Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Which is More Practical: Islam, Communism, or Individualism? ...

During our discussion on the hijab at my entry titled, "On the hijab ...", Mr Carty has asked me the following question:

"Is an ideal Islamic state any more possible than the ideal communist society (in real life, communism is a totalitarian nightmare), or the ideal individualist anarchy (in real life, anarchy means rule by gangs of thugs)?

After all, three out of the four Khalifah Rashidun were assassinated... "

Due to the importance of the question, I have decided to answer it in a separate entry. Here is my answer:


You have asked a very pertinent and important question. You may not have noticed it, but the answer to your question lies in the question itself: Communism and individualism are two opposite extremes, and in the middle of these two extremes lies Islam. The ideal Islamic state is the perfect balance between totalitarianism and anarchy. As such, the ideal Islamic state is very much possible, as has been borne out by experiment. The "role-model" Islamic State is, of course, the State of Medina that was ruled by the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). The State of Medina was an incredible reality, for, apart from containing all the ingredients of an ideal Islamic state, it also was an incredible success, having survived against all odds. This state was expanded and worked upon by the Khulafa Rashideen, who ensured the guaranteed delivery of human rights to the general population. Afterwards, we have had "near-ideal" Islamic states at various points in history. Cordoba, Cyprus, Baghdad, Samarkand, and Bukhara were all Islamic welfare states at different times in history.

The problem in creating an ideal Islamic state is that forces of totalitarianism and forces of individualism automatically align themselves against the Islamic state, making survival an issue. Thus, any ideal Islamic state will find itself at odds with imperialistic powers from without and anarchic rebellions from within. This creates extreme strain on the nascent Islamic state, which is an otherwise beautifully balanced society. It is no wonder then that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) had to fight several battles during his ten-year stay at Medina. Likewise, the Khulafa Rashideen were constantly engaged in military conflict with the imperialistic Roman and Byzantine empires. They also faced individualistic rebellion from within the Islamic state, which they had to crush with force. It was their engagement with these internal rebellions that led to the assassinations of the Khulafa Rashideen.

It would, however, be cruel to deduce that since three of the four Khulafa Rashideen were assassinated, the ideal Islamic state is "not possible". To understand how monstrous this error is and how great this blunder is, consider the assassination of American president, John Kennedy. I do not intend to compare Kennedy's worth with the Khulafa Rashideen, but one can draw lessons from analogy. Should one deduce that the reforms instituted by Kennedy are "not possible" in today's world because Kennedy was assassinated? Does Kennedy's assassination mean that he was an unpopular ruler? Should Kennedy's assassination be a lesson for us that Kennedy's ideas or ideals were unworthy? The clear answer to all these questions is "No". It turns out that some people have drawn perverse deductions from the assassinations of the Khulafa Rashideen. Foremost among these are the Western "orientalists", who have been spewing propaganda against Islam for the past several centuries. These "orientalists" claim to be specialists in Islam. As such, they are specialists in the art of maligning Islam, specialists in the art of mixing truths with lies, and specialists in the art of throwing dust in people's eyes. God protect us from the evil of the prejudiced historian of Islam.

17 comments:

George Carty said...

Should one deduce that the reforms instituted by Kennedy are "not possible" in today's world because Kennedy was assassinated? Does Kennedy's assassination mean that he was an unpopular ruler? Should Kennedy's assassination be a lesson for us that Kennedy's ideas or ideals were unworthy? The clear answer to all these questions is "No".

The assassination of one president doesn't mean much. But if the United States had had thirty presidents, and twenty-five had been assassinated, then I'd strongly suspect there was something wrong with the American political system.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was "broken" in that unanimous voting was required in parliament - the result was Poland being carved up by its neighbours. Imperial Japan was "broken" in that its military was not under proper civilian control - causing it to run wild and plunge the country into a suicidal war with the United States.

To me, the main political problem with Muslim societies seems to be legitimacy. Most of today's Muslim
countries are ruled by dictators who seized power by force, and whose regimes are dedicated to keeping themselves in power by oppressing their own people.

Renaissance Scientist said...

To me, the main political problem with Muslim societies seems to be legitimacy. Most of today's Muslim countries are ruled by dictators who seized power by force, and whose regimes are dedicated to keeping themselves in power by oppressing their own people.

I agree with the above statement which concerns our present age. But your "strong suspicion" about the days of the Khulafa Rashideen is nothing more than a suspicion.

George Carty said...

I agree with the above statement which concerns our present age.

