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The Political Law of Islam
Political Issues
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi
(Tr. by:Dr. Shehzad Saleem)


Man, by his nature, is a social being: a social set-up is an indispensable need for him. However, since misuse of his God-given free-will often leads to a state of anarchy and disorder, man is forced to protect the created social set-up by organizing it as a collective system. In the history of mankind, politics and governments have originated as a result of this desire of man for a social set-up and this need of his to safeguard it from disorder. As long as man remains true to his nature, he cannot get rid off either this desire or this need. Therefore, prudence demands that instead of dreaming of a stateless society in this world he should strive to bring about a social contract that purifies the state system from evils and develops it in the right direction thereby creating a fair and upright government.

A study of history reveals that, for the most part, man’s own nature instructed him to create such a social contract. However, the results of his labors in this regard attest to the fact that, as in other affairs of human life, human intellect is unable to find the right path without divine guidance. It is to fulfill this need that the Gracious Almighty has given man a detailed political law through His Book and through His last Prophet (sws).

The contents of this law can be summarized as below:


1. The Basic Principle

2. The Real Responsibility

3. Religious Obligations

4. Citizenship and the Rights of Citizens

5. The State System


In the following pages, I shall attempt to explain this law1 in the light of the Qur’ān:

1. The Basic Principle

يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ فَإِنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِنْ كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا (٥٩:٤)

O people who believe! Obey God and obey the Prophet and those of you who are in authority, and if you disagree among yourselves in any matter, refer it to God and the Prophet if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is better and more seemly as regards the consequences. (4:59)

This directive was given to the Muslims when the Qur’ān was being revealed and the Prophet (sws) was present among them. Consequently, they had the opportunity to refer back all their disagreements to him. Obviously, since the authority of Allah and His Prophet (sws) is eternal, therefore in all affairs in which an eternal directive has been given by them, it is now incumbent upon those in authority whether they are the rulers or members of the parliament to submit to them forever. The orders and directives of these rulers can only be carried out subsequent to obeying Allah and His Prophet (sws), and only if they do not overrule or exceed the limits adjudicated by Allah and His Prophet (sws). Therefore, in an Islamic State no law can be enacted contrary to the Qur’ān and Sunnah or without taking into consideration the guidance these sources provide. The believers indeed have a right to disagree with those in authority, but they cannot disagree with Allah and His Prophet (sws). In fact, in any disagreement between believers, the decision must be made in accordance with the Qur’ān and Sunnah.

However, there are certain stipulations regarding obeying those in authority which the Prophet (sws) has explained:

First, Muslims must cling to state authority in all circumstances. The Prophet (sws) has termed state authority as   ‘اَلْجَمَاعَةَ’ (al-Jamā‘ah) and ‘اَلسُّلْطَانِ’ (al-Sultān) and directed every Muslim to in no way disassociate himself from it. And if anyone does so, it is as if he has left Islam, and a Muslim who dies in this state is as if he died the death of Jāhiliyyah (the days of the age of ignorance that prevailed in Arabia at the advent of Islam). The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

مَنْ رَأَى مِنْ أَمِيرِهِ شَيْئًا يَكْرَهُهُ فَلْيَصْبِرْ عَلَيْهِ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ فَارَقَ الْجَمَاعَةَ شِبْرًا فَمَاتَ إِلَّا مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً (بخاري: رقم ٧٠٥٤)

He who sees something despicable in his ruler should bear it, for he who even slightly disassociates himself from the state authority and dies in this condition shall die the death of ignorance. (Bukhārī: No. 7054)

Another text of this Hadīth reads:

مَنْ كَرِهَ مِنْ أَمِيرِهِ شَيْئًا فَلْيَصْبِرْ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ خَرَجَ مِنْ السُّلْطَانِ شِبْرًا مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً (بخاري: رقم ٧٠٥٣)

He who sees something despicable in his ruler should bear it, for he who even slightly disassociates himself from the obedience of the sovereign crown and dies in this condition shall die the death of ignorance. (Bukhārī: No. 7053)

In times of political anarchy and chaos, the Prophet (sws) has directed Muslims not only to refrain from participating in any activity against the state, but also to obey state authority with complete faithfulness and sincerity. On one occasion, regarding this issue, the Prophet (sws), on these very grounds, is reported to have told Hudhayfah (rta): ‘تَلْزِمُ جمَاعَةَ اْلمُسْلِمِينَ وَ اِمَامَهُم’ ([In such a state of chaos], you should remain attached to the state authority and to the ruler of the Muslims.)2

Secondly, Muslims should be law abiding citizens of their country. Whatever laws are enacted should be obeyed in letter and spirit by them and in no way should they evade the law. Any disagreement, personal dislike, communal support or religious reservation should never lead them to breech the law, except if some law is enacted in open disobedience to the Almighty. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

عَلَيْكَ السَّمْعَ وَالطَّاعَةَ فِي عُسْرِكَ وَيُسْرِكَ وَمَنْشَطِكَ وَمَكْرَهِكَ وَأَثَرَةٍ عَلَيْكَ (مسلم: رقم ١٨٣٦)

It is your duty to listen and to obey [your rulers] whether you are in difficulty or at ease, whether willingly or unwillingly and even when you do not receive what is your right. (Muslim: No. 1836)

عَلَى الْمَرْءِ الْمُسْلِمِ السَّمْعُ وَالطَّاعَةُ فِيمَا أَحَبَّ وَكَرِهَ إِلَّا أَنْ يُؤْمَرَ بِمَعْصِيَةٍ فَإِنْ أُمِرَ بِمَعْصِيَةٍ فَلَا سَمْعَ وَلَا طَاعَةَ (مسلم: رقم ١٨٣٩)

Whether they like it or not, it is obligatory on the faithful to listen and to obey their rulers except when they be ordered to commit a sin. If they are ordered so, they should neither listen nor obey. (Muslim: No. 1839)

اسْمَعُوا وَأَطِيعُوا وَإِنْ اسْتُعْمِلَ عَلَيْكُمْ عَبْدٌ حَبَشِيٌّ كَأَنَّ رَأْسَهُ زَبِيبَةٌ (بخاري: رقم ٧١٤٢)

Listen and obey even if an Abyssinian slave whose head is like a raisin is made your ruler. (Bukhārī: No. 7142)

This directive of obeying those in authority obviously relates to Muslim rulers only. This is indicated by the word ‘مِنْكُمْ’ (among you) which qualifies the word ‘اُوْلُو الْأَمْرِ’ (those in authority) in 4:59, the verse under discussion. The Prophet (sws) while explaining this has stated that once a ruler fails to fulfill the conditions stated in the Qur’ā, that make him a Muslim, it is not necessary to obey him. ‘Ubādah Ibn Sāmit reports:

دَعَانَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَبَايَعْنَاهُ فَكَانَ فِيمَا أَخَذَ عَلَيْنَا أَنْ بَايَعَنَا عَلَى السَّمْعِ وَالطَّاعَةِ فِي مَنْشَطِنَا وَمَكْرَهِنَا وَعُسْرِنَا وَيُسْرِنَا وَأَثَرَةٍ عَلَيْنَا وَأَنْ لَا نُنَازِعَ الْأَمْرَ أَهْلَهُ قَالَ إِلَّا أَنْ تَرَوْا كُفْرًا بَوَاحًا عِنْدَكُمْ مِنْ اللَّهِ فِيهِ بُرْهَانٌ (مسلم: رقم ١٧٠٩)

The Prophet called us to pledge allegiance to him which we did. We had been asked to pledge to the following: ‘We shall listen and obey whether willingly or unwillingly whether we are in difficulty or at ease, and even when we do not receive what is our right and that we shall not contest the authority of our rulers’. The Prophet of God said: ‘You can only refuse their submission if you witness outright Kufr in any matter from them, in which you have a clear evidence from God’. (Muslim: No. 1709)

