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The Falsity of the Concept of the Islamic State – Abdassamad Clarke

A concept of ‘The Islamic State’ has become very widespread among Muslims and non-Muslims and although the following document is based on my analysis of an essay whose origins I have so far been unable to trace, it has simply articulated a misconception that is very widespread. This is certainly not an attack on the author or the movement from which the essay issues. Rather, I am grateful to him and to them for articulating their position so clearly, thus allowing a proper analysis.

Such an analysis is important for a number of reasons: arguably, the Muslims have been locked in a dilemma since the advent of Islamic modernism almost two centuries ago. It led the late Ottomans, particularly in the time of Mahmud II and the Tanzimat, to try and make a modern state precisely as outlined in the document that is the basis for this article. In the subsequent period of the decline and disappearance of the Ottoman sultanate and then of their khalifate because of their desire to implement such a state and their embrace of technique and fatefully banking and usurious loans, and the appearance of what Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi has called the ‘Second Interregnum’,1 the whole Muslim world was seized with the desire to erect what they thought was a Muslim state, or in the case of Pakistan ‘a pure Muslim state’.

The ‘purity’ of Pakistan was perhaps one of the most serious historical mistakes; at the end of the first century after the Hijra, the Muslims who ruled the vast area carved out by the Companions and their successors among Bani Umayya were only a tiny percentage of a population that included Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and more. The Moguls similarly were accustomed to ruling a widely disparate population of all sorts of cultures. The Ottomans took seriously their role of being the sultans of the different millats, Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Islamic dawla was never intended to comprise only Muslims. That during the khilafah of Bani al-‘Abbas, the vast majority of the population of the Middle East voluntarily accepted Islam is another matter and one of the great historical miracles.

The 19th century can well be considered the epoch in which, subsequent to the French Revolution, both Muslims and non-Muslims were seized with the irrational desire for national states, a desire whose results were disastrous for many millions of people.2 That the essay to which we respond here conceives of the khilafah as a supra-national entity cannot conceal the fact that it is, nevertheless, along the lines of the 19th century concept of the nation-state.

The second conclusion I would draw in this introduction is that the dictatorships with which the Arab world in particular but the Muslim world in general have been plagued are not merely historical aberrations imposed from without by cynical colonial and ex-colonial powers but also represent precisely the aspirations of a large number of Muslims. They of course did not wish to be tyrannised, but tyranny was the inevitable consequence of the conception of nation-state they had formed. It is the paradox of the rational project that the declared aim is so luminous but the result so appalling. Thus it is of paramount importance that this misconception be exposed.

All of that is in order for us to make sense of our history, but it is more important for us not to be weighed down by tragically impossible aspirations such as those of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jama’at al-Islamia, aspirations for an Islamic state that will never be realised. Indeed we are grateful for that very failure, since if they were to become realities they would be totalitarian models that would appal the world.

Rather, the way forward lies in changing the emphasis from ‘the khalifate‘ to ‘the khalifah‘, since it is the nature of our siyasa, something quite different from ‘politics’, that it relies on the quality of its men and women. That then brings to the fore the issue of tarbiya, something much vaster than ‘education’ and better translated by the German word ‘bildung‘ which includes education, character building and much more,3 and makes it the issue of the age to come, just as it was for the Osmanli dawla with their futuwwa bodies dedicated to inculcating the noblest qualities of character such as service, generosity and charity, in their youth.

All of that calls for the restoration of the d?n in its totality, without which the erection of a state, any state, will not succeed.

* * *

There is no word in the Qur’an or in the hadith literature for ‘state’. The Arabic word that is commonly used – ‘dawla’ – does not occur in the Qur’an.4 I have never come across the use of this word ‘dawla’ in the hadiths or in the literature recording the early community of Islam [as far as my reading of hadiths has gone. If anyone knows of such a hadith, I would be very interested to learn of it].

Nevertheless, later muslims used the term, the Ottomans among others. The Ottomans were known as the Ottoman dawla and not the Ottoman Empire even though a word for Empire exists both in Arabic and Osmanlica. However, the Ottomans chose the term dawla specifically in order not to use the term Empire.5

The term ‘state’ begins to take its present-day signification in the seventeenth century in Europe, historians dating it from the treaty of Westphalia. Its most essential feature in the modern world is that of a governing entity that legislates, i.e. creates laws, and most usually in our contemporary situation through some form of process of representative democracy6.

For the Ottomans, ‘dawla’ encompassed the khalifa and his appointees whose job it is to bring the shari’ah into being, but not to create legislation.

The concept of the Islamic state first arose among Islamic modernists, so let us first examine the issue of Islamic modernism or modernist Islam. It has various roots, but in essence it stems from a misunderstanding of Western dominance over the lands of Islam, which itself issues from a complete misreading of western history and the nature of Western society. The modernists assume that it was the features of Western society that were unusual to it and different from Islamic modes that gave Westerners dominance over the lands of Islam, and that therefore it is sufficient merely to imitate the West in those unusual features for there to be a resurgence of political power in the lands of Islam, neglecting the obvious fact that what makes the Westerners ‘different’ is kufr.

They mistakenly assume that Muslims can regain some power by taking those elements from the West which they think led to the apparent demise of Islam politically. Thus we have ‘Islamic’ economics, ‘Islamic’ constitutions, ‘Islamic’ science, and ‘Islamic’ banks, etc., etc. We have had all the rush to industrialise and to purchase armaments and fit out ridiculous ‘modern’ armies, which have all proved totally ineffective. The flaw in this is because there is a total misunderstanding of the nature of Western society and the modern state.

The very essence of the modern state is that it is a body which borrows enormous sums of money from banking institutions. This is needed desperately by the banks because they are in great need of large borrowers who will create grand projects and return the interest they owe their shareholders and depositors. There is tremendous pressure on bankers to put their funds to profitable use. Today those large borrowers are the different nation-states and the great multinational corporations. Then the state taxes its citizens to maintain the interest payments on the loans – the national debt [which must never be repaid].

