Is the Islamic State a Fantasy?
Most recently, statements made by a prominent Muslim scholar based in the United States have caused a stir across the Muslim communities in the best – responses being both positive and critical. The content of the claims (to be summarized below) are representative of a mentality which is prevalent amongst Muslim “intelligentsia” which continues to impede the re-emergence of an Islamic consciousness and thus an exposition is of utmost importance. The claims included;
1) Muslim history points to the general Secular nature of Muslim polities. And thus Islam and Secularity are not mutually exclusive.
2) Islamic jurisprudence and accordingly, Islam, is irrelevant to the functions of the State. The functions of the State – politics – its administrative for e.g. building roads, schools, and so forth.
3) Justice and efficacy are primary criterion for the legitimacy of governance.
4) The Islamic State is a “Modern” fantasy – in other words – it is a product of “Modernity”.
A critical yet merely cursory glance at these claims exposes the superficiality and fallaciousness of the claims – primarily because – they are based on fallacious frames-of-reference, irrelevant categories, false definitions, reductive assumptions, and so forth.
1) The Islamic Frame-of-Reference: Revelation or History?
My drawing on Muslim history, the claimant argued that most of the States were “Secular” are thus Islam and Secularity are not mutually exclusive. Despite the historical inaccuracy of this claim, even if it were true, it is fallacious as history is not a normative frame-of-reference which one can retort to in order to legitimize or de-legitimize an ‘idea’ or ‘mode-of-governance’. From an Islamic perspective, the only normative frame-of-reference is revelation whereas history is not. And while the former is Absolute, the latter is Relative. According to the same logic hereditary rule are also not mutually exclusive.
2) Secularity, Religion and the ‘Imperialism of Categories‘.
A fundamental problem that critics of the ‘Islamic State’ face is their subordination to the “imperialism of categories”. Intellectual consumers, who affiliate with Islam, will use Eurocentric categories like ‘the Secular’ and ‘Religion’ in order to understand Islam and Islamic history – both of which are based are on a radically different intellectual foundations and historical circumstances. The claimant is a victim of the “imperialism of categories” which has him viewing his own history through a Eurocentric prism. Using imaginary categories such as “secular” and “religion”. From an Islamic perspective, there is no ‘Secular’ because the ‘Secular’ i.e. the temporal is subordinated to ‘the Sacred’ as Allah ‘azza wa Jal is not a “watch-maker” but rather He controls both “Creation and the Affairs of the People”. What is rational and logical about taking historically artificial categories as natural means to understand a history which is fundamentally different? Bankim Chandra Chatterji explains:
“You can translate a word by a word but behind the word is an idea, the thing which the word denotes, and this idea you cannot translate, if it does not exist among the people in whose language you are translating” (National Thought and the Colonial World p.61).
Nehru in 1961, the President of India and a chief proponent of Secularism stated before his death. In 1961, one of the most active proponents of Secularism and the President of India admitted, shortly before his death:
“We talk about a secular state in India. It is perhaps not very easy to even find a good word in Hindi for “secular”. (Jawaharal Nehru: An Anthology . 330)
Alternatively, had the claimant employed categories from within an Islamic paradigm such as ‘Deen’ – the Islamic conception of “religion” – radically different conclusions would have been reached in regards to the relationship between “religion” and politics. This brings us to our next fallacy;
3) Defining Secularity and ad-Deen.
Oxford Dictionary 7th Edition: “the belief that religion should not be involved in the organization of society”. Whereas historically and from a normative perspective the role of the State in Islam is to organize society i.e. regulate its affairs according to the Shariah. It is an executive entity – whose identity is based on its function – the implementation of Islamic law. More so, ad-Deen linguistically and conceptually subsumes ‘politics’ according to authoritative linguist like Ibn Mansur and others. And while “religion” is a privatized activity, ad-Deen is all inclusive. To draw upon the Qur’anic discourse; when the brother of Yusuf (may Allah be pleased with him) was called upon to be tried by the King, after being accused of theft, the Creator described the stance of Yusuf as:
Then he (Joseph) began the search with their bags before his brother’s bag, then he produced it from his brother’s bag. Thus did We contrive for Joseph. He could not have taken his brother according to the king’s law unless Allah willed. We raise by grades (of mercy) whom We will, and over every lord of knowledge there is one more knowing.
The word used in reference to the law of the King was ‘ad-Deen’ – a correlation confirmed by Ibn ‘Abbass, and others.
2) States Function: administrative affairs? A Reductive Fallacy
Administration is a one of the functions of the state – at a micro level –and not the only function. In Islamic political theory the function of the ‘State’ is the representative implementation of the Shari’ with the objectives of protecting and upholding ‘religion’, the intellect, property, chastity and life. As a matter of fact, ‘administration’ as an activity has been categorically differentiated from politics and governance, two separate domains; public administration and political studies – each having its own distinct origins. Even the most Secular thinkers and the father of modern public administration developed a political philosophy – Max Weber. Even administrative issues are not divorced from religion or moral frameworks. They have not been mutually exclusive in any political system which provides the overarching framework for administration. Who is Locke, Marx, Hobbes, Rousseau, Montesquieu, etc? What were Plato and Aristotle referring to in their ‘The Republic’ and ‘Politics’?!
3) Origins of the State: Fallacy of Equivocation
The ‘State’ has existed as early as societies existed. As a matter of fact, the first social domain or philosophy was “political philosophy”. It is not the product of “Modernity” – and to make the claim that the Islamic State is a product of Modernity is in itself a “Modern” fallacy. What is to be said about the various works on as-Siyassa al-Shari’iyyah that existed before Modernity? And why are you imposing “Modern” labels like ‘Secular’ on a State which existed before Secularism was even conceived of? So, the ‘Secular’ is a natural category to be used in understanding our ‘history’ but Islamic is not?
The Islamic State is no fantasy, it is a historical reality, a Shari’ reality and an inevitable contemporary reality insha Allah ta’alaa.