The Prophet Muhammad and Legitimization of the Modern Islamic State
The Prophet Muhammad and Legitimization of the Modern Islamic State
[Written on Behalf of a Paying Foreign-Student Client]
Selection of the Prophet Muhammad as the focal point around which this analysis of Islamic Statehood will revolve is not entirely surprising. Of all the earthly figures of Islam, our Beloved Prophet was, and remains today, the most influential, prominent and universally respected in the Moslem world.
By referring to the revelations of Allah to Muhammad in The Noble Qur'an and to Muhammad’s own writings in The Sunna, and by analyzing the true intent of the Prophet in establishing certain laws by which to live, the basis for creation of the Islamic State can be clarified.
Muhammad, son of Aminah and Abd-Allah, of the clan of Hashim and the tribe of Quraysh, bore the sacred message of Allah whose Qur'anic verses, channeled by the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad from 610 to 632 of the Christian Era, fueled the doctrine of monotheism throughout the Arabian Peninsula. The Day of Hudaybiyah finally marked, in 628 C.E., the reunification of Muhammad’s tribe that had previously been fragmented in its support of His divine message. Two years later, the true end of pagan Mecca had occurred and the Islamic Faith gained solid de facto status. By initially disseminating the new non-Christian, non-Judaic Islamic doctrine of monotheism Muhammad and His followers, over the intervening centuries, shaped the destiny of several dozen nations ranging from Morocco in the West to Indonesia in the East. (Martin, 1985, passim).
In noting the divine nature of the Revelations made by Allah to Muhammad, it would be unwise to state that only theological and religious thinking emerged from the complex and intricate pen of the Prophet. In addition to the Qur'an, which is the precise and authentic Word of God, Muhammad individually composed the Sunna which further elaborates in a personal sense on the teachings of the Qur'an. Beyond this, Islam also recognizes the concept of Ijtihad, representing a further expansion of both the Qur'an and the Sunna. This ‘expansion’, incorporating the teachings of earlier sacred writings, contains the basis of Islamic Law, as interpreted even today by Mujtahids, or legal experts, in many Islamic countries (Tibi, 1988, 107-108).
This line of reasoning justifies the assertion, to the satisfaction of many, that the entire systemic approach of Ancient and Modern Islam represents an amalgam, or mixture, of theology, sociology and political organization. Those to whom Islam appeals offer this recognition as proof that Islam serves as the basis for legitimizing "the state" or a "directed authority" (Jawed, 1999, 61).
Indeed, there came a point, almost a millennium after Muhammed, when the "ulama" scholars were granted the authority of judges, at least under Sunni Islam. Under Shi’a Islam, on the contrary, civil authority was generally vested in secular officials, before the return of the 12th Imam, a messiah-figure not shared under Sunni doctrine, who still has not returned according to Shi’a beliefs (Tibi, 1988, 108).
The prophet Muhammad was clearly not merely the founder of a major world religion, with all of its spiritual doctrines and dogmas, but He was also an astute organizer of men, and an accomplished strategic planner. At critical points in his personal life, he made decisions that revealed deep insight into the behavioral characteristics of both leaders and followers in the societies of his time. This wisdom was communicated by him in the Sunna to his faithful and reinterpreted centuries later by ulama scholars and Islamic intellectuals for use in governing entire societies. Justification of the Islamic State does not flow necessarily from the interpretive material added ‘after the fact’, but rather from the writings themselves. It is important therefore to examine several of the teachings inherent in Islamic thought, as revealed by Muhammad in his time, that serve to provide for a governing authority to assume control of the state in the name of Islam and the welfare of the country’s nationals.
