The Myth and reality of Islamic State

Some of the "enlightened Moderate" Muslims are questioning the need of Muslim organisation or Islamic State. They argue that the "plain fact is that prescriptions in the Qur’an do not by any means legislate in detail for the actual organization of the social life."

It is interesting to note that in the same write up in which they take support of the Qur’an to support their argument, they turn to say: "the Qur’anic prescriptions are in antagonistic to the normative procedures of a modern society (e.g., proscription of Riba, etc.)."

It means you either take the Qur’an and prove or disprove the need of social and political organisation of Muslims, or you reject the Qur’anic principle as "antagonistic to the normative procedures of a modern society." You cannot both accept and reject parts of the Qur’an at the same time to prove a point of view.

When you follow the projectionist course, you can no longer support your argument from the same source that you consider as "antagonistic to the norms of modern times."

This kind of discourse does not confuses Muslims as much as it develops negative impressions –” about the Muslims labeled as "fundamentalists" –” in the Western mind. To clear the confusion about the myth and reality of Islamic State we need to go back to the source: the Qur’an.

The clear message of the Qur’an –” a book that all Muslims, regardless of any classification by the neo-mods and neo-cons, believe –” puts three distinct responsibilities on the shoulders of Muslims: individual responsibilities, responsibility to bind the Ummah, and collective responsibilities as an Ummah. Muslims find answers to all the above-mentioned questions in verses 102 to 104 of Chapter 3 of the Qur’an.[1]

Individual responsibilities and limitations

Allah begins His address to humanity with reminding it of individual responsibilities. The first demand from humankind is, “Fear Allah as He should be feared.”[2] The Qur’an uses the word Al-Taqwa for fearing Allah, which according to Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi means, “fear, clinging to obedience to Allah and abandoning disobedience to Him. It is the sum of all good." It is the careful attitude for protecting oneself from acts of disobedience and forbidden things and turning to repentance (tawbah) and doubtful matters in utmost carefulness (wara’).

This verse further explains responsibility of Muslims to fear Allah. Let us consider what the real meaning of Iman (belief) is. It is a belief in oneness of Allah, Muhammad (PBUH) as His last messenger, and the day of judgement. This thalath (a set of three beliefs) requires that one should unconditionally and totally obey Allah and His Prophet, and believe in the day of judgement.[3]

Binding substance for Ummah

Verse 3:103 of the Qur’an is a lesson for those who reject the concept and need of Muslim organisation or Ummah.[4] Those who are fulfilling the requirement of verse 3:102 are told to come together and become Bunyan Marsus (solid cemented structure).

Teaming up and organising is quite logical for achieving objectives that are beyond individual capacity. Even for achieving morally negative objectives, people on the same wavelength need to bind together and find allies.

Organisation on mass scale is definitely needed to spread the word of Allah –”a basic obligation of Muslims. To erect a Bunyan Marsus, each individual, like bricks in a wall, needs to harness perfectly his potentials. Therefore, instructions for consolidating both individual components and the organisation –” the Ummah –” follow each other in a logical sequence in verse 3:102 and 103 respectively. There is a reference to the Qur’an in the instruction to “Hold fast to the rope of Allah.”[5]

Asmat means protection in Arabic and A’etisam (3:103) mean to embrace something for self-protection –” imagine the way a baby embraces her mother out of fear. Therefore, the order is “Wa’tasimu,” to completely embrace the Qur’an –” not portions of it; jami’an –” all together, and warns, “Wa la tafar-raqu” –” and be not divided amongst yourselves. According to Dr. Israr Ahmad this is a reference to the Qur’an as to not divide among yourself over the Qur’an.

The concept of Ummah was an entirely new concept that superceded previous tribal and family allegiances, although these tendencies kept coming back, particularly in the case of the Ridda, or Revolt, which followed the death of Prophet (PBUH).

The Qur’an says, "You shall not find a people who believe in Allah and the latter day befriending those who act in opposition to Allah and His Messenger, even though they were their (own) fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their kinsfolk."[6] Acceptance of and allegiance to the Ummah, based on obeying Allah and following His Prophet, became one’s primary allegiance.

