The Impossibility of Mini-Islamic States

From al-Banna and Qutb to Moududi and Dr. Israr Ahmad, great Muslim scholars proposed the formation of Islamic States in their respective countries. Some Muslim scholars still insist that Muslims should come up with at least one Islamic model of governance somewhere in the world, so that the rest of the Muslim countries follow the suite and the West understands that Islamic State is not a threat to its survival. Many of the comparatively moderate Islamophobes are now suggesting “Islamic democracy.” After the systematic effort to demonize and subsequently dislodge the Taliban (and still trying to annihilate them) one is compelled to ask: Will Muslims ever succeed in having a truly Islamic states in their existing nation-states? How long will it take to have 57 Islamic mini-States? Will Islamic States with “Islamic democracy” satisfy both the basic principles of Islam and please the champions of democracy at the same time? We must not forget that these are the champions, who used the pretext of democracy to hide the lies they have used to invade Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unfortunately, the sine qua non of democracy is no more collective self-government through popular elections. It is the acceptability of the winning party and individuals to the modern day fascists. Election of Hamas to power and the Western reaction is a clear evidence in this regard. Elections and results in occupied Afghanistan and Iraq are acceptable. But elections in Iran are considered meaningless.

Using mere elections as a standard for ensuring people’s rule is absurd. According to a massive Gallup Voice of the People survey that gauged attitudes in 68 countries on issues ranging from poverty to the environment, just 37 percent Americans, 36 percent of Canadians, 30 percent British, 26 percent French, and 18 percent German said their countries were governed by the will of the people.[1] The results are published in a book called Voice of the People 2006: What the World Thinks of Today’s Global Issues.

In the context of “Islamic democracy” and making the nation-states concept acceptable to Muslims, one can see the roots of Muslim delusion in Muslim history. From the beginning, Muslims thought that the concept of democracy is similar to the medieval classics of Islamic political theory and therefore it would be possible for them to establish Islamic states in their respective countries. This effectively divided the Ummah into more than fifty states, but they have yet to see the emergence of a single Islamic model of governance in which the medieval classic of Islamic political theory is put into practice. There is no doubt that the kind of meaningless elections we witness today do not figure in the early Islamic political theory. Nor have governments in Islamic history, from the earliest period until today, relied on popular elections when choosing their leaders. However, it does not mean a lack of accountability, consultation and consent of the governed. Yet after the strategic withdrawal of the colonialists from the Muslim world and effectively dividing it into many states, various proposals for Islamic democracy built on political pluralism emerged, ignoring the undermining of the concept of Ummah as a result. Islamic democrats–”from autocrats, such as General Musharraf to opportunist political leaders and religious figures, to ordinary Muslim voters–”all have subtly different views about the nature of democracy in Muslim majority states. Then there is the concept of “Islamic democracy” put forward by moderate Islamophobes to make their fascist colleagues’ crusade in the name of democracy acceptable to the Muslim world.

The central element of none of the proposals in favor of establishing Islam in the individual Muslim states, is a rich conception of the Muslim community, or Ummah. The result of following any of the scholar arguing for Islamic state in an individual Muslim country is division of Muslims in more than fifty states with the status quo of Western dominance fully maintained. In contrast, if we look back, we find that the first Muslim community was organized out of tribes whose pre-Islamic identities derived from intense, complicated structures of tribal solidarity. Tribes had their own poets who sang the tribes’ history and glories. They had their own holy men and gods, and their own tribal war cries handed down for generations. The Prophet (pbuh) persuaded the members of these divided tribes to see themselves as united by a belief in God, in Muhammad’s (pbuh) prophecy and the Qur’an. Adopting Islam meant transcending tribal solidarity and all other false allegiances to put one’s identity as a Muslim and a member of the community of Muslims first. That the Prophet’s revolutionary message of community formation succeeded in such an inhospitable environment is testament to its appeal, and to the early Muslims’ capacity to imagine themselves in new ways. The coalescence of the Arab tribes under the banner of the Muslim Ummah was as remarkable as it was formidable.

As Islam spread through the Near and Middle East, the idea of the community became ever more capacious, expanding across ethnic, linguistic, and geographical boundaries. The community of the Muslims did not eliminate these other forms of identity nor seek to make them disappear, but presented itself as a point of unification beyond and above other kinds of identity and modes of division. The community of the Muslims was a community of faith but also a political community, governed during Prophet Mohammad’s (pbuh) life on the basis of legislative direction provided by God. After Muhammad’s death, however, prophecy ceased, leaving questions of who would rule and on what legal basis. In the voluminous literature about the early years of Islam, there is a general consensus that the first rulers of the community adopted the title “Caliph” (Arabic khalifah), which means a delegate or a viceroy or a replacement: someone who stands in for someone else. From the beginning of Muslim history, the caliphs were understood to be selected by people, not God; they were subject to God’s law as described in the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet; and they were expected to engage in consultation with the community they governed. These features of early Islamic political theory provide the basis for all the flawed modern theories put forward with the assumption that establishment of Islamic State and Islamic democracy is possible in the structure and framework that the colonialists have left behind, or with the pre-conditions which the modern day fascists have laid out for Muslims to follow if they want to be considered “democratic.”