The most fundamental mistake we make is when we think that the state taxes in order to pay for all its services. Rather the state taxes to keep paying the interest on its debts. Many of the huge state-services: for example, infrastructure, are paid for from loans.

It should be noted that a great number of matters: health services, education and social security were traditionally paid for by Islamic awqaf. The awqaf were genuine ‘sadaqah jariyah‘ – permanent sadaqahs. The awqaf were properties which had been returned to the ownership of Allah by private individuals and were administered by other private individuals for the benefit of whatever purpose they were dedicated. Thus in nineteenth century Turkey, over sixty percent of land was waqf property. Of course, Attaturk nationalised all of it, i.e. stole it for the purposes of the state. The rest of the muslim world has followed his lead.

The ‘state’, as we remarked above, denotes a body that legislates and enacts legislation; it creates laws. It is well known that before Islam, the companion ‘Adi ibn Hatim at-Ta’i, may Allah be pleased with him, had been an Arab Christian. While still a Christian he visited Madinah, and entered the mosque while the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was reciting the ayah in which Allah, exalted is He, mentions that the Jews and the Christians take their rabbis and priests as lords apart from Allah. When he spoke to the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, he objected to this and said that they had not taken their priests as lords. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, replied that the rabbis and priests had declared some matters to be halal and some haram and that they, the Jews and the Christians, had taken those matters to be halal and haram, and that thus they had taken the rabbis and monks as their gods. In other words, making things halal and haram – legal and illegal – is the prerogative of Allah and His Messenger, and if anyone else does so it is an act of shirk.

Thus it is entirely irrelevant whether a single tyrannical individual [an autocrat] makes the laws or a committee of people [democrats], since they are arrogating powers which belong to Allah, which is an act of shirk. Islamic law-making is another matter, since the purpose is to find out what is most pleasing to Allah in any particular case, and for that recourse is had to the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to the consensus of the people of knowledge, to the existing body of rulings and fatwas and finally to reasoning based on the aforementioned. In all of that, the intention is to follow an investigative approach until the judgement is reached that is closest to the revelation.

This is why, I object seriously to the use of the term ‘Islamic State’, just as I object, if possibly even more strenuously, to terms such as ‘Islamic economics’ and ‘Islamic banks’. All of these concepts are based on the idea that we can Islamicise things which are fundamentally alien to Islam, and Allah knows best.

The reply to the above is given below with my interpolated comments between the lines:

20. Islam is an Aqeeda and system and the State is its method of implementation

The ‘ulama’ have a saying which encapsulates a number of things understood from the Book and the Sunnah, “Al-Islam deen al-fitra,”7 and fitra is held to be the natural condition of the human being and of all life. ‘System – nidham’ is not the same as fitrah, and could be seen as diametrically opposed to it. Therefore, how can you assert something so opposite to this well known wisdom unless you know of a much more sound statement such as “Al-Islam nidham wa dawla”? Is there such a statement in the Qur’an or in the collections of ahadith or in the works of the classical ulama? If not, then this assertion represents something new, something which has been introduced (muhdath) from elsewhere, something originated and innovated (bid’ah).

Islam, in its capacity as the ideology of the State, society and life, has made the State and ruling a part of it.

In this sentence ‘Islam’ is the active subject of the verb ‘has made’. Therefore, do you think that Islam is a being, a thinking rational being which makes decisions and does things?

And Islam ordered the Muslims to establish the State and ruling, and to rule by the rules of Islam.

The same again. Islam is the active subject of the verb ‘ordered’. Even if we allow that you do not imagine ‘Islam’ to be a living, thinking, acting being, which you must admit would be a kind of shirk, but that you are using this language in a kind of metaphorical way, yet this language was never used before.

Listen to the old scholars. They never used to say, “Islam says this,” or “Islam orders this,” but they would say, “Allah, ta’ala, says in His Noble Book…” or “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, says…”. They spoke like that to avoid any kind of shirk.

Some tens of verses have been revealed in the Qur’an about ruling and authority which order the Muslims to rule by that which Allah has revealed.

These ayat are very well known.

Likewise, hundreds of verses have been revealed which contain rules pertaining to the aspects of politics,

But politics in Arabic is ‘siyasa‘ which denotes the manner in which a ruler tends and manages his subjects, based on the way that a shepherd tends his flock, which is the primal metaphor of our siyasa: “each of you is a shepherd and each of you will be asked about his flock” as is in the noble hadith.

‘Politics’ in English denotes the manner today in which representatives of the people contend to be elected by the people, and then when elected deal with the pragmatics of banking and corporate power, the realities of the dominance of the almost invisible civil service bureaucracy over the political process, the shifting sands of coalitions and alliances, and the desperate need to be re-elected every four years.


I have already dealt with this at great length.


You know, as do I, that Islam has no standing army, and that thus we have no military in the sense of the West. Every muslim man ought to be ready to fight jihad, just as every muslim man ought to return to his trade and his ordinary life after peace is concluded. There is no salary for fighting, but there is a share in the spoils of victory. Therefore, to use the term ‘military’ falsely leads us to equate something very foreign with the transactions of Islam.

penal code,

When you say penal code, you summon up an image of the state punishing people for breaking the laws of the state, whereas in the shari’ah most crimes, such as manslaughter, murder, adultery and theft, are crimes against persons. Many such crimes permit of retaliation (qisas) from the person affected or his relatives. Although the amir must administer such retaliation, yet it is not because it is a crime against the state, but because he can do so without passion or vengeance, and Allah knows best.

transactions between individuals, and not to mention the many Ahadith which relate to these issues. All of them have been revealed in order to rule by them, to apply them and execute them.

Yes, indeed, but the secret of Islam, is that the muslim rules ‘himself’ or ‘herself’ by Islam first and foremost. Thus of the cases of adultery that happened in Madinah, most of the records of stoning to death – there are only a couple – relate to penitent adulterers who confessed and demanded their punishment, and who have high honour because of that. That sentence on them, is not a punishment in that sense, but a purification so that they can meet their Lord without a reckoning for that wrong action.

