Islamic state

An Islamic state is a state that has a form of government based on Islamic law. As a term, it has been used to describe various historical polities and theories of governance in the Islamic world.[1] As a translation of the Arabic term dawlah islāmiyyah (Arabic: دولة إسلامية‎) it refers to a modern notion associated with political Islam (Islamism).[2][3]

The concept of the modern Islamic state has been articulated and promoted by ideologues such as Sayyid Rashid Rida, Mohammed Omar, Abul A'la Maududi, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Israr Ahmed, Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna. Implementation of Islamic law plays an important role in modern theories of the Islamic state, as it did in classical Islamic political theories. However, the modern theories also make use of notions that did not exist before the modern era.[1]

Today, many Muslim countries have incorporated Islamic law, wholly or in part, into their legal systems. Certain Muslim states have declared Islam to be their state religion in their constitutions, but do not apply Islamic law in their courts. Islamic states that are not Islamic monarchies are mostly Islamic republics.

Historical Islamic statesEdit

Early Islamic governmentsEdit

The first Islamic State was the political entity established by Muhammad in Medina in 622 CE under the Constitution of Medina. It represented the political unity of the Muslim Ummah (nation). It was subsequently transformed into the caliphate by Muhammad's disciples, who were known as the Rightly Guided (Rashidun) Caliphs (632–661 CE). The Islamic State significantly expanded under the Umayyad Caliphate (661–750) and consequently the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258).

Essence of Islamic governmentsEdit

The essence or guiding principles of an Islamic government or Islamic state, is the concept of al-Shura. Several scholars have different understandings or thoughts, with regard to the concept al-Shura. However, most Muslim scholars are of the opinion that Islamic al-Shura should consist of the following:[4]

  • Meeting or consultation that follows the teachings of Islam.
  • Consultation following the guidelines of the Quran and the Sunnah.
  • There is a leader elected among them to head the meeting.
  • The discussion should be based on mushawarah and mudhakarah.
  • All members are given fair opportunity to voice out their opinions.
  • The issue should be of maslahah ammah or public interest.
  • The voices of the majority are accepted, provided it does not violate the teachings of the Quran or Sunnah.

Muhammad himself respected the decision of the shura members. He is the champion of the notion of al-Shura, and this was illustrated in one of the many historical events, such as in the Battle of Khandaq (Battle of the Trench), where Muhammad was faced with two decisions, i.e. to fight the invading non-Muslim Arab armies outside of Medina or wait until they enter the city. After consultation with the sahabah (companions), it was suggested by Salman al-Farsi that it would be better if the Muslims fought the non-Muslim Arabs within Medina by building a big ditch on the northern periphery of Medina to prevent the enemies from entering Medina. This idea was later supported by the majority of the sahabah, and thereafter Muhammad also approved it.

Muhammad placed great emphasis on agreement about the decision of the shura because the majority opinion (by the sahabah) is better than a decision made by one individual.

Revival and abolition of the Ottoman CaliphateEdit

The Ottoman Sultan, Selim I (1512–1520) reclaimed the title of caliph which had been in dispute and asserted by a diversity of rulers and shadow caliphs in the centuries of the Abbasid-Mamluk Caliphate since the Mongols' sacking of Baghdad and the killing of the last Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad, Iraq 1258.

The Ottoman Caliphate as an office of the Ottoman Empire was abolished under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1924 as part of Atatürk's Reforms. This move was most vigorously protested in India, as Mahatma Gandhi and Indian Muslims united behind the symbolism of the Ottoman Caliph in the Khilafat Movement which sought to reinstate the caliph deposed by Atatürk. The movement leveraged the Ottoman resistance against political pressure from Britain to abolish the caliphate, connecting it with Indian nationalism and the movement for independence from British rule. However, the Khilafat found little support from the Muslims of the Middle East themselves who preferred to be independent nation states rather than being under the Ottoman Turkish rule. In the Indian sub-continent, although Gandhi tried to co-opt the Khilafat as a national movement, it soon degenerated into a jihad against non-Muslims, also known as Moplah riots, with thousands being killed in the Malabar region of Kerala.[5]

