On Hijrah & Khilāfah: The Poverty of Contemporary Muslim Political Imagination (Part 2 of 2)
By Abdullah bin Hamid Ali
Muslim scholars in the past fiercely debated the permissibility of Muslims remaining in lands conquered by Christians and others. And Mālikī scholars took the least accommodating view of Muslims “remaining” as residents in hostile territories (Dār al-Harb). Ahmad b. Yahyā Al-Wansharīsī (d. 1508 CE) practically anathematized Muslims who desired to return to the lands from which they were expelled by Christian conquerors. Arguing that life in Christian ruled Andalus was more copious than in Muslim lands did not dissuade him from questioning the faith of those who desired to return to the territories they once knew as home.
With the creation of the nation state, scholars continued to debate the validity of residing in non-Muslim lands. Shaykh ‘Abd Al-‘Azīz b. Muhammad al-Ghumārī (d. 1997 CE), for instance, argued for its permissibility and the occasional obligation to do so. This view somewhat mirrored his Shāfi’ī predecessor Abū al-Hasan al-Māwardī (d. 1058 CE) who stated that, “If one starts a family there (ahl wa ‘ashīrah) and is able to openly express his faith, it is not permitted for him to emigrate since the place where he is has become an abode for Islam (Dār Islām).”
Part 1 gave us a glimpse at how a Muslim territory is defined with slight disagreement over its determination being made by the religious convictions of the majority of the population or the religion of its governors. And if the religious constitution of the population is key in determining whether or not a territory is an abode of Islam and each country’s leaders are legitimately Muslim, it would appear that Bolshevik-like revolutions under the guise of “khilāfah” are both unnecessary and seditious.
Before Medina welcomed the Prophet—upon him Allah’s blessing and peace, there were two hijrahs to Abyssinia where his companions found refuge under a Christian king. After the Ansar welcomed the Prophet to Medina, however, hijrah to him was deemed compulsory with noted exceptions. And once the conquest of Mecca was complete, he declared, “There is no hijrah after the conquest.”
Medieval fatwas on the obligation of hijrah presume the existence of an abode for Islam to which Muslims can emigrate. But what does one do when there is no clear demarcation between friendly (Dār al-Salām) and hostile territories (Dār al-Harb) in light of new international norms embraced by most Muslim majority countries? And what does one do when there is no easy path to citizenship in those nations if it is in fact our religious obligation to relocate to one of them? Would the Iranian theocracy qualify for hijrah? Could Sunnis give fealty to its leader? And is the khilāfah nothing more than an Islamic form of the modern nation state or theocracy?
A number of contemporary scholars and researchers today argue that the questions addressed by classical Muslim jurists about hijrah were very specific and did not include the question of permanent residency in a nation state in a time when the boundaries of the Abode of Peace and the Abode of War have been largely erased; Their specific questions concerned whether or not it was an obligation for Muslims who convert in hostile territories (Dār al-Harb) to make hijrah to Muslim lands or if one living in Muslim lands was permitted to relocate to non-Muslim ruled territories. The overwhelming majority (Hanafis, Shāfi’is, and Hanbalis) permitted it as long as one could openly practice one’s religion and was generally safe in his person and property. The Mālikis, on the other hand, opposed both remaining and relocating to non-Muslim dominated territories. And it is even reported that Imam Mālik prohibited residing in Muslim lands where the Sahābah—Allah be pleased with them—are reviled and cursed.
For most westerners, including many Muslims, Islamism is a pejorative term used to describe the aspirations of what is termed “political Islam.” This is largely due to the embrace of secular liberalism which attempts to marginalize religious influence upon the political sphere. It is also due to the violent reactionary form of Islamism found in Qaeda and DAESH. Besides these anomalous iterations of Islamism, two other forms exist, each an anachronistic revisionism of medieval Islam.
One asserts itself as embracing Islam’s alleged political dynamism thereby endorsing democratic norms like running for political office despite the Prophet’s warning against the pursuit of leadership—upon him Allah’s blessing and peace. The others romantically invite the restoration of a caliphate legitimized without Qurashī pedigree being integral to its success despite the Prophet’s clear declarations—upon him Allah’s blessing and peace—like, “This affair shall remain with the Quraysh as long as two of them survive” (Agreed upon).
The truth is that both Islamism and the secular dislocation of religion from politics were foreign to premodern Islam, just as it was foreign to other premodern religions with the exception of Protestant Christianity. This is because ‘dīn’, the word often translated as “religion,” more accurately applies to all elements of the ‘social order’ which secure the members of the Muslim polity from internal and external threats. Dīn includes private and public devotion, politics, and other sociocultural elements.