Similarly, some Ahādīth say:

سَتَكُونُ أُمَرَاءُ فَتَعْرِفُونَ وَتُنْكِرُونَ فَمَنْ عَرَفَ بَرِئَ وَمَنْ أَنْكَرَ سَلِمَ وَلَكِنْ مَنْ رَضِيَ وَتَابَعَ قَالُوا أَفَلَا نُقَاتِلُهُمْ قَالَ لَا مَا صَلَّوْا (مسلم: رقم ١٨٥٤)

Soon you will find people ruling you, some whose habits you would like and others you would dislike. He who disliked their bad habits has no blame on him and he who refuted them also remained safe. However, he who was pleased with them and followed them would be called to account. The Companions asked: ‘Should not then we wage war against them’. The Prophet (sws) replied: ‘No as long as they keep offering the prayer’. (Muslim: No. 1854)

شَرَارُ أَئِمَّتِكُمْ الَّذِينَ تُبْغِضُونَهُمْ وَيُبْغِضُونَكُمْ وَتَلْعَنُونَهُمْ وَيَلْعَنُونَكُمْ قِيلَ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَفَلَا نُنَابِذُهُمْ بِالسَّيْفِ فَقَالَ لَا مَا أَقَامُوا فِيكُمْ الصَّلَاةَ (مسلم: رقم ١٨٥٥)

The worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and who hate you; you curse them and they curse you. It was asked: ‘O Prophet of Allah, should we not lift arms against them’. The Prophet (sws) replied: ‘No, as long as they establish the prayer among you’. (Muslim: No. 1855)

However, even in these circumstances, no Muslim citizen has been given the permission to revolt against the government unless he has the backing of a clear majority behind him. The reason for this is that if the majority does not support him, then such a revolt would not be against the government; on the contrary, it would be against other Muslim citizens, which according to the Sharī‘ah is  ‘فََسَاد ِفى الْاَرْض’ (spreading lawlessness and anarchy in the society) – an offence punishable by death.

The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

مَنْ أَتَاكُمْ وَأَمْرُكُمْ جَمِيعٌ عَلَى رَجُلٍ وَاحِدٍ يُرِيدُ أَنْ يَشُقَّ عَصَاكُمْ أَوْ يُفَرِّقَ جَمَاعَتَكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُ (مسلم: رقم ١٨٥٢)

When you are organized under the rule of a person and someone tries to break your collectivity apart or disrupt your government, kill him3. (Muslim: No. 1852)

Moreover, it should also remain clear that if this revolt takes the shape of an armed uprising, then it should be subject to all the conditions of Jihād imposed by the Sharī‘ah. Consequently, no one is allowed to take up arms in rebellion against the government unless he fulfills these conditions.

2. The Real Responsibility

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ أَنْ تُؤَدُّوا الْأَمَانَاتِ إِلَى أَهْلِهَا وَإِذَا حَكَمْتُمْ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ أَنْ تَحْكُمُوا بِالْعَدْلِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ نِعِمَّا يَعِظُكُمْ بِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ سَمِيعًا بَصِيرًا (٥٨:٤)

God commands you to hand over the trusts to their rightful owners and to always pass judgement upon men with fairness. Verily this is from God an excellent admonition. For God is He who hears and sees all things. (4:58)

A look at the context of the above mentioned verse shows that it occurs right before the verse that has been discussed earlier under ‘The Basic Principle’. Consequently, it shows that the real responsibility of a state which is based on this principle of obedience to Allah and His Prophet (sws) is to strive to establish justice in its ultimate form at every level. Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī comments on this verse in the following words:

This is a delineation of the most important aspect of the trust referred to as well as an explanation of the responsibility attached to political authority. The foremost responsibility of those who are blessed with political authority by the Almighty is that they should decide all disputes that arise among their people with justice and fairness. There should be no discrimination in the eyes of the law between the various classes of society like rich and poor or upper and lower class. Justice should not be a commodity that can be bought or sold. Partiality and bias should not creep into it nor should indifference and apathy arise in dispensing it. No power or influence, greed or fear of any kind should affect justice in any manner.

Whoever are blessed with political authority by the Almighty in this world, have been blessed as such so that they may discharge justice. Therefore, this is their primary responsibility. A just ruler will receive great reward from the Almighty, and an unjust will be punished grievously [on the Day of Judgement]. Consequently, the verse says that this is an excellent admonition from the Almighty to the believers, who, therefore, must not show slackness in following it. The attributes of the Almighty mentioned at the end of the verse caution us that even the most concealed injustice is in His knowledge.4

It is to this responsibility that the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws) referred to when they launched offensives against the Roman and the Persian empires. They proclaimed to the world that any person wishing to leave the servitude of man could do so by entering into the servitude of Allah, and any that wished to, he could leave the narrowness of this world and enter into its vastness. Finally, they stated that whoever wanted to leave the oppression of various religions and enter into the just folds of Islam could do so5.

The Prophet (sws), on this very basis, insisted that a person who selfishly desires public office should never be considered eligible for it, since justice cannot be expected from such a person. He is reported to have said:

إِنَّا وَاللَّهِ لَا نُوَلِّي عَلَى هَذَا الْعَمَلِ أَحَدًا سَأَلَهُ وَلَا أَحَدًا حَرَصَ عَلَيْهِ (مسلم: رقم ١٧٣٣)

By God! We shall not grant any person a post in this system if they ask for it and covet it. (Muslim: No. 1733)

The Prophet (sws) also warned his Companions (rta) to fear Allah in such matters and never ask for a public office:

لَا تَسْأَلْ الْإِمَارَةَ إِنْ أُعْطِيتَهَا عَنْ مَسْأَلَةٍ وُكِلْتَ إِلَيْهَا وَإِنْ أُعْطِيتَهَا عَنْ غَيْرِ مَسْأَلَةٍ أُعِنْتَ عَلَيْهَا (مسلم: رقم١٦٥٢)

Do not seek a post. If it is granted to you because of your desire you shall [find yourself] being handed over to it, and if it is granted to you without your desire, the Almighty shall help you. (Muslim:  No. 1652)

Consequently, history bears witness that in order to establish justice, the Rightly Guided Caliphs always kept their doors open for criticism and for petitions and appeals from the public, adopted the lifestyle of the destitute to the extent that they even wore patched-up clothes and administered their realms with utmost simplicity and austerity. In short, the heavens and the earth bore witness that they lived among the masses like the masses and for the masses: they were like kings even in indigence and princes even in poverty.

3. Religious Obligations

الَّذِينَ إِنْ مَكَّنَّاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوْا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَمَرُوا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَنَهَوْا عَنْ الْمُنْكَرِ (٤١:٢٢)

[These believers are those who], if We grant them authority in this land, will establish the prayer and pay Zakāh and enjoin what is virtuous and forbid what is evil. (22:41)

This verse of Sūrah Hajj states that the religious obligations imposed on an Islamic state are establishing the system of Salāh, disbursing Zakāh, enjoining Ma‘rūf and forbidding Munkar.

An explanation of these obligations follows:

In accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws) that relates to the establishing of Salāh (the prayer) at the state level:

1. The Muslim citizens shall be bound to say their prayers as an affirmation to their belief in Islam.

2. Mosques shall remain under the supervision of the government; this includes the appointment of imams.

3. The address of the Friday prayer shall be delivered by the head of state and he shall lead this prayer in the central congregational (Jāmi‘) mosque of the capital. The provincial governors shall be entrusted with this job in the provinces, while government representatives shall discharge this duty in the various administrative units.

