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Summary of 9.1 "Religion and Politics"

We briefly described how this series relates to the previous series.  Mostly we examined the notion of separation between Church and State.  We indicated that this whole notion emerged in the West as a result of how the Church was concealed and the struggle of power that took place in Europe.  We said that in the case of Islam this was not applicable neither on the conceptual nor on the historical level.  It was indicated that Islam is a more comprehensive and complete way of life and doesn’t recognize duality of authority where there are some things under the control of God and some things under the control of temporal rulers.  All of life should be integrated under one harmonious authority of God.  We indicated that on grassroots level one has to go beyond recognition of the existence of God to the servitude of God.  One needs to translate their conviction by accepting God’s directives in conducting their individual, political, social and economic life.  In the last part of the program we tried to give quite a few citations from the Quran which showed quite clearly that Islam makes it incumbent on the Muslim community to establish an Islamic system of Government based on divine directives.  We can’t simply say the spiritual part is the domain of the Quran and the rest is left to others.  The Quran made it clear that those who do not rule and judge in accordance with God’s revelation are unbelievers and rebells against God.


9.2 Nature of Islamic Political Systems

Host:  Does this emphasis on revelation imply that the political system of Islam is mainly theocratic?

Jamal Badawi:

No, Islam’s political system is not theocratic.  Theocracy implies two things: one is that God alone is the sovereign or ultimate power and the second part is the assumption that there is a certain priestly class or clergy who claim to be the representatives of God on earth.  The first element in the meaning of theocracy is compatible with Islam because as we indicated in the previous program the whole structure of Islam is based on the acceptance of the supremacy of God and that His laws are ultimate and that His wisdom is infinite.  This is the only similarity with theocracy.  The second element has nothing to do with Islam.  In Islam there is no Church, Clergy or priestly class.  Islam doesn’t except for people to claim to be representatives of God on earth.  All human race is regarded as trustees of God on earth.

In Islam legitimacy of any power is derived from people’s acceptance which is beyond following the divine teachings.  In term of mechanisms one can not gain legitimacy as a ruler unless people agree to it.  It should not be imposed on them.  In other words one element of theocracy may be similar to Islam but the it would be incorrect to call the Islamic system a theocracy.  Lots of writers use that term but it is not accurate.  Based on the principle that supports people choosing their own rulers.  We find that Islam does not accept other systems of government which involve dictatorships in one form or the other because free will and the choice of the people is not there.  Nor does Islam except a system of monarchy where power is inherited within the same family  through children or relatives, which has no basis in Islamic political teachings.  There are many countries that call themselves republics but the power only circulates within a closely nit class of elite.  Whatever system it is and whatever title it has if there is no free choice It is not based on what Islam teaches in regards to free choice.


Host:  How valid are the comparisons made by writers between Islam and Theocracy?

Jamal Badawi:

We have to look at the nature of the comparison itself first.  We have to remember that whenever we make any comparisons that Islam is not a man made idea and that God ordained the way of life.  Islam reflects the infinite divine wisdom which is absolutely infallible.  With this kind of understanding the fundamentals of Islam as reflected in the word of God or sayings of the Prophet, which he received by way of revelation, represents the ultimate truth and is not something that one can update, change or supersede in any way.  If we believed in a God who is fallible then we would be in trouble.  On the other hand the other systems whether democracy, socialism or others we are really talking about man made ideas or ideologies.  These ideas govern the social or political life of the people.

We all realize that man is fallible.  I don’t think that any man has yet made the claim that any human is infallible.  A human being is fallible with all his wisdom and knowledge being imperfect.  Some of these man made ideas may be positive, we are not saying that all of it is bad.  On the other hand since it is not complete and imperfect it is reverse logic to compare Islam with those systems.  It makes a big difference when we compare certain ones with which system.  Some people and writers say that Islam is similar to democracy because it seems to cary a subtle implication that democracy is the way and the ideal and we go back to Islam to find out whether it meets those standards or not.  That is almost like taking God’s ordained way of life and judge it in accordance with humans criterion.  The first point is that whenever we make any comparisons whether it relates to the political system economic, social or otherwise I prefer to say that we compare democracy with Islam.  We look at which areas or principles of democracy are similar to Islam in which case we put the divine rules as the standard against which other things can be measured.  One can say that while democracy and the political system in Islam may have some similarities are not really synonymous.


