20 Rabi al-Awwal 1437
We have reached the beginning of the new Gregorian Year 2016. The past year 2015 has once again been a difficult and challenging one for the global Muslim Ummah.
The year began with the infamous Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris on 7 January that killed 11 people. On 26 June an attack on tourists at a beach resort in Tunisia left 38 people dead. On 10 October 102 people were killed in Ankara, in the worst attack in modern Turkish history. On 12 November two suicide bombers killed 42 people in a predominantly Shi’a neighborhood of Beirut. Paris experienced a second and even more deadly attack on 13 November in which 130 people lost their lives. Even before the dust had settled another attack took place in San Bernardino, California, on 2 December, this time 14 lives were lost.
The often sensationalist media coverage of the deadly conflicts wherein Muslims are implicated, have further emboldened Islamophobes. Consequently anti-Islamic rhetoric and sentiments have reached a new high point with US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, brazenly calling for all Muslims to be banned from entering the United States of America.
Even more disturbingly, during the past year, we witnessed a record number of people fleeing war-torn Syria and other parts of the Middle East and Africa. Human rights groups have described the current situation as the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The UN Refugee Agency has warned that 2015 is likely to exceed all previous records for global forced displacement. The vast majority of these refugees are Muslims. The irony is that these Muslim refugees prefer to flee to the poorest countries in Europe rather than any Muslim country. Even more shamefully, is the fact that Muslim countries are the least welcoming of all nations to their fellow Muslims who are fleeing their war-ravaged countries.
How do we account for this abysmal state of the global Muslim Ummah?
In our analysis of the crisis facing the global Muslim Ummah we need to understand the challenges as a complex combination of a number of variables, including the socio-economic and global political contexts. Elsewhere, I have identified some of these key factors, including imperialist aggression, which has contributed in different measure to the contemporary Muslim malaise (A. Rashied Omar, “Muslim Extremism: Myth or Reality?” in Islam Beyond Violent Extremism Course Reader, CMRM, 2015).
In this khutbah, I would like to reflect on what I believe to be one of the main contributing factors to the current violent malaise facing the global Muslim Ummah. It is my contention that the Muslim obsession with State power lies at the core of the debilitating crises of extremism, sectarianism and political power struggles within Muslim societies.
The key questions I would like to address are the following: Is the establishment of an Islamic State a necessary and essential part of our faith in Islam? What has been our experience of attempts at establishing Islamic States? Finally, can we conceive of a legitimate state, which is not necessarily ruled by Muslims but upholds key Islamic ethico-moral principles such as justice (adl), consultation (shura) and accountability (hisba) and operates within an ethos of compassion (rahma).
The Muslim Obsession with State Power
Resulting from my deep reflection on the question of the relationship between Islam and the state I have for close to two decades now been arguing that Islamic teachings contain very clear ethico-moral precepts that should guide not only our private lives but also the public sphere. However, these ethico-moral precepts that guide our public lives do not mandate any particular mode of governance or specific forms of political administration, but rather provide broad principles that should underpin good governance. Hence, the legitimacy and integrity of a state from the point of view of the teachings of Islam should not be whether it claims to be an Islamic State or that its rulers are Muslim, but rather it should be based on the extent to which the state enshrines and embodies the broad ethico-moral principles of Islam.
To refute the claim of some Muslim scholars who contend that it is obligatory for Muslims to live in a Darul Islam, that is, a place ruled by Muslims and governed by Islamic laws, I have drawn lessons from the well-known history of the migration of the earliest Muslims to Abyssinia (al-hjra al-ula). In the fifth year of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) mission, in 615 of the Common Era, the persecution of his earliest followers in Makkah was so intense that the Prophet (pbuh) felt compelled to send several of them into exile to Abyssinia.
The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) advice to his followers was magnanimous and he counseled them with the following words:
“If you go to the land of the Abyssinians, you will find there a king under whose command nobody suffers injustice. It is a land of sincerity in religion” (Ibn Hisham, al-Sira al-Nabawiyya)
It is instructive to note that the religion of Abyssinia, which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was praising, was Christianity and the just and compassionate king he was referring to was a devout Christian ruler, namely, the Negus of Abyssinia. Close to one hundred of the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) companions, who represented almost half of the entire Muslim community at the time, emigrated to Abyssinia where they found sanctuary and well-being under the protection of a Christian King.
If it is indeed the case that Muslims are obligated to live in a Darul Islam one wonders why the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not instruct the earliest Muslim emigrants in Abyssinia to join him shortly after he had established the city state of Madina. On the contrary, the early Muslims lived in the Christian dominated land of Abyssinia peacefully for many years, and some of them did not return, even after the Muslims were in power in Madina.
It is clear therefore on evidence from the sirah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that it is not a requirement of Islam to live under a Darul Islam. This was also the view of many classical scholars of Islam, including the illustrious Malik ibn Anas, the founder of the Maliki School of Islamic jurisprudence (Adil Salahi, Muhammad: Man and Prophet, Islamic Foundation: 2008, 140-144).
