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    Could an Islamic state actually work?

    by guest on 10th May, 2009 at 11:25 am    

    Guest post by Ghaffar Hussain as part of Speakers Corner Sundays

    Some would argue that the Taliban are fighting to overthrow the Pakistani government in order to establish a medieval barbarian theocracy. Others would pit them as noble freedom fighters that are resisting foreign invaders and seeking to bring justice to the neglected people of this region. In the meantime we have unpopular and counter-productive drone attacks and endless conspiracy theories about who is arming and funding who.

    But somewhere in the midst of this mess is the quest for an ‘Islamic state’ and the introduction of Shariah law. These are often presented as clear and concrete objectives which some insist on resisting at all costs whilst others are told they are duty bound to embrace as Muslims. Such discussions are, however, far too simplistic and gloss over the confusions and differences that exist in this area.

    Muslims do not and have never agreed upon one version of ‘Sharia’ law, they also do not have a commonly accepted definition of an ‘Islamic State’. The current Pakistani constitution states that no legislation may contradict the Quran or Sunnah (Primary sources of Islam) and therefore, according to some, it is an Islamic state.

    The Taliban would argue that the existing political apparatus in Pakistan does not match that of 7th century Arabia and that it does not implement their interpretation of Shariah, which is informed by the Pashtun tribal code. Saudi Arabia claims to implement Shariah law yet luckily their version of it does differ from that of the Taliban’s and again is informed by Bedouin Arab customs. Many Arab Islamists groups, being influenced by Arab nationalism, insist on the future leader of an Islamic state being Arab or even belonging to a particular tribe. Iran also claims to be an ‘Islamic state’ yet their interpretation of that term differs yet again due to their Shia heritage.

    So where does all this confusion lead us? The answer is nowhere. Problems arise because puritanical and literalist interpretations of Islam refuse to accept scriptural diversity and appreciate difference of opinion. They also fail to take into account the fact that certain rulings were specific to one time period and one culture, i.e. they are not normative.

    Take Music for instance, within mainstream Islamic schools of thought one will find a whole range of positions on Music. Some would seek to forbid it outright, others would allow certain forms of Music and forbid others, some argue that the content of the lyrics holds the key whilst others would take a relaxed position to most if not all forms of music. So which is the true Islamic position? They all are and it is up to the individual to decide which view he/she decides to follow. Moderate Muslims would accept this diversity of views on music and other issues but puritans and those under their influence would champion one view and attack all the others.

    Similarly puritans would argue that a state which only implements one particular interpretation of shariah is a true Islamic state, the true interpretation often being decided by the ethnicity and personal ambitions of the ones making the judgement. More hardcore factions would insist that only an expansionist state which adopts an interpretation of shariah that they approve, seeks to unite the entire Muslim world under one ruler can be called an Islamic state. These differences explain why extremist groups often turn on each other when they get the opportunity and end up never achieving their utopia.

    Moderates would argue that a state which refers to shariah principles when drafting legislation is an Islamic state. Such a state, they would argue, can still be democratic, inclusive and content within its own borders. They also insist that expansionist empires were simply political constructs of the past and not an intrinsic part of Islamic doctrine. Much more interestingly another set of moderates insist that actually there is no such thing as an ‘Islamic state’ at all, the very concept is a post-colonial reactionary concoction that owes more to communism and fascism then Islam.

    Such Muslims would argue that Islam did not pre-define a political structure and Shariah was never meant to be adopted wholesale as state law. Rather Islam is a complete way of life that seeks to guide our conduct in some spheres and dictate it in others, i.e. Shariah would dictate how a Muslim prays but guide how a Muslim runs a surgery for example. Similarly, Islam could guide our political conduct without dictating it. They would insist that this has always been the relationship between the Islam and political authorities. Concepts such as ‘Islamic states’ ruling by shariah are modern constructs which certain reformists proposed as a response to European imperialism.

    Again it would be difficult to argue that one view is more Islamic than any other and there is yet a clear consensus to emerge. Recent election results in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan do suggest that we are slowly moving into a post-Islamism world where Muslims are beginning to reject Islamist parties in favour of more inclusive ones. The lack of any central authorities in Islam and the poor state of Muslim scholarship will ensure that the confusion will continue.

    It’s important that individuals are exposed to the plethora of views on this topic by reading books such as ‘The Great Theft’ by Khaled M Abou El Fadl and ‘Islam and the secular state’ by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im. But in the absence of open-mindedness, geo-political power struggles, short sighted governments and personal greed will continue to push power-mad fanatics to favour the more bigoted understandings that are more in tune with their personal desires.