Modern Islamic stateEdit

Development of the notion of dawlaEdit

The Arabic word dawla comes from the root d-w-l, meaning "to turn, come around in a cyclical fashion". In the Quran, it is used to refer to the nature of human fortunes, alternating between victory and defeat (3:140). This use led Arab writers to apply the word to succession of dynasties, particularly to the overthrow of the Umayyads by the Abbasids.[6] The first Abbasid caliphs themselves spoke of "our dawla" in the sense of "our turn/time of success".[7] As Abbasids maintained their power, the dynastic sense of dawla became conflated with their dynastic rule,[6] and in later times al-Dawla was used across the Islamic world as a honorific title for rulers and high officials.[7]

Like their Christian contemporaries, pre-modern Muslims did not generally conceive of the state as an abstract entity distinct from the individual or group who held political power.[6] The word dawla and its derivatives began to acquire modern connotations in the Ottoman Empire and Iran in the 16th and 17th centuries in the course of diplomatic and commercial exchanges with Europe. During the 19th century, the Arabic dawla and Turkish devlet took on all the aspects of the modern notion of state while the Persian davlat can mean either state or government.[7]

Development of the notion of Islamic stateEdit

According to Pakistani scholar of Islamic history Qamaruddin Khan, the term Islamic state "was never used in the theory or practice of Muslim political science, before the twentieth century".[8][9] Sohail H. Hashmi characterizes dawla Islamiyya as a neologism found in contemporary Islamist writings.[6] Islamic theories of the modern notion of state first emerged as a reaction to the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. It was also in this context that the famous dictum that Islam is both a religion and a state (al-Islam din wa dawla) was first popularized.[1]

The modern conception of Islamic state was first articulated by the Syrian-Egyptian Islamic theologian Muḥammad Rashīd Riḍā (1865–1935). Rashid Rida condemned the 1922 Turkish Abolition of Sultanate which reduced the Khilafa into a purely spiritual authority; soon after the First World War. In his book al-Khilafa aw al-Imama al-Uzma (The Caliphate or the Grand Imamate) published in 1922, Rida asserted that the Caliphate should have the combined powers of both spiritual and temporal authority. He called for the establishment of an Islamic state led by Arabs, functioning as a khilāfat ḍurūrah (caliphate of necessity) that upholds Sharia, and defend its Muslim and non-Muslim subjects.[10]

Another important modern conceptualization of the Islamic state is attributed to Abul A'la Maududi (1903–1979), a Pakistani Muslim theologian who founded the political party Jamaat-e-Islami and inspired other Islamic revolutionaries such as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.[11] Abul A'la Maududi's early political career was influenced greatly by anti-colonial agitation in India, especially after the tumultuous abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 stoked anti-British sentiment.[12]

The Islamic state was perceived as a third way between the rival political systems of democracy and socialism (see also Islamic modernism).[13] Maududi's seminal writings on Islamic economics argued as early as 1941 against free-market capitalism and state intervention in the economy, similar to Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr's later Our Economics written in 1961. Maududi envisioned the ideal Islamic state as combining the democratic principles of electoral politics with the socialist principles of concern for the poor.[14]

Islamic states todayEdit

Government type among countries with a Muslim majority

Today, many Muslim countries have incorporated Islamic law in part into their legal systems. Certain Muslim states have declared Islam to be their state religion in their constitutions, but do not apply Islamic law in their courts. Islamic states which are not Islamic monarchies are usually referred to as Islamic republics,[15] such as the Islamic republics of Afghanistan,[16] Iran,[17] Pakistan and Mauritania. Pakistan adopted the title under the constitution of 1956; Mauritania adopted it on 28 November 1958; and Iran adopted it after the 1979 Revolution that overthrew the Pahlavi dynasty. In Iran, the form of government is known as the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurists. Afghanistan was run as an Islamic state (Islamic State of Afghanistan) in the post-communist era since 1992, but then de facto by the Taliban (Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan) in areas controlled by them since 1996 and after the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban the country is still known as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Despite the similar name, the countries differ greatly in their governments and laws. The Taliban took over the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on 15th August 2021.

