Political quietism

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Political quietism, defined as the withdrawal from political affairs, or skepticism that mere mortals can establish true Islamic government, has been described as a tendency or school in Islam.


According to scholar Bernard Lewis, quietism is contrasted with "activist" Islam.

There are in particular two political traditions, one of which might be called quietist, the other activist. The arguments in favour of both are based, as are most early Islamic arguments, on the Holy Book and on the actions and sayings of the Prophet. The quietist tradition obviously rests on the Prophet as sovereign, as judge and statesman. But before the Prophet became a head of state, he was a rebel. Before he travelled from Mecca to Medina, where he became sovereign, he was an opponent of the existing order. He led an opposition against the pagan oligarchy of Mecca and at a certain point went into exile and formed what in modern language might be called a "government in exile," with which finally he was able to return in triumph to his birthplace and establish the Islamic state in Mecca...The Prophet as rebel has provided a sort of paradigm of revolution—opposition and rejection, withdrawal and departure, exile and return. Time and time again movements of opposition in Islamic history tried to repeat this pattern.[1]

Some analysts have argued that "Islamic political culture promotes political quietism" and cite a "famous Islamic admonition: `Better one hundred years of the Sultan's tyranny than one year of people's tyranny over each other.`" [2][3] Other scripture providing grounding for quietism in Islam includes the ayat `Obey God, obey his Prophet and obey those among you who hold authority` [Quran 4:59] and the hadith: `Obey him who holds authority over you, even if he be a mutilated Ethiopian slave`[4][5] Other "commonly cited" but not scriptural sayings among Sunni jurists and theologians include "whose power prevails must be obeyed," and "the world can live with tyranny but not with anarchy".[6]

In Shia Islam, religious leaders who have been described as "quietist" include Ayatollah Mirza Hosein Na'ini, a leader during Iran's 1906 Constitutional revolution; Seyyed Hossein Borujerdi, the marja of Iran from 1947 to his death in 1961; and currently Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, currently one of, if not the leading Shia cleric in Iraq. Their stance is not a strict withdrawal from politics but that "true `Islamic government`" cannot be established until the return of twelfth imam. Until this time Muslims must "search for the best form of government," advising rulers to ensure that "laws inimical to sharia" are not implemented.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Islamic Revolution By Bernard Lewis, nybooks.com, Volume 34, Number 21 & 22 · January 21, 1988
  2. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Islam And The West, Oxford University Press, c1993.
  3. ^ Better governance for development in the Middle East and North Africa By Mustapha K. Nabli, World Bank, Charles Humphreys, Arup Banerji. MENA Report, World Bank, 2003 p.203-4
  4. ^ Weinsinck, A. J., Concordance Et Indices De LA Tradition Musulmane: Les Six Livres, Le Musnad D'Al-Darimi, Le Muwatta'De Malik, Le Musnad De Ahmad Ibn Hanbal , vol.1, p.327
  5. ^ Lewis, Islam And The West, c1993, p.161
  6. ^ Lewis, Islam And The West, c1993, p.164-5
  7. ^ The New Republic, "The New Democrats" by Abbas Milani, July 15, 2009 (may not be available for free online)