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Government (Al-ImAra)

The eighteenth book is the ‘Book on Government’ (al-imAra). It is not a treatise on the theory and practice of government as understood today. The spirit and informing principles are very different.

An Islamic state is necessarily a theocracy. The function of a truly Islamic government is not merely to maintain law and order but to enforce the law of sharI’ah, with which we have been making acquaintance to some extent in these pages. SharI’ah does not pertain merely to prayer, general morality, zakAt, and pilgrimage; rather, it enters intimately into every detail of the believer’s life: his modes and manners, food, dress, marriage, and so on. It includes all his beliefs and affairs. God has given a prototype for imitation in Muhammad. ‘We [Allah] put thee [Muhammad] in the right way concerning affairs’ (QurAn 14:17). The function of an Islamic state is to enforce this model as best it can. Has not Allah sent ‘His apostle with guidance and the religion of Truth, to make it prevail over every other religion’? (QurAn 9:33).

An Islamic state is totalitarian in the philosophic sense. A closed politics or civics is a necessary corollary of a closed theology. In Islam, the concept of ummah dominates over the concept of man or mankind. So in a Muslim polity, only Muslims have full political rights in any sense of the term; non-Muslims, if they are allowed to exist at all as a result of various exigencies, are zimmIs, second-class citizens.

The Supremacy of the Quraish

At the very beginning, in thirteen ahAdIs (4473-4484), the ‘Book on al-ImAra‘ establishes the supremacy of the Quraish, the tribe to which Muhammad belonged, in all matters, political and intellectual. ‘People are subservient to the Quraish: the Muslims among them being subservient to the Muslims among them, and the disbelievers among them, being subservient to the unbelievers among them,’ says Muhammad (4473-4474). In another version, ‘people are the followers of Quraish in good as well as evil’ (4475).

Only a Quraish May Be Khalifa

‘The Caliphate will remain among the Quraish even if only two persons are left on the earth,’ Muhammad says (4476). This principle has been held very high in the Muslim world, though the Shias limit the office still further to the descendants of Muhammad, and specifically to the branch descended from ‘AlI, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, and his wife FAtima, the Prophet’s daughter.

As a result, for six hundred years, though the center of power of Islam shifted from Mecca to Damascus to Baghdad, the Caliphate remained with the Quraish till HalAku, the grandson of Genghis Khan, put to death the last KhalIfa at Baghdad. Later, a shadowy Caliphate, shorn of temporal power yet still Quraish, emerged in Egypt. Then it passed on to the Turkish SultAn UsmAn (A.D. 1299-1326), who added to his many titles three others: Protector of the Two Lands (al-HijAz and Syria, the holy lands of Islam), Successor of the Apostle of God, and Ruler of the Faithful.

But the sentiment that the KhalIfa should be a Quraish or at lout an Arab was so strong that the SultAn of Turkey was never given universal recognition by Muslim theologians. The present-day Sauds, helped by petrodollars, may one day revive this idea. At present they are busy laying the first, necessary foundations, strengthening fundamentalism and pan-Islamism, and buying up political support in Muslim countries and among Muslim populations. There can be no Arab Caliphate (a euphemism for Arab imperialism) without Muslim fundamentalism. Muslim fundamentalism feeds pan-Islamism under the Arab aegis.

Thanks to Muhammad, the Arabian Quraish became a most durable caste with not many parallels in history. They were warriors, rulers, financial tycoons, and scholars. A branch of them, the Saiyids, who are supposed to be descendants of the Prophet, are held in very high esteem and their persons are considered sacred.


Islamic rulers should be just to the ummah and follow Muhammad’s sharI’ah faithfully. ‘O God, who happens to acquire some kind of control over the affairs of my people and is hard upon them-be Thou hard upon him, and he who acquires control over the affairs of my people and is kind to them-be Thou kind to him,’ Muhammad prays to Allah (4494).

There are other conventional exhortations. A man should not seek a ‘position of authority’ (4487-4492). An official should not accept ‘gifts’ (4509-4516), for as we know, gifts are given to the office, not to the officer. A man in charge of sadaqa comes to Muhammad and says: ‘This wealth is for you, and this is a gift presented to me.’ Muhammad told him: ‘Why didn’t you remain in the house of your father and mother to see whether gifts were presented to you or not?’ (4510).

