Countless millions of Muslims pray to God five times a day: „Guide us the straight way—the way of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings“. Thus, every one of them invokes the Creator on behalf of all men and women who are willing to believe in Him—“guide us“—and not merely on behalf of himself or herself alone: consciously or unconsciously, a Muslim who recites these words of the opening surah of the Qur’an is asking God to show the „straight“ or „right“ way to the community as a whole.
In further analysis, this amounts to praying for guidance not merely in spiritual or ethical concerns but also in everything that pertains to the community’s practical ways—that is to say, its social configuration and political behaviour.
The realization that questions of society and politics are closely connected with spiritual problems and cannot, therefore, be dissociated from what we conceive of as „religion“ is as old as Islam itself. It has always been alive in the minds of Muslim thinkers and in the emotions of the less articulate masses throughout Muslim history. Indeed, a very large part of that history has evolved under the impetus of a deep-seated longing for the establishment of what has been loosely, and often confusedly, conceived of as the „Islamic state“: a longing which is very much in evidence among the Muslims of our times, and which is, none the less, subject to the many confusions that have made the achievement of a truly Islamic polity impossible in the past millenium.
For, let us be clear in our minds on one point at least: there has never existed a truly Islamic state after the time of the Prophet and of the Medina Caliphate headed by the Prophet’s immediate successors, the four Right-Guided Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Omar, ‚Uthman and ‚Ali. That Medina Caliphate was truly Islamic in the sense that it fully reflected the pristine teachings of both the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah and was as yet unburdened by
later-day theological accretions and speculations. Whatever forms of state and government came into being in Muslim countries after that first, earliest period were vitiated, in a lesser or higher degree, by ideological deviations from the erstwhile simplicity and clarity of Islamic Law, or even by outright, deliberate attempts on the part of the rulers concerned to deform and obscure that Law in their own interests.
Hence, the past thousand years or so of Muslim history can offer us no guidance in our desire to achieve a polity which would really deserve the epithet „Islamic“. Nor is the confusion lessened by the influences to which the Muslim world has been subjected in recent times. Modern Western mentality does not take kindly to endeavours aimed at the establishment of religion as the dominant factor in a community’s or a people’s life; and since Western civilization, based on superior technology and scientific development, undoubtedly dominates the world today in both its „Capitalist“ and „Marxist“ manifestations, it is not surprising that educated Muslims can only very rarely avoid being influenced by Western political thought in either of its two formulations.
And so, the Muslims‘ longing for a truly Islamic polity stands today, despite—or perhaps because of—its intensity, under the sign of utter confusion. This confusion manifests itself in many ways-not the least of them being the application of the purely Western term and concept of „revolution“ to essentially Islamic moments and goals-such a misapplication of ternis and concepts does not help the Muslims to understand what the idea of an Islamic
Polity really implies: it makes them only more confused, and more helplessly dependent on non-Islamic political thought and imagery. There is, I am convinced, only one way for us Muslims to come out of this confusion: we must look for guidance to no other sources than the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and to rely on no authority other than the explicit Word of God and the explicit teachings of His Last Prophet.
This was my endeavour twenty years ago, when I wrote „The Principles of State and Government in Islam“. The book was published in 1961 in English by the University of California, and was followed by Arabic and Urdu translations. As the original English-language edition has been out of print for many years, I am now placing it a new before the public in the hope that it may contribute something towards a realization of the great dream common to all those to whom „Islam“ is more than an empty word, as well as towards a better understanding of Islamic ideology by the non-Muslim West—an understanding so vitally needed in our time.
Tangier, April 1980