Indeed, we want the khalifa restored, and of that there is no doubt. However, it is well known that there is another usage of the word ‘khalifa’ which denotes man’s existential standing in existence as the khalifa of Allah. What kept muslim society healthy, when it was healthy, was that each man and woman took responsibility for themselves and for everything around them, and if necessary for putting the ruler himself straight. People who are themselves khulafa over their own lives, deserve to be ruled by a khalifa who is a successor of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

They were truly implemented in the days of the Messenger (SAW) and the Righteous Caliphs (Khulafa ar-Rashidun) and the rulers who came after them.

That is the truth, and so let us return to that noble pattern. To do so, we need also to understand what they understood and to see what they saw, and a part of that is to use language in the way they used it and words with the same meanings that they used them.

All of this indicates that Islam is a system for ruling, state, society and life.

Islam cannot have an active presence in life except if it was existent in a State which implements its rules.

There is no doubt that muslims must live in community and that a vital part of that is the appointment of a leader and then obedience to him. It is the use of this word ‘state’ that I object to.

Thus, Islam is an Aqeeda and a system, where ruling and the State are a part of it. The State is the only Shari’a method Islam has put for the application and implementation of its rules in the public life.

Well this is wrong, because such a ‘state’ would clearly be a tyrannical and dictatorial state. The reality is that in Madinah, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was able to bring about a society of people who all took responsibility for their lives and for the lives of their neighbours and finally for the lives of humanity at large. Today in Denmark, for example, the state looks after everyone’s lives, after their parents and their children and their neighbours, and everyone is living completely alone, and growing more miserable by the day; look at people’s faces. Look at the faces of the old people who have been consigned to being useless at the end of their lives.

Islamic governance is distinguished by being very minimal. The ruler has some few obligations: he must collect and distribute the zakat, the jizyah and the kharaj. He must appoint imams and mu’adhdhins for the mosques. He should clarify the new moons and announce the beginning and end of Ramadan. He should appoint qadis. But remember that qadis are not there to apply state law to citizens, but rather mainly to sit between disputing muslims and to resolve their disputes by the light of the shari’ah. Many disputes are settled by mercy, forgiveness and generosity, rather than by the shari’ah. That is the Sunnah, after all.

Islam would not have an active presence except when it has a State that applies its rules in all situations.

There is no doubt that there are ahkam – rulings that can only be applied with the existence of rulership. But what about all the other qualities of Islam: generosity, courage, forbearance, forgiveness, greeting the stranger, feeding guests, looking after the poor and widows, inviting others to Islam, worshipping Allah in the night, doing much dhikr of Allah, recitation of Qur’an and weeping during it, greeting one’s brother with a smiling face, being courteous to women, honouring old people, and being kind to children? These are all things which are part and parcel of Islam and are mentioned in known ayat of the Noble Qur’an or in well known ahadith. Again there is no doubt that muslims must be in obedience to an amir for Islam to come into full effect, but if the only thing is the state and the ahkam-rulings of Islam, then we are living a machine life. System is a word for machines not for humans.

Its State is a human, political State and not a priestly or theological one. There is nothing holy about it nor is its leader described as infallible.

21. The Structure of the Ruling System in Islam

The ruling system in Islam is a system which defines the structure, description, foundations, pillars and apparatus of the State. It defines the basis on which the State is established and the thoughts, concepts and criterions according to which the affairs are looked after, and the constitution and canons which it applies.

There is no constitution in Islam. The idea of ‘constitution’ emerges from Europe’s socialist struggle against its feudal monarchies and was a means by which the power of the monarch was limited. However, it is clear that constitutionalism has put the ordinary person even further from the people who hold power today than ever before. It is clear that the constitutions of the modern world have put a group of people in power, over whom we have no control at all and to whom we have no access, people who are only responsible to banks and corporations.

The Islamic ruling system is a special and distinct system, for a State which is special and distinct, fundamentally different from all the existing ruling systems in the world. Whether with regards to the basis on which the State is established, the thoughts, concepts and criterion according to which the people’s affairs are looked after, the structures in which it is represented or the constitution and canons which it applies.

The structure of the Islamic ruling system is the Khilafah system, in which the Muslims pledge to their Khaleefah to hear and obey him so that he rules them with Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (SAW).

And they pledge to do that “as much as they are able”.

It is a system established on the basis of the unity of the State and unity of the Khilafah. It is not permitted for the Muslims to have at any one given time more than one State on earth, or have more than one Khaleefah.

On this matter, there are different views. A number of the people of knowledge do permit the existence of more than one khalifah, if the zones of their political power are far enough apart. The truth is that since early in the second century of Islam, there has never been a single Islamic political entity, and there have been a plurality of khulafa, sultans and amirs.

If a second Khaleefah is given the Bay’a (oath of allegiance) despite the presence of a Khaleefah, the second Khaleefah is fought against till he gives Bay’a to the first Khaleefah or he is killed. He (SAW) said: “If a Bay’a has been taken for two Khulafa, kill the latter of them.”

Yes, indeed, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, tells the truth, and he is the guide. But this is within a single community. In the age before telecommunications and air transport, then it was inconceivable for one person to rule both Malaysia and Sudan, both Tatarstan and Yemen.

At times, there were exceptional people such as Yusuf ibn Tashfin of the historical Murabitun who went out of his way to send Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi to Baghdad to pledge his allegiance to the Khalifah. But even this was largely a symbolic gesture, since they took several years to accomplish the journey, and Yusuf was in effect ruler of Andalusia and the Maghrib, whether or not he pledged allegiance. However, he wanted to be correct in this matter, may Allah be pleased with him.

The practice of the muslims has been established for around 1,200 years that there has not been a single united khalifah, and there are theoretical views among the fuqaha, which are quoted by Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah, that such a state of affairs is acceptable.

