Why and how the Khilafah system is not Monarchical
The Arab Spring has ushered in a new era of hope, with the masses of the Arab world rising up against old age tyrants and their structures. The fall of Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Gaddafi has also led to serious and important discussion and debate in what is the way forward in these counties, in terms of a governing and ruling structure, and this debate has been polarised between the liberal and democratic system, who some are advocating, and the Islamic or Khilafah system which others envisage.
The critics and even some Muslims are unsure of the nature and principles of the Khilafah system and due to their misunderstanding or ignorance, it is has led to the Islamic system being labelled as monarchical system. What has also led to fanning this confusion is the example of Saudi Arabia, which is seen as an Islamic monarchical state. Furthermore, the history of the Muslim and Arab world would suggest that the Islamic system is a monarchy due to the history of the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman eras, as the position of Caliph was handed down father to son or generally kept within the family, and in some cases the title of King was used by some of the rulers within these eras. So therefore, the purpose of this article is to analyse whether the Khilafah system is a monarchical system and if not what are the differences between the Islamic system and a monarchy.
One of the major differences between the Islamic State and the monarchy system is that in the Khilafah the source of the law is the Qur’an and the Sunnah. All solutions must be extracted from these two sources, with any new issues which arise through the passing of time, being referred back to the Qur’an and Sunnah through the process of Itjihad. The Shari’ah cannot be tampered with, or altered to serve any individual, irrespective of their position and status and nobody is above the law, not even the Khalifah, so he may be taken to court like others, over matters of dispute or injustice and this is epitomised with the example of the Jewish man who took Caliph Ali (RA) to court over a dispute regarding a shield. The judge passed verdict in the favour of the Jewish man against Ali (RA), even though the Jewish man was in the wrong. The Khalifah cannot decide to abandon the Shari’ah or not to implement it, as this would be a breach of his contract and action will be taken for his removal. This makes the Shari’ah truly sovereign and instils within the Khilafah a firm basis for the rule of law.
On the other hand in a monarchy system, one of the sources of law is the King himself, he may decide what is right or wrong, good and bad, or the King must authorise and stamp the legislation others propose to him before they are enacted. He is also able to suspend the law or change it when he wishes, as well as pardoning criminals and being above the law himself. This gives the King, his family and whom so he pleases immunity from the law, where he cannot be prosecuted for crimes he may have committed.
In a monarchy system, the position of King is hereditary, passed down from father to son, without anybody having a say or the right to pick their leader. However this is not the case within the Khalifah. The people have a duty and a right to elect the best man possible for the position, as long as he meets the conditions stipulated by the text. One may argue that Islamic history is littered with examples of Caliphs passing their position down to their sons, it being the dominate practice through Islamic history hence, this being the normal procedure of succession in the Khilafah, thus making it a monarchy. Historically within the Khilafah, the process of electing the ruler was abused from very early on, and this abuse became systematic, and over the ages widely accepted by the general masses, to the extent that this was seen as the normal way to elect a Khalifah and this is what happened with the issue of hereditary rule within the Khilafah. Firstly, this should be seen as a departing from the Islamic text and not a representation of it, which unfortunately became the norm. Islam does not permit the position of ruling to be passed down father to son as we see with the first 4 Caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali (may Allah (swt) be please with them all). Each was elected with the general consent of the people and the bayah (pledge of allegiance) was given to them to legitimise them as the Caliph, which brings me onto my second point.
Even when the position of ruling became heredity under the Umayyad, Abbasids and Ottomans the bayah was always given to the Caliphs, as this was seen mandatory to have by the people in order to be Caliph. However, the bayah process was abused, where the Caliphs would force the people to give the bayah to their sons before their death. But even though this occurred, after the death of the Caliph, the people would have to give the bayah again to the son in order to legitimise him being the Caliph. If this bayah was not given then he would not be seen as the Caliph, so the bayah was always given and it was always fulfilled but in an inappropriate manner, but never was there a case where the bayah was not given and the son just became the Caliph and the people accepted him.
Another fundamental difference between the monarchy system and the Khilafah is that within a monarchy it is seen as the right of the King to be in his position, a symbol of the natural order of things, mandated by God and so removing him or accounting him is seen as an attempt to undermine the natural order and going against the ‘will’ of God. This leads to creating an environment where the King is not accounted or kept in check, and those who do account him or even in some cases advise him, are seen as rebels against the state and God. This creates an atmosphere where the King is able to do as he pleases with no one to account or challenge him, especially when his authority becomes a tyranny; there is none to change this. This passive mindset also leads to a lack of development within that country because there is none who will account and advise the King, push him to excel and do well for the people and the country, since the people are not geared towards accounting the King and advising him and what a contrast is this to the Khilafah system.
In the Khilafah it is the right and a duty upon all to account the Khalifah and to keep him in check. Islam lays a heavy responsibility upon everyone to account and advise him, whether this is done individually, through the formation of political parties (which can only be based upon Islam) or through the organs of the state.
The master of the martyrs is Hamza ibn Abdul Mattalib, and a man who stands (in front of) an oppressive ruler and enjoins the good and forbids the evil and so is killed for it. (Hakim)
Accounting the Khalifah cannot be neglected or abandoned, and we see many incidents in Islamic history where the Caliphs were accounted by all within the State, to the extent that even woman accounted the Caliphs in public, as with the example of Caliph Umar (RA). This made sure the Caliph was kept in check, and even though in many instance the Caliphs put those who accounted them to death or locked them in prison, it always made the Caliphs try and excel, as they knew in the back of their minds, that if they did not uphold the Shari’ah and deliver a certain acceptable standard of living according to the Shari’ah then he would face stiff opposition from amongst the people. This in turn ensures the Islamic State is always at an acceptable level of advancement since the people will push the Caliph, through accounting and advising him.
In the monarchy system the King and his family are seen as a symbol which should be honoured and which people hold in high esteem and revere. They are granted privileges which the average person does not receive and days on which they are born, get married, have children on and die are made into public ceremonies and moments of remembrance and commemoration. A good example is the recent royal wedding of William and Kate. Their wedding day was shown on national TV for all and declared a public holiday so people may have their own house and street parties to commemorate their wedding, a privilege which is not afforded to the common man. Whereas in the Khilafah, the Caliph holds not such position. The general masses obey him as along as he obeys Allah (swt) and his Messenger (saw) and he is seen as the servant and shepherd of the ummah, not their King. His family are afforded no such privilege and they will be treated equally before the law like anyone else if they break the Shari’ah rules.
So in conclusion, the Khilafah system is a completely different and distinct system from the monarchical system. The monarchy system is all about one man, the King, him being the centre of that land, where he is the law, the symbol of emulation and he cannot be removed or accounted for the oppression that he may inflict upon others. The right of ruling passes through his male descendants and if he has none, it is kept within his family. The people do not have the right to elect their ruler and to seek to remove him is seen as challenging the natural order of God’s will. This is not so on the Khilafah where the people have a right to elect their ruler, a duty to account and advise him, and to remove him when he fails to deliver to the people based upon the Shari’ah. He himself is not seen as a symbol that should be emulated. The only symbol Muslims should seek to emulate is the Prophet (saw) and the Islamic community he (saw) built in Medina. The Caliph himself should seek to emulate the Prophet (saw) to the best of his abilities instead him being the symbol of emulation and this system is still viable in the Arab world today, which can usher in a new era of prosperity, security and advancement for the region like it did before but with the hindsight of learning from the mistakes of the past.
O you who have believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority amongst you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result. (Quran 4:59)