Pan-Islamism is a form of religious nationalism within political Islam which advocates the unification of the Muslim world under a single Islamic state, often described as a caliphate or ummah. The most famous, powerful and aggressive modern pan-Islamic group that pursues the objective of unifying the Muslim world and establishing a worldwide caliphate is the Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist movement Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Libyan interim Constitutional Declaration as of 3 August 2011 declared Islam to be the official religion of Libya.


Leading up to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, many of the highest-ranking clergy in Shia Islam held to the standard doctrine of the Imamate, which allows political rule only by Muhammad or one of his true successors. They were opposed to creating an Islamic state (see Ayatollah Ha'eri Yazdi (Khomeini's own teacher), Ayatollah Borujerdi, Grand Ayatollah Shariatmadari, and Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei).[18] Contemporary theologians who were once part of the Iranian Revolution also became disenchanted and critical of the unity of religion and state in the Islamic Republic of Iran, are advocating secularization of the state to preserve the purity of the Islamic faith (see Abdolkarim Soroush and Mohsen Kadivar).[19]


Pakistan was created as a separate state for Indian Muslims in British India in 1947, and followed the parliamentary form of democracy. In 1949, the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan passed the Objectives Resolution which envisaged an official role for Islam as the state religion to make sure any future law should not violate its basic teachings. On the whole, the state retained most of the laws that were inherited from the British legal code that had been enforced by the British Raj since the 19th century. In 1956, the elected parliament formally adopted the name Islamic Republic of Pakistan, declaring Islam as the official religion.

Modern Islamic EmiratesEdit


Afghanistan effectively became an Islamic state on 15 August 2021 after a month-long Taliban offensive. It was an Islamic theocracy from 1996 to 2001 when it was ruled by the Taliban as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Spreading from Kandahar, the Taliban eventually captured Kabul in 1996. By the end of 2000, the Taliban controlled 90% of the country, aside from the opposition (Northern Alliance) strongholds primarily found in the northeast corner of Badakhshan Province. Areas under the Taliban's direct control were mainly Afghanistan's major cities and highways. Tribal khans and warlords had de facto direct control over various small towns, villages, and rural areas.[20] The Taliban sought to establish law and order and to enforce Islamic Sharia law according to their understanding of it, along with the religious edicts of Mullah Mohammed Omar, upon the entire country of Afghanistan.[21]

During the five-year history of the Islamic Emirate, the Taliban regime interpreted the Sharia in accordance with the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the religious edicts of Mullah Omar.[21] The Taliban forbade pork and alcohol, many types of consumer technology such as music,[21] television,[21] and film,[21] as well as most forms of art such as paintings or photography,[21] male and female participation in sport,[21] including football and chess;[21] recreational activities such as kite-flying and keeping pigeons or other pets were also forbidden, and the birds were killed according to the Taliban's ruling.[21] Movie theaters were closed and repurposed as mosques.[21] Celebration of the Western and Iranian New Year was forbidden.[21] Taking photographs and displaying pictures or portraits was forbidden, as it was considered by the Taliban as a form of idolatry.[21] Women were banned from working,[21] girls were forbidden to attend schools or universities,[21] were requested to observe purdah and to be accompanied outside their households by male relatives; those who violated these restrictions were punished.[21] Men were forbidden to shave their beards and required to let them grow and keep them long according to the Taliban's liking, and to wear turbans outside their households.[21][22] Communists were systematically executed. Prayer was made compulsory and those who did not respect the religious obligation after the azaan were arrested.[21] Gambling was banned,[21] and thieves were punished by amputating their hands or feet.[21] In 2000, the Taliban leader Mullah Omar officially banned opium cultivation and drug trafficking in Afghanistan;[21][23][24] the Taliban succeeded in nearly eradicating the majority of the opium production (99%) by 2001.[23][24][25] Under the Taliban governance of Afghanistan, both drug users and dealers were severely prosecuted.[21]

