Dr Ajaz Ahmad Khan
This essay is an analysis of the modern Islamic political thought of Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri on the concept of Islamic khilafat (rule/government). The need for an Islamic state in the contemporary era emerged after the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Arab nationalism, which set off a galvanising reaction across the Muslim world and especially in the Indian subcontinent. European colonialism has shaped the thoughts and aims of both Islamic modernism and fundamentalism, for both were driven by a similar experience of Europe’s technical and military prevalence. Dr Qadri is participating in an intellectual debate not just with Muslims of Pakistan and Muslim youth in the West, but also with Western academia. In doing so he has challenged their perspectives on the out-datedness of the concept of khilafat in contemporary society. This paper will try to relate Dr Qadri’s political thought on the Islamic state with a historical perspective on the khilafat and evaluate how the socio-political context, which he was exposed to in Pakistan, influenced his political thought, and how much Western political thought has influenced his view on the future role of the Islamic state.
The example of Pakistan
Before proceeding to explore Dr Qadri’s views on the Islamic state, it is worth knowing something about his political career (essentially based in Pakistan), for this, somewhat, would have influenced his considerations. Dr Qadri’s political career started in 1989 when he founded the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), his own political party, and was elected as a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan from Lahore. After numerous long stretches of functioning as an opposition leader in the National Assembly, Dr Qadri decided to give his resignation from the Assembly in 2004.
This resignation was given as a far-reaching critique of the Pakistani political system. He declared while announcing his resignation that, “In my understanding, this Assembly is no longer an Assembly. The role which the Pakistani constitution has given to the Assembly isn’t performed by it.” The essential function of an Assembly is to discuss domestic and international issues and make decisions in accordance with the necessities of a country. Such functions, as indicated by Dr Qadri, are not being accomplished by the Pakistani parliament. He has elsewhere pointed out that there has been no noteworthy discussion on significant geopolitical and regional issues, for example, eliminating terrorism or Pakistan’s international relations. What has been discussed is the straightforward and good-for-nothing drafting of legislation, which will unavoidably be passed and will take care of little issues of no effect.
One of the important root causes, as confirmed by Dr Qadri in his interviews, of such circumstances that have hindered a modern Islamic state like Pakistan is the failure to comprehend the very nature of Islam as a din, as opposed to a religion in the Western sense of the term. On being asked about his objectives in forming the Minhaj-ul-Qural International movement in 1980, Dr Qadri said in an interview that the vital reason was a need to address and correct the misconception of Islam as a religion, in the Western sense of the term.
The Separation of Religious and Secular Knowledge
Din is a concept alien to Western political policy because of the practically uniform separation of state and church. Numerous Islamic organisations, in Dr Qadri’s view, wrongly limit their aim to only the religious aspects of life. There is subsequently no emphasis on secular education or development. This has messed up the understanding of what Islamic knowledge consists of and what the fundamental role of the Islamic state ought to be. The persons who have extensive knowledge on Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) and other religious aspects of life are uninformed of modern subjects, for example, political science, economics, etc. They are, in this way, inadequate for giving direction and leadership in resolving political or socio-economic dilemmas. This assessment can likewise be applied to persons who do possess secular knowledge but are uninformed of the Islamic position on such issues. They don’t have the foggiest idea of how to see current issues from a religious perspective; their knowledge is situated in non-Islamic, Western teaching.
Dr Qadri accepts that deeni taleem and mazhabi taleem are two different concepts. Mazhabi taleem basically focuses on training which concerns the study of classical Islamic texts, Hadith and Quranic studies, Islamic theology, fiqh (jurisprudence), etc., without placing much emphasis on the implications of such studies upon the secular aspects of life. Deeni taleem, on the other hand, is a widely inclusive totality which incorporates both mazhabi taleem (religious education) and dunyavi taleem (secular education). It actualises Sharia into one’s practical life by integrating lessons from classical Islamic texts and making them relevant in current social, economic and political circumstances. Along these lines, Dr Qadri contends that Islam is unlike Christianity and Judaism; it is not a mazhab but a din. The message which Dr Qadri is attempting to pass on is plain: a true Islamic state can’t be framed with a misconception of the fundamental idea of the Islamic system. Islam should initially be comprehended for what it truly is – a din as opposed to a religion.
