The Authoritarian Political Dimension of the Divine Governance Idea

It’s a research study, in which the author tackles the birth of the idea of contemporary governance and judging democracy along with its advocates as unbelievers, and the reasons behind that. Who was behind this fatwa and this idea that we are paying for today under the modern state and the political practice that can’t be correct away from the culture and the democratic behavior. And how the idea of judging the democracy and democrats as unbelievers “takfir”[1] has been deeply rooted in our societies.

That is through the following major questions:

  • The birth of the idea of modern Islamic governance and who owns it.
  • Set the ideology of the Divine Governance concept by Abul A’la Maududi.
  • The reasons that led some of the Indian Islamic scholars to oppose democracy.
  • Why did Pakistan separate from India? And what role did Islamists play in that?
  • The conflict over the form of the state between Abul A’la Maududi.
  • and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
  • The Authoritarian Political Dimension of the Divine Governance idea.
  • The Divine Governance from India to Egypt and from Maududi to Sayyid Qutb.
  • Appearance of Sayyid Qutb and his role in setting the ideology of the Divine Governance concept and “takfir” the advocates of democracy.
  • Is it a call for the Divine Governance? Or to undermine the legitimacy of the rule of Nasser?
  • The price we pay today because of this idea and the conclusion.


Perhaps the best productions of human mind are electricity and democracy; electricity is the basis of every technological development that man has created to make life easy and comfortable. Where democracy is the exquisite peaceful approach to eliminate tyranny and prevent it from rebirth, so that societies and minds could be devoted to creativity and development.

However, our Arab society, in its religious majority, sees democracy as a violation of the divine governance of Allah, therefore it is an apostasy, disbelief and shirk (polytheism) without awareness or examination of the historical variables that brought about such rule. 

Therefore we wonder; are those consequences that led to condemn democracy to disbelief and apostasy still valid? And is the process which the society went through as a result of the Arab Spring requires a change of vision towards democracy? And the most important question remains: how democracy has become an infidelity by Islamists?

The story started in India

In 1858 and after the British had controlled the Indian subcontinent, Muslims lost power to the British. So that the concept of gaining authority back started to be formed as an ideology in order to have a supporting social host. From here emerged the concept of divine governance, however not in a clear manner that makes it ideologically reveal itself.

Then different analyzes by Muslim leaders arose explaining the political changes that happened in the Indian subcontinent.

Whilst the founder of the modernist movement (Maulana Syed Ahmad Khan) (1817 – 1898) tended to the negative resistance to the British colonization in order to save the lives of Indian Muslims, as he called for the renounce of violence against others, and demanded the Muslims of India to surrender to the British ruling authority, building his idea on the concepts of Jabriyah (Fatalism) and non-violence; he was disagreed and opposed by the Indian thinker (Saladin Khadabakhsh), who turned against the concept of Islamic authority, and called for the secularization of the Indian subcontinent. He presented his vision in an article titled (The Islamic Concept of Governance), in which he criticized the vision of Islamic governance of authority. And as he stated in his article, authority in the Islamic thought cannot change the provisions of Islamic Sharia, which makes it unable to develop or to go along with the era like in the west. He emphasized that Sharia is changeable and not rigid, and called for the separation of religion from state.

But by the fall of Islamic Caliphate 1924, a new Islamic movement emerged believing in the return of Caliphate. It established the Islamic Caliphate Movement, a political movement, whose founder (Mohammad Ali Jauhar) persuaded through his speeches to work on the return of Caliphate in order to return the Islamic governance. He emphasized through those speeches on the divine governance of Allah.

The birth of the idea of Modern Islamic Governance

  • Philosopher Muhammad Iqbal (1876 – 1938) implanted the concept of Governance among Indian Muslims, although he didn’t elaborate so much, but he always asserted that Islam is based on the pillar of Tawheed (Monotheism), and the law of God (Sharia of Allah) is supreme as one of the monotheism requirements, likewise there is no equivalent authority except for the authority of its interpretation. It’s also said that Iqbal betted a lot on Abul A’la Maududi.

in delivering his thoughts to people. And he referred indirectly to him to write his book (Al-Jihad fil Islam) in response to (Gandhi) when he claimed that Islam was spread by sword.