Cabinet ministers and deputies were mullahs with a "madrasah education." Several of them, such as the Minister of Health and Governor of the State bank, were primarily military commanders who were ready to leave their administrative posts to fight when needed. Military reverses that trapped them behind lines or led to their deaths increased the chaos in the national administration.[26] At the national level, "all senior Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara bureaucrats" were replaced "with Pashtuns, whether qualified or not." Consequently, the ministries "by and large ceased to function."[27]

Rashid described the Taliban government as "a secret society run by Kandaharis ... mysterious, secretive, and dictatorial."[28] They did not hold elections, as their spokesman explained:

The Sharia does not allow politics or political parties. That is why we give no salaries to officials or soldiers, just food, clothes, shoes, and weapons. We want to live a life like the Prophet lived 1400 years ago, and jihad is our right. We want to recreate the time of the Prophet, and we are only carrying out what the Afghan people have wanted for the past 14 years.[29]

They modeled their decision-making process on the Pashtun tribal council (jirga), together with what they believed to be the early Islamic model. Discussion was followed by a building of a consensus by the "believers".[30] Before capturing Kabul, there was talk of stepping aside once a government of "good Muslims" took power, and law and order were restored.

As the Taliban's power grew, decisions were made by Mullah Omar without consulting the jirga and without consulting other parts of the country. One such instance is the rejection of Loya Jirga decision about expulsion of Osama Bin Laden. Mullah Omar visited the capital, Kabul, only twice while in power. Instead of an election, their leader's legitimacy came from an oath of allegiance ("Bay'ah"), in imitation of the Prophet and the first four Caliphs. On 4 April 1996, Mullah Omar had "the Cloak of Muhammad" taken from its shrine, Kirka Sharif, for the first time in 60 years. Wrapping himself in the relic, he appeared on the roof of a building in the center of Kandahar while hundreds of Pashtun mullahs below shouted "Amir al-Mu'minin!" (Commander of the Faithful), in a pledge of support. Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil explained:

Decisions are based on the advice of the Amir-ul Momineen. For us consultation is not necessary. We believe that this is in line with the Sharia. We abide by the Amir's view even if he alone takes this view. There will not be a head of state. Instead there will be an Amir al-Mu'minin. Mullah Omar will be the highest authority, and the government will not be able to implement any decision to which he does not agree. General elections are incompatible with Sharia and therefore we reject them.[31]

