Islamic state

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An Islamic state (Arabic: الدولة الإسلاميةal-dawlah al-islamīyah) is a type of government, in which the primary basis for government is Islamic religious law. From the early years of Islam, numerous governments have been founded as "Islamic", beginning most notably with the Caliphate established by Muhammad himself and including subsequent governments ruled under the direction of a caliph (meaning "successor" to the Islamic prophet Muhammad).

However, the term "Islamic state" has taken on a more specific modern connotation since the 20th century. The concept of the modern Islamic state has been articulated and promoted by ideologues such as Abul Ala Maududi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Israr Ahmed, and Sayyid Qutb. Like the earlier notion of the caliphate, the modern Islamic state is rooted in Islamic law. It is modeled after the rule of Muhammad. However, unlike caliph-led governments which were imperial despotisms or monarchies (Arabic: "mulk"), a modern Islamic state can incorporate modern political institutions such as elections, parliamentary rule, judicial review, and popular sovereignty.

The historical Islamic state[edit]

Early Islamic governments[edit]

The term caliphate refers to the first system of government established by Muhammad in 622 CE, under the Constitution of Medina. It represented the political unity of the Muslim Umma (nation), although it did not always incorporate the full religious community of Muslims (for example, Kharijites and Shia). It was subsequently led by Muhammad's disciples who were known as the Rightly Guided (Rashidun) Caliphs (632-661 CE). The Arabian Empire significantly expanded under the Umayyad Caliphate (622-750) and the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258).

The Essence of Islamic governments[edit]

The essence or guiding principles of an Islamic government or Islamic state, is the concept of 'Al-Shura'. Different scholars have different understandings or thoughts, with regard to the concept al-Shura, However, most Muslim scholars are of the opinion that Islamic al-Shura should consist of:[1]

  • Meeting or consultation, that follows the teachings of Islam.
  • Consultation following the guidelines of the Quran and Sunnah.
  • There is a leader elected among them to head the meeting.
  • The discussion should be based on mushawarah and mudhakarah.
  • All the members are given fair opportunity to voice out their opinions.
  • The issue should be of maslahah ammah or public interest.
  • The voices of the majority are accepted, provided that it does not violate with the teachings of the Quran or Sunnah.

Muhammad himself respected the decision of the shura members. He is the champion of the notion of al-shura, and this was illustrated in one of the many historical events, such as, in the Battle of Khandaq (Battle of the Ditch), where the Muhammad was faced with two decisions, i.e. to fight those considered unbelievers outside Medina or within Medina. After consultation with the sahabahs (companions), it was suggested by Salman al-Farsi that it would be better if the Muslim fought the unbelievers within Medina by building a big ditch on the northern periphery of Medina to prevent the enemies from entering Medina. This idea was later supported by the majority of the sahabahs, and thereafter Muhammad also approved it.

The reason why Muhammad placed great emphasis on the agreement of the decision of the shura, was because the majority of opinion (by the sahabah) is better than the decision made by one individual.

Revival and abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate[edit]

The Ottoman Sultan Selim I (1876–1909) reclaimed the title of Caliph, which had been in dispute and asserted by a diversity of rulers and "shadow caliphs" in the centuries of the Abbasid-Mamluk Caliphate since the Mongols' sacking of Baghdad and the killing of the last Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad in Iraq 1258.

The Ottoman Caliphate as an office of the Ottoman Empire was abolished under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924 as part of Ataturk's reforms. This move was most vigorously protested in India, as Gandhi and Indian Muslims united behind the symbolism of the Ottoman Caliph in the Khilafat (or "Caliphate") Movement, which sought to reinstate the Caliph deposed by Ataturk. The Khilafat Movement leveraged the Ottoman political resistance to the British Empire, and this international anti-imperial connection proved to be a galvanizing force during India's nascent nationalism movement of the early 1900s, for Hindus and Muslims alike, even though India was far from the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate in Istanbul.

The modern "Islamic state"[edit]

Origins in 20th-century nationalist and anti-imperialist movements[edit]

"The very term, 'Islamic State', was never used in the theory or practice of Muslim political science, before the twentieth century," a Pakistani scholar wrote,[2] and western scholars of Islam agree.[3]

The modern conceptualization of the "Islamic state" is attributed to Abul Ala Maududi (1903–1979), an Pakistani Muslim theologian who founded the political party Jamaat-e-Islami and inspired other Islamic revolutionaries such as Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini.[4] Abul Ala Maududi's early political career was influenced greatly by anti-colonial agitation in India, especially after the tumultuous abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 stoked anti-British sentiment (see Khilafat Movement).[5]