22. The system of ruling in Islam is not monarchical8

The form of ruling in Islam is not monarchical. The monarchical system of government adopts a hereditary rule where sons inherit the throne from their fathers.

This is a mere assertion. The reality is that for for over a thousand years, in the main, but not entirely, sons have inherited rule from their fathers. There is in the shari’ah nothing against such an inheritance. However, that was not by primogeniture, i.e. the insistence on the rule of the first-born male, but rather through the rule of the most capable son, who were very often the sons of slave-women both in the Abbasid period and in the Ottoman times.

Although the muslims have always respected lineages of talented and capable families [genetics is a fact and was well known to be so long before the discovery of DNA], there has never been any superstitious theology behind it such as the idea of the Divine Right of Kings. If the ruling line or any specific ruler proved incapable or heretical they were often replaced without any great sense of loss.

The distinguishing feature of Islamic society was always the great speed at which talented people could rise from slavehood to the highest positions in society, as opposed to the rigid hierarchical system of the repugnant Hindu caste system or of European feudalism.

While in Islam there is no inheritance of authority or hereditary rule in its ruling system. Rather the one who assumes power is the Khaleefah that the Muslims have given a pledge to, with consent and choice.

But it is too well known in the fiqh, i.e. the position of the people of knowledge, that if a strong person seizes power and if he puts the shari’ah into effect, then his rule is valid, and it is illegitimate to rise against him. It is also well known that the khalifah is elected by the Ahl al-hall wa’l-‘aqd, in effect the people of knowledge and influence in the society, and certainly not by the ordinary muslims.

The monarchical system allows the monarch special privileges and rights exclusively to him which puts him above the law, and answerable to none.

Either he is a monarch who does not rule or he conducts the affairs of the people and the country as he likes and wishes.

Whereas the Islamic system does not allow the Khaleefah or Imam any special privileges and rights. He represents the Ummah in ruling and in authority.

In his conduct, rules and running of the affairs and interests of the Ummah, he is restricted with the rules of the Shari’a.

Well the khalifah and his appointees are not above the law, we agree.

23. The system of ruling in Islam is not republican

The Islamic ruling system is not republican. The republican system is based on the democratic system, which is a system of Kufr, based on the creed of separating religion from life.

We are agreed.

The sovereignty in this system is for the people who enact the laws.

Whereas the Islamic system is established on the basis of the Islamic Aqeeda, and on the rules of the Shari’a. In this system the sovereignty is for the Shari‚a and not for the Ummah.

No, sovereignty only belongs to Allah – al-mulku lillah – and to assign sovereignty to Islam or shari’ah is to step on to very tricky ground.

Nor does the Ummah or the Khaleefah possess the right to legislate. So the legislator is Allah (SWT)

and His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.

The Khaleefah only possesses the right to adopt rules for the constitution and canons

Both terms, constitution and canon, are not from Islam, and in being adopted they are clear innovations in Islam.

from the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (SAW).

Therefore, it is not permitted to say that the system of Islam is a republican system or talk of a Islamic republic, due to the great contradiction between the Islamic system and the republican system.

Quite right.

24. The ruling system in Islam is a system of unity not a federation

The Islamic system is not a federal one where its regions are separated in the form of autonomy and unite under a general rule. Rather it is a system of unity. So there is only one State, one Khaleefah, one army, one economy, one finance, one domestic and foreign policy, and one diplomatic representation.

False. That is because the language is structuralist, i.e. the language of machines and mechanical entities, and it does not allow you to see an organic patterning.

As we pointed out, the thought of a single centralist rule has been impossible throughout Islamic history except in the very first century and some decades of the second. To introduce the concept now, merely because for the first time in history we have telecommunications and air transport, is tantamount to introducing a bid’ah. It might be that properly qualified people of knowledge might consider this bid’ah a worthy one and one to strive for, but it ought first and foremost to be recognised as such.

It is the same as the matter of starting and ending Ramadan. The fiqh of Ramadan does not require muslims across the earth to begin and end on the same day, since throughout history that has been technically impossible. Rather it is incumbent on muslims in one city and in one local region to begin and end on the same day. Because of the bid’ah of people trying to unify the beginning and ending of Ramadan globally, we are stuck with the introduction of a second bid’ah which is that locally the muslims are fragmented and Ramadan is not united in its beginning and ending. This local unity is obligatory, whereas that global unity is not.

Of course, it is noble to look back to the very first century of Islam when there was a single khalifate, and to draw inspiration from that. However, too many people today slander the succeeding generations and the patterns of rule that emerged. There are reasons for the dispersal of power and for the rising of local sultanates, amirates and even khalifates.

When we examine one such khalifate, which properly was THE khalifate until very recently, the Ottomans, we do not find a rigidly structured and centralised power structure at all, and that is from the very nature of Islamic governance.

One of the most inspiring source materials on this subject is the famous occasion when the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, sent Mu’adh ibn Jabal, may Allah be pleased with him, to rule the Yemen. There are a number of notable ahadith on the parting of the two, since this was the last time that Mu’adh saw the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. His last advice to him was for him to make his character good and to show good treatment to people, or however it was that he said it, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, i.e. there was no detailed instructions on policy, the military, domestic and foreign policy, economics and the like. Mu’adh knew the deen, he knew the basics of collecting and distributing the zakat, etc., and he could be trusted to do that. It was based on that trust.

What is the shari’ah for? The entire purpose is to allow the remembrance and worship of Allah to happen. Allah ta’ala says, “I have not created jinn and human beings except to worship Me” (Surat adh-Dhariyat 51:56) i.e. that is the purpose of the creation of the universe. It is to allow people to turn away from all the affairs of the world to their Lord and to remember Him. Since there is no escaping some participation in business and trade and the matters of the world, there is a need for some discrimination within it, and some ahkam-rulings for it. But, the shari’ah is not the purpose of Islam; remembrance of Allah and preparation for the grave and for the accounting in the next life is the purpose of Islam.

It is a centralised system of government where the highest authority is restricted to the centre. The centre has control and authority over each part of the State. No part is allowed to be independent.