Similarly, in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet (sws) regarding Zakāh:

1. A Muslim citizen who is liable to Zakāh shall pay the stipulated amount from his wealth, produce and livestock to the government.

2. The government in return, besides other expenditure, shall strive to fulfill the needs of its deprived citizens through this money, reaching out to them before they reach a state where they must come to the government to satisfy their basic needs.

For the enjoining of Ma‘rūf (the good) and the forbidding of Munkar (evil), the Qur’ānic directive is that the state should constitute a group of people who should be entrusted with the responsibility of calling people towards good and forbidding them from evil. In modern terms, this means that a proper department, with legal authority, should be set up by the state for this purpose. This department should function efficiently and diligently to discharge the responsibility entrusted to it. In the words of the Qur’ān:

وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنْ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمْ الْمُفْلِحُونَ (١٠٤:٣)

From within you should a group be constituted such that it should call towards what is virtuous, enjoin good and forbid evil. And only those who make arrangements for this will attain salvation.6 (3:104)

These are the religious obligations of an Islamic state. No doubt, every state has the responsibility to strive for the welfare and prosperity of its people and to maintain peace and defend its frontiers. However, if a state is to become an Islamic state, then the Qur’ān demands that it should not be indifferent to the responsibilities of establishing regular prayers, setting up a system of Zakāh, and enjoining what is good while forbidding what is evil.

4. Citizenship and the Rights of a Citizen

فَإِنْ تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوْا الزَّكَاةَ فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ (١١:٩)

If they repent, establish the prayer and pay Zakāh, they are your brethren in religion. (9:11)

فَإِنْ تَابُوا وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوْا الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّوا سَبِيلَهُمْ (٥:٩)

If they repent, establish the prayer and pay Zakāh, leave them alone. (9:5) 

Both these verses of Sūrah Tawbah have the same context. The Qur’ān says that it should be proclaimed in the congregation of the Hajj offered in the 9th year of Hijrah that those who fulfill the conditions stated in these verses are the brethren of the believers and that their lives should be spared. These conditions are that people should:

1. Repent from polytheism and disbelief.

2. Establish the prayer as evidence of their faith and belief.

3. Pay Zakāh to the state to run its affairs.

While explaining this directive of Islam, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:

أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أُقَاتِلَ النَّاسَ حَتَّى يَشْهَدُوا أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ فَإِذَا فَعَلُوا ذَلِكَ عَصَمُوا مِنِّي دِمَاءَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُمْ إِلَّا بِحَقِّ الْإِسْلَامِ وَحِسَابُهُمْ عَلَى اللَّهِ (مسلم: رقم ٢٢)

‘I have been directed to wage war7 against these people until they testify to the oneness of God and to the prophethood of Muhammad, establish the prayer and pay Zakāh. If they accept these terms, their lives will be spared except if they commit some other violation that entails their execution by Islamic law and [in the Hereafter] their account rests with God’. (Muslim: No. 22)

A reflection on these verses (9:5 and 9:11) leads to the following conclusions:

First, people who fulfill these conditions, irrespective of their status in the Hereafter, shall be considered as Muslims in the eyes of the law and the state, and they shall be entitled to all the rights which, as Muslims, they should have in an Islamic State.

Second, after fulfilling these conditions the mutual relationship between the rulers and the ruled should be that of brotherhood. They are like brothers and, therefore, possess the same legal rights. There is no question of any discrimination between them in Islam. The Qur’ān has used the words ‘فِي الدِّين فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ’ (then [they are] your brethren in religion). The word ‘الدِّينِ’ (the religion) obviously means Islam and the words ‘فِي الدِّين فَإِخْوَانُكُمْ’ (then [they are] your brethren) are directed at the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws), who are told that if these people fulfill these three conditions, they will be equal in citizenship status to the Companions. No distinction will exist between the two in the eyes of the law.

Third, due to this fraternal relationship, all responsibilities which reason and intellect endorse shall be imposed on the rulers and the ruled.

Fourth, irrespective of the duties and obligations imposed on a person as far as the accountability in the Hereafter is concerned, an Islamic State can only legally ask its citizens and force them to fulfill the three requirements mentioned in these verses. Nothing can be added or taken away from this list. The Almighty Himself has fixed them once and for all; therefore, no rule or regulation, and no state or parliament can tamper with the life, wealth, honour, and freedom of expression of the Muslims. Consequently, the Caliph Abū Bakr (rta), when he launched an attack against those who had desisted to pay Zakāh in his times, stated in unequivocal terms:

قال الله تعالى : فان تابوا وأقاموا الصلوة وأتوا الزكوة فخلوا سبيلهم _ والله لا اسئل فوقهن ولا اقصر دونـهن

The Almighty has said: ‘Therefore, if they repent establish the prayer and pay Zakāh, spare their lives’. By God I shall neither ask for more nor less.8

If these aspects of the verse are kept in consideration, it is clear that indeed an Islamic State has the authority to force its Muslim citizens to refrain from everything which is prohibited and to punish them if they do not comply, but, positively, an Islamic State has no authority to require anything of the Muslims except the prayer and Zakāh. For example, it cannot force a Muslim to keep fasts nor can it compel him to perform Hajj even if he has the financial position to do so; nor can it pass a law for compulsory military recruitment for the purpose of Jihād. In short, as far as legislation against prohibited things is concerned, it has all the authority to do so, but except for the prayer and Zakāh, it can only urge and exhort, educate and indoctrinate people to fulfill the other positive requirements of Islam. Its jurisdiction ends here in this regard.

In the sermon of the last Hajj, the Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:9

إِنَّ أَمْوَالَكُمْ وَدِمَاءَكُمْ وَأَعْرَاضَكُمْ عَلَيْكُمْ حَرَامٌ كَحُرْمَةِ يَوْمِكُمْ هَذَا فِي بَلَدِكُمْ هَذَا فِي شَهْرِكُمْ هَذَا (مسندأحمد: رقم ٢٠٣٧)

Indeed, your wealth, your lives and your honour are as sacred and inviolable as this day10 of yours in this city11 of yours in this month12 of yours. (Musnad Ahmad: No. 2037)

These are the rights of the Muslim citizens of an Islamic state. As far as the rights of non-Muslims are concerned, any agreement can be made with them regarding their rights, keeping in view the circumstances and the various international accords one is bound with. In this regard, perhaps the best example before Muslims is the pact made by the Prophet (sws) before Itmāmu’l-Hujjah13 with the Jews of Madīnah. It is known as the Mīthāq al-Madīnah. Similar pacts were made by Muslims later on with other nations. As stated before, they can be made on any mutually agreed terms and conditions. Consequently, if the Mīthāq al-Madīnah is studied, one can see that one of its statutes clearly says that after accepting the political sovereignty of Muhammad (sws), the Jews and the Muslims are equal citizens of the state and therefore, the Jews will have the same rights as the Muslims have:

وان يهود امة مع المؤمنين لليهود دينهم وللمسلمين دينهم مواليهم وانفسم

According to this pact, the Jews are acknowledged with the Muslims as one nation. As far as religion is concerned, the Jews shall remain on theirs and the Muslims and their allies on theirs.14

Here, people have often presented Qur’an 9:29, whose text is reproduced below, to refute what has been said above. However, it is evident from the words and the context of this verse that it is related to those People of the Book who were subjected to Itmāmu’l-Hujjah by the Prophet (sws), and who as a consequence of their blatant denial of the truth were punished in this world according to the established law of the Almighty. If they wanted to escape the punishment of death in order to live in an Islamic state, they were first required to pay Jizyah to the state and second to live in subservience to the Islamic state:

قَاتِلُوا الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَلَا بِالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَلَا يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ وَلَا يَدِينُونَ دِينَ الْحَقِّ مِنْ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ حَتَّى يُعْطُوا الْجِزْيَةَ عَنْ يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَاغِرُونَ (٩:٢٩)

Fight those who believe not in Allah or the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah after being subdued and live a life of submission. (9:29)

This directive is a corollary of the law of Itmāmu’l-Hujjah and specific to the Companions (rta) of the Prophet (sws) only. After them, it has no bearing on other non-Muslims of the world.

