Friday, March 09, 2007

Why An "Islamic" State is Impractical Today

It's Friday, so here's a bit of religion to think about.

Apparently all the main social ills that plague the various parts of the Muslim world today can disappear in an instant if we implement an "Islamic State" - according to some of my more zealously religious friends. The "Caliphate" is the magic cure-all that the world needs.

Well excuse my cynicism but in today's world, the Caliphate as it was practiced by the Muslims of the Golden Era is no longer practical. And I am not talking about just any period of the Caliphate, I am talking about the Khulafai Rashideen - the Rightly Guided Caliphs - Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman and Ali - the first four Caliphs of Islam.

Let's see why such an idealized "Islamic" state such as theirs would be impractical today.

First, a Caliph was for life.

We cannot have that today. No matter who the guy is, or how holy, we cannot appoint someone for life without any checks and balances. How do we hold him to account if after an election he won't have to face the electorate ever again? And we always need fresh blood, new ways of thinking and innovation to keep the State competitive in the global environment. Thus, a Caliph cannot be for life - and already we have changed a fundamental aspect of the Caliphate.

Second, Abu Bakr did say "follow me only as long as I obey the laws of Allah and His Prophet and if I go astray do not obey me". The question is, who today will judge a leader if the leader chooses to go astray? The so-called ulemah (clerics)?

In the time of those Caliphs, almost everyone could be called a cleric - everyone was a Companion of the Prophet and their knowledge of religion was taught by the Prophet himself. They all had a similar level of knowledge of Islamic law, zeal for justice and peace, and selflessness in spirit. We can see that as soon as that fell apart, anarchy started to seep in. We can see that increasing in the rules of Usman and Ali - as new generations, brought up after death of the original Companions, differed in minute aspects of religion and differed from the Caliph in how to interpret Islamic rules.

Moreover, today's ulemah are not immune to suspicions of ulterior motives. For example, when Umar ruled that a husband who uttered three divorces at the same time had issued an irrevocable divorce to his wife, no one accused Umar of implementing that law to subjugate women. Everyone believed that Umar had come to that decision keeping the best interests of Muslims at heart and after a sincere and honest contemplation. Again, Umar had codified that a woman whose husband had been missing, and therefore she had remarried, must return to her original husband if he reappeared. Again, this was Islamic Shariah.

And then Ali came and changed both of these rulings (and here we see examples of Islamic Shariah being changed). Under him, three divorces together was counted only as one, and once missing for four years, a husband could not claim back his wife if he returned and she had remarried in the meanwhile. In both these rulings, no one accused Umar or Ali of any ulterior motive. Both applied their interpretations of Islamic Law suited for their times as they best saw fit.

Today, however, the clerics have dubious motives for issuing edicts - be it money, power, fame or cultural reasons. Thus, we cannot trust our ulemah to interpret Islam in a just manner, and one of the main pillars of an "Islamic" state thus falls.

Third, what about non-Muslim citizens and women? Are they allowed to hold positions of power, authority and leadership within the "Islamic" state? Can they be Caliphs?

We see that even in the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, they followed certain Arab customs. The Caliph had to be from the tribe of Quraish, as "rest of Arabia would not follow a non-Quraish" as Umar had reasoned while championing for Abu Bakr, after the death of the Prophet. Similarly, the leader was from a noble tribe. Politics played a big part then, as they do now.

However, today, a Hindu man, for example, has the legislative power and Constitutional right, for example, to run for Prime Minister in a Muslim majority country such as Bangladesh. It's another matter that he will never be elected leader, but he has the right to run. And why not? He pays taxes, he is another loyal citizen of the country, why should he not have the same rights as any other Muslim citizen? Yet in a proper Islamic state as demanded by the fundamentalists, non-Muslims will always be second-class citizens.

And not just non-Muslims. In Umar's time, when he had conquered Persia, he made the Arabs live on a garrison by themselves. Different time, different values, and I am sure he had good reasons to do so. Today's time, however, we cannot have such a system of apartheid. The Prophet had said several times that there is no difference between an Arab and a non-Arab, a lesson forgotten by many of our ulemah today as they adopt Arab customs because it's more "Islamic". It can be argued that even today we do discriminate rights (for example we do not allow landed immigrants, who have lived here for a while and pay taxes, to vote until they become citizens) but no one is discriminated against by law due to their religion and race.

