According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a nation-state is “a territorially bounded sovereign polity—i.e., a state—that is ruled in the name of a community of citizens who identify themselves as a nation”. It “fuses two principles: the principle of state sovereignty, first articulated in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which recognizes the right of states to govern their territories without external interference; and the principle of national sovereignty, which recognizes the right of national communities to govern themselves. National sovereignty in turn is based on the moral-philosophical principle of popular sovereignty, according to which states belong to their peoples”.
As we shall see, the notion of a nation-state contradicts several of the essential characteristics of the Islamic Caliphate.
Sovereignty resides in the Shari‘ah
The most important principle of the Islamic ruling system is that sovereignty belongs to the Shari‘ah. Sovereignty (‘supreme power’ or ‘ultimate legal power’) does not reside with humans. Rather, all of the Caliphate’s citizens must live in accordance with the commands and prohibitions of Allah.
In Surah al-Nisa, Allah states:
فَلَا وَرَبِّكَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ حَتَّىٰ يُحَكِّمُوكَ فِيمَا شَجَرَ بَيْنَهُمْ
“But no, by your Lord, they do not believe until they make you judge [O Muhammad] concerning that over which they dispute among themselves…” [4:65]
And, also in Surah al-Nisa:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَطِيعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ فَإِن تَنَـٰزَعْتُمْ فِى شَىْءٍۢ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْـَٔاخِر
“O you who believe! Obey Allah, Obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day…” [4:59]
Referring to Allah and His Messenger ﷺ means referring to the rules of the Shari‘ah. The one in authority, the Caliph, is given a pledge of allegiance (bay‘ah) on the condition that he rules by the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
In his Sīra, Ibn Hisham relates what Abu Bakr (r) said when he was given the bay‘ah as Caliph:
“O People! I have been put in charge over you, but I am not the best of you. If I act well, then help me, and if I act badly, put me right. Truthfulness is a trust and lying is treachery. The weak among you is strong in my sight until I restore this right to him, Allah willing. The strong among you is weak in my sight until I take the right from him, Allah willing. People do not abandon jihād in the way of Allah but that Allah afflicts them with humiliation. Shamelessness does not spread in a people but that Allah envelops them in affliction. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I disobey Allah and His Messenger, you owe me no obedience.”
[translated by Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley in Democratic Tyranny and the Islamic Paradigm, Diwan Press, Bradford, 2015 CE/1436 AH, pp. 85-86]
In the Islamic Caliphate, anything that is not in accordance with Islam is rejected. The Prophet ﷺ said [on the authority of ‘Aisha (r)]:
مَنْ عَمِلَ عَمَلاً لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِ أَمْرُنَا فَهُوَ رَدٌّ
“Whoever does an action not based on our commands, it will be rejected.” [Sahih Muslim #1718]
In nation-states, however, sovereignty belongs to the nation or the state. Even in countries which claim to be Islamic, such as Pakistan, the Shari‘ah is considered merely a source of legislation. In reality, the paradigm is not Islamic.
As mentioned by the academic Wael Hallaq, in Muslim lands “Islamic contract law, commercial dealings, penal law, and much else in terms of applied procedural and substantive law have extensively been replaced by Western laws” [Wael Hallaq, The Impossible State, Columbia University Press, New York, 2014, p. 13].
In the case of Pakistan, ribā (interest) is permitted, interest-based transactions are carried out by the government and built upon the foundations of the capitalistic economic system. It is common knowledge that its rulers abide by the dictates of America, not Allah.
Another related issue is that Muslim states adhere to international law, that outlaws jihād, and are members of the UN as mentioned by Ustadha Aisha Bewley:
“The UN Charter states (Art. 21.3) ‘The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government,’ i.e. it does not accept divine authority. Then there is the whole problem of the divergence of the Articles of the UN from Islamic principles…Article 5 would outlaw hudud punishments; Articles 7, 8 and 10 would prevent dhimmi status of non-Muslims, Article 16 would affect Muslim laws of marriage and Article 18 allows apostasy.”
