Political quietism in Islam

In the context of political aspects of Islam, the term political quietism has been used for the religiously motivated withdrawal from political affairs, or skepticism that mere mortals can establish true Islamic government. As such it would be the opposite of political Islam, which holds that religion (Islam) and politics are inseparable. It has also been used to describe Muslims who believe that Muslims should support Islamic government, but that it is "forbidden to rebel against a ruler";[1] and Muslims who support Islamic government at the right time in the future when, (depending on the sect of Muslim), a consensus of scholars[2] or twelfth imam call for it.[3] The Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia[4] and Salafi[5][2] are sometimes described as having "quietist" and "radical" wings.


According to scholar Bernard Lewis, quietism is contrasted with "activist" Islam.

There are in particular two political traditions, one of which might be called quietist, the other activist. The arguments in favour of both are based, as are most early Islamic arguments, on the Holy Book and on the actions and sayings of the Prophet. The quietist tradition obviously rests on the Prophet as sovereign, as judge and statesman. But before the Prophet became a head of state, he was a rebel. Before he traveled from Mecca to Medina, where he became sovereign, he was an opponent of the existing order. He led an opposition against the pagan oligarchy of Mecca and at a certain point went into exile and formed what in modern language might be called a "government in exile," with which finally he was able to return in triumph to his birthplace and establish the Islamic state in Mecca...The Prophet as rebel has provided a sort of paradigm of revolution—opposition and rejection, withdrawal and departure, exile and return. Time and time again movements of opposition in Islamic history tried to repeat this pattern.[6]

Some analysts have argued that "Islamic political culture promotes political quietism" and cite a "famous Islamic admonition: `Better one hundred years of the Sultan's tyranny than one year of people's tyranny over each other.`"[7][8] Other scripture providing grounding for quietism in Islam includes the ayat `Obey God, obey his Prophet and obey those among you who hold authority` [Quran 4:59] and the hadith: `Obey him who holds authority over you, even if he be a mutilated Ethiopian slave`[9][10][Note 1]


Contrasting Salafi quietists to the Jihadists of the Islamic State, journalist Graeme Wood notes that while both believe that God’s law is the only law and are "committed" to expanding Dar al-Islam (the land of Islam), Salafi quietists share other quietist Muslims' concern about disunity in the Muslims' community. Wood quotes a Salafi preacher as saying: “The Prophet said: as long as the ruler does not enter into clear kufr [disbelief], give him general obedience,” even if he is a sinner. Classic “books of creed” all warn against causing social upheaval.[2] Wood describes these quietists as believing "Muslims should direct their energies toward perfecting their personal life, including prayer, ritual, and hygiene," rather than jihad and conquest. He compares the "inordinate amount of time" spent on debating issues such as the proper length of trousers and whether beards may be trimmed in some areas, to ultra-Orthodox Jews who "debate whether it’s kosher to tear off squares of toilet paper on the Sabbath (does that count as 'rending cloth'?)"[2] Sidney Jones of ICG report that (quietist) Salafism is not political activism and may be more of a barrier to the expansion of jihadist activities than a facilitator.[5]

Scholar Joas Wagemakers describes Salafist Quietists as focusing "on the propagation of their message (da'wah) through lessons, sermons and other missionary activities and stay away from politics and violence, which they leave to the ruler.” [12][13] Another scholar—Quintan Wiktorowicz—uses the term “purist,” to describe Salafists who sound similar (according to Jacob Olidort) to what Wagemakers describes as quietist: “they emphasize a focus on nonviolent methods of propagation, purification and education. They view politics as a diversion that encourages deviancy.”[14]

Scholar Jacob Olidort describes Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani (d. 1999) as "the most prominent quietist Salafist of the last century". His slogan "later in life" was: “the best policy is to stay out of politics.”[15] His students include "Madkhalis" — who are "absolute" in their quietism urging their followers to "observe strict obedience to Muslim rulers and silence on political matters"—but also very un-quietist jihadis.[15] (Olidort argues that Quietist is "an inadequate label to describe the ambitions of Albani and his followers".)[16]


Javad Nurbakhsh writing at nimatullahi.org web site states: "In sufi practice, quietism and seclusion – sitting in isolation, occupying oneself day and night in devotions – are condemned." Sufis should have "active professional lives", and be in "service to the creation", i.e. be actively serving in the world giving "generously to aid others". However, in the past some Sufi masters have "retired from mainstream society in order to avoid harassment by mobs incited by hostile clerics who had branded all sufis as unbelievers and heretics." [17]