Basic features of Khilafat
On the question of how the Islamic state would function in modern society, Dr Qadri underscores that Islam as a system is relevant to all times. He clarifies that there are two viewpoints to Islam: first, the basic structure and fundamental principles of Islam, which are constant and unchanging. In this he makes reference to the Quran and Sunnah, which are an abadi hidaayat (eternal guidance). The second, he asserts, is man-made law which, with the graduation of time, becomes out-dated because of man’s failure to see and imagine the progressions which society shall face. Dr Qadri thinks that Islamic knowledge has been able to fulfil man’s needs up to now because of ijtihad, the versatile component in Islamic law. Legislation through ijtihad allows new interpretations. Dr Qadri describes ijtihad as a tool which takes into account the “reconstructive spirit” present inside Sharia.
This concept of din and its relevance to modernity is vital for understanding Dr Qadri’s definition of khilafat. Dr Qadri clarifies that “the political authority of the Muslim Ummah (community), whatever the shape or form, has been given the nomenclature of khilafat.” Khilafat signifies Islamic rule or government. When taken in its most literal sense, the term may be defined as niyaabah (trusteeship) and amaanah (vicegerency). This type of vicegerency isn’t confined to the political sense, as is apparent in the shifting references made to the term khilafat within the Holy Quran. In Surah al-Hadid (Quran 57:7), the economic sense of the term is used: “Believe in Allah and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him) and spend (in His cause) out of that (wealth) in which He has made you His vicegerents (and trustees).” This, as indicated by Dr Qadri, is “istikhlaaf fil-maal” (economic vicegerency); being a trustee or khalifa of God’s wealth or maal (to spend it in the right way and use it for good deeds). In Sura al-Nur (Quran 24:55) references to the political sense of leadership is made, which Dr Qadri describes as “istikhlaaf fil-Siyasah” (political vicegerency): “He will surely bestow upon them Khilafat (the trust of right to rule) as He granted (the right to) rule to those who were before them.” Khilafat comparable to government (political vicegerency) would consequently demonstrate the rule of man on earth as God’s vicegerent. The differing economic and political usages of the term khilafat confirm that it is pertinent to all aspects of life.
Dr Qadri concurs that there have been numerous changes in the idea of political rule (monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic) and this has brought about numerous political developments (federation, unitary governments, presidential system, parliamentary system, etc.). Considering this, any state can be an Islamic state, depending on the prerequisite that the strategy made by the state and the standards whereupon it is governed are decidedly as per Sharia law. In quest for this, all state policies must be made under the shade of Islamic supremacy and must be subservient to Sharia. Dr Qadri clarifies that “the different types of government are simply different components and appropriateness.” These are ijtihaadi, that is, matters with no particular law or ruling on them, which may change with situation.
Dr Qadri characterises khilafat as a system with an open structure, and alludes to this system of Islamic rule as “khilafat-e-Illahi,” for which the English proportionate is theocracy. Nonetheless, there is a major distinction between Islamic theocracy and Western theocracy. The type of theocracy which is known to Islam is fundamentally different from the theocracy of medieval Europe, wherein a religious priestly class practised unchecked authority in God’s name. Islamic theocracy isn’t governed by a specific gathering of religious elites; the contribution of the whole Islamic community is required for it to work. The Islamic state system can, along these lines, be named a ‘Theo-democracy’ because of the element of divine legislation, while attributing to the Islamic state a limited popular sovereignty. The Islamic government is a democracy in the sense that all issues where there is no direct ruling of divine law can be settled through ijtihad. Be that as it may, on those issues for which there is a particular law, it must be complied with. This aspect comprises its theocratic nature as no rule or law either in the Quran or Sunnah can be revoked or overruled by man-made law.
While this might be viewed as an encroachment upon one’s liberty and freedom, one may contend that God has taken the right to legislate law not to confine man’s freedom but to protect and safeguard it. Thus God has imposed a limit in specific cases. The commonality between Islamic jamuriyya (democracy) and non-Islamic jamuriyya is that the majority opinion is regarded in both cases. The difference is that in Islamic jamuriyya the majority opinion can’t amend, appeal, or revoke Sharia law.