This means that the Ummah is not a nation-state based on ethnicity or language. It is not surprising, then, that it left the Arabs of the time somewhat bemused. Like the revelation with its uncompromising statement of tawhid, the idea of a community, based on the same principle providing core of political cohesion, was entirely alien to them. In fact, it was probably alien to just about everyone of the time. Indeed, many ignored it in favour of ‘asabiyya, or tribal solidarity.

The Ummah is further delineated in the Qur’an where Allah says, "You are the best Ummah brought forth to mankind – enjoining the good and forbidding the evil and believing in Allah" (3:110), and "The believers, men and women, are protector-friends of each other, enjoining the correct and forbidding the incorrect" (9:71).

The Covenant of Madina stipulated that the Muslims "Constitute one Ummah" and "All believers shall rise as one man against whomsoever rebels or seeks to commit injustice, aggression, wrong action or spread mutual enmity between the believers, even though he be one of their sons. … All believers are banded together to the exclusion of other men."[7]

This, then, is the policy of the Muslims, and it is clearly a political as well as a spiritual collective, the one being a logical consequence of the other. Being a Muslim necessarily entails certain political consequences.

The neo-mods limit Islam to individuals and reject the idea of a collective Muslim identity, such as the concept of Ummah. They call it one of the “most important consequences of the enlightened tendency.” Since Islam is not considered a complete code of life, freeing it up of its identity is considered as a step towards all cultures and nations to “lay the foundation of collective identity”[8] and to the “acceptance of a convergence with other religious traditions.” The neo-mods believe that only such an amalgamation of Islam with other religions will enable Muslims to “co-exist as equal citizens with non-Muslims.”[9] It does not seem to be an easy proposition for the survival of Islam and its believers.

Although Muslims were never a single entity after the decline of the Umayyads, they remained thoroughly connected and unified because of their common beliefs and life-style. In the beginning of 20th century, seeds of racial prejudice and nationalistic chauvinism were planted to weaken that sense of brotherhood and winding up Khilafah. At the end of 20th century, rancid notions of “fundamentalist,” and many other kinds of Muslims replaced these seeds. Growing disharmony is a direct “benefit” of planting such seeds.

The insanity of fratricide that we witnessed in Afghanistan and the Arab support to US in turning Iraq upside down are examples of one of the manifestations of Divine punishment that clearly warned Muslims of divisions and limiting Islam to a few rituals[10] and kept on classifying Muslims into different groups. The Qur’an (6:159) has warned Muslims against dividing their religion into different factions i.e.:

(a) making a distinction between one part of it and another, take the part which suits them and reject the rest; or

(b) having religion one day of the week and the world the rest of the six days; or

(c) keeping "religion in its right place," as if it did not claim to govern the whole life; make a sharp distinction between the secular and the religious; or

(d) showing a sectarian bias, seek differences in views, to break up the unity of Islam. [11]

Chapter 30 of the Qur’an clearly condemns splitting into groups and inventing disagreements.[12] Celebrated analysts, such as Daniel Pipes and Thomas Friedman, chant words that the ears accept willingly and find pleasing: Freedom, democracy, liberation and so on, but all they want from groups within Muslims is disunity of the Ummah and worsening of its differences with repeated calls for a “war within Islam.”

Collective responsibilities and strategy for the Ummah

After reading verses 3:102-104 from the Qur’an,[13] the question arises: what is the purpose behind all these instructions for organisation, unity and the concept of Ummah?

The next verse provides three clear objectives for the Ummah: “invite to good,” “enjoin what is right” and “forbid the wrong.” It is a masterstroke of description in three clauses. “Invite to good” and “enjoin what is right” apparently looks the same, but other verses of the Qur’an indicate that invitation to good is actually invitation to the Qur’an.[14]

Another difference is that attitude and ways to “invitation”[15] are very different from “enjoining,” which come in the sense of prescribing authoritatively or enforcing –” one step ahead of simple invitation to Islam (Dawah).[16]

The third objective is al-nahy ‘an al-munkar, to “forbid the wrong.” The modern day concepts of freedom have made us forget about this aspect of forbidding the wrong altogether. Some Muslims consider themselves free based on the argument that there is no compulsion in religion and we have the right to interpret, reinterpret and if necessary invent in the light of human agency. Despite their much-vaunted philosophy, the neo-mods have yet to come up with an answer to the clear orders from Allah for both enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong at least nine times in the Qur’an.[17] Furthermore, the Qur’an also provides the touchstones, the permanents norms for evaluating as to what is good and what is wrong without any doubts of relativity.

