Theology and Politics in Early Islam

Theology and Politics in Early Islam

The last two weeks have provided us with a comprehensive overview of the life of a ‘mümin’ – a believer of Islam- in the early stages of Muslim rule. Muslim political Philosophy, the way the Umma came to be ruled was greatly shaped by the contemporary plight of society as well as the new understanding of religion.

Islam is an orthopraxy, meaning there are five pillars a Muslim is required to perform, with 3 of them executed on a regular basis. Thus it can be argued Islam differs from other religions in that it compasses the entirety of one’s occupation; contributing to their identity and integrity. The direct human-God relationship found in Islam is arguably the cause for the sort of theologically monolithic governments (far from secular) found in the Middle East and the rest of the Muslim world. In Islam, Allah and the Mümin’s relationship is like that of two lovers and it is emphasized in the Q’uran that mümins are supposed to follow leaders who rule according to Sharia, the Islamic law from Allah.

‘At the heart of all political debates is a moral question, and religious convictions as well as nonreligious, but still moral, convictions play an integral role in those debates…’[i] As stated by Richard John Neuhaus, a catholic priest; because politics looks for what is best for the people, a moral standpoint to judge deeds and decisions is needed. In Islam, this standpoint is Sharia.

Jacques Maritain, another Catholic philosopher, makes clear that body politics aims to provide the ultimate conditions humans can live together. Islam’s emphasis to reach equality through established laws and caring for humans’ rights was not only mentioned in Quran but also made official through the Medina Constitution, according to Watt’s essay with the same name. The fact that the Prophet has left the Medina Constitution as a legal documentation of how to rule and guide people seems likely to be another factor that helped the Muslims build on religious path and knowledge to govern themselves.

Maritain, through his words ‘‘… an absolute division between those two societies (namely the Church and the body politic) would mean that the human person must be cut in two’’ (154)[ii] acknowledges that a complete distinction between religion and politics is impossible to be drawn without damaging one or the other.

The early Muslim Political Philosophy, therefore, was a clear combination of religion and politics. The politics and governance of the early Muslim Community differed in terms of its social and administrative structure to those in the West. The lack of religious hierarchy in the Muslim society seems to have made it difficult for authority to be institutionalized. The Church, on the other hand, is more precise when it comes to authority, with the Pope being the maker of significant decisions on any controversial issue -that later led to factions within Islam as well-.


Medina Constitution clearly states that ‘The believers constitute a single community’’ against crime and for protection (5)[iii] This united community called Umma that has molded the united nature of the early Muslim people were due to the cruelty of leaders and the ‘commercial prosperity had led to deep malaise in Mecca’ (4)


As previously mentioned, intense political Controversy over who should rule is observed to have been troublesome throughout Muslim Political rule. The Shii’s view that the Caliphate must be chosen based on knowledge of the person is known to have conflicted that of Sunnis’. While the institution of Ulema, a collection of understanding of Ahlakh and Sharia, was a significant constituent of the Caliph’s influence; the uncertainty about whether knowledge or power should prevail remained. It was seen in the early Muslim Political life that the Caliph was told by the Sultans not to meddle in matters of Politics or Sharia. At this time, Sultans’ wavering allegiance to the Caliph has clearly weakened the united nature of the Umma, possibly leading the Empire to lose territory in Spain in the future. Because each Sultan was close to and in charge of their local people, the dissention with the Caliph might have also prevented the Muslim community from proper access to sharia, as well as social and religious unity. This religiously rooted confusion can be argued to have left the Muslim rule unable to establish a solid separation of powers within a whole Empire.


In early Muslim Political Philosophy, Maritain’s claim ‘The state is for man, NOT man for state’ has created controversy among many.

The idea that the state is the one to act in behalf of the people and knows what is better for the community prevails in the early years of Muslim rule. His view seems to result in the conclusion that man does not serve the State, but the other way around. Such a conclusion is apparently congruent to the teaching in the Q’uaran that mümins should not be anyone’s servant other than Allah.

Miskawayh, a Persian philosopher from Iran who is said to have discussed science and evolution with philosophers from the West, claims that we are first social, then human. As thinkers of different ages have noted, theology and ideology can be said to be vulnerable in cases of misinterpretation.

History appears to have provided us with a good deal of examples when it comes to inspecting politic philosophy’s interaction with ideology (theology) in the Islamic community When Mohammad the Prophet died, the Umma decided that four Caliphs who had been with Mohammad at his worst times should take the lead as the Four Caliphs. Although such a regulation of power is not mentioned in the Quran, the Muslim community was able to act on their own without the help of pre-planned religious knowledge, as the ‘rightly-guided caliphs’ spread Islam successfully beyond the Arabian peninsula.

However, theology today turns out have a much stronger effect on current events and remains to possess strict allegiance from its followers. Noone foresaw the Islamic Revolution that took place in Iran. This might just be proof that Islam still has a vox populi very much committed to their religious textbook and teaching; though communities of other religions appear to gradually become more liberal.









[i] “Religion Cannot Be Separated from Politics.” Http:// 2010. Accessed September 4, 2016.|EJ3010411217&source=Bookmark&u=ingl29443&jsid=16517733bea7c6c366e42b7524670283.


[ii] Maritain, Jacques. Man and the State. Phoenix books. PDF version


[iii] Watt, William Montgomery. The Islamic State Under Muhammad.

Theology and Politics in Islam