Democracy in the Khilafat
The intentional uncertainty in the structural nature of Islamic government is additionally reflected in the example of the prophet, Muhammad (SAW), who decided to leave the appointment of the next khalifa (leader of Islamic community) open to the ummah instead of nominating the next leader himself. This, as per Dr Qadri, was with the goal that the space open for political authority would not be lost and the door open to ijtihad would not be shut. This also shows that the specific format of leadership was not all that significant for Prophet Muhammad (SAW); he left this open to the ummah, and subsequently announced this to be an “ijtihaadi matter.”
Dr Qadri considers this to be obvious in the different methods for election or appointment experienced during the period of rule of the Khulfa-e-rashideen (four rightly-guided khalifas). In a comparable way to the medieval Islamic scholar-theologian Ibn Khaldun, Dr Qadri credits democratic importance to the medieval methods of election and nomination, by presenting the concept of baya as a form of vote. Ibn Khaldun in his Muqaddimah explained the concept of baya (an oath of allegiance to the ruler) as a means to formalise one’s contract with one’s ruler: “they put their hands into his hand to confirm the contract.” Along these lines, taking the example of the election of Uthman ibn Affan (the third khalifa), Dr Qadri portrays how there was a difference of opinion on who ought to be the next khalifa and many had straightforwardly moved toward Ali ibn Abi Talib to do baya on his hands, yet he did not accept, saying that this matter was for the shura (Parliament) to decide.
Two points are to be noted here: First, baya is giving your opinion, casting your vote. At the time there was no procedure such as ballot papers or ballot boxes, so the people would express their opinion and assent as baya. It was a typical method of declaring aim, will, and pledge to a person or something. In the political sense, baya was an expression of opinion on a potential leader. Dr Qadri believes voting to be the modern form of baya.
Secondly, the shura during the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a parliament comprising of representatives of the community, from the community, and who discussed issues related with the community. It was divided between two houses: shura-e-khaas (special house) and shura-e-aam (general house). One must point out here that Parliament is an English word, which can’t be found in any translation of the Qur’an or Sunnah. The fundamental point to remember is that the shura is a house of representatives comprising senior community members who have been elected or appointed by the community.
On account of Uthman ibn Affan’s election, both the shura-e-khaas and shura-e-aam appeared to be similarly divided on the issue of whether to elect Uthman ibn Affan or Ali ibn Abi Talib. The ultimate decision was to be made by the general endorsement of the community. This, as indicated by Dr Qadri, was done as a referendum by the “chief election commissioner” Abdul Rahman bin Auf. Once more, despite the fact that this specific title isn’t referenced in any Hadith, Dr Qadri clarifies that one may find the title chief election commissioner helpful considering the duties of Abdul Rahman bin Auf which were to conduct the election, hear the opinions of the people, and acquire their votes by counselling them. It is imperative to put accentuation upon the function, not simply the term, for the difference in Arabic and English can’t render the concept as Islamic or un-Islamic. Auf was appointed for istiswaab-ul-aam, which Dr Qadri interprets to signify ‘general election or referendum’, since every sane and senior member was counselled from the community. Through this referendum, Uthman ibn Affan was appointed as the third khalifa. He was not appointed with the baya of the shura, he was appointed by the direct vote and opinion of the citizens, on the basis of adult franchise (common vote of the people). Dr Qadri sees the elective method for Uthman ibn Affan as implying that it was essential to consult the jamhoor (majority opinion).
One Khalifa or Many?
As to the notion that there ought to be one khalifa and Islamic head for the entire world, Dr Qadri concurs with Ibn Khaldun who affirmed of the simultaneous existence of more than one imam (who need not be of Qureshi descent), depending on the prerequisite that they administer in various and vastly separated topographical domains. One may thus conclude that Ibn Khaldun endorsed of the nation-state: an independent territorially bound province consisting of a community bound by the unifying force of asabiyya.
Dr Qadri clarifies that if the Muslim ummah unite anywhere, make a society and install a head from among them, this would be a khalifa. He further clarifies that the inability of Muslims to establish khilafat is because of their wrongly interpreting the concept of ummah. For Dr Qadri, the purpose behind the establishment of the Islamic state is to keep up iltizam al-jammah (society organised collectively), be it one state or a plurality of states. To this extent he again concurs with Ibn Khaldun on the need of keeping up asabiyya with the community to keep it unblemished, for which a social contract is a common need for all humans, be they citizens of a Muslim or non-Muslim country.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is indicated to have said that if there are three Muslims travelling together, they should appoint one of them as their amir (leader). Dr Qadri uses this Hadith to make an altogether different claim: that by expressing this, Prophet Muhammad (SAW) never announced that there should only be one amir, imam, ruler or khalifa in the whole world. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad’s idea was the establishment of khilafa wherever one is. Since the essential purpose behind the state is to protect its citizens, neither law nor order could be set up if all Muslims, who live thousands of miles away from one another, were under one leadership. For all intents and purposes, there should to be one khalifa in each place and one khalifa for each society.
