Monday, 20 June 2011

A Glimpse at the Political Philosophy of Islam - Light of Islam

A Glimpse at the Political
Philosophy of Islam




Muhammad Taqi Misbah

If we want to make a balanced comparison between
Islamic and other views in the field of polity and form
of government we should make a review of the important
issues in the philosophy of politics, and on every issue
find out what is the view of Islam, comparing it with the
other views. We must make a detailed investigation of the
basic differences between them. Very briefly, we will now
mention some issues and explain the views of Islam
pertaining to them in order that it may be possible to
make a comparison.

The first issue is the importance of social life.
Islam, like the other schools of thought, emphasizes
social life. But more than this it considers it a duty to
attend to social problems and to struggle for the benefit
of all human beings. Being indifferent to such problems
is considered in Islam to be a grave sin. This attention
is so important that it sometimes becomes necessary to
spend all of one's property and even to endanger one's
own life to save others from worldly and other-worldly
afflictions and harms, from going astray and from
spiritual corruption, and from misfortune in the next
life. It is unlikely that any school of thought other
than Islam has advanced this idea so far. Of course, we
believe that none of the heavenly religions have any
disagreement on basic principles and rules. Naturally,
they hold this view in common with Islam.

The second issue is the necessity of law for social
life, since no society can survive without rules and
social regulations, for otherwise it would soon succumb
to chaos, deterioration and destruction. The view of
Islam on this matter is also clear and does not Stand in
need of an explanation. We should however, mention two
points. The first point is that from the perspective of
Islam, the goal of law is not only to bring about social
order and discipline, but beyond this to maintain social
justice; because, firstly, without justice the order
would not be durable and the masses of the people would
not tolerate injustice and oppression for ever; and
secondly, in a society not governed by justice most
people would not have the opportunity for desired growth
and development and hence, the goal of man's creation and
social life would not be realized.

Another point is that, from the Islamic viewpoint,
social laws should be such as to prepare the ground and
context for the spiritual growth and eternal felicity of
the people. At the very least they should not be
inconsistent with spiritual development, for, in the view
of Islam, the life of this world is but a passing phase
of the entire human life which despite its short
duration, has a fundamental role in human destiny. That
is, it is in this phase that with his conscious behaviour
the human being should prepare for himself his
everlasting felicity or wretchedness. Even if a law could
maintain the social order in this world but would cause
eternal misfortune for humans, from this Islamic view it
would not be a desirable law, even if it were to be
accepted by the majority.

The third issue is how and by whom the law should be
legislated. The accepted theory in most current societies
is that the laws should be legislated and approved by the
people themselves or their representatives. Since the
consensus of all the people or of their representatives
is practically impossible, the view of the majority (even
if merely half plus one) is the criteria for the validity
of the law.

This theory, first of all, is based on the idea that
the goal of law is to satisfy the people's needs, not to
provide that which would truly benefit them. Secondly,
since it is impossible to have unanimous agreement, we
should suffice with the opinion of the majority. However,
the first idea mentioned is not accepted by Islam, for
many people wish to satisfy their bestial instincts and
temporary lusts without thinking of their disastrous

Usually the number of such people is at least one half
plus one, so the social laws would be dictated by the
desires of such people.

It is obvious that the schools which believe in a goal
beyond animal lust and base desire will not be able to
condone this idea.

With regard to the second idea, that is, the validity
of the vote of the majority in the absence of unanimity,
it should be said that only in absence of a deciding
divine and intellectual criterion can the majority be the
criterion for preferring an opinion. However, in the
Islamic system there do exist such divine and
intellectual criteria. In addition, usually a powerful
minority, by using the facilities for widespread
propaganda, has an important role in channelling the
thoughts and beliefs of others, and in fact what is
approved is only the desire of a limited but powerful
minority, not the true desire of the majority or of all
the people. Furthermore, if the criterion is that the
people's choice would be valid for themselves, why
shouldn't we also accept the choice of a minority as
valid for itself, even if it would result in a type of
autonomy? In this case, what would be the logical
justification for governments to oppose the wishes of
some social groups which they rule by force?!

