IV. Political Issues
1. A Muslim Ruler has the Right to Overrule the Majority
It is generally contended on the basis of the following verse that the ruler of a Muslim state has the power to veto his confidants if he deems so.
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ (159:3)
So ignore their faults and ask for God’s forgiveness for them and consult them in the affairs [of state]. Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. (3:159)
This is an incorrect inference. It should be appreciated that the Qur’an is an internally coherent Book and each verse has a specific context, which, if disregarded, may lead to gross misinterpretation.
If we take a look at the context of 3:159, it becomes evident that the verse occurs in the group of verses in which the behaviour of the Hypocrites and the events of the battle of Uhud and their aftermath are under discussion. The Hypocrites, we know from the Qur’an, were given a time of respite so that they might reform themselves. However, once the time was over, they were severely dealt with as is evident from many verses of the Qur’an. For example:
يَاأَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ جَاهِدْ الْكُفَّارَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ وَاغْلُظْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَمَأْوَاهُمْ جَهَنَّمُ وَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ (66:9)
O Prophet! Strive hard against the Disbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, an evil refuge indeed. (66:9)
The battle of Uhud was the time when they were still in the period of respite. So, it was not appropriate to disregard them at that time. Consequently, the Prophet (sws) is told to keep consulting them in various affairs; however, he is not bound by what their majority says. If he decides contrarily, he should repose his trust in Allah and do what he has decided. This is a brief summary of the stress of the verse.
A more detailed look at the context of 3:159 and at the various historical facts shows that the Prophet (sws) had consulted the Muslims on whether they should fight the enemy from within the city or from the outside. The Hypocrites opined that they should fight from within the city while the true believers were of the opposite opinion. The Prophet (sws) it seems also held the latter opinion. So when he and the believers decided to go out and fight, the Hypocrites became angry and expressed their anger in various ways. ‘Abdullah Ibn Ubay for example departed right before the battle with his three hundred men saying that his opinion was ignored. Another group of Hypocrites that stayed with the Muslims started spreading the propaganda once the battle was over that the defeat was due to the wrong strategy adopted. Consequently, verses 3:156-8, while addressing the Hypocrites, mention these details in the following manner:
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَكُونُوا كَالَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَقَالُوا لِإِخْوَانِهِمْ إِذَا ضَرَبُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ أَوْ كَانُوا غُزًّى لَوْ كَانُوا عِنْدَنَا مَا مَاتُوا وَمَا قُتِلُوا لِيَجْعَلَ اللَّهُ ذَلِكَ حَسْرَةً فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ وَاللَّهُ يُحْيِ وَيُمِيتُ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ وَلَئِنْ قُتِلْتُمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَوْ مُتُّمْ لَمَغْفِرَةٌ مِنْ اللَّهِ وَرَحْمَةٌ خَيْرٌ مِمَّا يَجْمَعُونَ وَلَئِنْ مُتُّمْ أَوْ قُتِلْتُمْ لَإِلَى اللَّهِ تُحْشَرُونَ (3: 156-8)
O you who believe! be not like the disbelievers who say of their brethren when they are travelling through the land or fighting: “If they had stayed with us they would not have died or been slain” so that Allah may make a cause of regret in their hearts. It is Allah Who gives life and death. And Allah knows what you do. And if you are killed or die in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they amass [of worldly wealth]. And whether you die or are killed, verily, unto Allah you shall be gathered. (3:156-8)
Consequently, it is clear from these verses that the Prophet (sws) in his capacity of a Prophet (sws) was advised to deal with the Hypocrites of his times in a particular manner, as spelled out in the subsequent verse; in other words, this subsequent verse also like the previous ones refers to the Hypocrites:
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ (159:3)
So ignore their faults and ask for God’s forgiveness for them and consult them in affairs. Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. (3:159)
These verses cannot be related to us in any way today. Technically speaking, the antecedents of the plural accusative pronoun in the imperative verb شَاوِرْهُمْ (consult them) are the Hypocrites of the Prophet’s times. Owing to his position as Prophet, Muhammad (sws) was divinely guided in their affairs and was told to deal with them with latitude until the Almighty signaled to him that the period of respite was over.
Consequently, the verse cannot be extended to anyone beyond the Prophet (sws).
2. Muslims of a Non-Muslim Country should Unite Politically
Some people think that Islam directs all Muslims living in non-Muslim lands to unite under one leadership and present themselves as a single entity.
