Some fundamental ideas about Islamic government


"If men were angels there would be no need for government"

— James Madison, Federalist paper #51

The first truth that must be established before a meaningful examination of ideas related to Islamic government can take place, is the fact that Islamic government is not theocracy. Theocracy, which means, "governed by God" is not possible for the human being, since we cannot become God, and neither can man in anyway assume the posture of God as sovereign and ruler of all the worlds. We have neither the ability, nor the authority to assume this role in the universe because we are not creators, and so can never be God. Those who claim to fear Islamic government since they wrongly believe that by establishing an Islamic government, Muslims are attempting to assume the role of God, and to judge and dictate, and to punish in the same way they believe God does, are either misled, or deliberately misleading others. Muslims are not so distant from reality, or enchanted by fantasy, that we have made it an aim to attempt to be like God. For a Muslim to seek to place him or herself in the position of God would be a sin because the Qur’an says, " join not anything as equal to Him" (6:151), and that God has no partners, cannot have any partners (6: 136-37), and is self sufficient (6:133). In fact the very idea that man should have a government is recognition of the fact that we are imperfect individuals, and not gods, and that even as societies, and nations, we are not capable of providing all of our own needs. Whether seeking to fulfill individual needs or social needs, we are in need of one another, whereas God is not in need of anyone or anything.

By every description of God found in any Holy text, or scripture, He is described as independent of man, and not in need of a government led by human beings. He does not share authority with any created entity. The right of the human being to form earthly governments, and to self govern is explained to us in the Qur’an, where it says:" It is He (God) Who has made you His stewards in the earth. He has raised you in ranks, some above others, that He (God) may try you in the gifts He has given you…" (6:165). The actual Arabic word used to describe the human in this respect is Warith. One of the meanings of Warith is one upon whom ownership and authority has been conferred by an entity, in this case God, who is the original owner, and the only one with the right to confer, or to delegate authority and ownership of something to another. So mankind is Warith, and our governments are the government of Warith, or stewardship, and not the government of God, or theocracy. The Qur’an explains this relationship between God and His "Warith" saying, " We have honored the children of Adam, provided them with transport on land and sea, given them for sustenance things good and pure, and conferred special favors above a great part of Our creation" (17:70). It explains this favor further in Chapter 33, verses 72-73, saying: " We did indeed offer the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof. Man undertook it, he was indeed unjust and foolish, with the result that God has to punish the hypocrites, men and women, and the unbelievers, men and women, and God turns in mercy to the believers men and women, for God is oft forgiving, most merciful." The traditional definition of this "trust" is the right of mankind to choose, and to enjoy a limited free will. Further explanation of this choice, or trust, is found in the meanings of the words authority, ownership, and capability, which are affiliated attributes, of the word "trust." This makes it clear that the steward of God is actually His (God’s) trustee.

Imam Khomeni, in his discussion of Islamic government introduced the idea of Waliyat ul faqih, or guardianship by the jurist. In this presentation, Imam Khomeni suggested that in the absence of the prophets, Ahl ul Bayt and Imam Mahdi, Islamic jurists’ guard the Muslim society from deviation off the path of righteousness as explained through Shariah, or Islamic law. This idea explains for us only one aspect of the hierarchy, or ranks that are referred to in the verse of the Qur’an where it says, "and God raised them in ranks." Upon close examination we are able too see that what Imam Khomeni was alluding to is the human hierarchy of servitude that was established by God, and that would continue uninterrupted, until the Day of Judgement. According to the Waliyat al Faqih theory, the jurist is a part of a structure of authority or hierarchy that is translated into the political lexicon as governments, or leadership.

Absent the higher authorities, which would be, the spiritual Wali who received revelation, such as prophets, or others such as the Ahl ul Bayt, and Imam Mahdi, we have the Caliphate, which can be inherited by jurists, and lay people. Such jurists become elevated to the status of guardian of the ummah, (community of monotheists) by the will of the people. In this position, they can receive, rather than wahi, which is revelation, Ilham, or inspiration from God received from human messengers, or by other paths of knowledge and truth that reach the human heart (40:15 and 17:85). In the position of Wali, the primary duty of the non-prophetic, yet still guided leadership is to preserve the law and traditions, and to prevent the ummah, or community of Muslims from straying too far from the right path. This straying might result from a decline in knowledge of right and wrong, lack of enforcement of the law, or the usurpation of the authority from the righteous hierarchy. This is why the jurist’s special knowledge is especially important and well suited to this type and level of leadership. Absent those who would be able and entitled to lead the ummah as higher authorities, having greater knowledge of all the many aspects and also special Islamic knowledge, the faqih’s Waliyat is at best a safety measure. It is employed to ensure the preservation of the seat of authority, and also to preserve the law, and maintain order. This type of Waliyat is legitimate until the higher authority is present, which would be Imam Mahdi (as). The faqih as Wali also oversees the affairs of the Ummah by organizing and delivering services to the ummah that it cannot attain for itself as individuals, and also provides defense and protection.

It is important for us to understand the structure of Islamic authority. Understanding this structure is key to our understanding clearly that mankind in general are stewards or trustees. Yet, not all human beings are vice regents of God, or Wali or faqih, as is explained for us in 2:124, where it says," He (God) said, " I will make thee an Imam to the nations." He (Abraham) pleaded, " and also Imam’s of my offspring?" He (God) answered, "But my promise is not within the reach of evildoers."

Knowing these different classifications of service from a political perspective are essential to understanding the complexities of Islamic government, and the roles that each of us play in that government, whether as the governed, or governing. For our purposes, this information is important since it proves that Muslims are not attempting to establish God’s throne on earth by establishing Islamic government. Rather Muslims are involved in an effort to establish the proper human hierarchy of service to God over the Muslim ummah, through the establishment of legitimate human governments.

Some of the fundamental aspects of Islamic government

In seeking to ascertain the fundamentals or essential elements of an Islamic government, we look to the history of Islam within the context of relevant Qur’anic exegesis. There are so many verses of the Qur’an that explain the purpose of government. The prophet Muhammad, (SA) as well as the Ahl ul Bayt and contemporary scholars have spoken, and written volumes on this topic from various perspectives, and in different ways. As mentioned earlier, these verses, and their tafsir, explain for us the role of the Warith, the faqih, and the wali, the human authority, and the Divine law. They also explain for us the non-compulsory, yet obligated Muslim acceptance of and obedience to the tenets of Islamic faith, or worship, and the law, since these are required for success individually and socially, leaving very little to the imagination in that respect. The Qur’an says in 33:36, " It is not fit for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by God and His Apostle to have an option about their decision." What is left to the limited free will, and creativity of the individuals who comprise the contemporary Islamic society, is to select their servants through an elective process, and to set the level and standard of the law to be promulgated in a certain space of time. The society determines how it will pursue its short term and long term goals, the ultimate of which is the salvation of every human soul that desires salvation, which in an Islamic society is presumed to be a majority of the people. Understanding this allows us to also see that the primary objective of Islamic government is not necessarily to establish the law, but rather it is to preserve, and to perpetuate the hierarchy of servitude that was established in the Garden with the creation of our father Adam. These successors included Abraham, and all subsequent prophets, and their righteous progeny, and followers. The Qur’an says,

We gave (Abraham) Isaac and Jacob, and all three We guided. And before him We guided Noah, and among his progeny David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, and Aaron. Thus do We reward those who do good. And Zakariyah and John, and Jesus and Elias, were all in the ranks of the righteous. And Ishmael, Elisha, and Jonas and Lot, and to all We gave favor above the nations, to them and to their fathers and progeny and brethren, and We guided them to a straight way. This is the guidance of God. He gives that guidance to whom He (God) pleases of His worshippers. If they were to join other gods with Him, all they did would be vain, (ineffectual) for them. These were the men to whom we gave the Book, and Authority, and Prophet-hood…copy the guidance they received" (6:84-90).

In Chapter 21, verse 73, the Qur’an says…"we made them leaders, guiding men and women by Our Command, and we sent them inspiration to do good deeds, to establish regular prayers, and to practice charity, and they constantly served us, and only us."

In Chapter 37, verses 164-66, it says," (Those ranged in ranks) say "Not one of us but has a place appointed. And we are arranged in ranks, and we verily are those who declare God’s glory."

Primary Objectives of Islamic government

In Federalist Paper # 51 James Madison, one of the United State’s founders, suggests that one of the primary objectives of government is to control the people, and also to control itself. He felt that the separation of government powers was necessary to control the government. The legislature, in his view is the most powerful of the three branches of government. Its objective being to limit the powers of the other branches, the executive and the judiciary, and also to limit the freedoms of individuals to the extent that they threaten the freedoms of others, the common good and also the rights of minorities through the use of law. Madison wrote: " In a representative government it is not only necessary to guard against the oppression of rulers, it is equally important to guard against the injustice that may be inflicted by certain citizens or groups." From Madison’s stated opinion about the role of government, and the distribution of power in a society, we can say with some confidence, that Madison believed that one of the central aspects of good government is organization, and one of its primary aims is to distribute and protect power. He appears to have believed that striking a balance between the government and the people, and also among the people themselves, the majority and minorities, was an essential objective of government. Islam shares this view and objective, and makes it an obligation for Muslims to view and pursue justice in this same way, saying, " Oh you who believe, stand out firmly for justice" (4:135). The Qur’an goers further, communicating to us through its moral and legal precepts, a rule of life that enjoins upon us the same rules that Madison believed necessary to achieve what he calls a balance of power, and what the Qur’an calls, "justice." The rights of minorities, the rights of women, the rights of the poor, orphans, the sick, the elderly, etc. are the Islamic pursuit of social, and economic justice, and a balance of power, or capacity, shared rationally, although not necessarily equally by these groups. Madison believed that the primary power in a free society is the people of that society. In Islam the people are also the primary holders of a type of power that is more akin to influence, and persuasion than capacity.

