Islam and Form of Governance

I’ve asserted in my book that all forms of governance break down into three or four types.  It is time to talk about those in more detail, as it has a direct relationship to the topic at hand.

The State Religion Societies

The first blog posts on this site discussed the differences between individualistic and collectivist societies.  The state religion societies were all collectivist, and include the civilizations from the ancient world such as Egypt, Persia, Assyria, Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Mayans, and Aztecs.  These societies all had similar governance structures and similar gods.  Initially their rulers worshipped the gods, but over time the rulers themselves often came to consider themselves gods.  The notion of political power and religious power were seen to be very closely related.  This relationship was emphasized by the positioning the palace and temple in close proximity, and placing them on land with the greatest height above the town or city.  As the location of a temple was selected by its god, the location of the temple never changed.  Instead a new temple would be built upon the ruins of the previous one.

Some of the relevant underlying tenets of these societies included:

  • The State is the lowest level of existence which matters.  All existed to support the State in its goals and objectives.  The happiness of society was the goal of government and it was to be accomplished through the law.

    • Some individuals exceled in their abilities to lead and govern, and these should create and administer the laws for the rest of society.

    • Rule could be by one, a few, or many.  However, the power to rule was to be concentrated and absolute.

  • Rights came from the State through the laws it enacted.

  • As it is the State which mattered, it was only the whole society which also mattered.  There was a sense of collective morality; the group was punished for the transgressions of an individual.  Individuals only mattered to the extent that they supported the collective.

    • There was no sense of individual rights as we understand them today.  Rights were based upon the group that you belonged to, as defined by the State.  Individuals were not recognized as being equal, but rather some were more equal than others.

  • As individuals only mattered in accordance with their ability to support the State, some were naturally better than others.  Those who were not as endowed were meant to be ruled by those who were so gifted – their betters.  This was both ‘expedient and right’ in the words of Plato and Aristotle, and both persuasion and compulsion were acceptable means to acquire this end.

  • Citizenship was not for everyone, only those who were deemed to be better by the State.

  • As we were not all equal, the acquisition of knowledge was only for those who had the ability, and leisure, to use it.  There was no right to education, or rather you had the right to the education that would suit your station in life, as defined by the State.

These society’s governance structures looked as follows.

America’s Governance

The founding of this country was based upon the promise proclaimed within the Declaration of Independence, and fulfilled by the ratification of our Constitution.  It was an extension of the principles upon which the Western Europe governments were founded, particularly those of the states of Northern Italy, the Netherlands, and England.  It differs significantly in a number of ways from the State Religion societies previously mentioned.  These differences constitute what I’ve termed ‘individualism’ in earlier posts.  However, this is not the same notion of individualism that we largely see on display today, as the current notion is generally based upon the individual alone.  We are called to individualism both as an individual and as a people.  Our Founders understood this and attempted to create a form of governance that would recognize both levels, while putting checks in place to keep the Government from corrupting Religion, a reason that many of their families had immigrated to the Colonies to begin with and a direct rebuttal of the thoughts of those such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza.

Some of the relevant underlying tenets of this governance form include:

  • The individual is the level of existence which matters.  Creation was made for man’s use in fulfilling his purpose, and we are to exercise stewardship in its use.

    • We were all created with the same innate nature, and share the same kinship.  Therefore, we all share in an equality of our nature.

    • Rule can be by the one, a few, or many.  However, the power to rule is to be subservient to our Creator’s Law and Governance.  Power under this approach is more likely to be limited and dispersed, and to come from the people who are to be ruled.

  • We have divine rights which come from our Creator, through divine and natural law.  Other rights can come from the people, but these should be aligned with our divine rights. 

    • Human law exists only to promote the common good, and at the very least should not contradict divine or natural law.

  • Individuals are called to be a ‘people’.  For a people to exist there must be both a mutual recognition of rights and a mutual cooperation for the common good.  The mutual recognition of rights was grounded in the previous point.  Those rights which came from our Creator were inalienable, we could not cede those as we alone were, and are, responsible for their use.  Looking out for the common good meant that individuals, and not the State, were called to look after others within this society – in a word, to act with charity.

  • Citizenship belongs to all those who choose to be a part of the people.

  • Virtue, morality, religion, and education are cornerstones of individualism.

    • Virtue is required in order for individuals to make sound choices.  Clement stated that while we are not born with virtues, we are made to acquire them.

