Is Islam a Totalitarian Ideology with a Religious Component?

15 August, 2017
Q I think religion in general must be marginalized. I'm most concerned with the negative influences that Abrahamic religions have on the world, and of those, I'm most concerned with Islam. Given that, I think the first mistake we make is to declare Islam to be a "religion". That's a misnomer. Instead, we should be honest and simply say that:“Islam is a totalitarian ideology with a religious component.” I understand that the phrase "totalitarian ideology" will come with negative baggage or connotations for most people, but strictly speaking, "totalitarian ideologies" don't have to be bad things. The point is that there is a crucial distinction between religion and totalitarian ideologies.What do you have to say about that? If you disagree then why?


Salam (Peace) Dear Tony,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Often, religions are called “marginalized” because it is assumed that religions are the causes for wars.

But, wars are not a religious phenomenon, they are a human one.

World Wars I and II were not spurred by any religion. They were purely political. Religions have come to diminish war occurrences by regulating them and emphasizing the sanctity of life.

Just as guns don’t kill, people kill- religions don’t kill, people kill. Just as we blame people when they misuse guns, we ought to blame people when they misuse religion as well.

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In addition, we don’t call for the banishment of business when there are fraudulent hedge funds, or the end of banks when they tanked the economy in 2008, or the banishment of government when there are bad politicians or unjust wars, or the shutdown of medicine when there are malpractices.

Why should we then call for the marginalization of religion when it is misused?

Islam Is A Religion

Islam is a religion and not a political movement. The purpose of human existence is elucidated by our Creator in the Quran where He said:

I have not created the jinn or mankind except for them to worship Me. [Quran 51:56]

Islam does provide a set of ethics, morals, and rights for the individual, family, and society. These ethics, morals, and rights would naturally be taken into consideration by the government in a Muslim nation.

Islam does not specify the type of government a nation should have and thus, leaves the door open to what best suits society at a given time.

It is for this reason we find throughout Islamic history a variety of governments that include heads of state as kings, presidents, prime-ministers, etc.

Totalitarianism vs. Islam

Totalitarianism can be defined as: a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible.

At the outset, the definition above does not describe Islam because Islam is not a political system. Islam predates the ideology of totalitarianism which came about in the early 1900’s.

A person can be Muslim living anywhere in the world by merit of his belief in God and His Prophets. A Muslim is not tasked to “establish the shariah” in any non-Muslim land as is incorrectly propagandized.

In the absence of having the freedom to practice Islam, the Prophet Muhammad migrated to another land and did not stage a revolution to “establish the shariah” on the people of Makkah.

Even in later years in Madinah, the Prophet did not “enforce the shariah” on peoples of other faiths.

He allowed them to live their lives according to their holy books and encouraged them to establish their own courts for their own judgments as directed by the Quran:

But how is it that they come to you for judgment while they have the Torah? [Quran 5:43]

And let the People of the Gospel judge by what Allah has revealed therein. [Quran 5:47].

This dealing of tolerance and pluralism in Islam is in direct contradiction to totalitarianism.

Islam Forbids Obeying an Evil Ruler

Furthermore, governments in Islam have limits in their compliance, unlike totalitarian ones, and are not to be obeyed in matters of oppression, injustice, or evil.

Allah said:

And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. [Quran 5:2].

The Prophet Muhammad clearly allowed the disobedience of a military general, when the general commanded people to commit suicide, by stating:

“Obedience is only in matters of good.” [Muslim]

Islam encourages free enterprise and at the same time discourages greed. A Muslim run government does not control the economy in contrast to a totalitarian one.

People are recognized to have property and contractual rights. The Quran allows transactions based on approval from the buyer and seller, without the inclusion of government:

O you who have believed, do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly but only [in lawful] business by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful. [Quran 4:29]

This does not mean that a government must be silent in regulating certain business practices to eliminate fraud, injustice, and wrongdoing as is the case in any free market system.

I hope this answers your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

(This is from AboutIslam’s archives and was originally published in September 2016)

Read more:

Why Are There Secular Authorities in Islamic Countries?


Can One Be A Muslim & A Communist?

What Is The Failure of Political Islam?


Does Sufism Promote Political Quietism?


Can Muslims Join Political Parties?