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DAWLAH. An Arabic term from the root d-w-l, meaning to rotate, alternate, take turns, or occur periodically, dawlah, in a modern context, refers to the concept of state and is a central concept in the discourse of the contemporary Islamists. In modern Persian a similar word, dawlat, sometimes refers to the government, and in that sense, it is interchangeable with another Persian term, hukumat (Ar., hukumah). In modern Turkish, devlet (a derivative from the Arabic) refers only to state, not government. As early as 1837 an official of theOttoman Empirewrote a memorandum that clearly distinguished between the two meanings of the term in reference to European states and their governments (Lewis, 1988). Hence, in the modern period it would appear that only in Persian is the word susceptible to ambiguity.

In the Qur’an Allah is said to “cause the days to alternate” (surah 3.140). In a later chapter, the word is used in the sense of something that is given alternately from one hand to another (surah 59.7). Apparently, there is some evidence for dawlah to have been used in the Jahiliyah (pre-Islamic period) by poets who meant by it “times of success.” The first `Abbasid caliph, al-Saffah (r. 749-754), triumphantly declared on his accession: “you have reached our time and Allah has brought you our dawlah” (i.e., “turn/time of success”). His successor, al-Mansur (r. 754-775), enthusiastically praised “our dawlah.” In these uses, the word apparently refers to the dynastic house of the `Abbasid caliphs. It was also applied sometimes in the sense of “victory” in this period (F. Rosenthal, 196o), thus the evidence to equate dawlah with dynasty or even more narrowly with the `Abbasid house is inconclusive. Over time, dawlah came to connote a “turn of success.” The word was also used by the great philosopher al-Kind! (c.801-866) as the equivalent of mulk, kingship (F. Rosenthal, 196o), Dawlah in the 900s came into use as a sobriquet bestowed on or appropriated by various princes, such as those of the Hamdanid (929-1003) and Buyid (932-1055) houses; hence such titles as Rukn al-Dawlah (Pillar of the State), Sayf al-Dawlah (Sword of the State). Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) preferred to use the terms mulk and siydsah `aqliyah (politics or government based on positive law and human reason), but his meaning was close to the modern understanding of dawlah. Its definition as a sovereign state with the panoply of statehood did not come until the period of theOttoman Empireand its confrontation with Christian Europe. During the Qajar and Pahlavi periods inIran, among the official titles of the shahs was ruler of the dawlat-i shahi and, subsequently, the dawlat-i shah-in-shahi (the royal or imperial state).

In short, as commercial and diplomatic intercourse quickened between the Middle East andEurope-and ambassadors were exchanged, treaties signed, and economic agreements consummated-the political vocabulary of the region increasingly crystallized. By the midnineteenth century the word dawlah had taken on the meaning of Weber’s celebrated definition of state as a political organization that, based on its juridical sovereignty, monopolizes the means of violence within a given territory. Muslim writers had to deal with this increasing secularization of the political realm (i.e., the separation of religion and state), and the debate continues over the appropriate response. Typically, Islamists are uncomfortable with the term dawlah and continue to refer to the Muslims as constituting an ummah (community of believers) whose political institution is the khildfah (caliphate) or imamah (imamate). An interesting exception to this is Said Hawwa, leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, who employed the word dawlah in his call for the establishment of dawlat Alldh in this world. But note that the translation is the religiously accommodating “kingdomofAllah”, not the laicized “state of Allah.”

In international relations, the period since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 has been the era of the nationstate. Thus, territoriality has become a decisive factor of life, with the ummah split into a variety of units, each with its own attributes of statehood and government. Muslim reformers have had to take these developments into account. Among the most celebrated attempts to do so is that of Shaykh ‘Ali `Abd al-Raziq (d. 1966), a scholar of al-Azhar, the Islamic world’s most famous university and mosque. In 1925, he published a book entitled Al-Islam wa-usfil al-hukm (Islam and the Foundations of Rule). `Abd al-Raziq scandalized the religious establishment by explicitly rejecting the thesis that Islam was both religion and state. Indeed, he went as far as to say that an Islamic order does not require a caliph ruling on the basis of shari`ah (the divine law). [See the biography of `Abd al-Raziq.]