As for the administrative matters they are not centralised.

That comes back to the secret of being alive. You are both a unit in the broader sweep of humanity and yourself absolutely alone before Allah with full responsibility for everything around you. You are in that sense the centre, and yet you have to accept that there are other centres to which you are subject. As you say, there is a centre or centres of governance.

However, there is more than one type of centre. For example, the learned and knowledgeable people of Islam constitute such a zone which has its own centre. One of the tafsirs of the ayah in which Allah, ta’ala, says, “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you…” (Surat an-Nisa’ 4:59) is that “those in authority“, as well as referring to the rulers means the people of knowledge.9 Since the ruler is only there to make sure that Islam comes into effect, then that can only be done by knowledge and so knowledge is the key to rulership. Thus it is very well known that some of the people of knowledge exercised authority as if rulers, without holding any kind of office at all and without even accepting appointment as qadis. One such was Imam Malik, may Allah show him mercy, who was held in such high esteem that he was in effect as powerful as have been some rulers, without holding any official post whatsoever.

In many ways, it is the expression of what is said to which one objects. The writer has adopted a language of system and structure, whereas the best minds now recognise that nature is not a system, that organic growth, i.e. ‘life’, is not a structure and not a system. Therefore, a systems view and a structuralist view of governance is not in harmony with existence and so not appropriate for us as Muslims.

Frankly, this position reminds us more of the Stalinist ideology of the state than of the position of Islam concerning governance. They too insisted on strong centralised governance, and that was one of the pitfalls of their way, since, for example, when Stalin began to make appalling decisions there was no more sensible voice to counteract him and the whole thing became lost and descended into the vortex.

It is one of the ironies of history that today there is more complete surveillance over the citizen and more total control of his every move from birth to death than even Pharaoh could have desired or envisioned. The presence of sub-machinegun toting policemen and the military on our streets is something ordinarily associated with totalitarian states.

The fatal flaw is that when everything is centralised so totally, then when the centre is taken by a lunatic, a criminal, a charlatan or a band of criminals, then everyone must suffer the consequences. Centralisation is very prone to that. When the Bolsheviks seized the Russia of the Tsars, they only needed some three hundred dedicated and committed revolutionaries to take power over an enormous land mass and to begin a movement which was to result in almost one hundred million dead people in the Soviet Union and China in a century.

It is sometimes the very anarchic nature of the Muslims that is the guarantee of the safety and the continuance of Islam, as in the battle of Qadisiyyah against the might of the Persian Empire, when simple bedouin attacked at night without centralised command or even a valid order, poorly armed, hungry and half naked, simply because they were frustrated by three days of carnage, and thus they swept away one of the greatest armies of the ancient world, the expression of a massive centralised state, but, fatally for them, an army that could only function by means of centralised command, sophisticated logistical support and hierarchical structures.

* * *

Although the above analysis is entirely negative in that it is devoted to the refutation point by point of a most carefully worked out hypothesis on the nature of Islamic governance, it is important to have cleared the field for the very real task of restoring the deen in our time, a vital part of which is the restoration of governance as befits the ‘deen al-fitra‘, but that is the subject for another time and place.

Nothing I have written, however, should be taken as attempting to undermine existing state structures for the sake of an idealistic utopianism. The very real work of building does not have to be preceded by demolition and destruction except in the intellectual sense.

Neither is the point to posit a romantic ‘salafi’ form of governance as opposed to a pragmatic and realistic modern state. Indeed, it was not intended here to articulate a positive thesis and that work must wait for another opportunity bi idhni’llah.

With that let us conclude, asking forgiveness of Allah for anything which is not in agreement with His Generous Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.


1 Shaykh Dr. Abdalqadir as-Sufi, Return of the Khalifate, Madina Press.

2 The film “A Balkan Tale” is very instructive in this respect.

3 Ahmad Gross, Bildung and the Return of Culture.

4 The word doula does occur in the Qur’an. The best exegesis of both dawla and doula is in Sultaniyya by Shaykh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi.

5 See Maksudoglu, Mehmet 2011. Osmanli History and Institutions. Ensar Kitab, Istanbul.

6 Pure democracy might be, as the Greeks attempted at some points in their history, that the entire populace of free men assemble and decide the important issues and then appoint individuals to carry out their wishes. Representative democracy is that in which the populace appoints individuals to make the decisions.

7 This is not a hadith but it is a saying of the ‘ulama’ that encompasses sahih meanings such as that in the hadith that “Everything born is born upon the fitra.”

8 A statement such as this is based on a misunderstanding of European languages, for ‘monarchy’ simply means rule (archy) by one (mon), which is what khilafah is, but what the author means to say that many of the things associated with European monarchy such as primogeniture, i.e. the inheritance of the first-born male to the exclusion of other siblings, for example, are not acceptable, and that is clear.

9 See al-Qurtubi, Jami’ al-Ahkam, his tafsir of the Qur’an.

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  1. qudsa says

    nice work. to be put in concise format.

  2. admin says

    Any suggestions?

  3. Mahmood says

    Dear brother in Islam, I extend my love and salam to you in this blessed month. I was rather suprised and maybe a little more than that when I happened to come across your titled essay . There is a type of emerging trend especially in the wake of the Arab spring that seems to undermine or question the ideals of an Islamic state, dawla or Khilafah for a variety of reasons. You article seemed to follow this to some extent. I have to say that I agreed with some of what you said may Allah (swt) reward you but I also found problem with some of it and here’s why:

    1) Firstly and most importantly, that you seemed to undermine the idea of a centralised unitary state ie one khalifah – I find this quite suprising from someone as versed in classical texts. You also quoted the hadith mandating a single khaleef (from sahih muslim) and then moved into questioning this point. This is something I have had to point out a number of times before. Let me just say from the outset there is absolute consensus of all scholars, as an aazima (general rule) that there should be one leader, amir or khaleefah for all Muslims. There is absolutely no dispute about this. What you mentioned was a misunderstanding on a particular point and something that needs to be explained.

