Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, is undoubtedly to be regarded as a foremost social reformer and political thinker. As history has shown, he was at the forefront to guide the world to a new level of civilization. Michael H. Hart’s 1978/1992 book, The One Hundred: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History ranked Prophet Muhammad as the first among these one hundred most influential persons of the world. This judgment was made in spite of the fact that Hart, an American astrophysicist and author, has described himself as a white separatist! This popular work sold over half a million copies in 15 languages. The contributions of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ to mankind are multiple.

We derive Prophet’s political thought from the Quran and Hadîth. The Prophet’s teachings were not confined to imparting spirituality and religious fervor, but rather he taught the people, how to be involved in all walks of life with excellence of character and service to the needs of his society.

Prophet Muhammad (6th-7th centuries) is to be celebrated as bringing the Arabs —during what was in Europe the Dark Ages— not only to the light of Islam, but also to establishing an impregnable governmental system in Arabia which had hitherto no central sovereign authority.

According to longtime professor of Arabic and Islamic studies (1964-1979) at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, William Montgomery Watt[i]:

“We may distinguish three great gifts Muhammad had, each of which was indispensable to his total achievement. First, there is what may be called his gift as a seer. Through him —or on the orthodox Muslim view, through the revelations made through him— the Arab world was given an ideological framework within which the resolution of its social tensions became possible. Secondly, there is Muhammad’s wisdom as a statesman. The conceptual structure found in the Quran was merely a framework. The framework had to support a building of concrete policies and concrete institutions. Thirdly, there is his skill and tact as an administrator and his wisdom in the choice of men to whom to delegate administrative details. Sound institutions and a sound policy will not go far if the execution of affairs is faulty and fumbling.  (William Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Medina, 1956, pp 334-335)

The Prophet’s Principles in Political Theory

Once we examine the widely accepted theories and concepts of political science, we will appreciate that strong model of governance established by the Prophet (ﷺ). Today it remains unchallenged that his political principles are  capable of correcting deficiencies in modern western political thought.

For instance, the State of Nature Theory and Social Contract Theory are two world recognized systems of political thought, given birth in the 16th-18th centuries `by the European philosophers Thomas Hobbes[ii], John Locke[iii] and JJ Rousseau.[iv]

The State of Nature Theory, in political theory, addresses the real or hypothetical  condition of human beings before, or without, political association: It upholds the idea that “the anarchic nature of human beings, in the absence of a “sovereign authority” (a leader), is sure to give rise to conflicts and clashes among society.” Prophet Muhammad, in the 7th century had already proposed the same concept, but in a more principled manner. He overtly opposed all sorts of leaderless ventures, even if only when on a journey:

Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri and Abu Hurairah reported:

“If three are out in a journey, they must appoint one of them as a leader.” (Abu Dawûd, 2708)

A “concerned authority” is to be designated for each and every matter, especially those pertaining to governance.

As per the Social Contract Theory, a government should be formed on the basis of a water-tight contract between the ruler and the ruled —on the understanding that people live together in society in accordance with an agreement that establishes moral and political rules of behavior. Whenever the ruler fails to follow provisions of the contract, he should be rebuked by the governing body. But the 7th century social contract theory of the Prophet proposes a version more clearly and simply stated than that of the later western one. It also requires, in principle, a more active participation by the ruled and a stricter adherence to the agreed upon contract by both ruler and ruled.

Ubadat bin Al-Samit said:

“We pledged to the Messenger of Allah to hear and obey, both in times of ease and hardship, when we felt energetic and when we felt tired, that we would not contend with the orders of whomever was entrusted with [leadership], that we would stand for justice wherever we may be and that we would not fear the blame of any blamer for the sake of Allah.” (Sunan-al-Nisa’i, 4153)

What we may refer to as the Prophet’s ‘political thought,’ to use modern terminology, illuminates the significance of leadership by elected or selected Successors to the Prophet (meaning the Caliphs in the earliest times). To complete his political theory model, he made rulers to be held responsible for seeking Shura (consultation with the ruled), leaving the masses of his State to rebuke the ruler if that ruler should ever go astray. In fact, we know that after the time of the Prophet people could and did challenge their ruler:

Abdur Rahman al-Salami reported:

‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, said, “Do not be excessive in the dowry of women.” A woman said, “It is not so, O ‘Umar; for Allah said: …even if you gave one of them a great amount, (4:20). ‘Umar said, “Indeed, a woman has disputed with ‘Umar and she has defeated him.”

In another narration, ‘Umar said, “The woman is right and the man is wrong.”

(Muṣannaf ‘Abd al-Razzāq, 10420)

And by the way, the so-called Machiavellian[v] theory, that “the end justifies the means,” is not at all compatible with the Prophet’s political thought and must be vehemently opposed by both the governing body and the governed. The Prophet’s principles prescribe that both the means and the ends must be fair and true to existing conditions.

The Prophet’s Political Thought on the Rule of Law

The following hadith of the Prophet (ﷺ) establishes the principle of the rule of law in connection with nepotism and accountability.

