A detailed account of the Seminar on ‘State and Politics in Islam’ published by Muslimedia in September 1983. Reprinted in Issues in the Islamic movement, vol. 4, 1983-84 (1403-04), pp. 41-47.
By Anwar Chowdhury
‘State and Politics in Islam was the title of a four-day world seminar held in London from August 3 to August 6, 1983. The seminar was organised by the Muslim Institute and was attended by nearly 200 ulama, fuqaha, scholars, Muslim activists, writers and journalists of all Schools of Thought from all parts of the world. Papers presented at the seminar were divided into four broad categories: Political Thought in the Qur’an and Sunnah; the main political concepts; ‘Islamic political personalities’ and movements; and the impact of western civilization on Muslim political thought.
The seminar was conducted in a quiet, scholarly manner and went on to discuss some of the most sensitive issues to have divided the Ummah in recent times.
The seminar concluded with the adoption of recommendations based on the wide consensus that emerged from the discussions in the seminar and in the drafting committee. As each recommendation and the final resolution was adopted, the hall reverberated with cries of Allahu Akbar. They dealt with the basic concept of authority in an Islamic State, the political role and character of Islam, jihad, and the fundamental political objectives of the Ummah, including the rejection of the nation-States. The seminar was perhaps the first modern assembly of its kind outside Iran to recognize that the ulama alone have the duty and the responsibility to lead the Ummah.
At the final public session, attended by over 1,000 Muslims, a resolution was passed expressing concern at the impediments placed on the Hajj and calling upon the Saudi government to allow free access to it for all Muslims. Reiterating the message of the previous year’s Hajj seminar, the meeting declared that the Hajj was the inalienable right of all the Muslims of the world.
Dr Kalim Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute, London, in his address of welcome, said that the aim of the seminar was to try to remove the considerable confusion that existed in the minds of Muslims over some of the most central issues relating to the concepts of State and politics in Islam. He made an impassioned plea for the purging of the Ummah of the disintegrative trends nurtured by the colonial powers. The creation of Muslim nation-States that divided the Ummah was the western civilization’s contribution towards the disintegration of traditional Muslim societies. He claimed that unless the Muslim masses were made aware that they owed no allegiance to their corrupt leaders, nothing substantial could be achieved.
Citing the example of contemporary Iran, Dr Siddiqui declared that Imam Khomeini had started a process of reintegration of the Ummah with which all Muslims could identify. An honest leadership, steeped in taqwa, rejecting in its entirety the alien concept of nation-States, committed to wahdah, is what the Ummah appreciates. He contended that kings, presidents, generals and colonels bearing Muslim names, could not succeed in restoring Islam to its rightful place so long as there remained a split between the Muslim masses and the leadership committed to western political thought.
Shaikh Asad al-Tamimi, former Imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, castigated the role of the Muslim rulers who brought ignominy to the Muslims. Attributing their loss of political power and the creation of Israel to their abandonment of Islam and to their adoption of alien ideologies, he urged them to take heart because the youth in Algeria. Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Muslim countries were being stirred by Islamic fervour. The central theme of his rousing speeches during the seminar was the need for Muslims to be concerned not so much with physical preparedness as their total commitment to Allah and His Prophet. In his view, the kuffar of today are as overwhelmingly powerful as the Quraish were when the Prophet faced them at Badr with only 300 men.
In his speech on ‘Political Thought in the Qur’an’, Dr Abdul Karim Biazar from Iran expounded the concept of man’s vicegerency, khilafah, as meaning a nation inheriting the earth. The fulfilment of Allah’s covenant alone ensured the continuation of His blessings and guaranteed man’s ascendancy. The two peoples referred to in the Holy Book were the people of paradise and the people of fire. He reminded the audience that the Qur’an was not merely a manual of worship but, as Imam Khomeini outlined in his book Kitab-e Ilahiyya wa Wilayat-e Faqih, also covers social, economic, political and legal matters.
Speaking on the relationship between religion and politics, Ayatullah Jannati of Qum, Iran, came out forcefully in defence of the premise that politics and religion constituted an indivisible unity. ln the Islamic framework, the vision of government is derived from Allah, the Qur’an and the prophets; the government is charged with the task of enforcing Qur’anic precepts. Therefore, the separation of religion from politics is like removing the soul from its body.