It is believed by Moslems, on the basis of Qur'anic teachings, with specific reference to the following citations: 2:128-140, 3:78-85 and 17:42-44, among others, that submission to the Will of God and obedience to His Law are fundamental precepts of the Islamic Faith. As outgrowths of this ideological position, Moslems prefer to maintain harmony and peace, both in their spiritual lives and in society, through implementation of a series of basic principles, in addition to those cited, contained in the Revelations of Allah and in the personal writings of the Prophet. The physical world must remain obedient to the Word of God that transcends all other levels of authority. No deviation from the Right Path, as it is known, is generally tolerated in conservative Islamic societies, nor was such departure from these strict norms accepted in previous centuries (Abdalati, 1994, 9). The interlocking spiritual-temporal connection between Qur'anic Teachings in early times, as in contemporary times, was ensured by Muhammad through his appointment of trustworthy followers, such as the most highly esteemed Mawlana Ali, to implement His teachings (Williams, 1994, 207). The descendents of Ali are revered today as holding special authority in the eyes of both Sunni and Shi’a Moslems, although to varying degrees. For the Shi’a, the line of Ali is considered the legitimate channel of Islamic authority and the 12th Imam, a descendent of Ali, is considered, as mentioned above, to be their anticipated messiah upon his return.
In all Islamic societies, whether under the Pakistan of the late President Zia who used Shi’a beliefs to his own advantage, or in more moderate nations such as Saudi Arabia, authority figures of the Islamic structure, authorized by the Prophet Muhammad 14 centuries ago, serve as interpreters of God’s Will.
At this point in our analysis, it is important to note a significant distinction between Christianity and Islam. The former places an inordinate emphasis on Theology, while the latter is focused on Law. Islamic scholars feel that Law flows from God’s Authority, and this recognition is still prevalent throughout all Semitic lands. The early Christian period had a codified system of Laws bequeathed by the Roman Empire, whereas Islam, born in a judicial vacuum, needed a system of societal governance in its early stages of development. The cross-over, therefore, of Islamic principles into binding Laws was a process and a reality that far surpassed the impact that the Laws of Moses may have had on Judaic society. And certainly today, the erosion of Judeo-Christian values is a phenomenon well perceived by the world’s Western civilizations. This is not occurring in most Islamic nations where on-going respect for the Prophet’s Teachings is still deeply engrained in even the younger generations of faithful.
In John William’s The Word of Islam (1994, 66-68), there appears an excellent analysis of the underpinnings of Islamic emphasis on the Shari’a (Code of Laws) and on the teachings of the Hadith, the second most Holy Book of Islam, wherein the actions and teachings of Muhammad are set forth. Here, Williams places into perspective the historical factors that led to the development of a linkage between religious law and the Islamic system of state governance.
Under discussion today, more so than in the past, is the extent of Islamic Teaching that should be incorporated into the laws of the state. The Prophet Muhammad certainly felt that Islamic society should be governed in its entirety by the principles of the Law revealed to Him by Allah, if not always the exact letter of the Law. This concept, not widely appreciated in some of the Western interpretive literature, is related to the possibility that a Moslem may seek union with the Faith, even in the temporal sense, through reason and/or through spirituality (Abdalati, 1994, 20). The reasoning process, whether it leads to deeper faith or to development and acceptance of societal laws based on fundamental principles in the Qur'an or in the Hadith, is, in part, what has led to a discussion of the degree to which Islamic Law should govern many modern states. This also explains variations in the strictness with which such Laws are enforced.
Moslems have always been required to adhere to the laws of the Prophet, and of his legitimately appointed successors, the "rightly guided Caliphs" or, for the Shi’a, the Imams (Kimmens, 1991, 104). This allegiance to the direct line of authority, traceable back to Muhammad Himself, has given modern Moslems a distinctive feeling of power and authority, in the sense that they "know" meta-cognitively that they are acting correctly. The same can be said of many other spiritually guided groups, of course, and there is no negativity necessarily associated with this feeling of divinely connected authorization to act. This community-based sense of authority gained via the teachings of Muhammad was considered innovative, and is still an operative force today, in the sense that all who believed in Allah were, and are, required to remain subjugated to His Will and to the Messenger Muhammad’s laws. Indeed, the Prophet was the charismatic model for an entirely new civilization based on opposition to pre-existing and now outlawed polytheistic principles, and His teachings bound the community of believers together as a unified society, later enlarged and declared a nation-state. This religion is, hence, inherently a communally-centered unifying force that transcends the Western concept of a largely abstract theological body of thought. This realization, in itself, serves as a legitimizing factor in the establishment of an Islamic state.