War booty is sacred; it is a religious obligation, but misappropriation of booty is a serious offense. ‘I shouldn’t find that any of you should come on the Day of Judgment. . . . and should appeal to me for help,’ Muhammad warns misappropriators of booty (4505-4507).

Obedience to Rulers

Closed theologies claiming a perfected revelation and denying a place to man’s ever-living reason, and to his moral and spiritual sense, have to invoke God at every step; but they end by establishing the tyranny of men. Muhammad establishes the following chain of command: ‘Whoso obeys the commander [appointed by me] obeys me, and whoso disobeys the commander disobeys me’ (4518). Allah Himself enjoins this chain. ‘O you who believe, obey Allah, His Apostle, and those in authority from amongst you’ (4517; QurAn 4:59).

Some exceptions are mentioned. ‘It is obligatory upon a Muslim that he should listen to the ruler appointed over him and obey him whether he likes it or not, except that he is ordered to do a sinful thing’ (4533). This is a big loophole which was fully used. But other ahAdIs try to fill this gap.

Warning Against Schism

Muhammad tells his followers that after him there will be no prophet but many KhalIfas. Somebody asks him what to do when there are more KhalIfas than one. Muhammad says: ‘The one to whom allegiance is sworn first has a supremacy over the others’ (4543). In fact, ‘When oath of allegiance has been taken for two KhalIfas, kill the one for whom the oath was taken later’ (4568). Very thorough.

This injunction was followed to the letter by ‘Umar. As he lay dying, he appointed a board of six electors to choose the new KhalIfa after him. Some of the guiding principles he laid down for the council were:

  1. If the electors choose someone unanimously, then that person is designated as the KhalIfa.

  2. If any five of them agree on one man and the sixth disagrees, then the dissenter should immediately be killed.

  3. If any four of them agree on one person and two disagree, then those two should be killed.

  4. If there is an equal division, then the deciding vote would be that of ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar, his own son and one of the electors.1

Solidarity and Single Leadership

‘Anyone who tries to disrupt the affairs of this Ummah while they are united you should strike him with the sword’ (4565). ‘Kill him,’ enjoins the next hadIs. Hold on to a single leader in order to ensure solidarity. ‘When you are holding to one single man as your leader, you should kill him who seeks to undermine your solidarity or disrupt your unity’ (4567).

Warning Against Bad Times

Muhammad warns against the coming bad days when people will arise ‘who will adopt ways other than mine and seek guidance other than mine’ and yet ‘they will be a people having the same complexion as ours and speaking our language.’ What should a believer do if he lives in those times? He ‘should stick to the main body of the Muslims and their leader’ (4553).

In those days ‘there will be leaders who will not be led by my guidance and will not adopt my ways. There will be among them men who will have the hearts of devils in the bodies of human beings.’ Under the circumstances, answering a follower, Muhammad says: ‘You will listen to the AmIr [ruler] and carry out his orders; even if your back is flogged and your wealth is snatched, you should listen and obey’ (4554).

A crisis psychology indispensable for any dictatorship. A theology which teaches unceasing war against the peoples of the Daru’l Harb (territories not held by Muslims) makes a complete somersault and now teaches patient submission to the authorities of Daru’l Islam (territories under Islam) and to all its Ulu’l-amr, men of authority. These include not only its administrators but its divines.

There is also a warning not only against schismatics and innovators but also against false prophets. Is not Muhammad the final prophet? But ‘before the Day of Judgment, there will appear a number of impostors. You are to guard against them’ (4483).

Horses and Archery

There are sixteen ahAdIs on horses, among them two on horse racing (4610-4611). Muhammad used to have a horse race between two particular points six miles apart. The translator assures us that it was not a horse race used for betting as in modern times. ‘There is almost a consensus of opinion amongst the jurists that it is an act of great piety to break the horses for JihAd and for other useful purposes and there is no harm if there is a competition of race in them’ (note 2335).