In the Qur’an, God addressed this issue of power, and the distribution of power in the Islamic society as a type of justice, that includes responsibility. This can be seen in respect to economic, social or any other manifestation of justice. The responsibility to be just is viewed as an individual and also as a social responsibility, owed to the people above one’s rank, and also below one’s rank in life and service. In a very popular hadith, accepted by both Sunni and Shia scholars, Muslims are told that we have a responsibility to save the oppressed and also the oppressor. In this hadith a Muslim asks, "How do we save the oppressor?" The answer is, "By stopping him from oppressing," which can be very easily adapted to Madison’s idea that one way to carry out this responsibility is to limit the opportunity for tyranny and oppression, by limiting government power, as an act of justice. Indeed, as we look at Islamic law, or Shariah law, we see that it is a far-reaching law whose aim is always to balance power, which is embedded within the rights and responsibilities of individuals, groups, and governments within the Islamic state.

This can also easily be understood to represent the relationship between and also the mutual responsibility of every group, and person within an Islamic society to work toward the common good. The Qur’an refers to the responsibility of the men in an Islamic society to protect and provide for the women, which is portrayed as something good for the woman, and also for society. Here and in other similar hadith, we observe the idea of "common good" as an Islamic objective, and not merely as something that is positive or desirable. The Qur’an says clearly that the reason for this ruling, that men should provide for and protect women, is that men have greater physical power, or strength than women. This implies, perhaps that there is a natural law informing Shariah, or Islamic law. It also suggests that Shariah is possibly a type of natural law, and maybe even the same law of nature referred to in the US Declaration of Independence, as "self evident truth," which implies something commonly observed by reasonable men and women of any faith, political persuasion, etc. Equally, if not more importantly, the above-mentioned Qur’anic verse also implies that it is "just" for one who has more to use his advantage to achieve a certain type of equity, or commonality within pluralistic societies. If that is true, then the difference between the male and female in this hadith, symbolizes diversity of all kinds. This is different from the social engineering of the egalitarians who believe that it is the governments duty to equalize the lives of the rich and poor, men and women, etc. Islam does not accept that God’s pattern of creation is faulted, and so mankind has inherited an obligation to set it right by creating huge and overbearing governments that dictate to people, and attempt to rearrange the natural order through legal edits. No where do we see that it is an objective of Islamic governments to perfect the human experience, since we are incapable of understanding perfection from a Creators perspective. What we do see, is that Islamic government is very much concerned with alleviating intense and unyielding hardship, because it can be an impediment to the progress of the human soul that is seeking the fulfillment of its potential. Rest assured that every soul is seeking its perfection, even though some will be seduced, and deceived into taking wrong paths.

Extreme, unyielding hardship from an Islamic perspective, is an enemy of the human being, because it places an unnatural burden upon individuals and their society, while it preoccupies the human with mere survival, rather than improvement. In a popular hadith that is found in the collection of hadith of Al-Bukhari, which is considered an authentic source in the Sunni and Shia sources of jurisprudence, the Caliph Umar is reported to have said, "if poverty was human, I would kill it." This suggests that the companions of the prophet and the leaders of the original Islamic state looked at social justice as a desirable and also an obligatory "common good" objective because justice engenders security, and other desirable conditions that facilitate human advancement. This is not an obligation bestowed upon us to perfect what some people wrongly believe God refused, or was unable to perfect. Muslims recognize that creation is perfect, and that inequality is not necessarily injustice. Yet, when disparity becomes an impediment to the overall progress of humanity, robbing the society of desirable virtues, and conditions such as security, then it is not only viewed as an injustice, but as an enemy of mankind. In another hadith, attesting to this view, Imam Jafar Al Siddique, one of the twelve Shia Imams is quoted saying, " If you see an individual who is in poverty, know that an injustice has been committed, since God has measured and sent down the sustenance for every human being, as He promised." This refers to several verses in the Qur’an where God has described Himself as the provider, and protector, etc. The Holy Qur’an, chapter 17, verse 30 says, " He (God) provides in just measure. For He knows and regards all of His servants."

Another objective of Islamic government is to guard and to protect the pathways to truth. The Shia cleric Imam Tabatabai wrote in his introduction to his volumes of Qur’anic tafsir, named Al-Mizan, that there are many sabeel, (paths) to the Sirat, but only one Sirat, or straight path, to God. This suggests that each individual’s life experience might be considered a sabeel, while the Sirat, the Straight path, is the only path to the truth, which is Al-Haqq, or God.

There are many ways to describe the paths to truth. It is sufficient for our purposes, since we are discussing the mundane world, and not the esoteric world, to describe truth as those truths that describe and define life for us from a material, and sometimes also a spiritual perspective. They are the truths that teach about God, about us, and other created things, and purpose. Such truths teach us about ritual worship, what is permissible and not permissible etc. There are also different types of truth. There is religious truth, and universal truths, and also other worldly truths. Each has its purpose within its own realm of thinking, and the Islamic government is concerned with all of the types of truth, since they are a vital mechanism for freedom, and of course freedom is essential for judgment and choice. Governments have a vested interest in protecting these paths to truth by protecting the right to seek, and that would include the right to speak, to learn, to teach, to congregate and to associate, and also privacy rights. They would include freedom of religion, freedom of public religious, political, academic and other types of expression, and most importantly the freedom to choose. Government must also protect the right to dissent, to hold an unpopular opinion, and to express that opinion without fear of reprisal, since truth often comes to mankind masked as dissent from popular opinion, or conventional ways of thinking and common logic.

