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date: 11 December 2019

Muslim Views of the Polity: Citizenry, Authority, Territoriality, and Sovereignty

Summary and Keywords

Muslim views on the polity represent the paradigmatic understandings of how Muslims relate citizenry, authority, territoriality, and sovereignty to the overarching influence of the Western nation-state system. For instance, the meaning of citizenry in the modern state system was adopted by several Muslim societies during the decolonization period. Faith or submission to the will of God was the main criterion to become part of the group (usually referred to as the ummah). However, orientalists regarded ummah as a synonym for tribe, while Arab linguists insisted on a religious connotation. Authority, on the other hand, is ultimately enshrined in the personhood of the Prophet who is the spiritual leader, executor, legislator, and judicial interpreter of God’s message. Since in reality the Prophet is no longer existing, leadership is bestowed on the subsequent followers, and sometimes the ummah may possess leadership status through a social contract between the ruler and the ruled. The manifestation of operationalized authority needs a political space, domain, or place, which is attainable via the notion of territoriality. This is loosely conceptualized as an ummah that has geographical aspects, cultural traits, and a lingua franca. In the 8th century, jurists divided Muslim territoriality into two analytical terms, the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the abode of war/the enemy (dar al-Harb), while the Shia version of abodes rests in the Qur’anic dichotomy of “oppressed–oppressor.” The last concept pertains to sovereignty (hakimiyyah), commonly understood as “the will of God” and advanced by Islamists in the 20th century. In medieval times, it was understood as the promotion of public welfare envisaged in Shari’ah, while in modern times, Islamic modernists argued that Islamists wrongfully understood sovereignty and that the root word used in the Qur’an meant “to govern.” Nowadays, the assertion that symbolizes God’s sovereignty can be found in some modern Muslim states.

Keywords: Islamic international relations, ummah, nation-state, dar al-Islam, Muslims, dar al-Harb, citizenry, territoriality, authority, sovereignty

Introduction

Since the beginning of the subjugation of Muslim societies to colonial powers in the 19th century, multiple discordant Qur’anic and hadith interpretations within and outside the realm of Islam have transpired. Questions on the legitimacy and positionality of Islam within Euro-American modernity have rendered great challenges for contemporary Muslims, particularly over the issues posed by modern democracy, territorial sovereignty (i.e., the modern state system), human rights, and international cooperation, among others. Islam has been subjected to the Othering promoted by Orientalist works that depict Islam in sweeping essentialist claims as undeveloped and static (Adiong, 2012; Said, 1978). Muslims see Islam not as a simple religion but as a total way of life that governs the entire cosmos of creation. In the theological expression of the “International,” Muslim scholars have referred to the Qur’anic chapter 49 (al-Ḥujurat or The Private Apartments) verse 13:

O mankind! Truly, We created you from a male and a female, and We made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another. Surely the most noble of you before God are the most reverent of you. Truly God is Knowing, Aware.

(Nasr, Dagli, Dakake, Lumbard, & Rustom, 2015, p. 1262)

Muslims experimented with forms of governance ranging from Persian statecraft, the caliphate, the sultanate, and the imamate to the modern nation-state system. Of all these polities, the nation-state system has influenced the lives of contemporary Muslims. The succeeding Muslim views draw on their understanding of citizenry, territoriality, authority, and sovereignty as part of an overall view of the very idea of the “polity.”

Muslim Views on Citizenry

Faith was the main criterion and basis for membership in the Islamic community headed by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century, but according to Ayubi (1991, p. 6), “it nevertheless subjected the believers to the authority of a certain political leadership.” It was through the preaching and leadership of the Prophet that Arabs formed a politico-religious group beyond kinship (Parolin, 2009, p. 26), and after his demise, they formally institutionalized their community by borrowing foreign political administrative styles and practices (e.g., Persian treasury and military) as they spread all over the region. Rahman (1986, p. 88) contrasts medieval European cities’ patterns of governance with that of Muslim cities—the former being (independent) city-like associations, while the latter typically involved the emergence of familial dynasties (e.g., Umayyads and Abbasids). Isin (2012, p. 563) similarly focuses on the dynastic aspect of Muslim cities, noting that the dynasties are internally fissiparous, divided, and ruled by patrimony where there is the incapacity to build independent associations. Thus, citizenship rights are procured from political junctures, contingencies, and trajectories rather than from full submission to Islam. However, Davutoglu (1994, p. 186) insists that “the socio-political identification of ummah specifies a unique type of citizenship consisting of Muslims who decide to live together to perform their divine responsibility through the realization of a lifestyle originating from an axiological norm . . .” Because a Muslim is one who submits or surrenders him/herself to God and fully accepts the revealed messages as final and universal (Yusuf, 2010, p. 125), along with the signing of the Medina charter a new ontologico-political membership was defined beyond tribal membership in Arab societies. Therefore, a Muslim citizen is obligated to follow an authority or government that conforms to the principles and demands of Shari’ah (Asad, 1980, p. 75).

