In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
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21st Century Islamic State - Political Model

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Political Model

Let us start by building the foundations of a new political paradigm. Noting that while the dominant view of Islamic scholars is that we are not to discuss the differences of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), we set this ruling aside to fully understand and develop a political model of an Islamic state.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) passed away, he did not leave with a written constitution for the state of Medina. Thereafter, a split evolved as to whom and by what mechanism a successor was to be chosen. Rifts and disagreements developed even among the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him). These rifts continued to widen thereafter. Many questions remained unanswered. Should the Islamic state have remained in the hands of his closest relatives? If in fact, a new leader was to be elected, by what method was this to be achieved? How long should the Khalifah’s (leader's) term be? If Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) didn't give out clear guidelines, then is Islam really complete?

These are important questions, and the last one is blasphemous. And Allah knows best. To be brief, what the Prophet (peace be upon him) meant when he said that our religion was complete and that Islam was a complete way of life, is perhaps not that all possible actions and issues have been cataloged like an encyclopedia or a computer program. Rather, that all the principles needed to address every action has been given. Applications of those principles are also given in the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Just as a student when he is working on his arithmetic looks at the relevant formula, and then if he has further trouble, looks at an example on how the formula is used, Islam gives us the principles and then an example on how it is to be applied. Our answer will not be the same every time we have a new problem. Rather, we will look at the "formula" (Islamic principles) and fashion our answer on the same pattern as the "example" (the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him).

This represents a break from the present hard line approach as well as the secular approach.The hard line approach takes the position where every problem has to come up with the same solution as the example and the ulema determine an encyclopedic list of “correct” actions.  The secular approach rejects the formula itself and takes one out of the western textbook. Thecontingency approach on the other hand that this book adopts is one of the central cornerstones of our model.

To be fair, there is some flexibility in the hard line approach through limited ijtehad, ijma and qayyas. But these have been highly limited particularly since the 13th century when Imam Ghazali reportedly declared that the doors of ijtehad are now closed. Similarly, to be fair to the Secularists / Progressives / Modernists, many of them attempt to stay within the Islamic framework by taking the most ambiguous rulings or the most lenient interpretations possible to fit their agenda. However, the point remains that both sides can broadly be categorized within the classifications prescribed despite what they claim.

The Quran and Sunnahgive us the principles that can guide every facet of life. What Islam does not provide is a fixed economic, social and political system. This world is a test for Man, and while Islam guides us, it still gives us many challenges. Allah knows best, but perhaps this too is a form of intellectual challenge for Muslims to negotiate. And perhaps Muslims of each age would find different solutions to these as the circumstances around them change.

Taking a step back, in the classical view of the world that we “inherited” from the Greeks, perfect and encyclopedic solutions of the world can exist but the modern world’s theory (and the original Islamic point of view) was not of a static, unchanging world, but an expanding and changing universe. This is where Ghazali let us down in his implicit acceptance of the former worldview.

In this changing world, Muslims of every age need to find solutions to the problem-world around them, rather than copy-pasting the answers from the past. Muslims of our Age and time must rise up to the challenge, while understanding that these solutions can only be imperfect. They can also be of great value nonetheless, for these solutions would be built on those eternal truths and guidelines that Allah, in His Infinite Grace, has provided us, and that represents a miracle in itself as only the Creator could provide eternal principles in an expanding and evolving universe.


Meritocracy as an idea implies that the basis of government is based on the merit of the candidate. The concept of meritocracy is not new, but was talked about as far back as Plato, whose work Republicillustrated his ideas of what meritocracy meant to him. Leadership as a concept in Islam resides in the merit of the candidate[1]. An Islamic state is meant to be run on the principles of merit, the most able candidate should rule the country.

Democracy makes the assumption that all men are equal in their capacity to judge the most able candidate. However, while all men are equal, they are not equal in their knowledge and wisdom, either in Islam or in common experience, and therefore, Islam and democracy are fundamentally different from each other[2]. While there may be many possible solutions to build a political model based on merit, we look to create a balance between the quantity factor of universal participation and quality valuation of participants.

All men have some right to a say in government, yet our principles suggest this has to be weighed according to the wisdom and knowledge distributed in the populace. One of the earliest Western thinkers, Socrates, openly considered democracy as a flawed concept; that it required the wisdom of its leaders to be based on the opinions of all citizens held in equal weight[3]. Today however, democracy has become a sacred cow that the world must worship. We as Muslims need do no such thing; we do not need to hold on to foreign concepts to gain legitimacy. Our discussions need not be burdened by this modern, near-pantheistic religion.

The Islamic state of Medina was also run on the basis of merit under the Khalifa-e-Rashidun and where consultation took place between the learned, pious, wise and capable rather than on a one-man-one-vote basis.

Dissecting Democracy

Taking a fresh look at the present political landscape, in the following pages some of the possibilities of a new system are fleshed out. Today, the overarching dominance of democracy makes political systems one dimensional. Instead, we look to break open the paradigm and look at the mechanism inside. We propose a multi-dimensional approach to the political mechanism. Once we open the straightjacket of democracy, we find that many of the mechanisms that are given as fixed can be made variable. Some of these mechanisms include:
1.      One vote per voter
2.      Batch process elections
3.      Rule by majority within a first past the post voting mechanism
4.      Checks and Balances
Let us look at each of these factors in turn.
Multiple Votes per Voter

Given that in our system, all men are not considered equal in their knowledge and wisdom and thus are not entitled to equality of vote; one vote per voter can be considered a redundant concept. Changing this variable, we find a range of new possibilities of weighted voting. Virtually any value we consider of worth can be worked into the system to be a merit. For instance, education level, age, marital status and religious knowledge can be made factors of merit.