What is important to note from those Caliphs, and what many Muslims, miss, is that the reason they were such successful men and the State enjoyed such prosperity was not because they had a Caliphate. It's because the rulers were just, honest, God-fearing, sincere, not driven by power, upright and steadfast men. And they were surrounded, supported and critiqued by men of similar stature. That's the lesson we need to take. Today, what we need to fix our countries is not a so-called Islamic State that starts by legislating what a women can wear (something that the Caliphs never undertook, for example). No, what we need are honest, intelligent and sincere men (or women) leading our countries, and similarly capable men (or women) supporting those leaders, in solving the REAL problems of our societies.

That's why countries such as Malaysia, UAE, China and India forge ahead, while Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia continue to lag. It's not quantity or category, it's the quality.


Nowal said...

I am sorry but isn't it just another way to say "religious communism"? It never existed then and can't exist now. You were only looking at a few countries at most where our Caliphs had rule over. The caliph today would be ruling more than half the world. And we know what the consequences of that are (the british emperor's downfall as people retaliated). The closest thing to a communism, or a leader serving people under one banner, would be the Pope's reign. And we know how much of a purpose he serves, eh? He's just a figurehead, as are all other major leaders. Mankind as a whole wasn't MEANT to be united or exist in ONE school of thought - factions are inevitable.

So, coming back to your point of how we don't have the ideal leader nowadays - I believe even the presence of an ideal leader wouldn't be capable of bringing peace and unity into our world of today.

Call it cynicism. But a wise person said I was bright ;) And no, I don't live in a farm. It's called Limestone city. The quintessential city of historic Canada (after Quebec city, perhaps).

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting article related to your point about establishing an Islamic State today.

cmamm said...

I've wondered for quite some time now why some muslims have this great desire for all to live and be ruled under the banner of Islam and a single powerful leader. It does seem like something akin to communism as Nowal mentioned. Not only do I think it would never work, but it would squash any attempt at dissent, with the excuse that it is insulting to Islam and Allah. This already happens in so-called "muslim" countries.
With regards to checks/balances, there seems to be a gazillion people today all claiming to be clerics or sheikhs and each one seems more ridiculous than the last. They serve their own interests and have no desire to seek the truth. (Not all of them, but alot of them. Don't mean to generalize.)
The creation of second class citizens would only be inevitable. Heck, it already exists in the country I am from. Nonmuslims are banned from even running for leadership of the country, let alone actually being elected.
I've heard some argue that Shariah does away with this type of secondclass citizenry, but we do not live in a utopia where everything is perfect and all think exactly alike. This is the real world and it includes differing opinions, hatred, dissent and all manner of horrible ideas and acts.

Speaking as a nonmuslim, I don't understand why anyone would want to live in a world where one P.O.V is held supreme over all others. There's no problem in thinking your truth reigns "supreme" and I even think it's okay to preach it. But to expect everyone to live according to the rules of what you may or maynot perceive to be the "supreme" truth because you think it might solve all problems just doesn't seem right to me. Not to mention being a wee bit boring.
(Notice I said "might" solve all problems. For all anyone knows it could increase our problems)

Aisha said...

well said.

I like your label "muslim stupidity"

Khulud said...

well said Nowal!
but then again, Mezba raises some good issues too.
I just figured that we will have to make peace with the fact that religion will have to be a really personal thing. Yes it helps to be in an Islamic (purely Islamic) environment, but well, it doesn't exist in 2007. So, just do your part and hope that we die with shahada.

Suroor said...

You argue soundly. And Nowal *is* very bright :)

Why I would agree with you is because there were *only* four Khulafa Ar-Rashideen - like Shaw said "Islam is the best religion and Muslims are the worst followers." The caliphs were attacked and even murdered. Caliphhood survived as long as Muslims were comparatively few. With billions of Muslims today and many fanatical, how can anyone reason with them? I'm cynical these days anyway but I can only see suicide bombers attacking a caliph's GHQ!

mystic-soul said...

Nauzibillah, nazubillah...toba toba......this boy is uttering 'kufr'. la hol wala quwwat

(choro yaar, koi kaam ki baat karo..Do you know any website showing live world cup on net ?)

