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CONSTITUTION. Governance in the Islamic Middle East may best be understood as a development from the classical theory of the caliphate (khildfah) and the concept of rule by the “pious sultan,” more or less integrated with modern constitutional government.

The ideal model for the Islamic state was the Charter of Medina, a contract between Muhammad, the prophet and statesman, and his Muslim/Jewish community (ummah). It permitted the coexistence of Muslims and “peoples of the book,” (ahl al-kitdb, monotheists with a revealed scripture), who enjoyed freedom of worship in return for loyalty and payment of a poll-tax (jzyah).

Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Maward-i (d. 1058) was one of the first political philosophers to define the Sunni concept of the caliphate at a time when it was beginning its decline as a viable institution. His book Al-ahkam al-sultdniyah (The Ordinances of Government) proposes that in the Islamic state, sovereignty belongs to God, and his commands, as revealed in the Qur’an and complemented by the sunnah (traditions) are the major bases of Islamic law (shari `ah). The caliph was a guardian, not a legislator, and was elected after investiture (bay`ah) by the ahl alhall wa-al-`aqd (people with power to loose and bind). The purpose of governance (wilayah) was to enjoin right and forbid wrong, to make possible a life that would safeguard salvation, and to protect and expand the Islamic world, the dar al-Islam. [See Bay’ah; Ahl al-Hall wa-al`Aqd; Wilayah.] Once chosen, the caliph was obeyed out of piety by some, out of fear by others. The Mongol invasion and demise of the `Abbasid caliphate in the thirteenth century gave military commanders (emirs or sultans) power to rule, and autocratic government, whether monarchical or presidential, became legitimized on the model of the “pious sultanate.”

Constitutionalism in the Islamic Middle East is a modern phenomenon meant to curb the arbitrary powers of rulers. It arose as economic mismanagement and the growth of Western influence encouraged an elite of landowners and other notables to demand limits on the authority of their rulers.

The first modern contract between a Muslim ruler and his subjects was the sanad-i ittifaq (18o8), hailed by some as the Turkish “Magna Carta,” in which the Ottoman ruling class pledged their loyalty to Sultan Mahmud II in exchange for protection of their status and possessions. It was soon abrogated: subsequent decrees of 1839 and 1856 proclaimed equal rights for Muslims and non-Muslims in response to European pressures, but the sultan remained supreme.

Modern constitutions patterned on Western, often Belgian models were drafted (Ottoman, 1876; Tunis, 1861; Egypt, 1882; and Iran, 19o6). They were shortlived or were amended to suit the wishes of an autocratic ruler, a colonial power, or a mandatory government.

Constitutional documents drafted by newly independent states after the end of World War II, whether nationalist, socialist, or traditional, tended to be liberal in nature. They provided for the protection of life and property, the inviolability of the home, and religious freedom, but were also characterized by strong executive power. Autocratic government has been the rule rather than the exception. The monarch or president summons and dismisses parliament and appoints and dismisses ministers. Political parties tend to be weak, sectarian, or cliquish, headed by charismatic leaders. Modernization did not promote the establishment of democratic government. For example, two states with working democracies arePakistanandTurkey, but in both the military sees itself as the guardian of the political process and intervenes to remove elected officials.

The failure of nationalist, socialist, and secular governments has encouraged the emergence of a revivalist movement that wants to create an Islamic state. Drawing on the teachings of Sayyid Qutb, Hasan al-Banna’, Abu al-A’la Mawdudi, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, it demands revolutionary change, including the abolition of western innovations, the overthrow of secular and traditional regimes, and the establishment of a state where sovereignty belongs to God, the shari `ah is the law, and an elected emir governs with the aid of a council of experts (shura). Islamists do not exclude women from participation in public life, but they maintain that women’s primary function as mothers and wives necessarily restricts their sphere of activity.

The Islamic constitution of Shil’i Iran (1979) gave supreme power to Ayatollah Khomeini, who ruled “in the absence of the Hidden Imam.” Subsequently, the ayatollah al-uzma (the highest jurisconsult) became the arbiter of the legislative process. Sunni Islamists, by contrast, tend to follow a republican model, granting a council of `ulama’ merely consultative powers. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq ofPakistanand `Umar al-Bashir ofSudan, both military men, legitimized their rule by implementing Islamist programs.

The Islamist concept of governance is highly idealistic; it is puritanical and egalitarian, but at the same time totalitarian in character. It assumes that once elected, the emir will not abuse his absolute powers, and that a restoration of early institutions will solve the socioeconomic problems of the Islamic world.

[See also Authority and Legitimation.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Akhavi, Shahrough. Religion and Politics in ContemporaryIran.Albany,N.Y., 198o. Analyzes clergy-state relations to identify the pressures of increasing secularization in society and the response to these pressures by the leaders of religious institutions.

Binder, Leonard. Religion and Politics inPakistan.Berkeley, 1963. Discusses attempts at drafting a constitution for the Islamic state ofPakistanin the early 1950s and lists the views of the Board of Ta’limat-i Islamiyah on such questions as the qualifications of the head of state, elections, and the separation of powers.

Esposito, John L., ed. Voices of Resurgent Islam.New YorkandOxford, 1983. Discusses questions of Islamic identity, the pioneers of the Islamic resurgence, and Muslim perspectives on a resurgent Islam.

The Europa World Year Book, 1992.London, 1992. Reference source with historical and political summaries of the countries of the world, including their constitutions.

Kimmens, Andrew C., ed. Islamic Politics and the Modern World.New York, 1991. Fifteen contributors discuss such topics as the failure of the secular ideal, islamic revival and radical resurgence, the Salman Rushdie case, and the future of islamic politics.

Piscatori, J. P., ed. Islam in the Political Process.Cambridge, 1983. Eleven contributors examine Islamic politics in a number of Muslim states.

Rosenthal, E. I. J. Political Thought in Medieval Islam.Cambridge, 1962. Islam in theModernNationalState.Cambridge, 1965. Discusses the unity of religion and politics in classical Islam and the place of Islam in the nation-state. Although dated in some of its assumptions, the 1965 work is an excellent source on Islam in the post-World War II nation-state.

LUDWIG W. ADAMEC

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/constitution/
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  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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