Continuous Flow Process

In Operations Research terminology, voting systems today are essentially batch processes[4]. A batch of votes is selected and counted, gaining the elected representatives a term until the next batch comes about. Today, this system presents many problems including the fact that while voters can influence their representatives once every election cycle, interest groups can influence them 365 days a year. This, in reality, can often lead to de facto disenfranchisement. Thus, the American Congress can give multiple standing ovations to Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and send Israel billions of dollars in aid, while American soldiers die fighting enraged Muslims and millions of Americans remain homeless, living in tent cities not dissimilar to the Third World.

Instead, one alternative may be to look at elections as a continuous flow process. Here, instead of working in a batch, the process works continuously, with voting taking place piece by piece, with a few districts at a time, to cover a country, if necessary, over the same period as a batch process would. 

The electorate would be able to influence and indicate approval continuously while greatly simplifying the logistics process. This also means that vote administration can be handled by a much smaller organization, a considerably important consideration in the Third World where elections represent a major economic cost. Since our Islamic state will be located in the Third World, this issue is particularly relevant to our discourse.

Governments would also not constantly be changing as marginally, one (or a few) voting districts would not be enough to topple a government typically unless the majority was marginal. The system could also be fine-tuned by increasing or decreasing the number of elections in a given period of time.

Preferential Voting

A preferential voting system over a first past the post system can ensure that politics does not become polarized in a two-party duopoly and that the voting mechanism is more efficient in utilizing voter approval and produces a more accurate allocation of candidates.

There are a large number of possible methods of expressing a preferential voting system. The choice of such a system is only limited by mathematics and the capability of computing systems. One example is of a preferential list of candidates ranked by each voter.  For instance, if the candidate who was a voter’s first choice is not among the two most popular candidates calculated by the voting system, his choice is automatically moved to the next candidate on the voter’s list until he is voting for a relevant candidate and his vote is not wasted. Preferential voting systems are increasingly popular and are most well-known in Australia.[5]

Thus, we may have a voting system where a citizen has one vote by default but progressively has more votes depending on a merit system. Voting takes place in a continuous flow electoral process with preferential voting for candidates.

Expanded Separation of Power

The best example and arguably the most successful check and balance mechanism among political systems have thus far been the United States’ constitution. The US constitution works on the principles of division of power with a separate Judiciary, Executive and Legislature. If we seek to build a better system we can increase the separation of power to include incrementally more divisions. For instance, we may include a constitutionally separate central bank, central statistics and central audit, along with the judiciary, legislature and executive.
We arrive at a six pillar division of power in comparison to the three pillars in the US Constitution. The figures indicate the difference graphically.

The US system versus our Islamic meritocracy

A separate government audit arm can ensure that government does not overstep its boundaries, that checks and balances are not ignored, that government corruption is effectively punished and that the government budget execution tallies. The discussion shall return later to the importance of some of these added arms of the government in more detail.

The Masjid as Central

The masjid must be returned to its role as the central and basic administrative and political unit. The representative of the people leads the prayers and is available directly to them for interaction. This will bring real accountability and government to the community and will allow everyone the chance to participate in the decision making process.

Further, this may also dissuade un-Islamic characters from seeking office as the task of leading the prayers may prove enough as an overbearing task and as an exposé of their claim to act as a barrier to their office.

Returning to the original system were women pray at the back row, children in the middle and men in the front will allow women to be enfranchised into the political and social system within our model, insh'Allah (more on gender related issues later).

[1] See Zafar Bangash, “The Concepts of Leader and Leadership in Islam,” 2000, for a further discussion on why Islam and democracy are not compatible.
[2] Ibid.
[3] See Isidor Stone, “The Trial of Socrates,” 1998.
[4] See Shim & Siegel, “Operations Management”, 1999, or for a primer on batch processes and continuous flow processes.
[5] See Benjamin Reilly, “The Global Spread of Preferential Voting: Australian Institutional Imperialism?” 2004, Australian Journal of Political Science , 39 (2), 253-266
Vision Without Glasses


Anonymous said...

On Meritocracy and Voting:

Voting is a democratic can only make sense if it is designed to be one vote for each person. There could be a more elaborate design, such as America's famous (or infamous) electoral college idea, but what if there were no voting at all? In the case of deciding who is to hold public office, isn't this also to be decided on the basis of meritocracy? Does there need to be voting to determine this? Could the merit of a candidate be decided almost in a computerized way? It would be impossible to 'test' all the voters, but not all the candidates. It takes the human equation out of the issue in a sense, which is not entirely inadvisable, and yet it will be human beings who devise the standards of the tests to be used, and if they fail they can be altered in the future.

Where will the candidates come from? That may be a better issue to focus on than voting. Suppose representatives for the government were to be chosen at random like what is done for jury duty in America? I think the idea of staggering the terms is great, and that would work in this way just as well.As regards political parties, one could use the 'reservation' type system, but that leaves no room for people who would vote or think independently of parties. Should there be any parties in Islam? I think it would be better to phase out political parties altogether. However, some might say that a random method of choosing is like a lottery or game of chance...unislamic. But now that I think of it, your criteria for the value of votes may be a great beginning for the criteria of a candidate's merit...

Sister Salima

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