5. The State System

وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ (٣٨:٤٢)

And their system is based on their consultation. (42:38)

The system of government of an Islamic State is based upon the above quoted verse. The extensive meaning this short verse encompasses and the guidance obtained from it about the political set-up envisaged by Islam need a detailed discussion, which follows.

The first word that occurs in the verse is ‘أَمْر’ (amr). It has many meanings in Arabic. However, it is quite evident from the context and placement of this verse that here it means ‘system’. This meaning has been incorporated in it from the depth found in its general meaning of ‘directive’. When the word ‘directive’ becomes related to people, it prescribes certain limits for itself and establishes certain rules and regulations. In such cases, it implies both the directives which emanate from political authority and the collective affairs. A little deliberation shows that the English word ‘system’ is used to convey the same meaning.

Since the Qur’ān has not specified it by any other adjective except by appending it to a pronoun, all sub-systems which are part of the political system must be considered included in its connotation. In fact, all affairs of state like the municipal affairs, national and provincial affairs, political and social directives, rules of legislation, delegation and revocation of powers, dismissal and appointment of officials, interpretation of Islam for the collective affairs of life – all of them fall under the principle laid down in this verse. In other words, no area or department under an Islamic Government can be beyond the jurisdiction of this principle.

Next comes the word ‘شُورَى’ (shūrā). It is a verbal noun (masdar) of the category ‘فعلى’ (fu‘lā) and means ‘to consult’. Owing to the fact that it occurs as an inchoative (Khabr) in the given verse, the meaning of the verse is not the same as of the verse: ‘ٍفى الاَمْر فَاذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى الله شَاوِرْهُم’ (Consult them in the affairs of the state and when you reach a decision, put your trust in Allah (3:159)), which is often quoted as its parallel. To convey the same meaning as this verse, the words should, perhaps, have been something like ‘وَ فىِ الاَمْرِ هُمْ يُشَاوَرُوْن’ (And in the affairs [of state] they are consulted). In this case, it would have been necessary that in the whole society the rulers and the ruled be distinct. The ruler in such a case would have to be divinely appointed or nominated by an innocent Imām or be someone who had seized power by force. Through whatever means he reached the position of head of state, he would have only been bound to consult people in matters of national interest before forming his own opinion. He would not have been bound to accept a consensus or a majority opinion. Acceptance or rejection of an opinion would have rested on his discretion. He would have all the right to accept a minority opinion and reject a majority one.

However, the style and pattern of the words ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation) demands that even the head of an Islamic State be appointed through consultation; the system itself be based on consultation; everyone should have an equal right in consultation; whatever is done through consultation should only be undone through consultation; everyone that is part of the system should have a say in its affairs, and in the absence of a consensus, the majority opinion should decide the matter.

The difference in meaning of the two verses can be appreciated if the following example is kept in mind. If it is said: ‘The ownership of this house shall be decided after consulting these ten brothers’, then it means that only the ten brothers have the authority to make decisions and the opinion of any one of them cannot prevail over the others. If all of them do not agree on the matter, a majority opinion would be decisive. But, if the above sentence is changed a little to: ‘In deciding the ownership of this house, these ten brothers shall be consulted’, then this sentence only means that someone else has the final say. It will be his opinion which will be carried out in the end. The only thing he must do is to consult the ten brothers before forming his own opinion. Obviously, he cannot be forced to accept the consensus or majority opinion of the brothers.

Since, in the opinion of this writer, the collective system of the Muslims is based on ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation), the election of their ruler as well as their representatives must take place through consultation. Also, after assuming a position of authority, they will have no right to overrule a consensus or a majority opinion of the Muslims in all the collective affairs.

Mawlānā Abu’l-A‘lā Mawdūdī comments on this verse in the following words:

The words ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation), by their nature and scope entail five things:

First, people whose interests and rights relate to the collective affairs should be given the freedom to express their opinion, and they should be kept totally aware of the actual way in which their affairs are being run; they should also have the right to object and to criticize if they see anything wrong in the way their affairs are being conducted and the right to change those in authority if the faults are not rectified. It is outright dishonesty to forcibly silence people or to run affairs without taking them into confidence. No one can regard this attitude to be in accordance with this verse.

Second, the person who is entrusted to run the collective affairs of the people should be chosen through their absolute free consent. Consent obtained through force and intimidation, greed and gratification, deception and fraud is no consent at all. The ruler of a country is not one who obtains this position by hook or by crook; the real ruler is the person whom people choose freely without any compulsion. 

Third, people chosen for consultation should enjoy the confidence of the majority. Consequently, those who are worthy of consultation can in no way be thought to enjoy the confidence of the people in the truest sense if they acquire this position through force, extortion, fraud or by leading people astray.

Fourth, people who are consulted must express their opinions in accordance with their knowledge, faith and conscience and should have the complete freedom for such expression. If, because of fear, greed or some prejudice people are led to give opinions which are against their belief and conscience, then this is disloyalty and infidelity, and is a negation of the principle of consultation.

Fifth, a decision which is made through the consensus or majority opinion of the members of the Shūrā or which has the mandate of the people behind it must always be accepted. Because if one person or group insists on an opinion, then consultation becomes useless. The Almighty has not said: ‘They are consulted in their affairs’; on the contrary, He has said: ‘Their system is based on their consultation’. Merely consulting people does not fulfill this directive; it is necessary that a consensus or majority opinion be considered as decisive in running the affairs.15

This principle of consultation as laid down by the Qur’ān is also in accordance with the established norms of sense and reason. No Muslim can be free of faults or shortcomings. He can be the most distinguished as far as piety and knowledge are concerned; he can be the most suitable for the position of authority he holds and can even consider himself so. But even with these abilities, he cannot attain the position of head of state without the general opinion of the Muslims. Also, earning this position after being elected through a majority mandate does not suggest that he cannot err or has the prerogative to overrule a consensus or a majority opinion of the authorized people. The Prophet (sws) had this prerogative because he, being divinely guided, could not err. Even so, not one example can be cited from history in which he ignored a majority opinion in favour of his own.

A Muslim ruler is indeed only one individual and everyone will acknowledge that the opinion of a group of people has more chances of being correct than that of a single person. A God-fearing Muslim ruler should regard his own opinion in the way a great jurist has expressed: ‘We consider our opinion as correct but concede the possibility of an error, and consider the opinion of others as incorrect but concede the possibility of its correctness’.