    I will now prove using proper references how the view of those you quote, eg Ibn Khaldun, say the opposite. Let us turn to Imam Juwayni (Haramayn) whom he (ibn Khaldun quotes).

    Its a text book error but infact Imam Juwayni who is often misquoted in this regard said the opposite in his books such as Ghiath al Umam and Irshad:

    “Our companions have agreed on the proscription on pledging allegiance to two Imams throughout the Muslim world. They also went on to say “If it was allowed to have two Imams then it would fall under the same category as allowing two guardians of a potential bride to be married off to two husbands!” As for my position: The pledge to two Imams in one continuous area that is connected…is not allowed and an Ijma has become established on this, but if the different areas are so vastly apart (in terms of the authority of the Imam i.e. Shuzu3 al Nawah) then the possibility can be considered. This issue then goes outside what is definitely established “ (Irshad)

    Note the words “This issue then goes outside what is definitely established “

    He only admits having more that one leader as a rukhsa (exception) akin to eating pork during starvation or wearing silk for males due to illness ie it is not the normal rule. It is quite obvious that these problems such as lack of communication or lack of control which may allow such a circumstance are rather absent though in 2012 in any case. Going further In the seventh section dealing with appointing two Imams in Ghiyath Imam Juwayni says:

    “It is possible that a certain people will be cut off from the authority of the Caliph (i.e. it is impossible for the orders of the Caliph to reach them) and between them and the Muslim lands is Dar Kufr. Because of this Caliph will not be able to have an authority …….With this scenario some have allowed the appointment of an authority in that area which cannot have any possible influence by the Imam . This has been attributed to our Sheikh Abu Hassan , Abu Ishaaq al Isfra’ani and others… “

    He then implicitly says that having One leader is qati as a general rule (definite):

    “but if the different areas are so vastly apart (in terms of the authority of the Imam i.e. Shuzu3 al Nawah) then the possibility can be considered. This issue then goes outside what is definitely established “(as opposed to the initial scenario)

    Again so what you mentioned is based upon whether there is a rukhsa (exception) if it is permitted to have 2 khaleefs if one doesn’t knw about the other khaleef or when communication is impossible, it is not the general rule.

    Another quote will also prove this from Ghiyath:

    “If the appointment of one Imam becomes feasible then the plan of Islam is established. If the Caliphate on its different levels (in strength) in both East and West of the lands has the ability to have an influence (i.e. its authority established) in these areas then it becomes obligatory to appoint him and in this case it is not allowed to have more then one Imam. This is a matter that is agreed upon and there is no difference of opinion on this”

    What is interesting is that actually where there is exceptional circumstances and you have two muslim leaders Imam Juwayni even says we don’t call the 2nd an imam or khaleef, he is merely a temporary leader!

    “The person appointed though is not the Imam….”

    So you have misunderstood Ibn Khalduns (who quotes Juwayni, Isfarayni etc’s view of this. He merely echoes this point above. There is only a difference on whether there is a rukhsa (exception) on this point. One camp admitted that in exceptional circumstances there was a rukhsa (namely Imam Juwayni, Ibn khaldun) and those that thought there was no rukhsa at all (most strongly Imam Nawawi who said that it was something with no basis )

    Imam Nawawi has this to say in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim on this view of Imam Juwayni

    “…and if between them there are vast expanses then possibility can be considered… and this is a corrupt position that goes against the agreement of the Salaf, the Khalaf and the apparent wording of the hadith”

    In any case as said above, the lack of communication, knowledge and control are not really problems in the 21st century. So to say that two khaleefs are allowed as some kind of general rule is the same as saying there are muslims who believe pork is allowed! Just because there is a rukhsa in a period of necessity doesn’t make it a general rule!

    Shawkani says something similar:

    “This is because of the vast expanses of the Islamic lands that have spread out. For this reason people of one area would not be able to be informed about there Imam or Sultan. They would not know who came into authority or who died among them.“

    This is also borne of the fact that even non biased phds thesis mention this. For example Section on having more than one khalifah, Concept of Khilafah According to Selected Sunni and Shia Quranic Commentaries, Adam, Fadzli bin, Leeds, 2001


    Section on giving bayah to Two Imams, Al Juwaynis Doctrine of the Imamate, Mohammed Zaid bin, University of Edinburgh, 1995

    It is about time that people drop this issue and submit to the point that this is an established point of sacred law (shariah) and work for the ideal rather than question it. Also, there is simply no space in any reading of shariah law to believe in the consequences of the nation state as it differentiates upon muslims and their rights dependent on citizenship. This is absolutely not allowed (qatan) definitely. One cannot condition assistance, rights of protection, right for food, clothing and shelter etc based on whether a muslim happens to hold a pakistani passport or an egyptian passport. Muslims deserve the rights equally and fundamentally.

    2) Why also mix history with what is fiqh or shariah? You seem talk a lot about Banu Umayya, Ottomans this is not relevant such as hereditary rule which has no basis in our shariah. Shariah and history are different things. As an example muslims historically tortured their Muslim citizens and that they discriminated against non arab Muslims…are you to say then that such things as torture and discrimination is acceptable even though it is forbidden in our law and haram. I simple don’t understand the logic here. Election or bayah is done by choice of the people or their representatives (ahle hall wal aqd) it is not the remit of a family who have used their power to take power.

    You are also inaccurate in certain historical facts. There has always been one main khilafah. There is simply no doubt on this point. It was banu ummayah, then the banu abbasiya and then the uthmani dawla after that. What you mention not relevant and here’s why. The Fatimid state, even using the title khalifah, was a state of kufr. No islamic scholar worth any salt is recorded as giving bayah to them or recognising them. They are a state that punished praying zuhr and reading Bukhari…hardly dar al islam. As for Spain, it only declared khilafah late on by Abdur Rahman III, noticeably very late on, when the conditions of the rukhsa allowing two khalifs was allowed (this is mentioned above). This is similar to the Almohads (which incidentally was opposed by Qadi Iyad due to this fact!). In any case if there was any question of doubt then this is proven wrong by who deserved the bayah the muslims in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Nigeria for example always knew who the bayah went to and the historical reports for this are numerous and even mosques built in these areas. So I find that your the reading not correct representation of the historical reality.