Nowhere has Islam directed Muslims living in a non-Muslim country to unite under one leadership. This may serve their interest and be very beneficial for them. However, they have not been bound by their religion in this regard. It is up to them if they want to adopt such a policy.
Some people do present the following verse to contend that Islam has directed Muslims to politically unite:
إِنَّ هَذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاعْبُدُونِي (21: 93)
Indeed, this ummah of yours is a single ummah, and I am your Lord and Cherisher. (21:93)
If the context of this verse is deliberated upon, it comes to light that the Qur’an is not directing the present Muslim ummah to remain united; on the contrary the word ummah here is used for all the Prophets which are mentioned in the preceding verses (78-91). After enlisting most Prophets, the Qur’an says that all these Prophets are one ummah in the sense that they brought the same religion and it is the people who introduced innovations in it:
وَدَاوُودَ وَسُلَيْمَانَ إِذْ يَحْكُمَانِ فِي الْحَرْثِ إِذْ نَفَشَتْ فِيهِ غَنَمُ الْقَوْمِ وَكُنَّا لِحُكْمِهِمْ شَاهِدِينَ فَفَهَّمْنَاهَا سُلَيْمَانَ وَكُلًّا آتَيْنَا حُكْمًا وَعِلْمًا وَسَخَّرْنَا مَعَ دَاوُودَ الْجِبَالَ يُسَبِّحْنَ وَالطَّيْرَ وَكُنَّا فَاعِلِينَ وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ صَنْعَةَ لَبُوسٍ لَكُمْ لِتُحْصِنَكُمْ مِنْ بَأْسِكُمْ فَهَلْ أَنْتُمْ شَاكِرُونَ وَلِسُلَيْمَانَ الرِّيحَ عَاصِفَةً تَجْرِي بِأَمْرِهِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ الَّتِي بَارَكْنَا فِيهَا وَكُنَّا بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَالِمِينَ وَمِنْ الشَّيَاطِينِ مَنْ يَغُوصُونَ لَهُ وَيَعْمَلُونَ عَمَلًا دُونَ ذَلِكَ وَكُنَّا لَهُمْ حَافِظِينَ وَأَيُّوبَ إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ أَنِّي مَسَّنِي الضُّرُّ وَأَنْتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ فَكَشَفْنَا مَا بِهِ مِنْ ضُرٍّ وَآتَيْنَاهُ أَهْلَهُ وَمِثْلَهُمْ مَعَهُمْ رَحْمَةً مِنْ عِنْدِنَا وَذِكْرَى لِلْعَابِدِينَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِدْرِيسَ وَذَا الْكِفْلِ كُلٌّ مِنْ الصَّابِرِينَ وَأَدْخَلْنَاهُمْ فِي رَحْمَتِنَا إِنَّهُمْ مِنْ الصَّالِحِينَ وَذَا النُّونِ إِذْ ذَهَبَ مُغَاضِبًا فَظَنَّ أَنْ لَنْ نَقْدِرَ عَلَيْهِ فَنَادَى فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنتُ مِنْ الظَّالِمِينَ فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَنَجَّيْنَاهُ مِنْ الْغَمِّ وَكَذَلِكَ نُنْجِي الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَزَكَرِيَّا إِذْ نَادَى رَبَّهُ رَبِّ لَا تَذَرْنِي فَرْدًا وَأَنْتَ خَيْرُ الْوَارِثِينَ فَاسْتَجَبْنَا لَهُ وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ يَحْيَى وَأَصْلَحْنَا لَهُ زَوْجَهُ إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْخَيْرَاتِ وَيَدْعُونَنَا رَغَبًا وَرَهَبًا وَكَانُوا لَنَا خَاشِعِينَ وَالَّتِي أَحْصَنَتْ فَرْجَهَا فَنَفَخْنَا فِيهَا مِنْ رُوحِنَا وَجَعَلْنَاهَا وَابْنَهَا آيَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ إِنَّ هَذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَأَنَا رَبُّكُمْ فَاعْبُدُونِي وَتَقَطَّعُوا أَمْرَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ كُلٌّ إِلَيْنَا رَاجِعُونَ (21 :78-93)
And remember David and Solomon, when they gave judgement in the matter of the field into which the sheep of certain people had strayed by night: we did witness their judgement. To Solomon We inspired the [right] understanding of the matter: to each [of them] we gave judgement and knowledge; it was Our power that made the hills and the birds celebrate Our praises, with David: it was We who did [all these things]. It was We Who taught him the making of metal coats of mail for your benefit to guard you from each other’s violence. Will you then be grateful? [It was our power that made] the violent wind flow [tamely] for Solomon to his order to the land which We had blessed: for We do know all things. And of the evil ones, were some who dived for him, and did other work besides; and it was We who guarded them. And [remember] Job, when he cried to his Lord: “Truly distress has seized me, but You are the Most Merciful of those that are Merciful.” So We listened to him: We removed the distress that was on him, and We restored his people to him, and doubled their number, as a Grace from Ourselves, and a thing for commemoration for all who serve Us. And [remember] Isma‘il, Idris, and Dhu al-Kifl, all [men] of constancy and patience. We admitted them to our mercy, for they were of the righteous ones. And remember Dhu al-Nun, when