It is tempting to prove democracy compatible with Islamic traditions and teachings. However, one must note that successive Muslim generations have distorted the classical theories of governance in Islam in order to rationalize new forms of governance. Historically valuable as such all intellectual exercises from al-Banna to Dr. Israr Ahmad have been, they have profoundly miss the point that many modern Muslims see in their tradition the seeds of democratic structure but the question arises: Is establishing an Islamic state possible within any of the 57 Muslim states today? History of the intellectual and political exercises in the Muslim world over the last century or so shows it is not possible as long as all traces of the former colonial structure and present fascist dominance prevail. These are two sides of the same coin. The concept of nation states, division of Muslim into 57 different nations, allegiance to 57 different constitutions and patriotically giving life for 57 pieces of land in itself is against the basic teachings of Islam.

Islam binds the Ummah. Nationalism and nation-states divides it. The question is not whether some sort of democratic structure is really there in early Muslim history or classical Islamic political theory; that is an interpretive question for Muslims to address in a different context. Of course, potential democratic readings of Islamic tradition are possible, and that Muslims today are reading their tradition that way. However, what matters is living by Islam. Is that possible in any of these countries in the present circumstances at national and international levels? If a thorough analysis of the present day fascism concludes that it is not possible, the next question will be: what is the future of Islamic movement and what will follow the democratic fascism?

The inanity of moderate Islamophobes crosses all bounds when they describe Islamic State as one, which simply declares that Islam is the state’s official religion. They believe that even if these states ignore the basic Islamic law, still they will be Islamic democracy by virtue of declaring themselves Islamic. Noah Feldman, for example writes in After Jihad:

One possible Islamic state would guarantee equal rights and freedom of religion to all its citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. What would make such a state Islamic might be simply a declaration that Islam is the state’s official religion, and perhaps some commitment to this ideal in the symbolism of flags, oaths of office, prayers of invocation, and state support of mosques. Assume that all these activities were decided by a large majority vote, and that Islamic law did not form the basis for the state’s laws. This state would be Islamic in much the same way that Britain is Anglican Christian.

Such a state could surely be counted as a democracy by the present day Western standards and by virtue of having meaningless elections for changing faces of the autocrats at the top. Nevertheless, such a state can never be counted as Islamic. The existence of an official religion does not necessarily infringe on any basic right. Yet mere declarations of official religion do not make any state Islamic. Before discussing the exaggerated myth of harm to non-Muslims in an Islamic state, one needs to find out what makes a state Islamic in real sense.

Experience shows that even adopting a provision in constitution, announcing that classical Islamic law shall be a source of law for the nation, is not good enough to make a state Islamic. The constitution of Pakistan clearly states that no legislation shall be repugnant to the Qur’an and the Sunnah. But that has hardly made any difference. The secular laws and standards prevail. Pakistan’s legal system is primarily based on the same common law of the colonial masters. Apart from the cosmetic inclusion of the legal code of Shari’ah, English case law remains a primary source of authority in commercial law matters. The military dictator goes to the Supreme Court to make Riba (interest) permissible and throw away any democratically adopted bill merely because it will lead to practicing Islam.

It is not only ridiculous but also amounting to pure kufr from the Islamic perspective to suggest that an Islamic state would acknowledge classical Islamic law as just one source of law among several and that it would not embrace Islamic law in its totality. This flies in the face of the Qur’anic injunction that tell Muslims to not believe in some parts of the Qur’an and reject others (Al-Qur’an 2:85) and the Qur’an unequivocally condemns and accuses them of Kufr (disbelief), Dhulm (injustice and oppression) and Fisq (wickedness and enormous sin) who fail to establish law and authority on the basis of the revealed Divine Law. (Al-Qur’an 5:44-47). At the moment, it seems that compatibility of Islamic Democracy and state with the man made laws and pre-conditions of the modern day fascists is more serious a concern than living by the revealed standards and way of life for Muslims.

Again the question is not about the possibility of an Islamic state’s adopting Islamic law as its exclusive legal system and then enacting, law by law, a code of rules that correspond to Islamic law. This is what Dr. Israr Ahmad and many others before him have been suggesting. The question is about the possibility of reaching that stage. In occupied Iraq, the senior figure of the occupation authorities clearly declared that he will veto Shari’ah if it came for inclusion in the constitution. There seems no possibility under present circumstances that any Muslim state will declare and really mean that no law and value will be imposed on the nation that is repugnant to the Qur’an and Sunnah. It has become impossible to live by Islam and at the same time please the modern day fascists. More importantly, it is not just the matter of law. Saudi Arabia uses this full-blown system of classical Islamic law except where the law has been supplemented by royal decrees and statutes that govern corporate and tax law as well as oil matters. Yet the way the kingdom is run cannot be considered as an Islamic State.