Moreover, if the people consulted know that even their consensus and majority opinion have the possibility of being rejected, they would not agree to offer their opinion in the first place. Even if forced to do so, they would never take serious interest in it. They would never deeply reflect on the issue under discussion. They would reluctantly come to sessions conducted for consultation only to leave disappointed. They would never have mental and emotional involvement with the political system or the various institutions of the state. While delineating on this psychological aspect, Abū Bakr Jassās writes:

وغير جائز أن يكون الأمر بالمشاورة على جهة تطييب نفوسهم و رفع أقدارهم ولتقتدي الأمة به في مثله لانه لو كان معلوما عندهم في استنباط ما شووروا فيه و صواب الرأي فيما سئلوا عنه ثم لم يكن في ذلك معمولا عليه ولا متلقي منه بالقبول بوجه لم يكن في ذلك تطييب نفوسهم ولا رفع لأقدارهم بل فيه ايحاشهم وأعلامهم بان أراء هم غير مقبولة ولا معمول عليها فهذا تأويل ساقط لا معنى له فكيف يسوغ تأويل من تأوله لتقتدي به الأمة مع علم الأمة عند هذا القائل بان هذه المشورة لم تفد شيئا ولم يعمل فيها بشيء أشاروا به

It is not proper to consider that this directive of consultation is merely to please and honour the Companions of the Prophet nor is it proper to think that it has been given so that the Ummah should follow the Prophet in this regard in such matters. On the other hand, if the Companions knew that their opinion would neither be followed nor held in any regard after they had used all their intellectual abilities to form it, this would not have pleased or honoured them; instead they would have been totally discouraged, considering that their opinions are neither good enough to be accepted nor fit enough to be followed. Therefore, such an interpretation of this directive of consultation is baseless and cannot be accepted. Furthermore, how can we regard as correct the interpretation that this directive was merely given to teach the Prophet’s way to the Ummah, when actually the person who says this himself knows that the Ummah is aware of the fact that giving such an opinion was neither of any use nor was it followed in a particular matter?16

Here, there is the possibility that someone might quote the offensive launched by the Caliph Abū Bakr (rta) against those who in his times had desisted from paying Zakāh and his attitude about the departure of the army led by Usāmah Ibn Zayd as testimony against what has been said above. Consequently, it is necessary that the true nature of these two incidents be explained. Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī comments on these in the following words:

Deliberation on the action taken against those who were evading Zakāh reveals a few facts:

First, this matter had nothing to do with the Caliph or the members of the Shūrā. Abū Bakr (rta) had never presented this issue in the Shūrā. Matters in which there is no direct guidance provided by the Qur’ān and Sunnah or those which relate to the general well-being of the public are generally presented in the Shūrā. The matter of Zakāh evasion has been explicitly dealt with in the Qur’ān. In an Islamic state, people lose their rights of Muslim citizenship if they refuse to pay Zakāh to the public treasury.17 This is categorically laid down in the Islamic Sharī‘ah. Therefore, Abū Bakr (rta) was not required to present this matter before the Shūrā. On the contrary, it was his responsibility as a Caliph to implement a directive of the Qur’ān. Consequently, this is precisely what he did. An example to illustrate this even further is that if a group of people creates a law and order situation in an Islamic state by going on a rampage of killing people, then the Caliph is not required to ask the permission of the Shūrā to deal with this nuisance; it is indeed his duty to freely use his authority to implement the punishment prescribed by the Qur’ān for such criminals.

Second, those who had expressed their reservations on this action of the Caliph Abū Bakr (rta) did so because they had misunderstood a Hadīth of the Prophet (sws). Abū Bakr (rta) himself explained this Hadīth in conjunction with another detailed Hadīth, which he himself had heard from the Prophet (sws). This satisfied the people [And they never insisted on calling a meeting of the shūrā]. It is obvious that a Hadīth which is narrated by Abū Bakr (rta) himself is extremely reliable and therefore has great importance.

Third, the declaration of the Caliph Abū Bakr (rta) that he would fight alone with these evaders of Zakāh if he finds no one to fight with them is not an expression of veto from him; it is on the contrary an expression of the responsibility imposed on a Caliph by Islam in implementing a definite and explicit directive. In Islam, the real responsibility of a Caliph in implementing the directives of Allah and His Prophet (sws) is that he should try his utmost in their implementation even if no one supports him. He is not required to be bound by the opinion of the people in categorical matters of the Sharī‘ah. Only matters in which there is no direct guidance provided by the Qur’ān and Sunnah or those which relate to the general well being of the public need the approval of the people eligible for consultation.

Similar is the case of dispatching the army led by Usāmah (rta). All arrangements for this had already been completed in the life of the Prophet (sws) himself. It is he who had selected the people who would constitute this army. The Prophet (sws) himself had hoisted the flag of the army. If the Prophet (sws) had not fallen severely sick, the army would have been on its way. The Prophet (sws) could not recover from his sickness and died. Abū Bakr (rta) then assumed charge as Caliph. He quite naturally thought that his greatest responsibility as a Caliph was to send the army which had been prepared by the Prophet (sws) and about whose early departure the Prophet (sws) was very anxious. As the Caliph, it was his great honour as well as his primary responsibility to execute a prior directive of the Prophet (sws). He was not required to consult his people for this because all matters concerning the army had already been settled by the Prophet (sws). As the successor to the Prophet (sws), it was his duty to enforce these directives instead of amending them. So, when some people, because of the peculiar circumstances which had arisen, regarded this campaign to be against the call of the day, Abū Bakr (rta) asserted unequivocally that he would not furl the flag which had been unfurled by the Prophet (sws).

Consequently, these two incidents can in no way be presented as evidence of the fact that a ruler can veto the decision of his Shūrā members. The only thing to which they bear testimony is that in the enforcement of explicit directives of Allah and His Prophet (sws), no ruler is required to consult his Shūrā members. In fact, his real duty is to implement them.18

According to the Qur’ānic directive of ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation), the details of the methodology adopted by the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) for the participation of the Muslims in the affairs of the state in their own times, keeping in view their social conditions, are based on the following two points:

I. Muslims shall be consulted in the affairs of state through their leaders in whom they profess confidence. According to Sahīh Bukhārī:

أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ حِينَ أَذِنَ لَهُمْ الْمُسْلِمُونَ فِي عِتْقِ سَبْيِ هَوَازِنَ إِنِّي لَا أَدْرِي مَنْ أَذِنَ مِنْكُمْ مِمَّنْ لَمْ يَأْذَنْ فَارْجِعُوا حَتَّى يَرْفَعَ إِلَيْنَا عُرَفَاؤُكُمْ أَمْرَكُمْ (بخاري: رقم ٧١٧٦)

When Muslims at the Prophet’s behest consented to free the prisoners of Hawāzin, the Prophet said: ‘I could not know who among you has shown his consent and who among you has not. Therefore, go back, and send your leaders that they may inform us’. (Bukhārī: No. 7176)

It is narrated about Abū Bakr (rta):

فَإِنْ أَعْيَاهُ أَنْ يَجِدَ فِيهِ سُنَّةً مِنْ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ جَمَعَ رُؤسَ النَّاسِ وَخِيَارَهُمْ فَاسْتَشَارَهُمْ فَإِذا أَجتْمَعَ رَأْيُهُمْ عَلَى أَمْرٍ قَضَى بِهِ (دارمي: رقم ١٦١)

Then if he could not find a practice of the Prophet in this matter, he would gather the influential among his people and consult them, and when they would reach a conclusion, he would decide according to it. (Dārimī: p. 161)

During the time of the Prophet (sws), the tribal chiefs held this position of trust. The people of the tribes of Aws, Khazraj and Quraysh professed confidence in every sense of the word in their respective leaders. Indeed, these leaders were not elected to this position nor was an election needed in the social conditions which existed at that time. It was, because of their social status, intellect and experience that their people turned to these chiefs in all the political and collective affairs. Before the advent of Islam, it was their tribes’ complete faith in them which conferred this position on them and this state continued even after they accepted Islam. However, before accepting Islam, a person could say that his tribal chief had seized power by force and that he was not in a position to show his mistrust in him, but after accepting faith every person from among the Muslim public could express in front of the Prophet (sws) his lack of confidence in his chief. If the majority in a tribe had expressed their lack of confidence in their leader, he could certainly not have retained his position.

The Prophet (sws) in his own times made all the important decisions after consulting these tribal chiefs and during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate also, the position of trust commanded by them continued.

