The Religious and the Political in Contemporary Islamic Debate

Democracy: The Religious and the Political in Contemporary Islamic Debate

 Abstract: The opponents of Democracy within the Islamic camp base their opposition on claims that Islam and democracy are antithetical of one another. To prove them wrong, Islamic proponents of democracy – such as Rachid Ghannouchi – seek to show that a lack in understanding either of democracy or of Islam, or perhaps of both, is the reason such opponents of democracy arrive at their erroneous conclusions. This paper, seeks to explain the theory that Islam consists of two circles, an inner small core called ad-dini (the religious) and a larger outer shell called as-siyasi (the political). It is this nature of Islam, it is argued, that made it possible for the Prophet, the Rightly-Guided Caliphs and Muslim scholars and political theorists throughout history to devise ijtihad to answer questions, resolve problems and deal with unprecedented situations.


Opposition, or hostility, to democracy continues to be exhibited by some Islamic quarters, within factions as well as within academia. The grounds of hostility range from considering democracy antithetical to Islam to considering it a Western design again st Islam. The dispute within Islamic circles over democracy has had serious ramifications. Inter-Islamic factional conflict has been attributed, in many cases, to the disagreement on the stance toward democracy, or more generally toward the question of governance. Rachid Ghannouchi, an Islamist proponent of democracy, considers the rejectionist attitude toward democracy an obstacle that undermines the endeavour of mainstream Islamic movements, such as Ennahda and the Muslim Brotherhood, to bring about pea ceful political reform in the Arab region. This paper will review the opinions of some of the opponents of democracy and then discuss Rachid Ghannouchi’s response to them.


Ayman Az-Zawahiri, an ideologue of the Egyptian jihad faction, believes democracy to be shirk billah (assigning partners with God).1 He understands tawhid (monotheism) to entail that legislation is the sole prerogative of God whereas democracy, as he understands it, is the rule of the people for the people. Whereas in democracy the legislator is the people, in tawhid God is the legislator. Hence, democracy is shirk (idolatry) because it usurps the right to legislation from the Almighty and offers it to the people.2 Az-Zawahiri, who alleges to base his conclusions on the writings of Mawdudi and Qutb, denounces democracy as a new ’religion’ that deifies humans by awarding them the right to legislate without being bound by a superior Divine authority. His en tire discourse is based on the argument that since democracy is the recognition of the sovereignty of the people, it would have to mean the denial of God’s ’sovereignty’. Consequently, those who ’believe’ in democracy, like the post-Qutb Muslim Brotherhood, by accepting the ’rule’ of the people instead of the ’rule’ of God, compare with those who assign partners with God. It follows that the members of the people’s assembly (parliament) are the idols, and those who elect them commit, by doing so, the arch -sin of shirk. Thus, participating in the democratic process at whatever level is haram (forbidden) and those who perpetrate it are apostates and infidels.3

In addition to what has become known as al-jama`at al-jihadiyyah (jihadi groups), those who believe that existing governments should be fought and removed by force, Hizb al-Tahrir (Liberation Party) believes that democracy is nizam al-kufr (a system of blasphemy) that was ’marketed’ in Muslim countries by the blasphemous West.4 Not only is democracy said to have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam, but it completely contradicts its code in all issues, both major and minor; it is said to contradict its source, the ideology it emanates from, the foundations it is based on and the ideas and systems it has come up with. Therefore, it is strictly haram for Muslims to adopt it, or implement it, or call for it.5 In addition to stressing that democracy emanates from the unacceptable ideology of excluding religion from public life and of awarding sovereignty to the people, unlike the jihadi trend, Hizb al-Tahrir (HT) goes further to argue that democracy eventually does not achieve what its advocates claim it would . In this regard, the ills of democracy and its negative impact on the societies that adopt it are highlighted.

In the West, as is the case in America and Britain, it is argued, elected members of parliament do not represent the majority of the people but represent business interests. It would, therefore, be misleading, and even an act of falsification, to claim that parliaments in democratic countries represent the majority of the public. This is notwithstanding the assertion that majority rule is considered un-Islamic because it could lead, as has happened in the West, to legalizing forbidden things such asriba (usury) and liwat (sodomy). The concept of public liberties, it is claimed, is the worst thing the democratic system has come up with; it transforms the human community into herds of animals. Examples from public life in the West, cited to prove that democracy eventually leads to a decline in morality and to exploitation of the majority by the minority, such as individualism and the disintegration of the family, promiscuity and homosexuality, and capitalism and exploitation, are essential to this discourse.6

In spite of this dogmatic stance, HT members in Jordan participated in democratic elections several times in the past. By doing so, they fully accepted the terms of the ’political game’ as set by what is by their standards a ’non-Islamic’ regime. In 1951, HT’s founder himself, Taqiyy-ud-Din An-Nabahani nominated himself but lost to his opponent Abdullah Na`was from the Ba`th party. In 1954, HT participated in the elections with five candidates in the West Bank, which was then under Jordanian jurisdiction. Dawud Hamdan was nominated in the city of Al-Quds; Abdul-Qadim Zallum, As`ad Tamimi and Abdulqadir Al-Khatib in Al-Khalil; and Ahmad Ad-Da`ur in Tolkarm. Only Ad-Da`ur was elected because he entered into an arrangement with the Muslim Brotherhood. Like e very other candidate Ad-Da`ur took the constitutional oath of allegiance to the King and the Homeland but added the phrase ’and to God’.

In 1956, HT once more participated in the elections and contested for seats in Al-Quds, Al-Khalil, Jenin and Tolkarm, and this time too only Ad-Da`ur won.7 It is not clear whether HT in the fifties was still not opposed to democracy or whether its participation in the Jordanian elections was a violation of its own doctrine. What is without doubt, however, is that the party is now among the most hostile Islamic factions to democracy. Little wonder that a scathing attack was launched against Ghannouchi’s al -hurriyat al-`ammah fi’l-dawlah al-islamiyah (Public Liberties in the Islamic State) by HT ideologue Mahmud Abdulkarim Hasan.8

Ghannouchi is accused of having been vanquished by Western civilization to the extent that, like millions of other misguided Muslims, he is no longer able to think except on the basis of the utilitarian principle of this civilization. Ghannouchi is ’diagn osed’ by Hasan as suffering from a feeble understanding of Islam, an ’illness complicated by considerable civilisational backwardness and immense infatuation in the Western civilisational progress, an imbalance that induces some people to reconcile many o f the ideas of Islam with the ideas of the Western civilisation.’ Ghannouchi’s method of analysis is described as inbitahi (from the root bataha, meaning to prostrate or lay low); a method known for its tendency to come up with new titles and new treatise s to justify one’s deviation and to misguide the Muslims.9

