ISLAM -- GUIDANCE OR GOVERNANCE
by Ibrahim Mumin
“The difficulty before the real secularist (in the Muslim world) is to have to
prove the impossible, namely that Muhammad, when he acted as a lawgiver or
political leader, acted extra-religiously and secularly” – Fazlur Rahman –
ISLAM- P. 229.
Apart from sectarian differences, Muslim thinkers and philosophers always
struggled to determine if Islam is to govern Muslims through spiritual guidance
or through application of man-made Sharia. The internal dynamics of Shari’yat
Add Ma’arefat continues with uncountable literature in both sides. Muslims are
still struggling to determine if Prophets’ mission was to preach spiritual
guidance or to govern through state-law. Samuel Huntington’s warning “Clash of
Civilizations” may be inevitable unless Muslim’s internal “Clash of Islam’s
understanding” is properly answered.
Until recently, the West experienced its immigrant Muslims as a peaceful
friendly community. But after 9 –11 and other similar incidents Muslims seem to
have lost the trust and confidence of non-Muslims. A sense of scepticism and
mistrust about Islam and Muslims is prevailing all over the non-Muslim world. As
important members of human society, such frown to Muslims from world’s majority
non-Muslims is a serious blockade of human progress.
In Muslim majority countries non-Muslims live among majority Muslims and in
other countries Muslims live among majority non-Muslims. In such situation
tolerance to “Others” is no more a choice but imperative. Majority of the
followers of all major religions seem to have adopted that. So did Islam’s
It is Political Islam, defined by its founding father Maolana Mawdudi as: – “if
the Muslim Party commands adequate resources it will eliminate un-Islamic
governments and establish the power of Islamic governments in their stead”
–Jihad in Islam –page 23. Political Muslims generally consider non-Political
Muslims either as non-Muslims or less Muslims.
GUIDANCE OR GOVERNANCE? - THE QURA’AN
The very concept of governance by social laws is against the Qura’anic spirit.
Nowhere in the Qura’an there is a single instruction, even remote, to establish
theocratic State. Islam is based on five pillars, (1) Utterance of the
witness-sentence, (2) Prayer, (3) Fasting, (4) Islamic tax and (5) Hajj the
pilgrim to Mecca at least once a lifetime if one can afford. Each of those is
entirely non-political and effectively detaches Islam from State-machine in
every sense. Innumerable number of crimes and offences is possible in reality
but the Qura’an dealt with only few particular cases that took place in the
society. The Qura’an is silent on social crimes that did not take place at that
time but is taking place now. That means Qura’anic instructions about social
governance are contextual, applicable to only that society.
Islam is claimed to be the same religion continuously preached by numerous
Prophets from Adam to Muhammad. The Qura’an mentions few of the Prophets and
specifically describes their mission as preaching only.
1. Verse 61, 62: - (Prophet Noah) –“O’ my people! I am a Messenger from the
Lordof the worlds. I deliver to you the message from my Lord and advise you”.2.
Verse 67, 68: - (Prophet Hud) – “O’ my people! I am a Messenger of the Lordof
the Worlds. I deliver to you the messages of my Lord and I am to you atrusted
advisor”.3. Verse 79: -(Prophet Saleh) – “O’ my people! Indeed I did deliver to
you theMessage of my Lord”.4. Verse 93: - (Prophet Shu’aib) – “ O you people!
Indeed I did deliver to youthe Message of my Lord”.
The Prophets never expressed their concern to establish theocratic state. Noneof
them instructed his followers to establish any such state. The Qura’anprescribes
exactly the same task to Muhammad (SA) too, see bellow:
1. Ahkwaf 9: - Say, -(“O’ Our Messenger Muhammad)! I am not but an open Warner.
2. Bakara, 272: - Not on you (O’ Our Prophet Muhammad!) is incumbent
theirguidance but God guides aright whomever He wills.
3. Kwahf 29 & 56: - Say –“The truth is from your Lord, so let him who
pleasesbelieve”…..And We send Messengers but as bearers of Glad Tidings and
4. Gashiyah 21 & 22: -You are only a reminder….you are not a compeller overthem.
5. Ahzab 45 & 48: -(O’ our Prophet Muhammad!) Verily We have sent you as
aWitness, and as a Bearer of glad tidings and as a Warner.
6. Maydah 92 & 99: -Our Prophet Muhammad is bound only to deliver a
clearannouncement (on Our behalf)…nothing is (incumbent) upon the Messenger but
todeliver (the message).