... said...

mezba, i like your thoughts. i would post something sage and wise, but its almost 2 am and that part of my brain is asleep. if i can induce you to post this a diary on, please allow me to do so. it'll get some new comments and thoughts, from muslims and non-muslims, and the more of that the better.

Anonymous said...

I could not imagine the concerns raised in the original post were alien to the chap calling for khilafah. The question is why do some still persist in the establishment of the khilafah as an overidding religious imperative? Are they just blinded by their stupidity or is it a question of strategic insight?

Shovon said...

Are you reducing the reason for our demise to some religious folk imposing Shariah on their subjects?

mezba said...

Nowal: "Religious communism" I never thought of it that way but it's an apt metaphor.

You were only looking at a few countries at most where our Caliphs had rule over.

That's true - even at the height of the Caliphate (Suleiman of Ottoman) there were actually several Muslim empires!

ps. as far as I am concerned k-town is a farm!

Anon: hmm.. the link doesn't work but I visited a few other pages on the server. It's interesting - but I think they just keep repeating the same "dream caste in the air" without thinking of ground realities.

As example: the argument is "Just try selling a Pakistani Caliph to a Bangladeshi," said Mubashar Akbar. Yet their response is The Khaleefah is not a Pakistani Khaleef or a Bengali Khaleef or an Arab Khaleef for that matter. He is a Muslim who is the leader of the Islamic State. ........ Therefore, the Khaleefah will be able to unite Muslims all around the world based on the Islamic Aqeedah

Yes, but he will STILL be a Pakistani caliph, and I a Bangladeshi!

cmamm: but it would squash any attempt at dissent, with the excuse that it is insulting to Islam and Allah. This already happens in so-called "muslim" countries.


What people such as these also conveniently forget is that even the "Islamic State" during the Caliphate had the same issues we have today. Humans are always human, regardless the political system.

Aisha: haha thank you.

Khulud: As far as I am concerned religion should be a personal thing. None of the rightly guided Caliphs tried and forced people into religion.

Suroor: there now you did it. Nowal will be on cloud nine now - becoming "suroor approved".

After the first four the rest were not Caliphs but dictators with no dissent tolerated, all pomp and show with no spirituality and the rest. I would not want to go back to that. Hell, some parts of the Muslim world are still stuck there!

Mystic-soul: Hai Allah!

(there was a link in my legends of cricket blog post by sabrina).

...: (ok...)

if i can induce you to post this a diary on, please allow me to do so. it'll get some new comments and thoughts, from muslims and non-muslims, and the more of that the better.

Sure, but how is that done?

Anon: both I think.

Shovon: the reason of our demise is the lack of proper rulers, plain and simple. Which is why Malaysia was a shining example of brilliant leadership.

Anonymous said...

First you give up watching movies, then write on Islam.
Watching movies like salaame ishq whatever is wrong. Lower your gaze is the verse, my dear brother, I cant take anyone who watches movies seriously.

mousehunter said...

Interesting post. When I think about caliphates, I am always reminded of the Ismailis and the Aga Khan. I have a friend who is Ismaili, and he tells me that all disputes go to him (regarding religous matters, and his rule is final!). They have the concept down, the rest is highly questionable. But I guess we will just have to wait for Isa (AS), cuz remember, as the prophet said generation after generation the people will get worse, so to elect a caliph in these times could be disasterous.

... said...

Sorry Mezba, ... is actually me Maleeha. I've been playing around with some stuff, hence the craziness. Whateve, now you know who it is :)

So yea, post on by going to the front page and registering. You can read the faq here to get more info.
Totally up to you. I just find the website very interesting, and thought your post would generate good comments there.

sabrina said...

dude, let's do a "most memorable cricket moment" tag/meme, where we will commemorate our experience.. be it spending 6 hours with Quran instead of watching the match just so that mran Khan would get the WC (I did that).. or literally getting into a fist fight with your cousin for supporting India... whatever. I will open up a blog and will participate during the season.
And about my TV link from before, God knows what the heck. I am not getting ESPN even though it was advertised. I am watching Star Sports. Back in my day (i am old, you know, my hero was Javed Miandad and Akram Khan (BD) and Shanto (ek ball ek run)) Start Sports would religiously boradcast all the cricket matches in the world. ANd now all I am getting is live English football or Tennis. I am getting a bit mad.. sad... !

