The true Islamic concept of state can be gleaned from a critical study of the terms Islamic sources use for the state system. Students of Islamic literature know that the Islamic Sources do not employ the terms like state, kingdom or government for a political organization based on pure Islamic principles. These sources, quite distinctly, use the terms khilāfah, imāmah or amārah. This conscious deviation from the convention invites us to understand important implications of this innovation even before delving on the question of the Islamic concept of state.
The terms, khilāfah, amārah and imāmah,have been used interchangeably in some works on the Islamic fiqh(jurisprudence) and kalām (scholastic theology). This has blurred the true Islamic concept of state. If we attempt to determine the meaning of these terms in the light of the Qur’ān and the ḥadīth literature we learn that these terms have different significations. The term khilāfah, we learn, connotes a state founded on the principle guidance of Islam. Imāmah or amārah signifies a government which enforces the rule of khilāfah. It is, therefore, an organ of rule that fulfils the purpose of the Islamic state. In other words, difference between khilāfah and amārah can be compared with difference between the state and government.
The above preliminary discussion, it is hoped, shows that if we intend to gain a proper understanding of the Islamic concept of state, we have to appreciate that in Islam the state has the qualification of being a khilāfah. It is also equally important to consider that a true and correct perception of a thing can only be attained by a full understanding of its ideal manifestation. We, therefore, by khilāfah, mean the ideal form of the institution. Various corrupted forms of khilāfah, examples of which may be found in the Islamic history, are not meant, being of no use for our purpose.
It is important to begin the study of khilāfah by finding the traces of the concept of khilāfah in the human fiṭrat(nature/orientation) and the Islamic society. Fortunately, Islam has not left us in the dark regarding the initial political ideas of man. We have not been left to the mercy of wild guesses and conjectures after the manner of the doctors of political science. The Almighty has put before us the shining lamp of the divine revelation which can guide us to the starting point of khilāfahand help us understand, in its light, the basic concepts of the institution. In the following paragraphs I wish to put my understanding of the relevant divine guidance contained in the Qur’ān.
The Qur’ān introduces the concept of khilāfah in the context of the story of creation of Adam. It means that history of khilāfah is as old as man. The Almighty Allāh, before creating human beings, put his plan before the angels. He announced to them that he intended to place his vicegerent on the earth. The angels, unaware of the complete divine scheme, were led to think that the new creation was created only in order to serve God and exalt and sanctify him. They believed that, in that case, there was no need to create a new creature. They maintained that they were already fulfilling this duty in the best possible manner. This led them to conclude further that God would not do a purposeless work. He must therefore, be thinking over creating some entity which would be taking care of the divine affairs on the earth. His being a khalīfah entails, they concluded, that God would grant him certain powers. This in turn led them to fear that a creation with power and freedom to exercise its will would create nuisance in the land and would shed blood instead of establishing a culture of justice and peace. They expressed their apprehension before the Lord couched in the form of a question. God Almighty responded to the angels that this fear was a product of their lack of knowledge of the complete scheme. They were then made to observe some people from among the progeny of Adam. They were asked to identify those people if they thought their apprehension about Adam and his progeny was valid. Were all those people supposed to create bloodshed on the earth? Or they would be spreading good and virtue? With utmost humility, the angels confessed their lack of knowledge of the names and characters of those personalities. Then the Almighty Allah, commanded Adam –who was already been informed about those personalities – to tell the angels their names. This he did. He introduced to the angels the names of the Prophets, Messengers, reformers and the virtuous personalities among his progeny. The angels learnt that though the vicegerency granted to Adam and his progeny involved freedom of choice and grant of power, something that could be misused by them, yet, God Almighty would reveal his sharī‘ahand the Books to them. He would send Messengers and Prophets in order to train and guide them. This made the angels stand in light on the whole scheme of the Almighty Allah. They were satisfied.
The story of Adam and Eve, marking start of human history, has not been recounted in the Qur’ān merely for the sake entertainment. Quite the contrary, it has been afforded in the divine revelation to point towards the genesis of some realities bearing implications on collective and political life of humans on the earth. The whole phenomenon uncovers the following facts regarding the nature of khilāfah and its implications.
First, the human nature acquires the concept of khilāfahby default. This concept is not imposed on the human nature from within outwards. God has created man only in order to be raised to the status of khalīfah. He has himself created awareness and consciousness of this reality in man. Man will not lose this awareness as long as he is here on the earth. It is only this awareness where genesis of human’s social and political life is found. Man, therefore, has not designedly adopted political life on his own. It was rather a requirement of his very nature. His personality is not fulfilled without exercising his political life.
Second, the natural status of man on the earth does not grant him absolute freedom and complete sovereignty. He is only the vicegerent of God. There is no denying the fact that he has been granted freedom of choice and he can exercise free will to a certain limit. However, this freedom is not his necessary characteristic. It is God’s endowment. All dominion is God’s alone. This makes entails that he uses this freedom of choice and exercise of his will within the limit demarcated by the bestower of this power. Man cannot legitimately act beyond God’s limits. It follows from this fact that all his acts done in violation of will and law of God, the bestower of the limited freedom, are to be accounted for.
