Power Sharing In Islam

In the backdrop of the parliamentary election held in Bangladesh and the formation of the government in which Jamaat-e-Islami has joined, a question is often raised in different circles whether it is permissible for an Islamic party to join in a coalition government in which the policy of the major component party does not genuinely reflect its commitment to Islam. The issue needs to be critically examined and addressed to satisfy the inquisitive minds of the workers of dawah, nay the workers of the Islamic movement.

It is very important for the workers of Islamic movement to have clear and sound understanding of the objective and purpose of the Islamic movement, nay the duty and responsibility of the Islamic leadership as khalifa, representative of Allah swt on the earth. The prime responsibility of the Islamic leadership is to enjoin what is right (maruf) and forbid what is evil (munker). Al Quran states: You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong [Al Quran-3 (Al-i-Imran): 110]. And this can be fulfilled, in to day’s context, in the most effective manner if the Islamic leadership can utilize state machinery and can successfully make use of the tax money paid by the vast majority of the Muslims deeply committed to Islam and who sincerely wish the victory of Islam, not only in Bangladesh, but also elsewhere in the world. Such commitment of the people of Bangladesh was truly reflected when crisis developed in different hot spots of the world, as now in Afghanistan. The people of Bangladesh also expressed in the past their solidarity with their brethren in Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, Kosova and Chechnya.

Now the question is how to implement the wishes and desires of the Muslims of Bangladesh to fashion their lives in accordance with the precepts and teachings of Islam. Should we wait for indefinite period for resurgence of Islam, nay the landslide victory of the Islamic movement with two-thirds majority in the parliament, which alone shall not be sufficient unless backed by 88 percent or so Muslim votes? We have in Bangladesh 12 percent minority. Experience has shown that Jamaat, the oldest Islamic party in the region, could not come to the power during the 60 years of its existence. Should we wait and wait and wait or be pragmatic and realistic and participate in coalition government to implement the Islamic agenda, even if partial, to forward the cause of the vast majority people and ameliorate the sufferings of the common masses from anarchy, corruption, nepotism and cronyism of the ruling elite left by the colonial imperialist powers in the newly independent Muslim countries to rule in absentia through their agents.

We need to examine the issue of participation by the Islamic political parties in a coalition government having other partners with semi secular agenda strictly keeping in our view the Islamic history and divine shairah (law), the sacred texts and not the human interpretation and jurisprudence of ijtihad based on these texts which cannot have the sanctity of fundamental texts.

Now if we look to the basic principle of Islamic law, the shariah- the sacred texts of the revealed Holy Quran and authentic sunnah of the Prophet (saws) then it becomes clear to us that what practices and methods are not prohibited and forbidden (haram) in Islam are lawful (halal) under the shariah, the Islamic law. For a detailed discussion on the subject the readers may refer to Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi’s, (eminent Islamic scholar of Egypt and Dean of the Faculty of Shariah, Qatar University) book The Lawful And The Prohibited In Islam (American Trust Publications. 10900 W. Washington Street. Indianapolis. IN 46231 USA. Also available in website www. qaradawi.net/english/main). It can therefore be safely affirmed that since participation by the Muslims in government, which does not strictly follow Islam, is not included in the prohibition list, the involvement of Muslim organizations and parties in the coalition government having partners who are not committed to implement Islam but at the same time also not antagonistic, hostile and opposed to Islam are permitted or lawful in Islam.

If we look back at the history we will find examples that will bear testimony that participation in government which is not strictly Islamic is permissible both for individual Muslims and groups for achieving good and avoid evil. In this connection reference may be made that Prophet Yusuf (aws) participated the government of Pharaoh to rescue the famine and drought stricken people. Prophet Yusuf (aws) did not hesitate to join the pagan government of Pharaoh and he did not make it a condition that the non-believers have to accept tawheed (monotheism) before he takes charge of government to administer the food management. Prophet Yusuf (aws) accepted the ministerial responsibility for he thought it was his human responsibility to ameliorate the suffering of the people. It means that if Islamic leadership have any expertise they are bound even today to offer their services to the ruling government for the common good (maslahah) and social welfare and refusing to give such service shall tantamount to zulm, oppression. Prophet Yusuf (aws) therefore did not hesitate to participate in the administration of Pharaoh to save people from starvation. The same principle should hold good and valid even now. What has happened to Prophet Yusuf (aws) can repeat to Muslims of our time. In such circumstances, Muslims are permitted to participate in the non-Islamic government to fulfill the greater interest of the Muslim community, the ummah and prevent evil and wrongdoing. Failure to do so will lead to undermining the overall interest of the ummah and allowing the evils to spread and dominate the society.