I can't believe I got 4 exams, and a huge clinical trial protocol to write in this cricket season. This is a moment, where I just want to cry like an infant with infantile colic. Let's see if Star Sports shows anything. I dearly miss Khoda Box Mridha's "Bangladesh Radio Shorashori Shomprochaar".
SHopate drive ebong chaar!
Halka kore chere diyechen... ebong BOLD OUT!

Anonymous said...

I hear you about prioritizing and our focus should be on building those capable leaders as opposed to just imagining a perfect state and wishing it come true. I don't think it's completely out of the question though. counterexample: when Isa (as) returns, he will rule as a 'caliph' in every sense of the word and the world will prosper under his reign.

I wouldn't term it religious communism because under a true Islamic regime, people will not be forced to follow Islam. their rights will be equal to everyone else's regardless of faith.

lastly, I think when we speak of ulema, we should speak respectfully. even if what you said about ulterior motives is true about *some* ulema, I don't find it fair to make such blanket statements. just some honest criticism :) but I love your blog!

Maliha said...

"the reason of our demise is the lack of proper rulers, plain and simple"

Mezba your post is very thoughtful, but proper leadership can only come from "proper" masses. There is so much illiteracy, poverty, health crises, etc. All of these contribute to ignorant masses and corrupt leaders.

An Islamic khalifa can't rise out of a void; it will only be a reflection of the messed up masses.

You are right about priorities; perhaps tackling the real issues on the ground could be a nice first step.

Sonia said...

Very good post Mezba.

If there was a moment when my belief in 'muslim unity' died it was when i went to saudi arabia. any such fond misconceptions fly out of the window.
and ever since then if someone said 'islamic state' i've wanted to run a mile.

and more cynically - how do i know people wouldn't start saying things like ahA - now we can set our own rules, let's have slavery and concubinage? given the no. of queries I've seen at sites like SunniPath and ohters from young men asking whether they can have concubines now...

Sonia said...

As Zahra puts it eloquently on

and this:

I'm glad i'm not the only one who has issues with sex slavery. I'm not fussed with pointing fingers at what people did in the past - and pull people down from pedestals and all that sort of thing - that's not my place to judge, and plus people make BIG! mistakes.. but if anyone thinks it has any place in today's world they need their head examining. A good reason to be very very wary of any talk of Islamic States

Fugstar said...

i would like the discussion to move forward from where it was in the 50s and 60s. away from failed initiatives like saudi arabia and what not.

To continue with the juvenile arguments against the oil rich and the mocking of the post colonial zeal of the independance movements is going nowhere. the onus is on us to learn from mistakes and get real.

Imagine a quantum mechanical understanding of islamic 'state'. mind blowing yet difficult to measure.

Also how do you feel about policy informed by the higher objectives of the sharia,often understood as the protection and promotion of religion, life, dignity, intellect and property.

Society has big problems, which need to be addressed in the most graceful of ways. Thats the gauntlet.

The thinking needs to be done on the fringes then fed back into ventilate the rhetoric and policy objectives.

About the fatwa sites, they seem petty because those are the kinds of questions people that some have.

Its heart breaking, but why would anyone expect a watermelon salesman to procure them a space shuttle?

Shoaib Muhammad said...

Thank you for refreshing many of our Islamic teachings. Well justified thoughts! May Allah (SWT) bless and reward you for this. Ameen!

Aisha said...

It's delayed. But its here! The counter to your contentious overseas post! :)

mezba said...

Anon (12:31): Just because some1 watches movies doesn't mean their argument doesn't cut it. That's silly logic. Poor you.

Mousehunter: true that.

...: I will have to make a diary at Eteraz? That's so much work! OK OK I will do it. :-)

Sabrina: Star sports is showing golf. GOLF! wth...

Anon (9:57): I criticize some ulemah coz they seriously piss me off with their logic (or lack of). And then they want to run the country!

Maliha: but proper leadership can only come from "proper" masses. There is so much illiteracy, poverty, health crises, etc. All of these contribute to ignorant masses and corrupt leaders.

very true. exhibit south USA... what a mess.

Sonia:There cannot be Muslim unity as long as there are a bunch of people willing to believe in slavery, killing apostates and actually in power (wahhabi elites).

fugstar:a modern shariah has to come from the Western Muslims.