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    30 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. FaustoT — on 10th May, 2009 at 1:00 pm  

      Any State before being birthed into this world needs to be measured against common “western enlightenment values”. If if falls short it should not be delivered, and arguably terminated.

      Better this then the world suffer the tantrums of a maladjusted teenager

    2. Andrew — on 10th May, 2009 at 1:52 pm  

      Is this the same Ghaffar Hussain who is head of outreach and training at the Quilliam Foundation? I would be interested to know if this is his own view, or the official QF view. Anyway, it’s a fascinating subject!

    3. Niels C — on 10th May, 2009 at 8:02 pm  

      Just read Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It’s a good reminder of why a state build upon one idea (Communism, Nazism or Islamism) is a terribly bad idea, and even worse in practice.

    4. platinum786 — on 11th May, 2009 at 8:26 am  

      They’ve existed in the past, you could argue they currently exist (KSA, Iran, Malaysia, even countries like Pakistan etc), I don’t see why they can’t exist in the future.

      The question being asked should be;

      1. Can a single Islamic state exist
      2. Are “Islamic” states representative of their citizens

      To me Q2 is almost a sub-section of Q1. Ghaffar mentions the fact that the Saudi state is a wahhabi oreintated state, he missed the fact the Iranian constitution states you can only be the President of Iran if you are a Shia Muslim or the Jaffari school of thought. The suggestion is that Islamic states don’t counter for the thinking of all Muslims.

      It’s interesting to see Music being mentioned to help explain his point of view. Why would any state want to micromanage it’s citizens. People may have their own Islamic views on Music, but what has the state got to do with any of it? The job of the state at the most is to ensure there is an education system within which it’s citizens are aware of the relevant Islamic understanding regarding Music and other topics, like an Islamic studies subject or something. If one wishes to sin or not, why is that the business of the state? It’s not.

      Too many people are brainwashed into thinking that Islamic states are going to be places or are places where your individual rights are curbs and the state is involved in your every affair, a place devoid of liberty etc.

      Remove Islam from the picture and Saudi Arabia would still be the same authoritarian, closed society, as would Iran and the Taliban would still be the same vicious power hungry brutal scum. They’d have different justification for it, tribes, other religions, football teams, who cares. The micromanagement in these places exists to control the people and to assure the total rule of the people at the top, simple as that.

      Of course we can have an islamic state, but it’s not possible right now, we need people power in order to create that. The funny thing is the western governments are more than aware of that. That is why the countries in the middle east they need, don’t have the word wdemocracy uttered there, that is only reserved to change the governments in the Muslim world who they don’t like and don’t need.

    5. thabet — on 11th May, 2009 at 11:42 am  

      “Some would argue that the Taliban are fighting to overthrow the Pakistani government in order to establish a medieval barbarian theocracy.”

      And they’d be wrong, since the medievals at least had some awareness of the problems of law, power, representation and religion.

    6. douglas clark — on 11th May, 2009 at 12:24 pm  


      Do you agree with every last word of that? I find the summary enough to make me nauseous:

      This book deals with an Ayyubid-Mamluk Egyptian jurist’s attempt to come to terms with the potential conflict between power, represented in the state, and authority, represented in the schools of law, particularly in Mamluk Egypt, in the context of the running history of Islamic law from the formative period during which ijtihad was the dominant hegemony, into the post-formative period during which taqlid came to dominate. It also deals with the internal structure and operation of the madhhab, as the sole repository of legal authority. Finally the book includes a discussion of the limits of law and the legal process, the former imposing limits on the legal jurisdiction of the jurists and the schools, the latter imposing limits on the executive authority of the state.

      Still, if that’s your bag…

    7. Meer — on 11th May, 2009 at 1:29 pm  

      “Too many people are brainwashed into thinking that Islamic states are going to be places or are places where your individual rights are curbs and the state is involved in your every affair, a place devoid of liberty etc.

      ahhah..could it be that laws like below which are in existence in 21st century in the name of Islam give this idea?

      ORDINANCE NO. XX OF 1984
      (3) 298C… Any person of the Quadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves ‘Ahmadis’ or by any other name), who … invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

    8. Tim Worstall — on 11th May, 2009 at 1:40 pm  

      Not so distant echoes of the debates and events in Europe in the period 1300 or so to around 1800. Reformation, Counter Reformation, Enlightenment and so on.

      We seem to have ended up with a system that insists that the law is not determined by what those who believe in sky fairies say it should be.

      A decent enough beginning to the construction of a legal system by my lights.

    9. douglas clark — on 11th May, 2009 at 1:52 pm  

      Tim Worstall @ 8,

      If you weren’t standing as a bloody UKIP person, I’d think you were quite a nice guy.

