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REPUBLIC. The political label of “republic” or aljumhuriyah is one without great apparent controversy in the Islamic world. The reason for this is twofold. First, although the term might be assumed to be a Western or an alien one, as is “democracy” (dimuqratiyah), its root meaning in fact exists in Arabic. Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon (1865) defines jumhur as “the generality, or main part, of men or people; the eminent, elevated or noble of them, i.e. the majority and the most eminent of them.” In addition, the Arab concept of republic was also nominally compatible with the Sunni Islamic theory of rulership, which stipulated that the ruler not be hereditary and that he be selected on the basis of consensus of the ruled by the practice of bay`ah or agreement of the governed. Furthermore, it is clear from the foregoing that the meaning contains assumptions of consultive elitism (shura) that are quite compatible with Islamic theory and Arab political culture.

The second reason for absence of controversy is that the specific form of al jumhuriyah was poised to be utilized in the practical world of politics in the twentieth century. The Ottoman Turks had already begun to use the term to denote the Italian city-states with which they were in direct contact in the eighteenth century and earlier (Lewis, 1960-); but with the advent of colonialism in the Middle East in the nineteenth century, it was constitutional monarchy rather than republic that became the preferred modern political form.

Al jumhuriyah has now become the common political label of Middle Eastern revolutions in the twentieth century. In the two great modern political convulsions of the Middle East, secular in Turkey and religious in Iran, a republican form of government was adopted without great internal or external controversy. In the case of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire and the institution of the sultanate had reached their nadir during World War I. Ataturk, personally and without consultation, declared the new Turkey to be a republic in 1924, and there was little criticism from abroad. The ending of the sultanate therefore lacked significant controversy, unlike Ataturk’s subsequent abolition of the caliphate, which was to call forth anger and indignation from all over the Muslim world.

Azerbaijan, in the interval between its independence from the Russian Empire in November 1918 and its absorption into the Soviet Union, became the first Muslim country to become a republic. It was followed by Lebanon in May 1926, and Syria in May 1930.

Iran tested the concept by referendum in March 1979, when its Shi’i population registered 98.2 percent popular approval of the abolition of the monarchy and its replacement by a republic (Matthee, 1982). This was a reversal of the Iranian `ulama’s historical support of the monarch, but it is noteworthy that the new Iranian republican constitution continued to place ultimate political sovereignty with God in the doctrine of vilayat-i fagih (Ar., wilayat al fagih; the guardianship of the jurist). The latter formulation is one particular to Shiism, but nonetheless the term “republic” now appears in the formal names of the Sunni Arab states of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Syrian Arab Republic. The Iranian revolutionary slogan nah gharbi, nah sharqi, jumhuri yi Islam (“neither Western nor Eastern, but an Islamic republic”) sums up the point that the term “republic” today is without significant controversy and is in fact understood nearly as an indigenous concept in a Muslim world presently reasserting its Islamic identity.


Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal. A Speech Delivered by Ghazi Mustapha Kemal, President of the Turkish Republic, October 1927. Leipzig, 1929. Enayat, Hamid. Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin, 1982. Lewis, Bernard. “Djumhuriyya.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 2, pp. 594-595. Leiden, 1960-.

Matthee, R. “Iran: From Divine Monarchy to Divine Republic.” Orient 23 (December 1982): 540-556.

Osman, Fathi. “The Contract for the Appointment of the Head of an Islamic State: Bai’at al-Imam.” In State, Politics, and Islam, edited by Mumtaz Ahmad, pp. 51-85. Indianapolis, 1986.


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

  • writerPosted On: July 16, 2017
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