Islamic State

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Editors: Mark Juergensmeyer and Wade Clark Roof
Date: 2012
Encyclopedia of Global Religion
Publisher: Sage Publications, Inc.
Document Type: Topic overview
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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Islamic State

Historically, the form of government established in Muslim regions by the successors of Prophet Muhammad was the caliphate. The ‘Abbāsid Caliphate was overthrown by the Mongols in the mid-13th century. Long before then, however, monarchy or the Sultanate had become the actual form of government in Muslim countries, albeit mostly under the suzerainty of the caliph. After the overthrow of the caliphate, monarchy became the general form of government in the Muslim world. The legitimacy of monarchy was primarily based on justice rather than the Shari'a (Islamic law), though the ruler obviously had to observe the latter. Neither the caliphate nor the sultanate was specifically designated as Islamic, even though they were historic forms taken by Muslim states.

The idea of the Islamic state emerged with the Islamic political ideologies of the third quarter of the 20th century and as the core concept of political Islam. It was adopted in the Persian form of hukumat-e islāmi as the slogan of the Islamic revolutionary movement in Iran in 1978 to 1979. The preamble to the 1979 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran defined it as an ideological (maktabi) state based on the theory of the vilāyat-e faqih (“mandate of the religious jurist”) as formulated by the leader of the Islamic revolutionary movement, Imam Khomeini. Elsewhere in the Muslim world, the Islamic state was defined by its main projected function of the application of the Shari'a and became the common demand of a variety of Islamist movements in the closing decades of the 20th century.

The origins of the idea can be traced to the mobilization of the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent in anticipation of independence. The foremost Islamic ideologue among the Muslims of India who migrated to Pakistan after its creation in 1947, Abu'l-a'la' Mawdudi (d. 1979), conceived the Islamic state as an ideological state and a theocracy (hukumati ilāhiyah) based on the sovereignty of God, declaring at one point “that the acceptance and admission of the de jure sovereignty of God is Islam and its denial is kufr (infidelity)” (Mawdudi, 1960, pp. 213). Under Mawdudi's influence, the declaration of the sovereignty of God was made in an Objectives Resolution in 1949 and incorporated into the 1956 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the first state to be so designated in history.

Writing in Nasser's prison in Egypt in the years prior to his execution in 1966, the ideologue of the Muslim Brothers, Sayyid Qutb, adopted Mawdudi's idea, coining the Arabic neologism hākimiyya (“sovereignty”) of God. Qutb introduced the new conception of God's government on the basis of the Shari'a into the Arab Middle East and North Africa as the antithesis of the secular state. According to him, the community of believers (umma) was now crushed under the weight of false laws and man-made traditions and customs that were contrary to Islamic teachings. This was the result of the mixing of the fundamental source of Islam with various alien sources. Rejection of foreign accretions in search of authenticity led Qutb to the fundamentals of Islam as the exclusive basis for political order and normative regulation of politics, with some surprising results. He argued that the profession of faith according to the canonical formula, bearing witness to the unity of God and the prophethood of Muhammad, and the belief in the Five Pillars were not the defining mark of a Muslim believer. The believer in addition had to reject all man-made laws and governments, which were the foundations of the new paganism spread by the secular states.

Just as had been the case with Mawdudi, Qutb's influence reached far beyond the circle of Islamic radicals who accepted his Qur'anic justification of revolutionary violence, and various Islamist movements throughout the world accepted the notion of the Islamic state defined by its main function of the application of God's law, the Shari'a. The constitutional Page 595  |  Top of Articlestructure and practical meaning of the application of God's law have remained unexplored by the Islamist movements that have not attained political power. Contradictions and paradoxes abound where these movements have gained political power and captured the state permanently or temporarily, as in Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan. Nevertheless, the global impact of the idea of the Islamic state beyond the Islamist movements is broadly noticeable in the declaration, by one Muslim state after another, of the Shari'a, or the principles thereof, as “the” or “a” main source of the law of the land.

Saïd Amir Arjomand

Further Readings

Mawdudi, A.-A. (1960). Islamic law and constitution (2nd ed., K. Ahmad, Trans.). Lahore, Pakistan: Islamic Publications.

Qutb, S. (1990). Milestones (J. Hardie, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: American Trust.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1958900347