Nassef is a lifelong learner of comparative study between Islam and International Relations. He co-founded the International Relations and Islamic Studies Research Cohort (Co-IRIS) and founded the Philippine International Studies Organization (PhISO).
Master in International Studies' Comprehensive Examinations
University of the Philippines-Diliman
August 24, 2009
A. Islamic Studies 231 (Islamic Political Thought)
Question number ONE:
Discuss 3 main themes each from the classical and contemporary Islamic political thinkers.
In the classical Islamic political thought, I have chosen three themes that were discussed and debated upon by classical political thinkers. These were: 1) The concept of state, 2) the concept of governance, and 3) selecting a leader.
Al-Mawardi was a famous and reputable political scientist which his works were still looked upon by scholars of this age. He is the first and foremost philosopher who envisaged a social contract mechanism between the people and their leader. This is of course before Jean Jacque Rousseau formulated this theory and made it his own.
He argued that there should be a loyalty between the two entities (the leader and the people), who significantly comprises a communal state. It is for the purpose of building trust, confidence and respect among them. He added that the leader must be intellectually inept and has a strong five senses to decide on matters and issues besetting his leadership with convictions. Al-Mawardi further reiterated that once a leader has lost its conviction and was affected by external forces and pressures, then, he is incapable of governing the state.
Al-Farabi distinctively suggested that the conception of the state must refer and look back on the community established by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), i.e., the Ummah or community of believers, which follows the first egalitarian charter – the Madinah constitution – that recognized equality and respect among all different tribes and communities, from the Quaraysh to Christians and to the Jewish communities. It is the first universal constitution in the Arab world that does not intimidate nor prohibit the rights of people with no prejudice on their race, ethnicity, beliefs and orientations.
Al-Ghazali emphasized the divine rights of members of the monarch particularly the King. It is in his belief that the King was the anointed and appointed vicegerent of the Khilafah (Caliphate) for he is regard as the shadow of God (Allah) in this world. On trivial not, he is one of the most loyal servant of the Abbasid dynasty which during that time, the Abbasids were declining while outside forces from the Salafids (Persians) and the Seljuqs (Turks) are rising on its power and dominance based on a Sultanate system which may threaten the Caliphate system (which was predominantly Arabs).
He further elaborated that a Khalifah (Caliph) must be from the descendants of the Quaraysh tribe, a priestly class Arabs. Which was ironic that during the time Prophet Muhammad was propagating Islam but the Quaraysh was the one who attempted to assassinate him.
Ibn Khaldun has a different take on the formation of states, conception of governance and selection of a leader. In his thesis the “Science of Sociology,” he introduced the significance of umran (culture) in determining state formation. He classified the aspect of umran into two categories: 1) the primitive umran (which is situated in rural places) and, 2) the civilized umran (which is located in an urban places or cities). In both of this classification, he emphasized the role of “Asabiya” or a form of solidarity among the peoples in a community. He stipulated that in a rural, the selection of the leader is based on strong ‘Asabiya’ of blood kinship, while in an urban/city it is based on the ‘Asabiya’ of consultation (shura).
Consequently, state-governance had undergone evolution from the discovery of Asabiya (birth-level), to the build-up of a civilization (youth level), and to the age of senility or the decaying stage of the state. But according to Ibn Khaldun, it is a cyclical process that after the decaying stage, a rebirth of ‘Asabiya’ will occur.
Westernization, Secularism, and Nationalism are the themes that I will discuss for the contemporary Islamic political thoughts.
During the age of colonization up to the present day; members of the ijmah or ulama were debating on how Islam would face challenges of new and Western ideals. Muhammad Abduh reifies the compatibility of reason and Islamic faith, which both can go along with each other. He and his student Rida advocated the adaptation of Western rationality through the reality of their scientific innovations and technological advancements, but, strongly emphasized that the adaptations must be guided by Islamic principles.
Sayed Qutb in his work “Milestone” and A’la Maududi’s understanding of nationalism have strictly and seriously argued that the sovereignty only lies to God (Allah) and that their nationalistic sentiments must be with the Ummah only. They gave importance of applying the pure Islamic community which was established by Prophet Muhammad and that any nuisances or different forms other than the Ummah were highly regarded as evil.
They concentrated on the ideals of Dar al-Islam (community of believers) and the Dar al-Kafr (community of non-believers). Non-Muslims living in Dar al-Islam must pay higher taxes and submit to policies guided by Islam. It is necessary to impose Jihad to defend Islamic nationalism particularly Western nations and even Muslim societies who submit to Western ideals.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk of Turkey implemented a secularist nation after he abolished the Ottoman system. He separated religious and political institutions. He reformed the educational system based on liberal ideals of the West particularly imitating the American educational system. He even changed the Turkish alphabets by including the Latin language.
However, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini incorporated, in what he regards, an authentic Islamic state based on Shi’i traditions. He established the conception of the “velayat-e faqih,” which is a society ruled by Islamic jurists (ulama). He also stated that there is a possibility of the absence of an Imam as long as the efficacy of the Islamic jurists are maintained and sustained.
In sum, there are contemporary Islamic political thinkers who embraced Western ideals but with delimitations, while there are those who strongly opposes by validating that it contradicts with what Islam taught us.