The political system of Islam is based on the three principles of towhid (Oneness of Allah), risala (Prophethood) and Khilifa (Caliphate).
Towhid means that one Allah alone is the Creator, Sustainer and Master of the universe and of all that exists in it - organic or inorganic. He alone has the right to command or forbid. Worship and obedience are due to Him alone. No aspect of life in all its multifarious forms ¾ our own organs and faculties, the apparent control which we have over physical objects or the objects themselves ¾ has been created or a acquired by us in our own right. They are the bountiful provisions of Allah and have been bestowed on us by Him alone.
Hence, it is not for us to decide the aim and purpose of our existence or to set the limits of our worldly authority; nor does anyone else have the right to make these decisions for us. This right rests only with Allah. This principle of the Oneness of Allah makes meaningless the concept of the legal and political sovereignty of human beings. No individual, family, class or race can set themselves above Allah. Allah alone is the Ruler and His commandments constitute the law of Islam.
Risala is the medium through which we receive the law of Allah. We have received two things from this source: the Qur’an, the book in which Allah has expounded His law, and the authoritative interpretation and exemplification of that Book by the Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him), through word and deed, in his capacity as the representative of Allah. The Qur’an laid down the broad principles on which human life should be based and the Prophet of Allah, in accordance with these principles, established a model system of Islamic life. The combination of these two elements is called the shari’a (law).
Khilifa means "representation". Man, according to Islam, is the representative of Allah on earth, His vice-gerent; that is to say, by virtue of the powers delegated to him by Allah, and within the limits prescribed, he is required to exercise Divine authority.
To illustrate what this means, let us take the case of an estate of yours which someone else has been appointed to administer on your behalf. Four conditions invariably obtain: First, the real ownership of the estate remains vested in you and not in the administrator; secondly, he administers your property directly in accordance with your instructions; thirdly, he exercises is authority within the limits prescribed by you; and fourthly, in the administration of the trust he executes your will and fulfils your intentions and not his own. Any representative who does not fulfil these four conditions will be abusing his authority and breaking the covenant which was implied in the concept of "representation".
This is exactly what Islam means when it affirms that man is the representative (khalifa) of Allah on earth. Hence, these four conditions are also involved in the concept of Khalifa. The state that is established in accordance with this political theory will in fact be a caliphate under the sovereignty of Allah.
Democracy In Islam
The above explanation of the term Khilafa also makes it clear that no individual or dynasty or class can be Khalifa: the authority of Khilafa is bestowed on the whole of any community which is ready to fulfil the conditions of representation after subscribing to the principles of towhid and Risala. Such a society carries the responsibility of the Khilafa as a whole and each one of its individuals shares in it.
This is the point where democracy begins in Islam. Every individual in an Islamic society enjoys the rights and powers of the caliphate of Allah and in this respect all individuals are equal. No-one may deprive anyone else of his rights and powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be formed by agreement with these individuals, and the authority of the state will only be an extension of the powers of the individuals delegated to it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the government, which will be run with their advice and in accordance with their wishes.
Whoever gains their confidence will undertake the duties and obligations of the caliphate on their behalf; and when he loses this confidence he will have to step down. In this respect the political system of Islam is as perfect a dorm of democracy as there can be.
What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy, therefor, is that the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty, while the former rests on the principle of popular Khilafa. In Western democracy, the people are sovereign; in Islam sovereignty is vested in Allah and the people are His caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own; in the latter they have to follow and obey the laws (shari’a) given by Allah through His Prophet. In one the government undertakes to fulfil the will of the people; in the other the government and the people have to fulfil the will of Allah.
The Purpose Of The Islamic State
We are now in a position to examine more closely the type of state which is built on the foundations of tawhid, Risala and Khilafa.
The Holy Qur’an clearly states that the aim and purpose of this state is the establishment, maintenance and development of those virtues which the Creator wishes human life to be enriched by and the prevention and eradication of those evils in human life which He finds abhorrent. The Islamic state is intended neither solely as an instrument of political administration nor for the fulfillment of the collective will of any particular set of people; rather, Islam places a high ideal before the state for the achievement of which it must use all the means at its disposal.
This ideal is that the qualities of purity, beauty, goodness, virtue, success and prosperity which Allah wants to flourish in the life of His people should be engendered and developed and that all kinds of exploitation, injustice and disorder which, in the sight of Allah, are ruinous for the world and detrimental to the life of His creatures, should be suppressed and prevented. Islam gives us a clear outline of its moral system by stating positively the desired virtues and the undesired evils. Keeping this outline in view, the Islamic state can plan its welfare programme in every age and in any environment.