It is indisputably clear from spectacular feature films like the British mega-production starring Anthony Quinn, "The Message", portraying the history of Islam from its origins in Muhammad’s time, and, of course, from far more scholarly texts and historical records, that Muhammad authorized vigorous defense of the Faith whenever threatened. He also envisaged a tightly knit administrative and logistically sophisticated community that could, in brotherly harmony, survive and prosper. The basis of the modern Islamic State was laid in these societal configurations modeled centuries earlier, as well as over extended periods of time in intervening eras. Occasionally, there was proper justification provided for reorganization of government in compliance with Qur’anic Law and, at other times, high-handed and unjustifiable actions were perpetrated, while paying mere lip-service to Islamic Principles.
In the interest of fairness, a brief survey of several of the extremist Islamic states that have arisen in the 20th century, with implications for the 21st century, would seem warranted. Reference to some of the more acceptably moderate Islamic states will also be made in the remaining pages of this analysis in order to ensure objectivity in portrayal of what emerges, in this student’s opinion, as an intrinsically workable and viable governmental system.
Without referral to academic material it would be fairly easy to cite instances of Islamic ‘radicalism’ within the apparatus of state as viewed from a Western perspective, and as seen even from within the nations directly affected by it. In Pakistan, for example, there have been excessive prison sentences and even deaths related to arguably improper application of Islamic Law within governmental circles. In Libya there have also been some spectacular events such as the justification, in the name of religion, of territorial expansion deep into Chad by Colonel Kaddafi, or the shielding of those allegedly responsible for the Pan Am / Lockerbie crash. In Egypt, there have been attacks on the Coptic Church, ostensibly in the name of Islam. One must not forget the excesses of the Shi’a ayatollahs in Iran who often, for various reasons, misquoted, misinterpreted, or distorted the original intent of the Prophet Muhammad. There have also been incidents in Turkey and in Iraq at various points in relatively modern history that could also be construed as injurious or detrimental to the image and intent of Islam as intended by the Prophet. The Palestinian struggle for statehood is also fraught with some perilously extremist actions and viewpoints. These, in the eyes of the Prophet, might well be justified since the overall goal of establishing a nation for displaced Palestinians seems paramount.
Under these circumstances, would Muhammad have approved of actions appearing excessive or radical by today’s standards? Perhaps Qur’anic justification or approval in the Sunna or Hadith might be found upon examination in some instances. It is important to remember, however, that Islam has always proven to be a Faith predicated on what the French call "intégrisme", that is to say a conscious attempt or movement toward re-establishment of obedience to the full spectrum of Islamic (or Christian) teachings (Kimmens, 1991, 77). If this is the case, counter-forces within Islam will pull extremist belief-systems, false premises or unjustifiable values, or lack thereof, back into line to a ‘certain degree’. Thus, even in Libya or Syria where forces are often out of balance, there are other moderating elements constantly exerting pressure to restore equilibrium to the Islamic government equation.
Bringing the Prophet back into the discussion, however, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that He strenuously urged moderation whenever possible, and felt that extreme measures should be used only as a last resort or in the face of dire threat. Islam, from the standpoint of most believers, is a faith of love and compassion, not one of constant confrontation and wrath. Protection of the Holy Places, acquisition of territory deemed essential for historical reasons to the Faith, and defense of one’s right to believe freely are all worthy causes justifying confrontational behavior if threats or obstructions are discernable. It would prove to be the duty of the Islamic State to defend these concepts and rights.
In the 1960s, under the Pahlevi Dynasty, considered quite moderate by today’s Islamic revolutionary standards in Iran, there was some ambivalence among Moslem intellectuals as to the role of the State in religious affairs and matters, even if separation of ‘church and state’ seemed a reality:
"Yet my impression was that Islam as a force in public life was not much in evidence, and that the separation of state and religion was a fact. The people at large are observant and fervent believers. The intellectuals are, like elsewhere, divided." -- Erwin Rosenthal (quoted in Tibi, 1988, 109).