Ummah is a concept that defines Muslims as part of a whole community. The contemporary concept of ummah is “a specific kind of social identity” (van Nieuwenhuijze, 1959, p. 20) of which all Muslims are automatically a part by virtue of faith. Imam Zaid Shakir (2015) reflected on a virtually universal and transnational “cultural ummah” at the height of Muslim rule. He argued that “as a religious community of shared rituals, a shared liturgical language, shared dietary conditions, a common general dress code and unique approaches to art and music, Muslims share a common culture. This shared reality creates an ummah at the cultural level” (Shakir, 2015, p. 3). He demonstrated that Ibn Battuta (b. 1304, d. 1377) traveled more than 70,000 miles from Morocco to Indonesia and remained culturally integrated. He even became a judge in Maldives. However, this was in stark contrast with the experiences of Marco Polo (b. 1254, d. 1324), who was only an observer abroad. This so-called “cultural ummah” immediately decayed with the adaptation of the nation-state system by Muslim countries, although some rituals are still widely practiced, including fasting, praying, and standard halal food, among others.

In scrutinizing the word ummah, Kaka Khel explained that it is “derived from the word ‘amm’ (the root), which means ‘to aim at’ or ‘to intend to’. Hence, ordinarily, it means the people who ‘intend to’ follow a leader or a religion. Moreover, it is used in the sense of the desire ‘to belong to’ one place or generation, and various kinds of birds” (2013, p, 8). The Qur’an uses ummah in various contexts; it may mean mother, nation (Saunders, 2008, p. 303), group of people, community, humanity, exemplary human beings, duration of time, era, lifespan, method, or pattern, or be specifically addressed to the followers of the Prophet. Ayubi (1991, p. 21) provides a useful introduction to the work of Ibn Khaldun (b. 1332, d. 1406) where he uses ummah as a sociohistorical concept and considers its phenomenon longer than a dynasty or state (dawlah). He relates it with the term watan, which “expresses a certain relationship between specific group and a specific territory.” Orientalists regarded ummah as synonymous with “tribe,” but Arab linguists insisted on its religious connotation. According to Al-Faruqi, “to claim that, at the time, the only concept of belonging available was the ‘tribe’ is simply gross historical inaccuracy” (2005, pp. 3–5), because there were strong prophetic traditions that are non-ethnic and non-tribal. In Al-Faruqi’s extensive study of the ummah, he offers ten meanings:

  1. 1. Ummah in the direct sense of “path” or “custom” is already used in the second Meccan period.

  2. 2. Ummah means the group that embodies a certain tradition or way or follows a certain law.

  3. 3. This conceptual ummah of all believers can be seen in the actual groups to which the primordial single ummah gave rise, and which can be further identified by the specific creeds into which the primordial message became differentiated.

  4. 4. An ummah is the religious law and tradition followed and embodied by a group, therefore by extension, the group itself.

  5. 5. The ummah may comprise many or a few adherents, even no more than one. An individual following God’s law perfectly and in stark opposition to all people is an ummah on his own.

  6. 6. Ummah can mean a tiny group of people devoted to God.

  7. 7. Alternatively, ummah can refer to a large group of people.

  8. 8. Just as those who follow and embody the ummah are, by extension, identified as the ummah, the word can take on the connotation of the time or lifespan of the community.

  9. 9. Each ummah has an appointed term, which cannot be changed. The concept of “time” is integral to that of ummah in the sense of its “age” or “life,” which is “one’s existence.”

  10. 10. The meaning of the ideal ummah, is the one that matters most to Muslim theology and identity. In that humankind was created for a single purpose, they are a single ummah. (Al-Faruqi, 2005, pp. 28–32)

Now, it is difficult to ascertain if there is a correlation of ummah as an identifying variable with the modern understanding of citizenship because of its ambiguity and ambivalent characterization. Mohammad Hashim Kamali (2009, p. 121) argues that the discourse and topic of citizenship are very underdeveloped in the literatures of Islamic jurisprudence; thus Islamic scholars would just carelessly associate citizenship with Muslim identity (Hughes, 2013, p. 9) and being a legal member of the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam). In fact, citizenship is not recognized in Shari’ah according to a majority of Muslim commentators (Kamali, 2009, p. 122). But some would attribute the Islamic equivalence of citizenship to the accord of the Medina Charter, where parties to that document were given a set of rights and duties. However, Kamali (2009, p. 124) contends that the modern concept of citizenship has no direct Islamic equivalence because “of Islam’s rejection of all racial, ethnic and hereditary criteria of distinction, which constitute the foundations of nationalism.”

He further states that “the Prophet-cum-head of state himself did not insist on embracing Islam as a precondition of citizenship. The Medina Charter acknowledged and declared the Jews of Medina to be part of the ummah that the Prophet organized immediately after his migration to Medina. Moreover, there is nowhere a requirement in the sources of Shari’ah to say that a non-Muslim resident, the so-called dhimmi, must become a Muslim first before he or she can become a citizen of an Islamic state.”

(Kamali, 2009, p. 125)

In addition, there was free mobility of transportation, residency, and employment of all individuals residing in Muslim lands, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, in spite of competing caliphates among the Abbasids (formerly Iraq, Syria, and Egypt), the Fatimids (formerly Tunisia), and al-Andalus (formerly Spain). Thus, the restrictions imposed by contemporary Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia are an absolute violation of Shari’ah where, for example, the right to travel, work, or reside are fundamental, moral, and legal entitlements for all Muslims, but nowadays it has become a privilege for certain nationals depending on their social status in a particular Muslim-dominated country.

What we are witnessing now is an era of exclusivist membership to a certain nation-state (the only granting authority) that expresses itself in “local rhetoric and relies on ethnicity, culture” (Kamali, 2009, p. 151), nationalism, material wealth, language, particular lifestyles, values, and/or belief systems in order for an individual to be labeled as part of an entity in this present world order. This is in stark contrast to citizenship during the Ottoman period. Isin (2005, pp. 31–51) argues that Ottoman citizenship refers to imperial subjects and modern Turks as republican citizens and that the legitimizing factor that led to the citizenship law was the Tanzimat (reorganization) reforms promulgated between 1839 and 1876.