From the perspective of Islam with regard to this
problem, laws should be legislated in such a way that
they procure the benefits of the members of the society,
particularly of those who desire to improve themselves
and to gain eternal felicity. It is obvious that such law
should be legislated by one who has enough knowledge
about the real and eternal benefits of humans, and,
secondly, who does not sacrifice the benefits of others
for his personal interests and vain desires. It is
obvious that there is no one wiser than Almighty God, Who
has no need of His servants or their works, and Who has
provided divine legislation only for the sake of
benefitting them. Certainly, the social laws described in
the heavenly revealed books do not explicitly state all
the social rules which are necessary for every time and
place, but religious law does provide a general framework
for the derivation of regulations necessary for changing
conditions of time and place, and, at least by observing
the limits delineated by this framework it may be
possible to avoid falling into the deadly valley of
eternal perdition.

The fourth issue is that of who should enforce social

Islam, like most other political schools, requires the
existence of a State as a power which is able to prevent
violations of the law, and the lack of the State is
equivalent to the suspension of law, chaos, and the
violation of the rights of the weak.

It is obvious that there are two fundamental
qualifications for administrators of the law,
particularly for the one at the top of the pyramid of
power: first, sufficient knowledge of the law in order to
prevent infringement of it due to ignorance; and second,
self-control over his desires in order to prevent the
intentional misapplication of the law. Other
qualifications, like administrative acumen, courage, and
so on, can be considered as supplementary requirements.
Naturally, the ideal is that the administrator of the law
should generally be without ignorance, selfishness, and
other vices, and such a person is one who, in religious
terminology, is called ma'sum (infallible). All
Muslims believe in the infallibility of the Prophet, may
the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and upon his
progeny, and the Shi'ites also believe in the
infallibility of the Imams, peace be upon them. In the
absence of an infallible one, these criteria should be
observed, to the extent possible, for the selection of
the leader as well as for lower positions in the official
hierarchy in a proportionate manner.

Basically, the basis of the thesis of Wiláyat-e
(lit., guardianship of the jurisprudent meeting
all the requisite requirements) is the proposition that a
person who is nearer to the station of infallibility
should occupy the position of the infallible one, i.e. on
top of the pyramid of power, in order that this position
may be occupied by one with the best knowledge of the
precepts and laws and their fundamental bases, one who
has the most piety and self-control. By means of these
two basic qualifications (jurisprudence and piety) it is
at least possible that he will be less likely
intentionally or unintentionally to transgress against
the law of Islam.

Another point which may be raised here is that from an
Islamic perspective no human has any intrinsic right to
rule over another, even if he issues valid and just
decrees, for all people, like other creatures, have been
created and are the property of Almighty God, and no one
may interfere with another's property without his
permission. A human being has no right even to use his
own bodily parts in a manner contrary to God's will and
consequently he cannot allow others to do so. Hence, the
only one Who Himself has an absolute right to govern and
to depose of anyone and anything is Almighty God. Every
authority and wiláyah should be from Him or at
least with His sanction. It is obvious that Almighty God
would never permit anyone to execute the law without
having the necessary knowledge of His laws, or without
there being a guarantee of the correctness of his deeds
and obedience to the divine laws, or without piety and
the necessary moral qualifications.

On the other hand, we know that except for the
prophets and their selected successors, no one else was
specifically designated by Almighty God to execute the
law and to govern. So, people must try to find persons
who resemble the prophets and the Ma'súmún
(infallible ones) as closely as possible. It seems that
the best way is first to select committed experts of
religion (pious jurists), and then to allow them to
select from among themselves the best one, for the
experts may more correctly identify the best.

Such selection is safer from defects of an intentional
or unintentional character.

It also has become clear that the political features
of Islam derive from the basic elements of the world view
of Islam and its view of man. That is, the emphasis on
the just character of law and its harmony with human
spiritual development derives from the view that God
Almighty created all mankind in order that people may
follow the way of development toward nearness to . God
and eternal felicity by their meritorious conduct in
life. The right of all humans to happiness and the
enjoyment of the blessings of this world exists in order
that all may advance on the way of their development in a
better and speedier manner. The legislation of the divine
laws and religious principles, whether they apply to the
individual or society, is for determining the basic
outlines of this path. The conditions of expertise in law
and piety, in addition to other necessary administrative
qualifications, is for securing the necessary conditions
for the general development of the people, for reaching
eternal felicity and for preventing intentional and
unintentional deviation from the correct way of social

We are hopeful that God Almighty will grant all of us
Ibis opportunity to thank Him for all His blessings, and
for the blessing of His law and guidance toward the life
of felicity which we seek.


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