Host:  Why is Islam and Democracy not synonymous?

Jamal Badawi:

Some of the fundamental principles in democracy are similar to Islam.  The freedom for the people to chose the ruler they want or trust most, the idea of participation in the decision making process in some form or another (it is now called parliament or house of commerce).  The notion of removal of governments which fail to meet the expectations of the people are similar.  Indeed these issues will be discussed later when we get into the political process of the ideal Islamic system.  We find that these principles are compatible with and similar to the Islamic system.  However as I indicated earlier this doesn’t mean they are both synonymous.  First of all, in a democracy the ultimate authority is for the people.  Like they say it is a government by the people for the people.  The ultimate authority lies with the people themselves.  In Islam however, the ultimate authority does not belong to people but to God and to God alone.  This is one basic difference.  This means that both rulers and the people are both subject to a higher criterion for their decision making which is divine guidance.  One could ask who would determine what the divine guidance entails?  Of course in this case one can answer that the people have the final say.  But if they are truly believers their final say is from the interpretation of the divine will or laws from within Islam.  In other words if they are really believers they would still defer to God and the divine guidance that God has given.  Suppose the majority of people refuse to accept divine guidance, can they have supremacy?  In this case we would not be able to call the system Islamic.  To be Islamic presumes that people believe in Islam and accept willingly and convincingly God as the ultimate judge.

Some may think that this distinction is a theoretical distinction but it is not.  It actually has serious distinctions.  What happened in Western Democracy if the majority of people decide that the drinking age should be lowered to 14.  If the majority so decides no matter how detrimental or harmful this may be it just becomes law because the majority of people want it.  Under Islamic Law the word of God prohibits drinking and in a truly Islamic State there would be no intoxicants around.  In that sense even if the majority of people want that they will feel that there are still restrictions that prevent them from doing so.  Under the Islamic system one can not legalize marijuana, opium etc. because it is something that is forbidden.  Of course we compare this with the prohibition laws in the United States and when the majority of people said no more it was done away with.  This is not so under the Islamic system.  A second implication is that if in a given country adultery or prostitution are legalized (some European countries legalize prostitution) because of democracy it can be but under the Islamic system if the word of God prohibited adultery and prostitution then the ultimate word here is the word of God, not the will of the majority unless they reject faith and do whatever they want.

Another example that could be very interesting which shows how Islam is ahead of democracy.  Take the rights of minorities where the majority of people who belong to a particular race, class or group decided to deprive minorities from their rights.  If a decision is taken to oppress minorities this could be done under a democracy.  Under an Islamic system this can not happen because the rights of minorities under an ideal Islamic State are rights which are inshrined in the Quran, inshrined in the Prophetic Tradition and as such no human being can supersede them.  Even if the majority wanted to deprive the minority they can not because there is that automatic restriction on their action.  The Quran and Prophetic Tradition is the ultimate constitution that can not be changed.  In the secular constitution it can be changed because we are human and we may have better wisdom than those who put the constitution together first.  But we can not say that we know more than God when it comes to divine constitution.

In addition, to supreme authority we notice that democracy seems to go with systems which are secular.  In other words they assume that religion, morals are the jurisdiction of churches or temples but has nothing to do with the actual political system.  Again this could be one difference between Islam and democracy; that the system of government in Islam doesn’t make a distinction between the moral and temporal.  The whole notion of secularism is alien to Muslim thinking.


Host:  If it is not a monarchy, not a dictatorship, not a theocracy, and not a democracy then what is it?