It applies somewhat to older Muslim states too though - how come Western kingdoms had a reasonably orderly royal succession, with little destructive infighting, while newly ascended Ottoman sultans were so afraid of coups that they had to murder all their brothers? It also meant that they had to keep their armies close by - that's why the Ottomans failed to take Vienna, as they had to start out in the spring from Istanbul (by definition far from any battle front) and head west. By the time they reached Vienna it was late summer, and they could only besiege the city for six weeks before being forced to return for winter.

If the regime had been more legitimate, the Ottoman forces could have been split up into subunits (perhaps Army Group Balkans, Army Group Africa, Army Group Tigris and Army Group Caucasus), making the logistics situation much easier.

Renaissance Scientist said...

Yes, it applies somewhat to older Muslim states too. I have affirmed the State of Medina to be the "ideal" Islamic state, first under rule of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and then under the Khulafa Rashideen. Then I have mentioned the "near-ideal" Islamic states. What I did not mention were the "un-ideal" Islamic states. We have had quite a few of these states in the past and in the present.

The accountability for rule by despotic dictators ultimately lies with the masses themselves, for it is the masses that should define their destiny. I believe that a massive awakening is required in the slumbering masses of the Islamic countries so that they can realize their true potential.

George Carty said...

I'd think the most important change needed in the Muslim world would be the development of a strong middle class - this will probably require a move away from oil-dominated economies (extractive economies are by nature easy prey for kleptocrats).

Renaissance Scientist said...

A strong middle class certainly needs to be developed. While extractive economies have tended to fall into the hands of kleptocrats, this does not mean that we should not extract maximum benefit from our natural wealth. Oil is one of the great natural strengths of the Muslim world, and its role in the future will be vital and could even be pivotal. The trick is to obtain maximum benefit from our natural resources without letting them fall into wrong hands.

George Carty said...

Another suggestion that I'd make is that an effective Muslim state must have leaders elected by the people.

Military dictatorship is one of the worst forms of government, because it is an invitation to coups and civil wars, and because the military focuses on political intrigue instead of warfighting. This means that military dictatorships are often ignominiously defeated (eg Santa Ana's Mexico in 1846, Nasser's Egypt in 1967, Galtieri's Argentina in 1982).

Hereditary monarchy worked reasonably well for Western countries in the past, where there was only one designated successor (removing the 'invitation to coups and civil wars' problem), but it tends to fail for Muslim countries because the Shari'ah prohibits primogeniture.

George Carty said...

Another thought I've had - the modern Islamic world needs a style of government which is to the Khilafah Rashidun what the United States of America is to the Roman Republic. Rome did most of its conquering while still a Republic, and most of the "core" Islamic lands were gained during the Khilafah Rashidun era.

The Khilafah Rashidun had fatal flaws much like the Roman Republic, and was overthrown by "Caesar" Muawiyah I. I'd like to know if any historians have made the comparisons between these two states...

Renaissance Scientist said...

Yes, the modern Islamic world needs to model itself according to the Khilafah Rashidun, but there is no need for modification. Yes, the Khilafah Rashidun succumbed to conspiracies, but that's all about it. (I would really like to know what those "fatal flaws" were in the Khilafah Rashidun that were "much like the Roman Republic".)

It is important to realize that some of the most bitter enemies of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, were the chiefs of the Quraysh tribe to which the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, belonged. Their enmity was borne out of the fact that the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him, had destroyed their authority, superiority, and monopoly in Arabia. The Quraysh never forgot their defeat and finally got their revenge in the bloody form of Yazid and his barbaric companions.

As regards your other question, I do not know if any historians have made such analogies. I will, however, add that the United States of America has begun to act like the Roman Empire did before its downfall. I am not foreseeing a bright future for U.S.A.

George Carty said...

Phew, I thought you were never going to get back to me!

You say that the Khilafah Rashidun succumbed to conspiracies, but that merely begs the question as to why that state was vulnerable to conspiracies in the first place. To go back to your point about Kennedy, his assassination did not endanger the American Republic itself.

Did the Khilafah Rashidun suffer escalating violence, starting with rioting and progressing through assassinations to outright civil war, like the late Roman Republic? Did the Khilafah Rashidun state have a proper professional police force?

Also, did Islamic expansionism have any role in the fall of the Khilafah Rashidun, by making military control over conquered territories excluded from the political system more important than constitutional authority?

If we continue the Roman parallel, the Abbasid policy of replacing the Arab basis of the state with a broader Muslim one can be compared with the decision of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus to give citizenship to all those in Roman-controlled territory.

How can you compare the United States of America to the late Roman Empire - it doesn't even have an Emperor yet! It's more like the late Republic in the sense that it is pursuing an increasingly imperialistic foreign policy (though the American Republic is internally much more robust than the Roman Republic).

Any more Roman parallels with the Caliphate (was Yazid the Muslim Caligula, for example...)