There are also some ahAdIs on archery (4711-4714). ‘Beware, strength consists in archery,’ Muhammad repeated thrice in a sermon from the pulpit (4711). Again, ‘Lands shall be thrown open to you and Allah would suffice you, but none of you should give up playing with his arrows’ (4712). Yet again, ‘Who learnt archery and then gave it up is not from us or he has been guilty of disobedience to Allah’s Apostle’ (4714).

The Age of Majority

Let us take up one or two more small items before we turn to jihAd, which is also an important subject of this book.

The son of ‘Umar went to fight in the Battle of Uhud when he was fourteen, but the Prophet did not accept him. The next year, when he was fifteen, he went to fight in the Battle of Khandaq, and this time he was accepted. That decided the issue. One of fifteen years is considered an adult, and one below fifteen is a minor (4605).

But the translator tells us that in Islamic law the age of majority differs with different conditions and circumstances. For example, for purposes of marriage, the puberty of a boy is established by other criteria, such as nocturnal emission and his capacity for impregnation. Similarly, the puberty of a girl is established by menstruation, nocturnal emission, or pregnancy (note 2331).


JihAd appears again. In a book on government containing 358 ahAdIs, 92 are on jihAd and mujAhids (crusaders) and martyrs. This is understandable, for jihAd is central to Islam and mujAhids are its Army of Liberation. Without jihAd, there is no Islam. JihAd is a religious duty of a Muslim state. All lands not belonging to the territory of Islam (dAr al-islAm) must be conquered by the Muslims, and are therefore called the ‘territory of war’ (dAr al-harb). But it is left to the discretion of the imAm to decide when the attack should begin. According to some fiqh schools, one campaign at least must be undertaken against the unbelievers every year, but since this is not always practical, it is enough if he keeps his army in preparedness and trains it for jihAd.

Jihad as Proof of True Conversion

After Muhammad migrated to Medina from Mecca, prospective converts to Islam used to come to Medina to swear fidelity to him and as a proof of their sincerity would leave their hometowns and settle in Medina. Having no home and no livelihood, and being uprooted from their old loyalties, they became desperate, and motivated soldiers of Islam. After the conquest of Mecca, when the power of Muhammad was fully vindicated, there must have been a rush of people wanting to become Muslims. So the rules were changed. The proof of a sincere conversion was no longer migration but jihAd. Muhammad told someone who intended to settle in Medina: ‘There is no Hijra now, but only JihAd and sincerity of purpose; when you are asked to set out [on an expedition under-taken for the cause of Islam] you should [readily] do so’ (4597).

The Merits of Jihad

‘Allah has undertaken to look after the affairs of one who goes out to fight in His way believing in Him and affirming the truth of His Apostles. He is committed to His care and He will either admit him to Paradise or bring him back to his home with a reward or booty’ (4626). if he dies in the Way of Allah, his body will not decay. ‘Every wound received by a Muslim in the Way of Allah will appear on the Day of Judgment in the same condition as it was when it was inflicted. . . . and the colour [of its discharge] will be the colour of blood, but its smell would be smell of musk’ (4630).

JihAd for the spread of Islam is most meritorious and the easiest gateway to Paradise. ‘Paradise is under the shadows of the swords,’ Muhammad tells his followers (4314).

‘Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead.’ In fact, ‘the souls of the martyrs live in the bodies of green birds who have their nests in chandeliers hung from the throne of the Almighty. They eat the fruits of Paradise from wherever they like.’ They have no other desire except to be reborn so that they can be ‘slain in Thy [Allah’s] way once again’ (4651). Muhammad had the same desire for himself. ‘I love to fight in the way of Allah and be killed, to fight and again be killed and to fight and again be killed’ (4626).

The Superiority of Jihad to Other Acts

The spiritual merits that accrue to the believer for participating in jihAd are equal to the merits he can obtain by performing all the other religious duties required by Islam, such as fasting, praying, and going on pilgrimage. ‘One who goes out for jihAd is like a person who keeps fasts, stands in prayer constantly and obeys Allah’s verses in the QurAn‘ (4636).

