In addition to the institutionalised mechanisms of accountability discussed so far, Islam also ordered the establishment of political parties. Although members of the government will in many cases be members of political parties the Caliphate does not have a party system of ruling as found in western democracies.
Political parties in the Caliphate are established primarily to account the Caliph and his government. Their task is to safeguard the thoughts of Islam in society and to ensure the government does not deviate from the implementation and propagation of Islam.
The right of the Caliphate’s citizens to establish Islamic political parties is established from the Holy Qur’an. No permission is required from the government to establish these parties as the legislative branch of the Caliphate (shari’a) has given permission for this.
What is the sharia evidence for political parties?
The following verse of the Holy Qur’an orders the establishment of political parties.
وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“Let there arise from amongst you group(s) which calls to al-Khair (Islam), enjoins al-ma’ruf (good) and forbids al-munkar (evil), and they are the successful ones.1
The order to establish a group is an order to establish Islamic political parties. This is deduced from the fact that the verse has determined the duty of this group which is the call to Islam (al-Khair), enjoining the good (Ma’ruf), and forbidding the evil (Munkar). The duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil is general due to the prefix AL (ال) and not restricted. It therefore includes the rulers and this implies holding them accountable. The holding of the rulers accountable is a political task performed by political parties and it is the most important task of the political parties.
Therefore, the verse indicates the duty of establishing political parties which would call to Islam, enjoin good and forbid evil, and would hold the rulers accountable for their actions and conduct.2
Political Parties in Islamic History
Historically the companions (sahaba) of the Prophet ﷺ were the political party who performed the duties outlined in this verse. After the rightly guided Caliphate the state fell in to dynastic rule which meant there was no mechanism for political parties to participate within the system or get their views heard by government, so these parties formed military wings and fought to gain power. The Abbasids took power from the Umayyads at the Battle of Zab. The Abbasids faced a number of internal coups with the Sultans (semi-independent governors) becoming the main power base in the later period of the Abbasid rule. The Ottomans took power from the Abbasids in Egypt and also faced a number of internal coups towards the end of their reign.
In a future Caliphate, there will be processes in place on how to elect the next Caliph and also an elected House of Representatives (Majlis ul-Ummah) where all citizens regardless of their school of thought, race or religion will be represented. This will be enshrined in the state’s constitution. Therefore, political parties will have no need to resort to armed struggle to gain power as the state will have a mechanism for them to influence government. These parties will put forward candidates in the Majlis elections and campaign for them. It should be noted that the Caliphate is an ideological Islamic State. This means all elements of the state work towards achieving Islamic objectives not material objectives. Political parties in Islam are not like those secular parties found in the west or in Muslim lands today who seek power for material gain. Political parties in Islam seek power to ensure Islam remains strong through the laws and policies of the state both at home and abroad.
Power of Political Parties
The importance and power of political parties within society cannot be underestimated. Individuals have a very limited impact when accounting governments. It’s very easy for the government to either ignore the individual or even imprison them preventing their message getting through. Without coordinated mass effort they can never influence public opinion enough to be effective in their accountability. Political parties if structured correctly and unified in their message can literally move mountains when it comes to influencing public opinion and the policies of government.
The brutal suppression of opposition parties in the Muslim world shows how much the rulers fear political parties as a threat to their rule. Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan even resorted to boiling alive his political opposition in an attempt to curb their influence. According to Human Rights Watch:
Muzafar Avazov, a 35-year-old father of four, was killed at the brutal Jaslik jail. Human rights groups said that the body showed signs of burns on the legs, buttocks, lower back and arms, indicating that he was boiled to death. Not content with this the 63-year-old mother of Muzafar Avazov was then sentenced to 6 years imprisonment and hard labour for informing human rights groups of her son’s brutal murder.3
Despite these shocking brutal tactics by the Uzbek regime the Islamic political opposition in Uzbekistan remains stronger than ever.
The strength and power of parties can also be seen in the time of the Prophet ﷺ and the companions in Mecca.