Renaissance Scientist said...

Phew, I thought you were never going to get back to me!

My apologies for that delayed response. I was actually enjoying the Eid vacation. You see, this blogging thing is new to me and I was not too familiar with its rules. When I started this blog, I had thought it would be a personal diary (and not a discussion forum), but then you came along and we had those discussions about the hijab. It is interesting that we had started off with a piece of cloth and have ended up with the Roman Empire ...

As for your questions, well, you have asked quite a number of questions:

1. Why was the Islamic state of the Khulafa Rashidun vulnerable to conspiracies in the first place? To go back to your point about Kennedy, his assassination did not endanger the American Republic itself.

Kennedy's assassination did not endanger the American Republic, but if you'd had three Kennedy's in a row and all three were assassinated, then that would certainly have endangered the American Republic. The conspiracy theory that I am putting forward is that the conspiracies that were hatched against the Khilafah Rashidun had started from the very outset and continued on for thirty years. (Indeed, they were going on even during the time of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him.) These conspiracies finally culminated in the overthrowing of the Khilafah Rashidun. It was terrorism, and nothing less than terrorism, that became the vulnerability of the Islamic State.

2. Did the Khilafah Rashidun suffer escalating violence, starting with rioting and progressing through assassinations to outright civil war, like the late Roman Republic?

No, this scenario did not happen with the Khilafah Rashidun. Such a scenario is characteristic of oppressive regimes, as indeed did happen with Yazid's despotic rule.

3. Did the Khilafah Rashidun state have a proper professional police force?

Yes. The process of organization of the police and the military was completed during the Khilafah of Syedna Omar, may God be pleased with him.

4. Did Islamic expansionism have any role in the fall of the Khilafah Rashidun, by making military control over conquered territories excluded from the political system more important than constitutional authority?

That may have been a factor, because the rate of expansion was so fast that development of stable constitutional systems may not have been able to cope up with the expansion. It may be noted, as I have noted above, that it was not until the caliphate of Syedna Omar (may God be pleased with him), the second caliph, that a properly organized police force came into existence. Other such systems, like the zakat collection system, also took time to fully organize themselves. However, it should be noted that the conquered peoples of foreign lands did not generally raise a rebellion against the conquerors because they felt that their new rulers were better than their previous rulers. One should also not forget, as I have mentioned previously, that Yazid and his men belonged to the Quraysh tribe of Makkah and not to Iraq, Egypt, or Syria. Thus the end of the Khilafah Rashidun was brought forth from within, not from without. In this respect, the Khilafah Rashidun is unique in World History.

5. How can you compare the United States of America to the late Roman Empire?

I only said that USA has "begun to act" like the late Roman Empire, and you have concurred with me to the effect that it is "pursuing an increasingly imperialistic foreign policy".

6. Any more Roman parallels with the Caliphate (was Yazid the Muslim Caligula, for example...)

Though there are similarities, one cannot call Yazid as the Muslim Caligula, for two reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, Caligula was a "rightful" heir of the kingdom according to the established customs and norms of his society. Yazid, on the other hand, usurped power through terrorism and massacre. Secondly, Yazid's reign was far more cruel than Caligula's. However, it is true that both Yazid and Caligula indulged in incestuous behaviour and both have their share of cruelties.

George Carty said...

The conspiracy theory that I am putting forward is that the conspiracies that were hatched against the Khilafah Rashidun had started from the very outset and continued on for thirty years. (Indeed, they were going on even during the time of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him.) These conspiracies finally culminated in the overthrowing of the Khilafah Rashidun. It was terrorism, and nothing less than terrorism, that became the vulnerability of the Islamic State.

Why was the state unable to crush the conspiracies? Was political power too concentrated in the Khalifah's hands? Republican forms of governments are stronger than absolute monarchies, as their is no single "head" for a conspiracy to chop off. I don't know as much as I should about early Islamic history - can you recommend any good, objective texts?

Thus the end of the Khilafah Rashidun was brought forth from within, not from without. In this respect, the Khilafah Rashidun is unique in World History.

Not really, the Roman Republic was hardly destroyed by outside invaders (that's why I'm talking about the Republic's fall, not the Empire's).

However, it should be noted that the conquered peoples of foreign lands did not generally raise a rebellion against the conquerors because they felt that their new rulers were better than their previous rulers.

The threat I was actually thinking of was not local nationalist revolts, but power grabs by ambitious Muslim generals.

I only said that USA has "begun to act" like the late Roman Empire, and you have concurred with me to the effect that it is "pursuing an increasingly imperialistic foreign policy".