The other example is that of the Negus, the Emperor of Abyssinia, what is now known as Ethiopia, who became Muslim in the hands of immigrated Muslims when Prophet Muhammad (saws) was alive. Negus embraced Islam but he did not declare shariah the basis of his government nor he took any step to implement Islamic law for that would have threatened his Kingdom and endangered the lives of the immigrant Muslim guests. From this it becomes clear that Muslims can rule without implementing the shariah, if the circumstances are not at all in their favour or the people are not yet ready for such reform or the situation is not healthy enough or conducive for such transformation and change. That Emperor Negus was a Muslim is proved from the fact that Prophet (saws) offered salatul janaja when the death of Negus reached him.

Commenting on this Ibn Taymiyyah said: “We know definitely that he could not implement the law of the Quran in his community because his people would not have permitted him to do. Despite that, the Negus and all those who are similar to him found their way to the pleasure of Allah in eternity although they could not abide by the laws of Islam, and could only rule using that which could be implemented in the given circumstances” (Ibn Taymiyyh. Al Fatawa 19/218-219).

Another example is that of Omar bin Abdul Aziz, the fifth rightly guided Caliph, who could not abolish kingship although he did not like and approve monarchy because of the absence of consultative (shura) system as a right of the Muslim community, the ummah and continued to remain king. Nevertheless he took important steps and managed to bring about major changes and reforms in the society and eliminate many munkar, bad and evil practices and restored adal and ihsan, justice and fairness.  By accepting to rule under monarchy, which he did not endorse, he was able to do many maruf, good things, and no Muslim historian ever claimed that he was wrong and misguided in his actions.

The community of believers may participate in an alliance aimed at preventing injustice and oppression, at serving the interest of humankind and at protecting human rights. The faithful can pursue all these noble objectives even with those who do not share the same faith and ideology. This is established by the endorsement by Prophet Muhammad (saws) of the hilf al fudul, an agreement signed by the pre-Islamic Arab tribes to protect their rightful mutual interest. The agreements signed by the Prophet (saws) with different tribes before and after the conquest of Makkah including the treaty of Hudaibiyya are ample testimony that the Islamic leadership can always cooperate with the non-Muslim rulers not to speak of half-hearted Muslim rulers in matters of common good and rightful cause. The Madina Charter is an important document that makes it clear that cooperation between divergent ideological communities is essential for establishing peace and tranquility in the society which can create congenial atmosphere for the onward march and progress of the Muslim ummah. 

A government, though not strictly Islamic, is considered very close to Islamic one if it establishes justice, because justice is the most important element of the Islamic government, and it is said that justice is the sunnah, the law of Allah. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah is reported to have said: “God upholds the just state even if it is unbelieving, but does not uphold the unjust state even if it is believing”.

The maqasid al-shariah, the goals of Islam include everything that is needed to realize falah, human well-being and hayat tayyibah, good life within the constraints of the shariah. Al-Gazali pointed out: “The very objective of the shariah is to promote the welfare of the people, which lies in safeguarding their faith, their life, their intellect, their posterity and their wealth. Whatever ensures the safeguarding these five serves public interest and is desirable” (Al-Mustafa (1937) vol. 1. pp. 139-140. Quoted in Islam and the Economic Challenge. p.1. Dr. Muhammad Umer Chapra. The Islamic Foundation, U.K. and IIIT, U.S.A.).

Shariah was sent down by Allah swt only for achieving benefits of humans in earthly life and the Hereafter, in the known ranks of these interests: al daruriyyah (the indispensable), al hajiyyah (the needful) and al tahsiniyyah (the dignifying). Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi emphasized on the profound need of understanding and establishing fiqh of balances (principle of balances), the balancing of interest and effects so as to determine which should be given precedence and which should be discarded, balancing evils against each other in the same way of balancing interests so as to determine which could be accepted and which has be avoided, balancing interests against evils if they contradict, so as to determine when to give the avoidance of evil a precedence over the gaining of interests, and when to  forgive evil for the sake of interests.

When interests’ conflict, lower interest is sacrificed for the sake of higher interest and private interest is sacrificed for the sake of common interest and the owner of private interest is to be compensated for his loss. Also in cases of conflicting interests, temporary interest is forsaken in favour of long-term or permanent interest; superficial interest is neglected for the sake of real interest, and sure interest is given precedence over uncertain interest.