It is probably impossible for a society to be free and to self govern that is not also an owner of truth, since falsehood, by its very nature perishes, and those institutions, nations, and societies that are established upon falsehood will perish as falsehood does (12:18 and 9:109). The protection of truth includes a certain amount of prohibition also, and we see this even in the US there are laws that prohibit slander, libel, and other speech that are defaming and hurtful. We see that it is illegal to commit fraud, and to misrepresent the truth, etc., and also to plagiarize, or to attribute either the good or bad acts to undeserving people. The same is true in Islam, since Islam, perhaps more than many other ways of life, is very concerned with not only the truth, but also with who is bringing, interpreting, accepting and also rejecting ideas and truths.

It is important for us to know from where truth originates, since in Islam, truth is not relative, but rather it is absolute in varying degrees, depending upon its path of dissension. That means there are certain paths that it will generally take into the hearts of a people, even though we also recognize that even evil contains some truth. That does not diminish the power of truth, but rather attests to its power, since the truth, even in the hands of an evil entity maintains its natural capacity to have effect that manifests overtly and covertly, to the benefit and to the detriment of mankind.

The Islamic government is also charged with the duty to defend the life and property of the ummah. The Qur’an suggests to us that this defending is an obligation because it deters aggression, and also preserves an equilibrium between the forces of good and evil in the earth. On this topic the Qur’an says," Fight in the cause of God (for justice) those who fight you. Do not transgress limits, (violate the laws of warfare) for God loves not transgressors…for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter…and fight them on until there is no more tumult and oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God" (2:190-193). In this respect the concept of justice is expanded to include not only social and economic justice as in an equitable or fair distribution, or balance of rights and power. In respect to defense and deterring aggression, the Qur’an expands the Islamic definition of justice to now also include peace and security in respect to ones own person, and property, along with the right to have basic sustenance, and privacy and freedoms to act. This is comparable to the right to life and property secured by the US Declaration of Independence which lists life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness among the inalienable rights bequeathed by God to all of humanity. Consider the verse of Qur’an, which says," And why should you not fight in the cause of God (for justice) and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated. Men, women, and children whose cry is, "Oh Lord, rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors, and raise for us, from thee, one who will protect. And raise us up from thee, one who will help" (4:79-80). The "one" mentioned in these verses, raised up to high ranks by God, may be a reference to the head of the Islamic State. The emphasis is placed on the "one" because in Islam only the Wali, or Guardian of the ummah, which is the highest authority, can call upon the ummah to take defensive measures against an aggressor. Anyone other than the Wali who would seek to issue such a call, would be deemed not only an imposter, but also a renegade. In such an instance, the entire ummah would be obligated to turn against such a renegade and to censure him, and to take stronger measures as necessary to restore order. The Quran says in this respect the following: " To those, against whom war is made, permission is given to fight because they are wronged-and verily God is most powerful for their aid. They are those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, because they say, "God is Our Lord." Did not God check one set of people by means of another there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid His cause, for verily He (God) is full of strength (22:40).

Throughout the Qur’an, and also in the hadith, the rules of military engagement are taught and explained. The most basic of these rules prohibit the killing of women and children, and civilians. They prohibit the unnecessary destruction of property, the landscape, and the pollution of water, or abuse or destruction of other natural resources.

A true and legitimate leader of Islamic ummah, being one of the righteous,, legitimized not only by his knowledge of God and Islam, but also by his pious life and example, could never be a violator of these laws and principles. Since the underlying message of Islam is that the One God, of all the worlds, is all knowing, and that His Guidance is perfect, there is no opposing human logic that could be accepted as more appropriate, or more wise, or better able to bring success than His. God has also made it clear in the Quran that human weakness, low numbers, and other worldly estimations of military strength mean nothing to Him. The believer wins because of faith, and God’s Divine intervention "Remember, my Lord inspired the angels with this message, "I am with you, give firmness to the hearts of the believers…" (8:12). For this reason, extreme and illegal military measures, adopted because of fear or despair are not acceptable, and we should not expect them to be rewarded with victory. This is why it is essential that only the Wali decide who the enemy is, and when to declare war, and he must approve the military strategies proposed by the military commanders. The way in which nation approaches, and conducts war, according to the Quran, is a greater determinant than anything material or physical. The consequences of such activity extend far beyond the battlefield, and can cause a nation to win, or loose God’s Grace, which is a far more serious affair than to win or loose a war.