The Islamic call was known from the first day the Messenger of Allah ﷺ received the message. People in Makkah had known all along that Muhammad ﷺ was calling for a new Deen, and that scores of people had embraced Islam. They also knew that Muhammad ﷺ was gathering his companions and looking after them, and that the Muslims concealed themselves from the rest of the Quraysh while they grouped together and learned about their new Deen.
People in Makkah were aware of this new call and of those who believed in it, but they never knew where they met or who they were. That is why when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ proclaimed his new belief, it did not come as a surprise. What surprised Makkah was the emergence of this new group of Muslims. The Muslims had gained a great deal of strength when Hamzah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib embraced Islam, followed by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab three days later. Then came the revelation of Allah:
فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
“Therefore, proclaim openly that which you are commanded, and turn away from Al-Mushrikun”4
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ duly obeyed Allah’s command and presented his group to all of Makkah. He ﷺ went out with his Sahabah in two lines, one led by ‘Umar and the other by Hamzah. The Sahabah walked in a manner that the Quraysh had never witnessed before. He ﷺ then did tawaf around the Ka’bah with them.
This is the stage when Allah’s Messenger ﷺ moved with his Sahabah from the secret phase to the open one, from calling and addressing and inviting those whom he felt were ready to answer his call, to addressing all people.
The disbelievers then began resisting and fighting the Da’wah, inflicting in the process all kinds of harm and injury on the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and his Sahabah. This phase was one of the most severe.5
As mentioned above the companions of the Prophet ﷺ were the political party during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. During the rule of the second Caliph Umar bin al-Khattab, some cloth from the spoils of war was distributed to the people, out of which each companion had one piece of clothing cut. One day Umar got up to speak and said: ‘Lower your voices so that I may hear you.’ He was wearing two pieces of that cloth. Salman al-Farsi, a senior companion said, ‘By Allah, we will not hear you, because you prefer yourself to your people.’ ‘How is that?’ asked Umar. He said: ‘You are wearing two pieces of cloth and everyone else is wearing only one.’ Umar called out: ‘O Abdullah!’ No one answered him. He said again, ‘O Abdullah ibn Umar!’ Abdullah, his son called out: ‘At your service!’ Umar said, ‘I ask you by Allah, don’t you say that the second piece is yours?’ Abdullah said ‘Yes.’ Salman said: ‘Now we shall hear you.’6
The companions led in publicly accounting the rulers to ensure no oppression or misuse of funds was committed even down to a piece of cloth!
Will multiple political parties lead to disunity?
An argument can be made that multiple groups and parties will lead to disunity within the state. This is true if the groups and parties established did not call to Al-Khair i.e. Islamic objectives and instead called for foreign thoughts and concepts such as nationalism, secularism and socialism. Any party founded on a basis other than Islam and calling for any thoughts and concepts contradicting Islam would be forbidden in the state. Historically, one of the major factors in the destruction of the Caliphate was the establishment of Turkish and Arab nationalist parties supported by the colonial powers of the time Britain and France.
Looking to the Qur’an the order to establish political parties came directly after the order not to separate. The waw (و) at the beginning of verse 104 is a conjunction (‘atf) equivalent to ‘and’ in English. This means the verse is not resuming a new sentence but is linked to the previous verse which starts with the command:
وَاعتَصِموا بِحَبلِ اللَّهِ جَميعًا وَلا تَفَرَّقوا
“Hold fast to the rope of Allah all together, and do not separate.”7
The next verse after 104 also begins with a waw of ‘atf and again orders the Muslims not to separate.