Some people disputed the excellence of different virtues. One said: ‘I do not care, if after embracing Islam, I do not do any good except distributing drinking water among the pilgrims.’ Another thought that maintainers of service to the mosque were superior. Yet a third wanted only to be a mujAhid. Muhammad was consulted. Allah sent him a verse: ‘Do ye make the givers of drink to pilgrims, or the maintainers of the Sacred Mosque equal to the believers in Allah and the Last Day [yaum’l-Akhirat], and the crusaders [jAhid] in the cause of God? They are not comparable in the sight of God. And God guides not those who do wrong’ (QurAn 9:19, hadIs 4638).

There is more reward in jihAd than in anything this world has to offer. ‘Leaving for jihAd in the way of Allah in the morning or in the evening will merit a reward better than the world and all that is in it’ (4639).

The Highest Grade of Heaven Is Reserved for the Mujahid

The rewards of being a Muslim are great, but the rewards of being a mujAhid are immensely greater. The Prophet said: ‘Whoever cheerfully accepts Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his Apostle is necessarily entitled to enter Paradise . . . [yet] there is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred [higher], and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth. . . . What is that act? . . . JihAd in the way of Allah! JihAd in the way of Allah’ (4645). But even the delights of this grade of paradise are no attraction to a martyr (ShahId). Therefore, the martyr ‘will desire to return to this world and be killed ten times for the sake of the great honour that has been bestowed upon him’ (4635).

The Story of a Martyr

The promise of heaven was tempting. On the way to the Battle of Uhud, one believer asked Muhammad: ‘Messenger of Allah, where shall I be if I am killed? He [Muhammad] replied: In paradise. The man threw away the dates he had in his hand and fought until he was killed’ (4678).


Muslim theology is not without its brain-teasers. Two men, one the slayer and the other the slain, both go to Paradise. The Companions ask Muhammad: ‘How?’ He replied: ‘One is slain in the Way of Allah [in jihAd] and dies a martyr. Then Allah turns in mercy to the murderer who embraces Islam; he too fights in the Way of Allah and dies a martyr’ (4658-4659).

Another puzzle seeking solution. Two men, again one of them a slayer and the other the slain, go to hell but never ‘gathered together.’ ‘Who are they?’ the Companions ask Muhammad. He answers: ‘A disbeliever and a believer’ (4661-4662). But how? The translator clarifies: A believer goes to hell for some great sin, and a disbeliever goes there as a matter of course. But there is still a great difference between the two. A sinful believer and a disbeliever are not the same in the eyes of Allah. So a believer ‘would not be kept there [in hell] for ever as is the case with the disbeliever; . . . [and also] a disbeliever would be made to occupy the most terrible place in Hell, whereas the sinful believer would be in a comparatively less tormenting situation and thus they would not be together in Hell’ (note 2348).

We may give here another paradox, taken from tradition quoted by Ibn IshAq. A man goes to the Muslim Paradise without ever having offered a single Muslim prayer! He was Al-Aswad, a shepherd who was called to participate in jihAd as soon as he became a Muslim, without having had the time to say a single prayer. In the engagement, a stone struck him and he died a martyr. Muhammad visited his corpse and delicately averted his face. Asked to explain why, he said: ‘He has with him now his two wives from the dark-eyed houris.’2

An Earthly Note

After all this Paradise-mongering, the book ends on a more down-to-earth note. JAbir reports: ‘We accompanied the Messenger of Allah on an expedition. When we came back to Medina and were going to enter our houses, he said: ‘Wait and enter your houses in the later part of the evening so that a woman with dishevelled hair may have used the comb, and a woman whose husband has been away may have removed the hair from her private parts’ ‘ (4727).

Another tradition forbids a mujAhid to ‘come to his family like an unexpected night visitor doubting their fidelity and spying into their lapses’ (4730). One interpretation is that the mujAhids have been away so long that their return is not expected, and thus their wives may be with their paramours. In such instances, let them not be taken by surprise, and let there be no avoidable breaking of homes. Give them time to separate. Homely wisdom.

Two men did not heed this command. And the result: ‘they both found their wives with other men,’ according to Ibn ‘Abbas (TirmizI, vol. II, hadIs 571).


  1. All four points are taken from S. Ghaffari, Shiaism, p. 68. 

  2. Sirat RasUl Allah, p. 519