The focus of the HT critique of Ghannouchi’s Public Liberties is the concept of maslaha (exigency). Ghannouchi is accused of fabricating and twisting classical ijtihad, such as that of Al-Shatibi – in defence of whom Hasan took the initiative of reproachi ng Ghannouchi – in order to ’turn Islam up-side-down’.10 The HT ideologue concludes that Ghannouchi’s book, to which he refers as ’this piece of work’, comes up with a new method for thinking or for legislating based on maslaha, a method that is falsely attributed to Al-Shatibi for the purpose of bestowing some sort of legitimacy on an illegitimate discourse. Ghannouchi is said to ’clearly harbour Western concepts that are alien to Islam, such as democracy and public liberties, for whose benefit he seeks to alter Islam’s concepts claiming they are flexible and capable of modification whenever we want depending on our interests or according to our own reasoning’.11

Ghannouchi is condemned by both the jihadis and the Tahriris for being a mubtadi` (innovator) and an i`tidhari (apologist). Similar accusations are levelled at him within other Islamic circles by individuals or groups who disagree with his approach to dealing with both the Islamic heritage and Western civilization. Members of some of the salafi groups in the United Kingdom, for instance, have repeatedly attempted to veto decisions by university Islamic societies to invite him to talk to students or other members of the Muslim community.12 More extreme elements even regard him as worse than an infidel.13 More than that, Ghannouchi has been accused of serving Western designs.

Abdul Rashid Moten, a lecturer at the Department of Political Science at the International Islamic University in Malaysia, whose political affiliation is unclear, argues in a recent paper that democracy is a Western conspiracy.14 The West is eager to impose this value, which is said to be incompatible with Islam, on Muslim countries as part of a policy of cultural imperialism. It would follow, thus, that Islamic thinkers who stand for the cause of democracy in the Muslim world serve Western interests. Mot en’s paper revolves around the notion that Islam already has a system of governance that is superior to democracy. The exertions of Westernized Muslim thinkers, and he includes in his list together with Afghani and Abduh two contemporaries, Abdul Karim So roush and Rachid Ghannouchi, to devise a theory of Islamic democracy or to demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and democracy are said to lend further credence to false belief in the eminence of the democratic system. Such Westernized Muslim thinkers, h e charges, have trivialized the fundamental principles of an Islamic political system: the practice of shura, meaning people’s participation in governing themselves, was turned into parliamentary democracy; ijma`, denoting the consensus of the Umma or of the leading `ulama’ on a regulation was held to be synonymous with public opinion; and maslaha, referring to the adoption of a course which is considered to be in the best interests of the community, was developed into the liberal notion of utility.15

Moten goes on to claim that, despite their full establishment backing, such Westernized thinkers never enjoyed the status of an `alim (a person well-versed in religious sciences) and their ideas were never considered by the Muslim masses as genuine Islami c responses to the Western onslaught. ’Islamic liberalism was an urban €lite phenomenon and remained confined to a handful of Western-educated lite.’16


Such Islamists in Ghannouchi’s view are not only an obstacle to democratization, but to progress and development as a whole. Their problem is two-fold; on the one hand they have no specialized or adequate knowledge in the humanities, and on the other they are indoctrinated with some shallow literature on Islam. Consequently, they tend to define things with extreme simplicity. For instance, he explains, they understand Islamic government to mean hukm Allah (God’s rule) and democracy to mean hukm al-sha`b ( people’s rule). Not only are issues of politics too complex to be simplified in this manner, but the concept of hukm Allah is totally misunderstood. Hukm Allah, Ghannouchi stresses, is supposed to be a liberation movement, a revolution against kings who m onopolize wealth, power or law-making, and against clerics who monopolize the right to interpret God’s Will or claim to speak in His Name. Hukm Allah is a revolution in the sense that it limits a governor’s powers rendering them more executive in nature t han legislative. Hukm Allah does not mean that God comes down and governs humans, but means the sovereignty of law, which, Ghannouchi notes, is a fundamental feature of the modern state, the state of law and order. If, according to this concept, a governm ent in Islam is not to be monopolized by a despot or an oligarchy, it follows that hukm Allah refers to, and implies, hukm al-sha`b, that is the rule of the people or their representatives, who in the Islamic tradition used to be referred to as ahl al-hal l wa’l-`aqd, whose power is limited by, and derived from, the Shari`a.17

Ghannouchi suggests that the position of hostility toward democracy within the Islamic camp emanates from a number of factors. The first is a profound misconception of democracy, which he traces to the ideas of Sayyid Qutb on the concept of hakimiyya.18

Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), who was imprisoned for ten years in 1954 and then executed in 1966, became the leading ideologue of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt from the mid fifties. His book ma`alim fi’l-tariq (Milestones), which was written in respons e to Nassir’s persecution of the Ikhwan, acquired wide acceptance throughout the Arab world especially after his execution and more so following the defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 war with Israel. In it, he put forward the thesis of jahiliyya (ignorance, barbarity or idolatry), from which Islam came to deliver the world.19

Qutb divided social systems into two categories: the order of Islam and the order of jahiliyya. The latter was decadent and ignorant, and was typical of the situation that prevailed in Arabia before the Prophet Muhammad had received the Word of God, when men revered not God but other men disguised as deities.20 Drawing on this, he divided Muslim society itself into two realms, that of Islam and that of jahiliyya. Judging the world as he saw it then, Qutb declared that looking at the sources and foundation s of modern ways of living, it becomes clear that the whole world is steeped in jahiliyya, and asserted that all the marvellous material comforts and high-level inventions do not diminish this ignorance.21 This jahiliyya, Qutb explains, is based on rebell ion against God’s sovereignty on earth. ’It transfers to man one of the greatest attributes of God, namely hakimiyya, and makes some men lords over others.’