Under today’s revised definition of khilāfah, one might get the impression that the Qurashī lineage for supreme leadership of the Ummah can be discarded despite the many hadiths which leave little doubt about its necessity. Notwithstanding the dissenting views of Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī, Ibn Khaldun, and others about the importance of the Qurashī lineage, it appears that most scholars historically never truly abandoned the guidance given by the Messenger—Allah’s blessing and peace on him—but rather tolerated the rule of non-Qurashīs out of necessity. The truth, as Dr. Khalid Blankinship has explained in “The History of the Caliphate,” is that the entire Muslim world has not been united under a single ruler since Umayyad times and that “the” khilāfah did not end with the fall of the Ottomans in 1924. In the view of Blankinship,
It would seem to me that any attempt to restore the khilāfah today would have to begin by asking why all Muslims should not swear allegiance to King Muhammad VI of Morocco, who certainly holds this claim and does so through an ancient and venerable lineage that goes back much earlier than the Ottoman claim and is much more authentic. Not that I hold the view that that is what is to be done, but it would seem that classical theory would require allegiance to the existing khalifah rather than setting up another as rival. The Ottoman state did represent the largest surviving Muslim state in the center of the Muslim world in the thirteenth-fourteenth/nineteenth century, it is true, but it almost went under in 1247-1256/1831-1840 and was only saved by British intervention.king
Ignoring the need for the caliph to be a Qurashī opens the door to the legitimization of any claimant. So, if Muslims owe allegiance neither to Muhammad VI of Morocco nor King Abdullah of Jordan, for what reason would we not embrace the current caliph of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar?
An even greater revision to the classical theory of Muslim statism has happened with many who believe the khalīfah must be appointed through a democratic election and subject to the approval of the voting public. Both pro-democratic and pro-caliphate proponents are united in condemnation of the so-called “Muslim autocrats.” But it is the pro-democratic reformists who scream the loudest to the extent that one today overlooks the fact that, until the normalization of democratic republics, practically all polities in human history have been overtly autocratic. And the celebrated and idealized Muslim caliphates were no exception.
As stated in Part 1, the democratic farce has been thoroughly exposed. Its original visionaries never intended for every citizen to participate in the electoral process. They, like the Greek philosophers, considered real democracy an inferior and tyrannical form of government. So, they opted for democratic republicanism i.e. representative government. Akin to Islamic political principles, the commander in chief would be elected by an elite and well-informed class of elders, not by popular vote. Once elected, the president, governors, mayors, and other heads of state would serve as functional autocrats, and communal decisions would not be made by majority vote of the general population.
The challenge this poses to today’s Muslim anti-autocrats is that it limits the degree of influence they might wish to have on the direction and operation of a reinvigorated contemporary “caliphate.” Despite lacking elite elder status (ahl-‘aqd wa al-hall), they appear to believe the only legitimate Muslim ruler is one they fancy in particular. And what they appear to fancy is a ruler who lacks a public association with tyranny. And the only tyranny which cannot be countenanced is working with Western powers to ostensibly undermine Palestinian statehood. For others, it includes not enforcing Islamically prescribed punishments (al-hudūd) despite the fact that that was not considered a disqualifying factor for scholars historically. Short of finding the “perfect” candidate for khālifah, the Bolshevik-life overthrow of today’s rulers seems necessary.
Since the demands of obedience to a caliph are similar to those placed on a wife towards her husband, one has little reason to believe that Muslim anti-autocrats would ever pledge allegiance to one who actually qualifies for the post. As a wife’s obedience to her husband is not contingent upon citing a specific scriptural text for every chore demanded of her, likewise the one giving fealty to a caliph is required to obey whether or not he approves of his political wisdom. One is simply required to disobey when the order given is to commit a sin.
The irony that history reveals is that no caliph or head of state has escaped the accusation of sin or tyranny. While we celebrate the accomplishments of the first caliph Abū Bakr—Allah be pleased with him, the rebels and apostates under his rule clearly believed him to be making unjust demands of them. Although Umar’s reign—Allah be pleased with him—was longer and less tumultuous, one must wonder what tyranny he was perceived of committing that led a Persian man to assassinate him. Uthmān b. ‘Affān—Allah be pleased with him, although unjustly, was killed for perceived acts of oppression. The same can be said of the fourth caliph Ali—Allah be pleased with him—who when asked by one of his detractors why there was more disunity over his appointment and rule than under the first two caliphs, “They were governors over people like me, while I am a governor over someone like you.”
The point is that if the most celebrated of caliphs who we call “The Rightly Guided” could not escape the perception of tyranny, why would we think those who ruled after them could? A romantic view of past caliphs, sultans, and governors has no place in the mind of reasonable and informed students of Islam. We all imagine that it would’ve been easy to live under the Ottoman and other so-called caliphates. While we can never know for certain, current attitudes about political ideals in the Muslim world expose a deep immaturity and naivety about realpolitik.
Not everyone can stomach the ratification and observance of substandard moral compromises of those in high positions. And not every critic is suited for political analysis nor for political office. Politics is messy. It is the realm of compromise. Religion is the realm of principle. Both present us with ethical dilemmas whose more harmful options we are expected to eschew. Only the immature and politically myopic expect perfection from leadership. One would assume these critics envision themselves as the perfect leaders they demand if only given the chance to prove themselves. They might even fancy they would bring heaven to earth, perhaps. But wouldn’t they, then, become the very “sultans” from whom our Prophet—Allah’s blessing and peace on him—and scholars ordered us to keep our distance? Or would they, then, approve of closeness to the sultan since they, in their self-righteousness, consider themselves uniquely blessed by divine providence? Whatever the case may be, I doubt that I would in my own lifetime rush to embrace the rule of such people.