وَلا تَكونوا كَالَّذينَ تَفَرَّقوا وَاختَلَفوا مِن بَعدِ ما جاءَهُمُ البَيِّناتُ ۚ وَأُولٰئِكَ لَهُم عَذابٌ عَظيمٌ
“Do not be like those who split up and differed after the Clear Signs came to them. They will have a terrible punishment” 8
On the surface these commands not to separate and split up in verses 103 and 105 seem to contradict the command to separate and establish groups in verse 104. So how is this apparent contradiction addressed? Ibn Ashur answers this in his tafseer:9
“His (swt) speech “Do not be like those who split up” is a conjunction to His speech “Let there arise from amongst you group(s)”, and it also returns to His speech before “do not separate”
…the reprehensible differences which lead to separation, are the differences in usul ul-deen (foundations of the religion) which leads some of the ummah to kufr (disbelief) or fisq (transgression), and not the differences in the furu (branches) which are based on differences in the interests of the ummah in the regions and the ages, through ijtihad. If we examine the history of the Islamic Schools of Thought (mazahib), we do not find separation arising between the Muslims from differences in aqeeda and usul. We only find differences in ijtihad in the furu of sharia.”
Dangers of no strong political parties within the state
Historically in the time of the Rightly Guided Caliph Uthman, it was the absence of a strong party of sahabah in the capital of the state which allowed the rebels to take a foothold, leading to the assassination of the Caliph and years of civil war.
Dr as-Sallabi describes this incident:
“Umar had prevented the prominent people of Quraysh, the Muhajireen, from leaving to other countries, except with permission for a short period. They complained about him and news of that reached him, so he stoodup and said, ‘I liken Islam to the ages of a camel; it starts out as a jadha’ (one year camel), then it becomes a thaniyy (two year old), then a raba’iyy (four year old), then a sadasiyy (six year old), then a bazil (nine year old). Is there anything left for the bazil but the onset of its decline (as it has reached its peak)? Now Islam is like the bazil (i.e. it has reached its peak). So long as ibn al-Khattab is alive, I will be standing at the mountain pass of al-Harrah, holding Quraysh by their chests to prevent them from throwing themselves into the fire.’ Umar was afraid for these Sahabah if they scattered in the conquered lands and acquired property and wealth. If one of the Muhajireen whom Umar was keeping in Madinah came to Umar and asked him for permission to leave, Umar would answer: ‘In your having campaigned with the Messenger of Allah (saw) is that which will take you to Paradise; what is better for you today than going out on campaign is not seeing any worldly temptations.’
But Uthman allowed them to go out and was easy going with them. Al-Sha’bi said: When Uthman became Caliph, he let them go and they went all over, and the people gathered around them, so he was dearer to them than Umar. As a result of that expansion, some of Quraysh gained wealth and property in the regions, and people gathered around them. According to one report, when Uthman proved not to be strict with them as Umar had been, they spread all over. When they saw this world and the people saw them, those who had no virtue and nothing to offer Islam and were not known among the people at all gathered around them, and thus different groups formed. That was the first weakness that appeared in Islam, and the first fitnah that affected the masses.10
Therefore Islam allows difference of opinion, and different schools of thought as long as they are based on the Islamic aqeeda and sharia, and derived through ijtihad. What is prohibited is differing in the aqeeda and establishing sects (firqa) among the Muslims like what occurred to the Jews and Christians previously. This means Islamic political parties are established to bring unity and prevent disunity in the core values of the Islamic State.
1 Holy Qur’an, Chapter 3, Surah aal-Imran, Verse 104
2 Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Ruling System in Islam,’ Op.cit., p. 297
3 Human Rights Watch, ‘Uzbekistan: Two Brutal Deaths in Custody,’ 10 August 2002, http://hrw.org/press/2002/08/uzbek081002.htm
4 Holy Qur’an, Chapter 15, Surah al-Hijr, Verse 94
5 Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, ‘The Islamic State’, translation of Dowlah Islamiyya, Khilafah Publications, p. 8
6 Ibn Qutaibah, ‘Uyun al-Akhbar, 1/55 and also Anwar al-Awlaki, ‘Life of Umar bin al-Khattab’
7 Holy Qur’an, Chapter 3, Surah aal-Imran, Verse 103
8 Holy Qur’an, Chapter 3, Surah aal-Imran, Verse 105
10 Dr Ali Muhammad As-Sallabi, ‘The Biography of Uthman ibn Affan,’ p. 470