Establishing a contemporary Islamic government- (Structure and Methodology)

Islamic Constitutionalism

The idea that a nation should have a Constitution that outlines and that also speaks specifically about the rights and responsibilities of the people, and also their government, is not new to Islam. More than 1400 years ago, the prophet Muhammad (SA) introduced the idea of a social contract that would bind the people of a nation to the pursuit of common goals through adherence to a mutually agreed upon set of rules, or rather a Constitution. The first Islamic Constitution was drafted by the Prophet’s scribe at his behest, and with the full agreement of the leaders of the tribes present in Medina upon his arrival. This document is called the Covenant of Medina. Although a very simple document, this document captured for us the idea that individuals must coalesce and cooperate if we are to achieve the necessary security and prosperity that is the aim and desire of most people. (For more details on this topic, see The Muslim Conduct of State, by Muhammad Hamidullah, Ashraf Priniting Press, 1996, Lahore Pakistan).

The Covenant of Medina addressed only securing the nation, the obligation to contribute to a national treasury through either a tax, as in the Zakat al mal, or through the Jizya for non-Muslims. The funds could only be used to pay for the collective security of the nation, its protection and defense, and also for the delivery of services individuals could not provide for themselves equally, such as trash collection, education, hospitals, and things of this nature. From the teachings of the Quran we understand that the care of the poor, women, orphans and others is also an obligation of the state.

Modern Constitutions are much more complex than the Covenant of Medina. That is perhaps because issues concerning human rights, and civil rights, as well as limits to government power, and the balance of power between the government and the governed became of increased importance as societies became larger. Also, the stakes in international relations are much higher due to the increasing prosperity and military powers of many nations. In a globalized world, the internal affairs of important nations may be of interest to other nations because the rules impact issues like trade, and also security. The age of isolationism enjoyed in the past by many nations has likely ended, and the new global society is a society that is conjoined by economic, and also issues related to security, sharing some very important common interests. There is also an increased need for checks and balances in societies, to prevent government corruption, and to encourage fiscal responsibility, problems that did not exist under the prophet’s leadership. Modern Constitutions might also address issues like the proliferation of destructive weapons, and the exploitation and abuse of minorities, and the weak and disabled. It could also address the rights of workers to fair wages, and shared ownership of the means of production. It seems appropriate that a Constitution, while articulating the basic rights of citizens, that it would seek, through entitlement, to balance power through ownership, and property rights.

Other areas of interest that might be addressed in an Islamic constitution includes the rights to speedy and fair trials, the right to be judged by ones peers, and also the right to legal representation paid for by the state in case a defendant is impoverished. There are many examples of Constitutions that can serve, along with the Covenant of Medina, as models for drafting an Islamic constitution. The primary interest of the people in this respect is that the Constitution will not make permissible anything that Shariah law has prohibited, and that it will not prohibit anything that Shariah law has not prohibited.


When the prophet Muhammad was invited to lead the community in Yathrib, he may have been invited to do so because he was one of the Quriash tribe who ruled the Arabian Peninsula at that time. He was also exceptional in that he had a reputation that was unmatched for being wise, compassionate and honest, fair and sincere. Also, many of the people of Yathrib, now known as Medina, had accepted Muhammad as the prophet foretold by the Jewish and Christian mystics of that and ancient times. The Qur’an teaches us that even Jesus foretold the coming of the prophet Muhammad, (sa) (61:6). There were also various tribes of Jews, Christians, and pagans who lived in Medina. This causes us to ask how Muhammad could be selected, and based upon what Islamic criteria would he be deemed a legitimate ruler of such a community? Was it his tribal distinction, or religious distinction that qualified him, and made him an attractive choice for leadership?

In Chapter 8, verse 63, the Quran explains to us that the prophet’s popularity and acceptance among his followers, was not the result of any worldly phenomenon. It says:

"He (God) has put love and affection between their hearts. Not if you (Muhammad) had spent all that is in the earth, could thou have produced that affection. But God has done it, for He (God) is exalted in wisdom and wise. "

This verse of Qur’an supports Imam Khomeni’s saying that when a government is loved by the people, it is loved by God, and when it is hated by the people, it is hated by God. Without delving too deeply into the various possible interpretations of this verse, we can see that love has a great deal to do with God’s Mercy. It reaches mankind through hearts, just as the prophet Muhammad, (sa) reached Medina by love and Mercy of God and the people. That is perhaps why and how he found, the human love and mercy among such a diverse group of believing and non-believing people. This verse suggests that the love that prophet Muhammad (sa) found among the people of Medina was the compelling force that caused the people to select him as their leader. God created this love by making the prophet a man that was lovable, compassionate, wise, fair, just, truthful and sincere, to mention just a few of his noble attributes. This type of selection, based upon affection, is different from the use of peer pressure, or threats of violence that are often used as substitutes for free choice in political elections. This type of affection engenders loyalty that can keep a nation united behind its leader during times of severe trials.

Based upon what we assume is the possible meaning of the above-mentioned verse of Quran, we can say that elections by popular vote would be the best way to select a Muslim leader to govern a Muslim society. By popular election, one person, one vote, repeated after a certain number of years, the people can demonstrate their continued affection, and also they give bayat, or an oath of loyalty that is implied by their vote, which they will abide by. Since the Islamic Caliphate is no longer recognized as a governing authority with control over the Muslim world, each individual Muslim country must establish its own separate hierarchy of servitude, keeping in mind that it is not Caliphate. Today, we are merely assigning a temporary trustee to carry out the duties to some extent, of the Waliyat, of the Imam Mahdi.

