Political quietism in Islam

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In the context of political aspects of Islam, the term political quietism has been used for the religiously motivated withdrawal from political affairs, or skepticism that mere mortals can establish true Islamic government. As such it would be the opposite of political Islam, which holds that religion (Islam) and politics are inseparable. It has also been used to describe Muslims who believe that Muslims should support Islamic government, but that it is “forbidden to rebel against a Muslim ruler”;[1] and Muslims who support Islamic government at the right time in the future when, (depending on the sect of Muslim), a consensus of scholars[2] or twelfth imam call for it.[3] The Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia[4] and Salafi[2] are sometimes described as being divided into "quietist" and "radical" wings. Mainstream sufism is considered largely apolitical, with governments propping up organisations such as the Sufi Muslim Council to encourage this.[5]


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.[6]

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.`"[7][8] 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`[9][10] 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".[11]


Contrasting Quietist Salafists to the Jihadis of the Islamic State, journalist Graeme Wood notes that while both believe that God’s law is the only law and are "committed" to expanding Dar al-Islam (the land of Islam), Quietist Salafists share other quietist Muslim's concern about disunity in the Muslim community. Wood quotes a Salafist preacher as saying: “The Prophet said: as long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr [disbelief], give him general obedience,” even if he is a sinner. Classic “books of creed” all warn against causing social upheaval.[2] Wood describes these quietists as believing "Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene," rather than jihad and conquest. He compares the "inordinate amount of time" spent on debating issues such as the proper length of trousers and whether beards may be trimmed in some areas, to ultra-Orthodox Jews who "debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as 'rending cloth'?)"[2]

Salafist quietists do not oppose jihad or politics per se. According to Muslim convert and Salafi preacher Breton "Abdullah" Pocius, Salafists are all in favor of a new united Islamic "caliphate" state or Khalifa, but at "some future point." Modern (quietist) Salafi theologians believe a true caliphate must come into being through the unmistakable will of God, “and it will involve a consensus of scholars from Mecca and Medina."[2]


Groups such as the Sufi Muslim Council, which claims to represent British Sufi Muslims,[12] describe Sufism as: "dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone".[13] and don't stress engaging in activism, revolt or military conflict - instead they see the Sufi tradition as a mystical and personal interpretation of Islam and largely apolitical.[2].


In Shia Islam, religious leaders who have been described as "quietist" include

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.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lacroix, Stéphane. "Saudi Arabia’s Muslim Brotherhood predicament". Washington Post. Retrieved 20 March 2014. some clerics, like Nasir al-Umar, stuck to pure religious rhetoric, arguing that it is `forbidden to rebel against a Muslim ruler` 
  2. ^ a b c d e Wood, Graeme (March 2015). "What ISIS Really Wants". The Atlantic. Retrieved 25 February 2015. 
  3. ^ a b The New Republic, "The New Democrats" by Abbas Milani, July 15, 2009 (may not be available for free online)
  4. ^ Wagemakers, Joas (2012). "THE ENDURING LEGACY OF THE SECOND SAUDI STATE". International Journal Middle East Studies 44: 93–110. Retrieved 14 December 2014. ... the collapse of the second Saudi state (1824–91)and the lessons that both quietist and radical Wahhabi scholars have drawn from that episode. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Islamic Revolution By Bernard Lewis, nybooks.com, Volume 34, Number 21 & 22 · January 21, 1988
  7. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Islam And The West, Oxford University Press, c1993.
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Lewis, Islam And The West, c1993, p.161
  11. ^ Lewis, Islam And The West, c1993, p.164-5
  12. ^ "About Sufi Muslim Council - SMC". Sufi Muslim Council. 2006. Retrieved 2006-10-03. 
  13. ^ BBC Team (2004-04-13). "BBC - Religion & Ethics - Sufism". BBC Religion & Ethics. BBC. Retrieved 2006-10-03.