he departed in wrath. He imagined that We would not call him to account! But he cried through the depths of darkness: “There is no god but You; glory to You. I was indeed wrong!” So We listened to Him and delivered him from distress and thus do We deliver those who have faith. And [remember] Zakariyyah, when he cried to his Lord: “O my Lord! Leave me not without offspring, though You are the best of inheritors.” So We listened to him and We granted him Yahya. We cured his wife’s [barrenness] for him. These were ever quick in emulation in good works; they used to call on Us with love and reverence, and humble themselves before Us. And [remember] her who guarded her chastity: we breathed into her of Our Spirit, and We made her and her son a sign for all peoples. Indeed, this ummah of yours is a single ummah, and I am your Lord and Cherisher: therefore serve Me [and no other]. But [the later generations] cut off their matter [of unity], one from another: [yet] will they all return to Us. (21:78-93)
In other words, the words “Indeed, this ummah of yours is a single ummah” if interpreted keeping in view the context refers to the collectivity of the Prophets that came before Muhammad (sws). They have nothing to do with the Muslim ummah.
3. Defiance of anti-Islamic Laws of a Non-Muslim Country
Some people are of the opinion that Muslims should defy the directives of the non-Muslim country where they are living if they are asked by the government to do something which is against Islam.
It must be kept in consideration that Muslims who have settled in non-Muslim countries are bound in a contract of citizenship. They must always honour this contract while living in such areas. They should respect the laws and live peacefully. They are bound by Islam to abide by the terms and conditions of any contract they make and they must never violate them in the slightest way. Such violations according to Islam are totally forbidden and, in fact, amount to a grave transgression. The Qur’an says:
وَأَوْفُوا بِالْعَهْدِ إِنَّ الْعَهْدَ كَانَ مَسْئُولًا(34:17)
And keep [your] covenants; because indeed [on the Day of Judgement] you will be held accountable for them. (17:34)
Consequently, Muslims must never break the laws of the country they live in and if a situation comes when, owing to some law, they are not able to follow a directive of their religion that seems imperative to them, they should first of all bring the matter in the notice of the authorities. If it is not resolved, then instead of violating the law or creating nuisance they should migrate from that country.
This, of course, does not mean that this stance of a Non-Muslim country is being endorsed. It amounts to denying a minority its basic rights and, at times, is tantamount to persecution.
4. Muslims are Duty-Bound to establish an Islamic State
There are some Muslim scholars who think that each and every Muslim has been asked by Islam to strive to establish an Islamic state in case Islam does not reign supreme in the country he is living in.
It needs to be appreciated that Muslims are not required by their religion to fulfill any such obligation. Some religious scholars do present the example of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and say that since he had established an Islamic state in Arabia, Muslims, wherever they are, should follow his example. In this regard, it is submitted that neither did the Prophet (sws) ever undertake the task of establishing an Islamic state nor was he ever directed by the Almighty to do so. The truth of the matter is that it is the Almighty Who according to His established practice regarding His Messengers took matters in His own hand in the time of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and bestowed him and his nation the supremacy of Arabia.
Scholars who are of the opinion that Muhammad (sws) strove to establish an Islamic state in Arabia typically present the following verse in support of their view:
هُوَ الَّذِي أَرْسَلَ رَسُولَهُ بِالْهُدَى وَدِينِ الْحَقِّ لِيُظْهِرَهُ عَلَى الدِّينِ كُلِّهِ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْمُشْرِكُونَ (9:61)
It is He Who has sent his Messenger [–Muhammad–] with Guidance and the Religion of Truth that he may proclaim it over all religions, even though the Idolaters may detest [this]. (61:9)
On the basis of the phrase “all religions”, it is understood that the followers of Islam must struggle for its dominance in their respective countries and territories.