Modern jahiliyya is not that simple and primitive form of ancient jahiliyya, but takes the form of claiming that the right to create values, to legislate rules of collective behaviour, and to choose any way of life rests with men, without regard to what G od has prescribed. The result of this rebellion against the authority of God is the oppression of His creatures. Thus, the humiliation of the common man under communist systems and the exploitation of individuals and nations due to greed for wealth and im perialism under capitalist systems are but a corollary of rebellion against God’s authority and the denial of the dignity of man given to him by God.22 In this respect, Qutb asserts, Islam’s way of life is unique, for in systems other than Islam, some peo ple worship others in some form or another. Only in the Islamic way of life do all men become free from the servitude of some men to others and devote themselves to the worship of God alone, deriving guidance from Him alone, and bowing before Him alone.23 What really concerns Qutb is that jahiliyya ’is now present not only in the capitalist West and the Communist East’, it has also infected the world of Islam. All that is around us is jahiliyya. Peoples’ imaginings, their beliefs, customs, and traditions, the sources of their culture, their art and literature, their laws and statutes, much even of what we take to be Islamic culture, Islamic authorities, Islamic philosophy, Islamic thought: all this too is of the making of this jahiliyya.24

The term hakimiyya (sovereignty), which Qutb constantly refers to while arguing against man-made political systems, was originally coined by Mawdudi who distinguishes between Islamic and jahili (barbaric) societies. Mawdudi argues that in a jahili situati on, the edifice of politics rises on the foundations of al-hakimiyya al-bashariyya (human sovereignty) whether such sovereignty rested in the hands of an individual, a family or a class or was the sovereignty of the public: legislating in this kind of rei gn is entirely in the hands of man. All laws are made and replaced according to desires and to provisional interests. Such is the case with political plans, which are only drawn or altered as dictated by the passion for utility and the provision of intere sts. In such a reign, no word is given precedence and no affair is awarded prevalence except if such were the functions of those who are most cunning, most resourceful and most capable of fabricating lies; those who have reached the pinnacle of deceit, cr uelty and guilefulness; and those who have seized full control and are recognized as leaders in their community where, in their ’laws’, falsehood becomes truth just because its proponents have power and have the ability to terrorize, and where, in their c ourts of law, truth becomes falsehood just because it has no supporter or defender.25

Ghannouchi’s position on this matter is that hakimiyya is a controversial concept; it is what one takes it to mean.26 If understood correctly, Ghannouchi explains, hakimiyya is a sound idea. He understands it to mean that God is the absolute sovereign, bu t in the sense that the authority of anything or anybody else is relative and is derived from God: it is true that humans exercise ijtihad, but within the framework of this hakimiyya which one may also call Divine Law. Just as we move, develop, innovate a nd behave in nature within the framework of what we call natural law, which is not our own making, similarly we should accept that our laws and our human relations are best placed within the framework of Divine Law, which we call hakimiyya. Whereas natura l law is imposed on us, that is we have no choice but to accept it and deal with it, hakimiyya is optional, that is we are free to accept it or reject it.27 Choosing to accept hakimiyya, Ghannouchi stresses, is in itself an exercise of the right to freedo m of choice. By accepting it, he explains, one never loses one’s freedom. But for Ghannouchi hakimiyya does not mean that God intervenes constantly in running the affairs of humans on earth; He merely provides them with broad guidelines to help them make the right choices.                                                                                                                                            back to top

The exercise of hakimiyya is, therefore, a human endeavour that involves interpreting the Divine guidelines and coming up with new ijtihad whenever necessary. Hence, differences and disagreements are to be expected and should be tolerated. As Ghannouchi u nderstands it, hakimiyya is not a code or a legal instrument or a computer programme that when a button is pressed a Divine judgement is revealed. Nor does hakimiyya mean for him that every question has an answer. On the contrary, he insists, a single question may have several different, but legitimate and acceptable, answers.28

The second factor, which Ghannouchi suggests contributes to some Islamists’ hostility toward democracy, is the lack of understanding of the nature of Islam as well as of the historical development of the Muslims’ approach to the question of governance. He proposes the idea that Islam includes faraghat (plural of faragh, that is space), or areas left for humans to fill in accordance with the respective needs and exigencies of time and place.29

Ghannouchi finds irrefutable evidence of the existence of these faraghat in the documented conduct of the Prophet and the attitude of his Sahaba (Companions). He distinguishes in the activities of the Sahaba between what he calls ad-dini (the religious, t he sacred or the absolute) and as-siyasi (the political, the profane or the relative). He also observes that no disputes ever erupted among the early Muslims in matters pertaining to the first category, ad-dini, that is in matters of `aqida (faith), `ibad a (worship) or akhlaq (morality). Nor were there disagreements among them, for instance, on the fundamentals of family law or those of the code of penalties known as the hudud. But, he asserts, they disagreed over matters pertaining to the second category , as-siyasi; that is on how to administer political affairs, on how to manage disputes and resolve problems pertaining to public office, and on the qualifications and powers of rulers.

It was on these matters, on the question of Khilafa (Caliphate), or power, Ghannouchi quotes a renowned Muslim historian Al-Shahrastani 30 as saying, that Muslims drew their swords, fought each other and shed the blood of one another.31 The dispute which Ghannouchi refers to erupted soon after the death of the Prophet in 632 ad.32

The Companions rushed to what is known as Saqifat Bani Sa`ida to discuss filling the political position of ’head of state’ vacated by the Prophet’s departure. Some suggested that two heads be appointed, one from the Muhajirun (the immigrants from Makka) and one from the Ansar (the Madinites who sheltered and supported them). This was in accordance with an old Arab custom, that when a tragic event befell the community, its elders, who were not necessarily duly appointed or elected, met and deliberated on w hat to do. In this particular instance, the conferees were the cream of the Companions’ generation, the most senior figures in both the Muhajirun and the Ansar. Nevertheless, it was not easy for them to reach a unanimous decision, and when they did `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who then was to become the second Khalifa (Caliph or head of state) is reported to have said ’that was an escape’, that is from what seemed an imminent disaster.33

Ghannouchi’s faraghat theory begins with the assumption that the Sahaba were not left, that is by the Prophet, with a set of rules as to how to settle such a dispute, and had to strive; in other words, they were compelled to perform ijtihad, in order to f ind their own ways and means. This, he suggests, may be considered one of the miracles of Islam, and not, as some ’ignorant’ people may be misled to think, a weakness.34

If Islam is the final Divine Revelation to humanity, he argues, it is only appropriate that no fixed prescriptions are given for matters that are of a changing nature. By virtue of such muruna (flexibility), and thanks to the existence of faraghat, whereb y Muslims can exercise their ijtihad to devise suitable solutions for emerging problems, Islam is said to be fit for all times and all places. Ghannouchi strongly rebukes those ’zealots’ who have not acquired sufficient knowledge about Islam, and who do i t a great deal of harm by claiming, while seeking to defend it, that it readily has answers for all questions and solutions for all problems: it would be rather naive to think that all that is required for the Khilafa to be reinstated would be for Muslims to execute a set of ahkam (rules). What role remains for the Umma, for ijtihad or for `aql (reason) if Islam is conceived of as encompassing, or catering for, all requirements?35