Shoaib: Thanx.

Aisha: You rock.

Anonymous said...


The only way muslim countries will get success is if they lived under the caliphate.

We shouldnt look at the caliphate with the vision of the present muslim world and then try to judge islam with that.

The caliphate will be totally unique system.

Who will accoun the caliph. Well that will be people. who can raise any issues with the Chief judge who is an independent person who can remove him from office.

In terms or length of stay in office. This is as long as he applys Islam and has the Ability to do the job. This is actually a brilliant thing. So long term strategies can be panned out rather that having short term goals.

Also the whole education system will produce a society wherby accountability and love for islam is built.

All in all the caliphate will be a technologically advanced state which is accoutable to the poeple, but will only adopt rules based on islam.


Anonymous said...

Not the argument, but writing on Islam.
You can't take Islam in bits and pieces. Songs, dancing, etc is all haram. You keep quoting hadiths. Have you come across this:

The prophet (sallah allahu alieh wasalam) said "There will be in my Ummah those who make it halal (permissible) adultery/fornication, silk, alcohol and musical instruments."

This hadith shows that music is haram through two avenues:
a. The prophet (sallah allahu alieh wasalam) mentioned that they will make permissible, meaning it is haram/prohibited and they will make it permissible. Note all the examples in the hadith are issues that are haram.
b. The prophet (sallah allahu alieh wasalam) combined the musical instruments with that which is decisively haram like adultery/fornication and alcohol. Had music not been prohibited then it would not have been combined to that which is prohibited.

Had there not been other than this hadith to show music was haram it would have been enough.

The prophet (sallah allahu alieh wasalam) walked with Abdur-Rahman bin 'Awf in between pine trees. The prophet (sallah allahu alieh wasalam) then placed his son Ibrahim on his lap and began to cry. Abdur-Rahman bin 'Awf said, "Oh prophet of Allah do you cry when you stop us from crying?" He said, "I did not deter you from crying. I deterred you from two evil sinful voices - a voice with musical devilish instruments and a voice at a misery with scraping of the face and shredding of the clothe."

I am certain you know of these. I love you as a Muslim brother and pray to Allah (swt) to guide you. Amen

Fugstar said...

the term sharia needs to be reclaimed form the islam haters and the khalafi headbangers.

i see a lot of vibrant research from the islamic unis in malaysia and pakistan concenrning maqasid and whatnot. on the ocntrary, i dont think much contribution has been made by the western slims.

btw what to you do? email me.

sonia said...

the more important issue is can we really fool ourselves that the 'golden' caliphate was oh-so-golden? it's one thing to 'not criticize' but it's another thing to effectively 'deify' something. humans are fallible and surely looking back we ought to be able to realise that people might have been trying their best but they're not perfect. i can't see what's so wrong with that. not 'venerating' elders i suppose as much as you can -but why should you venerate elders just because they were elders? isn't that following the ways of the father blindly.

and you anonymous - i want to know why people like you are always saying 'music' is haram - instead of going around saying 'slavery' was haram. oooh no! we can't say that can we!

Hamza said...

At the moment can a caliphate exist, no. In the future? possibly. However there are a few misconceptions in regards to your post.
First in the betterment of muslim societies currently there are 2 approaches: 1) Establish a caliphate (top down) and everything will fall into place and 2) Help the people (bottom up) and things will get better slowly. The second approach has received wide spread support in muslim societies with the rise of groups like the Muslim brotherhood and so on.

About the caliphate issue, like you said in your post a caliph can step down or be overthrown if they don't follow the laws. But i feel you have greatly undermined the ulema that exists today. The ulema that exists today is hardly united and it would be impossible to influence all of them in one direction. And in regards to minority powers, individual states within the muslim empire have been ruled by non-muslims, like syria.

the major point i am making that muslims have been united for causes, and we should continue in that method by supporting causes that help the weakest members of society.

Hassan said...

Interesting post but may Allaah 'azza wa jalla protect us from the assertion that the rules of our deen could ever be impractical!

I support the work for khilafah since I believe it is incumbent upon the believers to rule by what Allaah 'azza wa jalla revealed and ALSO to do so how we were shown by the Master of Messengers (SAW) and the best generation (RA).

Nothing else is good enough.