With regard to minorities, Islamic scholars refer to them as dhimmi (Kaka Khel, 2013, pp. 110–117) (or resident non-Muslims who agree to live and be ruled under a Muslim regime), which is enshrined in the term “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitab), usually composed of Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Mandaeans (Sabeans). Sometimes, according to other contemporary interpretations, the dhimmi also extended to Buddhists and Hindus—depending on the historical records of Muslim encounters in Asia—and was seen to have expanded its context to followers of certain ethical principles of higher authority. They were granted freedom of religion (i.e., rituals, practices, and places of worships are fully respected) and fundamental rights to life, property, movement, and sometimes exemption from military service. In return, they were obliged to contribute by paying a sort of poll tax (jizya), while Muslims paid the alms tax (zakat) (Ayubi, 1991, p. 23). With the adaptation of the nation-state system by Muslim rulers, the jizya was scrapped, but in the early 21st century, minorities (religious or otherwise) are treated worse in comparison with, for example, the Ottoman period (Monshipouri, 2007). Currently, blasphemy and apostasy laws are entrenched in most Muslim-dominated countries and places, such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Brunei, and even the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Muslim View on Authority

The concept of authority in Islam is one of the most difficult to assess; political authority is especially ambiguous. Contestation over political authority is the prime reason why political and theological divisions emerged (i.e., Sunni vs. Shi’a), particularly after the death of the Prophet. The Prophet’s multiple roles as religious founder, political leader, head of state, and spiritual guide comprised the key understanding of the concept of political authority (Khan, 2014b, p. 521). His political and diplomatic abilities in concluding treaties, as in the Medina Charter and the Hudaybiyya Treaty (Piscatori, 1986, p. 49), are worth emulating. Fazlur Rahman (1986, p. 88) argues that leadership in Islam stems from the Qur’anic revelation (3:104) that recites: “Let there be of you a community who calls (people) to virtue, commands good and prohibits evil, these shall be the successful ones.” Some would argue that “authority belongs to ummah” (Al-Barghouti, 2008, p. 37; Newell, 2007, p. 7), while others contend that authority is only possessed by God. Iqbal (1986, p. 37) asserts that authority lies with God alone and that laws in Islam have already been legislated through the revealed Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Thus, the leader of the community or head of state has no legislative power, and if there is a need to alter or modify some laws, he/she must, first, appoint advisers (although their opinions are not binding), and second, subordinate altered laws to the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Iqbal, 1986, p. 38). In principle and in theory, supreme authority lies only with God and not with the ruler of the state.

However, Hallaq (2003, pp. 244–245) insists that “Islamic law derives its authority not just because it is believed to be the law of God, for hermeneutically God did not reveal a law but only textual signs or textual indications that were to remain empty of legal significance had they been left unexplored.” Thus, the agents of interpreting the texts and making it into laws are solely the jurists. They are responsible for the interpretative construction, methodology, and codification of the Qur’an and the Sunnah into Islamic law (Hallaq, 2001). But the legislative activities of jurists are limited to three functions: “(1) to enforce laws in accordance with the Qur’an and the Sunnah (these are the primary Islamic sources); (2) to bring all existing laws in conformity with the Qur’an and the Sunnah; and (3) to make laws as subordinate legislation which do not violate the primary Islamic sources” (Iqbal, 1986, pp. 49–50). Crone (2004, pp. 286–287) adds that early Muslim government was all about the lawful maintenance of a moral order. The jurists’ discursive construction of the texts required constant interpretation and commentary in “which their schools of law were not only elaborated but also expanded and modified to meet the exigencies of changing times” (Zaman, 2002, p. 38). The identity and authority of their schools of jurisprudence were preserved and maintained through their commentaries, interpretations of Islamic sources, and fiat (or fatwas) that served as forms of dialogue between the past, present, and future generations of scholars in expounding the Qur’an and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad). However, their roles and duties were challenged by the emergence of lay interpretations of non-jurists that fragmented their authority (Robinson, 2009, pp. 345–348). Particularly in the globalized internet age, any individual with proper higher education may have the audacity to solely interpret Islamic sources, even without looking back to classical texts produced by scholars in medieval times.

From another perspective, Arjomand (1988, p. 1) opined that obedience is an important component of authority, as evidently stated in the Qur’an 4:59, that is, “O believers, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you . . .” And “those authorities” are entitled to issue commands since Sunni Islam considers a caliph as heir to the Prophet, and succeeding authorities and subjects are obligated to obey the caliph. The collection of hadiths (sayings) of the Prophet “facilitated a great expansion in the scope and detail of the rules derived from God’s law” (Hefner, 2011, p. 13–14) in relation to the duties and responsibilities of the ruler. One may argue that there are two bases of authority revealed in the Qur’an: the din (religion) and the mulk (temporal rule) (Arjomand, 1988, pp. 1–2). Leadership is associated with another Qur’anic term, sultan, representing the sole legitimate political authority during the age of empires in Muslim civilization.