Ghannouchi suggests that certain verses of the Holy Qur’an are misinterpreted to mean that every single problem, whether major or minor, has a ready-made solution in Islam. Verses, which are construed as implying that Muslims need not look for answers any where else, include: ’This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion’36 and ’Nothing We have omitted from the Book.’37 What is really meant, Ghannouchi explains, is that while some answers are already there, which if considered absolute belong to the realm of ad-dini, foundations or guidelines are provided in the case of most other questions, that is within the realm of as-siyasi, so that Muslims may search for the detailed answers in accordance with the requirements of their respective time and place.38 To exemplify this, he draws attention to the Qur’anic declaration that: ’There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance depends on Allah.’39 For in spite of such a declaration many creatures, including entire human communities, die of thirst or hunger. ’Where is their sustenance?’ he asks. Their sustenance has indeed been stored in the earth and in the heavens, but to become readily available it requires exploring, an exertion of effort, on the part of those to whom it has been destined.40

He cites as an example the prolonged periods of famine that hit Iraq and the Arabian peninsula prior to the petroleum age. Millions may have perished out of hunger while walking on land that stored beneath it valuable resources that waited until the Westerners came and discovered them. The example of the Arabs who perished in famine, he adds, is similar of that of the camel that dies of thirst in spite of carrying water in its hump. As much as it is necessary to explore and search for sustenance through hard work, it is essential for the Muslims to explore the universe and look into other people’s accomplishments in order to derive within the guidelines of their faith answers and solutions.41 So, just as no sustenance becomes available without exploration , no questions get answered, or problems get resolved, without ijtihad.

An important source of misconception regarding the relationship between that which is dini and that which is siyasi has been the interpretation of the Sunna (the Prophet’s tradition). Sunna, the sayings, actions and lifestyle of the Prophet, is the second most important source of guidance after the Qur’an. Ghannouchi finds it necessary to remind us that not everything the Prophet did or said or condoned was dini. After all, the Prophet was a human being, and like other humans he liked certain foods and disliked others, and this had nothing to do with halal (permissible) or haram (forbidden). Furthermore, on matters where no Divine Revelation was made, the Prophet sometimes opted for choices that turned out not to be best. The Sahaba lived those moments, not only when the Prophet conceded his own ijtihad or changed an earlier position after having listened to advice from one or more of his Companions, but also when he was blamed by the Qur’an for pursuing a policy out of personal ijtihad that was not, in t he given circumstances, most appropriate. Consequently, they recognized, and could tell, much more easily than any successive generation of Muslims, the difference between the Prophet’s Divinely-guided choices and those that were his own personal preferences. Whereas their attitude toward the former category was full obedience, they had no hesitation regarding the second as an area of faragh, where they too could exercise ijtihad if and when necessary, whether during the life-time of the Prophet or after his death.42

As part of the process of learning the new way of life brought to them by Islam, the Sahaba showed no reluctance to ask, whenever unsure, whether a particular decision was made upon a Divine Revelation or out of ijtihad. They had to do so because they once learned a lesson that cost them their crops. The Prophet was born and raised in Makka, a barren land that sustained no agricultural life. When he migrated to, and settled down, in Madina, famous for its palm trees, he noticed that farmers pollinated trees manually. He suggested to them that perhaps there was no need to do so. Upon his advice, they did not pollinate the trees, and for that particular season they had a very low harvest. When they complained to him he said to them that was shu’un dunyakum, that is a matter of ’your livelihood’, something they knew better about, and should tackle as they deemed appropriate.43

Another famous incident that proves Ghannouchi’s point that the Prophet was not always guided by Divine Revelation is to do with military tactics. As the Muslim army deployed for the first battle in the history of Islam, at an oasis known as Badr, the Prophet ordered his troops to take a position that would have left the water wells between them and their opponents. One of the Sahaba by the name of al-Khabbab ibn al-Mundhir asked whether that was a position God guided the Prophet to or a matter of ar-ra’y wa’l-harb wa’l-makida (opinion and war strategy-making), or in other words based on a personal ijtihad. The Prophet said it was ar-ra’y wa’l-harb wa’l-makida. The Companion, an experienced war commander, suggested that strategically the position was not the best, and that it would be better to deploy beyond the wells so that the enemy could not have easy access to the water. The Prophet agreed and the Companion’s plan was implemented.44

The fact Ghannouchi seeks to highlight, and it is something some contemporary Muslims refuse to recognize, is that the edifice of Islam, which the Prophet Muhammad left behind, was complete with regard to the foundations and the structural components pertaining to ad-dini. Apart from that, the structural components pertaining to as-siyasi were left for coming generations to devise and add to.

In the political field for instance, the Sahaba had to build on the foundation of shura in order to devise a mechanism for choosing a successor to the Prophet. The mechanism was neither fixed nor sacred; in fact it kept changing, progressing each time, fr om one successor to another. What was common to the four Caliphs, whose era is known as al-khilafa ar-rashida (the Rightly-Guided Caliphate), is that none of them inherited the position from his father and that they were all nominated and elected by the U mma, or its representatives.45 This, Ghannouchi points out, was revolutionary in the sense that no similar system of government existed at the time whereby the community had a say in electing its ruler.46 It was also revolutionary in the sense that it was not rigid. Successive caliphs effected modifications to the system of election that could perhaps, had it not been interrupted, led to the institutionalization of shura. Whereas the second caliph was nominated by his predecessor, the third was nominated by a council of six senior members of the community. The methodology invented in this case was very interesting and may in certain respects be compared to modern democratic procedures.

This council of six was appointed by Caliph `Umar who was suffering from wounds which were to prove fatal, sustained in an assassination attempt on his life. He ordered the six senior Sahaba to nominate to the community one of them, excluding his own son whom he insisted should only take the role of observer and moderator.47 When the short-list came down to two, `Uthman and Ali, the members of the community, both men and women, were polled to determine who of the two the community favoured most. They were so close, that eventually each of them was asked separately whether he would pledge to follow the teachings of the Qur’an, the Sunna (way) of the Prophet, and of the first two Caliphs. `Uthman said he would, while Ali said he would pledge to follow the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet, but not that of the first two caliphs.48 Ghannouchi suggests that perhaps Ali felt confident that he was no less capable of making ijtihad himself, and that what the first two Caliphs, who would have been his predecessors, had come up with in the way of ijtihad was not binding for him. This, Ghannouchi assumes, might have been the first indication of the developing tension between the desire to maintain the tradition and the need for ever more ijtihad to cope with changes.49 Clearly, the inclination toward the first was stronger, and that is why, presumably, Ali lost the nomination to `Uthman.

