Jul 15, 2010 - published work, religion    16 Comments

The utopia of Islamic state

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Those of us who were born in Zia era or afterwards have heard one demand/pledge/rhetoric depending on who is uttering it and that is we need an Islamic government. The question is: what is an Islamic government? Is it the Islamic caliphate where one caliph will rule over the entire ummah (global Muslim population)?  Is it a government of the Muslims, for the Muslims, by the Muslims? Or is it a government where Shariah law would be applied?
Have we ever wondered why do we have this hankering for a something which never existed? Yes, the reality is that there is no precedence of one big caliphate where the entire ummah lived peacefully ever after. It is a myth based on what was supposed to be Islam’s Golden Age and it is carved out of selective memory by political Islamist of 19th century. The Golden Age of Islam is remembered as the period when Islam was practiced in its truest form and that’s why God blessed Muslims with all material wealth, military power, political clout and cultural dominance.

Ask any supporter of an Islamic government to define what constitute the Golden Age of Islam and what do they want? Without fail, they would express hostility towards a hegemonic West, Communism and Israel. A hegemonic and colonial West is 250 years old, communism is a little younger and Israel came into being just 60 odd years ago, nothing in this timeline coincided with Islam’s glorious past. Some of them would also say that excessive wealth, extravagance, severe poverty, exploitation were shunned in those truly Muslim society but even that is factually incorrect.

The reality is that this age never existed. Yes, the Muslims were in economic and military ascendency between 8th and 12th century but that is because of the investment of time, money and energy in scientific research and how individual thought was encouraged which lead to more scientific breakthroughs and not because how the religion was practiced. If anything, it was the period of extravagance; lavish palaces were built, adventurous military endeavors were accomplished, and it was all because of the wealth created by application of scientific methods in production, military, medicine and maritime trading. 

The Golden Age of Islam is also remembered as a period of unity among the ummah of believers but that too is not correct. Only in South Asia, apart from Mohammed Bin Qasim, all the invaders from the North West came and fought with Muslims rulers in present day Punjab and Multan and later in Delhi to establish their power. The fact that Mughals wrestled power from the Muslim Kings of Delhi Sultanate and the Ismaili Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt was overthrown by Arab Sunnis in 12th century puts an end to the myth of a united Muslim world in the golden age.

Why do we aim for the formation of an Islamic government? Why do we not call for an effective government that actually delivers the essentials like security, employment opportunity and access to health and education? Why can’t we leave it to the individuals to determine the level of religiosity they want to follow? If we are living in a democracy, we trust the same individuals to participate in representative democracy and form the government by casting their votes and choosing their representatives. If we can trust people with that, why can’t we trust them to determine their own religious fervor or the level of censorship the want to live with? Why would we want to live in a society with moral policing where one would be told what one can do, see, eat and hear. 
This is the unedited version, the same article is published with a different title in Express Tribune  
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16 Comments

  • That’s what I always ask! What’s the real idea of Islamic government? Will it be free of injustices. Will we have ‘pious’ judges to announce the harsh religious punishments. Will there be equality?

    The answer is no and unless someone ensures the above mentioned principles, we can never have an Islamic government. It is a Utopian concept no doubt!

  • a beautiful, true article.

  • Ok! I’ve a question: is this an Islamic country really? Look what is going on with this journalist and his family just for writing against Talibanization of our beloved Pakistan: http://theterrorland.blogspot.com

  • a well written piece 🙂
    and you clearly have portrayed the essential details of the golden age. even I didnt know some of them.

    i like ur way of writing 😀

  • I’ve always wondered what will change Pakistan for the better. Reading ur article, the answers kind of clicked in my mind.
    It’s true that no one practices Islam in it’s truest form anymore but yet all the fanatics and psychos keep taking cover under this religion to pursue their twisted interests. I firmly believe Islam is a forgiving and progressive religion. Sad to say, today Islam has reached a stage where it’s no longer recognised for what it is, but for what a very huge bunch of fanatics have deformed it to be.

  • That perfect Islamic State is situated right next to Ram Rajya, Atlantis and Prester John’s Kingdom.

  • Last quarter it was whether Jinnah wanted a secular constitution or an islamic constitution. This quarter the hot topic has moved to Khilafat or ideal islamic state and the history behind it. Even I wrote a blogpost on a related topic this month. The recent interest in the topic started from Hasan Nisar’s Choraha program on GEO wherein he is driving home the point program after program that our glorious islamic history was not all that glorious after all. The rulers went to the extent of killing their brothers and fathers to save their seats.

    I believe that one has to differentiate between the ideal islamic state and the actual so called ones that existed in our history. The difference is the same as talking about an ideal democracy and the democracy as being practised in Pakistan today wherein people are saying that the dictator was better than the crooks that are ruling the country.