Dr Qadri cites for instance the state established by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Madinah (Medina), which was a state established exclusively for Madinah, supporting the idea of a territorial state. Since this state avoided the people of Thul Hulaifa, who were a free Muslim community situated between Madinah and Makkah (Mecca), the latter didn’t fall under Prophet Muhammad’s authority and had its own independent political entity. Moreover, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah didn’t concern the people of Thul Hulaifa. One may infer from this that Dr Qadri, in concurrence with Ibn Khaldun, affirms the concept of nation-state and to the idea of having more than one Islamic leader, as fundamental in Islam.
Towards a Global Union of the Ummah
Dr Qadri has proposed a conceivable way forward for the Islamic state to survive and progress in modern society. He accepts that the failed Islamic states of today need fikri-inkilaab (intellectual or ideational revolution). Giving the example of Pakistan as one among many failed Islamic states of the contemporary era, Dr Qadri accepts that Pakistani culture and people up till now have not embraced the way of life of democracy, for which it is fundamental for the institutions to have power instead of the politicians. A comparative observation can also be made for other Islamic states in the near and Middle East, for example, Egypt and Sudan. Dr Qadri argues that there is no democracy in the societies of such states, whether in homes, at school, or in the functioning of the government. Democracy has not been set up in the state as a psyche and culture. This intellectual revolution, consequently, should be drawn closer from different angles: educational, theological and ideational, so as to set up a moderate peaceful perspective on Islam and a culture of democracy.
This is the reason Dr Qadri has emphasised the need of socio-economic reform to remove poverty in Pakistan, and make education affordable and open to all. Education has tragically become an industry, a trade in Pakistan. The poor have no access to good quality education even in state institutions, and private education is excessively expensive. The only means of education accessible to them are through the madrasa, where a student is given free food and clothing so as to lessen costs. The poor couldn’t care less about where their children’s education will lead them, as long as they have food and clothing. Regardless of whether one is being trained to turn into a peaceful citizen or a terrorist, for them their economic problem has been resolved.
Dr Qadri has thus proposed a system like the Western welfare state, so as to eliminate poverty and diminish extremism. He explains how the Islamic din has become enclosed inside the bounds of religion and given over to the madrasa. It was not always like this, he says; worldly and religious knowledge were given equivalent significance and from this equivalent wellspring of knowledge sprung the Ghazalis, Ibn Rushds, scientists and scholars. At present the division between the two has produced two separate views of life. There is, consequently, a need to merge the two and to end the contempt of modern secular thinkers towards Islam, by stopping this religious generalisation of Islam.
In the light of such perspectives, Dr Qadri sees the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as ineffective and an inadequate delegate of Muslim states in the global arena. He suggests that the future of the Muslim ummah can be better secured through the methods of a union like that of the European Union. Dr Qadri stresses that there is a need to progress towards a Muslim economic network by opening trade zones within the international Muslim ummah and creating a world Islamic bank (or global Muslim bank) and forming defence alliances. Whoever is capable can lead this development and organise global funding for this type of global network by opening up business sectors to one another and bringing democracy into their societies. This might be accomplished by bringing the nations under the umbrella of the Muslim ummah, with the Islamic states ultimately holding their separate identities.
Consensus is at the heart of Islamic doctrine and the circumstances in which we find ourselves today as a result of globalisation have made it all the more easy for Islam to achieve its goal of creating a truly global community of independent Islamic states. Similar to Dr Qadri’s theory of a global Muslim ummah, El-Affendi in Who Needs an Islamic State? suggests that “an Islamic territory must be governed by a pluralistic polity of coexisting but independent communities, governed by treaties rather than a constitution.” This, he argues, “is less ambitious than a khilafat and falls well short of the building of an EU-type union of Muslim states, but could lead to it eventually.”
The writer is a post-doctoral fellow at Centre of Central Asian Studies, University of Kashmir