It shows that from the Qur’anic perspective, individually as well as collectively, it is not permissible to see evil, have the means to forbid it and still avoid forbidding it under the misconception that imposition of law through state is against the spirit of Islam. Forbidding from bad is only possible if the state is empowered with law. Imposing of this law for forbidding the wrong can never be against the spirit of Islam. The rhetoric sounds nice that God wants free submission; “He wants his believers to worship Him out of free choice, not for fear of some state.” However, a state –” Islamic or otherwise –” cannot remain a state, if it does not have the power or will to forbid what it defines as bad.

Enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong (al-amr bil-ma ‘rouf wal-nahi an al-munkar) is the most fundamental institution. In this regard, however, it is not that people should only enjoy their freedom of expression, but it is also a legal obligation. An Islamic society would not qualify as an Islamic society –” the Qur’an says it repeatedly –” if it is not actively seeking to correct the improper and promote good.

Absence of political and economic system in the Qur’an

There is no structure for political and economic system in the Qur’an. Some injunctions of political and economic principles are nevertheless given. Thus, according to the Qur’anic order, family has a more prominent role in collective life compared to the modern day governing systems in which political and constitutional structures play pivotal roles. The following section explains Divine wisdom behind this apparent gap in explanation.

The era of Muhammad (PBUH) as Head of the city-state of Medina has always been considered as a model in the sense that a Muslim state had been founded and was being managed and governed by the Prophet- Imam himself. During this period the Executive was properly consolidated. Caliph ‘Umar, in particular, encouraged the establishment of different departments of Central Secretariat in the form of Diwans on the Persian model. In these departments secretaries and clerks were employed in order to assist the Chief executive authority in managing the affairs of the state. The department of moral censorship (Hisbah) was also organised to enforce the Rights of Allah (Huquq Allah), the Rights of Human Beings (Huquq al-‘ibad), and the Rights which were common to both Allah and Human Beings (Huquq bayn Allah wa’l-‘ibad).

The enforcement of Islamic law pertaining to certain crimes (e.g., theft, adultery, drunkenness etc.) was carried out through the department of Justice (Qaza). Thus the functions of the Muhtasib (Religious Censor) included compelling the Muslims to do what was ethico-legally reputable or right (ma’ruf) and to detect, restrain and punish what was disreputable or wrong (munkar). But as is evident from Muslim history this practice was not consistently followed. As for the contemporary Muslim nation-states, the department of "Hisbah" has ceased to exist in the traditional form in almost all such states.

Moreover, we find classification of state organs, their roles and responsibilities and system for checks and balances only in the early stages of Khlafah Al-Rashida (period of the first four caliphs) that followed shortly after the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Despite the absence of distinct branches of government such as legislative, judiciary, and executive, the accountability mechanism was very strong but informal.

Dr. Javed Iqbal concludes, “it is abundantly clear that the real emphasis of Islam is on the establishment of a Community of Faith being governed exclusively by the Shari’ah…[and] Muhammad (PBUH) as the Head of the first Muslim state, was indeed concerned with the formation and maintenance of unity among the Muslim community (Ummah) and its governance in accordance with Islamic law (Shari’ah).”[18] The republican political order introduced as a political system in the state under the Sunnah (Practice) of the Rightly Guided Caliphs is significant from the point of view that it laid the foundation for the establishment of such a “Community of Faith” governed “exclusively” by Shari’ah.


[1] “O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided. Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (Al-Qur’an 3:102-4.).

[2] Al-Qur’an 03:102.

