The Falsity of the Concept of the Islamic State

by Abdassamad Clarke

The following is based on a series of postings on the DFC mailing list of Danish Muslims. The first section was in response to a preceding post and in its turn it elicited a reply that appeared to be cut and paste from a lengthy document, possibly from a web-site or a publication by the Hizb at-Tahrir to which I responded line-by-line. The whole has been worked on substantially, although I have not edited the original post espousing the idea of an Islamic state.

There is no word in the Qur'an or in the hadith literature for 'state'. The Arabic word that is commonly used - 'dawlah' - does not occur in the Qur'an. [The word doulah does occur inthe Qur'an. The best exegesis of both dawlah and doulah is in Sultaniyya by Shaykh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi.] I have never come across the use of this word 'dawlah' in the hadith or in the literature recording the early community of Islam [as far as my reading of ahadith 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 Osmanli Dawlah and not the Ottoman Empire even though a word for Empire exists both in Arabic and Osmanlica. However, the Ottomans chose the term dawlah specifically in order not to use the term Empire.

The term 'state' begins to take its presentday signification in the seventeenth century in Europe, some 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 democracy.

For the Ottomans, dawlah encompassed the khalifah and his appointees whose job it is to bring the shari'ah into being, but not to create legislation. (I am indebted to Professor Mehmed Maksudoglu for the above outline which is a paraphrase of what I understood from him.)

The concept of the Islamic state first came about in the modern world by means of the 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.

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 - enduring 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 Tamim ad-Dari, 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, we object seriously to the use of the term 'Islamic State', just as we 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 above is an edited version of my original post which elicited the following with my interpolated comments]

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

The 'ulama have a saying, "Al-Islam deen al-fitrah," and fitrah 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 hadith of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, unless you know of a much more sound statement such as "Al-Islam nidham wa dawlah"? 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 siyasah 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 siyasah: "each of you is a shepherd and each of you will be asked about his flock".

'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 in its primal form, 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 khalifah restored, and of that there is no doubt. However, it is well known that there is another usage of the word 'khalifah' which denotes man's existential standing in existence as the khalifah 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 khalifah 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 with the person taking the allegiance adding "as much as you 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 monarchical3
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" 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…" is that "those in authority", as well as referring to the rulers means the people of knowledge. 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 I object. 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 me more of fascist, Nazi or Stalinist ideologies 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 Hitler began to make eccentric decisions there was no more sensible voice to counteract him and the whole thing became lost.

It is one of the ironies of history that the Allies basically absorbed every essential element of Nazi statism, so that today we have a more totalitarian form of state than Hitler could ever have imagined, and in which 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 fatal flaw in that, as I have said, 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 seize 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 one century.

It is, in my view, 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 bedouins 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 swept away an army that could only function by means of centralised command, sophisticated logistical support and hierarchical structures.

Having evoked anarchism, that much misunderstood philosophy, let me quote their famous slogan, "Governance without state, commerce without usury," and with that 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.

A Russian translation of the above