No doubt that Indians had lived a great struggle against Britain until they gained their independence; the different components of Indian people participated in that national struggle, but after independence in 1947, India was established on the basis of modern national state similar to other world countries which emerged at the time.

Since Muslims were assuming authority before independence and British colonization, and since the greatest support for movements of (Gandhi) had contributed to it, as indicated by Khaireddine Eltunisie in his book (History of India), then the national Indian State of the secular parliamentary and democratic form would invoke the election fund. 

Nevertheless, many political parties that belonged to other components like Hindus and Sikhs were arisen in India, and as Muslims were relatively a minority population, their compliance to the democratic process as well as the parliamentary system would have got them out of the authority from one side, and made them accept the results of parliamentary legislations that would be produced by the legislative institution in the Indian Parliament from the other side. Consequently their rights would be aggrieved as a minority and their Sharia would be violated.

Setting the Ideology of Divine Governance by Maududi

In the midst of those variables, a perception started to grow by Abul A’la Maududi who read the political changes in India, and fully understood what the modern national state and its parliamentary system would produce. So he declared his protest against this type of political systems and started to write and advocate opposing them.

At that time appeared a political leader who adopted the idea of separating Pakistan and Bangladesh from India; he is (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) who founded the Muslim League, but on grounds that Muslims rule themselves in a separate state from India in the civil democratic form, in which Jinnah was influenced by as a result of his law studies in Britain. 

The Authoritarian Political Dimension of the Divine Governance Idea

As usual when framing an idea of authoritarian or political objective, it must be presented in a legal garb in order to acquire legitimacy that attracts a popular holder, which becomes in turn a host and supporter to achieve it. Here, called Abul A’la Maududi for the Divine Governance, and so this concept and this term were demonstrated for the first time in the twentieth century. In 1941 he established Jamaat-e-Islami and was elected as Emir (leader) of it in Lahore to spread the word of Allah and establish the Islamic society. He developed the theoretical and practical foundations for the return of the Islamic state.

At first he agreed with the call of (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) for the independence of Pakistan from India; the idea that was founded by the philosopher (Iqbal), worked for politically by (Jinnah) and theorized intellectually and ideologically by (Maududi). However Maududi disagreed with Jinnah about the state’s ruling system of society in Pakistan. While Maududi wanted it to adhere to Islamic Sharia, (Jinnah) wanted a modern democratic state based on the modern system, in which Maududi saw a circumvention of Sharia and a dilution of the concept of divine governance that he advocated.

Consequently Maududi moved from the struggle against the Hindus in India to the strict opposition to the insights of (Jinnah), who became the ruler of Pakistan after its separation from India in 1947, and he emphasized that he was disappointed with Jinnah, and the independence of Pakistan didn’t lead Islamists to their purpose, therefore he fiercely opposed the form of the government in Pakistan.

Maududi put the political theory in Islam through the concept of divine governance, which calls for the removal of any order or legislation put by human beings, whether at the individual, party or parliamentary level. Believers submit only to the governance of Allah, and they must disobey any other governance.

He emphasized that secularism, democracy and nationalism are the most dangerous things created by human beings; therefore, everyone calls for such things that conflict with the divine governance of Allah, accepts them, believe in them or submits to them, he disobeys Allah and his prophet and he departs from the divine governance of Allah and accepts the governance of Jahiliya. There is no authority governs the human behavior and controls it but the authority of the religious text represented in Allah said and the prophet said.

Therefore it is a must to invoke the transmitted argument, submit to it and be driven to it, as to neglect any other rational argument and turn away from it. He even said in his book Political Theory of Islam: “no individual, family, class, party or the rest of residents of the state has a share of governance. The true Governor is Allah… and no one has anything to do with legislation without Allah. All Muslims, even if they were supporters to each other, could not legislate a law”.

And in parallel with restricting the governance to God, (democracy) – as it is the government of people by themselves- would be taken out of the circle of Islam; (the system of the Islamic state couldn’t be labeled by the word democracy, but rather in a truer word that is the Divine Governance or Theocracy… and that the public couldn’t know their interest)

We note that, when Maududi condemned those who accept secularism, democracy and nationalism or live in their folds to blasphemy and apostasy to Jahiliya, his intent was political, hence India started to head to a new system for its statehood after independence, and this form would not allow it to return to Islamic Caliphate, neither allow Muslims to return as political leaders of it as a result of invoking democracy.