To Al-Barghouti (2008), the political expression of authority is manifested through the creation of the dawlah, a political concept referring to any authoritative political arrangement that is not necessarily associated with supreme power or sovereignty. Throughout Islamic civilization, the dawlah evolved into a caliphate (Khan, 2009, pp. 447–473). Sunni scholars elaborated the significance of the elective nature of the leader (imam) (Al-Barghouti, 2008, p. 38) as restricted to only having executive power, but Shi’a scholars emphasized the infallible nature (Arjomand, 1988, p. 3) of the imam, who has inclusive powers over the government’s executive, legislative, and judicial roles (Rahman, 1986, p. 92). During the peak of the Abbasid dynasty, the leader (caliph) possessed both religious (Krämer & Schmidtke, 2006) and secular (political) jurisdictions of authority, that is, a combination (Zubaida, 2003) of an imam and a sultan. However, there is a balance (equilibrium) (Ayubi, Hashemi, & Qureshi, 2009) of designation of powers, and these are distributed among “the caliph as guardian of the community and the faith, the ulama or religious scholars involved in the function of rendering religio-legal advice, and the judges who settle disputes according to religious laws” (Ayubi, 1991, p. 23).

In addition, “the influence of religion in all aspects of life in the society thus confirmed the social role of ulama” (Akbarzadeh & Saeed, 2003, p. 21). Before the advent of dynastic families or hereditary political power in Muslim polities, the Sunni tradition of selecting a leader was usually done through rigorous mutual consultations (shura) among selected stakeholders (mostly “senior” scholars) of the community. Next, a binding and consensual (ijma) decision was made, in which the chosen or elected leader took an oath of allegiance while the ruled made a pledge of obeisance through the process of bay’ah (or a social contract between them). Some scholars have argued that the process of shura may be binding (Rahman, 1986, p. 91) or not (Iqbal, 1986, p. 39) depending on one’s take on the concerned Qur’anic interpretations and hadiths. It is important to note that the selection or election is done through the judgment of the jurists, scholars, and ulama on the basis that the chosen one is competent and expected to rule according to Shari’ah.

The juridical authority of the leader, especially the caliph, serves as a political symbol in unifying the ummah, but as the Muslim polity evolves, the basis for this ideological unity is no longer attainable (Ayubi et al., 2009). As the Abbasids declined in the 12th century, the role of the caliph bifurcated into separate realms of the sacred and secular (Eickelman & Piscatori, 1996, pp. 46–47). In addition, the prominent source of legitimate authority became a security issue that referred to the lesser jihad or defending Muslim territories from Crusaders, Mongols, and other foreign invaders. Moreover, the Shi’ite peoples’ non-recognition of a caliph as heir of the Prophet and their belief in occultation (Belkeziz, 2009, pp. 50–52) symbiotically coexisted with the Persian-style kingship and sultanate systems as temporal rule (Arjomand, 1988, p. 4). Ayatollah Khomeini’s Vilayat-i Faqih (or rule or guardianship by jurists) later became the central body of contemporary Shi’a political thought (Arjomand, 1988, p. 3), controlled by a guardianship-based political system while recognizing the absence of an infallible 12th Imam (Vaezi, 2004, p. 53). In the modern period and after the demise of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, political authority broke into three types: monarchical, dictatorial, and semi-democratic (Khan, 2014a, p. 520). The power of the ulama weakened with the adoption of the modern nation-state system and was divided into two categories: the official ulama and the non-official (independent) (Akbarzadeh & Saeed, 2003, p. 14). The official ulama (Zaman, 2009, pp. 226–229) are part of the state bureaucracy, while the non-official are (financially and politically) independent of state control. The non-official ulama are relatively small in numbers, and, at times, the state manages to penetrate their leadership. The nation-state took almost all the powers of the ulama and curtailed their influence among the people.

The only role left for the ulama was administering local family laws, and yet this still fell under the civil law and the supremacy of the state’s constitution. Even trainings, tools (such as manuals and technical books), salaries, and proficiency degree programs to become a member of the ulama were directly supervised by the state (Akbarzadeh & Saeed, 2003, p. 23). In addition, permits to build and manage mosques were also taken over by the state. Moreover, crisis in the authority of ulama may also be attributed to and caused by them as well. There have been increasing numbers of ulama preferring to study Islam in Western institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, rather than in their own madrasas or universities; thus most of them have rejected past scholarship of their own traditions. They also halted person-to-person (oral) transmission of knowledge by printing and translating Islamic sources from Arabic to various vernacular languages (Zaman, 2009, pp. 221–222). Consequently, according to Robinson (2009, pp. 345–348), “they themselves began to destroy the ‘closed shop’ which gave them the monopoly over transmission and interpretation of knowledge.”

Numerous scholars have discussed what form/s of political authority or government is/are appropriate for the Muslim world in the postcolonial age. Rashid Rida (b. 1865, d. 1935) argued for the necessity of a caliphate that will cater to a balance of the worldly and religious interests of the Muslim world (Black, 2001, pp. 325–326). He likened the caliph to the Catholic papacy, serving as a model for emulation. This was refuted by Shaykh ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq (b. 1888, d. 1966), who contended that Islam did not prescribe a system of government and that there is no mention in the Qur’an regarding a preferred political system for the ummah ((Black, 2001, p. 330). Even the Prophet did not elaborate any particular polity or provide instruction on ways and criteria in choosing a leader. All his political and diplomatic actions were means to propagate Islam. For al-Raziq, the caliphate was a product of a historical moment catering to political needs, and Shari’ah could also be changed because it was also influenced by specific historical circumstances. Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (b. 1946) argues that Shari’ah principles could not be imposed by the state (Black, 2001, p. 336). He is in favor of a secular society where different groups of peoples or communities share equally the same political space.