The constant demand made by Islam is that the principles of morality must be observed at all costs and in all walks of life. Hence, it lays down as an unalterable policy that the state should base its policies on justice, truth and honesty. It is not prepared, under any circumstances, to tolerate fraud, falsehood and injustice for the sake of political, administrative or national expediency. Whether it be relations between the rulers and the ruled within the state, or the relations of the state with other states, precedence must always be given to truth, honesty and justice.
Islam imposes similar obligations on the state and the individual: to fulfil all contracts and obligations; to have uniform standards in dealings; to remember obligations along with rights and not to forget the rights of others when expecting them to fulfil their obligations; to use power and authority for the establishment of justice and not for the perpetration of injustice; to look upon duty as a sacred obligation and to fulfil it scrupulously; and to regard power as a trust from Allah to be used in the belief that one has to render an account of one's actions to Him in the life Hereafter.
Although an Islamic state may be set up anywhere on earth, Islam does not seek to restrict human rights or privileges to the boundaries of such a state. Islam has laid down universal fundamental rights for humanity which are to be observed and respected in all circumstances. For example, human blood is sacred and may not be spilled without strong justification; it is not permissible to oppress women, children, old people, the sick or the wounded; women's honour and chastity must be respected; the hungry must be fed, the naked clothed and the wounded or diseased treated medically irrespective of whether they belong to the Islamic community or are from amongst its enemies. These, and other provisions have been laid down by Islam as fundamental rights for every man by virtue of his status as a human being.
Nor, in Islam, are the rights of citizenship confined to people born in a particular state. A Muslim ipso facto becomes the citizen of an Islamic state as soon as he sets foot on its territory with the intention of living there and thus enjoys equal rights along with those who acquire its citizenship by birth. And every Muslim is to be regarded as eligible for positions of the highest responsibility in an Islamic state without distinction of race, colour or class.
Islam has also laid down certain rights for non-Muslims who may be living within the boundaries of an Islamic state and these rights necessarily form part of the Islamic constitution. In Islamic terminology, such non-Muslims are called dhimmis (the covenanted), implying that the Islamic state has entered into a covenant with them and guaranteed their protection. The life, property and honour of a dhimmis is to be respected and protected in exactly the same way as that of a Muslim citizen. Nor is there difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim citizen in respect of civil or criminal law.
The Islamic state may not interfere with the personal rights of non-Muslims, who have full freedom of conscience and belief and are at liberty to perform their religious rites and ceremonies in their own way. Not only may they propagate their religion, they are even entitled to criticize Islam within the limits laid down by law and decency.
These rights are irrevocable. Non-Muslims cannot be deprived of them unless they renounce the covenant which grants them citizenship. However much a non-Muslim state may oppress its Muslim citizens it is not permissible for an Islamic state to retaliate against its non-Muslim subjects; even if all the Muslims outside the boundaries of an Islamic state are massacred, that state may not unjustly shed the blood of a single non-Muslim citizen living within its boundaries.
Executive And Legislature
The responsibility for the administration of the government in an Islamic state is entrusted to an amir (leader) who may be compared to the president or the prime minister in a Western democratic state. All adult men and women who subscribe to the fundamentals of the constitution are entitled to vote for the election of the amir.
The basic qualifications for an amir are that he should command the confidence of the majority in respect of his knowledge and grasp of the spirit of Islam, that he should possess the Islamic quality of fear of Allah and that he should be endowed with qualities of statesmanship. In short, he should have both virtue and ability.
A shoora(advisory council) is also elected by the people to assist and guide the amir. It is incumbent on the amir to administer his country with the advice of this shooraThe amir may retain office only so long as he enjoys the confidence of the people and must relinquish it when he loses that confidence. Every citizen has the right to criticize the amir and his government and all reasonable means for the ventilation of public opinion must be available.
Legislation in an Islamic state is to be carried out within the limits prescribed by the law of the shari’a. The injunctions of Allah and His Prophet are to be accepted and obeyed and no legislative body may alter or modify them or make any law contrary to them. Those commandments which are liable to two or more interpretations are referred to a sub-committee of the advisory council comprising men learned in Islamic law. Great scope remains for legislation on questions not covered by specific injunctions of the shari’a and the advisory council or legislature is free to legislate in regard to these matters.
In Islam the judiciary is not places under the control of the executive. It derives its authority directly from the shari’a and is answerable to Allah. The judges are appointed by the government but once a judge occupies the bench he has to administer justice impartially according to the law of Allah; the organs and functionaries of the government are not outside his legal jurisdiction, so that even the highest executive authority of the government is liable to be called upon to appear in a court of law as a plaintiff or defendant. Rulers and ruled are subject to the same law and there can be no discrimination on the basis of position, power or privilege, Islam stands for equality and scrupulously adheres to this principle in social, economic and political realms alike.