While narrating the proceedings of a Shūrā called to session in the time of the Caliph Umar’s (rta) rule to decide the fate of the conquered lands of Syria and Iraq, Qādī Abū Yūsuf says:

قالوا : فاستشر قال: فاستشار المهاجرين الأولين فاختلفوا  فأما عبد الرحمن بن عوف رضي الله عنه فكان رأيه إن تقسم لهم حقوقهم و رأي عثمان و على و طلحة و ابن عمر رضي الله عنهم رأي عمر فارسل إلى عشرة من الأنصار: خمسة من الاوس و خمسة من الخزرج ’ من كبرائهم و أشرافهم

The people said: you should now seek formal consultation. At this, he consulted the early Muhājirūn and there existed a difference in their opinions. ‘Abdu’l Rahmān Ibn ‘Awf maintained that the land should be rightfully distributed among them, while ‘Uthmān, ‘Alī, Talhah and Ibn ‘Umar were in agreement with ‘Umar’s view. Then he called ten people from the Ansār: five from the leading people of the Aws and five from those of the Khazraj.19

 ‘Umar (rta) while explaining his own position in relation to the members of the Shūrā said:

أنى لم أزعجكم ألا لان تشتركوا في أمانتي فيما حملت من أموركم فأنى واحد كأحدكم … ولست اريد ان تتبعوا هذا الذي هواي

I have bothered you with the burden of coming here so that you can help me in my responsibilities owing to this position you have entrusted me with. I am a human being just like you … and do not want that you follow my desires in these affairs.20

The manner in which such sessions would be held was that first a person would loudly announce: ‘اَلْصَلاَةُ جَامِعَة’ (Al-Salāh Jāmi‘ah); which meant that people should gather for prayer. When people would gather, ‘Umar (rta) would pray two Rak‘ats. He would then deliver a brief speech and would table the agenda on which he wanted to consult the people. The issues of the conquered lands of Syria and Iraq and the participation of the Caliph himself in the battle of Nihāwand were discussed and settled in these meetings. Similarly, the issues of the salary of soldiers, the appointment of representatives, the organization of offices, the freedom of trade for other nations and their taxes were all decided in these meetings. Bilādhurī writes that there was another group of the leaders of the Muhājirūn (the ruling party) who would see to the day to day affairs of the country and would regularly assemble at the Masjid-i-Nabawī for this purpose:

كان للمهاجرين مجلس في المسجد فكان عمر يجلس معهم فيه و يحدثهم عما ينتهي إليه من امور الأفاق

In the Masjid-i-Nabawī, sessions of the Muhājirūn would be convened in which ‘Umar would sit and present to them all the happenings and events reported to him from the various parts of his empire.21 

II. The tradition was established that among the various groups present in an Islamic State, only that group assumed its political authority which enjoyed the confidence of the majority of Muslims.

Before his death, the Prophet (sws) clarified that the Quraysh would be his successors and not the Ansār:

إِنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ فِي قُرَيْشٍ لَا يُعَادِيهِمْ أَحَدٌ إِلَّا كَـبَّهُ اللَّهُ فِي النَّارِ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ مَا أَقَامُوا الدِّينَ. (بخاري: رقم ٧١٣٩)

Our political authority shall remain with the Quraysh. In this matter, whoever opposes them as long as they follow Islam, Allah shall cast him face down in Hell. (Bukhārī: No. 7139)

Consequently, he told the Ansār22 :‘قَدِّمُوْا قُرَيْشًا وَلاَ تُقَدِّمُوهَا’ (In this matter, bring forward the Quraysh and do not try to supersede them). The Prophet (sws) stated thus the reason for the decision he had declared:

النَّاسُ تَبَعٌ لِقُرَيْشٍ فِي هَذَا الشَّأْنِ مُسْلِمُهُمْ لِمُسْلِمِهِمْ وَكَافِرُهُمْ لِكَافِرِهِمْ (مسلم: رقم ١٨١٨)

People in this matter follow the Quraysh. The believers of Arabia are the followers of their believers and the disbelievers of Arabia are the followers of their disbelievers. (Muslim: No. 1818)

Thus, the Prophet (sws) made it very clear that since the majority of the Arabian Muslims professed confidence in the Quraysh, they were solely entitled to take charge as the rulers of Arabia in the light of the Qur’ānic directive ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation), and that they would be passed on the political authority not because of any racial precedence or superiority, but only by virtue of this position.

Those who have studied the history of the Arabs know that before the advent of the Prophet (sws), the Quraysh were at the helm of the state’s affairs and their leaders were considered as the leaders of the Arabs. After the battles of Badr and Uhud, though several of their leaders had been killed, yet in the capacity of a party they enjoyed the confidence of all the Arabs. All their prominent people who had accepted faith were present in Madīnah and many of them had distinguished themselves in the service of Islam. It was these people who were called the Muhājirūn and after the general acceptance of faith by the Arabs their leaders enjoyed the same confidence as the influential Arabs in the pre-Islamic era. Hence, elections were not needed to confirm this reality. There was no room for a difference of opinion in the fact that the Quraysh had the popular support of the masses behind them and that no tribe could challenge this position of theirs.

There is no doubt that as far as Madīnah was concerned, the Ansār under Sa‘ad Ibn ‘Ubādah (rta) and Sa‘ad Ibn Mu‘ādh (rta), the respective leaders of Aws and Khazraj, had more influence among the local population. They were no less than the Muhājirūn as regards the services they had rendered for the cause of Islam. They had offered their unconditional support and help to the Muhājirūn when the latter had migrated to Madīnah. Together with them, they had fought gallantly in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Ahzāb and Hunayn. The relationship of brotherhood and fraternity they had established with them was an exceptional one. Particularly, the way they had offered them monetary assistance – to please the Almighty – bears no parallel in history. Had the Islamic State been confined only to Madīnah, it can be said with certainty that after the Prophet (sws), they would have assumed political authority. But after the conquest of Makkah, when a large number of Arabs of other territories accepted Islam, the political scene changed drastically. The extent of confidence commanded by the Muhājirūn of the Quraysh out-proportioned that of the Ansār.

However, there was still a chance that owing to the perfectly natural emotions of tribal affiliation and owing to the spirit of outdoing each other in serving Islam, the Ansār might have come forward and challenged the Quraysh. Particularly, the fact that they commanded more influence locally in Madīnah could have caused them to put an undue trust in their strength. If such a situation, God forbid, had arisen the Munāfiqūn (Hypocrites) would have certainly tried to benefit from it, and keeping in view the social conditions which prevailed at that time, only a war could have settled their dissension.

Therefore, the Prophet (sws) sensing that this untoward situation might arise, decided once and for all the fate of this matter in his own life in the presence of Sa‘ad Ibn ‘Ubādah (rta), the supreme leader of the Ansār. He is reported to have said23: ‘اَلاَِْئمَّةُ مِنْ قُرَيْش’ ([After me], the political leaders should be from the Quraysh). Consequently, in the Thaqīfah of Banū Sā‘idah, when the leaders of the Ansār were delivering stirring speeches to prove their entitlement to the leadership of the Arabs, Abū Bakr (rta) reminded them of the Prophet’s above mentioned decision in the following words:

وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ يَا سَعْدُ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ وَأَنْتَ قَاعِدٌ قُرَيْشٌ وُلَاةُ هَذَا الْأَمْرِ فَبَرُّ النَّاسِ تَبَعٌ لِبَرِّهِمْ وَفَاجِرُهُمْ تَبَعٌ لِفَاجِرِهِمْ قَالَ فَقَالَ لَهُ سَعْدٌ صَدَقْتَ نَحْنُ الْوُزَرَاءُ وَأَنْتُمْ الْأُمَرَاءُ (مسندأحمد: رقم ١٩)

O Sa‘ad! You know very well that the Prophet (sws) had said in your presence that the Quraysh shall be given the Khilāfat because the nobles among the Arabs follow their nobles and their commoners follow their commoners. Sa‘ad replied: ‘What you say is correct, we are your advisers and you are our rulers’. (Musnad Ahmad: No. 19)

In another report, the words are:

لَمْ تَعْرِفْ الْعَرَبُ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ إِلَّا لِهَذَا الْحَيِّ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ (مسندأحمد: رقم٣٩٣)

The people of Arabia do not acknowledge anyone’s political leadership except that of the Quraysh. (Musnad Ahmad: No. 393)

After this verification by Sa‘ad Ibn ‘Ubādah (rta), the chief of the Ansār, it became clear to those present that they had strayed from the right course in the heat of discussion and that the right course was to elect their ruler from the group which held majority in the public; that whoever would be elected would be the Khalīfah of the Muslims and it would be obligatory to obey him; that this course had been outlined by the Prophet (sws) himself and they should not case adopt a different one.