A number of contemporary Muslim scholars have reached a similar conclusion that the concept of a Darul Islam, represented by a Caliphate in pre-modern times and by an Islamic State in modern times, is not a fundamental part of the Muslim belief system.
The first traditional scholar in modern times to launch a vociferous attack on the notion of a Caliphate was the Azhari Shaykh `Ali `Abd al-Raziq (d.1966). In his magnum opus Al-Islam wa Usul al-Hukm (Islam and the Fundamentals of Government) he argued that the Caliphate had no basis either in the Qur’an, or the Tradition (sunnah) or the consensus among Muslim scholars (Hamid Enayat, Modern Islamic Political Thought. Islamic Book Trust, 1982).
Consonant with this position, more recently, Asma Afsaruddin, Islamic scholar based at Indiana University, argued that; “[T]here is no evidence at all in the early sources that the Companions invoked a supposedly divinely mandated blueprint for an ‘Islamic Government’ or an ‘Islamic State’ in the election of the Prophet’s first successor.” According to her, the first generations of Muslims (al-Salaf al-Salih), in applying the ethico-moral principles of Islam to the public sphere, innovated and experimented with different forms of political administration, some of which were highly successful and others which were problematic. (Asma Afsaruddin, The First Muslims: History and Memory, Oneworld, 2008, 184).
Yet more recently, in a fatwa condemning the toxic theology and atrocities of ISIS, one of the most respected Muslim scholars of our times, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah of Mauritania, challenged the view that there is agreement (ittifaq) among Muslim scholars that a Caliphate is an obligation upon the Muslim Ummah. Shaykh bin Bayyah argued that, “there is no religious duty to pursue the establishment of a Caliphate”. He furthermore argues that “for many centuries, some Muslim lands were independent of the Caliphate and were still able to uphold the religion [of Islam], safeguard the law and sacred sites, and ensure peace and security” (For the full text of the fatwa see: bayyah.net/english/2014/09/24/fatwa-response-to-isis/ (accessed 21 December 2015).
The Myth of the Islamic State
Much of the current Muslim obsession with an Islamic state can be traced back to colonization of Muslim lands and the plundering of their resources during the past two centuries. With the gaining of independence, secular post-colonial regimes failed to bring about the emancipatory aspirations for a just and equitable social order in all Muslim majority countries. This has led to large-scale disillusionment with postcolonial secular regimes. In their disenchantment with secular parties the Muslim masses have turned to Islamist movements that offer the Islamic State as the panacea to the many social, economic and political ills of their societies.
We have thus far witnessed three very different experiments in implementing the idea of an Islamic State, namely, the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in 1996 and the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq in 2014. In all three of the above examples, the most learned Islamic scholar is both the chief religious authority and the political head of state. In other Muslim majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the political head of state is not the most learned Islamic scholar.
Despite their differences all three attempts at establishing a modern day Islamic State have failed to nurture compassionate and just societies and have instead spawned cultures of state violence.
Of the three modern Islamic States, the 1979 Islamic Republic of Iran was greeted with the greatest enthusiasm by Muslim masses in many parts of the world. The optimism for a new era of compassionate justice was however short lived. In the first decade after the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Islamic Republic of Iran imprisoned, tortured, and executed tens of thousands of Iranian citizens on grounds of their divergent political and religious beliefs. One of the most vocal critics of the violent excesses perpetrated by the Islamic Republic of Iran came from Ayatullah Hossien Ali Montazeri, one time heir apparent to Supreme leader, Grand Ayatullah Ali Khomeini. The banishment and persecution of Ayatullah Muntazeri, the most learned Iranian Islamic scholar, was undoubtedly the greatest testimony to the betrayal of the compassionate justice ideal of the lslamic revolution. (See Ulrich von Schwerin, The Dissident Mullah: Ayatollah Montazeri and the Struggle for Reform in Revolutionary Iran, 2015, I. B. Tauris).
The global Muslim response to the establishment in 1996 of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by the Taliban, and to the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria by ISIS in 2014 was largely reticent and negative. The Muslim misgivings were certainly not misplaced. Both these Islamic states have been found guilty of grossly violating the Islamic ethico-moral principles of compassion, socio-economic justice and open and transparent governance. While both the Taliban and ISIS are infamous for their use of extreme forms of public executions such as stoning and beheadings, the Taliban became notorious for its severe repression of women, and ISIS has gained notoriety for its legitimation of slavery. (For a useful perspective on contemporary Islamic State theory and experiments see Noah Feldman, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State, 2012, Princeton University Pores.
Ironically, all three these modern Islamic states have denounced each other as fraudulent “Islamic States”.