7. Nisa 165: - (We sent) Messengers as givers of glad tidings and warners.
8. Kwaf 45: -You are not one to compel them.
9. Araf 188: - I am not but a warner and the bearer of good news.
10. Yunus 108: - Say –“O’ you people!…I am not a custodian over you.
11. An’am 48, 52, 66, 69 & 108: - We send not messengers but (as) heralds
withglad tidings and warners…neither it is on you to answer for anything on
theiraccount nor is it on them to answer for anything on your account….Say, -(O’
ourProphet Muhammad!) I am not a guard upon you…..We have not made you a
keeperover them, nor you are a guardian over them.
12. Ra’ad 40: - Your (Prophet’s) responsibility is only to deliver, Mine (God’s)is
to take account.
The message can’t be clearer. These verses are Islam’s cornerstones. Had
IslamicState been part of Islam, there must have been clear instruction to
Muslimsabout it. But the Qura’an rather stresses for establishing just societies
basedon moral guidance delivered by Islam’s Prophets.
In difficult situations also, the Qura’an strictly maintains the essence ofmoral
guidance, not imposition of laws as shown bellow.
1. “Will you (Prophet) then compel against their will to become
believers?"Chapter Yunus-99: and in many other verses.2. “Allah will not guide
but punish them who become Muslims and then leaveIslam, then again embrace Islam
and then again leave Islam.” - Chapter 4 verse137 and at least seven other
verses. No worldly punishment mentioned anywhere.3. “When you hear Allah’s
messages disbelieved in and mocked at, do not sit withthem until they enter into
some other discourse”. - Chapter Nisa verse 140.
Examples of few more verses will make it clear. The Qura’an contains versesabout
allowance of wife-beating (Chapter 4:34), women’s half inheritance(Chapter 4:11)
and half-witness (Chapter 2: 282), forbidding to befriendnon-Muslims (Chapter
5:51 etc.), instruction to slay idolaters wherever found,take them captives
until they repent and embrace Islam (Chapter 9:5 etc), sexwith slave-girls is
permitted (Chapter 70:5 etc.).
If these verses are taken as essence of the Qura’an, the guidance-verses have
tobe shunned. That is neither possible nor desirable. On the other hand,
theguidance-verses have the potential to reconcile these verses as “Matters
ofContextual Past”. Here comes the important question of sorting out
Qura’an’snormative and contextual verses. Incidents took place in that society;
peopleasked specific questions, verses were revealed to answer and address,
Prophethad to take decisions. Let us look at few verses: -
1. “They ask thee about the moon” – Chapter 2-189.2. “They ask thee what they
should spend”- Chapter 2-215.3. “They ask thee about intoxicants and games of
chances”- Chapter 2 219.4. “They ask thee what is allowed to them” – Chapter 5
–4.5. “They ask thee about accessions” – Chapter 8 – 1.6. “They ask thee
concerning the orphans” –chapter 2-2207. “They ask you permission to marry. Tell
them….”- Chapter 4-127.
Answers to these questions form the governance of that particular
society.Neither the Qura’an nor Prophet included that governance in Islam’sfaith-system.
Muslims are not instructed to apply that particular governance tochanged
societies. As the Qura’an clearly declares that Prophets were not togovern but
to guide, these governances must be reconciled as matters of past.
Islamic history tells us that early Muslims adjusted state-governance
accordingto the need of the hour. The 2nd Caliph Omar did not chop off thief’s
handsduring famine, defying Chapter 5:38. He also exempted some non –Muslim
tribesfrom Jijiya the Islamic Tax denying contextual Qura’anic verses. Past
IslamicJurists bypassed the Qura’anic instructions and decreed death sentence
toapostates only because such apostasy could destabilize the war-torn
Understanding Qura’anic contextuality is extremely important. This is the
wayMuslims can establish equity, human rights and peaceful coexistence
withfollowers of other religions, and still remain within Qura’anic spirit.
GUIDANCE OR GOVERNANCE? - THE PROPHET
The main argument in favor of Islam’s governance is that: - Prophet
himselfestablished the nascent “Islamic State” in Medina and ran it by
consulting hiscompanions. But on the contrary, the simple fact of governance by
people’sconsultation proves that it cannot be part of Islamic faith because
Prophets donot size and shape religions by consulting fallible human beings. Our
Prophetwas human being who lived in human society. He had to deal with
situations butnever included his decisions in Islamic faith-system. He knew
quite well thatthe contextual decisions of one time and place are not applicable
to anothertime and place.