In addition to their misinterpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunna, and their incomprehension of the way the Sahaba conducted their affairs following the death of the Prophet, the Islamists, whether jihadis, tahriris or salafis, who resist democracy and declare it to be antithetical to Islam, are diagnozed by Ghannouchi as lacking in knowledge and understanding of Islamic history, especially with regard to how the Muslims approached the question of governance.50

The Prophet died at a time when the Islamic territory was expanding very rapidly and when entire communities had been embracing the new religion. On the one hand, the city state had become an empire state. The territory governed by the Muslims was no longer just the city of Madina and its outskirts, but the whole of Arabia. Muslim armies were preparing to conquer the Ash-Sham and Iraq, and before too long the whole of North Africa had become Islamic. On the other hand, new converts with diverse cultures and ethnicities had become the bulk of the Umma. In other words, the Umma lost its homogeneity. Many of the Sahaba who had previously been the state’s population had died or spread across the vast Muslim Empire; a very small minority of them remained in the capital.51 The changes constituted serious challenges, in dealing with which the Prophet’s successors pursued different methods of treatment.

The first challenge was that of ar-ridda (the turning away or back, or apostasy, from Islam), which Ghannouchi views more as a military insurrection than an act of apostasy.52 Some Arabs claimed that the death of the Prophet necessitated the removal of certain obligations, such as zakat. Ghannouchi understands the ar-ridda as an attempt to deny Islam’s political aspect. The renegade Arabs wanted to remain Muslim but felt they did not have to pay allegiance to the Prophet’s successors, i.e. to the Islamic government of the day, and therefore wanted to absolve themselves of what such an allegiance entailed. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, consulted his fellow Companions some of whom, led by `Umar, suggested that it was not appropriate to fight the murtaddin (apostates) because they had not categorically, but only partly, rejected Islam. Abu Bakr was resolute and insisted on fighting them until they submitted fully to Islam, in both its spiritual and temporal authorities.53 The disagreement over this issue, Ghan nouchi explains, is proof that it was a matter of ijtihad.54 The ’challenge of territorial expansion and increase in population’, as referred to by Ghannouchi, had ushered in an epoch of post-Prophetic ijtihad.55

After the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, his successor `Umar Ibn Al-Khattab responded to the challenge in a number of ways. Firstly, he modified the manner in which booties were distributed. According to the Qur’anic rule, booties were divided into five equal shares, one went to bayt al-mal (the state treasury) while the remaining four shares were distributed among the conquering troops. `Umar decided that this no longer served the interests of the Ummah, and decreed that immovables were to be excluded from distr ibution.56 He feared that if all gains were automatically distributed, not only would wealth accumulate in the hands of the few, but none would be left for the coming generations.

Ghannouchi sees `Umar’s era as one characterized by a high dynamism in ijtihad.57 He observes that `Umar effected more changes and encouraged more innovations than any of the other four Caliphs. He was the first to borrow from other cultures. He obtained administrative methods and procedures from the Persians so as to cope with his expanding state. This, Ghannouchi regrets, is what some contemporary Islamists fail to appreciate.58 The spaces, or faraghat, Ghannouchi refers to need not, therefore, necessarily be filled with local ijtihad. ’Muslims can, and should, borrow if necessary from others.’59 Furthermore, it has been observed that what `Umar did was to follow the example of the Prophet, who emulated the Persians in ordering his followers to excavate a ditch around Madina to protect it from invading tribes. When his Makkan opponents saw the ditch they were horrified. Muhammad has innovated something the Arabs never knew before, they exclaimed.60 Just as the Arabs were ignorant of ditching as a means of defence, they had no administrative system.

By the time `Umar became Caliph, the traditional system of distributing funds to members of the public had become rather laborious and extremely inefficient. He learned about the Persian devan system, which he borrowed and implemented, Arabizing it into d iwan.61 By doing so, `Umar had laid the foundation for a huge process of learning from other civilizations, as part of which the Muslims translated Greek and Persian writings in philosophy, mathematics, astronomy and medicine to establish a great civilization upon whose foundations the modern Western civilization now stands.62

The al-khilafa ar-rashida was in many respects an extension of the era of prophethood. Together, they constituted a golden period that regrettably did not last long. Several factors may have contributed to the decline of this ideal model of governance, but the principal one according to Ghannouchi is the fact that this experiment was too revolutionary, too advanced and out of keeping with the political climate of the time, whether in Arabia or elsewhere. In other words, it was a big leap forward that the slow, gradual and steady progress of history could not embrace. Why? Ghannouchi suggests ’perhaps because God wanted the years of an-nubuwa (prophethood) and al-khilafa ar-rashida to stand as a model, a minaret, and a source of guidance and inspiration for successive Muslim generations.’63 In other words, even if this short-lived experiment is impossible to re-accomplish, it would always be looked up to as the ideal against which all other accomplishments are measured and assessed.

This is something some Muslims fail to comprehend, Ghannouchi asserts. They fail to see that al-khilafa ar-rashida was an exceptionally rare occurrence in the history of Islam. Or else, why had this model never been repeated in the past fourteen centuries ?64 Ghannouchi’s own answer to this question is that simply it cannot be repeated. Of course many Muslims would prefer to believe that it can, and should, be repeated. Some even insist that only one hundred per cent of the original model is acceptable, an d no less. But the fact is, and this is what Ghannouchi tries to show, is that one hundred per cent may never be attainable until the exact conditions that prevailed during that golden era are repeated; and this is impossible in the present and inconceiva ble in the foreseeable future. Perhaps the main reason why such a model cannot be repeated is the fact that it was a model of a city-state. Hence the predicament the Muslims found themselves in when their city-state grew rapidly into a vast Empire.

