Imran Khan, Ibn Khaldun and the Political Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ

On January 1 this year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan brought together some well-known scholars in a Q and A session to discuss the Prophet’s rule of Madina from 622 to 632 CE. The scholars discussed the changes that would be required to bring about an Islamic society like the one in Madina, emphasising education and the need to obey Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. It remains to be seen if Imran Khan will take on board this advice.

For the purpose of this article, the focus will be on what was said by one of these scholars, who emphasised the teachings of Ibn Khaldun.

Dr. Recep Senturk, the rector of Turkey’s Ibn Haldun University, quoted Ibn Khaldun as saying, “[The] State (dawlah) is power (sultān), and the Sunnah survives with that power.”

Dr. Senturk emphasised that the Prophet’s ﷺ Sunnah was not only at the individual level, but also at the communal, state and global level. He also quoted Ibn Khaldun as saying: “Al-Sunnatu siyāsatun”, which he explained means “the Sunnah is Governance” or “the Sunnah is about political administration – political system”. Dr. Senturk elaborated that the Prophet ﷺ was not a monk in a monastery, but he lived among the people and governed the state.

He criticised the Western approach to education as only an academic exercise which ignores the spiritual dimension. And this needs to be borne in mind when studying the sīrah (the life of the Prophet ﷺ), which should be viewed as more than just history.

Dr. Senturk stressed that the Prophet ﷺ offered a “global future vision”, and that, Inshā’ Allah, “this vision will be realised”. He commented that China, America, the Europeans and Russia all have a future vision, but the Muslim youth do not have an Islamic future vision which is needed in order to mobilise them to bring about change.

And he also insisted that the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ vision was not just for Muslims, as in Madina and during the rule of the Caliphs there were Christian, Jewish and polytheist citizens. The Prophet’s ﷺ future vision was for a world order for all people, including Non-Muslims, and this is something which Muslims need to reclaim.

In his Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun defines Prophetic politics in detail. The following is excerpted from chapter 3, section 25:

“[It] is necessary to have reference to ordained political canons (qawānīn siyāsīyah), which are accepted by the populace and to whose laws it submits. The Persians and other nations had such ordinances. The state (dawlah) that does not base politics on such (ordinances), cannot fully succeed in establishing the supremacy of its rule. ‘This was Allah’s pattern with those who passed away before’ [33:38].

If these laws are ordained by the intelligent and leading personalities and (best) minds of the state, the result will be politics on an intellectual (rational) basis. If they are ordained by Allah through a lawgiver who establishes them as shar‘ī laws, the result will be siyāsah dīnīyah (Islamic politics) which will be useful for life in both this and the next world.

This is because the purpose of human beings is not only their worldly welfare. This entire world is trifling and futile. It ends in death and annihilation. Allah says: ‘Did you think that We created you without purpose?’ [23:115] The purpose (of human beings) is their dīn, which leads them to happiness in the next world, ‘the Path of Allah to Whom everything in the heavens and everything on the earth belongs’ [42:53]. Therefore, shar‘ī laws have as their purpose to cause (human beings) to follow such a course in all their ‘ibādah and mu‘āmalah (dealings with others). This (situation) also applies to Authority, which is natural in human social organization. (The Shariah) guides it along the dīnī path, so that everything will be under the supervision of the Shariah. Anything (done by Authority) that is dictated by force, superiority, or the free play of the power of wrathfulness, is tyranny and injustice and considered reprehensible by (the Shariah), as it is also considered reprehensible by the requirements of political wisdom. Likewise, anything that is dictated (merely) by considerations of policy or political decisions  is also reprehensible, because it is vision lacking the divine light. ‘Those Allah gives no light to, they have no light’ [24:40]. The Lawgiver knows better than the populace itself what is good for them so far as the affairs of the next world, which are concealed from the populace itself, are concerned. At the Resurrection, the actions of human beings, whether they had to do with authority or anything else, will all come back to them. He [ﷺ] said: ‘It is your own actions that are brought back to you.’

Political laws consider only worldly interests. ‘They know an outward aspect of the life of this world’ [30:7]. (On the other hand,) the intention the Lawgiver has concerning mankind is their welfare in the next world. Therefore, it is necessary, as required by the Shariah, to cause the populace to act in accordance with it in all their affairs touching both this world and the next world. The authority to do so was possessed by the Ahl al-Sharī‘ah, the Prophets. (Later on, it was possessed) by those who took their place, the Caliphs.

This makes it clear what the Caliphate means. (To exercise) natural authority means to cause the masses to act as required by purpose and desire. (To exercise) political (authority) means to cause the masses to act as required by intellectual (rational) insight into the means of furthering their worldly interests and avoiding anything that is harmful (in that respect). (And to exercise) the Caliphate means to cause the masses to act as required by shar‘ī insight into their interests in the next world as well as in this world. (The worldly interests) have bearing upon (the interests in the next world), since according to the Lawgiver, all worldly conditions are to be considered in their relation to their value for the next world. Thus, (the Caliphate) in reality substitutes for the person [ﷺ] who brought the Shariah, in as much as it serves, like him, to protect the dīn and to exercise political leadership of the world.”

[Cf. Franz Rosenthal, Ibn Khaldun: The Muqaddimah – An Introduction to History, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1958, Vol. 1, pp. 386-388; pp. 190 to 191 of Arabic text]

NB For more on the Prophet’s ﷺ political Sunnah, please click here

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