Prophet’s followers accepted him as a complete Prophet before his
politicalleadership. Prophet’s followers accept him as a complete Prophet after
the fallof Islamic empire. Had establishing Islamic State been his life-mission,
fall ofIslamic empire should be failure of his mission. That is not possible, so
isIslam impossible to be governance.
Unlike in other religionists, Political Islamists claim that copying
Prophet’spersonal behavior is part of Islamic faith. There are countless
“Prophet’sExamples” recorded in eight books called Sahi Sitta (actually seven
books),Hadis Kudsi, Shiite Hadis and Sharia books. Had establishing Political
Statebeen part of Islam, we would expect Prophet to say so.
But not a single example was found anywhere. Two important Islami documents,
hislast sermon in Mecca and his last three instructions from deathbed are
alsosilent about Islamic state. Rather, he repeatedly stressed Muslims to
followIslam’s simple five pillars of guidance - (1) Witness, (2) Prayer, (3)
Zakaatthe Islamic tax, (4) Fasting, and (5) Refraining from using few
things–(Translation of Sahi Bukhari by Abdul Jalil, Hadis #12, 13 & 14, page
39). Thismessage was so important that he also insisted on the propagation of
this amongpeople. All these are strictly non-political and reinforce the notion
ofseparation of religion from the state-machine. Islam truly can be that simple.
The Prophet established a peace treaty called “Medina Charter” when he
migratedfrom Mecca to Medina in 623 AD. In its clause 2 of 47 he used the word
“Ummah”to include all populace irrespective of religion. That is secularism.
That isagainst the concept of any theocratic State. But Political-Islam (read“Governance-Islam”)
realizes the tremendous emotional force the word “Ummah”generates. So it
actually overrides the Prophet by appropriating the word“Ummah” for only Muslims
to consolidate its own strength and popularity. Boththe concepts of Khelafat
Movement and Pan-Islamism of Jamaluddin Afghani arebased on this notion. Unable
to realize Prophet’s spirit, Political Muslims takesingularistic approach to the
word. No wonder they show two different kinds ofsupport to victims of
oppression. The weaker is to all victims and the strongeris only to Muslim
victims. Though it does not admit, it puts Muslim Brotherhoodover human
Brotherhood. But, as very well pointed out by Maulana Husain AhmadMadani in his
book “Muttahida Qaumiyyat Aur Islam” (Composite Nationalism andIslam), “The
concept of Ummah is spiritual, not political”- (Asghar AliEngineer).
His image and acceptance as “Prophet Of Guidance” to his billion
peacefulfollowers remains independent of his political role. Establishment of
Mediniansociety was merely an historical construct. Political Islamists
committed a hugeblunder by integrating Muslim’s political life with Islamic
faith-system. Hadthe Meccans not tortured Prophet he won’t have migrated to
Medina. In that casethe Medinian political governance would not be formed. But
still he would enjoythe same status of Islam’s supreme Prophet. Many a times he
insisted many of hismessages be propagated beyond time and place. Those messages
were entirely ofguidance and essentially non-Political. All of his political
governances aremisused to create political Islam, which suffers a strong pull of
GUIDANCE OR GOVERNANCE? - ISLAM’S PREACHERS
Islamic theology flourished in the Middle East by serious dedication and
hardwork of many respected Imams, such as Bukhari, Tabari, Ibn Ishaq, Ibn
Hisham,Malik, Hanbal, Shafi’i, Abu Hanifa, Malik, Taymiyah etc. All of them
stayed awayfrom political power even after several invitations from the Muslim
Caliphs.Almost all of them were severely persecuted, imprisoned, exiled,
tortured andeven killed by Muslim Caliphs but they never joined the State-power.
Theyconstantly retained the notion that political power is antithesis to
Islamicguidance.Islamic preachers established Islam in vast areas. They knew
that powercorrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Many of them were robust
Based on people’s complain, they fought and defeated torturous kings. Aswinners,
assuming political power could have helped them in such difficult taskof
preaching Islam in lands of 100% non-Muslims. But still, just how many of them
assumed political power? We found none.
Preachers of other religions maintained the same notion of refraining
frompolitical power. Jesus never even tried to establish a political state, nor
didMoses. Lord Buddha was a prince; he left palace for preaching. So did
Mohavirthe preacher of Jain religion. Choitonnyo walked on roads barefooted and
livedwith people to preach his Boishnob religion. Guru Nanak never established
aSikh-state. These all are established religions today. On the other hand,
Deen-EElahi the new religion of the great Indian emperor Akbar has vanished with
In Muslim empire in the beginning it was a norm to updating mode of
governancewith respect to changed societies. (1) Prophet did not nominate his
successorbut the first and second Caliphs did. (2) During famine the second
Caliph Omardid not cut hands of thieves; he sidetracked the Qura’anic verse of
cuttingthief’s hands. (3) He discarded quite a few examples of the Prophet by
callingthe deviation “Bedat-E Hasana” (beautiful deviations). (4) He also did
not takeIslamic tax from some non-Muslim tribe, thus overriding Qura’anic verse.