Muslim View on Territoriality

The ummah is also essential to an understanding of territoriality. As Derrick (2013, p. 2) points out, it has various synonyms, interpretations, and understandings among Muslim scholars, depending on the context of its usage in the Qur’an. It may mean Muhammad’s closest followers, encompassing all living creatures, a mother (in Arabic), a community (in Sumerian, Aramaic, or Hebrew), or a unified Muslim world (in modern discourse) (Mandaville, 2001). In some respects, al-Farabi (b. 872, d. 950) referred to it as the gathering of tribes or clans or the structure of a city. He also considered Indians, Abyssinians, Persians, Egyptians, and Syrians as another ummah and differentiated it with the term milla (which may mean a way, path, or cult under a divine ruler with a set of views and deeds), because ummah rules the entire life of a certain community, including its physical character, natural traits, and common tongue (Ayubi, 1991, p. 19). The first historical record of an established ummah was when the Prophet Muhammad became the leader of different communities composed of Muslims, Jews, Pagans, and Christians in Medina, cemented by an agreed treaty or charter stipulating articles of collective security. According to Mandaville (2001, p. 36), “this ‘treaty’ provided an overarching sense of authority for the anarchic settlement. Because it demanded complete loyalty from all factions it also effectively prevented the formation of unstable alliances between clans.”

Muhammad’s ability to demand commitment from all warring factions of Medinan society made him an able and efficient political authority. This is because his previous successes in wars against the settlers of Mecca had put him on a pedestal, and neighboring nomadic tribes relied on and pledged allegiance to him due to his skillful leadership (Davutoglu, 1994). Thus the ummah of Medina may be described as a conglomerate of numerous communities—be they tribal, confessional, or confederate in nature. The contemporary ummah is represented as an imagined politico-religious community patterned and based on the paradigmatic experience of Muhammad’s Medinan society (Jabareen, 2015, p. 53). This type of ummah is envisioned by Islamists (political parties in Muslim states) and jihadists (transnational terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS) with the aspiration of recreating and reviving it in today’s world to counter the hegemony of the nation-state system. However, most Islamists have come to accept the current political configuration of their states. Within the ummah, there is a kind of polity mentioned in the Qur’an called dawlah (usually representing the state or country in the modern sense). According to Ayubi et al. (2009), the original meaning of dawlah as used in the medieval era connotes “to turn, rotate, or alternate” (Ayubi et al., 2009). It was even used to describe fortunes, vicissitudes, or dynasty during the Abbasid period. It was only then that it became territorial rather than communal, mainly because of the study done by al-Ṭahtawi (b. 1801, d. 1873), who presented the idea of watan or fatherland (Sawaie, 2000). The first time the word dawlah appeared to mean “state” was in the Turkish memorandum of 1837 (Ayubi et al., 2009).

Territory is “dar” in Islamic legal terminology, and etymologically it means “house” (Bouzenita, 2012, p. 192). It is synonymous with the term mawdhi (place), balad (land), or watan (home or place of residence) (Bsoul, 2007, p. 74). The concept evolved through its interrelatedness with the political and legal dominance of the ruler over his jurisdiction. The dar was structured as a legal framework in order to distinguish the Muslim political order from the rest of the world (Ayoub, 2012, p. 2). In Qur’anic terms, it is used to describe a place of residence, final abode, or simply a house. Moreover, it is also a specific territory where the ruling regime and its subjects are Muslims. This sense could be attained if any of the four cases was upheld: “(1) the residents of a territory converted to becoming Muslims; (2) the territory is captured by force but the government allows the Muslims to practice and enforce their Islamic rulings; (3) the non-Muslim residents accept Islamic law under the Muslim protection; and (4) if the territory is conquered through a peaceful agreement where Muslims are allowed to settle and implement land tax” (Ayoub, 2012, p. 84). In classical Sunni jurisprudence, the dar is basically classified into two divisions: dar al-Islam (the abode of Islam or peace) and dar al-Harb (the abode of war or the enemy). These are not Qur’anic terminologies but jurists’ interpretations that emerged in the middle of the 8th century (the second century in the history of Islamic civilization). Ayoub (2012) argues that it was the Sunnah (traditions of the Prophet including its hadiths or sayings)—and not the Qur’an—that played an essential role in developing these two categories. He further states that “in their efforts to synthesize this theory, most jurists projected their legal reasoning upon two major events in Muslim history” (Ayoub, 2012, pp. 7–10).

First, they relied upon the event of the migration (hijra) from Mecca to Medina in 622. Second, many of their legal determinations were inspired by the conquest of Mecca in 630 (Ayoub, 2012, p. 13). These theoretical divisions became so resounding that most Sunni jurists have accepted them uncritically, especially during the 1255 Mongolian invasion (and even after the last Crusaders were defeated in 1187) of most Muslim lands. Thus scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah (b. 1263, d. 1328) have adopted it in their works, which are very much cited by both contemporary Islamists and jihadists alike (Bori, 2009).

Dar al-Islam is a legal construct that has a territorial dimension where Islamic law prevails and, to some extent, a political expression of the ummah is present. In short, it is a politico-territorial manifestation of the Muslim community (Parvin & Sommer, 1980, p. 5). This concept has pre-Islamic roots, notably, nomadism (non-sedentary lifeways) and urbanism (non-rural lifeways). This is embodied in Mecca as a religious sanctuary and Medina as the first Islamic state that functioned as the center of trade and commerce during that time. Moreover, it is based on a concept of individual allegiance to the universal Islamic message. Most jurists believed that even if a majority of the people are non-Muslims or nonbelievers, as long as the dominant laws follow Shari’ah, then it is still the abode of Islam.

