Western notions of democracy have come to dominate all discourse on governance, government structure, justice and accountability. Despite this dominance, electoral numbers at elections, trust in politicians and the ruling classes is at an all-time low in the West. Some thinkers in the West, class their liberal democracies as universal and consider all opposing systems as dictatorships. With the Muslims world demanding more and more of Islam to be present in their politics the Khilafah’s ruling system is a viable alternative for many. A lot of this is due to the failure of democracy to cater for the needs of the Muslim world and its flaws can be seen from a number of areas.
1. Regular elections favour the elites – Whilst all would agree that their leaders should be elected, the reality of democracy is that regular elections favour those with money and adversely impact tough long-term decision making. Politics becomes about serving the elite not the public. The problem with frequent elections is that the more elections there are the more there is a requirement for money. Money and politics is one of the major cancers in democratic politics.
In essence the more elections you have the more likely you are to poison your system with money and short term thinking. This is what we see in the West today, countries dominated by powerful interests, riddled by political corruption and with soaring deficits and other long-term problems left completely un-tackled. An alternative to both democracy on the one hand and dictatorship or absolute monarchy on the other hand is an election of a ruler with no term expiry as exists within the Islamic political system. This allows people on the one hand to freely choose their leader but on the other allows that leader the time to take tough long-term decisions for the benefit of the people.
2. Laws can always be changed and suspended – Legislative sovereignty is at the very heart of Western civilisation, the ability to create one’s own laws, change them, adapt them and suspend them is held in high esteem as one of the bedrocks of liberal democracies. This is why we find after the events of 9/11 Western Europe has suspended some key principles and rights. We have seen the suspension of the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair trial and the right to be aware of the evidence that is being used to imprison you. These key rights, enshrined in Western maxims and used to extract other laws have been altered at will, even though they are supposed to be the bedrock of Western political tradition.
With secularism at the heart of Western legislation, laws can be changed and even suspended at a whim.
3. Individual freedoms create perpetual conflicts and permissive societies – The protection of individual freedoms is the bedrock of Western civilisation. However, the dilemma secular legislators face is what is beneficial to one person is not necessarily beneficial to another. People’s interests overlap and as a result there exists a constant renegotiation of space, entitlement and privilege. More often than not, the underlying criterion for an action is self-gratification and fulfilment – ‘What’s in it for me?’ A society where an individualistic outlook is common can only decline into a virtual free-for-all, as everyone, including the government, would attempt to take full advantage of life. Freedom therefore leads to people seeking their own benefit and more often than not, those with political and/or financial clout have the upper hand. This produces a host of problems, not least the conflict of people’s freedoms.
4. Majority-decisions do not necessarily make good laws – One of the fundamental pillars of democracy is that legislation is arrived at through majority voting. In the absence of any divine text, the need to derive legislation must be sourced from elsewhere.
The ability to change laws can produce very toxic laws. To ensure such a reality never occurs laws are restricted by constitutional concerns.
Elected representatives are by definition not bound by their electors. In essence therefore the voter’s role in democracies is confined to regular voting as well as lobbying on individual pieces of legislation. Though individuals are free to lobby, their lobbying effort is vastly outnumbered by more wealthier and powerful concerns.
The toxic nature of how laws are passed in democracies was well understood by Western philosophers, leaders, and influential voices over the ages. Socrates and Plato raged against democracy in ancient Greece. Jefferson and Adams understood the dangers of pure democracy, which is why the US is a republic and why pure democracy was opposed.
Secularism, the complete separation between God and governance has become established as the Aqeedah of Capitalism, legislative sovereignty of man over god is central to democracy however one defines it. Islam is on the diametrically opposite side of democracy. Islam makes the Islamic texts sovereign – the supreme reference, mankind plays no role in legislating, only implementing. Islamic governance does not proceed upon the same route as Western legislation, where safeguarding individual freedoms is considered the basis of legislation. Islamic governance does not make freedom the subject of discussion; it does not recognise or reject freedom. Hence, Islamic governance does not look at humans from the angle of them undertaking or not undertaking actions on the basis of freedom.
Whilst Islamic governance has many details and has been written about throughout Islamic history, the following are its key aspects.
1. Justice is achieved with an independent judiciary and fixed laws, so all citizens know where they stand – The current situation prevalent in the Muslim world, where ruling families decide the laws that society must abide by whilst they remain above the very laws they have created, is just the other side of the democratic coin.
In Islam Allah (swt) is sovereign as explained in the Qur’an:
إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّه
“The rule is for none but Allah” (Al-Anam:57)
This means that all laws need to be derived from the Islamic sources which are the Qur’an, Sunnah, Ijma Sahabah and Qiyas. Whilst all laws, maxims and principles are contained within these texts their application is where mankind must use its own capacities to ensure the right rule is applied for the reality it came for. To ensure this happens Islam has recommended a constitution for the Islamic lands, where the role of the ruler and positions of power are clearly defined and mandated a constitution where the relationship between the ruled and ruler are clearly delineated. All this ensures that society is aware of the laws it will be judged by, which cannot be changed at whim, this will ensure a multiple tier society does not develop, where different laws apply to different segments of society. It also ensures the elites cannot influence the laws.
