The Nature of State in Islam

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Dr. Alhagi Manta Drammeh,

By: Prof. Alhagi Manta Drammeh (PGCerTHE, FRSA, FHEA, UK)

I may claim that I am one of the first to raise this complicated issue within the context of the Gambia as one foresees that the trajectory of politics would necessitate this kind of debate due to the polarisation between the scholars of the so-called secular education and scholars of the madrasa in the Gambia. State in Islam is neither religious no secular. A secular state or a theocratic state does not exist in Islamic thought. Rather, the state in Islam is civic. Islam is a divinity, a theology and a revelation that should not be used for personal interests and promotion of an ideology. I must emphasise at the outset that Islam is not politics and cannot be reduced to the sphere of politics. On the contrary, it is a religion, theology and a comprehensive way of life. Indeed, Islam has laid down foundations and principles of good conduct and good governance in light of mutual consultation, equity, fairness and humane ideals of compassion, fraternity and forgiveness, although there is no particular blueprint of politics. Islam does not and has not condoned any form of theocratic political system. Politics is an art of the possible and compromises in governing the affairs of the people. When the Prophet of Islam  may the blessings of Allah be upon him moved to Medina, he did not impose on the citizenry a religious dogma.

The extensive interest in Islam recently in the world, has occasionally caused confusion as a result of ignorance and misinformation. Distortions of the teachings of Islam through myopic lenses have resulted from negative passions. Therefore, the task of understanding Islam as lived and viewed traditionally across time and space has become ever difficult and complex. Islam is a divinely revealed religion whose roots are anchored in the Qur’an, the Sunnah representing an uninterrupted period of fourteen hundred years of sacred religious history.

 Upon his arrival at Yathrib that became known as Medina, the Prophet of Islam Muhammad did not convert it. Rather Prophet Muhammad entrenched the values of good governance and the ideals of citizenship. In fact, Prophet Muhammad instituted and proclaimed the notion of human equality as enshrined in the Medina Document (Kitab al-Madinah). This historic document is one of the first documents for the promotion of universal human rights and freedoms. It is a document that is civic par excellence, and it is meant to organise the people of Medina as equal citizens regardless of their religion, race, ethnicity and linguistic backgrounds.  As universal concepts are more comprehensible when typified with examples to characterise their nature, it may be pertinent to highlight the Madinah document to assess the notions of pluralism and freedom in Islam. It is understood that this important document in its very early paragraphs recognises plurality and diversity on the basis of justice qist and good maruf.  It recognises the Jews as having their distinct religion, customs and traditions that have to be respected and treated with fairness adl and equality sawa’.  All the three Abrahamic faiths, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam call for freedom and human dignity.  The document promotes, among others, pluralism and freedom.

Pluralism portrays the system of power among different economic and, religious and geographical groupings.  Pluralism is a system which develops individual capacities, protects individual rights and freedoms, identifies social problems and promotes a politics of “incremental” change.  This is possible in the political arena where competing interests are reconciled and resolved.  Alternatively, some mechanisms may be instituted around professional unions and organisations in order that individuals can articulate and achieve their goals.  On the political plane, major group conflicts are debated.  On the other hand, social organisations and economic corporations which lie outside the sphere of the government operate to rectify the imbalance that may occur. It is understood that this important document in its very early paragraphs recognises plurality and diversity on the basis of justice qist and good maruf.  It recognises the Jews as having their distinct religion, customs and traditions that have to be respected and treated with fairness adl and equality sawa’.  All the three Abrahamic faiths, namely, Judaism, Christianity and Islam call for freedom and human dignity.

Islam seeks to provide a balanced, political, socio-economic and theological understanding of freedom which is fundamentally based on the notion of tawhid monotheism.

Freedom as an integral part of Islam, aims at establishing a just society based the rule of law shar’iyyah qanuniyyah, respect of human dignity karamat al-Insan which is established by Islam and all other divine religions. Freedom has many dimensions, namely freedom of speech, of opinion and thinking.  Nonetheless, these freedoms as Muslims believe are guided by certain religious constants.   Freedom is closely associated with human reason, which is deemed as a blessing for mankind to explore and unravel the secrets not only of the universe but also of social and natural and even complex psychological laws and relations.  The importance of freedom/liberty lies in the fact that it  is a vehicle through which individuals obtain their due recognition and can speak freely of their ideas without fear of retribution.  It emphasises the precedence of the development of the personality of the citizens and allowing them to have more options and choices. With freedom and plurality, ideas can be created, and innovation can occur. Indeed, latent potentials can be unleashed for the betterment of nations and humanity.

Overall, politics is about rationalisation of the best in terms of governance and developing the best conduct of relationships and interaction between the ruler and the ruled. This is left to the people to decide depending on their history, culture and collective experiences. This collective wisdom or experience, I believe can be best reached through the principle of shura (mutual consultation) In effect, the names may not be helpful if the outcomes do not promote the values, I have referred to earlier regarding the rule of law, the sanctity of human life and equality of all. In the end, I must say that religion should not be conflated with ideology. This is what one may refer to as the political reference that reflects one’s culture, values and beliefs, there cannot be a political system without a system of values. Indeed, Muslims would be influenced by their religious belief knowingly or inadvertently, as someone with a Jewish or Christian belief would be influenced directly or indirectly by their belief. In the end, politics is about compromises, conversation and consensus building. I am sure the debate would continue. I believe, the political landscape of the Gamia would evolve and take new shape and form.

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