Narrated ‘Aisha:

The people of Quraish worried about the lady from Bani Makhzum who had committed theft. They asked, “Who will intercede for her with Allah’s Apostle?” Someone said, “No one dare to do so except Usama bin Zaid the beloved one to Allah’s Apostle.” When Usama spoke about that to Allah’s Apostle, Allah’s Apostle said: “Do you try to intercede for somebody in a case connected with Allah’s Prescribed Punishments?” Then he got up and delivered a sermon saying, “What destroyed the nations preceding you, was that if a noble amongst them stole, they would forgive him, and if a poor person amongst them stole, they would inflict Allah’s legal punishment on him. By Allah, if Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad [my daughter] stole, I would cut off her hand [in conformity with the prescribed punishment].” (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 6788)

The Prophet proves to be very much concerned about maintaining legal equality. The Quran commanded the Prophet to judge between disputing parties as per what divine law prescribes,

“And judge between them according to what God has sent down, and do not follow their caprices. [Surah Al-Mâ’idah, 5:49]

The judgment must be free and fair, as the Quran proclaimed,

“…and when you judge between the people, that you judge with justice.” [Surah Al-Nisâ’,4:58]

 “O ye who believe : be ye staunch in justice, witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or (your) parents or (your) kindred, whether the case be of a rich man or a poor man, for Allah is nearer unto both (than ye are).” [Surah Al-Nisâ’, 4:135]

The Prophet’s legal equality is inclusive not only of the subjects but also of the rulers, as the Prophet himself gave the Muslims the right of revenge against even him, if he should ever commit unlawful harms against anyone of them. All citizens were to enjoy equality before the law.

The Prophet’s Political Document

Aside from these contributions in what would now be thought of as “political theory,” Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ) was known for drafting a written Constitution for the first time in history — in 622 AD, shortly after Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medinah. This charter contains 47 clauses that set the foundations of a sovereign nation-state comprising of Muslims, Jews and Pagans, having equal rights and responsibilities under a common or unified citizenship.

Gaining power had never been the Prophet’s goal. The Prophet wasn’t hostile to the non-Muslims in Medinah;, in fact, he invited them in a peaceful and felicitous manner. In a widely-known narration, the Prophet said:

The best among you are those who have the best manner and character. (Sahih Al-Bukhari, 6029).

If the non-Muslims were  unwilling to accept Islam, they should be protected from any sort of physical harm by the State as per the Ẓimmi agreement. The immi agreement was far from intending non-Muslims to be second-class citizens. In fact, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ laid emphasis on what is now termed secularism and pluralism. The Prophet aimed to preserve peace and harmony.

Abu Huraira reported:

While a Jew was selling goods, he was given something which he did not accept or he did not agree (to accept) that ‘Abdul ‘Azlz (one of the narrators) is doubtful about it. He (the Jew) said: By Allah, Who chose Moses (peace be upon him) among mankind. A person from the Ansar heard it and gave a blow at his face saying: [You have the audacity] to say: By Him Who chose Moses amongst mankind, whereas Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) is living amongst us. The Jew went to Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) and said: Abu’l-Qasim, I am a immi and [thus need your protection] by a covenant, and added: Such and such person has given a blow upon my face. Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: Why did you give a blow to his face? He said: Allah’s Messenger, this man said: By Him Who chose Moses (peace be upon him) amongst mankind, whereas you are living amongst us. Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) became angry and signs of anger could be seen on his face, and then said: Don’t make distinction amongst the Prophets of Allah. When the horn will be blown [on the Day of Judgment] and whatever is in the heavens and the earth would swoon except for him whom Allah grants exception, then another horn will be blown and I would be the first amongst those who would recover and Moses (peace be upon him) would be [the first] catching hold of the Throne and I do not know whether it is a compensation for that when he swooned on the Day of Tur or that he would be resurrected before me. Nor do I say that anyone is more excellent than Yunus {Jonah] son of Matta (peace he upon him).  (Sahih Muslim, 2373a)

In a nutshell, having looked at aHadîth of the Prophet (ﷺ), we have rediscovered a still relevant model of  political thought, adaptable to all civilizations and cultures, helpful to bridge the gap between ancient and modern  schools of thoughts and capable of correcting  today’s western political thought and practice of government.

Sources

Hart, Michael H., The 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History (2000)

Watt, William Montgomery, Muhammad at Medina (1956) Oxford University Press

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Montgomery_Watt

https://www.history.com/topics/british-history/john-locke

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rousseau/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Hobbes

https://www.history.com/topics/renaissance/machiavelli

https://www.constitution.org/cons/medina/macharter.htm

https://www.britannica.com/topic/state-of-nature-political-theory

https://ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu/glossary/social-contract-theory

[i]    William Montgomery Watt (1909–2006) was a Scottish historian,  OrientalistAnglican priest, and academic and one of the foremost non-Muslim interpreters of Islam in the West.

[ii]    Thomas Hobbes (1588 –1679), was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, which expounded an influential formulation of social contract theory

[iii]    John Locke (1632–1704) was an English philosopher and physician, widely regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers and commonly known as the “Father of Liberalism.”

[iv]    Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was a Genevan philosopher, writer and composer. His political philosophy influenced the progress of the Enlightenment throughout Europe, as well as aspects of the French Revolution.

[v]    Niccole Machiavelli, (1469—1527), was the Italian Renaissance  political philosopher and statesman, secretary of the Florentine republic, whose most famous work, The Prince (Il Principe), brought him a reputation as an atheist and an immoral cynic.

Muhammed Haris

Muhammed Haris

Muhammed Haris is an Islamics scholar who has held the position of Lecturer in the Department of English at the MSI Higher Secondary School in Kerala State, India. He knows Arabic, English, Hindi and Urdu in addition to his native Malayalam. His diverse educational background includes degrees in History (B.A), in Arabic Literature (M.A.) and in Politics and International Relations (M.A.). Muhammed has been involved in translating Arabic books into English: A Treatise on Muslims in Kerala (2017), and a forthcoming novel by a modern Egyptian author. Mr. Haris is active in English language journalistic reading, essay and research writing, spoken English teaching and oration, and English media current events.

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