Dar al-Harb is also a legal construct that has a territorial dimension, but it denotes a realm that is politically or economically subjugated by a non-Muslim power. According to Iqbal (1986, p. 37), “Muslims would be left with only two alternatives: either to conduct jihad (struggle) in order to regain their independent status, or to migrate to some Muslim country.” It is quite important to understand fully this division, because some jurists, especially the Hanafis (one of the surviving schools of Sunni jurisprudence), contend that even if the majority of the population are Muslims but the laws and security are governed by kufr (nonbelievers or infidels), then it is still the abode of the enemy of Islam (Ayoub, 2012). Shafi’i coined a third division, the dar al-Sulh (territory of friendly non-Muslim nations) or dar al-Ahd (land of temporary truce) (Ayoub, 2012, p. 4), where a Muslim territory has diplomatic relations with non-Muslim territories in order to protect the lives and property of both Muslim and non-Muslim minorities in both areas, in exchange for paying (or receiving) tribute (Bouzenita, 2012, p. 193). It signifies that Muslim minorities are free to practice their religion even if they are ruled (not protected) by a non-Muslim leader. However, some jurists think that even if there is an armistice concluded between the rulers, this division still forms part of the dar al-Harb. Bouzenita (2012, p. 193) argues that this division is not an entirely independent territorial one, because it relies on the conditions of the contract at hand.

Out of all the Sunni schools of jurisprudence (fiqh), the Hanafis mostly focused on the study of territoriality, developing a legal concept called ikhtilaf al-darayn (translated in English as “territoriality” as well). The founder, Abu Hanifa (b. 699, d. 767), emphasized that the core factors in declaring a place as the abode of Islam or of war/the enemy are security (aman), fear, and absence of protection (isma). The Hanafis viewed Muslims and non-Muslims as “two independent legal characters, each having its legal status” (Ayoub, 2012, p. 5), where religion is not a determining factor in the legal structure of territoriality. According to Ayoub (2012, p. 2), there are three main factors in Hanafi’s concept of territoriality: “(1) residency; (2) legal status of the individuals; (3) the existence of al-man`a (secured jurisdiction).” The applicability of his territorial concept rests in two conditions: “(1) the disparity of the legal and physical proximity of two jurisdictions; and (2) the absence of inviolability or protection for people’s life or property” (Ayoub, 2012, p. 5). However, despite Hanafi’s insistence on the personal legal status of peoples within the divisions of dar, Abou El Fadl argued that “all Muslims belong to a single community (umma wahida) regardless of their residence” (Ayoub, 2012, p. 3). In turn, he claimed that Hanafis were preoccupied with territorial and jurisdictional intricacies, rather than engaging in moral obligations.

It is important to note that Islamic territoriality is a result of the historical evolution of Muslim governance and the legal conceptualizations of jurists, that is, from Medinan society, the caliphate, and empires to the adoption of postcolonial polities (nation-states). In the 9th century, al-Muqadassi (b. 946, d. 991) distinguished between the cultural regions of Arabs and Persians (Parvin & Sommer, 1980, p. 11). The Hudud al-Alam (Regions of the World, 983), a 10th-century geographical book, contained 51 nations divided into provinces and towns. But among the perennial social elements that bind nations, as argued by Ibn Khaldun (2015), is asabiyyah (usually translated as solidarity). Parvin and Sommer (1980, p. 13) point out that through solidarity, people tended to acquire landed property in order to maintain political and economic security. By the 16th century, competition in amassing lands became fiercer because of the dominance of strong empires such as the Mughals (South Asia), the Safavids (Persia), and the Ottomans (presently Turkey). However, with the arrival of the European colonialists and the imposition of the idea of permanent territorial borders, dar al-Islam gradually delegitimized the idea of the abode of Islam based on the history of Muslim civilization that had been characterized by its expansionist and occupationist tendencies, in contrast with the European colonial polity. In the face of threats of widespread European intervention into Muslim lands during the 19th century, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (b. 1838, d. 1897) proposed to the then caliphal ruler, Sultan Abdulhamid, a return to the pristine message of unity in a single Muslim ummah in order to restore universal solidarity (Derrick, 2013, p. 14). Derrick (2013) addresses how Muslim thought about territoriality, dar al-Harb and dar al-Islam, similar to al-Afghani’s conceptualization of ummah as an emulation of the German idea of a nation, which could be achieved through a confederation of Muslim states.

