THE QUR’AN AND POLITICS A Study of the Origins of Political Thought in the Makkan Qur’an By Eltigani Abdelgadir Hamid International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2004 225 pages, 1565644050 Pb
A troubling question about the modern age is how Islam is to be reconciled with it, and more specifically, how Muslims ought to govern their communities and nations in accordance with Qur’anic ideals in the modern political environment It is not possible to answer this question without first considering the more abstract problems of identifying the correct foundation on which political structures can be constructed, ascertaining a Qur’anic standard of judgement, and developing a clear conception of the purpose of political power.
These abstractions, or what Eltigani Abdelgadir Hamid terms the “origins of political science”, fall within the jurisdiction of political philosophy, and his thesis is that the Meccan verses of the Quran establish a coherent political philosophy based on Islamic monotheism. In The Qur’an and Politics he examines these verses for what he calls the ummahat, the “mother sources”, from which the Islamic civilisation flourishes. Using techniques developed by the scholars of usui al-fiqh, he analyses the actions of the state to determine key principles, such as the principle of political authority, the principle of obedience and the objectives of government
The Meccan verses are of particular interest to Hamid because they contain material that appears, at first to be of a spiritual, rather than a political, nature. In fact Hamid develops a political philosophy that is firmly rooted in the realities of the universe: this world and the next the Resurrection and the Judgement Paradise and Hell.
To break the misconception that the Muslims in Mecca did not constitute a political entity, Hamid first lays bare a modern, but now pervasive, notion of the nation state in which a people cannot be conceived of as a nation unless they are associated with a flag and a territory. For some, the Prophet’s role (Allah bless him and give him peace) in Mecca was merely to spread the message of Islam and wait for the command to establish the state in Medina. In fact Mecca was, from the outset the scene of vigorous Muslim political activity. The verses revealed in Mecca broke the old establishment of the Qurayshi chieftains who had built their authority on the religion of their forefathers, which, of course, the Qur’an emphatically rejected. By rejecting the basis of their authority, the Muslims were thus considered a “nation” while still in Mecca, and the unbelievers reacted to them as such.
The Qur’an and Politics is an exploration of the political foundations that were set during the Prophet’s time in Mecca (God bless him and give him peace). It begins, however, with a study of Western political thought from its origins in Plato’s idealism and the development of the natural law theory, to the philosophies of realistic materialism, positivism and historicism. The author then presents a comparison between these philosophies and Islamic monotheism, and demonstrates how Islamic monotheism is a “source of a comprehensive vision of the world and life”.
The author discusses the historicity of religion in some depth, arguing that the Qur’an makes use of historical narratives to develop philosophical ideas, narratives that according to Hamid, “link the Prophet his Companions and Successors with the historical dimension”. He argues quite robustly against Sayyid Qutb and others who assert that the Qur’an must be approached with a mind completely washed clean of anything whatever from jahiliyya, Hamid illustrates that this is unrealistic since our understanding of the Qur’an is bound to be coloured by our experiences. Furthermore, the Qur’an engages with other cultures, and Islam subsumes positive aspects of jahiliyya into itself.
The author relies principally on verses from Surat al-A’raf for his analysis since it presents general principles, and then details historical accounts that illustrate how these principles affected other nations.
From this study of these verses, Hamid identifies four characteristics of the Islamic state: firstly, that it is unifying and liberating, although in the sense of a “covenant theory” which frees people from materialism, rather than freedom in the American sense; secondly, that it is “for the people”, in that it must provide for them and be just; thirdly, that it is a lawabiding state; and fourthly, and rather surprisingly, that an Islamic state is not theocratic, that is, it is not a theocracy in which the clergy has absolute sovereignty, instead the “judgement of the Book comes first”.
The final chapter of the book contains some interesting insights into the ideology of secularism and traces its origins back to early Christianity, particularly the writings of St Paul and then later in the works of Martin Luther. The author identifies a spirit of introspection and withdrawal in Luther’s writings that “called for the individual’s independence from all kinds of authority – whether the Church, the Book, society or the state”. Hamid describes how Luther later tempered his introspection with a treatise in which he put forward the theory of two adjacent kingdoms: the worldly and the heavenly, hence separating temporal political power from spirituality and giving impetus to the process of secularization.
The Qur’an and Politics is a worthwhile book, if only for its insights into how one might develop a Muslim political philosophy that is firmly rooted in the heritage of the Islamic tradition, and how to read the great Western philosophers from a Muslim standpoint.