Islamic liberals today, the legatees of `Abd al-Raziq, including the Egyptians Muhammad `Imarah, Muhammad Ahmad Khalafallah, Ahmad Kamal Abu al-Majd, and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, maintain that the political sphere should be left entirely to the deliberations of the Muslims, in accordance with the saying of the Prophet attributed by three authoritative codices of hadiththose of Muslim, Ibn Majah, and ibn Hanbal (780-855~-that “if it is a matter of your religion, then have recourse to me, but if it is a matter of your world, you know better about it [than I do].”

However, the more radical scripturalist or traditionalist tendency among the Islamists differs vocally over this issue. Its spokesmen, such as Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (x873-1960) of Turkey, Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) of Egypt, Abu al-A’la al-Mawdfidi (1903-1979) of Pakistan, and Ruhollah al-Musavi Khomeini (1902-1989) of Iran, all condemn the long-term trend of relegating the state to the secular sphere. In doing so, they lament the actual separation of the religious and political realms soon after the “golden age” of Islam (622-661). They maintain that this separation of religion and politics (i.e., religion and the state) had never been intended by the Prophet and his immediate successors. Accordingly, it is their express aim to restore the integration of religion and state, as symbolized by the slogan, al-islam din wa dunya [dawlah] (Islam is religion and the world [state]). [See Nurculuk; and the biographies of Qutb, Mawdfidi, and Khomeini.]

Representative of the thinking of the above four scripturalists and traditionalists is the following statement by Khalid Muhammad Khalid, an Egyptian who in 1952 had been an ardent supporter of `Abd al-Raziq’s anticlerical line but recanted his views in 1981: “We find no religion . . . whose nature demands the establishment of a state as . . . does Islam.” Islam may be a religion legislated by Allah, but “in its human applications it represents a `social contract’ [sic] that includes the establishment of an authority that discharges the obligations of this contract and stands guard over its implementation” (1989, pp. 25, 29).

The efforts of contemporary Islamists are ironic, because the great founders of the schools of Islamic law, who lived in the eighth and ninth centuries, never contested the separation of the spheres of religion and state by the ruling caliphs of those times (Zubaida, 1989). If those luminaries had experienced differences with caliphs, these differences were theological in nature, not political. For example, Ibn Hanbal quarreled with and was punished by the caliph al-Ma’mfin (r. 813-833) over whether or not the Qur’an was created or “uncreated.” But Ibn Hanbal did not suggest that the separation of religion and state that had been effected by alMa’mun’s predecessors and maintained by him was wrong or cause for pronouncing unbelief on the ruler. Today’s Islamists, who recognize the remarkable contributions of the great legists of the classical/early medieval period as being central to the very identity of Islam, nevertheless are implicitly criticizing these same legists when they declare the rulers of Muslim states today to be infidels.

Radical Islamists today perceive rulers who have slaughtered Muslims (such asSyria’s Hafez al-Assad orIraq’s Saddam Hussein) to be apostates. Pro-Western rulers, such as those inEgyptsince 1970, are also seen as un- or even anti-Islamic by such radicals. But the radicals additionally believe that rulers who seemingly preside over an Islamic order, such as inSaudi ArabiaorPakistan(between 1979 and 1989) but who in fact have given their blessings to increasing secularization of society, are unbelievers as well. Thus, the radicals entertain as legitimate Islamic states onlySudan(since 1989) andIran(since 1979).

Yet, the criteria for inclusion in and exclusion from the category of the genuine Islamic state are not unambiguous. For example, even inIrangovernmental institutions are based on the notion of separation of powers, a parliament, and popular sovereignty-all legacies of eighteenth century Western history. It is also difficult to imagine a genuine Islamic state whose economic policies are shaped by arrangements that are immune to shari `ah provisions on contracts, loans, ownership, fiduciary responsibilities for joint investments, and international capital flows that are dependent on the exigencies of the capitalist world economy. An authentic Islamic state, as defined by radicals, would also be unable to assume membership in international organizations that operate on the basis of secular international law. It would also be a contradiction to call a nation an exemplary Islamic state if its government’s conduct violates a standard canon of the Islamic law of war and peace (such as the doctrine of aman, a guarantee of safe conduct for the emissaries of infidels in the lands of the Muslims). Moderate Islamists, however, explain the apparent