Mauriello and Marandi (2016) and Abdel Haleem (2008) discuss the Shi’a reaction to European colonialism. The Shi’a version of dar is not represented by the dar al-Islam or dar al-Harb but by the mustad‘afun (oppressed) and mustakbirun (oppressor) world views (Mauriello & Marandi, 2016, p. 4). Shi’a scholars argue for the “oppressed–oppressor” dualism of dar in Qur’anic terms (notably 4:75, 97–98, 127 and 8:26) (Abdel Haleem, 2008), compared with the Sunni conception of territorial division, which was a result of 8th-century juristic interpretation by the Hanafis. However, there is no clear explanation of whether the Shi’a version of abodes of Islam and of the enemy, as represented by the oppressed–oppressor duality, is territorial in nature. According to Mauriello and Marandi (2016, p. 16), the Shi’a world view is more concerned with justice, corruption, and knowledge than with formal categorization of the territory. In contemporary Iran, the late Khomeini described the Shi’a society in terms of two antagonistic components (aside from the oppressed–oppressor dualism of dar): oppressed nations (mellat-e mostad‘af) versus Satan’s government (hokumat-e sheitan), slum dwellers (zagheh-neshin-ha) versus palace dwellers (kakh-neshinha), poor (foqaha) versus rich (servatmandan), and the lower (tabaqe-ye payin) and needy class (tabaqe-ye mostamdan) versus the aristocratic class (tabaqe-ye a‘yan) (Mauriello & Marandi, 2016, p. 17). Furthermore, as it is anchored in sound Qur’anic language and Islamic epistemology (and ontology), this model of oppressed–oppressor has a distinctive Islamic legitimacy and authority. The legitimacy of an authority’s jurisdiction over a territory is sacrosanct to God’s sovereignty, which is discussed in the section Muslim View on Sovereignty.

Muslim View on Sovereignty

Islam is fully endowed with sovereignty (hakimiyyah in Arabic) (Khatab, 2002, p. 145), which is clearly stated in the Qur’an (3:26): “O God, Lord of Sovereignty! Thou givest sovereignty to whom thou pleases, and takest away sovereignty from whom thou pleases. Thou exaltest whom thou pleases, and basest whom thou pleases. In thy hand is all good for thou hast power over all things.” As Asad (1980, p. 39) understands it, “the real source of all sovereignty is the will of God (Sabet, 2008, 190) as manifested in the ordinance of the Shari’ah.” But the operational method (i.e., any form of government) to realize the insistence of the Qur’an and Sunnah regarding God’s sovereignty and enforcement of Islamic laws depends on the maturity and goodness of the ummah (Iqbal, 1986, p. 47). Therefore, sovereignty lies in the revealed messages of God as embodied in Shari’ah (Khatab, 2006, p. 36), and it is not for the ruler or clergy (ulama or jurists) to monopolize it (Ayubi et al., 2009). According to Khatab (2002, p. 147), “the significance of the term hakimiyyah rests in its political meaning. . . . This means that Allah is the only ‘Hakim’ or Sovereign and He has the right to ordain the program of human life; people must live according to the Shari’ah ordained by Allah in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.” Consequently, the holder of supreme authority is God alone.

The legitimate goal of the Muslim community is the advancement of its public interest (maslaha) and of public welfare or the common good for all Muslims. This is very similar to the early, pre-Westphalian Western conception of sovereignty, which was articulated in terms of responsibility for the common good (Johnson, 2014). In the premodern world, European kings were divine in character, unlike the sultans or Muslim political elites who were fallible and were granted legitimacy on the basis of defending the sovereignty of God through His divine laws. The concept of sovereignty was realized in modernizing the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century (Steunebrink, 2008, p. 7), and the sultan utilized it to centralize his authority and eliminate the traditional system of checks and balances. Belkeziz (2009, p. 206) stipulates that the basis of hakimiyyah supports the idea that the power to authorize and legislate excludes human beings and that only God is capable of doing so. Belkeziz (2009, p. 207) states that Abul A’la Maududi (b. 1903, d. 1979), the first Islamist thinker, argued for a theocratic form of government, and not democracy, in an Islamic state. For Islamists, hakimiyyah is very similar to the propounded claim of the rule of Shari’ah as the only applicable system for Muslim societies. Thus, Shari’ah must be asserted in every Muslim nation’s constitution because the supremacy of God’s will symbolizes sovereignty (Ahmed, 2010).

Jackson (2011) criticizes Maududi for resorting to unreliable hadiths after failing to find textual support for his ideas in the Qur’an. He asserts that Maududi’s interpretation of the Qur’an “does not take account of social conditions that existed in his time” (Jackson, 2011, p. 111). For example, Maududi’s “theodemocracy,” a neologism that resulted from his personal understanding of Islamic sources, suggests that ordinary people have governing power under the sovereignty of God (Jackson, 2011, p. 131). Executive and legislative processes, in turn, must be pursued by consulting all Muslims until widespread consensus is reached. Islamist thinkers were reacting to their deplorable political situation, just as Sayyid Qutb (b. 1906, d. 1966), the most prominent Islamist thinker, was reacting to the Gamal Abdel Nasser regime’s persecution of Islamist groups. Qutb (1990, p. 17) ascribed sovereignty as the greatest attribute to God, by which he meant that “only God’s authority would prevail in the heart and conscience, in matters pertaining to religious observances and in the affairs of life such as business, the distribution of wealth and the dispensation of justice.” The basis of his idea of God’s sovereignty rests with his conception of “the great unity” and relations between God and his creation, life, humankind, and the universe (Khatab, 2002, p. 151). This conception argued for greater unity among all Islamic sources, primarily the Qur’an and Sunnah, and their relations to all entities (living and non-living things) in the world.