From here we find that Maududi’s judgment on democracy as blasphemy is bound to the history of the incident, and it’s all about getting Muslims out of authority, the thing that democracy would do, therefore he wanted to obstruct accepting it.

The Divine Governance from India to Egypt and from Maududi to Sayyid Qutb

After the fall of the Islamic Caliphate in 1924, Imam Hassan Al-Banna worked on regaining it even if among Arabs. In order to bring Islam back to authority, Al-Banna established his political alliances at the time with King Fuad and afterwards with Farouk. Here appeared what was later called political Islam. However, Ali Abdel Raziq found that the modern system of the state which was formed after World War I wouldn’t allow the return of Caliphate, and it is an outdated system that wouldn’t befit to the modern state, and Islam has nothing to do with it, and it is not from the fundamentals of religion. Thus, he wrote his famous book (Islam and the Foundations of Governance) that was published in 1925. The book is considered as the first legitimate study to establish the secular notion within the Islamic environment.

He said in it:

“Nothing prevents Muslims from competing with other nations in all social and political sciences, from destroying that old system which they were humiliated and submitted to, or from building their rules of dominance and their system of government on the latest productions of human minds and the strongest experiences that nations indicated as the best governance”.

The book urged a strong reaction against it, so that the Council of Senior Religious Scholars in Egypt issued a statement, signed by (24) scholars, pointing out the obvious mistakes in the book, and summarizing them in (7) apparent violations. Then scientific responses followed; Sheikh Mohammad Al Khoder Hussein wrote: (Confutation of the book of Islam and the Foundations of Governance), and Al Taher bin Ashour wrote: (Scientific Criticism of the book Islam and the Foundations of Governance), and Mohammad Bakheet Al Moutai composed his letter: (The Truth of Islam and the Foundations of Governance), and Dr. Mohammad Dia’eddin Al-Rayyes chronicled the political incidents related to the issuance of the book in his letter (Islam and Caliphate).

With the appearance of Muslim Brotherhood as a real force and disciplined organization in Palestine war 1948, in addition to the fear of its opposition role in the English negotiations with the Egyptian government on Palestine and other internal issues, came the decision of Nokrashy Pasha – the prime minister of Egypt then- in December 1948 to dissolve the group and confiscate its properties, arrest its men and put them in prison. Following these incidents Hassan Al-Banna was assassinated in 1949.

After the decision of dissolution, the Brotherhood continued their work secretly until July revolution 1953 when an alliance was made with them, as some historians of that period mentioned, but the honey moon was rapidly over. It’s said that Gamal Abdel Nasser was a member of the Brotherhood then he separated from them after establishing the Free Officers Movement.

Appearance of Sayyid Qutb and his role in setting the ideology of the Divine Governance concept and takfir the advocates of democracy

At that critical stage, shined a prominent leading figure who influenced people around him as well as who read his writings. He became later on the most important Islamic character in the twenties century; he is (Sayyid Qutb), the man who was endowed with a creative pen and fascinating style in writing.

Sayyid Qutb is considered the most important Arabic theorist of divine governance; he might be more famous than Maududi as many militant groups adopted his thoughts and worked them out. He put it through his two books (In the Shade of the Qur’an) which is an interpretation of the holy book of Allah, and (Milestones). They had a wide Arab fame.

Sayyid Qutb founded in these two books the political concept of divine governance and bound it to the legitimate concept, and called for the Jahiliyyah of society. He demanded, same as what Maududi did but with a slight difference, to start the call from the scratch following the steps of prophet of God like in Mecca and Medina.

Sayyid Qutb stated in his governance that the society is ignorant and the head of ignorance in it is the ruling authority, so he judged everyone as unbeliever. Nevertheless, we should not forget that Qutb wrote both his books the Shadows and Milestones in prison. The plight as well as what he suffered from torment and hazing from his executioners in prison affected his writings. This torture that he suffered in his sixties left an impact in his insights and writings. Therefore, his thought can’t be studied away from his agony.

Qutb is considered as one of the most important theorists of Jihadi Salafism, and his books are their reference in this direction. Then following his writing example, they wrote their approaches that fell within the orbit of the idea of the Polar Governance as they called it.