(5)Caliph Mwabia openly said that some Prophet’s examples were not repeatable
inprevailing circumstances. Imam Taymiya said the same about the first
fourKhalifas. They knew that all of Prophet’s examples are not parts of Islam,
attimes Prophet behaved extra-religiously.
Metamorphosis of Muslim’s governance is a historical fact; numerous
additionsfollowed numerous abrogation. The worst was addition of politics to
Islamifaith. Political developments of Muslims are taken as political dimensions
ofIslamic faith-system. Many Muslim scholars warned Muslims about its
disastrouseffects, some of which we are experiencing now. Realizing the
thin-lineseparating Islam’s spiritual guidance and contextual governance is
extremelyimportant in our turbulent world today. Otherwise we will be stuck
forever withkilling non-believers, slavery, concubinage and violation of
Apart from the external criticisms, the ever-existing internal conflicts
andclash of ideas of Muslim societies are becoming louder and clearer.
Muslimsalways struggled to decide if Islam is about guidance or governance,
Marefa’ator Shariya’at. The hour of final decision seems near.
CONCLUSIONThe majority Muslims actually follow Qura’anic normative guidance.
Weunknowingly reject many of so-called “Prophet’s examples” and so-called
“Allah’sLaws”. For example, when we accept leadership of qualified women to run
agovernment we reject one “Prophet’s Example” in Sahi Bukhari. When we
shakehands with lady-coworkers or accept a singer’s witness, we defy Sharia
Lawsbanning those. When we reject instant divorce by husbands we reject few
ShariaLaws. When we object to forcing a divorced wife to a stranger’s beds to
remarryher previous husband, we deny the Sharia law of Hila Marriage. When we
makefriendship with good Christians and Jews; we “deviate” from another Sharia
lawthat forbids us to do so. When we don’t get involved in armed-Jihad
againstnon-Muslims we reject Sahi Hadis. We do those by natural human instinct
Qura’anic verses of moral guidance can be always. (Examples: - 109:1-
6,38:15-17, 20:130, 19:83, 84, 20:134, 135, 17:54, 52:45, 47, 67:26 and
manymore.). But contextual verses of slavery, sleeping with slave girls,
polygamy,wife-beating, women’s half-witness, killing non-Muslims or observing
“Limit ofSaturday” cannot be applied anymore. (Examples: - 22:39-41, 22:58,
2:190-194,2:216, 217, 5:33, 9:111, 8:15-16, 8:67-69, 9:122 and many more). But
sadly,Governance-Islam decided Islam’s attitude towards non-Muslims in the
(1) Peaceful persuasion, (2) Fighting for defence, (3) Limited attack and
They explained the Qura’anic progression as: - "So at first 'the fighting'
wasforbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory
againstthose who start 'the fighting' against you (Muslims) and against all
those whoworship others along with Allah"- (Ref. Introduction section of the
Englishtranslation of Sahi Bukhari by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Medina
IslamicUniversity). Dr. Sachedina criticizes this interpretation as - ”According
to theJurists, the tolerant verses are abrogated by the sword verse (9:29)
thatordains warfare against the people of the Book”- The Islamic Root of
DemocraticPluralism, page 48). In his book “Istenbat al-Tanzeel” the well-known
Islamicscholar Suyuti wrote, - "Everything in the Qur’an about forgiveness is
abrogatedby Chapter 9:5. (The verse: - “So when the sacred months are over then
slay theidolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives…”).
This is only a human interpretation; not from the Qura’an or Prophet. Suchthings
happen when politics pollute a religion. Islam and Muslims are facingenormous
amount of theological challenges from outside and within. These typesof
interpretations are suicidal to Muslims but are natural outcome of religious
governances. The above interpretation of our past scholars was based on
theirfallible understanding of Islam. Our present scholars can undo it and guide
ustowards Qura’anic pluralism, from governance to guidance. We Muslims must
choosepeace over conflict, guidance over governance and spiritual Islam over
The above piece was forwarded by Ibrahim Mumin, a member of the World Muslim
Congress and Director of Free Muslims based in New York. The write was on Free
Muslims website. The write up piqued the interest of my friend Mohammad Suleman
and he talked about exploring it in a conference format.