An Islamic government can have a separate legislative branch, and also an independent judiciary. As mentioned earlier, the secret to securing the independence and the integrity of these branches of government is to keep them separate and to distribute power to either branch according to the way in which the nation should be governed. In a democratic republic, where the people are the ultimate authority, and there is rule by law, a legislative body, elected by the people in their local districts could be the best way to insure that each tribe or community within the nation is represented fairly in the legislature. In the United States the size of a district determines how many representatives it will have in the Congress. Congress includes a House of Representatives, and also the Senate. There is little to suggest in either the Quran or the Sunnah that an Islamic government must have two representative bodies, yet there is evidence that there must be at least a representative body that can serve as a Majlis, or consulting body. In the United States we call this consultation "advise and consent." In Islam we call this Ash -Shurah, or consultation. There are at least two sound definitions of the term Ash Shurah that are based upon its presentation in the Quran, and its utilization by the prophet Muhammad (SA). One definition is " to seek the advice and consultation of scholars and informed people in the affairs that concern the nation and its interest." Another definition is a "decision making process that includes the opinions of experts and concerned parties from the community." The Quran makes Ash Shurah an obligation, but does not dictate how the Majlis Ash Shurah should be formed. That perhaps leaves the option open to create either an elected or appointed body of trusted advisors.

It seems reasonable, based upon our understanding of the power and importance of allowing the people to select or to invite their leaders to serve them that the Majlis should be elected by the people. It should also be a representative body reflecting the interests of the racial, religious, and minority groups, and also women in the country.

In most Muslim countries, the judiciary, or jurists are usually given the responsibility for not only overseeing the interpretation, and application of the law, they also make the laws. By comparison, the Majlis Ash Shurah, has been heretofore mostly an appointed body that provides expert opinion and advice to the executive branch. In our proposed model it would be an elected body acting as a legislature that is charged with lawmaking that reflects mostly the will of the people, rather than the will of the jurists, or the ruler. If the Majlis should take on the duties of a legislature, it would remove a considerable amount of power from the other branches of the government, returning it back into the hands of the people where it rightly belongs. There are of course those who would argue that this deviates from the method and structure of the prophet’s leadership in Medina, and they might be right. Yet, the difference is acceptable since as mentioned earlier, the government of the contemporary Muslim ummah is a temporary arrangement that must accommodate not only modern political, economic, and military challenges, it must also recognize that today’s leaders will not be prophets. The purpose of such political arrangements is mostly to preserve, protect, maintain, and provide for the community until the arrival of the Mahdi, at which time the Imamate, will be reunited with the Caliphate, and the original structure of hierarchy of servitude will be restored.

The traditional role of the judiciary is also subject to reform if we are looking forward to a transition from the secular liberal dictatorships that have ruled most of the Muslim world since the fall of the Caliphate, to the institution of a more Islamic model. In an Islamic government, the judiciary would be independent, and would consist of jurists versed in all of the schools of Islamic jurisprudence and Eastern and Western philosophy. Their function would be a completely separate and very limited function, involving little more than seeing that any laws passed are in keeping with the Quran and Sunnah. They would ensure, through a process of review, advise, and consent, that the Constitution adopted and ratified by the people does not seek to make permissible anything God has forbidden, or to prohibit anything that God has made permissible. The judiciary would also be responsible for adhering to the laws, rules, policies and procedures that define its scope of action, and methods of operation as decided by the legislature in consultation with the Wali, who might also be called a President, or Prime Minister. In this way, the judiciary, though independent, would have the least share of actual government power. Since ijtihad, which is the process of deliberation and decision-making for exceptional circumstances, must be conducted by qualified jurists, and must also be based upon the teachings of the Qur’an, and also the authentic hadith in order to be legitimate, both the legislature and the judiciary would be dependent upon the jurists in that respect. Ijtihad cannot be used to devise schemes, or to render decisions that legalize what is forbidden, normalize what is evil, or to distort what has been made plain. It cannot be used to cause disorder in what has already been ordered, as in organization, methodology, or pattern of creation in any circumstance, or the rules of military engagement.

Majlis Ash Shurah can also substitute for the more commonly known Ministries and Secretaries that serve the head of state by overseeing the responsibilities of the various government departments, i.e….education, heath and welfare, treasury, etc. This is where the head of the state can appoint a Majlis that will serve to carry out adopted policies for each department according to the law, and in pursuit of the common good discussed earlier. These departments would be kept to a minimum in order to limit the size of the government, and the costs of government expenditures. The essential departments might be a department of education, defense, interior, health and public safety, treasury, tourism and immigration.

Each province or district could be responsible for training, employing and sustaining its own police force that would be a separate and independent branch of local government, and could have their own local Majlis. These local governments would be structured according to tribal or communal preferences and traditions, so far as these traditions do not concentrate all of the power in the hands of a single person, family, or group. All local governing bodies must be representative in their make-up and open to the participation of every adult in good standing and of good repute that meets the criteria for leadership established by the community. Local constitutions are not obligated in Islam, yet they make sense when one considers that the tribes, and communities already have unspoken contracts amongst tribe and community leaders, and members that bind them to certain expectations and obligations. Since the proper mechanization of local governments is outside the scope of this paper, it is enough to say that the rules of local governments should compliment the laws of the national government. The formation of such laws are perhaps at the discretion of the tribes and communities to the extent that they do not seek to prohibit what has been made permissible, or to make permissible anything that has been prohibited by God, or His prophet.