    10. Keith — on 11th May, 2009 at 2:04 pm  

      But is it about goodness? There are many who believe in a Supreme Being who do not accept the doctrine of the organised religions since much of it appears to have no true historical provenance or high standards of morality and ethics,or even to be about goodness at all. Provably the Bible was altered by the early church and provably most of the Hadiths have no historical validity and there is good evidence for there having been several versions of the Koran, some of which still exist.(SSHH).However,the majority of non believers seem to have high standards, support goodness and the law of the land and of course they are also taxpayers and electors in a Democracy.I do not consider any religious law to be more equitable,ethical and just than our Common Law established over decades,why would we want to settle for second best?

    11. Sam — on 11th May, 2009 at 2:10 pm  

      Just curious, if states based on religion are an anathema, what does QF err Ghaffar Hussain make of the state of Israel which is an exclusively religious state with a politicized form of religion as its ideology (zionism)?

    12. platinum786 — on 11th May, 2009 at 2:17 pm  

      #7: Not at all. There is nothing wrong with that law. Ahmedi’s are an insult to Islam. They claim to be Muslims and then claim to have a new Prophet.

      They are free to exist and Worship as long as they declare they are not Muslim. The only thing the law prohibits is Ahmedi’s calling themselves Muslims.

      An Ahmedi Muslim is like a Jew who accepts Jesus as the messiah, your not a jew anymore at that stage, your christian. We’ve simply legislated that.

    13. douglas clark — on 11th May, 2009 at 2:40 pm  


      What a lot of crap, from a particular perspective, it has to be said.

      Ahmedi’s are an insult to Islam.

      And might it be legitimate to say that you are an insult to them?

      Yes, I do think that is true.

      Stop talking as though you knew what you were talking about, platinum786, ’cause it is obvious to anyone that doesn’t care to respect you that you just talk shit.

    14. mk1 — on 11th May, 2009 at 3:11 pm  

      ‘…..Ahmedi’s are an insult to Islam….’

      Why? They beleive in Allah and Muhammed as his messenger; moreover they beleive in the 5 pillars of Islam. So where’s the problem?

    15. douglas clark — on 11th May, 2009 at 4:00 pm  

      This is verging on a ridiculous conversation, as the state you all live in has had an enormous upheaval in moving Christianity off centre stage. Which has taken some ridiculous number of centuries to, sort of, achieve. If you think anyone that has been through that nonsense already - the position of a religion in a states’ authority - is likely to go through it again, well you’ve another thought coming…..

    16. Rumbold — on 11th May, 2009 at 4:50 pm  


      Ahmadis should be free to call themselves what they want. It is not your, nor the state’s business, to legislate on how people define themselves. You are perfectly entitled to think that they are not Muslims. And they you.

      Anyone who believes that religious identity should be defined by others is a bigot. Surely God is the only judge? People who think otherwise place themsleves on the same level as God, and I don’t even want to think about how many religious laws that breaks.

    17. Celtlord — on 11th May, 2009 at 9:30 pm  

      Subscribers to salafist interpretations of islam, so-called Wahhabi clerics of saudi arabia, followers of that Egyptian roach, sayed qtub, vast majority of jihadi groups, and of course the vaunted muslim brotherhood are not puritans. They believe, as old moe-hamed is supposed to have said when asked “How would people know true islam? moe’s response,” my generation, the next, and the one after are the best of muslims,”. I paraphrase, so the gist is the examples to follow on your way to avoiding the fires of hell, are people who made their living conquering, pillaging, thieving, slaving, raping and forcing the conversion of subject populations. Way different than puritans, besides puritans in Christianity are effectively extinct, ancient history.Fanatics hateful, guess that’s what you get when your religion’s founder was a deceitful murderous warlord, who fraudulently claimed a divine mantle?

    18. dave bones — on 11th May, 2009 at 10:18 pm  

      eh. there are Christain puritans and Christian puritans who seem more like Hindus

    19. thabet — on 12th May, 2009 at 2:14 am  

      Douglas , what makes you think that I agree with “every last word”?

      I used that as an example to show there were quite lively debates on ’state’ and law in medieval Islamic societies*, which Taliban types would not even bother with. In other words, even medieval Islam showed more sophistication than the Taliban…

      *let me pre-empt you: no, I don’t believe it was a liberal oasis.

    20. imran khan — on 12th May, 2009 at 6:23 am  

      It looks like QF’ers have an unusually free reign to write editorials here on PP. No other think tank has such access.

      Rather strange this and when asked questions about QF and its relationship to this site they go unanswered.

      Most Odd.

    21. platinum786 — on 12th May, 2009 at 8:28 am  

      I can’t call myself Jewish if I don’t testify to the basic tennants of Jewish faith. I can’t be Christian if I don’t agree with the basics of the Christian faith. You can’t be a Muslim if you don’t accept that Muhammed was the final prophet. Islam has a well defined system under which you must fall to be a Muslim. Ahmedi’s are not Muslims, they can’t masquerade themselves as Muslims.

      They are free to worship their pagan religion, the same way everyone else is, but you can’t call yourself Muslim when your not a Muslim.

    22. Rumbold — on 12th May, 2009 at 8:33 am  


      Sorry, I didn’t explain myself well. What business is it of yours or the state’s, unless you think that state you regualte what you can believe? You are perfectly free to believe that Ahmadis are non-Muslims, but it should go beyond that.

      For example, I don’t believe that socialists are really liberals (in the classical sense). Would I ever dream of arguing for a law that bans socialists from calling themselves liberals? No.

    23. imran khan — on 12th May, 2009 at 9:27 am  

      Rumbold - “For example, I don’t believe that socialists are really liberals (in the classical sense). Would I ever dream of arguing for a law that bans socialists from calling themselves liberals? No.”

      There is a difference between ethnic and religious identity and political affiliation.

    24. platinum786 — on 12th May, 2009 at 11:09 am  

      Rumbold, I understand your point of view, let me try and explain it in another way.

      Lets take your example of a liberal, who is a liberal? I’s open to interpretation. With religious identity, there are certains things you must accept, to be a part of that religion. Within Islam one of those is the finality of the Prophet Muhammed. Hence it’s actually possible to define in legislation who is a Muslim.

      This takes us onto the next point of yours, what business of mine or any states is it what someone chooses to religious identify themselves as? The liberal in me says no business whatsoever. HOWEVER, an islamic state has some responsbility to it’s religion. If your teaching school children that a basic tennant of the Islamic faith is to recognise the Prophet Muhammed(pbuh) as the final prophet, and then at the same time you have people who oppose that view and still call themselves Muslim, it’s contradictory. The state has some responsbility to preserve the faith as well.

      Can you understand what i’m saying? Imagine RE lessons at school if the teacher said “Christians beleive Jesus was the son of God”, and then went on to say “but he’s not, he was just a prophet” and then that teacher insists he/she is a christian?

      The individual is free to feel as Christian as they like, they’re free to participate in all Christian acts of worship etc, but your not actually Christian are you, and you certainly shouldn’t be presenting yourself as mainstream christianity.

    25. damon — on 12th May, 2009 at 11:24 am  

      For what it’s worth (not much, I know) but from what I’ve seen of them, Ahmedi’s are my ‘favourite’ kind of Muslims. I only say this because I visited their big mosque in south London for friday prayers a couple of years ago, and I was welcomed to sit up un the gallery and even given a translation ear peice (as the prayers and sermons are filmed and translated into English for the TV audience). I thought they were really cool, and I liked the images of their turbaned saints.

      I was just wondering if in a (hoplefully liberal) Islamic state, that there wouldn’t be this presumption like there is in so many Muslim countries today, that if you are born a Muslim, then you are one whether you like it or not.
      So for example, in Pakistan, as a forigner (and non muslim) I was allowed to get a liquor licence, whereas Pakistani’s (unless they could proove they were non muslims) were not allowed to buy alcohol.

      I’d be a bit annoyed if catholics insisted I was a catholic too, just because I was baptised as one as a child.

    26. Celtlord — on 12th May, 2009 at 7:13 pm  

      notice the descriptions of beliefs, and perspectives, of a significant current minority of those who call themselves muslim. Moehammed, self proclaimed prophet, verily the last one at that!, Well, Islamic, Koran, I think declares this fatherless mongrel, the Perfect Man. Flawless, the perfect example of human behavior. is Moehammed, so muslims believe and would non-muslims believe, at least not say aloud the opposite. Moehammed, founder of islam, was an asshole, probably, psychopath, charismatic cult leader, who got lucky.
      Accounts of his life from islamic sources demonstrate a man for whom the torture, removal of body parts, was part of war. A bloke who at 53 or 57, took a 9 year-old to bed. If that is anything other than rape to you, we have profound cultural differences. The value, “that children are never to be sexual playthings for adults” is a superior Western, as well Confusion, Hindu, Japanese, … Much of humanity shares this ethic. A mind polluted with islam, doesn’t see it as the rape of a kid. Google “khomenei fatwa babies sex”, what you will find is a translation of a book of the dead ayatollah’s list of permissible actions and forbidden ones. He list what is …. permissible in islam to do with sexually, as young as an infant. For the Sunnis, child marriages to old men are as common as blossoms on a cherry tree. Extreme cultural distinction from Western sentiment, authorities lock up childrapist, common people try to kill’em, Anyways, Moe was a asshole who would have endorsed Osama, may his seed wither and die cause all that camel rider said was a great steaming pile of Lie. Muslims can’t question their beliefs because since the 7 century islam has functionally drivin’ the people insane. People who claim to be progressive, should be able to recognize a true fascism, In the example, how countries subscribing to islamist beliefs and ideology practice Law?,… What is the state of their religious minorities?… Do they enjoy religious freedom, or are they villified, as many moslems in the west are currently claiming. The numbers of muslims in western countries is climbing at least a steady rate, since inception, islam, religious cleansing and expansion has been mandated by islamic authorities, look at the population figures for pakiscam, I mean Pakistan and Bangledesh, in 1948 around 25% Hindu, now less than i%, or close enough. The case in India muslim population exploding, curious is it not? Fascism migraded to the middle east and fused with islam in a potent new cocktail. Uniting with islamic colonists, is the path of a red ideologue, as opposed to Real Progressives.

    27. Shahinoor — on 12th May, 2009 at 8:10 pm  

      http://www.dialoguewithislam.org presents

      Does God do Politics? ?

      Thursday 21st May 2009 Time: 6:30pm

      In a recent article former Prime Minister Tony Blair urged world
      leaders to “do God”. Blair said politicians need to understand and
      incorporate religion into their politics. He says “it’s a force for
      good which could bring us all closer together.”

      Does putting God into statecraft make politics more moral, foster peace
      and above all fix our broken society? Or will it alienate non-believers
      and those of different faiths?

      Furthermore, how do you choose Whose God Politicians Should do?

      To answer these and other burning questions we have invited a very
      distinguished panel.

      1) Peter Hitchens (Daily Mail/Christian Speaker)
      2) Professor John White (Institute of Education - Faculty of Society)
      3) Dr Mustaqim Bluer (Islamic Party of Britain)

      Chaired by Al-Jazeera News Presenter

      Join us for what promises to be a hot and lively discussion.

      Ebrahim (Islamic) Community College
      80 Greenfield Road, (rear of East London Mosque)
      London E1 1EJ

      Time: 6.30 PM

      For further information and reservation-
      Email: dialogue_with_islam@yahoo.co.uk

      Admission Tickets:
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      Nearest Station: Aldgate East and Whitechapel

    28. imran khan — on 12th May, 2009 at 8:11 pm  

      Celtlord or whoever you are - your grasp on facts is suspect to say the least.

      Minorities in the Islamic world have enjoyed greater freedom than in Europe. At one time half the worlds Christians lived in the Muslim world, and indeed the vast majority of non-white Muslims. Not so long ago the Jews were persecuted to near extinction in Europe.

      Child marriage is still practised in parts of Europe.

      Get a grasp on social realities. In Holland the legal age of sex is extremely low so your own brethren are bringing down the consentual age for sex.

      In biblical terms girls married at puberty.

      We can carry on but your bile isn’t worth giving any attention to.

    29. imran khan — on 12th May, 2009 at 8:42 pm  

      Sorry that was meant to say that the majority of non-white Christians lived in the Muslim world and freely practised their religion unlike Europe where they were readily presecuted until not so long ago.

      Right wing europeans seem to think they brought religious freedom to the world whereas in reality its another things that came from the ethnics and the east.

    30. Celtlord — on 12th May, 2009 at 11:14 pm  

      Concerning my grasp, sahib Khan, of the Facts I have a number of non-muslim, that is Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zorastrian, Sikh, Bi’hai, and of course Hebrew, minorities in islamically dominated countries, that would beg to differ with the religiously harmonious islam-ridden utopian fantasyland. You dream about when you think about periods of islamic tolerance. Lets start with the slaughter of 1.5 million christains by muslim turks and kurds, in 1915. The ongoing harassment closing in on persecution of Coptic christains happening in Eygpt. I have no difficulty at all, finding genocidal propaganda from islamic sources, calling for the extermination of the jews, finishing off hitler’s job, again calling for the torture and murder of homo’s, Europeans went after the jews time and again, we figured out it was a shit idea. Imran… you have any little girls in your family, cousins, a kid sister? Now, Imagine a old man of mid-late 50’s trying to have sex with her, remember this is the “perfect Man” Islam can almost be summed up in the moral decision, you make here… Is it disgusting, or acceptable, because he claims he is a prophet of God

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