However, the downfall of the al-khilafa ar-rashida model, and the emergence of al-mulk al-`adud (snapping dynasty) model, cannot be explained merely by the hypothesis that the ideal model was perhaps too advanced or that it was only intended to be a minar et, or a lighthouse, or that it was meant to act as a source of guidance and inspiration for Muslim generations to come. The rapid changes in the nature of the Islamic state, which the Muslims could not at the time cope with at an equal rate, is the principal cause of decline. The disproportionate transformation of the Caliphate from a city state to an Empire state prevented the government of the day from coping with developments. In the meantime, the Sahaba were keen to preserve, as much as they could, t he model they inherited from the Prophet. Ghannouchi cites as an example the events of what is known in the history of Islam as al-fitna al-kubra (the great sedition), which led to the assassination of `Uthman (the third Caliph), and, henceforth, to a ser ies of hurub (inter-Muslim wars; pl. of harb) that were indeed the midwife that brought into being al-mulk al-`adud.65

Toward the end of `Uthman’s reign, disgruntled groups, what are known as ath-thuwwar (the rebels), arrived in Madina from Yemen, Egypt and Iraq during the pilgrimage season to protest against what they considered as injustices perpetrated by al-wulat (pl. of wali: a Caliph’s deputy or provincial governor). The rebels demanded the dismissal of al-wulat, but `Uthman refused to meet their demands. They then insisted that he should abdicate. He told them that this was not a matter for them to decide but for t he community of Sahaba, and this cost him his life.66

The failure here, Ghannouchi points out, was manifold. On the one hand, the capital of an enormous Empire could easily be occupied and taken hostage by a small group of rebels. There was no security whatsoever, and with many people away on Hajj (pilgrimage) the Caliph, who is the head of state, had no protection.67 Some Muslims offered to stand up to the rebels and defend `Uthman, but he refused to allow them to do so, fearing that the blood of many people would be shed because the rebels could not be out matched.68 On the other hand, he explains, the Caliph had no mechanism by which he could institutionally observe, control or bring to account his deputies some of whom were several weeks’ ride away.

Ghannouchi points out that the rebels may have committed a criminal act by murdering `Uthman, but their grievances were genuine. Thousands of people had embraced Islam upon the promise of justice and equality, but the corrupt relatives of the Caliph, who administered some of the very distant provinces, delivered neither.69 `Uthman governed for a total of 12 years before he was murdered. In the first six years, he is said to have done well in terms of controlling his deputies and of responding to complaint s against them from the public. In the second half of his reign, however, and bearing in mind the fact that he was over 80 years of age, his grip on his deputies loosened.70

What Ghannouchi finds interesting is that some of the junior members of the community of Sahaba had already begun realizing the dramatic changes in the nature of both the state and society, and increasingly felt the need to respond to them. One of them wa s Al-Hasan, the elder son of the fourth Caliph Ali and grandson of the Prophet, who tried to alert his father to the new reality.

The assassins of `Uthman came to Ali and offered to nominate him as the new head of state. Ali declined and told them that this was not a matter for them but for the people of Madina, specifically for al-Muhajirun and al-Ansar, or the community of Sahaba. Al-Hasan advised his father not to be content with the nomination of the Sahaba and to insist on nominations from all the other provinces such as Yemen, Iraq and Egypt, because the Umma was no longer just the Sahaba. Ali did not think much of his son’s advice, who in turn warned his father that he too would one day be murdered, and indeed he was.71

Ghannouchi observes too that the decline of the ideal model of al-khilafa ar-rashida was accelerated by the fact that the development of the system of government, in spite of the strides achieved during `Umar’s time, fell short of the full transformation of the state into an institution. For instance, while shura was truly implemented, no proper shura council was set up, or mechanism developed, to closely monitor and audit the performance of the Caliph and (or) his deputies. The inability of `Uthman, toward the end of his reign, to control his deputies was the first manifestation of this deficiency.72 The setback occurred when tribalism was reinstituted, and al-mulk al-`adud established, with the Umayyad take-over.

Ghannouchi suggests that al-mulk al-`adud was a blend of three main components: Islam, tribalism and a variety of administrative systems borrowed from other cultures.73 It was a form of governance positioned half way between the ideal form, represented in the al-khilafa ar-rashida and the tribal or imperial forms that prevailed elsewhere at the time. Tribalism, Ghannouchi stresses, was the evil component; its role was to create a schism, thus dividing the Umma and separating the state from society. This, he explains, was initially resisted by the `Ulama’ (scholars), who sought to maintain the unity and integrity of the Umma and who wanted the tradition of al-khilafa ar-rashida to continue. It was the `Ulama’, who were in fact the Sahaba, that were then in power. When al-khilafa ar-rashida was replaced by al-mulk al-`adud, many of the `Ulama’ joined, or supported, rebellious movements to reverse the status quo which they termed kusrawiyya (an adjective derived from Khosrau, the designate of the Persian king).

Ghannouchi cites as an example the historic fact that each of the four Imams, the founders of the four main schools of jurisprudence, supported the revolutionaries in one or another such movement.74 Abu Hanifah and Malik for instance supported the Ibn Al- Ash`ath revolution while Al-Shafi`i almost lost his life for supporting the revolutionaries of his time.75 But all these revolutions were futile and proved incapable of reinstating the ideal model of government. Little wonder that several hundred years later Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), and on this Ghannouchi agrees with him, ridiculed in his Muqaddima those preachers who incite the public to rise against the state. For states are founded on `asabiya (clan solidarity, or any such source of power)76 and can on ly be replaced by a stronger `asabiya and not by rhetoric.77

The bloodshed and destruction caused during the first century of Islamic history by the repeated attempts to reinstate al-khilafa ar-rashida, gave rise to a new discourse. The `Ulama’ started to warn against a greater evil than that of al-mulk al-`adud, t hat of fitna (sedition), which referred to inter-Muslim fighting. The `Ulama’ had agreed by then that although armed struggle to change a regime may not in principle be haram (prohibited), it becomes so if the outcome is bloodshed and destruction.

But there were, as there usually are in every age, extreme positions. Ghannouchi cites the example of Abu’l-Hasan Al-Ash`ari, founder of the Ash`ariyah school of thought, who declared it to be strictly haram to rise against the ruler. But such a position, Ghannouchi explains, might have been prompted by the fact that in spite of the huge sacrifices made, the rebels who rose against al-mulk al-`adud only reasserted the status quo and re-produced the autocratic models that prevailed at the time.78 Ghannouchi is, himself, critical of the opposition parties that rose against the state in the first century of Islam: the opposition groups which condemned the Umayyad coup and struggled to reinstate al-khilafa ar-rashida were driven by persecution and the legacy of autocracy to crystallize models or alternatives that were far from the shura-guided model they sanctified and much more autocratic than the regime they rose against. Even the Khawarij, who were most vehemently opposed to hereditary rule, did not differ from their opponents when they had the opportunity to set up their own state except in that they handed over power to another dynasty. As for the Shi`ia, they dropped the principle of shura altogether in favour of the concept of wasiyya (designation).79

Nevertheless, what may be described as mainstream scholars embarked on a comprehensive strategy, described by Ghannouchi as peaceful but not conciliatory, to reduce the powers of al-mulk al-`adud.80 State powers had to be restricted in order to curtail it s hegemony and prevent it from overwhelming society. The search for viable means to achieve this end led to the development of `ilm al-usul, the science of the foundations, the four foundations of Islamic jurisprudence: the Holy Qur’an, the Sunna, qiyas ( analogy) and ijma` (consensus). The objective, Ghannouchi explains, was to refute the rulers’ claim of a divine right to unconditional obedience. In this way rulers, it is argued, were stripped of the religious cloak they tended, with the assistance of what is known as `ulama’ al-sultan (ruler’s scholars), to drape their government in.81 `Ulama’ al-sultan is the term applied to scholars who provide rulers, in modern times as much as in olden times, with desperately needed legitimation by means of interpreting the text in a manner that suits their desires or meets their requirements.