Islam has enshrined both institutional and decisional independence for the judiciary which far exceeds what is seen in Western democracies. Islam institutionalised an independent high court called the Court of Unjust Acts (Mahkamat Mazalim). It is presided over by the most eminent and qualified judges (Qadi Muzalim) and granted extensive powers by the Shari’ah. It has the power to remove any official of state regardless of their role or rank, including, most importantly, the Khaleefah if he persists in pursuing a path that lies outside of the terms of his Bay’ah (contract of ruling).
Ordinary citizens who have a complaint against the state can register it with the Court. What is unique about the Court of Unjust Acts, compared to other judicial courts, is that the Government Investigations Judge (Qadi Muzalim) has investigatory powers and does not require a plaintiff to register a complaint before launching an investigation. This court will therefore constantly monitor the actions of all officials of the state and the legislation adopted to ensure it conforms to the Shari’ah and no oppression (mazlama) is committed against the people. The executive counterbalance to the power of this Court is by the Khaleefah in principle having the power to appoint and remove the Chief Justice and any judges below him.
The laws an Islamic independent judiciary work to enforce are derived from the Islamic sources, this restricts what can be enforced as law. As Islam’s fundamental source – the Qur’an is revelatory, what is right and wrong is defined and thus the ruler nor the judiciary can deviate from this. With the introduction of a constitution, which allows more detailed rules from the Islamic sources, society will clearly know where it stands with regards to those acts which entail punishments and fines if violated.
2. Islam has established rigorous measures of accountability – The US constitution is considered a model template, which empowers the President with many powers but then restricts them through various mechanisms as power corrupts. Accountability in Islam is guaranteed through the institutions of government, in the obligation to establish political parties and through an individual obligation on all the citizens to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. There are also a host of various mechanisms rooted in Islam which act as checks and balances and restrict and regulate the ruler.
- The Khaleefah is given wide mandatory powers in Islam, this is different to what is the norm in democracies where power is shared with a cabinet or parliament. Whilst the West institutionalised this in an attempt to curtail the possibilities of a dictatorship in reality it has given rise to mob rule where the collective act in concert like any individual dictator.
- Islam has mandated that authority belongs to the Ummah. The Khaleefah is not a king or dictator who imposes his authority on the people through coercion or force. The Khaleefah’s authority to rule must be given willingly by the Muslims through the Islamic ruling contract known as Bay’ah. Without this Bay’ah the Khaleefah cannot rule. After this his authority is restricted to the hukm shari i.e. he cannot change what the Islamic texts have defined as right and wrong.
- Islam has institutionalised the Bay’ah contract as the method to appoint a ruler. This was outlined in many ahadith, amongst them: Muslim narrated on the authority of Abu Hazim who said: “I accompanied Abu Hurayra five years and I heard him talk about the Prophet (saw) saying: ‘Bani Israel used to be governed by Prophets, every time a Prophet died, another came after him, and there is no Prophet after me. There will be Khulafa’a and they will number many.’ They said: ‘What would you order us to do?’ He (saw) said: ‘Fulfil the Bay’ah to them one after the other, and give them their due right, surely Allah will account them for that which He entrusted them with.” (Sahih Muslim). The Bay’ah is between two parties – the Khaleefah and the Muslims. It is the people who elect the ruler, through popular will.
- The principal conditions of the Bay’ah are that the Khaleefah fulfils seven mandatory conditions of his post and to implement the Shari’ah upon the citizens of the state. The seven mandatory conditions of the Khaleefah if violated, warrant his removal. These are, he must be:
- Just (‘adl)
- The Bay’ah is a contract and as such it is allowed to add extra conditions to this contract that the Khaleefah must abide by, as long as these extra conditions do not violate the fundamentals of the contract. It would be allowed to restrict the Khaleefah to certain constitutional processes such as the empowerment of the Majlis al-Ummah (People’s Council) and the judiciary as counterbalances to the executive power of the Khaleefah.
- Without the restriction on the term of office, the Khaleefah can focus on long term strategic planning for the state instead of short-term planning from one election to the next as we find in democratic systems. It also prevents corporate interests from hijacking the government agenda through campaign contributions that any Presidential candidate or party in the West must secure to achieve power.
- The ruler possesses many executive powers such as appointing governors and mayors, developing the state’s foreign policy and accepting foreign ambassadors. He is however restricted to these and cannot go beyond this remit. The ruler’s role is restricted to the public sphere and so Islam would forbid him from interfering in the private lives of his citizens. So whilst the Khaleefah holds all executive powers within the Khilafah his powers are restricted by the Shari’ah.