    3) You pour doubt on the penal code and relevance in the state in implementation of law – you mentioned through examples such as qisas and qadi as if the state has little to do with it and is quoting exceptional areas of the law to pour doubt on the rest. This is not withstanding the obvious fact that there needs to be an executioner who is valid and appointed to stone or lash the adulterer is this not so? There need to be a collector of zakat? Who is the one who implements the qadis judgements with validity and force? Is it meant to be carried out in some type of communal agreement? This absolutely falls against the practice mentioned in the fiqh of the books of the four schools of thought as well as the practice in ummayad, abbasid and ottoman states.

    Imaam al-Ghazali (rh.a.) even mentioned how the judiciarys validity of dependent on a valid state as well as the states activities when writing of the potential consequences of losing the Khilafah said, “The judges will be suspeneded, the Wilayaat (provinces) will be nullified, … the decrees of those in authority will not be executed and all the people will be on the verge of Haraam”. (al Iqtisaad fil Itiqaad page 240.)

    Abu Hafs Umar al-Nasafi (rh.a.) also defined a very active state that is not minimalist in nature:

    “The Muslims simply must have an Imam (Khaleefah), who will execute the rules, establish the Hudud (penal system), defend the frontiers, equip the armies, collect Zakah, punish those who rebel (against the state) and those who spy and highwaymen, establish Jum’ah and the two ‘Eids, settle the dispute among the servants (of Allah), accept the testimony of witnesses in matters of legal rights, give in marriage the young and the poor who have no family, and distribute the booty”.

    I simply can’t see how you can link a classical notion of the powers of a state with a stalinist regime or tainted with post modern ideals. These above quotes mention their remit and power and their importance. It does not seem to resemble in any way some kind of decoration that simply fades into the background of this ummah. It is a hugely important role quite contrary to your communal view of how things should run.

    4) That you seem to point out lingusitic usage as a problem. I simply don’t understand with this modern preoccupation with the word “Islamic state” what is so important about shooting down this word? Whether we like or not the fact is the appointing of a leader and his obedience and execution of laws is something agreed on by all schools of thought. Such a leader has REAL power not nominal power. This is even mentioned as qati (definite) by Imam Shahrastani and Iiji etc so I am not sure why you seem to wish to pour doubt over it?

    Imam al-Qurturbi (rh.a.) also said, “The Khilafah is the pillar upon which other pillars rest”.

    Imaam al-Ghazali (rh.a.) when writing of the potential consequences of losing the Khilafah said, “The judges will be suspeneded, the Wilayaat (provinces) will be nullified, … the decrees of those in authority will not be executed and all the people will be on the verge of Haraam”. (al Iqtisaad fil Itiqaad page 240.)

    “It is obligatory to know that the office in charge of commanding over the people (ie: the Khilafah post) is one of the greatest obligations of the Deen. In fact, their is no establishment of the Deen except by it….this is the opinion of the salaf, such as al-Fadl ibn ‘Iyaad, Ahmed ibn Hanbal and others”. (Siyaasah Shariyyah – chapter: ‘The obligation of adherence to the leadership’.)

    Abu Hafs Umar al-Nasafi (rh.a.) a noted scholar of the 6th century Hijri states; “The Muslims simply must have an Imam (Khaleefah), who will execute the rules, establish the Hudud (penal system), defend the frontiers, equip the armies, collect Zakah, punish those who rebel (against the state) and those who spy and highwaymen, establish Jum’ah and the two ‘Eids, settle the dispute among the servants (of Allah), accept the testimony of witnesses in matters of legal rights, give in marriage the young and the poor who have no family, and distribute the booty”.

    What then is your view on all these texts? Do these represent a minimalistic or communal view of leadership and a state or a state that is very active and present.

    Your views are wildly at odds against the trends in the muslim world. I have deep respect for your work but think your words would be better used in support to a trend moving towards a central caliphate which is becoming more and more discussed and recognised as relevant. After all surely an islamic central caliphate is better than living under leaders such as King Abdullah, King Hussain and President Karmiov… surely?

  4. admin says

    as-salamu alaikum,

    Thank you for your post.

    Perhaps some elucidation of my position can be found in the first of these two papers ( which is an overview of the History of the Khalifas, a course being delivered at the Muslim Faculty of Advanced Studies (


  5. mahmood says


    I hope you are well my brother. I just wanted to say that with all respect also I couldn’t find myself to agree about the ideas of zones and the Sokoto caliphate. I am not an expert but all the evidence seems show the idea of ONE main khalifah historically to be case. Please also note this is froma historical persepctive, in terms of shariah also I have shown previous as a matter of shariah havn more than one khalifah is invalid and there ijma that all scholars maintained there was only to be one khalifah except in matters of necessity such as eating pork is halal when starving (which is obviously not the normal case today). Let me turn to the historical debate now, terms of histoy let me explain further in sections.


    First of all I think its wrong to characterise the Ottoman Khilafah and African states such as the Sokoto caliphate as seperate. There was simply one main Khalifah as the shariah rule dictates and the ummah accepted him, nothwistanding emirates that had their own administration. In fact many studies indicate there was connection and even acceptance as the Ottoman state as the legally valid state. This is shown in various studies such as Legitimacy Structures in the Ottoman State: The Reign of Abdulhamid II (1876-1909) by Selim Deringil. For example he states how the envoy, Ba’ala, for the Ottoman khilafah was sent to connect to these states and for the khalifah in Istanbul to be recongised as legitimate (even if jus nominally):

    “Ba’ala also recommended that each ruler be awarded an Ottoman flag, robes of
    honor, an imperial ferman, and a specially decorated copy of the Qur’an. In return,
    the rulers would have the hutba read in the sultan’s name during Friday prayer. All
    these gifts were manifestations of the Ottomans’ expression of sovereignty” (Legitimacy Structures)

    In fact Ba’ala concluded to the Ottoman Khalif this after visiting the African states:

    “As can be seen fromt he above,the populationo f most of the Sudani s Muslim and has a religious
    attachmenat nd love for our Master,A llah’s Shadow on Earth.Thus it is necessary
    for these lands to be incorporated in to the imperial dominion” (Legitimacy Structures)

    These quotes are quite clear about the recognition of the Ottoman khalif in these regions (outside what you considered to be zone) as the khalif.


