Establishing an Islamic State

The Islamic system of governance is then, neither theocratic, nor monarchic, nor oligarchic, nor democratic, nor egalitarian. It is neither capitalistic nor socialistic. It is Islamic, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.


We have been asked to write on the calls made to help establish an Islamic State, better referred to as Khilafah. Does the obligation fall upon us, as the foot soldiers of Islam? Are we shirking our duty and so, sinning, by not responding? Is it betrayal of Islam, if the enterprise is not taken up?

Islam never disappoints whenever it is consulted over an affair of concern. Such affairs could be purely spiritual and moral, or, the second kind, intellectual and psychological. If it is purely spiritual and moral, of some importance, and universal in application or occurrence, then its guidance is complete, comprehensive, and absolute. It refuses any human addendum or deduction to its textual guidance.

If the affair is intellectual, psychological or physical, its guidance is indirect, derivative, intellectual, requiring human participation and use of experience.

If the matter is in-between, then the guidance is also of the same nature: some guidelines are given for the humans to work out the details. A sketch is drawn, the colors are to be filled.

All kinds and classes of guidance that are sought of their Lord on High, require from the humans, faith, submission, sincerity, complete objectivity, and adoption of a path during process most likely to please their Lord, meaning a path which at no point transgresses the Shari`ah in word or spirit.

Allah (swt) does not impose an obligation which is beyond a man’s capacity. Establishment of an Islamic State by the general public is one such; it is not their primary or secondary responsibility. It is not even their shared responsibility – except that they may urge those who are responsible, if they delay it or neglect it, to accomplish their duty. All that the common public is required to do is to obey the Ameer and authorities appointed by him – when they are placed in their designated places.

That said, the Fuqaha‘ (e.g., Ibn Taymiyyah, Aamidi and others) have said that appointing an Ameer (Khalifah, Sultan, Imam or Hakim), is, at the Ummah level, Fard Kifayah. That is, it is the collective responsibility of the Ummah to have an Ameer at all times.

The reality is that even if the laity wishes to do it, they cannot. They have no means. They would not know how to go about it: raise funds, organize their travel, spread the message, hold meetings, arrange seminars, etc., to win consensus over an individual. In short, it would only be a pipe dream for them if they would attempt. Thus, we see the wisdom of the Shari`ah in not expecting the common people to appoint their Ameer.

Another factor is that the public has no clear idea of the responsibilities of the Islamic governance, or of the Shari`ah that is to be imposed, except in vague terms. Affairs like foreign policy, treaties with foreign States surrounding them, political economy, conditions of war and peace, extent of freedom of speech, human rights; political rights given to non-Muslims of the State, rights of other minorities, ability to lay down development plans, guaranteeing jobs for all, providing medical care, providing food to those in ghettoes and the homeless, fair allocation of resources etc., and, finally, the most important duty of placing the right man in the right position. The general public has no idea of how these governmental affairs are to be conducted.

The fear, then, is that they could appoint someone to head them who happens to be as clueless about the state affairs, as themselves – let alone identify and keep away rogues, swindlers, impostors, and polished hypocrites, which class of men and women appear to be there as fulfilment of the Prophet’s prediction: “It is feared that the vulgar, son of a vulgar will overcome the people, or take charge of this affair (of the government).” Or, as he said, “The world will not pass until it is in the hands of the vulgar, son of a vulgar.” (Tirmidhi)

Establishment of an Islamic State, or appointment of someone who would head it, is the duty of the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd. There has never been a second opinion over this issue throughout Islamic history. The Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd (those who free and bind) are so called because it is this category of the Ummah which can free the common people from obedience of an Ameer, or bind them to his obedience, given the matter such importance that the Prophet spoke strongly about it when he said, “Whoever died, without being bound to an oath (to an Ameer), died the death of Jahiliyyah.” (Muslim)

At best, the common Muslims may press on the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd to fulfil their this duty. They are not obliged to do anything more than this. They may not agitate, demonstrate, strike work, or show their collective strength in some other way, if the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd fail to take some steps.

The political elegance in this manner of establishing an Islamic State, or, appointment of a Khalifah/ Haakim/ Ameer/ Sultan – whatever you call him – is that the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd are already present in every sizable population. Members of this class, i.e., Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd are easily identifiable too. So, no elections need be held. They qualify through their own life-long efforts, outstanding works that have won them recognition by the laity as well as the elite.

An additional moral condition is that when a Khalifah/ Haakim/ Ameer/ Sultan is to be appointed, one of the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd should not be the seeker of that position, nor of any governmental position, unless it is without any monetary benefit, which carries no salary, allowance, or perks. Nonetheless, the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd are free to choose someone from themselves, if they know that he is a non-seeker, yet the most suitable for the position.

Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd are scholars of the top rank, prominent men of knowledge, whether secular (science and engineering) or religious, successful businessmen, top-order social workers, prominent Muballigheen, outstanding military commanders, Qadis, Judicial men, and thinkers (but not philosophers).

Da`wah workers, Sufis, ascetics, public speakers, achievers in sports and arts, Jihaadis, activists, writers, celebrities, Imams, AwliyaAllahs (of public recognition), and others of this class prominent in the social set-up, are not qualified to be among the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd.

When a Khalifah is appointed by the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd, his obedience is obligatory on one and all. Anyone who disobeys him, disobeys Allah. If a second one rises, claiming that position, he may be killed: so said the Prophet.

It is the duty of the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd to remove from office, a Khalifah if they feel that he is failing in his duties, thus freeing the people from his obedience.

The duty of the Khalifah includes establishment of the Hudud and Ta`zirat (Capital and Minor punishments), establishment of Prayers, collection of Zakah, maintenance of peace and order in the State, defend the State when threatened by outside forces. It is also his duty to put down rebellions from within the State. He is qualified if he can do this. He need not be the most pious, religious or learned. Enough if he is Muslim and is not a Fasiq.

He appoints teams of officials and Ministers. He is bound to consult the (elected) Shura committee, which might, or might not, comprise some of the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd.

These are, in brief, some of the details about an Islamic State, which should give some idea of when and where are the public, be they educated or not, involved. It also clears the question of their involvement in the election of an Ameer.

The Islamic system of governance is then, neither theocratic, nor monarchic, nor oligarchic, nor democratic, nor egalitarian. It is neither capitalistic nor socialistic. It is Islamic.

As regards those who say that “It is the responsibility of every Muslim individual to establish an Islamic state, to run on Shari`ah principles,” (quoting irrelevant Qur’anic and Hadith texts) are, perhaps, only highlighting the need, necessity and awareness. This is apparent from the fact that after more than half a century of the suggestion when first forwarded (of public involvement), its proponents have not produced any plan, however short, and however sketchy, explaining how it could be realized in the world of realities, and not of Utopian dreams. Scholars have therefore, always greeted the call with cold faces.

As for how it could be realized in a country where the majority does not subscribe to Islamic beliefs or its political system, the idea is phantasmagorical. The phantasmagorical nature should also be obvious if the people involved are only superficially Muslim: those who care little for an Islamic system of government, and lesser for the Ahl al-Hull wa al-`Aqd, but, indeed, have a grudge for them.