On the Islamic System of Government

Islam, as we know, is comprehensive of all the departments of life, both individual and collective. Like fundamental articles of faith, worship, morality, social behaviour and monetary transactions, it deals with government and administration as well and furnishes necessary guidance with regard to them. In fact, government forms a most important branch of it for it exercises a profound influence on many other spheres of human existence also.

When, after the Migration (Hijrah), a Muslim society was formed in Madinah, an informal type of Government, too, had come to be established, and the Prophet (saws), together with being the Messenger of God, also acted as its head. The Prophet lived for about ten years after the Migration and during it, the frontiers of the Islamic State expanded so steadily and quickly that the whole of Arabia, and even Yemen and Bahrain, had passed under its control and authority in his own lifetime. During those ten, years, the Almighty had all the functions of the head of a State, as were then understood, carried out by him. He did Jihad for the Victory of the Word of God and fought wars against the forces that were opposed to the establishment of the sovereignty of the Lord over His bondmen and put impediments in its path, as well as made peace, set up a system for the realisation of Jizyah (supplementary tax levied on non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic State in exemption of military service), Kharaj (land tax) and Zakah (poor tax), and appointed governors, judges and other officers for territories accepting the Muslim rule, and gave instructions regarding all these affairs.

The ten-year rule of the Prophet (saws) and his sayings on the subject, contain a full provision for the basic guidance of Muslim States and their rulers. The four Companions, Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali, who, one after the other, succeeded the Prophet (saws) as his deputies and Heads of the Islamic State did their best, paying due attention to the peculiar needs and conditions of their time, to follow, in all respects, his ways, manners of conduct and instructions while discharging their duties.

[1] It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of God said: “Whoever obeyed me obeyed God, and whoever disobeyed me disobeyed God, and whoever obeyed the Amir [Literally, ‘one who holds authority.’ In Arabic, and in the special phraseology of the Qur’an and the Traditions, it denotes the ‘ruler’] obeyed me, and whoever disobeyed the Amir disobeyed me; and the Amir is the shield: fighting is done behind him, and guarding (against an opponent’s attack) is done with him. Thus, if he (the Amir) gives the command of piety and God-consciousness and follows the path of justice, there is an immense reward for him, and if he acts otherwise, he will have to pay the penalty for it.”

 – Bukhari and Muslim


Says the Qur’an: ‘Whoso obeyeth the Messenger, obeyeth Allah.’ (IV: 80). The reason is plain. Whatever  commands the Prophet gives are from the side of God, and it is His Will and Command that these should be obeyed. Hence, compliance with the commands of the Prophet denotes compliance with the commands of God, and violation of the commands of the Prophet denotes violation of the commands of God. Again, as it is by Allah’s command that the Prophet has declared that the Amir should be obeyed and his orders and instructions carried out faithfully, provided, of course, that these are not opposed to Shariat, obedience to the Amir will mean obedience to the Prophet, and, conversely, disobedience to the Amir will mean disobedience to the Prophet.

The aim of the above Tradition, apparently, is to emphasise the importance of rendering obedience to the ruler in what is lawful and legitimate, by indicating that to obey or disobey the Amir is to obey or disobey the Prophet, and, indirectly, God Himself. It, further, tells that the ruler is like the shield which is la used for protection and defense. The Amir, thus, is the defender and custodian of Faith and protector of Muslims. It is a special function and responsibility of his for which he may, sometimes, even have to take up arms. Consequently, it is essential for Muslims to obey the Amir and carry out his orders for, without it, he cannot fulfill the duty of defense and protection. Lastly, those who are in power and authority are told to observe piety and justice, and keep it always in the mind that Allah is watching over them and they will have to appear before Him on the Day of Last Judgement and render a full account of the things done by them as rulers. For them, there is a vast reward in the Hereafter if they act and behave like that, or else a grievous penalty awaits them.

[2] It is related by Muawiya that the Apostle of God had once told him that if he was appointed the Amir, he should make the fear of God, and justice and fairness his practice. Muawiya says that “owing to this edict of the Prophet (saws), I had a constant feeling that I was going to be entrusted with the responsibility of government until I was, from the side of God.”

– Musnad-i-Ahmad


The moral of this Tradition for the rulers is the same as of the earlier one. They should govern with justice and make the fear of God the rule with themselves. It, also, shows that, perhaps, it had been revealed to the holy Prophet that Muawiya (ra) will come to power one day. Thus, he served as the Governor of Syria during the reigns of Umar (ra) and Usman (ra), and later rose to be the Head of the Islamic State after the Treaty with Hasan (ra).

