Major Principles of Islamic Governance
By: Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D
Allah Taala is Sovereign. Islamic political system is based on
its specific worldview that is essential to know in any understanding
of Islam. The Qur'an tells us that Allah Taala is the Creator and
Lord of the whole universe including humankind and all that is associated
with them. He is overpowering and is irresistibly dominant over
all His creation. He knows all and governs all. He is ever-living
and ever-lasting and all His creation, willingly or unwillingly,
is obedient to Him. Whatever He wills gets done. It is His power
that is established and none can interfere in it in anyway. Thus
it is Allah Taala who possesses all the powers and attributes of
sovereignty and none else whatever possesses any of these. Therefore,
the sovereignty of the entire universe only belongs to Allah Taala
alone and none other than Him has a share in it.
Similarly, sovereignty over all of humankind rightfully belongs
to Allah Taala and no human or nonhuman power could control or decide
any of the human affairs. The only difference between humans and
others of Allah Taala's creation is as follows. While in all of
the universe and even in the autonomous part of human's own body
His sovereignty is established automatically, it is the part that
is granted autonomy by Allah Taala where it is not forcibly established.
It is rather established by inviting humankind to willingly submit
themselves according to the course established by Him in the revealed
scriptures. The Qur'an is very explicit on this:
Is it not His to create and to govern? (Al Araf, 7:54).
The Command is for none but Allah. He has commanded you not to
surrender to anyone save Him. This is the Right Way of life, but
most men understand not (Yusuf, 12:40).
We have sent you the Book in Truth that you (O Prophet) might judge
between men, as guided by Allah (Al Nisa, 4:105).
If any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah has revealed,
they are (no better than) unbelievers, .. the wrongdoers .. those
who rebel (Al Maidah, 5:44-47).
The position of humankind is that of Allah's vicegerent (khalifah),
or Allah Taala's representative on earth. The nature of this vicegerency
(khilafah) described in the Qur'an is as follows. Whatever capacities
and abilities humans possess, they are bestowed upon them by Allah
Taala. Allah Taala bestowed these gifts on humans so that using
them and the will granted them by Allah Taala, they follow and establish
His will in their lives as His representatives and not as autonomous
This khilafah has been entrusted on all those who accept Allah
Taala as their Lord and Sovereign. The concept is one of popular
vicegerency, shared by all believers alike. This vicegerency also
means that limited authority has been delegated to those who run
the affairs of believers. Moreover, the authority is bestowed not
on any chosen person, family, tribe, ethnicity, race or group of
people but on all believers, men and women. The Qur'an states:
Allah has promised to those among you who believe and work righteous
deeds that He will assuredly make them succeed (those who rule)
and grant them vicegerency in the land just as He made those before
them succeed others (Al Nur, 24:55).
Therefore, the two cardinal principles of governance as laid down
by the Qur'an are: first, sovereignty belongs to Allah Taala and
second, the popular vicegerency belongs to all believers. Thus legitimacy
in the Islamic political order comes first and foremost from accepting
Allah Taala as the Sovereign and His Law, i.e. Shariah as the Supreme
Law. Second, that the society must be governed by and in accordance
with the will of the people. The people or the Ummah are the actual
repository of khilafah and those in authority must have the confidence
and support of the Muslim population. In this context, Shariah provides
a broad framework within which the people under the umbrella of
Divine Guidance participate in developing a civil society and its
institutions including various organs of the state.
Shura or Common Consultation
The whole system of Islamic State from its inception to the selection
of the head of the state and all those in positions power as well
as its dealings must be conducted by shura, whether it is carried
out directly or indirectly through selected or elected representatives.
The Qur'an states: "Their affairs are decided by consultations
between them" (Al Shura, 42:38). Even the Prophet (s) although
he was the recipient of direct guidance from the Supreme Allah,
was commanded: "Consult them in affairs (of moment)" (Al
Imran, 3:159). Following this advice and lead, Khalifah Omar (r)
admonished: "There is no khilafah without consultation."
(Please refer to Kanz al ammal, vol. 5, and Hadith number 2354).
Thus the practice of shura was the mechanism followed at all levels
in the selection of political leadership by Muhammad (s) and his
followers. It was the Islamic community that selected the first
four rightly guided khulafa, although the method of selection and
the process of approval differed. The essential principle was consent
and confidence of the community and the accountability of those
selected before the community. Even afterwards when the heredity
rule crept in that violated this community right, a facade of bayaa,
or community's acceptance of rulers was still maintained.
Sayyid Mawdudi (r) in his renowned treatise Khilafat wa Malookiat
has described that in selecting or electing persons to positions
of power the following four criteria must be given due consideration
in the light of Qur'anic injunctions. 1. It should be only delegated
to those who acknowledge the principles, on which the system of
khilafah is based, because it cannot be entrusted to persons who
oppose it. 2. It should not be entrusted to tyrants and those who
are disobedient to Allah Taala or known sinners but to God-conscious,
considerate and righteous believers. 3. It should not be given to
the foolish and ignorant but to the knowledgeable, wise and those
who understand the state affairs and are capable of running it,
mentally and physically. 4. It should be entrusted to the honest
such as are worthy of these responsibilities.
Dispensation of Equitable Justice
Islamic Law based on the Qur'an and Sunnah is equally accessible
to all and equally applicable on members of the society from the
lowest to the highest, without any distinction or discrimination.