Jamal Badawi:

It is Islam.  Some attempt to give it a title of Theo-Democracy which reflects one aspect of theocracy and the supremacy of God’s laws and elements of democracy such as not having exclusive class, people participating in the interpretation of that.  I am not too enthusiastic about this title because the notion of theocracy is tied in people’s minds, not only with the supremacy of God, with the  abuse of the interpretation of the will of God by a certain group of people.  Again democracy, reflects on weakness which makes it look acceptable in the minds of people.  A better term was suggested by Molana Moududi who called it a Popular Vicegerency or Popular Trusteeship and that the entire human race is appointed to be the vicegerent of God on earth but it is not for one individual to claim it or group, but it is a joint or collective responsibility to fulfill this duty which applies to rulers and ruled alike.


Host:  Do we have in existence any system or nation which exemplifies the Islamic political system (1983)?

Jamal Badawi:

To the best of my humble knowledge and understanding I do not know of a single example where there is a complete and perfect model of an Islamic system at the present time.  This does not mean that this system is utopian and only exists in theory.  It existed in complete and perfect form during the lifetime of Porphet Muhammad and during the time of the first four rightly guided Califs.  It existed throughout history where the models were either perfect or as close to perfection as could be expected.  In later centuries there have been lots of ups and downs and lots of decay.  As indicated in 1983 it is very difficult to point at any single model and say that this represents the true picture of an Islamic political system.  Indeed there are many systems that are far off of what Islam teaches and violates some of the really basic principles and precepts upon which a truly Islamic system can be based.  I think we have to be honest when facing these issues and not to apologies for imperfections.  Imperfections are human but they are not ideal.  I hope and pray that in the coming decades we are able to see better models of the Islamic political system.  We have to make a clear distinction between Islam as a teaching, as ideals as it is inshrined in the Quran and the Prophetic sayings and between the degree of which Muslims themselves fail or succeed to measure up to those standards.


Host:  Why is it that what happens in Muslim countries does not represent Islam?

Jamal Badawi:

In order to answer this we have to refer to a criteria which will help judge the behavior of any government.  There are so many countries that have claims and there are many things that need their actions to be verified.  It is just like when a teacher puts a criteria for grading the students and then on that bases gives out report cards.  In order to have a real Islamic Political System it is not enough to simply implement some aspects of Islam such as criminal law while neglecting fundamental issues such as the freedom of people to choose between possible candidates to be rulers.  For example the hereditary system would definitely contradict the teachings of Islam if the people’s choice is not there.  It is like applying one aspect while leaving out something that is fundamental.  It is not enough to have an Islamic System to apply criminal law on a common man who commits theft but let highly placed people get away with millions in bribes.  If we want to apply the penalties they have to be applied impartially.

It is not enough in an Islamic System to  apply the penalty of adultery when it is proven to the common man while those in power commit the same thing at a much larger scale and they get away with it, which is not what Islam teaches and what the Prophet (PBUH) indicated in terms of the impartiality of the application of the law.  It would not be representative of true Islam to start immediately implementing aspects of criminal law in a brutal way without allowing transitory time to change a decaying society and move it towards the ideals of Islam.  The philosophy of criminal law in Islam is not just punishment, chopping hands or heads but is the idea of reforming society and preventing the cause of crime before a punishment can be applied.  Again it is not a system which brutally does things without looking into the wisdom of legislation and why the penalties were there and what the prerequisites were to implement them.

Perhaps we can discuss this later on in a series on criminal law.  These mistaken notions are not what really represent Islam.  It is not enough for a government to call itself Islamic unless the constitution gives equal credit and status to all schools of jurisprudence so that a government which might be perceived as a sectarian government.  These are a few examples of what can be regarded as Islamic criteria to judge the degree of Islamicity of any system.  One doesn’t wish to be over critical of one or the other but this should provide a truthful and forward criteria or approach before one can judge.  Given this criteria there is allot to be desired and I hope that reformation will take place.


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