It was Al-Shafi`i (d. 820) who, according to Ghannouchi, was the first to set the rules of `ilm al-tafsir (the science of expounding explanatory commentary on the Holy Qur’an). The purpose of `ilm al-usul and `ilm al-tafsir was to prevent manipulation by rulers or their entourage and refute their claims that God had given them the sole right to dispense with the Umma’s wealth as they deemed fit. Qualifying the right to public obedience was the first defensive measure employed against the state by the `Ulama’.

In the era of al-khilafa ar-rashida, a caliph knew his limits and sincerely believed that public obedience was conditional upon firstly, his own obedience to the Qur’an and the Sunna, and secondly his exercise of shura. After his election, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, told his fellow Muslims: ’I have been appointed as your leader whilst I am not the best man among you. I am following (the norms established by the Prophet) and not establishing new practices. So if I get it right help me, and if I go astray redirect me.’82 Until the end of this era, Caliphs acquired legitimacy from the Qur’an and the Sunna on the one hand and from the Umma on the other.

However, the advent of the Umayyad dynasty introduced a new source of legitimacy, namely `asabiyya. Gradually the balance shifted from the traditional sources of legitimacy to this new element, which nevertheless still needed a religious cover that was of ten provided by `Ulama’ al-sultan. Such expedience was manifested in the interpretation of relevant Qur’anic verses such as the one in Chapter 4: ’O you who believe, obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If you di ffer in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is best and most suitable for final determination.’83

The first task of the mufassirun (interpreters of the Holy Qur’an), was to establish stringent conditions for earning the obedience and respect of the public.84 Their second task, according to Ghannouchi, was to deny the rulers the power of legislation an d to assign its responsibility to the specialists, the jurists. This consequently liberated the judiciary from the authority of the state, and hence both legislators and judges, who in fact were the `ulama’ themselves, functioned freely and independently. 85 The third task was to develop a non-governmental financial institution to guarantee the independence not only of the legislature and the judiciary but also society as a whole, known as the awqaf (endowment fund). This is believed to be derived from, or based on, the Prophetic tradition: ’When the child of Adam dies his (or her) good deeds cease except for three: a current charity, a knowledge that others benefit from and a righteous child who invokes God’s Mercy upon his (or her) parent.’86

This implies that the scholars emanated from a strong religious position when they encouraged the Muslim public to donate generously to the establishment of public institutions such as schools, orphanages, traveller guest houses and other charitable projects. So, once they managed to define the rules for the proper understanding and correct interpretation of Islam, the `ulama’ turned to society, via the rendering of services in various educational and social fields, to further weaken the state and limit its powers. In doing so, they sought in every conceivable way to refute initial claims by the Umayyad Caliphs that the collection and dispensation of funds was, by way of a Divine will, their responsibility. Thus, Ghannouchi credits the early Muslim `ulama ’ for successfully preventing the transformation of the Islamic state at the hands of the Umayyads into a theocracy.87

Initially, the power of the `ulama’ was formidable. A Caliph or his deputy, instead of summoning a scholar to his palace, would usually apply for permission to meet the scholar in his own house or majlis (court) and would feel honoured to have been awarde d that opportunity.88 Ghannouchi finds strong evidence in the history of Islam to support the theory that Muslims had a viable civil society that derived its strength from the `ulama’ themselves. The authority of the `ulama’ was no less powerful than that of the government because they controlled the legislature, the judiciary, the schools and the mosques, and furthermore because they enjoyed financial independence. This power emanated from the people’s respect and reverence for, and therefore obedience t o, the `ulama’, a reality felt and dreaded by the rulers. Therefore, the negative impact of the transformation of the Islamic state from al-khilafa ar-rashida to al-mulk al-`adud was considerably mitigated.89 Another notable achievement by the `ulama’ was the development of a new science known as `ilm maqasid ash-Shari`a (the science of the purposes of the Shari`a), whose objective was to prevent rulers from exploiting what Ghannouchi calls zawahir an-nusus (the literal meaning of the Qur’anic text).90 A ruler might have been tempted to claim that so long as he did not order his subjects to violate the commandments of God, he would have to be obeyed in every other matter. Such an argument would have been intended to expand and consolidate the ruler’s powers, especially as pertains to the dispensation of wealth. The scholars, Ghannouchi explains, established through this branch of Islamic science that the Shari`a is not a mere text, but a set of rules intended for serving and preserving the interests of humans. He attributes the founding of this science to Imam Al-Haramayn Al-Juwayni (1028-85).91 It was then further developed and refined by a number of scholars such as Al-`izz ibn `Abdessalam, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Al-Qayyim.

The apex of this development was reached by Al-Andalusi Al-Shatibi whose studies and thoughts were complementary to those of his predecessor Al-Shafi`i. The contribution of Al-Shatibi is of significance to Ghannouchi’s theory of the faraghat. Drawing on t he following Qur’anic verses: ’We sent you not but as a mercy for all creatures’;92 ’Allah does not wish to place you in difficulty, but to purify you, and to complete His favour to you’;93 and, ’In the Law of Equality there is (saving of) life to you’,94 Al-Shatibi concludes: ’From our exploration of the Shari`a, we have concluded that it was only set up to serve the interests of man. This is a conclusion which no one can dispute . . . Canon laws were made for only one purpose and that is to serve the interests of humans in this life and in the Hereafter.’95

Ghannouchi considers Al-Muwafaqat by Al-Shatibi to be one of the foremost and greatest treatises in this field. He frequently quotes him citing his theory on `ilm maqasid ash-Shari`a, discussed earlier in the dissertation. Briefly, Al-Shatibi categorized the types of exigencies which Messengers were sent to fulfill in the lives of humans into three classes: masalih daruriya (essential requirements) without which life would be ruined; masalih hajiyya (requirements pertaining to general needs) without which man can survive but may be in distress and hardship; and masalih tahsiniyya (ameliorative requirements) whose absence would not seriously undermine the quality of life.96