Dr Mahmoud Ayoub from the University of Toronto, Canada, chose as his theme ‘Authority and Obedience in the Islamic State’. He disclaimed any notion of the nation-State in Islam since it contradicted the very foundation of a religion which transcended all distinctions based on colour, race and language. The khilafah, a human creation with divine inspiration, was called Khilafatul Rasulullah so long as it was rightly-guided. When that ceased, the khulafa called it Khalifatullah, a misnomer, because it took the form of a dictatorship. Dr Ayoub held the view that the historic gap between the Sunni and the Shi’i schools of thought should not be considered unbridgeable, as they have been moving closer to each other.
Maulana Sabahuddin Abdur Rahman from Dar ul Musannifin, Azamgarh, India, thought the Islamic State was a unique phenomenon in the sense that it had a dual responsibility: the head of State was responsible to God, and the people and the State were composed of God-fearing people.
Ayatullah Jawwadi al-Amuli’s paper was ‘The principal aspects of Islamic politics’. He isolated the element of dignity as the bedrock of Qur’anic teachings relating to the political behaviour of Muslims, both of the Imam or Khalifah, the ruler, and the Ummah; the one had to follow the Truth and the other had to be aware of Allah. The lynchpin holding together the two components of Islamic polity was piety. In the Islamic scheme of things, he added, economic independence, meaning economic self-reliance, was the goal of the State. The learned Ayatullah presented an entirely fresh point when he described Allah as ‘the maker of politics’ and ascribed the highest place in the life of the Ummah to politics.
Dr Farooq Hamada, from Qarawiyyin University, dealing with the concept of ‘parties‘ in the Qur‘an, referred to the Hizb Allah, the ‘party of Allah’, whose main feature is its allegiance to Allah, Rasulallah and the Mu’mineen; and to the Hizb al-Shaitan, the ‘party of Shaitan’, as the party into which fall all the other parties that are devoted to goals other than Allah’s. Hujjatul-Islam Ma‘adikhah gave an exposition on ‘The politics of the divine State versus politics of the taghut State’. He cited Islamic Iran as the only country to have overcome the forces of taghut in order to follow the politics of Hizb Allah.
Dr Abdur Rahman I Doi of Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, read a paper on ‘Non-Muslims in the Islamic State: their rights and obligations’, making a powerful denunciation of the western media for deliberately encouraging the idea that in an ideological lslamic State the lives and property of non-Muslims are placed in jeopardy. It was his contention that the main emphasis of the Shari’ah is on how to guarantee freedom of life, liberty and honour to every human being. He added that lslam guarantees all rights to non-Muslims except that of becoming the head of State. The little distinction that separates the non-Muslims from Muslims is on account of political administration.
Dr Fathi Ridwan, an Islamic activist from Egypt, underlined the pressing need for Muslims to mobilize the Muslim masses who are led by an alienated elite. Academic questions pale into insignificance when compared to this. Shaikh Muhammad Husain Fadhlallah of Lebanon, in strong support of the previous speaker, considered it imperative for Muslims to break out of the prison of idealism into the world of action because the issues affecting them could not await the founding of an Islamic State. According to him, the Muslims were lagging behind in the practical aspects of their spiritual lives as well.
Dr Al-Tayyab Zain al-Abidin of Sudan said that since Islam had not laid down any specific form of shura but formulated the cardinal principle of the Ummah being associated with decision-making, the form of shura may vary from place to place and time to time. The only condition was that the people should agree on a form. Dr Abul Fazl Ezzati from Tehran University, presenting a brief summary of his paper, ‘State and politics as the essential instruments of Islamic da ’wah’, pinpointed a subtle distinction in the relationship of politics and religion: it is not a link between the two but a unity of both. As justice of any kind is not possible without political justice, politics in a Muslim country must be in the hands of those best equipped to deliver political justice. He made it very clear that politics in Islam cannot be privatized or nationalized.
Dr Abdul Majid Najjar of Tunisia gave an interesting account of the foundation ofthe State in the revolutionary experience of Al-Mahdi ibn Tumart, who had enormous impact on the intellectual and political life of the Maghrib. Al-Mahdi was quick to discern that Islamic rulers, in order to be legitimate and command the allegiance of the Muslim masses, had to assume the main function of performing and implementing the Shari’ah.
Dr Ahmad Mohammad Kani from Ahmadu Bello University took the academics, especially the orientalists, to task for dismissing the nineteenth century as a period of stagnation and decadence. The nineteenth century, he said, had witnessed the emergence of a powerful Islamic movement in the Hausaland leading to the birth of the Sokoto khilafah with an elaborate structure and institutions. The commitment of the leaders to Islamic ideals and intellectual sophistication were considered vital to the success of the mission.
