Democracy and traditional Islamic political thought.


The Grand National Assembly of modern Turkey abolished the sultanate in 1923 and the institution of the caliphate in 1924. Allama Muhammad Iqbal in his classic 'The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam' endorsed the move and declared the Parliamentary form of government entirely in harmony with the spirit of Islam. Iqbal contended that the traditional thought of Islam required a radical overhaul. In the following years, a number of scholars came out with books that dealt with modern governance. A proverbial Lebanese scholar, Rashid Rida in one of his political treatises held that the institution of caliphate constituted a part of the Islamic faith. He insisted that the revival of the caliphate was amongst the basic tenets of Islam. In disagreement with him, Abd-ar-Razik contended that the institution of the caliphate was only a political institution. It was not obligated by religion. The Traditional Islamic Political Thought was questioned for the first time in Islamic scholasticism.

The abolishment of the caliphate also triggered an important debate: Is democracy compatible with the traditional Islamic political norms? Islamic Political Thought came into being in the latter part of the 10th century. Rooted firmly in Islamic jurisprudence and Islamic theology, Islamic political thought aimed at defining the contours of politics both in theory and in practice. Right from the onset, Islamic political thought relied heavily on the scriptural text of the Quran, the revelatory experience and the normative practice of the Prophet, the pronouncements of the early companions, and the precedents of successive caliphs. Declaring the institution of the caliphate an integral part of the Islamic belief system, Muslim Political theorists always maintained that politics should be defined by the dictates of religion. Religion reigned supreme over all the spheres of life, including politics.

Muslim scholars have dilated at length on the constitution, modalities, and the formation of the caliphate. How should a caliph be elected? The great Muslim jurist al-Mawardi held that there were two ways to elect a caliph: nomination by the former caliph or by the electoral college. The nomination could take place either directly by appointing the new caliph or by the testament. Mawardi further proceeded that the electoral college may include civil servants, ulama, or even the military officials. Taking a cue from Mawardi, Juwayni also insisted that the caliph...

To continue reading