However, the strategy of the `ulama’, though mostly successful, did not proceed smoothly or unhindered. On the one hand, the gradual sophistication of the Caliphate institution and its transformation from a simple traditional Arab-style clan rule to a pow erful bureaucracy posed a real challenge to the `ulama’. The climax of the tension between the two institutions was reached during the era of the `Abbasid Caliph Al-Mansur, who built a powerful state apparatus based on the army, most of whose members were of Khurasani descent, and on a bureaucracy, led by the Barmakid family, who continued the Sassanian traditions of financial administration.97 The bureaucrats, who had become so influential, entered into conflict with the `ulama’. Their means of winning t he competition was, according to Ghannouchi, the establishment of an alternative political theory. The `ulama’ saw the ruler as a servant whose powers are determined, and therefore restricted, by the Shari`a. Thus, a ruler’s legitimacy emanates from adher ence to the teachings of Islam and from the acceptance of the public. The bureaucrats, however, endeavoured to bestow upon the ruler characteristics similar to those of Khosrau (the Persian) or Caesar (the Roman). Because they derived their influence from the ruler’s power, they wanted him to become an absolute ruler and wanted the `ulama’ to be under his jurisdiction and not independent of him.98 Ghannouchi observes that the policy of persecuting the `ulama’ by the state, that is in spite of non-involvem ent in any rebellion, began to be pursued on a massive scale during the `Abbasid Caliphate.99 The rulers sought to counter the influence of the independent `ulama’ by either penetrating their front by rendering support to `ulama’ subservient to them or by establishing their own religious entourage which consisted of scholars that were prepared to issue fatawa (pl. of fatwa) to consolidate the power of the ruler by appealing to the public for unconditional obedience.

Ghannouchi traces this development to the early years of the Umayyads, when attempts were made to corrupt the `aqida (Islamic faith) by introducing `aqidat al-jabr (the ideology of fatalism). He considers Al-Jabriyyah, the school of thought that teaches t he inescapability of fate, to be a movement aimed at justifying absolutism on religious grounds.100 It was argued by its founders that if everything is fated, then the ruler, whether ’good’ or ’bad’, is God’s will. It would follow then that whoever stands up to the ruler commits a sin in opposing the Will of God.101

The independent `ulama’ responded by refuting `aqidat al-jabr and reinforcing `aqidat al-ikhtiyar (the ideology of free choice), which, according to Ghannouchi, is the belief that man has a choice and is therefore responsible.102 The debate over this issue continued until Abul-Hasan Al-Ash`ari (873-941) came up, in the fifth century of Hijra, with what seemed at the time a middle-course solution.

His theory, known as al-kasb (from the root kasaba, i.e. to earn), tackled the question of sababiyya (causality). Under the pretext of defending God’s Will, he denied the link between cause and effect, and thus endorsed `aqidat al-jabr. He argued that burning is not necessarily caused by fire, nor does fire necessarily burn. Similarly, thirst may be extinguished without water, and water does not necessarily extinguish thirst.103

Ghannouchi blames this ideology, which he supposes must have been a source of comfort for despotic rulers, for the decline of the Muslim civilization.104 He also blames Sufism, which he suspects the rulers also encouraged, for effectively denying that man had a will or freedom of choice. He maintains that by subjugating the murid (novice of a Sufi order) to his shaykh (order leader), Sufism stripped its followers of their will-power. Both `aqidat al-jabr and Sufism, in his judgement, had the influence of narcotics, and at times the entire Umma seemed intoxicated.105

The relevance of the above to today’s debate within Islamic circles about democracy is that most of those who hoist the banner of ideological warfare against democracy in contemporary times do so on the basis of similar intoxicating beliefs. Al-khilafa ar -rashida, it is claimed, is the only acceptable system of governance, and until it is reinstated, by way of some unspecified – and perhaps unknown – magical formula, every other activity that is assumed to be the responsibility of the Caliph is haram beca use it obstructs the coming of the Caliph. In this sense, Hizb al-Tahrir, which openly denounces democracy and condemns Muslims who call for an Islamic democracy, is a modern manifestation of `aqidat al-jabr as much as the so-called jihadiyyun are a moder n manifestation of al-khawarij. What is common to these groups, Ghannouchi affirms, is the inability to distinguish between ad-dini and as-siyasi, both in theory and practice, and both in the Sunna of the Prophet and in the history of the Muslims. But Ghannouchi warns that this ad-dini/as-siyasi dichotomy is not to be understood to mean a separation as in the Western experience between religion and state, for Islam is ’a comprehensive way of life and God is the Lord both in the mosque and in the market, in the school and in the factory.’106 What it means, he stresses, is a distinction between the areas that have been filled by Divine commandments and the areas that were intentionally left vacant so as to be filled with what is needed to cope with changes through ijtihad but within the framework of `aqida.107

Still, the problem is not as simple as it may seem. The current tension between states and various Islamic movements, whether identified as mainstream or extreme, is the product of a radical change in the traditional relationship, which remained the norm for several centuries, between the state and the `ulama’. Throughout these centuries, Ghannouchi explains, the Umma was ruled in accordance with a historic settlement between the scholars and the rulers; a division of labour and a power-sharing arrangemen t whereby the rulers took charge of government affairs while the scholars pacified society, whose traditional institutions remained free from state intervention. Such an arrangement did not completely prevent armed mutinies from erupting now and then, her e and there. For this reason, the scholars maintained a pragmatic attitude, and when the rebels failed, and this was usually the case, the endeavour would be labelled as fitna (sedition), but if at all successful in seizing power and forming the new government, the rebels were ’deservedly’ given allegiance and granted legitimacy. What is noteworthy, Ghannouchi stresses, is that the coup in every case would be directed against the ruling ‚lite, with little, if any, impact on society itself.108

The situation remained as such until what Ghannouchi calls the Civilisational cycle was completed. The cycle, as he sees it, started with the mission of tawhid (monotheism) that emerged out of Arabia more than 14 centuries ago and ended when division and backwardness overwhelmed the Umma under the leadership of the Ottoman dynasty in Istanbul less than a century ago. In fact, and this is contrary to what some Muslims prefer to believe, it was long before a death certificate was issued for the Ottoman Caliphate that the power-sharing arrangement between scholars and rulers collapsed for good.  

Since its creation in the aftermath of the First Wo