What actually makes a state Islamic is not hard to conceive. Democracy literally means the rule of the people. The twenty-first century, however, clearly proved that democracy means rule of the few elites in power who decide what is good for the people. Public opposition to the Iraq war and the states’ decision to the contrary is a glaring example. To the contrary, the essence of Islam lies in its basic meaning: submission to God, or more felicitously, recognition of God’s sovereignty. Submission to other standards and false gods could be anything but Islam. Either the people or God could be sovereign. Either man’s law of God’s law will prevail, but not both.

The problem is that misconceptions about Islam have been spread to the extent that the subjects of anti-Islam propaganda cease to use commonsense. When people are told that sovereignty belongs to God, according to the Islamic belief, they immediately assume that God has left no room for people to rule themselves and that a sovereign God must leave nothing to chance or choice. They ignore that none of the democratic schemes acknowledge that the people are sovereign in the sense of having the last word on every question. Similarly, constitutions, bills of rights and charters of rights all over the “democratic” world suggest that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. An unalienable right cannot be eliminated even if the people vote to abrogate it. The theory of unalienable rights in itself places a limit on the sovereignty of the people in the much-vaunted democracies. If some rights come from God, and the people cannot alienate or override those rights, then isn’t God sovereign and not the people? And if that sovereign God can send rights, can’t he assign men some responsibilities as well. Despite recognizing the sovereignty of God in a different way, no one argues that the U.S. Declaration of Independence, for example, is undemocratic because it makes God sovereign and places a limit on the sovereignty of the people.

To restrict Muslim from exercising their right to self-determination and self-rule according to Islam, all discussions about compatibility of Islam and democracy have been launched to present democracy superior to Islam. The idea put forward is that if Muslims could not prove Islam compatible to democracy, they better leave Islam aside and accept living by the Western standards and values presented as democracy. The discussion over the issue of God’s sovereignty is part of the debate for the sake of keeping everyone confused and restricting them from reaching the conclusion that acknowledging God’s sovereignty does not require believing that God has absolutely left no room for people to rule themselves. A Muslim can believe that God allows humans to rule themselves so long as they adhere to the basic rules and principles on which He has spoken. It is un-Islamic on the part of Muslims to believe that God is sovereign only in the sphere of the personal, not the collective.

Islamophobes object vociferously to any suggestion of referring to Islam in the state system and constitution. They argue that democracy is not possible without separation of church and state. They argue that to be just to everyone, democracy cannot impose one vision of the good life. Therefore, democracy requires government to remain neutral about what values matter most, and to leave that decision up to the individual. If religion and the state do not remain separate, the state will inevitably impose or at least encourage the version of the good life preferred by the official religion.

These Islamophobes ignore that Britain has no separation of church and state. The queen is Defender of the Faith–” one of the subsidiary titles of the English (and later British) Monarchs since it was granted on October 17, 1521 by Pope Leo X to Tudor King Henry VIII of England (some other major Catholic Kingdoms have obtained similar pious titles, such as Apostolic King). The Queen is also head of the Church of England. Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, and anyone who wants to change the Book of Common Prayer must go through Parliament to do it. The Book of Common Prayers is foundational prayer book of the Church of England first produced in 1549. Yet Britain is the cradle of modern democracy.

As the national churches of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Finnish Orthodox Church have a status protected by law. The special legal position of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland is also codified in the constitution of Finland. Both churches have the right to levy an income tax on their members and every Finnish company as a part of Corporation Tax. The tax is collected by the state.

To take another Western European example, in the German state of Bavaria the schools are religious, mostly Catholic, ones, and almost every classroom displays a crucifix. No one seems to think that this makes modern Germany into something other than a democracy.

Similarly, all “democratic” governments support and impose one particular view of the good life. They have faith-based initiatives and give money to Churches. They give medals to heroes who die for values these governments admire. These governments proclaim religious holidays and celebrate things they care about. Public schools teach students what the governments mean to be acceptable and honest. The schools even teach homosexuality because the governments claim this amounts to teaching civility despite the fact that this kind of values differ from place to place and even family-to-family. These governments sponsor some art and not other art, and they use their resources to put some books in their public libraries but not others. The proponents of liberal democracy and Islamophobes do not say that this kind of segregation is wrong because it causes some people to feel excluded. All these government activities in the West are neutral. However, an Islamic government must not come to power because it will presumably impose its values on people. If it is argued that the Western democracies do not force anyone to adopt religious beliefs that he or she rejects, or perform religious actions that are anathema, so is this the basic rule of Islam that there should be no compulsion in Deen. Unlike the modern-day fascists, reshaping the Muslim world in their image by force, Islam has no record of forced conversions or imposing its way of life on others. It has not violated the basic right to religious liberty. Almost every act on the part of Western governments imposes one or another kind of value upon their citizens.


[1]. Jill Mahoney, “Only one-third of Canadians feel will of the people rules, poll finds,” Globe and Mail, April 3, 2006.


The above is an excerpt from Abid Ullah Jan’s latest book, "After Fascism: Muslims and the Struggle for Self-determination." Avaliable at:

Also see: "The ICSSA"