If evil conflict and some of them are indispensable, then one should choose the lesser of two evils and the lower of two degrees of harm prescribed.

If interests and evils conflict, they should be examined carefully in terms of their size, effect and duration.  A slight evil should be forgiven for the sake of realizing a major interest. A temporary evil should be forgiven for the sake of realizing long-term or permanent interest. Even a great evil should be accepted if its elimination would lead to a greater evil. However in normal conditions, the avoidance of evil should come before the realization of interest.

Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi then raised the question whether an alliance with non-Muslim forces acceptable or reconciliation with governments that do not adhere to Islam acceptable or is it allowed participating in the ruling regime that is not purely Islamic and operates under a constitution that has loopholes or does not have full approval of Islam. He advocated that the structure of politics should be built on fiqh of balances (principle of balances). Here he referred that Dr. Hassan Al Turabi joined the Socialist Union of Sudan and had accepted appointments under Jafar Nimeiri’s regime even before he announced the application of Islamic shariah in Sudan to choose lesser evil and avoid the greater evil (Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi. Priorities Of The Islamic Movement In The Coming Phase. pp 33-38. Dar Al Nashr, Cairo. Also available in website www. qaradawi. net/english/main). 

Imam Ibn Taymiyyah gave a very strong opinion on the permissibility of assuming some public offices in an unjust state if the occupant of such office would seek to alleviate some of the injustice or curb evil and corruption (Ibid. p 41).

Some leading Islamic scholars of the subcontinent are of the view that Islamic movement should not cooperate or join in the government with political parties having halfhearted commitment towards Islam. But the majority of the ulama and eminent Islamic scholars worldwide do not share such a view. In fact many Islamic parties and organizations worldwide have participated with other political groups for achieving common objectives, prevent evil and to serve the greater interest of the community within a non-Islamic framework. Even Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan participated in the government under the military ruler Gen. Zai-ul-Huq. With due respect to the scholars who believe that truly Islamic parties should not cooperate with secular parties, non-Islamic or with halfhearted commitment to Islam, it can be safely pointed out that such an extreme view is not corroborated and supported by shariah and definitely permissible and lawful as such cooperation, alliance and teamwork is intended to equip the Islamic leadership with the ability to react positively in difficult situations when the interest of the ummah needs to be protected. The intention of the Islamic shariah is to make life-path easy and convenient and not one of hardship and inconvenience. Allah swt in His infinite mercy and wisdom has advised Muslims not to make situation difficult and opt for easy option. Al Quran states: “… Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you…” [Al Quran 2 (Surat Al Baqarah): 185. Translated by Dr.Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali]. Another commentator of the Holy Quran translated the verse as: “… Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you…”. In another verse Al Quran states: “… He … has imposed no difficulties on you in religion …” [Al Quran 22 (Surat Al Hajj): 78]. In another verse Al Quran further states: “… Allah does not want to place you in difficulty…” [Al Quran 5 (Surat Al Maidah): 6].   Prophet Muhammad (saws) said: “… God did not send me to be harsh, or cause harm, but He sent me to teach and make things easy” (Sahih Muslim: 3506). Ibn Abbas reported that Messenger of Allah (saws) said: “Teach and make things easy and not difficult …”.

Now let us discuss the issue of Muslim cooperation with non-Muslims from rational point of view. In India, the Muslims are big a minority. What can they do to protect their interest since there is no hope of forming an Islamic government in near future? The best option for such minorities is to share power and enter into alliance and coalition with democratic political parties that shall protect human rights, defend their life and properties and guarantee the freedom of expression and belief.

Some Muslim countries are ruled by military dictatorship hostile to Islam. Sheikh Rashid Ghannoushi, an eminent Islamic scholar of Tunisia, is of opinion that in such circumstance Islamic parties should cooperate with democratic and secular forces to topple the dictatorship that would respect fundamental human rights and liberty and will create favourable environment for the working of the Islamic movement.

The establishment of Islamic government is the ultimate long-term objective of all Islamic movements in the world. There is no bar in forming alliance with any group for common purpose the objective of which is to ensure human welfare (maslahah), benevolence (ihsan) and justice (adl). Islamic leadership should always be ready to extend their helping hand to democratic forces particularly when such groups commit not to frame laws repugnant to Islam. Islamic leadership and organizations should be pragmatic enough to form alliance with democratic forces not totally committed to implement Islam as a stop-gap and short-term arrangement to push the cause of Islam, even if partially, for that shall make sure the ultimate victory of Islam.

15th November 2001