The Prophet (s) was asked to declare that: "I have been commanded
to maintain justice between you" (Al Shura, 42:15). The Prophet
(s) admonished: "The nations before you were destroyed because
they would punish the lower class criminals according to the law
but would let go those from the higher class." Then laying
further emphasis, he continued: "I swear by the Authority in
whose control is Mohammad's life, if Mohammad's daughter is guilty
of stealing, I would cut her hand off" (narrated by Bukhari,
Kitab al Hudud, Chapter 11-12). These quotations show an overriding
concern for justice in all its dimensions: legal, political, social,
economic and international. Also, all the personal, civil, political,
social, cultural and economic rights of an individual are guaranteed
under Islamic law. All people have equal rights and each and everyone
is equally responsible before the law. It is the obligation of the
rulers to ensure that each member of the society particularly the
weak, is given his due rights.
Furthermore, the rulers are not provided with any arbitrary power.
Esposito and Voll in their book, Islam and Democracy write: "
In the long standing concept of 'oriental despotism,' there is no
sense of a separation of powers or structures limiting the power
of the ruler. However, such unlimited power was not available to
leaders in classical Muslim societies and this situation is visible
both in Islamic law of political structures and in actual historical
In fact, the entire corpus of the Islamic law has been developed
by the Islamic Ummah through a rational, popular process in which
the learned and the concerned took part by debate and open discussion.
It evolved outside the corridors of political power and once established,
the ruler was as much subject to it as was the commoner. Esposito
and Voll acknowledge: "It was the consensus of those scholars
and not the commands and rules of the Caliphs, that provided the
basis for formal law. No ruler was recognized as being above the
law, and all rulers would be judged by that law."
Al-Amr bil Maruf wa Nahi an al-Munkar
The above term literally means commanding what is right and forbidding
what is wrong and encompasses a whole gambit of duties and responsibilities.
The Qur'an makes it the mission of the believers: "You are
the best of Peoples evolved for humankind, enjoining what is right
and forbidding what is wrong and believing in Allah" (Aal Imran,
3:110). It means that every individual of the society has the right,
nay the duty, to tell the truth and stand for it, to further all
that is good and virtuous and do his utmost to remove the wrongs
and vices wherever he finds them.
The Prophet (s) tells us: "Whoever among you sees a vice (or
wrong), he should change it with his hands; if he is not able to
do that, then he should check it with his tongue; and if he cannot
do that, then he should consider it bad in his heart (and wish for
its removal) and this is the sign of weakest in faith" (recorded
in Muslim, Tirmidhi, Abu Daud and Ibn Majah). Another famous hadith
says; "The best Jihad is to say what is just (or truth) in
the face of a tyrant" (Abu Daud, Tirmidhi, Nisai and Ibn Majah).
Still another one says; "When people see a tyrant and do not
hold his hands, it is not far that Allah Taala sends a common punishment
on them" (Abu Daud and Tirmidhi), thus categorically emphasizing
Therefore, al-amr bil maruf wa nahi an al-munkar entails the freedom
of expression and criticism, transparency and accountability and
respect for human rights and abiding by the contractual obligations
in respect of all people and minorities in particular. It was because
of this mission of the Ummah that institutions of nasiha (advice),
shura (consultation), ikhtilaf (disagreement and difference of opinion),
al-amr bil maruf (commanding right and virtue), al-nahi an al-munkar
(forbidding wrong and vice) and hisbah (public accountability and
ombudsmanship) were established systems of the Islamic rule and
continued to play their important role in various ways at all times
of the Islamic history.
The Western ideology places a great emphasis on the institution
of democracy. Yet it is not an unmixed blessing and has seeds of
its destruction from within. Democracy as developed in the West
is based on the concept of popular sovereignty. There is no relevance
to the eternal religious guidance and absolute moral values in matters
of governance. As it evolved, it developed a variety of forms of
self-government and political processes to determine the will of
the people for running the affairs of the state. Although it has
succeeded in developing several mechanisms for popular participation,
but because of the absence of firm moral moorings, its standards
of right and wrong have been subjected to the whims of the people.
Consequently, it has resulted in decriminalization of major evil
practices and moral sins exposing the human society to the tyrannies
of moral relativism, the idiosyncrasies of majority rule, racial
and class-based tensions, economic exploitation and erosion of all
basics essential for the sustenance of human society. Emphasizing
quantity and counting of hands, it has replaced quality and eternal
standards of right, truth and justice. In the U.S. it has become
a facade behind which the capitalist class and the special interest
groups continue to rule and dominate its society. In a number of
other countries including most of the Muslim world, narrow tribal-cum-class
politics along with the dominance of a political elite placed and
backed by the Western powers have led to the establishment of one
party dictatorships in the name of democracy.
Reflecting on this situation, the well-known Islamic intellectual
and activist Khurshid Ahmad writing in The Muslim World (volume
90, numbers 1-2, 2000) has the following to say. "Islam and
the Muslim Umma (sic) brook no sympathy for arbitrary and authoritarian
rule. Whatever arbitrary power reigns is more a product of colonialization
and Westernization, and not of Muslim ideals, history or contemporary
aspirations. They regard the Western secular version of democracy
alien to their principles, values and traditions. But they have
their own concept and rich tradition of democracy and people's participation
that ensures just rule, consultative processes at all levels, respect
for rights and dissent, the independence of judiciary and politico-cultural
pluralism. There is no contradiction between Islam and this essence
It is worth concluding this article with Ahmad's conclusion, as
follows. "In the contemporary post-colonial history of the
Muslim world, despotism and secularism or socialism have gone together,
while Islamic resurgence and people's freedoms and popular participation
are complementary. Despite freedom from the colonial yoke, the Muslim
Umma (sic) is still struggling for its right - its democratic right
- to freely develop its polity, society and economy in light of
its own ideas, values and aspirations. It refuses to live under
the dictate of concepts and models in conflict with its faith, opposed
to its values, distasteful to its history and repugnant to its traditions.
If democracy means rights of a people to self-determination and
self-fulfillment, that is what Islam and Muslim people have been
striving for, nothing more and nothing less."