You're still not getting the point. Rome was at its most imperialistic during the late REPUBLIC, not the late EMPIRE period. In fact the only lands which the Roman Empire conquered were Britain, Dacia and Mesopotamia, and of these only Britain was retained for a significant period of time.

The Emperors were mostly opposed to new conquests, because they they viewed generals with major victories to their credit as threat to their own rule. Something similar explains why Saddam Hussein's army was so incompetent during the Iran-Iraq war - Saddam murdered all his best generals out of fear that they may wish to overthrow him in the future.

Renaissance Scientist said...

You have hit upon a number of issues all at the same time. What is an Empire? What is a Republic? Was the Khilafa Rashidun an Empire or a Republic? Or was it something different? What are the similarities and differences between the Khilafa Rashidun and the Roman Republic/Empire? Is such a comparison valid in the first place? Was the Khailfa Rashidun an ideal Islamic State? If it was, then why did it end so abruptly? Why has there been no ideal Khilafa afterwards? What lessons do we learn from the past? What can the Muslim Ummah do now for its betterment? What are the prospects for the future?

I think I will answer all those questions in a separate posting, hopefully in the coming days, insha'Allah. In the meantime, I will recommend to you the following books regarding the early Islamic history:

The Jurisprudence of the Prophetic Biography & A Brief History of the Orthodox Caliphate, by Dr. M. Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti (Author), Nancy Roberts (Translator)
[Available at the following bookstore: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1575479648/103-3646274-9187844?v=glance&n=283155]


I think the book would be an excellent way to start the study of early Islamic history. Though the focus of the book is on the Prophetic Biography, I believe a working knowledge of the Prophetic Biography is extremely important to understand the events of the Khilafa Rashidun, and for that matter, the events of the past 1400 years. Besides, the term "early Islamic history" includes both the Prophetic period and the Khilafa period. I will, insha'Allah, let you know about more titles in this regard, especially those that focus exclusively on the Khilafa Rashidun.

Defence Against Disaster: the Accurate Position of the Companions after the Prophet's Death, by Qadi Abu Bakr Ibn Al-'Arabi
[Available at the following bookstore: http://store.yahoo.com/islamicbookstore-com/b6617.html]


This book should make clear the Islamic position about Syedna Mu'awiyah, may God be pleased with him: We consider Syedna Mu'awiyah to be a Companion of the Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him, and hold him in the same high esteem as any of the other Companions. The book is also a "standard textbook for the study of Islam", as described by the publisher.

George Carty said...

In the analogy with Rome which I am using, the state of Muhammad and the Khilafah Rashidun are the "Republic" and the Ummayad and 'Abbasid Khilifat are the "Empire".

I'm also wondering whether my Muawiyah = Julius Caesar comparison may be inaccurate. Maybe it would be better to compare Ali with Julius Caesar, and the Khawarij with Brutus and his followers. Muawiyah is the Muslim "Augustus".

Renaissance Scientist said...

In continuation of the previous theme, I would also recommend the following books on the history of the Islamic Ummah.

Islam in European Thought, by Albert Hourani
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0521421209/muslimanswersA/104-5967031-3115930
I would recommend this book as a starter for those who are viewing Islam from a European perspective.

The Venture of Islam, Volumes I,II, and III, by Marshall G. S. Hodgson
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0226346838/muslimanswersA/104-5967031-3115930
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0226346846/muslimanswersA/104-5967031-3115930
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0226346854/muslimanswersA/104-5967031-3115930
Really comprehensive book there, with three volumes. The book gives a fair, balanced, and informed history of the whole of the past 1400 years of Islam, but one can read any volume or chapter of the book independently.


An acknowledgment is overdue here, as may be evident to some. I got the references for all the books mentioned in these comments from the Mere Muslim website (www.mereislam.info), which, as the name of the website suggests, is a great site for Islamic information.

Renaissance Scientist said...

I will also recommend the following book:

The New Politics of Islam: Pan-Islamic Foreign Policy in a World of States, by Naveed S. Sheikh
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0700715924/qid=1133790772/sr=8-1/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl14/103-8968213-4216651?n=507846&s=books&v=glance

From what I know about Mr Naveed Sheikh, and from the reviews of the book at Amazon, I will conclude that this book must be an excellent work on Islamic politics in the modern world. I still haven't read it, but I plan to read it in the near future. What I want to do ultimately is to write a few informed postings about the quintessential modern-day question about Islam, "Is the ideal Islamic State any more possible than the ideal Communist State or the ideal Individualist State?"

Qrratugai said...

Wow, very interesting blog, Sir! I'm glad I came across it (all accidentally, thanks to Google Search).

I'll participate in the discussion in due time; am unavailable at the moment but just wanted to say good blog!