[3] Umar (ra) relates saying that the Apostle of God said: “The best of men, in the sight of God, on the Day of Resurrection, will be just and benevolent rulers, and the worst of men, in the sight of God, on the Day of Resurrection, will be unjust and tyrannical rulers.”

– Baihaqi


It shows that, in addition to being just and God-fearing, a ruler should, also be kind and considerate in the exercise of his powers.

[4] M’aqil b. Yassar related to us: “I heard the Apostle of God say: ‘Whoever is made the ruler of a people by God, and does not sincerely, look after their welfare, he shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise.’”

– Bukhari and Muslim


It tells that the ruler should take a keen and sincere interest in the welfare of his people. If he failed to do so and was neglectful of their needs and comforts, Paradise and even its sweet smell would be denied to him. In it, and some other Traditions, the ruler is described as Ra’ee and the subjects as Raiyyat, In Arabic, Ra’ee denotes the shepherd, and Raiyyat, the herd he guards. The two terms are enough to show what the concept of leadership and government is in Islam, and what are the duties of a leader or ruler.

[5] It is related on the authority of Amr b. Murra that he told Muawiya that he heard the Apostle of God say: “The ruler who will shut his door to the weak and needy bondmen, God will shut the doors of the heavens at the time of his distress and privation. (i.e., help will not reach him from God in the hour of his need).”

– Tirmizi


The doors of the Prophet (saws), and, after him, of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, always remained open for the suppliants and petitioners. They had a free access to them and could meet and place their difficulties before them without any trouble. But when the Kharijis took to terrorism and the Caliph Usman (ra) was killed by them and an attempt was also made on the life of Muawiya (ra), the latter placed restrictions on visitors. It was, then, that Amr b. Murra (ra) related the above saying of the Prophet (saws) to him. It is, further, mentioned in the same report that, after being reminded by Amr b. Murra, Muawiya appointed an officer who used to listen to the needs and grievances of the people and pass them on to him.

[6] It is related by Abdullah b. Umar (ra) that the Apostle of God said: “It is the duty of a Believer to listen and obey (the commands of) men in authority, in matters he likes as well as in matters he does not like, as long as he is not told to do a thing that is sinful. When, however, the person in authority gives an order for something that is against the Shariat, the command to listen and obey will not apply.”

– Bukhari and Muslim


It emphasizes that if the ruler tells anyone to do a thing that may not be to his liking, but is not against the Shariat, it is his duty to carry it out, irrespective of his own inclination or judgement. There will, ostensibly, crop up difficulties and confusion at each step if it is not done. But if the ruler gives an order that is inimical to the letter or spirit of the Shariat, he should not be obeyed. The commandment of God and His Shariat must prevail.

[7] It is related by Sa’eed Khudri that the Apostle of God said: “To say a just word before a tyrannical ruler is the best of Jihad.”

– Tirmizi, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah


Though in a war there is the danger of defeat and death, there is, also, the hope of victory. But one, positively, risks his life, or, at least, invites punishment if one dares speak out boldly before a cruel and unjust ruler. For this reason, perhaps, it has been called “the best of Jihad.”

[8] Ayesha (ra) related to us, saying that during his last illness, the Apostle of God said to her: “(O Ayesha)! Send word to your father, Abu Bakr, and brother, (Abdul Rahman b. Abu Bakr), to come and see me so that I may have the deed (concerning the Caliphate) written. I fear that someone, (desirous) of the Caliphate, will express the desire for it, and someone will claim that he deserves it while he will not be deserving; and no one will be acceptable to God and the Believers except Abu Bakr.”

– Muslim


It shows that when the Prophet (saws) was mortally ill, he had decided to nominate Abu Bakr (ra) as the Caliph after himself, and have the instrument of Caliphate written, and he had also wanted to send for Abu Bakr (ra), and his son, Abdul Rahman b. Abu Bakr (ra) for that purpose, but then it was revealed to him that it had already been settled by God, and the Believers were not going to choose anyone as the Caliph except Abu Bakr (ra). He consequently changed his mind, thinking that it would be better if Abu Bakr (ra) became the Caliph by the choice of the Muslims and without being named by him.

Anyway, this much is clear from the above Tradition that nomination of the successor by the ruler was one of the ways the Prophet (saws) had thought of and he had also spoken of it. When Abu Bakr (ra) designated Umar (ra) as his successor, he, perhaps, was guided by it, Later, when Umar (ra) entrusted the task to a council of advisers, instead of making the nomination himself, he too had taken the inspiration from the conduct of the Prophet (saws). In sum, as this Tradition tells us, both the methods of nomination and selection are correct for the appointment of the Caliph or ruler.

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