٱلۡمَعۡرُوفِ وَنَهَوۡاْ عَنِ ٱلۡمُنكَرِ‌ۗ وَلِلَّهِ عَـٰقِبَةُ ٱلۡأُمُورِ

“(They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs.”

(Surah Hajj 22:41)

It means protection of religious values and maintaining the highest standard of moralities.

In democracy, both these are left as a private matter for the individual. Thus drinking alcohol for example, which is a punishable crime in the former, is treated as a norm in the latter.

  1. During the days of the Prophet ﷺ, legislation, governance and judiciary were all embodied in his person as he had to set an example in all three of them for the generations to come. His successors, in view of the expansion of the State and a vast majority of duties, appointed Qazis (judges) to act independently. This had been the practices throughout the Muslim caliphate for the last thirteen centuries. On the other hand, all three institutions work independently in a democratic system. It seems to be brilliant but it leaves the government hand-folded when, in major crises, legislation is left and delayed to the mercy of the parliament. In a number of so-called democracies, parliament is no more than a rubber-stamping institution.
  1. Sharia, the law upheld in the Khilafah, maintains to preserve the five maxims: Preservation of religious values, the human soul, the intellect, the wealth and the purity of the progeny. In a democracy, the religion remains a private act for the individuals. Politicians are seen speaking about the basic ethical values to be maintained and honoured but they hardly admit that the religions had been the source of all such values.
  1. The concept of a ruling party which is constantly challenged by an opposition party Is the main feature of a democracy. Superficially it seems to be a laudable conventional way of governance but it sows the seeds of confrontation among the groups to the extent of developing prejudice for one’s group whether it is right or wrong. In Khilafah, the consultative council works as a collective body which may have different groups but they all had to work for the benefit of the people and the protection of the State as a whole. They are guided by the reasoning based upon the evidence and not by the prejudices for one’s group against the other.
  1. In view of the development in the political systems throughout the ages, the presidential system as practiced the U.S.A seems to be more in line with the election of a Khalifah Islamically. The hereditary appointment of a Khalifah, though it had been tolerated by the Muslims throughout the ages, due to the need of a tribal backing, as explained by Ibn Khaldūn, falls short of the criteria set by the rightly guided four successors of the Prophet ﷺ. The duality of the British parliamentary system, i.e. elected government working with monarchy had been the product of Britain’s political history for the last one thousand years. The monarch has been replaced by a powerless president elsewhere. Democracy has failed to redress this situation.
  1. Are there some common grounds between these two systems? Yes, they share the following:

(i)                 Consultation on a wider scale.

(ii)              Government being a social contract between the subject and the rulers

(iii)            Preservation of the rights of the subjects on the basis of equality.

(iv)             Above all to maintain justice and equity.

  1. As for the electorates, a certain age is required for the voters in a democracy. A similar trend is found amongst the Muslim jurists to ask for certain basic ethical requirements for a person to be eligible to vote. Presently, the right of vote for prisoners is being looked at by the British law-makers.

I conclude by saying that democracy is in need of a lot of reforms to make it a fully representative body reflecting the aspirations of all the citizens. As for Khilafah, the soul and substance is there but a structure according to modern requirement is badly needed.

To sum up, I quote the saying of an Islamic party’s founder:

“Islam is not democracy, but democracy is found in Islam.”

وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

And peace and blessings upon our prophet Muhammad, upon all his family and companions.


The author preferred to mention here all such books from which he has benefited during the writing of this paper whether or not they have been quoted.

  1. Arabic:
  1. Muhammad bin Isma’īl Al-Bukhari: Al-Jami’ Al-Sahih, Riyadh, 1999.
  1. Muslim bin Al-Hajjaj Al-Qushairi (with English translation by Abdul Hameed Siddiqi), Lahore, 1975.
  1. Muhammad bin ‘Įsa al-Tirmidhi: Al-Sunan, Beirut
  1. Ahmed bin Hanbal: Musnad, Riyadh
  1. Al-Mawardi: Al-Ahkām al-Sultania.
  1. Isma’īl bin ‘Umar bin Kathir: Al-Bidaya wal-Nihaya, Cairo.
  1. Mausa’ā Nadratul – Na’im, Jeddah.
  1. Al-Majalla al-‘Ilmiya (European Council for Fatwa & Research), Issue 10-11, Dublin.
  1. Urdu
  1. Hanif Nadwi: Afkar Ibn Khaldūn, Lahore.
  1. ‘Abdul Raūf Malik: Maghrib Ke Azim Falsafi, Lahore.
  1. Muhammad Asshad: Islami Riyasat Ki Tashkil Jadid, Lahore.
  1. Abul Kashif Qadri: 100 Azim Shakhsiyat, Lahore
  1. English
  1. Bertrand Russell: History of Western Philosophy, London & New York.
  1. Richard Swift: Democracy, Oxford.
  1. E.W.F. Tomlin: Philosophers of East and West, London.
  1. Terri Hardin: A Portrait of Greece, Printed in Indonesia.

About Me

Sheikh Suhaib Hasan Abdul Ghaffar is the Secretary of the Islamic Sharia Council of Great Britain.

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