An analysis of the context of this verse shows that it belongs to the class of directives that relate to the established practice of the Almighty regarding His Messengers (rusul) according to which a Messenger (rasul) always triumphs over his nation:
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُحَادُّونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ أُوْلَئِكَ فِي الأَذَلِّينَ كَتَبَ اللَّهُ لَأَغْلِبَنَّ أَنَا وَرُسُلِي إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ(58: 20-1)
Indeed those who are opposing Allah and His Messenger are bound to be humiliated. The Almighty has ordained: “I and My Messengers shall always prevail.” Indeed, Allah is Mighty and Powerful. (58:20-1)
Muhammad (sws) was also informed that he would triumph over his nation. He and his Companions (rta) were told that they would have to fight the Idolaters of Arabia until the supremacy of Islam was achieved therein and that these Idolaters should be informed that if they did not desist from their evil ways they too would meet a fate no different from those of the other nations who denied their Messengers:
قُلْ لِلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا إِنْ يَنتَهُوا يُغْفَرْ لَهُمْ مَا قَدْ سَلَفَ وَإِنْ يَعُودُوا فَقَدْ مَضَتْ سُنَّةُ الْأَوَّلِينَ وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّى لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلَّهِ (8: 38-40)
Say to the Disbelievers that if they now desist [from disbelief] their past would be forgiven; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already [a warning for them]. And fight against them until there is no more persecution and prevails there the religion of God. (8:38-40)
Consequently, it is to be noted that the word al-mushrikun (the Idolaters) is used in 61:9 quoted above. The Qur’an uses this word specifically for the Idolaters of Arabia of the Prophet’s times. As a result, “all the religions” in the conjugate clause can only mean all the religions of Arabia at that time. So, the verse has no bearing on Muslims after the times of the Prophet (sws).
Therefore, striving to achieve the political supremacy of Islam is not any religious obligation of a Muslim, let alone waging jihad to achieve this supremacy. The verses from which this obligation has been construed specifically relate to the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
5. Muslim Rulers shall always belong to the Quraysh
On the basis of the following narrative attributed to the Prophet (sws), it is generally believed that a Muslim ruler must belong to the Quraysh, which is the tribe of the Prophet (sws).
َلْأَئِمَّةُ مِنْ قُرَيْش (نسائ ، رقم : 5942)
The rulers shall be from the Quraysh. (Nasa’i, No: 5942)
If this is correct, then it would mean that there is no difference between Islam and Brahmanism in which only a specific tribe has the prerogative to rule.
It needs to be appreciated that each narrative must be interpreted in the light of the Qur’an. According to the Qur’anic verse (42: 38) أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ (their system is based on their consultation, (42:38)) in the absence of a consensus, the majority opinion should decide affairs of the Muslims. Thus in the light of this directive a tradition was established from the time of the Prophet (sws) that the tribe who held the confidence of the majority would be granted the reigns of power. Since in the time of the Prophet (sws), this status was occupied by the Quraysh, the Prophet (sws) merely following this Qur’anic injunction and fearing that leaders of the minority groups might stake a claim to power clarified that the rulers shall be from the Quraysh. While citing the reason for this, he is reported to have said:
النَّاسُ تَبَعٌ لِقُرَيْشٍ فِي هَذَا الشَّأْنِ مُسْلِمُهُمْ لِمُسْلِمِهِمْ وَكَافِرُهُمْ لِكَافِرِهِمْ (مسلم، رقم : 1818)
People in this matter follow the Quraysh. The believers of Arabia are the followers of their believers and the disbelievers of Arabia are the followers of their disbelievers. (Muslim, No: 1818)
In other words, the Prophet (sws) made it very clear that since the majority of the Arabian Muslims professed confidence in the Quraysh, they were solely entitled to take charge as the rulers of Arabia in the light of the Qur’anic directive أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ (Their system is based on their consultation), and that they would be passed on the political authority not because of any racial precedence or superiority, but only by virtue of this position.
It follows from this that Quraysh were entitled to rule after the Prophet (sws) as long as they enjoyed the confidence of the majority and once they lost this confidence they were not entitled to rule.