On the other hand, Inayat Khan published on wahiduddin.net states "Sufism is the ancient school of wisdom, of quietism, and it has been the origin of many cults of a mystical and philosophical nature."[18] Scholar Nikki Keddie also states that traditionally Sufis were "generally noted more for political quietism than for activism found in the sects".[19][20]


In Twelver Shia Islam, religious leaders who have been described as "quietist" include;

Their stance is not a strict withdrawal from politics but that "true `Islamic government`" cannot be established until the return of twelfth Imam. Until this time Muslims must "search for the best form of government," advising rulers to ensure that "laws inimical to sharia" are not implemented.[3] However, others (for example, Ali al-Sistani) advise a pluralistic, democratic system of government until the return of the Mahdi. Their “quietism” is justified by the notion that humans are prone to errors or corruption, therefore no mortal human can ever establish a just, Islamic rule on Earth. Therefore, many of them oppose the Iranian “non-quietist” concept of Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Other "commonly cited" but not scriptural sayings among Sunni jurists and theologians that encourage acceptance over resistance include "whose power prevails must be obeyed," and "the world can live with tyranny but not with anarchy".[11]


  1. ^ Lacroix, Stéphane. "Saudi Arabia's Muslim Brotherhood predicament". Washington Post. Retrieved 20 March 2014. some clerics, like Nasir al-Umar, stuck to pure religious rhetoric, arguing that it is `forbidden to rebel against a Muslim ruler`
  2. ^ a b c d Wood, Graeme (March 2015). "What ISIS Really Wants". The Atlantic. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  3. ^ a b The New Republic, "The New Democrats" by Abbas Milani, July 15, 2009 (may not be available for free online)
  4. ^ Wagemakers, Joas (2012). "THE ENDURING LEGACY OF THE SECOND SAUDI STATE". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 44: 93–110. Retrieved 14 December 2014. ... the collapse of the second Saudi state (1824–91) and the lessons that both quietist and radical Wahhabi scholars have drawn from that episode.
  5. ^ a b Jones, Sidney (September 2004). "Indonesia Backgrounder: Why Salafism and Terrorism Mostly Don't Mix". International Crisis Group. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  6. ^ Islamic Revolution By Bernard Lewis, nybooks.com, Volume 34, Number 21 & 22 · January 21, 1988
  7. ^ Lewis, Bernard, Islam And The West, Oxford University Press, c1993.
  8. ^ Better governance for development in the Middle East and North Africa By Mustapha K. Nabli, World Bank, Charles Humphreys, Arup Banerji. MENA Report, World Bank, 2003 p.203-4
  9. ^ Weinsinck, A. J., Concordance Et Indices De LA Tradition Musulmane: Les Six Livres, Le Musnad D'Al-Darimi, Le Muwatta'De Malik, Le Musnad De Ahmad Ibn Hanbal , vol.1, p.327
  10. ^ Lewis, Islam And The West, c1993, p.161
  11. ^ Lewis, Islam And The West, c1993, p.164-5
  12. ^ Joas Wagemakers, “A Terrorist Organization that Never Was: The Jordanian ‘Bay‘at al-Imam’ Group,” Middle East Journal, Vol. 68, No. 1, Winter 2014, 59–75, 64
  13. ^ Joas Wagemakers, A Quietist Jihadi: The Ideology and Influence of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 9.
  14. ^ Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Anatomy of the Salafi Movement,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 29, 2006, 207–239, 208.
  15. ^ a b Olidor, Jacob (2015). The Politics of "Quietist" Salafism (PDF). Brookings Institution. p. 4.
  16. ^ Olidor, Jacob (2015). The Politics of "Quietist" Salafism (PDF). Brookings Institution. pp. 4–5.
  17. ^ Nurbakhsh, Javad. "Sufism Today". Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  18. ^ Khan, Inayat. "The Spiritual Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan. Volume VIIIa - Sufi Teachings. SUFISM". wahiduddin.net. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  19. ^ Keddie, Nikki, "Symbol and sincerity in Islam" Studia Islamica 19, 27-63
  20. ^ Black, Antony (2011) [2001]. The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present. Edinburgh University Press. p. 134. Retrieved 11 October 2016.