No one doubts that the same term of Governance put by Maududi was the motive and the stimulator of Sayyid Qutb’s thoughts. I don’t see but that Qutb found an entrance in the Governance of Maududi to prove the illegitimacy of the rule of Abdel Nasser, and that his regime disagreed with God’s approach and His Governance.

Qutb walked in Maududi’s path. He went with the concept of the divine governance away from slavery submission to Allah. He conveyed it from monotheism and worship to the comprehensive life including authority. And so he didn’t determine the term, rather he demanded the extension of the divine authority to all matters without talking about the permissible circle that is left to the human action and his will that Sharia doesn’t interfere with. Also, it is variable and changeable by varying and changing the era through organizing people’s lives, their security and their livings. But Qutb spoke of the divine governance passing the political issue between the lines, he said in (Milestones):

“The path is not to rescue the land from the hand of a Roman tyrant or Persian tyrant to be transferred to the hand of an Arabic tyrant. A tyrant is a tyrant. The earth belongs to Allah, and the path isn’t to free people on this earth from one tyrant to be submitted to another. People are slaves to God alone. No governance but of God. No legislation but from God. And no authority for anyone on another, and this is the way.

Is the Divine Governance versus democracy at Sayyid Qutb? Or is it to undermine the legitimacy of Nasser?

Here we ask: how is life organized without rules controlling the conduct of people in society? Where were the legitimate texts in Al Medina paper that the prophet called for? Didn’t the people of Media from Jewish, polytheists and others agree on protecting it against any external invasion? Didn’t the social contract of that paper include social solidarity to ensure the domestic peace in it?

But Sayyid Qutb went in his aim of Governance to the political authority, and then to takfir the system of Abdel Nasser. The same as Abul A’la Maududi did when judging (takfir) those who accept secularism, democracy and nationalism, so to obstruct the British in India and Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan. This is what made Sayyid Qutb say: “No governance but of God, no legislation but from God and no authority for anyone on another, and this is the way”.

Then Abdel Nasser endorsement for nationalism, democracy and secularism made them alternatives to the divine governance. So that Abdel Nasser legitimacy must be overthrown within a legitimate frame, in the sense that his overthrow would be Jihad for many Islamists dreaming to return to power.

Here Qutb met Maududi with the idea of Takfir itself, so he said in his interpretation for the verse (40) of Chapter of Joseph:

“The rule couldn’t be but to God as it is exclusive to Him by His divinity, because governance is one of the characteristics of divinity, and whoever claims the right in it disputes God over the first characteristic of His divinity, whether this right is claimed by an individual, a class, a party, a body, a nation or all people in a form of international organization. And who disputes God over the first characteristic of His divinity and claims it, then he has disbelieved in Allaah as infidels, so that his kufr becomes known from the knowledge of religion”. The words of Sayyid Qutb are the same of Maududi, as if they were (copied) with no difference.

As a conclusion:

We need real reviews to the Islamic political thought with all its schools. It’s time to acknowledge that those traditional schools are no longer valid today in the desired state of citizenship and the modern contemporary state. Thus, we have to invent a political concept that belongs to the current reality we live in, and adopts the human and moral purposes of Islam as a reference.

Shura is a general coexistence principle, whereas democracy is a consensual mechanism in the political action that prevents the birth of tyranny to allow a peaceful transition of power.

Countries are built by partnership not by peremptory norms. Violence complicates the problems instead of solving them. Democracy is a remedy to us not a sickness; it is a partnership to build the society not a trap.

We don’t want violence that leads to democracy because we don’t want violence itself, and then is it possible to achieve democracy without violence? A lot of democracies paid the price of blood to reach stability, but are we condemned by fate to repeat experiences?

Democracy ensures domestic peace and eliminates the political violence. It ensures a civilized manner of political practices to manage the society affairs, solve its problems and contradictions, and establishing a political system based on dialogue and understanding, transfer of authority, rejecting all shapes of violence and invoking the results of fair elections. And this requires a democratic culture before the democracy itself.

[1]  is a controversial concept in Islamist discourse, denoting excommunication, as one Muslim declaring another Muslim as a non-believer (kafir)

Copyright © 2019 The Middle East and North Africa Media Monitor.