Short Answer: This is no clearly defined political system preached in the Quran. For that reason, there is a debate on whether Islam, as a religion, has prescribed a specific political system to its followers or not.
Wa Alaykum Assalam Dear Aisha,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Despite many claims to the contrary by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Islamic religion and Islamic politics are not the same thing.
Islam, as a religion, is a message from Allah Almighty to all mankind.
“Islamic politics” are attempts by groups of Muslims to apply Islam in public/political life one way or another.
Islam is a way of life that an individual chooses. This is a fact.
Islam Is a Holistic Way of Life- And it Includes Political Ideas
It is also a fact that when a society—of individuals—adopts a certain way of life, this way of life will definitely affect that society’s decision-making and leadership, or in other words, politics.
So, in that sense, Islam has a lot to do with politics within Muslim societies.
In my view, saying that “Islam has nothing to do with politics” is a denial of the very nature of Islam as a comprehensive way of life.
It’s not just a system of spiritual rituals performed in a place or time specified for worship, in the traditional sense.
However, despite the above, there is a debate on whether Islam, as a religion, has prescribed a specific political system to its followers or not.
This subject has been the source of a long debate in modern times, which I will try to outline below in a rather theoretical way.
Various Viewpoints on Muslims in Politics
“Muslims Should Be Politically Neutral”
Ali Abdel-Raziq, an Azhari judge, sparked a heated discussion in 1925, which is still alive today, on whether Islam is a “religion that has a political character” or not.
In a strong modernist re-interpretation style, he quoted numerous Quranic verses and Prophetic traditions to prove that Prophet Muhammad only had “authority as a prophet” and not dominion as “king, caliph, or sultan” and that he established “religious unity” and not “a political state.”
Abdel-Raziq’s point was that the Islamic Law is neutral about political systems for its followers, i.e., Muslim societies are free to choose any political system/systems they wish, without making any of them an Islamic obligation.
Although his interpretations were new, his opinion was actually no different from the traditional fiqhi opinion that made imamah (political leadership) “an obligation based on rationality (bil-`aql) and not based on revealed knowledge (bil-shar`),” although not the opinion of the majority of scholars.
Many modern times scholars supported Abdel-Raziq’s thesis.
“Islam is Socialistic, Democratic”
However, the majority of scholars who wrote on the subject after Abdel-Raziq not only contested his views but were not “neutral” about the political system they chose to support as well.
They had their own pre-determined exemplary political systems that they sought to support through re-interpreting the texts.
Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, for example, supported the idea that “Islam is both democratic and socialist” through a different interpretation of, ironically, the same verse that Abdel-Raziq quoted before: (You [Muhammad] have no dominion over them) (Al-Ghashiyah 88:22).
He also interpreted the verses requiring shura (consultation) and zakah (obligatory charity) to be “necessary stages in preparation” for democracy and socialism, respectively.
Sadek Sulaiman, for another example, concluded from the same text on shura that “democracy and shura are synonymous in conception and principle … and are thus one and the same.”
Muhammad Khalaf-Allah interpreted the same shura concept, in light of the Prophet’s implementation of it, as the authority of “majority vote.”
Abdulaziz Sachedina explored the “Islamic roots of democratic pluralism” in the Quran and evidences of “civil society” in Madinah’s early Muslim community in order to “legitimize modern secular ideas of citizenship in the Muslim political culture.”
The Quran Does Not Endorse a Political System
Again, although all of the above interpretations are linguistically valid, given the flexibility of the Arabic language, none of them, in my view, should necessitate that the Quran is meant to endorse a specific political system.
Rachid Ghannouchi was more balanced than other scholars when he supported democracy, from an Islamic point of view, not based on a direct interpretation of the texts, but rather on the fact that “the essence of God’s laws, for which all divine messages were sent, is the establishment of justice for mankind.”
Therefore, we should not read the texts in terms of pre-decided political systems, let alone pre-decided political policies and stands.
We should rather read the texts in terms of “good political values,” if you wish.
So, if we would like to implement Islam in our political life, we will find that Islamic texts support the values of justice, consultation, cooperation, and mutual respect, all in the general sense.
The implementation of these values in a system, without violating any of the Islamic divine teachings, makes that system “Islamic.”
This certainly does not mean to be against any of the above-mentioned interpretations, namely, multi-party systems, majority vote, or even the American model of civil society.
My point is that the precious texts should be read in terms of higher values rather than specific detailed political structures or policies.
This helps to ensure that they are neither abused for the sake of powerful countries nor hindered from playing an effective role for future generations who might discover better ways of doing things.
Moreover, our evaluation of any current or future political system or policy should be based on the extent the system under consideration satisfies these higher values that we read from the texts.
And Allah knows best. Hoping this is helpful. Thank you and please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)