- The powers of the Khaleefah are further restricted in Islam by the establishment of the Majlis al-Ummah. This is an elected council whose members can be Muslim, non-Muslim, men or women. These members represent the interests of their constituencies within the state. The Majlis has no powers of legislation like in a democratic system but it does have many powers that act as a counterbalance to the executive powers of the Khaleefah. These include expressing dissatisfaction with the assistants, governors, and mayors and in this matter the view of the Majlis is binding and the Khaleefah must discharge them at once. It also includes selecting the list of candidates standing for the position of the Khaleefah, no candidate excluded from this list may stand and the decision of the Majlis is binding. The Majlis also decides how much the ruler is paid and the allowances he may get.
- In modern times the most appropriate style of conducting the Bay’ah is through a general election, where all mature Muslims, male and female have a right to vote for the Khaleefah of their choice. The Muslim representatives of the Majlis al-Ummah will shortlist the candidates for the Khaleefah and the people then vote for one of the candidates of their choice.
- Islam has ordered the establishment of political parties. Political parties in the Khilafah are established primarily to account the Khaleefah and his government. Their task is to safeguard the thoughts of Islam in society and to ensure the government does not deviate from the implementation and propagation of Islam. The right of the Khilafah’s citizens to establish political parties is established from the Holy Qur’an. No permission is required from the government to establish political parties. Although members of the government will in many cases be members of political parties. The Khilafah does not have a party system of ruling as found in Western democracies.
- In addition to the institutionalised mechanisms of accountability discussed so far, accounting the Khilafah is a right of all citizens of the state whether Muslim or non-Muslim. Although their representatives in the Majlis al-Ummah will undertake this task on their behalf they still have a right to perform this task themselves.
Political apathy is a growing problem in the West. General elections are seeing fewer people voting especially amongst the young. Growing individualism among society is leading people to ignore the problems facing their communities and wider society and be concerned only with themselves. Islam not only obliged political parties with the task of enjoining ma’aruf and forbidding munkar but also individuals.
3. Corruption is rooted out through completely separating money and politics – A central argument of liberals is that after restricting religion to the private lives of individuals, the West has seen unparalleled progress. Secularism has been central to the period of enlightenment and the postmodern world we currently live in. However there is a consistent pattern across all democracies of corruption. The US may be the preeminent democracy in the world but it is also one of the most corrupt. US politics is riddled with special interests, a revolving door between politics and big business, political favours and backhanders. Though on the surface elections occur every two years, the reality is that incumbents rarely lose. In 2008, 94% of incumbents won in the House of Representatives and 83% in the Senate. This isn’t by accident, due to the significant money advantage enjoyed by incumbents and the continued redistricting.
Democracies should have secularised money and politics and not religion and politics. In Islam the ruler is not an employee who gets paid a wage, since he is not hired by the Ummah. The Khaleefah is given a pledge of allegiance (Bay’ah) by the Ummah to implement the Shari’ah and convey the Islamic Da’wah to the world. Although the Khaleefah is not paid a wage an allowance is assigned to him from the Bait al-Mal to meet his needs. This allowance is a compensation for him since he is kept busy with the obligation of the Khilafah and cannot work and pursue his own business interests. This allowance is determined by the Majlis al-Ummah who will decide through shura (consultation) how much the allowance should be. They are the elected representatives of the Ummah and giving them the ultimate decision prevents any abuse of the public funds by the Khaleefah.
The ruler, governors, delegated assistants and judges – all the positions of ruling – are not paid a wage but an allowance as compensation as they are unable to take on employment. In this way Islam ensures money is kept far away from ruling.
4. Societal cohesion is achieved through the implementation of Islam, not the security services – The security services in the Arab world are notorious for their brutal methods of torture, often being the only line of defence for the rulers of the region. Whilst the West uses its values of freedom and individualism to glue society together, the Muslim rulers have used their security services to maintain their positions of power. Their success was recognised when the US began outsourcing torture through its programme of extraordinary rendition. The West may outlaw such brutal methods at home but have no problem when carried out by foreign regimes if it protects their interests and keeps ruling families in power loyal to the West.
Islam ensures societal cohesion through the implementation of Islam rather than any method of coercion. By restricting the powers of the ruler and establishing many layers of accountability the role of the security services becomes very narrow. Accountability of the state is based on an independent judiciary with extensive powers including the ability to remove the head of state, individual rights to speech and hold to account any office or agency of the state, the requirement for multiple political parties and an Ummah’s council that has the power to scrutinise and overturn state policy, budgets and decision making.
Individuals have the right to account any organ or employee of the state, regardless of rank or seniority, this includes the head of state. Complaints can be submitted to the Madhalim Office who will initiate a process of validating and following due process in establishing facts. This office has the subsequent power to stipulate punishments. Individuals, Muslims and non Muslims, are allowed the right to peaceful congregation and protest. They are also allowed to seek out support to make representations to the state on their behalf.