“Who Needs An Islamic State?” By Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi

There are many misconceptions about Islam merely because the minority voice (which is shouting the loudest) is heard, while the other voices remain silent. Without sounding as if I am an ‘Islam Apologist’, maybe I should share with you the views of other Muslim scholars — which is a far departure from the voices of those 4,000 people who participated in the ‘assembly of 1,000,000’ yesterday.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

If the foregoing discussion has any validity, then one has to infer that the concept of an Islamic state must be completely abandoned if sanity is to return to Muslim political discourse.

One should rather speak about a state for the Muslims, or an Islamic political community. One must also abandon the illusions about the millennium promised by the revival of a utopian polity in which a righteous and saintly ruler will miraculously emerge to restore the long lost golden age of Islam. Nor is it wise to shift our millennial hopes to the newly emerged Islamic movements, and expect that their accession to power will automatically bring an era of divine justice and saintly rule. There is simply no alternative to attaining these objectives the hard way, by doing what is needed to achieve them.

Wisdom dictates that we should be pessimistic about the qualities of our rulers, something which should not be too difficult, given our experiences. The institutions of a Muslim polity, and the rules devised to govern it, should therefore be based on expecting the worst.

Human experience shows that democracy, broadly defined, offers the best possible method of avoiding such disappointment in rulers, and affords a way of remedying the causes for such disappointments once they occur.

The value of this approach is that it does not make the attainment of dignity and freedom of Muslim individuals contingent on the setting-up of a utopian Islamic state which we may never live to see. It also removes the grounds on which the current tyrannies ruling the Muslim world are justified.

The tyrants lording it over the Muslims today, aided and abetted by their foreign allies, justify their existence by fear of Muslim `fanatics’ who want to coerce others into adopting an unacceptable lifestyle. This lame excuse for tyranny must be removed by affirming our commitment to democracy as the governing principle of the Muslim polity in all its stages.

The state for Muslims must be a principle of liberation based on pluralism, with no coercion involved other than the minimum inherent in the principle of community itself. The raison d’etre of a political community is to assure the peaceful coexistence among its members.

A Muslim political community is therefore an institution required to ensure that Muslims live in peace and harmony with one another, with other communities within the territory ruled by their polity and with other nations and communities on our planet. This peaceful co-existence has to be based on the rules of equity and fairness, and must not force Muslims to live contrary to their principles.

The central misunderstanding of current Muslim political thought is the confused belief that a state based on Islamic principles is one which forces people to live according to Islam. In truth, the purpose of an Islamic political community is to enable individual Muslims to live according to Islam, and to protect them from coercion which tends to subvert their commitment to Islam.

All the current references to the `imposition of sharia’ or the Islamic state, whether by Islamic thinkers or opponents of Islam, actually misunderstand the issue completely. Sharia can rule truly only when the community observing it perceives this as a liberating act, as the true fulfilment of the self and moral worth of the community and each individual within it, for sharia can never be imposed. When it is imposed, it is not sharia. When only coercion underpins sharia, it becomes hypocrisy.

A Muslim polity must also defend the right of Muslims to live freely according to the dictates of their consciences, by force if necessary, for a Muslim state must use all its resources to fight injustice and tyranny inside and around it. We cannot expect the commitment to peace to be a licence for the toleration of all evils in the name of avoiding conflict.

This was the central mistake of classical Muslim political theory, which has neither succeeded in avoiding conflict nor in achieving justice. Therefore, it is essential to strive for justice as the only firm basis for permanent peace and harmony.

To attain these goals, the Muslim state must rely primarily on the responsibility and active role of the individual within the community. It reasserts the value of the individual without preaching individualism. Classical Muslim political thought relegated the individual to the status of a non-entity by the postulation of vacuous and imprecise concepts such as that of ahl al-Hal wal Aqd and fard kifaya.

These confused notions provided the basis for the endorsement of practical secularism, or for making the legality of all Muslim social activity dependent on the will of a despot.

It must be reaffirmed that the individual does not need the state to be a Muslim. He creates the state as a Muslim, and he creates it voluntarily to further enhance his Islamic life. The opinion given by al-Ghazali and others about the necessity of the state – any state – as the precondition of the legality of Muslim social life is the opposite of the truth. A despotic and illegal regime does not bestow legitimacy on subsidiary actions. On the contrary, it marks everything it touches with the stamp of illegality. For Muslims, to have no state at all is better than to have an illegal one.

“Who Needs An Islamic State?” By Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi