Islam- A System of Life or an Apolitical Set of Beliefs, Rituals and Morals?


Waqar Akbar Cheema


Many of the confusions about Islam persist for the failure to understand the scope and outlook of Islam towards the world. People find it odd for a religion to inspire political ideas, and principles of legislation, governance, business and penalties among other things. In order to get into a better position to understand these dimensions of Islam one needs to understand the unique position Islam claims for itself and how it relates to Islam’s view of creation and purpose of man and the system of revelation and prophethood. It is advantageous to look at the unique position of Islam amongst religions in the historical background of Abrahamic faith.  An objective look at this claim of Islam can induce one with the desire to see the merits of it in a world wrought with inconsistencies and incongruities. This can lead to understand and even appreciate the struggles of those working to revive Islamic political order.

1. Introduction

People usually fail to understand as to why Islam has strict punishments for apostasy, premarital and extra-marital sex, drinking, special rules for religious minorities and things of the kind. They wonder as to why Muslims are passionately unique in things as basic as dietary habits to economic and social ideals?  And then there is also a word about Islamic political order. Why is Islam the only religion to have all this?

All these questions originate with the fundamental misunderstanding as to what Islam is. Exception is taken to a religion doing all but not for a state system. It is therefore imperative to understand the very nature of Islam in the first place. In the following lines we undertake a short study on this issue of paramount importance.

2. Man created as the vicegerent (khalifah) of Allah- its meanings and significance

Relating the story of creation the Qur’an tells us how Allah mentioned to the angels of the status of His new creation, the man.

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً

“And recall when thy Lord said to the angels: “Surely I am going to place a vicegerent on the earth.”[1]

 With reference to a narration from two most learned companions of the blessed Prophet (ﷺ), Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn Mas’ud, at-Tabari (d. 923 CE/310 AH) says the interpretation of the verse is:

إني جاعل في الأرض خليفةً منّي يخلفني في الحكم بين خلقي. وذلك الخليفة هو آدمُ ومن قام مقامه في طاعة الله والحكم بالعدل بين خلقه.

I am about to place a vicegerent of Mine on earth to act on My behalf (yakhlufu-ni) in judging between My creatures.’ This vicegerent was Adam and those who took his place in obeying God and judging with justice between His creatures.[2]

 Likewise, with reference to a saying of Ibn Zayd, at-Tabari mentions the implication of the verse as:

أنَّ الله أخبر الملائكة أنه جاعل في الأرض خليفةً له يحكم فيها بين خلقه بحكمه

Allah informed the angels that He was putting someone in His place (khalifa, = vicegerent) on earth to judge between His creatures according to His judgment.[3]

From the above two results can be clearly deduced;

  1. Vicegerency is an honor bestowed upon the prophets and their followers.
  2. It is the duty of the vicegerents to establish the judgment of Allah among His creatures on Earth.

3. The mission of the Last Prophet and the status of Muslim ummah

The status of “khalifa” was originally for the whole mankind but some refused to accept it when they refused to believe in divine message. The Prophets and the followers did whatever was destined for them to discharge their duty until the advent of the Final Prophet who perfectly established the faith and laid the foundation for its eventual empirical establishment on the entire planet.

Study of whatever has reached us from the teachings of the earlier Prophets shows this grand plan was made known to earlier nations as well.

Prof. Abdul Ahad Dawud (d. 1940 CE), formerly Rev. David Benjamin Keldani– Bishop of Urmia, wrote:

It was during the divine audience of the Sultan of the Prophets, as given in [Book of] Daniel, that it was promised that;-

The kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under all heaven shall be given to the people of the Saints of the Most High, its (the people’s) kingdom (shall be) a kingdom forever, and all dominions shall serve and obey it.” (Dan. Vii. 22 and 27)

The expressions in this prophetical passage that the Kingdom of God shall consist of the “the People of the Saints of the Most High”, and that all other dominions or powers shall serve and obey that people, clearly indicate that in Islam the Religion and State are one and the same body, and consequently inseparable. Islam is not only the Religion of God, but also His earthly empire or kingdom.[4]

Even Christ and his disciples were, Prof. Dawud says,

 the harbingers of the Kingdom of God upon earth. The soul and the kernel of the Gospel of Jesus is contained in that famous clause in his prayer: ‘Thy kingdom come.’ … The Greek word euangelion rendered ‘Gospel’ in English practically means ‘the enunciation of good news.’ And this enunciation was the tidings of the approaching Kingdom of God …” And “what Jesus announced was, it was Islam that was the Kingdom of God and that it was Muhammad who was the Son of Man, who was appointed to destroy the Beast and to establish the powerful Kingdom of the People of the Saints of the Most High.[5]

Among other Muslim scholars Hamid ad-Dīn Farahi (d. 1930)[6] and Dr. Muhsin Usmani Nadwi[7] have argued for the same.

It was the total arrival of this blessing which is referred to in the following verse of the Qur’an;

الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الإسْلامَ دِينًا

Today, I have perfected your religion for you, and have completed My blessing upon you, and chosen Islam as dīn (religion and a way of life) for you.[8]

Above mentioned prophecies from the previous scriptures help us truly appreciate the following comment made by certain Jews in the time of ‘Umar.

أن أناسا، من اليهود قالوا: لو نزلت هذه الآية فينا لاتخذنا ذلك اليوم عيدا، فقال عمر: أية آية؟ فقالوا: {اليوم أكملت لكم دينكم وأتممت عليكم نعمتي ورضيت لكم الإسلام دينا} [المائدة: 3]

Some Jews said, “Had this Verse been revealed to us, we would have taken that day as ‘Eid (festival).” ‘Umar said, “What Verse?” They said: “… This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion….. (V.5:3)[9]

 Prof. Dawud helps us understand the importance of this verse by highlighting the perfect manifestation of Islam achieved with the advent of the blessed Prophet- Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, vis-à-vis Islam in the Jewish history.

true religion of God before Muhammad was only in its infancy, that it remained immature and underdeveloped amongst the Hebrews, although it shone brilliantly in the life of the true servants of Yahwah … But the true religion of God never took the form of the Kingdom of God as it did under the Qur’anic regime.[10]

4. Islam is “Dīn”- A Comprehensive System of Life

Unlike other religions which are practically reduced to sets of dogmatic beliefs, rituals and personal morals Islam claims for itself a unique position. The word denoting the conceptual scope and framework of Islam is dīn (or “deen”). The term dīn encompasses the following meanings;

  • Dominance, or sway, on the part of someone in authority;
  • Obedience, servitude, or worship on the part of the one submitting to the authority;
  • Laws, rules or regulations or code imposed, and required to be observed, in the context of the above relationship; and
  • Calling to account (for obedience or non-obedience to the authority or for compliance or non-compliance with its dictates), passing judgment, and pronouncing reward or punishment.[11]

The Qur’an uses the term in different ways, at times with only one of these meanings and in instances all the meanings together.[12]

The fact that Islam has injunctions not only about ritual acts of worship and personal morals rather it has its own distinct and elaborate social, legal, penal and economic laws belies any suggestion of considering Islam at par with religions such as Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism. And likewise the fact that it is not racial in its outlook makes it manifestly different than Judaism. In fact anyone who has even flipped through the table of contents pages of any standard hadith work knows Islam is a comprehensive system of life.

For instance Sahih al-Bukhari has chapters not only dealing with beliefs, knowledge, ablution, prayers, funerals, marriage, divorce, pilgrimage etc. it also has dedicated chapters on sales and trade, agriculture, distribution of water, hiring, transfer of debts, representation and business by proxy, partnerships, mortgaging, inheritances, drinks, fighting, military expeditions, prescribed punishments, judgments, tricks, blood-money etc. Sahih Muslim also has similar chapters along with chapters on government (imarah). Same is true for other hadith works.

5. Establishment of state a natural course or requirement of Islamic law?

There are some Muslims who are allergic to idea of politics in Islam. They contend that establishment of state is only a natural course in human civilization and Islam does not require Muslims to work to any such end. And that if Muslims follow Islamic ideals state will by itself become Islamic in nature.

Such a position is plainly contradictory to Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an rather tells us that it is the state authority that can and should be used to make the following of Islamic injunctions possible and easy. Speaking of the believers Allah Almighty says:

الَّذِينَ إِنْ مَكَّنَّاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَمَرُوا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَنَهَوْا عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَلِلَّهِ عَاقِبَةُ الْأُمُورِ

 (The ones who help Allah are) those who, when We give them power in the land, establish Salah, pay Zakah, bid what is Fair and forbid what is Unfair. And with Allah lies the fate of all matters.[13]

It is for this purpose that when Allah mentions the means of helping His cause it also includes those necessary for attaining power and subduing evil with force.

لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ اللَّهُ مَنْ يَنْصُرُهُ وَرُسُلَهُ بِالْغَيْبِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ

We have indeed sent Our messengers with clear proofs, and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that people may uphold equity. And We sent down iron in which there is strong power, and benefits for the people; and (We did it) so that Allah knows the one who helps Him and His messengers without seeing. Surely Allah is Strong, Mighty.[14]

Commenting on it at-Tabari writes:

أرسلنا رسلنا إلى خلقنا وأنزلنا معهم هذه الأشياء ليعدلوا بينهم، وليعلم حزب الله من ينصر دين الله ورسله بالغيب منه عنهم.

We sent Our Messengers to the people and also sent these things (Book, Balance, Iron) to establish justice among them. And that He makes known the party of Allah – those who support the dīn of Allah and His Messenger with His being Unseen to them.[15]

 In explanation to the supplication that Allah taught to His Messenger And grant me from You a helping authority”[16] Ibn Kathir (d. 774 AH) notes:

قال الحسن البصري في تفسيرها: وعده ربه لينزعن ملك فارس وعز فارس وليجعلنه له، وملك الروم وعز الروم وليجعلنه له. وقال قتادة فيها: أن نبي الله صلى الله عليه وسلم علم أن لا طاقة له بهذا الأمر إلا بسلطان، فسأل سلطانا نصيرا لكتاب الله، ولحدود الله، ولفرائض الله، ولإقامة دين الله، … لا بد مع الحق من قهر لمن عاداه وناوأه، ولهذا يقول تعالى: لقد أرسلنا رسلنا بالبينات- إلى قوله- وأنزلنا الحديد [الحديد: 25] الآية. وفي الحديث «إن الله ليزع بالسلطان ما لا يزع بالقرآن» أي ليمنع بالسلطان عن ارتكاب الفواحش والآثام ما لا يمتنع كثير من الناس بالقرآن وما فيه من الوعيد الأكيد والتهديد الشديد، وهذا هو الواقع.

Al-Hasan Al-Basri explained this Ayah; “His Lord promised to take away the kingdom and glory of Persia and give it to him, and the kingdom and glory of Byzantium and give it to him.” Qatadah said, “The Prophet of Allah (ﷺ) knew that that he could not achieve this without authority or power, so he asked for authority to help him support the Book of Allah, the Laws of Allah, the obligations of Allah and to establish the religion of Allah. … Alongside the truth, he also needed power and authority in order to suppress those who opposed and resisted him, hence Allah said: “We sent down iron in which there is strong power, and benefits for the people; and (We did it) so that Allah knows the one who helps Him and His messengers without seeing (Him). Surely Allah is Strong, Mighty.” (57:25) A hadith says, “Allah establishes checks by the State authority on things for which check by Qur’an is not enough”[17] i.e. He forbids through the state-authority a number of evils and vices that a lot of people do not refrain from in spite of warning and threats in the Qur’an, and this is a fact.[18]

 It is a reflection of this dimension of Islam that we find ruling authority mentioned as fundamental aspect of Islam like the acts of ritual worship.

عن أبي أمامة الباهلي، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: لتنقضن عرى الإسلام عروة عروة، فكلما انتقضت عروة تشبث الناس بالتي تليها، وأولهن نقضا الحكم وآخرهن الصلاة

Abu Umamah narrated from the Messenger of Allah: “Islam will be stripped away, piece by piece. Every time a piece will be stripped people would hold tight to the next one. The first of things taken would be ruling and governance, and the last thing would be prayers.”[19]

‘Umar, the second Caliph after the Prophet (ﷺ) stated the relationship between Islam and state authority in the following words;

قال عمر: لا إسلام إلا بجماعة، ولا جماعة إلا بإمارة، ولا إمارة إلا بطاعة

‘Umar said: There is no Islam without the believing community (jam’āh) and there is no believing community without the ruling authority and there is no ruling authority without obedience.[20]

 This causal relationship between Islam and the ruling authority defines the notion of establishing the religion of Allah as an obligation. Many of the mandatory Islamic injunctions cannot be followed without the state authority. So by the general maxim “Something which is indispensible for carrying out of an obligation is also obligatory” assuming state authority is an obligation upon Muslims. It is therefore right to say that without the political power teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah would have been a utopian fantasy.

 Late Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi[21] put Islam’s approach to the question of statehood and state power and it’s comparison with other systems of thought in a beautiful way:

Law, in other traditions, is generally recognized as such only when it is promulgated by the political authority, that is to say, law is always the creation of the political authority, of the state apparatus. On the other hand, in the Islamic tradition, it is other way round: the state and the political authority are the creations of the law.[22]

 6. Summary and Conclusion

Islam as practiced and preached by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) is the perfect and final form of the only divine religion. It was through him that it was destined to be perfected and established as the Kingdom of God on earth and it was so prophesized by the earlier prophets as clear from the reading of scriptures with followers of other so-called Abrahamic religions.

Islam now as the eternal and ultimate guidance for humanity deals with every subject of human interest. One word description of this fact is dīn. And as a dīn (system of life) Islam deals with all those subjects as well which to other religious groups are mundane in nature. At the same time as the vicegerents of Allah it is the duty of Muslims to establish His dīn on the planet and judge His creation accordingly. This fundamental principle defines Islamic injunctions of jihad, punishment for apostasy and forbiddance of preaching of any other ideology within the area under its political authority.

Islam is not only a parallel of religions like Christianity, Hinduism etc. it is also a rival of socio-political and economic orders like Communism and the Capitalism-Democracy duo. And just as preaching Das Capital in the Wall Street compound will not be tolerated preaching of any other ideology is not lend any courtesy to in the lands of Islam.

If these peculiarities of Islam are considered and a bid is made to understand the expediency of its ‘problematic’ ideas many of the confusions and misgivings about Islam can be done away with. In fact it will also show us how Islam and Islam alone is the panacea for social and strategic problems faced by humanity. The missing ingredient of congruency in the spiritual and material facets of life and the consistency in the municipal and international policies can be provided only by a comprehensive system of life. Islam does all that and while no other ideology even claims for itself such a comprehensive outlook humanity will doing itself grave injustice in keeping itself from coming to this life-giving system of life.

[1] Qur’an 2:30

[2] At-Tabari, Ibn Jarīr, Jami’ al-Bayan fi Ta’wīl al-Qur’an, (Beirut: ar-Risalah Publications, 2000) Vol.1, 452

[3] Ibid., 453

[4] Dawud, Abdul Ahad, Muhammad in the Bible, (Karachi, Darul Ishat, 1995) 136

[5] Ibid., 141-143

[6] Farahi, Hamid ad-Din, A Study of the Qur’anic Oaths, (Lahore, Al-Mawrid, 2009) 93-94

[7] Nadwi, Muhsin Usmani, Dīn ka Mutawazan Tasawwur, (Karachi, Majlis Nashriyat Islam, 1999) 47

[8] Qur’an 5:3. Mufti Taqi Usmani’s translation

[9] al-Bukhari, as-Sahih, Translated by Muhammad Muhsin Khan (Riyadh: Maktabat Dar-us-Salam, 1997) Hadith 4407

[10] Dawud, Abdul Ahad, op. cit., 140-141

[11] Maududi, Abu al-A’la, Qur’an ki Chaar Bunyadi Istalahat (Lahore, Islamic Publications, n.d.), 124

It may be noted that Abu al-Hasan Ali Nadwi who criticized the referenced work of Maududi in his book ‘Asr Hazir mein Dīn ki Tafhīm wa Tashrīh (Understanding Islam in the Current Era), makes no observations about Maududi’s musings on the term dīn.

[12] Ibid., 125-136

[13] Qur’an 22:41

[14] Qur’an 57:25

[15] At-Tabari, Jami’ al-Bayan fi Ta’wīl al-Qur’an, Vol.23, 201

[16] Qur’an 17:80

[17] It is actually a statement of ‘Uthman; See an-Namiri, Tarikh al-Madina, (Jeddah: Habib Mahmud Ahmad, 1399 AH) Vol.3, 204; its narrators are all trustworthy though there is a break in the chain as Yahya bin Sa’id did not meet ‘Uthman.

[18] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, (Beirut: Dar al-Kotob al-‘Ilmiyya, 1419 AH) Vol.5, 102

[19] Ahmad bin Hanbal, al-Musnad, (Beirut: ar-Resalah Publications, 2001) Hadith 22160; classified as jayyid (good) by Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut

[20] ad-Darimi, Abu Muhammad, al-Musnad/as-Sunan, (Riyadh: Dar al-Mughni, 2000) Hadith 257; also al-Qurtubi, Ibn ‘Abdul Barr, Jami’ Bayan al-‘Ilm wa Fadlihi, (Dammam: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 1994) Hadith 326; Its narrators are all trustworthy. See al-Ghumari, Abu ‘Asim, Fath al-Mannan Sharh wa Tahqiq Musnad ad-Darimi, (Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir, 1999) Vol.2, 376

[21] Dr. Ghazi (d. 2010) was a prominent scholar from Pakistan. He retired as the President of International Islamic University (IIU) Islamabad.

[22] Ghazi, Mahmood Ahmad, Kitab Al-Siyar Al-Saghir- The Shorter Book on Muslim International Law, (Islamabad, Islamic Research Institute, Islamabad, 1998) Intro., 18

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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