Who oversees the government and assures that it does not become a dictatorship, and that it acts fiscally responsible? This is the role of the citizens of a nation who if their rights and freedoms are recognized and protected, they will form civic organizations such as government watch groups that will provide citizen oversight. These types of organizations must be independent and funded preferably, with private funds, and not with funds from the public trust. There can be rules and regulations established that protect such organizations from government harassment, or intimidation, and special accommodations can be included in the tax code that makes such organizations attractive to donors for financial, as well as political and civic reasons. The key to successful citizen oversight is that it be independent, protected, recognized, and rewarded. A free press is also a way to insure that governments are subjected to public scrutiny, and that objective, and true information is made available to the people.


An Islamic government may not necessarily be deemed Islamic simply because a government, or ruling body adopts and implements a body of law that is considered a "shar" (way, or actions), or Shariah (way of law) that is called Islamic. It is possible that what distinguishes a government, and causes it to be recognized as an Islamic government is that it is founded in recognition of the sovereignty of the One God of Abraham, and the teachings of all subsequent monotheist prophets, including, and most especially the teachings of the prophet Muhammad (sa). Its structure and method of establishment, and governing must also be a large part of its demonstration of an Islamic character and its pursuit of Islamic objectives, causing it to be recognized as both legitimate and also, authentic. Whereas many have sought to promote the idea that an Islamic society is defined by the number of Muslims residing in that society. We know from the prophet’s seerah, or history, that Yathrib, which is now Medina, did not meet that criteria, yet it is deemed the first and original Islamic society, ruled by the first Islamic government.

The Islamic government, contrary to many false ideas, is not a government that has adopted a religion, or even an ideology. The prophet Muhammad said in the Quran, "I am not the bringer of a new doctrine." And the Quran also says, "It is the religion of Abraham." In fact, you cannot distinguish, or identify a so-called Islamic aim, or objective that is different from the desires of most people, even those who do not believe in God. That is why truly Islamic governments can accommodate any group of people, so long as they are able to cooperate towards the achievement of common goals, or a common good, as it is defined in the Books of God from whence the preponderance of Islamic law is derived. This common good precludes government sanction or support for such things as legalized gambling, prostitution, the use of intoxicants. It is debatable whether or not the Islamic government can prevent non-Muslim citizens from personally choosing to participate in such vices as an individual choice, to the extent that the negative impact or effect of such behavior is limited to the individual non-believer and does not affect the community overall. There are those who would argue that citizenship is a voluntary arrangement that is based upon fealty, or loyalty to the government in power, its character, aims and agenda, and so cooperation with all of a nation’s laws and its national agenda must be mandatory for all citizens.

Others might argue that citizenship is not always by choice. In the case where a society of Muslims had been co-existing with communities of non-Muslims, as is the case in many of the communities in the Muslim world, the abrupt, or even preconceived formation of an Islamic government might capture non-believers in its scope of authority. In that case, is it permissible for the government to compel non-believers to abide by an Islamic law, simply because an Islamic authority rules over that society? Are there periods of transition that imply a needed amnesty, or ambiguity in such matters that prevents an Islamic government from compelling, or imposing Islamic law upon those who may be citizens of an Islamic state, but are not Muslims?

There are verses of the Quran that make it clear that before a society can be deemed an Islamic society, its adherents must achieve a certain level of conformity to Islamic law. Yet, we also observe that the citizens of Medina may not have demonstrated those characteristics prior to the prophet’s leadership, even though they may have attained such a character under the prophet’s leadership. That said, it is also important to consider that prior to the prophet Mohammed’s tenure as leader of the Medina community, he had not transmitted a public law, even though there was a moral law that had been revealed to the prophet prior to his migration to Medina. The Quran makes this most clear in respect to the issue of adultery. While in Mecca, and before the establishment of the Muslim community in Medina, the angel Gabriel brought a message to the prophet, telling him that the people should stay away from adultery, since it is a major sin and also leads to other sins. That might be defined as a moral law. It could not be enforced, since there was no state, or public consensus within the society to support the prohibition of adultery, and no penal institution to carry out punishments. There were perhaps not more than 13 adherents to the new faith at that time, and they were living in a society ruled by pagans. Once in Medina, a new message was revealed to the prophet, commanding him to establish a law forbidding adultery and allowing the law to be enforced by commanding a punishment for violators. The verse says, "the man and the woman found guilty of adultery, or fornication should be flogged 100 times…"