    The place is small or inappropriate to make an argument or write an essay but we as well as molvis always target the final issues before laying the foundations.

    An Islamic state calls for justice, equality for all, rule of law, freedom to worship, welfare of the people. However, the molvis as well as the opponents are only interested in moral policing as well as censorship because it gives the former power and the latter controversy and hits per page.

    An Islamic state, despite what these molvis keep telling you, is not a theocracy. It embodies essentials of democracy with some caveats but lets take that up some other time. I have already taken up a lot of space.

  • Perhaps the Golden Age of Islam referred to here is that of the Caliph ul Rashideen (the rightly guided Caliphs) where real unity and justice truly existed

  • I came here hoping to see a piece on the Qureshi-Krishna face off. But realise that you’ve got far bigger problems internally than dealing with a neighbour 🙁

  • Nice write-up. In my opinion Caliphate is not a system of government. It is rather an idea, an idea of greatness, of reverting back to the glorious days of Islamic social justice. Or perhaps a United Nations of autonomous Islamic states. But perhaps more than it’s intrinsic appeal of what it stands for, it is in a way a reaction and a dissatisfaction to the status quo especially in the underdeveloped Muslim-majority states. Most of these states are theocratic and autocratic with some interludes of democracy which can’t flourish because such states lack an informed middle class which is an essential pre-requisite for an informed democracy.

  • Good.

  • Two thumbs up for this post. I wish Muslims would read and know their own history. Many of them speak of emulating their forefathers when these forefathers behaved in a completely different manner!

    I also wrote a post sometime ago that why an Islamic caliphate or state, established today, would be impractical. Just ask which nationality would the ruler be from and we are back to in-fighting.

  • Seems to me Pakistanis use “Islam”, “Islamic” in much the way other people use “right”, “correct”. Perhaps with some generally vague idea of connecting it up with the Quran and Sunnah.

    Thus most of the statements like “An Islamic state will solve our problems” are tautologies. Translated it simply is “The right, correct state will solve our problems”. That is a tautology, becaue if it did not solve our problems, it cannot be a right, correct state. It certainly cannot be Islamic.

  • My idea of an Islamic golden age:

    Salam, this is my first visit to your blog – managed to stumble upon this post from the web.

    I am not Pakistani, but I have read about the idea of an Islamic state and have read many articles and some books emphasising the Islamic golden age. I don’t have enough time to read through the whole post and all the comments, here (promise to do that once I get home), but for now,

    Just reproducing here what I read just last week – could recall this article as I was skimming through your post- this is what the ex-CEO of HP had to say :

    http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/speeches/fiorina/minnesota01.html

    Ex-CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina considered one of the most powerful women in business during her tenure at Lucent and Hewlett-Packard, talks about a civilization of old.

    “As business leaders, as we are faced with questions of life and death rather than how much our stock is worth, the significance of our business contribution to the world may be increased. And that is a good thing.

    I’ll end by telling a story.

    There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.

    It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.

    One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.

    And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.

    Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.

    When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.

    While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

    Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.

    And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.

    This kind of enlightened leadership — leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage — led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.

    In dark and serious times like this, we must affirm our commitment to building societies and institutions that aspire to this kind of greatness. More than ever, we must focus on the importance of leadership– bold acts of leadership and decidedly personal acts of leadership.”

  • My idea of an Islamic golden age:

    Salam, this is my first visit to your blog – managed to stumble upon this post from the web.

    I am not Pakistani, but I have read about the idea of an Islamic state and have read many articles and some books emphasising the Islamic golden age. I don’t have enough time to read through the whole post and all the comments, here (promise to do that once I get home), but for now,

    Just reproducing here what I read just last week – could recall this article as I was skimming through your post- this is what the ex-CEO of HP had to say :

    http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/execteam/speeches/fiorina/minnesota01.html

    Ex-CEO of HP, Carly Fiorina considered one of the most powerful women in business during her tenure at Lucent and Hewlett-Packard, talks about a civilization of old.

    “As business leaders, as we are faced with questions of life and death rather than how much our stock is worth, the significance of our business contribution to the world may be increased. And that is a good thing.

    I’ll end by telling a story.

    There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.

    It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.

    One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.

    And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.

    Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.

    When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.

    While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

    Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.

    And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.

    This kind of enlightened leadership — leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage — led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.

    In dark and serious times like this, we must affirm our commitment to building societies and institutions that aspire to this kind of greatness. More than ever, we must focus on the importance of leadership– bold acts of leadership and decidedly personal acts of leadership.”

  • *apologies for the twin post, my bad. Hope you delete the redundant comment and this one.

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