The Rightly Guided Caliphate (Khilāfat-i-Rāshidah) was also founded on the basis of this decision declared by the Prophet (sws). When the leaders of the Ansār submitted to it, ‘Umar (rta), considering the delicacy of the situation which had arisen in the Thaqīfah, proclaimed the rule of Abū Bakr (rta) being sure of the fact that the leaders of the Quraysh would not differ with him and would, in fact, endorse his step. Later, he himself stated this reason for his step and warned that no one should dare present it as a violation of the Qur’ānic principle ‘أَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ’ (Their system is based on their consultation):

فَلَا يَغْتَرَّنَّ امْرُؤٌ أَنْ يَقُولَ إِنَّمَا كَانَتْ بَيْعَةُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ فَلْتَةً وَتَمَّتْ أَلَا وَإِنَّهَا قَدْ كَانَتْ كَذَلِكَ وَلَكِنَّ اللَّهَ وَقَى شَرَّهَا وَلَيْسَ مِنْكُمْ مَنْ تُقْطَعُ الْأَعْنَاقُ إِلَيْهِ مِثْلُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ مَنْ بَايَعَ رَجُلًا عَنْ غَيْرِ مَشُورَةٍ مِنْ الْمُسْلِمِينَ فَلَا يُبَايَعُ هُوَ وَلَا الَّذِي بَايَعَهُ تَغِرَّةً أَنْ يُقْتَلَا (بخاري:٦٨٣٠(

No one among you should have the misconception that the oath of allegiance to Abū Bakr took place suddenly. No doubt, the oath was pledged in this way, but the Almighty protected the Muslims from its evil consequences [which might have arisen] and remember! there is none among you like Abū Bakr, whose greatness cannot be surpassed. Now if a person pledges an oath of allegiance to someone, without the opinion of the believers, no one should pledge allegiance to him as well as to whom he [himself] pledged allegiance because by this both of them shall present themselves for execution. (Bukhārī: No. 6830)

At the time of the death of Abū Bakr (rta) also, the Muhājirūn of the Quraysh enjoyed the people’s confidence. Since no other tribe of the Arabs including the Ansār had challenged this position, they continued to hold their position of authority, and there was no need to turn to the general public in this regard. Therefore, the leaders of the Muhājirūn of the Quraysh nominated ‘Umar (rta) as the new ruler and both the Ansār and the Muhājirūn – the two big tribes of the Muslims – accepted the appointment. Consequently, without any difference of opinion, ‘Umar (rta), in direct accordance with the Islamic constitution, assumed the position of Khilāfat. Ibn Sa‘ad reports:

أن ابابكر الصديق لما استعزبه دعا عبد الرحمن ابن عوف فقال : أخبرني عن عمر الخطاب  فقال عبد الرحمن ما تسألني عن أمر ألا وأنت اعلم به منى فقال ابوبكر : وان  فقال عبد الرحمن : هو  والله افضل من رأيك فيه  ثم دعا  عثمان  بن  عفان فقال : اخبرني  عن  عمر  فقال : أنت اخبرنا به فقال عثمان : اللهم علمي به أن سريرته خير من علانيته وانه ليس فينا مثله

When ill-health overtook Abū Bakr and the time of his death approached, he summoned ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn ‘Awf and said: ‘Tell me about ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb’. ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān replied: ‘You are asking me about something of which you know better’. Abū Bakr said: ‘Although [this is correct yet I want your opinion]’. ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān answered: ‘By God! he is even better than the opinion you hold about him’. Then he [Abū Bakr] called ‘Uthmān Ibn ‘Affān and asked him: ‘Tell me about ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb’. ‘Uthmān replied: ‘You know him better than us’. Abū Bakr said: ‘Still! O Abū ‘Abdullāh! [I want your opinion]’. [At this], ‘Uthmān answered: ‘Indeed, in my opinion, his inner-self is better than his outer-self and no one among us can parallel him’.24

Ibn Sa‘ad mentions that Abū Bakr (rta), besides these two, consulted all the prominent leaders of the Ansār and the Muhājirūn:

و شاور معهما سعيد بن زيد أبا الأعور و اسيد بن الحضير و غير هما من المهاجرين و الأنصار فقال اسيد : اللهم اعلمه الخيرة بعدك يرضى للرضى  و  يسخط  للسخط  الذي  يسر  خير  من  الذي يعلن و لم يل هذا الأمر أحد أقوى عليه منه

And he, besides these two, consulted Abu’l-A‘war Sa‘īd Ibn Zayd and Usayd Ibn Al-Hudayr as well as other prominent leaders of the Ansār and the Muhājirūn, so Usayd said: ‘Indeed after you O Abū Bakr! I consider him the best. He is happy on happy occasions and sad on sad occasions. His inner-self is better than his outer-self. No one is more suited to bear the burden of this Khilāfat’.25

After this, Ibn Sa‘ad reports that some people differed from Abū Bakr’s (rta) opinion but he satisfied them. He then called ‘Uthmān (rta) and said:

اكتب : بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم هذا ما عهد ابوبكر بن أبي قحافة في أخر عهده بالدنيا خارجاً منها وعند أول عهده بالأخرة داخلا فيها حيث يؤمن الكافر و يوقن الفاجر و يصدق الكاذب انى استخلفت عليكم بعدي عمر بن الخطاب  فاسمعوا له و أطيعوا

Write: In the name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. This is the will of Abū Bakr Ibn Abī Quhāfah which he made at the end of his worldly life, when he is about to leave it and at the beginning of his next life when he is about to enter it, at a time when disbelievers accept faith, the defiant express belief and liars speak the truth. I make ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb your Khalīfah. Therefore, listen to him and obey him.26

This letter was sealed. According to Abū Bakr’s (rta) directive, ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (rta) and Usayd Ibn Sa‘īd (rta) accompanied ‘Uthmān (rta), who took the letter out to the people and said:

أتبايعون لـمن في هذا الكتاب؟ فقالوا نعم

Will you pledge allegiance to the person in whose favor a will has been made in this letter. The people said: ‘Yes’.27

Ibn Sa‘ad reports:

فاقروا بذلك جميعاً و رضوا به و بايعوا ثم دعا ابوبكر عمر خالياً  فأوصاه بما أوصاه به

All accepted and agreed to pledge allegiance to ‘Umar. Then Abū Bakr called ‘Umar in solitude and gave him whatever advice he wanted to.28

When ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (rta) was severely wounded and his death looked imminent, the political situation was still unchanged. The Muhājirūn of the Quraysh still enjoyed the majority mandate of the Muslims. Therefore, according to the Islamic constitution, only an election of a leader by the majority group was required. The people who held responsible positions asked ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (rta), as reported by Ibn Sa‘ad29: ‘اَلاَ تَعَهْدُ اِلَيْنَا اَلاَ تُوَمِّرُ عَلَيْنَا’ (Will you not leave a will for us? Will you not appoint a ruler for us?). ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (rta), however, adopted another way: Instead of appointing a Khalīfah by consulting the Shūrā members, as had been done by Abū Bakr (rta), he entrusted the matter to six prominent leaders:

أني قد نظرت لكم في أمر الناس فلم أجد عند الناس شقاقاً ألا إن يكون فيكم فان كان شقاق فهو فيكم وانما الامرالى ستة : ألي عبد الرحمن و عثمان و على و الزبير و طلحة و سعد

I have deliberated on the matter of Khilāfat and have reached the conclusion that there is no difference among the people in this affair as long as it is one of you. If there is any difference, it is within you. Therefore, this matter is entrusted to the six of you: ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān, ‘Uthmān, ‘Alī, Zubayr, Talhah and Sa‘ad.30

What he meant was that since the people only looked upon them for Khilāfat and if they agreed to accept anyone among them as Khalīfah, the people would not differ with their decision.