Contemporary Muslims are living in a unique situation, since we have the law, yet few, if any, truly Islamic societies, or governments exist. We also have the unique challenge to interpret the law in a way that makes the law relevant to the moral and legal challenges of modern people, and the complexities of modern life. For example there is no Islamic law that specifically addresses patent rights, and the protection of intellectual property. Of course the moral law is apparent in the simple concept of justice viewed from an Islamic perspective. Yet, there is little to inform the Muslim jurist about the limits, types, and ways to approach, or explain the legal, along with the moral rights to be conferred to owners of ideas and inventions that will and must find there way into the public domain for usage. All of this is further complicated by the fact that since the fall of the Caliphate in the early part of the 20th century, colonialism, and the imposition of the secular nationalist nation/state upon the Muslim lands, Islamic law has been corrupted, distorted, polluted and misrepresented. So much is this the truth, that many Muslim legal scholars realize that it will perhaps take years to restore the law to its true nature in those countries, should Islamic governments ever be re-established. All of this might cause us to understand that perhaps the greatest challenge for all Muslims, is to decide whether we are perhaps in a period similar to the pre-Islamic period, or whether we are living in a post Islamic period. Our determination will explain to some extent what we can, or should not expect from a modern Islamic government, and society. Since we have a Sunnah that addresses both periods, we are able to some extent, to formulate models of contemporary Islamic government that stick to the prophet’s instruction, while employing the ijtihad of contemporary jurists, and theologians to refresh some of the rules and also the ideas.

It seems that what is most important to understand in respect to Islamic government is that at best, it is possibly a temporary necessity that is instituted for the purpose of preserving the hierarchy of servitude established by God. It is legitimate only until the Qaim of the monotheists, the Imam Mahdi, or the Messiah of righteous mankind, ends his occultation and assumes his rightful position as the ruler of the faithful. It was the preservation of this hierarchy that perhaps led Imam Hussein (as) to war against Yazid ibn Muawwiyah’s army, even though he knew that his confrontation would end with the transcension of both he and his followers from this world, in a most brutal fashion. Due to the sacrifice of Imam Hussein (as), who was a part of that legitimate hierarchy, today, the faithful are able to distinguish between the true and false authorities. We are able to recognize that chain of monotheist authority that reaches back to our father Adam, even though the enemies of mankind continuously seek to destroy and eliminate any semblance of the righteous authority, and its influence. It causes us to remember the first renegade against this chain of Godly Command, Satan, and his hatred and envy of Adam’s progeny, and his desire to destroy this progeny and the vice regency that emerged from the prophetic bloodline of prophet Abraham (sa).

For this reason, Imam Khomeni used to say that we must always commemorate Ashurah. He urged us to understand that Ashurah represents to us the revolutionary spirit of God’s vice regency whose duty throughout time has been to stand up to the forces of evil, and to overturn their thrones, and authority, no matter how powerful they appear to be. The prophet Abraham overturned the idols of his tribe, and undermined their illegitimate authority, and never resorted to violence. The prophet Moses (as) overturned the authority of the Pharaoh, who had enslaved people, and who sought to usurp the seat of authority from the righteous, by claiming to be God, and Moses (as) did it without violence. The prophet Jesus (as) overturned the thrones of the Pharisees who had hidden the law, and set themselves up as gods over the tribes of Israel, and he did it without violence. The prophet Muhammad ended the rule of the pagans in Arabia, and established the first monotheist government after a long period of absence, following the end of the rule of prophet David and his successor, his son Solomon, who was also a prophet, who ruled over the Bani Israel. These prophets established Islamic governments, and commanded armies.

The ideas presented here are merely ideas. There are surely billions of other ideas, and all, or some part of every idea can serve in the same or similar ways in the establishment of Islamic government. So long as we preserve the very basic and fundamental rules and principles that are unique to Islam in shaping an Islamic government, there is a good chance that such a government might succeed. Whether or not a Muslim is Shia, or Sunni, or Sufi, or a member of any of the numerous sects that have come into being shouldn’t matter, so long as the basic rules guide the governments. The belief in Imam Mahdi is not shared by all Muslim sects, yet every Muslim sect believes that Prophet Issa (Jesus) will return, and perhaps they view Jesus as their Messiah. It doesn’t matter in our discussion, which is true. What does matter is that we recognize that the establishment of Islamic government for now, is not an attempt to establish theocracies, or authorities who enjoy the same status, or unchallenged power of the Divine authorities represented by the prophets, and the concept of Messiah, and his 1000 year reign.

The struggle of the righteous against evil continues until today, and Islamic government is representative of that righteous authority, and hierarchy of pious servitude. This hierarchy oversees the worldly struggle against evil, and organizes the believers, protects and sustains them as they carry out their duties as Warith of Allah, and also advance from the lower un-illuminated self, to the fulfillment of our human potential. Just as Imam Hussein (as) represents its spirit, and its right to exist and to operate to protect the righteous, the weak, the rejected and oppressed people of the world, we today represent, through our faith, the perpetuation of this idea. To establish such an authority is an honor that has been bestowed upon only a few men whose challenge, struggles and victories have become legend, causing us to know that we must consider its nature carefully, and pursue its power with humility, awe and caution. May God bless the community of believers, and send us righteous leaders to guide, protect and to help us, Ameen.

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The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women. The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians. She is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).


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