Furthermore, Muslim majority countries where the political head of state is not the most learned Islamic scholar, are not regarded as legitimate ‘Islamic States’. They are considered to be secular states because the rulers are not Islamic scholars. In these countries, Shari’a law is often selectively applied to legitimate state rule. These Muslim countries ruled by secular leaders, too have failed in establishing just and equitable societies and rank high in global ratings of human rights violations. Moreover, their often draconian and repressive laws have contributed to the allurement of a ‘pure’ Islamic state amongst the masses within these societies.
Redefining the Islamic State as a Just State
I would like to re-iterate that by contesting the position of those who advocate that the establishment of a Caliphate or an “Islamic State” is a necessary and essential part of our faith in Islam, I do not profess that Islamic teachings are devoid of ethico-moral precepts or guidance in the field of governance and public administration. In fact, one of the most important ethico-moral values that should guide governance from an Islamic perspective is that of justice. For example, Allah, the Sublime, proclaims in the Glorious Qur’an, in surah al-Ma’idah, chapter 5, verse 8:
اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَى
Be Just and Equitable: it is the Nearest to Piety (Q5:8)
In this regard it is instructive to note that the famous fourteenth century Muslim scholar, Taqiyuddin ibn Taymiya (d.1328), believed that an Islamic State is a just state. Central to his definition of an Islamic State is a just economic order. According to ibn Taymiya, a just Islamic state is one in which workers are paid a just wage and the hoarding of wealth, monopolies and manipulation of prices are eradicated. Ibn Taymiya is so concerned with socio-economic justice that he argues that a state committed to economic justice, even if it has certain moral failings, is superior to a regime of what he calls “pious tyranny”. In support of his view, Ibn Taymiya asserts that:
“Allah upholds the just state even if it is unbelieving (i.e. not ruled by Muslims), but does not uphold the unjust state even if is Muslim (i.e. ruled by Muslims).”
It might be expedient to note that ibn Taymiya is highly regarded by so-called Salafis and Islamists of all stripes. (Taqiyuddin Ibn Taymiya, Public Duties in Islam: The Institution of the Hisba (Islamic Foundation, UK, 1982:9. Translated by Muhtar Holland).
It is our sincere prayer and hope that this redefinition of an Islamic State as a state in which socio-economic justice trumps all other ethico-moral precepts, be embraced by all who aspire to this ideal. For example, less than a month ago in December 2015, the newly elected president of Gambia proclaimed Gambia as an Islamic state in a bid to distance the country from its colonial past. It is our hope that this proclamation is about establishing and upholding a just and equitable state and not another example of ‘pious tyranny’ masquerading under the guise of an Islamic State. We already have too many examples of the latter.
In conclusion, it is my considered view that there is an urgent need within the Muslim Ummah to create safe platforms and opportunities and spaces for Muslims to debate the contentious position of the need for an Islamic State and or Caliphate. I have sufficient trust that if such a debate and dialogue were to flourish, Muslim thinkers will be able to dismiss the idea that the establishment of an ‘Islamic State’ is part of the fundamentals of our Islamic belief system. Moreover, it will become apparent that the notion of an Islamic state does not resonate with our contemporary needs in a pluralistic and globalized world. Rather, the goal towards which the ethico-moral teachings of Islam beckon us, is to establish a just and equitable state in which the dignity of all citizens are protected, no matter the religious affiliation of the state rulers.
Emblematic of this much needed dialogue and debate is a very recent book published in October 2015, by prominent US Imam, Feizal Abdul Raouf titled: Defining Islamic Statehood: Measuring and Indexing Contemporary Muslim States published by Palgrave Macmillan. Imam Abdul Raouf proposes that for a state to call itself Islamic it needs to conform to the highest human standards of justice, compassion and mutual consultation. I would like to encourage everyone to read this newly published book as a way of getting this important conversation going about the nature of an Islamic State.
In this hallowed hour of jumu’ah let us pray that Allah, the Hearer of all duā’s, allows us in this New Gregorian year 2016 to heal and protect ourselves from all kinds of oppression, wanton violence, sectarianism and inhumanity.
Please join me at this sacred hour of jumu`ah in making in a special prayer (du`a):
(Ya Rabb al-Nas) Lord of all Humankind, the year 2015 were filled with days of violence, hatred and inhumanity, days that crush our spirits and fill us with rage and pain, and a sense that the world is not a just place.
(Ya Rabb al-Shifa’) Lord of Healing, in this New Year heal the wounds of those who were maimed but most of all heal the Ummah from acts of bigotry and wanton violence;
(Ya Rabb al Aman) Our Lord and Protector, we beseech you to protect our children and our youth. Be ever present with them, and keep them from danger and violence.
(Ya Rabb al-Quwwa) O One who is All-Powerful and Irresistible in Might, guide the leaders of the world to use their power to serve the good of all and to fashion a more just and caring world.
Allahumma anta al-Salam – O God Thou art peace
wa minka al-Salam – and Peace emanates from Thee,
fa hayyina Rabbana bi al-Salam – Allow us to live and subsist in peace
We ask this in all of Your beautiful and holy names, Lord of all Humankind