Qutb argued that all human activities, manners, and conduct must always relate accordingly to the ordinance of worshipping God (Khatab, 2006, p. 21). The acts of prayer and worship signify the supreme sovereignty of God. Every state institution and all political, social, and economic codes and laws should always be congruent with and fulfill the essence of worship of God. Qutb’s understanding of hakimiyyah “maintains that the entire universe issued from the absolute will of God and is regulated by His law. Every part is in harmony with all parts, and everything is in an integrated unity. Every existing part has a reason for being that is related to this complete and absolute harmony” (Sabet, 2008, p. 191). Qutb based his idea of sovereignty on the following Qur’anic verses:

God keeps the heavens and the earth from falling. Should they fall, none could hold them back but He. (35:41)

There is not a creature on earth whose sustenance is not (provided) by God. He knows its resting place and its repository. (11:6)

We created man; and we know the prompting of his soul, and we are closer to him than [his] jugular vein. (50:16)

It was Allah who made for you the night to rest in and the day to (give you) light. Allah is bountiful to men. (40:61)

It is Allah who has given you the earth for a dwelling-place and the sky for a canopy. He has given you shape and made your shapes beautiful, and has provided for your sustenance. (40:64)

It is He who has made the earth manageable for you, so walk about its regions and eat of His provisions. (67:15)

Who is it that will defend you like an entire army, if not the Merciful? Who will provide for you if He withholds His sustenance? (67:20–21)

(Khatab, 2002, p. 153)

Qutb’s view of God’s sovereignty is an innovative one (i.e., placing it as the “first pillar before Shari’ah”) (Khatab, 2002, p. 154), and he supports it by citing historical events in early Muslim society during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. He believed that “Islam is a religion and a state” (Khatab, 2002, p. 154) and that unity between religion and politics is the very nature and principle of Islam. Thus, a system of government is the most important element of an Islamic polity. Khatab (2002, p. 154) implies that for Qutb, “practicing Shari’ah is the natural outcome of implementing hakimiyyah as the only creed of a society and that abiding by Islamic law is the outcome of the belief that Allah is the only sovereign or Hakim. The legal implication of this is that there is no Islamic life before the belief that Allah is the only sovereign, even if the Shari’ah is practically implemented.” Thus, for Qutb, Islamic government must impose Shari’ah and the leader must recognize God’s sovereignty. An important feature is that “the government in Islam legitimizes its authority not through the result of election but through its activity to facilitate the application of the law” (Khatab, 2006, p. 35). Since God’s sovereignty is the source of Shari’ah, then it is also the provider of the legitimizing factor of its laws. Khatab (2006, p. 28) lists the characteristics of Islamic government based on Qutb’s conception of hakimiyyah:

  • The system of government in Islam is not similar to any other systems.

  • It is distinct from all forms of government in secular democracies.

  • It is constitutional.

  • It is not inherently theocratic or autocratic.

  • The form of Islamic government has no impact on the Islamic identity of the state.

The primary basis of Qutb’s conception of God’s sovereignty is the declaration and confession of faith, that is, there is no god but Allah. It is the fundamental submission of a believer to the will of God, placing God as the sole owner of the believer’s life and wholeheartedly giving God the authority of controlling his/her life, activities, rights, duties, and obligations via God’s revealed messages and Shari’ah. Tawhid (oneness of God) is the only credible theory of government; to do otherwise is considered idolatry or blasphemy. Thus, after accepting God’s sovereignty and Qutb’s view of an Islamic government, other elements will smoothly follow: “justice on the part of the hukkam (rulers), obedience on the part of the mahkumin (ruled), and shura (consultation) between rulers and ruled” (Khatab, 2002, p. 155).

Qutb’s understanding of sovereignty met some resistance. Key to this is Qutb’s use of the word hakimiyyah. As Khatab (2002, p. 147) notes, hakimiyyah is not a Qur’anic term, and the word hukm mentioned in the Qur’an has no political meaning (Khatab, 2002, p. 147). Bassaum Tibi (2008, p. 85) similarly argues that hakimiyyah is “not an authentic Islamic concept” because it cannot be found in primary and authentic Islamic sources. Since its founding (often dated to the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna in 1928), the Islamist movement’s view of Shari’ah has been “based on the exclusive sovereignty of God” (Khan, 2014a, p. 77), and they have cited the works of Ibn Taymiyyah (Bori, 2009), Maududi (Husain, 1986), and especially Qutb (1990) to justify their claims. However, Islamic modernists (e.g., Tariq Ramadan and Fazlur Rahman) contend that “Islamists have not fully understood that the Shari’ah is socially and historically constructed” (Khan, 2014a, p. 77). In addition, Barnett (1995, p. 481) argues that the Western concept of sovereignty has no real counterpart in Arab-Islamic history, but instead can be equated with postcolonial Arab nationalist movements.

Areas for Improvement

Notions of and relations between Islam and the “international” are underexplored, especially in the discipline of International Relations (IR). How does contemplating the “international” based on Islam enhance our theoretical understanding of the social world and its consequent realities? Would the contemplation and use of applied research provide a better understanding of Muslims and of Islam within the realm of IR? How will the study of Islam and IR contribute to the approach and movement of “Global International Relations” spearheaded by Amitav Acharya (2014). These are some of the questions that encourage further research to better understand the idea of the “international” as expressed not only in Islam but in other societies as well. How Islam is specifically characterized as a factor in state interactions and relations must also be studied further. Another key feature that can be explored is how European modernity greatly impacted the nature and trajectories of state actors in the international system as it explicitly advanced the domain of the secular and contained the domain of the religious. Moreover, there is an extensive corpus of knowledge on Ottoman diplomacy, Islamic political thought, and pre-Islamic history that requires greater attention in order to link premodern diplomatic affairs with modern Muslim state affairs. Consequently, the article discussed Muslim polity in the ‘state’ level of analysis and recommended to study other units of analysis in International Relations.

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