Gaber Rizq Gaber of Egypt dealt with the political thought of Shaheed Hasan al-Banna, giving biographical and historical details. Responsible for the first da’wah challenging the separation of Islam from politics at the height of Kemalism, he came into direct conflict with the Egyptian monarchy and its British masters, both of which he denounced fearlessly. The essence of his thought was that Islam was an all-inclusive way of life regulating every aspect of Muslim life, and that for the revival of Islam the elimination of imperialism and colonialism was absolutely necessary.
Maulana Sulaiman Tahir from Pakistan in his paper, entitled ‘Islamic revolution: a case study of ideological and practical aspects in the present and past’, traced the Islamic movement back to the colonial era, when it fell upon the men of faith to think out ways and means to overthrow western domination. He warned the Muslims that they will not achieve their ideals without first abandoning the political, economic and social ‘ideals’ bequeathed them by the west and treading once again the path of Allah and His Messenger, asking them especially to beware of the guises of Islam which are being passed for Islam itself.
Syed Asad Gilani analysed the political thoughts of Maulana Maududi, claiming for him the position of one of the pioneers of the Islamic movement, who sought for Islam supremacy in all walks of life, opposing the nationalistic, materialistic and secular culture of the west. Maulana Maududi, he said, filled an age-old gap in Muslim political thought with his unifying political writings.
Dr Arif Ersoy from Turkey defined the four stages of religious path as faith, knowledge, practice and accountability. Dr Abdullah Gul, also from Turkey, gave the good tidings of a resurgence of Islamic fervour in Turkey, helped particularly by the 1961 constitution.
Professor Mohamadou N’Diaye talked on ‘The Impact of Western Civilization’, making a distinction between the pre-war and post-war periods, when the colonialists changed direction from direct confrontation and subjugation to intellectual subversion and manipulation of power. Education was harnessed to propel Christianity in Muslim lands and divorce Islam from politics. However, he felt internally the most dangerous obstacle that lay in the path of the Ummah was fanaticism in the form of warring schools of thought. Professor N’Diaye pleaded with Muslims to support the Islamic Revolution of Iran for all the efforts it had put in before achieving power and the sacrifices it was making to stave off the concerted attacks of the enemies now.
Dr El-Sayyid Fahmi El-Shannawi of Egypt started his discourse on ‘The fall of the Ottoman State and the rise of Arab nationalism’ with the proposition that the institution of khilafah was central to the political thought of Islam, and concluded with a host of suggestions for infusing life into the Islamic body politic. For the fall of the sacred institution of lslam, he held fifth-columnists and Jewish-Christian conspiracy responsible. The fragmentation of Muslim lands, the multiplicity of nationalist movements and the crass arrogance of the enemies were the direct outcome of the collapse of Islamic power. The reconstitution of Islamic institutions and the restoration of the Qur’an as the fountainhead of education were among the solutions he proposed.
Although the seminar was engaged primarily in academic questions pertaining to Islamic political thought, reasserting the cardinal principles enunciated by Allah, it had enough glimpses of the problems with which the Ummah was grappling. Dr Amanyar, an Afghan mujahid leader, Safynaz Kazim, a Muslim activist from Egypt, and Ibrahim Ahmed from Somalia, were among the speakers in the public meeting who focused attention on three different areas of the Ummah. Dr Amanyar declared that the mujahideen were committed to the establishment of an Islamic State and that nothing less could persuade them to put away their guns. He warned of the disastrous consequences that would follow if the jihad in Afghanistan were to fail. Safynaz Kazim did not mince words in her severe condemnation of Saddam Husain’s attempts to introduce the question of Arabs and non-Arabs in his unjust war against Islamic Iran and to sow the seeds of dissension among Muslims. She thoroughly exposed the hypocrisy of the Iraqi ruler. She accused Muslim rulers of rejecting Islam and therefore of forfeiting the right to rule over their people.
The recognition of Imam Khomeini’s leadership and support of Islamic Iran was epitomized by Maulana Anwar Hussain from Bangladesh, who urged all the Muslims to accept Imam Khomeini as the leader of the Ummah, since Allah was not going to give every Muslim country its own Khomeini.
The Muslim Institute also held an exhibition, ‘The Power of the Mosque’, together with an exhibition of books on Islam, which ran simultaneously with the seminar. Films and slides were also shown. The aim of the exhibition was to dispel the idea of the Mosque being a ‘Muslim church’ and to demonstrate the historical role which it had as the nerve centre of the Islamic movement.
Muslimedia, September 1983.