The Islamic state was perceived as a "third way" between the rival political systems of democracy and socialism (see also Islamic Modernism).[6] Maududi's seminal writings on Islamic economics argued as early as 1941 against free-market capitalism and socialist state intervention in the economy, similar to Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr's later Our Economics written in 1961. Maududi envisioned the ideal Islamic state as combining the democratic principles of electoral politics with the socialist principles of concern for the poor.[7]

Islamic states today[edit]

Islamic republic is the official name given to several Islamic-modeled contemporary states,[8] including the Islamic Republics of Pakistan, Iran[9] and Afghanistan.[10] Pakistan adopted the title under the constitution of 1956. Mauritania adopted it on 28 November 1958. Iran adopted it after the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty. In Iran, the form of government is known as "Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists". Afghanistan was run as an Islamic state ("Islamic State of Afghanistan") in the post-communist era since 1992 but then de facto by the Taliban ("Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan") in areas controlled by them since 1996, and after the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban the country is still known as the "Islamic Republic of Afghanistan". Despite the similar name, the countries differ greatly in their governments and laws.

Saudi Arabia can be considered an Islamic state, but it is an absolute monarchy ruled by a king and therefore not known as an "Islamic Republic".

Pan-Islamism is a form of religious nationalism within political Islam which advocates the unification of the Muslim world under a single Islamic state, often described as a caliphate.

The Libyan interim Constitutional Declaration of 3 August 2011 declares Islam to be official religion of Libya.

Modern World Islamic states[edit]


Leading up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, many of the highest-ranking clergy in Shi'a Islam held to the standard doctrine of the Imamate, which allows political rule only by Muhammad or one of his true successors. They were opposed to creating an Islamic state (see Ayatollah Ha'eri Yazdi (Khomeini's own teacher), Ayatollah Borujerdi, Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, and Grand Ayatollah Khui).[11] Contemporary theologians who were once part of the Iranian Revolution also became disenchanted and critical of the unity of religion and state in the Islamic Republic of Iran, are advocating secularization of the state to preserve the purity of the Islamic faith (see Abdolkarim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar).[12]


Pakistan was created as a separate state for Indian Muslims in British India in 1947, and followed the parliamentary form of democracy. In 1949, the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan passed Objectives Resolution envisaged an official role for Islam as the state religion to make sure any future law should not violate its basic teachings. On the whole state retained the most of the laws that were inherited from the secular British legal code that had been enforced by the British Raj since the 19th century. In 1956, the elected parliament formally adopted the name "Islamic Republic of Pakistan", declaring Islam as the official religion .

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jeong Chun Hai & Nor Fadzlina Nawi. (2007). Principles of Public Administration: An Introduction. Kuala Lumpur: Karisma Publications. ISBN 978-983-195-253-5
  2. ^ Khan, Qamaruddin. 1982. Political Concepts in the Quran. Lahore: Islamic Book Foundation, p. 74
  3. ^ Eickelman, D. F., & Piscatori, J. (1996). Muslim politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 53.
  4. ^ Nasr, S.V.R. 1996. Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism, Ch. 4. New York: Oxford University Press
  5. ^ Minault, G. The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.
  6. ^ Kurzman, Charles. “Introduction,” in Modernist Islam 1840-1940: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  7. ^ Khir, B.M. “The Islamic Quest for Sociopolitical Justice.” In Blackwell Companion to Political Theology, edited by W.T. Cavanaugh & P. Scott, 503-518. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004
  8. ^ Elliesie, Hatem. Rule of Law in Islamic Modeled States. In: Matthias Koetter / Gunnar Folke Schuppert (Eds.), Understanding of the Rule of Law in various Legal Orders of the World: Working Paper Series Nr. 13 of SFB 700: Governance in Limited Areas of Statehood, Berlin 2010.
  9. ^ Moschtaghi, Ramin. Rule of Law in Iran. In: Matthias Koetter / Gunnar Folke Schuppert (Eds.), Understanding of the Rule of Law in various Legal Orders of the World: Working Paper Series Nr. 11 of SFB 700: Governance in Limited Areas of Statehood, Berlin 2010.
  10. ^ Elliesie, Hatem. Rule of Law in Afghanistan. In: Matthias Koetter / Gunnar Folke Schuppert (Eds.), Understanding of the Rule of Law in various Legal Orders of the World: Working Paper Series Nr. 4 of SFB 700: Governance in Limited Areas of Statehood, Berlin 2010.
  11. ^ Chehabi, H. E. 1991. Religion and Politics In Iran: How Theocratic is the Islamic Republic?. Daedalus, Vol 120, No. 3, Summer 1991, pp. 69-91.
  12. ^ Kurzman, Charles. 2001. Critics Within: Islamic Scholars' Protest Against the Islamic State in Iran. International Journal of Politics,Culture and Society, Vol. 15, No. 2, Winter 2001..

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