Third, sovereignty on the earth belongs to God not to man. The power granted to man to exercise freedom of choice in making laws, and doing actions accordingly, is either subject to God’s revealed laws or within the spheres where man has been left with complete freedom. In other words, Islam does not recognize a republic where the general will of the people is sovereign.
Fourth, according to the initial design of human vicegerency, the power of sovereignty and freedom to choose and exercise on will, has been bestowed upon the entire humankind. Everybody has been granted the right to choose and exercise his will. Man can, therefore, in the process of rule and arbitration, potentially follow the designs of God or ignore it. It will not affect his status as vicegerent of God whether he obeys the path set by God or disregards it completely. This can be compared to the following fact. We know that God has created man only in order that he worships him. Yet man has not been cosmicly subjected to do so. He has been left with a choice either to serve God or ignore his commands in this worldly life. Similarly he has also been left with a choice to either follow God’s design of rule and arbitration or devise his own rules contradictory to God’s.
Fifth, if man’s political affairs are not directed by God’s commands he is quite sure to fall in creating disorder on the earth and causing bloodshed.
Sixth, God has not left the issue of his liking and disliking unclear regarding political matters. The nature of the status of khilāfah of man demands that God reveals to man his liking and disliking fully and provides the laws and guidance whenever needed. Therefore, we see that the doubts in the minds of the angels regarding the possible bloodshed of mankind were cleared by letting them know that God would continue sending his Messengers and Prophets showing right path to the people. He would reveal books containing the divine laws.
Seventh, khilāfah is not limited to a nation, country, or race. It is universal by nature.
Eighth, khilāfah is based on justice. The right of exercise is not specifically granted to a certain group, person or a class. It is, by its nature, potentially endowed to every person. However, we observe that not all can avail this right. Only a limited number of people can be made rulers. Their right to rule is not their birthright. The selection of the rulers in the world, on the contrary, can only be done considering the political insight, leadership ability and potential enjoyed by the candidates. These things, in turn, can only be determined through mutual consultation.
In the above discussion I referred to the fact that khilāfahis based on freedom of choice and not coercion. This freedom of choice demands that God grants different nations rule on land and tests them whether they follow the will of God in their rule or pursue their base desires disregarding the commands of God. Nations, enjoying power and authority, are criminalized if they rebel against God and ignore his commands. After the expiration of the set span of test and trial they are brought to naught. The Almighty has explained this sunnah of his in the following words:
We destroyed nations before your time when they committed oppression; their apostles came to them with veritable signs, but they would not believe. Thus, do we reward the guilty! Then we made you their successors in the land, so that we might observe how you would conduct yourselves. (Q 10: 13-4)
The right of khilāfah is potentially accrued to all human beings. It it can only be endowed upon those able to discharge the corresponding duties. God declared David his vicegerent on the earth with clear command to conduct the right in accordance with his commands.
David, we have made you our vicegerent in the land. Therefore, judge men justly. (Q 38:26)
Only the Prophets and Messengers of God and their followers rightfully deserve the right of khilāfah. Others enjoy this right only as followers of the example of the Prophets and Messengers in excercising the political power entrusted in them. People organized for the sake of serving God, and following him in their worldly matters are rewarded with the special blessing in the form of khilāfah of God. The Qur’ān mentions this in the following words:
God promises those of you who believe and do good works to make them rulers in the land as he granted rule to those who went before them, to strengthen for them the faith he chose for them, and to change their state of fear to safety. They shall worship me and shall take no partners with me. (Q 24:54)
Depicted above is the pristine form of khilāfah. It is a manifestation of God’s mercy on the earth as long as its basic characteristics are maintained. With shedding any of its characteristics, the khilāfahexposes itself to corruption. Anything less than the original will be a pseudo-khilāfah, a corrupted form. Various corrupt forms of khilāfah exist ranging from recession from its pristine form to perfect worldly rules. At this last stage it would be more befittingly called corruption in the land. It is not more khilāfah.
1.7 Khilāfah and an Ordinary State
The above discussion helps us see clearly in what aspects a khilāfah (which can be termed the Islamic state for practical purposes) differs from a mundane state system and what characteristics are shared by both. An example will help us grasp this issue more clearly. Aristotle defined man as “a speaking animal”. This definition applies to all men including Muslims and non-Muslims. All have the same physical and psychological form. Both Muslims and non-Muslims need means of survival. In spite of this, everybody knows that there is a great difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim. Both are governed by different ideological foundations. Quite analogically, the Islamic state too corresponds to ordinary states in form and constituents. Just like an ordinary state, the Islamic state is the politically organized national institution of a definite country. Seen in this perspective, there is no difference between the two. As for principles working behind a state and the ends and objectives it is formed to achieve, there is a gulf of difference between the Islamic State and the common models.