[3] “So obey Allah, and obey His Messenger: but if ye turn back, the duty of Our Messenger is but to proclaim (the Message) clearly and openly” (Al-Qur’an 64:12). “So take what the Messenger assigns to you, and deny yourselves that which he withholds from you” (Al-Qur’an 59: 7). And what is the requirement for the belief in the day of judgement? It is: “Then guard yourselves against a-Day when one soul shall not avail another, nor shall compensation be accepted from her nor shall intercession profit her nor shall anyone be helped (from outside.” (Al-Qur’an 2:123).

[4] “And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.” (Al-Qur’an 3:103).

[5] A hadith narrated by ‘Ali ibne abi Talib quotes Prophet Muhammad (PBUH ) in Tirmizi wa Darmi: “The Qur’an is actually the rope of Allah.” A similar hadith is reported by Abdullah bin Masud and Jubair ibne Muth’am in Tibrani Kabeer.

[6] Al-Qur’an 58:22.

[7] For English translation of Mithaq al-Madinah (The Covenant of Medina) see, Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, 1962 Ed. pp. 221-225.

[8] Snow, David. “Collective Identity and Expressive Forms,” paper is posted at the eScholarship Repository, Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of California, Irvine, Year 2001 Paper 01-07.

[9] The realization that Islam, properly understood, is not a system of social and political regulation frees up space for cultures and nations–”in the modern sense of those words–”to lay the foundations of collective identity. This opens the way, in turn, to the acceptance of a convergence with other religious traditions and universalistic moralities, beyond political and cultural boundaries and in more than formal terms. It also] opens the way to a full respect for civic spheres in which Muslims can coexist as equal citizens with non-Muslims. (Abdou Filali-Ansary, "The sources of enlightened Muslim thought," Journal of Democracy Volume 14, Number 2 April 2003. Page 30-31).

[10] Allah says: “Say: He has the power that He should send on you a chastisement from above you or from beneath your feet, or that He should throw you into confusion, (making you) of different parties; and make some of you taste the fighting of others. See how We repeat the communications that they may understand.” (Al-Qur’an 6:65).

[11] “Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then He will inform them of what they did.” (Al-Qur’an 6:159).

[12] “Turning to Him, and be careful of (your duty to) Him and keep up prayer and be not of the polytheists.” (Al-Qur’an 30.31). “Of those who divided their religion and became schematics, each sect exulting in its tenets.” (Al-Qur’an 30.32).

[13] “O ye who believe! Fear Allah as He should be feared, and die not except in a state of Islam. And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided. Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (Al-Qur’an 3:102-104).

[14] Al-Qur’an 10: 57-58.

[15] Also described in 20:43-44 as: "Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds; But speak to him mildly; perchance he may take warning or fear (Allah)."

[16] “(They are) those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs.” (Al-Qur’an 22:41).

[17] “Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (Al-Qur’an 3:104).

“Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.” (Al-Qur’an 3:110).

“Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good (to others) and the giving to the kindred, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion; He admonishes you that you may be mindful.” (Al-Qur’an 16:90). “O my son! keep up prayer and enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and bear patiently that which befalls you; surely these acts require courage.” (Al-Qur’an 31:17).

“Those who follow the Messenger-Prophet, the Ummi, whom they find written down with them in the Taurat and the Injeel (who) enjoins them good and forbids them evil, and makes lawful to them the good things and makes unlawful to them impure things, and removes from them their burden and the shackles which were upon them; so (as for) those who believe in him and honour him and help him, and follow the light which has been sent down with him, these it is that are the successful.” (Al-Qur’an 7:157).

“And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.” (Al-Qur’an 9:71).

“Had they gone forth with you, they would not have added to you aught save corruption, and they would certainly have hurried about among you seeking (to sow) dissension among you, and among you there are those who hearken for their sake; and Allah knows the unjust.” (Al-Qur’an 9:47). “They who turn (to Allah), who serve (Him), who praise (Him), who fast, who bow down, who prostrate themselves, who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and who keep the limits of Allah; and give good news to the believers.” (Al-Qur’an 9:112).

“Those who, should We establish them in the land, will keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate and enjoin good and forbid evil; and Allah’s is the end of affairs.” (Al-Qur’an 22:41).

[18] Dr. Javed Iqbal, “The Concept of State in Islam – A Reassessment,” Iqbal Review, Volume: 39 Number:1, April 1998.


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