He further said31 :‘قُوْمُوْا فَتَشَاوِرُوْا فَاَمِّرُوْا اَحَدَكُمْ عَلَيْكُم’ (Rise, consult and make anyone amongst yourselves as the ruler.) However, since there was a chance that some miscreants might create disorder or that these six might prolong matters, ‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (rta) appointed the Ansār as the custodians over the six because, being a minority group, they were not a party to the whole affair. Ibn Sa‘ad narrates through Anas Ibn Mālik:

أرسل عمر بن الخطاب إلى أبي طلحة الأنصاري قبل أن يموت بساعة فقال : يا أبا طلحة كن في خمسين من قومك من الالنصار مع هولاء النفر : أصحاب الشورى فانهم فيما احسب سيجتمعون في بيت أحدهم فقم على ذلك الباب بأصحابك فلا تترك أحدا يدخل عليهم ولا تتركهم يمضي اليوم الثالث حتى يومروا أحدهم

‘Umar Ibn Khattāb just before his death summoned ‘Abū Talhah Ansārī. When he arrived, ‘Umar said: ‘Abū Talhah take fifty men from your tribe Ansār and go to these people of the Shūrā. I reckon they will be present at the house of someone amongst themselves. Stand at their door with your comrades and let no one go inside and do not give them more than three days for electing a leader’.32

‘Umar Ibn Khattāb (rta) instructed them in the following words about the leaders of the Ansār:

احضروا معكم من شيوخ الأنصار وليس لهم من أمركم من شيء

Call the leaders of the Ansār to you, but they have no share in political authority.33

Ibn Sa‘ad reports that when all of them had assembled, ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn ‘Awf (rta) opined that three of them should withdraw themselves in favour of three others. Consequently, Zubayr (rta) withdrew in favour of ‘Alī (rta), and Talhah (rta) and Sa‘ad (rta) withdrew in favour of ‘Uthmān (rta) and ‘Abdu’l-Rahmān Ibn ‘Awf (rta) respectively. Then he asked ‘Uthmān (rta) and ‘Alī (rta) to give him the right to decide, if he withdraws: When both agreed, he said to ‘Alī (rta):

أن لك من القرابة من رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم والقدم والله عليك لئن استخلفت لتعدلن ولئن استخلف عثمان لتسمعن ولتطيعن.

You have the honour of being among the earliest who accepted Islam as well as being a relation of the Prophet of Allah. By God! If you are entrusted with Khilāfat, promise that you will rule with justice and if ‘Uthmān (rta) is made the Khalīfah, you shall listen to him and obey him.34

After ‘Alī (rta) agreed, he turned to ‘Uthmān (rta) and repeated what he had said; when both showed their approval, he said: ‘O ‘Uthmān! Extend your hand! When he did so, ‘Alī and others pledged their oath of allegiance to him’35.

There can be two opinions about the Khilāfat of ‘Alī (rta). This difference however, is not about any basic principle, but about whether the Muhājirūn of the Quraysh elected their leader with freedom or under coercion. This discussion is not relevant to our topic. Therefore, even if it is left out, the fact remains that throughout the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphate, power remained with those who commanded the majority support of the Muslims ie, the Muhājirūn of the Quraysh and that their prominent leaders elected the ruler. This is also a reality that all the four Caliphs were elected basically by the same principle. They were elected from the leaders of the majority group and all the leaders of the other groups were also consulted in this election. The only difference is that when they agreed on ‘Umar (rta), Abū Bakr (rta) himself enforced this decision, and ‘Umar (rta), when he found that their difference was about six eminent leaders, entrusted the responsibility of electing one from among the six on the six persons themselves.










1The verses on which this law is primarily based appear in bold.

2 Muslim: No. 1847

3 This directive of the Prophet (sws) is based on 5:33 of the Qur’ān, and obviously relates to those in authority.

4 Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, 5th ed., vol. 2, (Lahore: Faran Foundation, 1994), p. 323

5 Tabarī, Tarīkhu’l-Umam wa al-Malūk, vol. 4, (Dāru’l-Fikr, 1979), p. 701

6 This directive was given when, after migration, an Islamic State had been formally set up in Madīnah.

7 No one should have any misconception from the words: ‘I have been directed to fight …’ of this Hadīth. The opponents referred to here are specifically the Idolaters of Arabia. Since the truth had been unveiled to them in its ultimate form, the law for them was to either accept faith or face death.

8 Abū Bakr Jassās, Ahkāmu’l-Qur’ān, vol. 3, (Beirut: Dāru’l-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, 1997), p. 82

9 This Hadīth is also found in Muslim: Kitābu’l-Hajj. But since it does not contain the word ‘أَعْرَاضَكُمْ’ (your honour), I have preferred its textual variant from Musnad Ahmad.

10. ie, the day of sacrifice.

11 ie, the city of Makkah.

12 ie, the month of Dhu’l-Hajj.

13 Unveiling of truth to the extent that no one is left with an excuse to deny it.

14 Ibn Hishām, al-Sīrah al-Nabawiyyah, 2nd ed., vol. 2, (Beirut: Dāru’l -Khayr, 1995), p. 107

15 Abu’l-A‘lā Mawdūdī, Tafhīmu’l-Qur’ān, 3rd ed., vol. 4, (Lahore:Idārah Tarjumānu’l-Qur’ān, 1984), pp. 509-510

16 Abū Bakr Jassās, Ahkāmu’l-Qur’ān, vol. 2, (Beirut: Dāru’l-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, 1997), p. 41

17 I have already explained this particular aspect in the previous section: ‘Citizenship and the Rights of Citizens’.

18 Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, Islāmī Riyāsat, 1st ed., (Lahore: Makatbah Markazī Anjuman-i-Khuddāmu’l-Qur’ān, 1977), pp. 36-7

19 Abū Yūsuf, Kitābu’l-Khirāj, Fasl fi’l-Fay wa al-Khirāj, (1302 AH), p. 27

20 Ibid.

21 Bilādhurī, Futūhu’l-Buldān, (Qum: Manshūrāt al-Arummiyyah, 1404 AH), p. 266

22 Ibn Hajr, Talkhīsu’l-Hubayr, vol. 2, (ahore: Al-Matba‘ah al-‘Arabiyyah), p. 26

23 Musnad Ahmad: No. 12489

24 Ibn Sa‘ad, al-Tabaqātu’l-Kubrā, vol. 3, (Beirut: Dār Sādir, 1960), p. 199

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid., p. 200

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid

29 Ibid., p. 343

30. Ibid., p. 344

31. Ibid., p. 344

32. Ibid., p. 346

33. Ibn Qutaybah, al-Imāmah wa al-Siyāsah, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dāru’l-Ma‘arifah), p. 28

34. Ibn Sa‘ad, al-Tabaqātu’l-Kubrā, vol. 3, (Beirut: Dār Sādir, 1960), p. 339

35. Ibid.

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