The Taliban were very reluctant to share power, and since their ranks were overwhelmingly Pashtun they ruled as overlords over the 60% of Afghans from other ethnic groups. In local government, such as Kabul city council[28] or Herat,[32] Taliban loyalists, not locals, dominated, even when the Pashto-speaking Taliban could not communicate with the roughly half of the population who spoke Dari or other non-Pashtun tongues.[32] Critics complained that this "lack of local representation in urban administration made the Taliban appear as an occupying force."[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Ayubi, Nazih N.; Hashemi, Nader; Qureshi, Emran (2009). "Islamic State". In Esposto, John L. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Esposito, John L. (2014). "Islamic State". The Oxford Dictionary of Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Islamic State] Modern ideological position associated with political Islam.
  3. ^ Hashmi, Sohail H. (2004). "Dawla". In Richard C. Martin (ed.). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. MacMillan Reference. One also finds in contemporary Islamist writings the neologism dawla Islamiyya, or Islamic state.
  4. ^ Jeong, Chun Hai; Nawi, Nor Fadzlina. (2007). Principles of Public Administration: An Introduction. Kuala Lumpur: Karisma Publications. ISBN 978-983-195-253-5.
  5. ^ Gail Minault, The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India (1982).
  6. ^ a b c d Hashmi, Sohail H. (2004). "Dawla". In Richard C. Martin (ed.). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. MacMillan Reference.
  7. ^ a b c Akhavi, Shahrough (2009). "Dawlah". In Esposito, John L. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ Khan, Qamaruddin (1982). Political Concepts in the Quran. Lahore: Islamic Book Foundation. p. 74. The claim that Islam is a harmonious blend of religion and politics is a modern slogan, of which no trace can be found in the past history of Islam. The very term, “Islamic State” was never used in the theory or practice of Muslim political science, before the twentieth century. Also if the first thirty years of Islam were excepted, the historical conduct of Muslim states could hardly be distinguished from that of other states in world history.
  9. ^ Eickelman, D. F.; Piscatori, J. (1996). Muslim politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 53. The Pakistani writer Qamaruddin Khan, for example, has proposed that the political theory of Islam does not arise from the Qur'an but from circumstances and that the state is neither divinely sanctioned nor strictly necessary as a social institution.
  10. ^ Ayubi, Nazih N.; Hashemi, Nader; Qureshi, Emran (2009). "Islamic State". In Esposto, John L. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 27 February 2021.
  11. ^ Nasr, S. V. R. (1996). Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism. Chapter 4. New York: Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ Minault, G. (1982). The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India. New York: Columbia University Press.
  13. ^ Kurzman, Charles (2002). "Introduction". Modernist Islam 1840-1940: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  14. ^ Khir, B. M. "The Islamic Quest for Sociopolitical Justice". In Cavanaugh, W. T.; Scott, P., eds. (2004). The Blackwell Companion to Political Theology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 503–518.
  15. ^ Elliesie, Hatem. "Rule of Law in Islamic Modeled States". In Koetter, Matthias; Shuppert, Gunnar Folke, eds. (2010). Understanding of the Rule of Law in Various Legal Orders of the World: Working Paper Series Nr. 13 of SFB 700: Governance in Limited Areas of Statehood. Berlin.
  16. ^ Elliesie, Hatem. "Rule of Law in Afghanistan". In Koetter, Matthias; Shuppert, Gunnar Folke, eds. (2010). Understanding of the Rule of Law in Various Legal Orders of the World: Working Paper Series Nr. 13 of SFB 700: Governance in Limited Areas of Statehood. Berlin.
  17. ^ Moschtaghi, Ramin. "Rule of Law in Iran". In Koetter, Matthias; Shuppert, Gunnar Folke, eds. (2010). Understanding of the Rule of Law in Various Legal Orders of the World: Working Paper Series Nr. 13 of SFB 700: Governance in Limited Areas of Statehood. Berlin.
  18. ^ Chehabi, H. E. (Summer 1991). "Religion and Politics In Iran: How Theocratic is the Islamic Republic?" Daedalus. 120. (3). pp. 69-91.
  19. ^ Kurzman, Charles (Winter 2001). "Critics Within: Islamic Scholars' Protest Against the Islamic State in Iran". International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society. 15 (2).
  20. ^ Griffiths 226.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Matinuddin, Kamal (1999). "The Taliban's Religious Attitude". The Taliban Phenomenon: Afghanistan 1994–1997. Karachi: Oxford University Press. pp. 34–43. ISBN 0-19-579274-2. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  22. ^ "US Country Report on Human Rights Practices – Afghanistan 2001". 4 March 2002. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  23. ^ a b Farrell, Graham; Thorne, John (March 2005). "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Evaluation of the Taliban Crackdown Against Opium Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan". International Journal of Drug Policy. Elsevier. 16 (2): 81–91. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2004.07.007. Retrieved 8 July 2020 – via ResearchGate.
  24. ^ a b Ghiabi, Maziyar (2019). "Crisis as an Idiom for Reforms". Drugs Politics: Managing Disorder in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-1-108-47545-7. LCCN 2019001098. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  25. ^ "Afghanistan, Opium and the Taliban". Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  26. ^ Rashid 2000, p. 100.
  27. ^ a b Rashid 2000, pp. 101–102.
  28. ^ a b Rashid 2000, p. 98.
  29. ^ Rashid 2000, p. 43 Interview with Mullah Wakil, March 1996
  30. ^ Rashid 2000, p. 95.
  31. ^ Interview with Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil in Arabic magazine Al-Majallah, 1996-10-23.
  32. ^ a b Rashid 2000, pp. 39–40.

Further readingEdit

  • Ankerl, Guy (2000). Contemporary Coexisting Civilizations. Arabo-Muslim, Bharati, Chinese, and Western. Geneva: INUPress. pp. 5001. ISBN 2-88155-004-5.

External linksEdit