    Even specifically in Nigeria this what the Ottoman envoy concluded too. As well as this African tribes even showed that there was understanding of how the khalifahs recognition had legal implications for protection (aman) for foreigners:

    “Ba’ala ranged as far afield as Sokoto (modern-day northern Nigeria), which he described as “a very vast land harbouring millions of Muslims of the Maliki sect.” Everywhere he went, Ba’ala said he met with Muslims who had great reverence for the caliph. In fact one tribe of “Tuvareks” (Touareg) recounted how they had killed a group of French officials who had failed to produce a ferman from Istanbul allowing them
    to travel in what the tribe considered to be the sultan’s dominions.” (Legitimacy Structures)

    Hence although it is correct the institution of the khilafah reduced in its real significance it had more than just a nominal sense and had real legal implications.


    Although also proving that Indonesia and India were linked in recognisiton of the Ottoman Khalif (again suposedly outside the zones) I will quote was Selim mentioned this in his study:

    “Ottoman consuls in India closely monitored the local Muslim press and often published
    officially inspired articles ensuring the visibility of the caliph.58” (Legitimacy Structures)


    What is very intresting is how far true ulema, in this case Maliki went so far to put their life on the line to maintain the view of having one khaleefah only for the ummah. A good example is Qadi Iyad, which is discussed in the paper: Q??? ?Iy??’s Rebellion against the Almohads in Sabtah (A. H. 542-543/A. D. 1147-1148) New Numismatic Evidence by Hanna E. Kassis.

    In this Hanna nicely sums up the North African Maliki view:

    “It is clear that the loyalty of the Malikis of North Africa and Spain, as well as that of their Almoravid agents, was not pledged to an existing authority by virtue of its power, but rather to the concept of the sunni caliphate in spite of the weakness of the caliphs themselves, and, at times in the past, their hostility to the Malikis. One Caliph, one imam, one amir al-mu’minin, for there is one community of Islam with only one true doctrine (sunni and Maliki). All other claimants to any of these titles (whether they be the Fatimid caliphs in Cairo, the taifa kings and princes of Spain and North Africa, or ‘Abd al-Mu’min the Almohad) were enemies of God and Islam.”

    Note the words: One Caliph, one imam, one amir al-mu’minTn, for there is one community of Islam

    The Maliki ulema of the area understood understanding of unity and bayah to Baghdad that they even minted the coins with the Almoravids name (linked to the Abbasid Caliph) in defiance to the Almohads whom wished to seperate and declare their own khilafah:

    “Asserting his defiance against the rising power of the Almohads in Ifriqiyah, Mudafi’ Ibn Rushayd Ibn Mudafi’, the grandson of Rushayd Ibn Kamil Ibn Jami’, issued a dinar in Qabis (Ifriqiyah) which in all respects is Almoravid in style. Among other features, it is inscribed with the same verse.26”

    Qadi Iyad is an intresting case since he tried to compromise with the Almohads while still maintaining one khaleefah. His attempt failed and he ran for his life as the Almohads tried to kill him. Such was his understanding of the great rule of having only one khaleefah. Even evidence that is still coming to light in showing more on this:

    “a newly discovered dinar, struck in Sabtah in A.H. 542, and another (now lost) struck in A.H. 543-shed new light on this event. lyad attempted to acknowledge the political supremacy of the Almohads without compromising his orthodoxy. When his attempt failed, he rebelled and lost.”

    So it can be demonstrated also historically that there there was acceptance of one main khalifah by the classical ulema and that it can be misleading to look at differences in dynastic names etc to say there was seperate khalifs. This is also in addition to the shariah point where there is no disagreement that there must be one unless in physically dire situations that are not normal that prevent knowledge and communication which generally don’t exist in 21st century. Let us at least dream and yearn for this one state as well as work for it.

    Legitimacy Structures in the Ottoman State: The Reign of Abdulhamid II (1876-1909)
    Author(s): Selim DeringilReviewed work(s):Source: International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Aug., 1991)

    Q??? ?Iy??’s Rebellion against the Almohads in Sabtah (A. H. 542-543/A. D. 1147-1148) New
    Numismatic EvidenceAuthor(s): Hanna E. KassisReviewed work(s):Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 103, No. 3 (Jul. – Sep., 1983)

  6. Ahmed. says

    Assalam Alaikkum br. Mahmood,

    There is one sheikh who can properly deconstruct your ‘vision’ – Khalid ebou el fadl. I don’t know if he got the time and energy to do that. You’ll have to understand that your dream is based on what you know and see. There are people in the world who can see and know deeper and from various angles. Thus, their dream differ from yours. The tendency towards an authoritarian rule already reflected in your tone. The real life of peoples and societies around the world are much more complex than you can imagine to put under ‘one man’ rule. Is there any evidence anywhere in the Qur’an that makes it compulsory or fardh to establish a Khalifah ? There are clear cut verses that speaks about the punishment of missing the Salah. But there is nothing about the punishment on not establishing a Caliphate. Or Is there any?

    Better, you get out of the box and jump into deeper learning. I am telling you this because, when you indulge on a particular subject from a certain angle for a very long time and remain with a particular group sharing the same ‘vision’, you delve deeply into their vision, you see the world with the same lenses. When you broaden your areas of studies and deepen your understanding of the world and peoples, only then you’ll start seeing the world differently. Before that get out of that ‘group’. Thank you.

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