In a utopian State, each citizen will have complete liberty to exercise their will and lead the life they want. In such state, individuals would solve their disputes themselves rather than a third party acting as an arbiter. Anarchist try to establish this individualistic notion of a perfect society and demand complete abolition of all restraining authority. But such efforts to establish a utopian state failed because to live in a community means that an individual has to give up some of his/her liberties.
To manage the harmonious existence, within agreed moral and behavioral boundaries, requires the introduction of an authority exercised by an outside agency that we call a State (riyasat). This state is a political entity that tries to balance the social demands of the society while ensuring that each individual has exactly same liberty and rights. The challenge though is that who has the authority to define the moral, ethical and social boundaries for the citizen. Another problem is that the authority vested in the state has to be exercised by a human which introduces their prejudices and biases. Throughout its history humanity has tried to find the best political model that can reconcile the inherent conflict between liberty and authority. There is a vast difference between Western and Islamic political thought in terms of defining liberty and authority.
Western model imagines that function of the state is to maximize the liberty of an individual and any moral boundary should be imposed by a majoritarian approach. Once granted the state has the authority to regulate that moral behavior. It does not want God (that is religion) to play any role in defining the moral boundaries of individual liberties. This approach has shown many weaknesses. First, the current Western law traces its roots to the Christian teachings so religion is not fully divorced from the state. Second, throughout human history, there has been no period when religion was non-existent from the collective consciousness of people. The secular idea of separating religion from state is a shortcut to resolve the clash of faiths in a diverse society and to try to bring everyone at par with each other in terms of differences in beliefs. Despite this artificial accommodation of diversity of faiths the tensions remain and are not fully resolved.
Islamic teachings also deal with these questions of liberty and authority to help create some balance between them. Let us once again refer to the story of Adam (AS) as there are many political teachings in it. When Adam (AS) was placed in heaven there was a condition imposed on him not to eat from a forbidden tree. This shed light not only on the relation between Creator and Creation but also that there is no such thing as absolute liberty and being constrained is part of human existence. God as the creator has the ultimate authority to define the moral boundaries as He is the only one having knowledge of the true nature of men. All stories of Quran relating to the community is to shed light on these moral boundaries. But at the same time, it is important to note that Islam does not designate any single authority to interpret these moral boundaries, as in Catholic tradition where Pope has that authority. Or in Hindu religion where Brahman has the final word on interpreting the message. Iran has adopted the model of vilayat e faqih where the religious scholar has the authority to define limits of moral behavior. But this model is challenged by many Shia scholars because in an Islamic political thought no single entity has the authority to impose a moral code on the society.
Islam requires the whole community to debate, discuss, and then adopt the moral limits on behavior in the light of teachings of Quran. Even then there are certain universal values that are an exclusive domain of God and no human agency has authority over it. For instance, freedom of religion and designating anyone kafir or mushrik is exclusively in the domain of God and no human agency has an authority to adjudicate over it. The state has to provide complete freedom of religion and ensure that no injustice is committed because of religious bias. The state in Islamic political thought is not a living entity in itself and does not have religion rather represent the hierarchical organization to manage the community. It is important to note that there is no verse in Quran that relates to the accountability of a State in the afterlife rather it is always for an individual. The purpose of the state is to allow an individual to pursue a career for which they will be held accountable in the afterlife for any shortcomings and injustices. Quran does narrate stories of societies that were destroyed for their moral decline through a divine mandate but does not grant any society to impose its will on another suggesting that they have a divine mandate to justify it. It does call upon humanity to fight against social injustice, oppression, and other crimes against humanity but these are all related to temporal existence rather than the faith of the people.
It is important that extensive research is conducted on the Islamic political model so that we can develop our own system of democracy and not rely on Western models.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi
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