    • Applying effort and reason to acquire knowledge—education—is needed to acquire virtue.

    • Religion provides the morale basis to encourage virtue’s development.

  • The State’s primary purpose is the execution of the virtue of justice when a member of society fails to recognize the rights of another.  For justice to exist the society itself must be virtuous, including those who have a role in the State, and religion is a necessity in providing the foundation for morality and virtue.


There are at least two further distinctions between collectivism and individualism which must be considered.  The first concerns emotion versus reason.  This is captured by Milton Friedman who wrote, ‘The argument for collectivism is simple if false; it is an immediate emotional argument.  The argument for individualism is subtle and sophisticated; it is an indirect rational argument.  And the emotional faculties are more highly developed in most men than the rational, paradoxically or especially even in those who regard themselves as intellectuals.’ 


The second concerns the means and the ends.  Also from Friedman, ‘Unfortunately, the relation between the ends and the means remains widely misunderstood.  Many of those who profess the most individualistic objectives support collectivist means without recognizing the contradiction.  It is tempting to believe that social evils arise from the activities of evil men and that if only good men (like ourselves, naturally) wielded power, all would be well.  That view requires only emotion and self-praise—easy to come by and satisfying as well.  To understand why it is that ‘good’ men in positions of power will produce evil, while the ordinary man without power but able to engage in voluntary cooperation with his neighbors will produce good, requires analysis and thought, subordinating the emotions to the rational faculty.’ 


To summarize, within collectivist societies only the ends matter – generally how one gets there does not matter, all that matters is the end is reached.  This is done with a great deal of emotionalism, as that is easy and requires little thought.  Within individualistic societies, both the ends, and the means used to obtain them, matter.  Great thought and care are needed in balancing the means and the ends, and the decisions around the means and ends are largely left to individuals.  This would be complete anarchy if the society did not possess both virtue and morality. 


Our society’s governance structure can be shown as follows:


Islam’s Governance

We’ll apply the same analysis to Islam.  From Islam’s tenets, we can derive the following regarding its form of governance.

  • Man’s natural state is that of a slave.  Man is the slave of his Creator, and his sole purpose is the worship of his Creator.  Obedience is the cornerstone of Islam.

  • Divine (revealed) and human law are one and the same.  Obedience to the law is the objective of governance and it is enabled through Shri’a.  As revealed and human law are one, there is no separation between the church and state as we understand it.

  • The Umma (brotherhood) is the lowest level that matters.  Obligations exists only for those who belong to the Umma.  They can be extended to others as a form of piety, but it is not required.

  • Rights and obligations are defined through the revealed law within the Qur’an and Hadith, as interpreted by the clergy and administered by the state.  These are group rights and at a very high level include the following distinctions: 

    • Muslim men possess more rights than Muslim women, but both possess relatively more rights than any other group and both belong to the Umma.

    • The rights of the Peoples of the Book (Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians) are fewer and less in scope (see examples below) than those of Muslims.

    • Non-believers have very few rights, if any.

  • There are limitations within society based upon your belief.  Jews and Christians cannot hold political office, own certain types of businesses, or enter certain professions within Islamic societies.

  • There are limitations within society based upon ones gender.  Women are often not allowed to drive, vote, receive an education, or be in public without a male escort who is a family member.

  • Once a Muslim purchases property, it becomes part of dar al-Islam and can only be sold to another Muslim. 

  • Muslim charities can only extend benefits to Muslims.

  • The common good becomes what is good for Islam, as expounded by the example set by Muhammad.  Expediency in spreading Islam trumps morality.  In other words, the ends justify the means.

These societies have the following governance structure.

We can see that an Islamic society is just another form of collectivism as it has been defined within these discussions.  Its most significant difference from the State Religion societies is that human law and divine law are seen as one and the same – and divine law may only be changed by one’s Creator. 

Collectivist and individualistic societies are mutually exclusive.  Only one form or the other can exist within a society, therefore any Islamic form of governance is contradictory to our founding principles.  Shri’a attempts not so much to diminish non-Muslims rights (at least initially), but rather to elevate Muslims rights above all others within a society.  There is no self-governance within Islam; everything down to the smallest details of life has already been dictated for you.  You are only called to obedience.  This structure too is both contradictory and incompatible with the founding principles of our society.

Posted in: Islam


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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.