borrowing from non-Islamic traditions or deviations from Islamic canons either by reference to established concepts in Islamic experience (for example, the concept of shura [deliberation] to justify reliance on a Parliament) or by reference to principles in Islamic law that allow Muslims to make adjustments to enhance their life’s chances (for example, the doctrine of istislahl maslahah mursalah [deeming something to be good, beneficial, fitting]). The more radical Islamists, however, forthrightly repudiate what they regard as un-Islamic influences on the thinking and conduct of political leaders in their societies.

As can be seen, the concept of state in Islam has evolved over time. Although in theory many Muslims believe that there should be no separation between religion and state, in practice the separation was achieved early in Islamic history. Since Islamists today live in a world of nation-states, a world in which secularization is a fact of life, they cannot escape its portents. Among moderate Islamists, it is an article of faith that Islam has anticipated developments in the modern world either through venerable concepts in the scripture or the actual practice of leaders in Islamic history. They are not alarmed over mechanisms such as constitutions and parliaments. But the radicals among them have condemned both their more moderate colleagues and virtually all national leaders in the Muslim world today for being apostates who have either engineered or acquiesced to the deliberate separation of religion and state. It remains to be seen whether the more radical tendency will supervene in the ongoing conflict over the nature of the state, but that tendency does currently seem to be compelling attention.

Thus, the intellectual odyssey of Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali (b. 191’7), for many years a highly public and visible figure in social discourse inEgypt, can be instructive. Al-Ghazali, the author of a great number of works and generally considered in the mainstream of Muslim piety in the post-World War II era, has recently adopted an uncompromising stand on apostasy. In July 1992, he issued a fatwa which held that the state in Islamic societies today must punish apostates, defined as those who, in his opinion, have “turned their backs” on Islam. The issue is joined in relation to the Qur’anic verse, “The truth is from your God, so believe or disbelieve as you will” (surah 18.29). Al-Ghazali has contempt for those who interpret this verse as allowing citizens in Muslim societies to choose not to believe in God or in shari’ah. The verse only applies to the community before its members have embraced Islam, he insists. But once they have recited the credo of faith, prayed, remitted zakat (alms)-in short, once they have adopted the faith-they will never allow a minority to exercise their putative “human rights” (al-Ghazali’s term) by choosing to disbelieve. If anyone disbelieves under such circumstances, then the state must punish him under Islamic law. Unstated in the fatwa but well understood by his readers is that apostasy in Islam is a capital offense. The implication is that if the state does not punish apostates, then it would be appropriate for Muslims to replace it with one that would.

If radical Islamists were to take over the currently configured secular Egyptian state at some future time, observers might wonder if al-Ghazali would go even further and adopt the position embraced by Ayatollah Khomeini in two fatwds that he issued in late 1987 and early 1988. There, Khomeini argued that the state, because it was in his opinion a truly Islamic state, could command its citizens to do anything it deemed essential to protect its interests. By definition this would advance the cause of Islam. Thus, he argued, the state could even order Muslims to suspend prayer and pilgrimage toMecca(considered two of Islam’s most central obligations), if doing so would serve the purpose of maintaining that state from dissolution. Yet, there can be no doubt that jurists in Islamic history would sanction rebellion against a ruler who gave such orders, as that ruler would be guilty of the revocation of two of the five pillars of Islam. After all, it was Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328) himself, frequently invoked by radical Islamists today to justify pronouncing unbelief on those they believe to be bad Muslims, who issued his famous fatwd calling for rebellion against the Mongol rulers of his time for similar offenses.

[See also Authority and Legitimation; Hukumah; Imamah; Nation.]


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Zubaida, Sami. Islam, the People, and the State.London, 1989. Contemporary sociologist’s critique of the notion that the Islamic resurgence of the post-1967 era is based on a radical break with the assumptions of Western models of politics and the state.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/dawlah/

  • writerPosted On: November 6, 2012
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