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Opinion: Islam IS an ideology: Response to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf

Opinion: Islam IS an ideology: Response to Sheikh Hamza Yusuf
Siyasah Press

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf recently made a Facebook status update that said the following:


“Islam is not an ideology, political or otherwise. It is a revelation from God that explains and reminds people of their duties toward their Creator in honoring and worshiping God with gratitude for the gift of life and all the concomitants of that gift, and of their duties toward their fellow creatures as unique and protected creations of God.”


In a time where ambiguity can lead to the affirmation of people’s misunderstandings, it is important to clarify the meaning of what we say, and ensure that it is as clear as possible. Here, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf makes a point regarding the word “ideology” and its relationship with Islam, and in another article ( explains that he meant a different, less commonly used meaning of the word. This second article is older, and the Sheikh posted it as a response in his recent Facebook status as an explanation of what he meant.


This is a response to him:


1 – Starting with the word “ideology.” Although, as Muslims, we mean something very specific when we say “ideology,” but the word is also defined by many dictionaries in a way similar to our definition. For example, Merriam-Webster says “ideology” is:


a – systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture


b – a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture


c – the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program 


And Islam is all three of those things. Islam is an “ideology” according to pretty much all dictionary definitions.


As Muslims, when we speak of “ideology,” we are actually referring to the translation of an Arabic word that is: “Mabda'” or مبدأ, which means: 1) The basis upon which your viewpoint of life is set, from which you take 2) your set of solutions to live according to.


In other words, the ideology of Islam is: 1) the Aqeeda of Islam as the basis of our viewpoint of life, and 2) the Qur’an and Sunnah as the source of all solutions for life.


That is an ideology. Islam is, without a doubt, an ideology.


2 – Then we have “political or otherwise.” Is Islam a political system or otherwise? 


First of all, the Prophet (saw) said that all prophets were politicians in the Hadith narrated by Al-Bukhari: “Banu Isra’eel used to have their affairs (using the word “politics” here) managed by the Prophets. Each time a prophet died, another followed him. But there will be no prophet after me, rather there will be Khulafaa (plural of Khaleefah), and they will number many.”


كانت بنو إسرائيل تسوسهم الأنبياء كلما هلك نبي خلفه نبي وإنه لا نبي بعدي وستكون خلفاء فتكثر


From the day of the Hijrah until 1924, Islam has been a political entity, and no one can deny that. Can anyone deny that Abu Bakr (ra) was a politician? Or that Umar (ra) was a politician? Why did the Sahaba choose Abu Bakr (ra) as the first Khaleefah? Because he was the best Muslim among them, and the best leader and ruler among them. 


And Islam clearly has laws and solutions for all political affairs. It has a complete ruling system, a complete economic system, a complete foreign policy, a complete education policy, a complete social system, a complete penal code, and so on. Details of these systems have been exhaustively explained in the books of Hizb ut Tahrir.


Islam is a political system, without any doubt.


3 – And third, we have “it is revelation from God…reminds people of their duties toward their Creator…and their duties toward their fellow creatures…”


Yes, this is true. Islam is a set of laws, also known as “Guidance” or “Huda,” (هدى) as in the Ayah “Say, the guidance of Allah is the correct and true guidance” (قل إن هدى الله هو الهدى). So, why does he believe that this guidance stops short of societal, governmental, and global guidance?


Our duties towards Allah (swt) are called “Ibadaat” (individual acts of worship) in Islam. And our duties toward our fellow creatures are called “Mu’amalaat” (transactions) in Islam.


This is the system of Islam. It is a political ideology that solves all of life’s problems, from our initial problem of knowing how to worship our Creator (Ibadaat), to our personal problem of knowing how to organize our personal life (such as food, dress, etc), to our societal problems of knowing how to organize human interactions (Mu’amalaat), including organizing our communities and governments.


No one in their right mind would think that Allah (swt) would send us a complete system without giving us a full set of solutions for governing our societies, which we desperately need guidance on. Islam is a complete set of solutions, as clearly stated in the Ayah: “Today I have completed your Deen for you…”.


4 – As for the article that was later posted to explain what you meant by “ideology” and “politics,” you say in it:


“Furthermore, you can’t even find a word in classical Arabic that expresses the meaning of ‘ideology’; no equivalent word can be found in Ibn Manzur’s authoritative dictionary of classical Arabic, Lisan al-Arab, and it is certainly nowhere to be found in the Qur’an or hadith. Neither the Salaf nor any of the scholars for that past 1300 years of Islam used that term. In fact, it only becomes widespread after ideologues in the Islamic world, infected with Marxist thought, began to re-form Islam as a colonial and post-colonial resistance movement.Since the Arabs don’t even have a word for this phenomenon in their classical language, they had to make one up to express the idea; when we look up ‘ideology’ in any modern English-Arabic dictionary, we find, ‘idiolojiyyiah’.”


If you look back through the 1900s, you will find that the rise of Islamic movements working towards the return of the Khilafah took place in the Arab world, not the English world. So, to debate the meaning of “ideology” in English is redundant and inaccurate. The word used by these movements and their scholars is the word “Mabda'” or مبدأ. This word clearly exists in the books of the classic scholars, and the piles of different Arabic dictionary (Lisaan Al-Arab, Al-Qamoos Al-Muheet, and the rest). Those who Arabized the word into “idiolojiyyah” are people who are inexperienced in this topic.


Therefore, the correct word to use is: Mabda’ (مبدأ). Take some time to look into that please, and you will find that Islam is, without any doubt, a Mabda’, in line with both historical meaning of the word and modern colloquial use as well.


5 – And in another part of that same article, you discuss politics, and say: “But to say that politics is essential to the practice of an individual’s Islam is to deny the hadith in al-Bukhari’s collection in which the Prophet, God bless and grant him peace, told Hudhayfah that if there was no clear leader of the Muslims to ‘disengage from all the sects and cling to a private Islam’.”


Even if your translation and interpretation of this Hadith is accurate (you know as well as I do that the Hadith is ambiguous and can mean many things), it has nothing to do with the fact that Islam has political obligations (فرائض) that we Muslims are responsible for both individually (عين) as well as communally (كفاية).


To deny that politics is essential to the practice of an individual’s Islam is to deny that all obligations are essential to an individual’s Islam.


The Hadith in Al-Bukhari that you quoted is referring to the absence of a Khilafah and the existence of “groups” (countries based on flags and nationalities). We are told to stay away from them all (stay away from nationalism and loyalty to their governments), and not join them. This does not mean abandoning the political obligations of Islam. It simply means to abstain from joining the political divisions if you cannot find the Jama’ah of Muslims (i.e. the Khilafah).


May Allah (swt) guide us to that which pleases him, and open our hearts to listen to others when advice is given. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said in the Mutawaatir Hadith: “May Allah honor the man who hears these words of mine, and understands them, and then transmits them exactly as he heard them. For it may be that the one who it is transmitted to is better at understanding than the one who heard it, and it may be that a carrier of Fiqh will carry it to someone who has more Fiqh than him.”


The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent that of the Siyasah Press editorial board.


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