Of course, bubbling under the surface in those days, and fed by cassette recordings from his place of exile in Paris, was Khomeiny’s growing surge toward power, which ultimately resulted in the events of which we are all aware. The Ayatollah drew justification from Qur’anic Scripture and from historical precedent for establishing a fundamentalist Islamic Revolutionary State. Actually, there was much less of a leap in the direction of religious control of government than one might have initially thought looking on from the West. Student radicals, Shi’a elements and vast segments of the population were ripe, following the Peacock Throne of the Shah, for establishment of what they considered the only reasonable system of rule and law. They drew on the very precedents that we have examined thus far in this study of the legitimization of the Islamic State through reference to, and use of, the Revelations and Writings of Muhammad.
To the Western observer, the foregoing examples may seem to appear somewhat radical and it is important to speak briefly of at least one example of a well-run Islamic State that has avoided notorious excesses during the 20th century. It is a state predicated solidly on the teachings of the Prophet, even as it emerges from historical British dominance, and one that has avoided the despotism of Iraq, Iran, Libya or Pakistan.
The Sultanate of Oman is in a period of transition between the rule of British Law and of Islamic Law. British-educated SultanQaboos bin Sa`id Al Sa`id has been in power since 1970, and is considered fair by his people in his implementation of Anglo-flavored Islamic Law. The Sultan frequently consults Islamic scholars when ruling on important matters and this country, with a limited population base, is respected in the community of Arab nations. Leadership succession has been ‘worked out’ in order to avoid a recurrence of earlier problems. Progress seems to be marching forward and, while not an Islamic State in the formal sense of the term, there is a movement within the country to encourage investigation of that possibility.
There are, of course, a number of other Islamic States, or nearly so, in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that could be analyzed in terms of their adherence to the principles of the Prophet. Yet, each is at a different stage of development and would require extensive analysis. It should be stated, nonetheless, that the intentions of most of the world’s Moslem leaders are not bellicose or destabilizing. Islam teaches reason and moderation and these values are being honored whenever possible, sometimes in the face of truly trying circumstances.
The initial intent of the Prophet Muhammad who foresaw Islamic states loosely structured and then more firmly administered, is being gradually fulfilled. In keeping with the Sacred Writings, notably in verses 2:27-39 of the Qur'an, where ‘meaningful purposes’ in life are mentioned and a world view encompassing the eventuality of legitimate Islamic states, is defined, Islam seems to be moving forward credibly and honorably in desired directions. The thoughts set forth in this analytical summation lend credence to the notion of creating viable and legitimate states founded on the principles of Islam as espoused by the Prophet Muhammed nearly 1400 years ago. The tendency toward ‘intégrisme’ in Islam will help guarantee, in the medium and long run, that rogue regimes and problematic extremism will be kept under control by internal opposing forces ultimately ensuring compliance with the just principles of the Noble Qur'an revealed to Muhammad for all of mankind.
Abdalati, H. Islam in Focus, Islamic Teaching Center, Riyadh, KSA, 1994.
Husain, A. and Ghani, A., Description of the Prophet Mohammed, Moslem Student Association, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1999.http://cwis.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/prophet/prophetdescription.html
Jawed, N. Islam’s Political Culture: Religion and Politics in Predivided Pakistan, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1999.
Kimmens, A. Islamic Politics: The Reference Shelf, Vol. 62, No. 5, H.W. Wilson Company, New York, N.Y., 1991.
Martin, R. Approaches to Islam in Religious Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, 1985.
Noble Qur'an, [Translation], Moslem Student Association, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, 1999. http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/
Tibi, B. The Crisis of Modern Islam: A Preindustrial Culture in the Scientific-Technological Age, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1988.
Williams, J. The Word of Islam, University of Austin Press, Austin, 1994.