[Democratic Tyranny and the Islamic Paradigm, pp. 99-100]
Modern states are a product of European history and the Enlightenment
The academic John Hutchinson argues that “most nation states and the current international system came into being recently through geopolitical changes arising from nationalist military revolutions that culminated in waves of sudden imperial dissolution”. But he admits that “interstate warfare in the medieval and early modern period undoubtedly contributed to nation-state formation” [John Hutchinson, Nationalism and War, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017, pp. 2, 4]
Hallaq insists that “[t]he modern state represents a process of becoming, the unfolding of a novel and particular political and politicocultural arrangement that is distinctly European in origin” [The Impossible State, p. 23]. He also states that the Enlightenment “provided the requisite ideological justification for this new form of political and politicocultural system” [ibid., p. 24].
During the period in which the Enlightenment occurred, there was a clear shift away from viewing the world as being centred around the Divine, to one that emphasised man and how could progress in society, both materially and politically. The Enlightenment introduced rationalism and secularism to the Western intellectual tradition.
All Muslim countries today are secular, not Islamic. In the Caliphate, the Islamic Shari‘ah is enforced in every aspect of life while secularism limits the Divine strictly to personal ritual worships. But, as mentioned by Hallaq, it is much more than that. He states in an interview:
“Secularism is not just segregating religious life into the private sphere. It is rather the determination of the state of what religion is and is not, where and how it can be exercised. In terms of political theology, secularism is the murder of God by the State. The state can delimit, limit, exclude or curtail any religious practice, and thus has the power to determine the quality and quantity of the religious sphere as it sees fit. This is because the state is the ultimate sovereign, with its own reason for existence — what we call reason of state or raison d’etat, a relatively new concept in the long stretch of human history.”
As an example of the above, Turkey adheres to an extreme form of secularism termed laïcité and implements many rules contradicting Islam, such as permitting the widespread sale of alcohol. Arabia*, despite its Islamic facade, allows scantily clad men and women to perform at pop concerts that were once banned but are now actively promoted by the government. Western cultural celebrations once anathema to conservative Musims in the region, such as Halloween, are now also encouraged by the state. Arabia no longer squanders the oil wealth of the Arabian Peninsula, that rightfully belongs to the Ummah, just on the private debauchery of the Royals and paying outside actors for its survival. It is now also investing heavily in steering the youth away from Islam and traditional culture and attracting non-Muslims (especially from the West) to the region by catering for their sensitivities and proclivities.
Nation-States are territorially bounded
By definition, nation-states have fixed borders and are territorially bound. International law does not usually allow states to invade other countries (although this was ignored by the US and UK during the Iraq War). The Caliphate, however, has no fixed borders, but frontiers which are constantly expanding. This is because jihād is the method prescribed by Allah to convey the message of Islam.
وَقَٰتِلُوهُمۡ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتۡنَةٞ وَيَكُونَ ٱلدِّينُ كُلُّهُۥ لِلَّهِ
“And fight against them until there is no more fitna and the dīn is wholly Allah’s…” [8:39]
He also says:
وَقَـٰتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌۭ وَيَكُونَ ٱلدِّينُ لِلَّهِ ۖ فَإِنِ ٱنتَهَوْا۟ فَلَا عُدْوَٰنَ إِلَّا عَلَى ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَۚ
“Fight them until there is no more fitna and and the dīn belongs to Allah alone. If they cease, there should be no enmity towards any but wrongdoers” [2:193]
In his tafsīr of the above verse, Imam al-Qurtubi states:
“The Prophet said:
أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أُقَاتِلَ النَّاسَ حَتَّى يَشْهَدُوا أَنْ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ
‘I was commanded to fight people until they say: There is no god but Allah.’ [Bukhari and Muslim] The āyat and ḥadīth both indicate that the reason for fighting is disbelief because Allah says, ‘until there is no more fitna,’ meaning disbelief in this case. So the goal is to abolish disbelief and that is clear.”
Explaining the second part of the verse (“If they cease…”), Imam al-Qurtubi says this means: “If they stop and become Muslim or submit by paying jizya in the case of the people of the Book. Otherwise they should be fought and they are wrongdoers and only transgress against themselves.” [Ustadha Aisha Bewley’s translation, vol. 2, p. 220]
This duty of da‘wah to mankind was performed by the Prophet ﷺ when he was the ruler, by sending delegations with letters to the leaders of neighbouring countries and giving them ultimatums to accept Islam. Many of these letters have been preserved. Below is the letter received by the rulers of Oman which is displayed in the National Museum of Oman:
The letter reads:
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
From Muhammad, Messenger of Allah, to Jaifar and ‘Abd, sons of al-Julanda, and may peace be upon those who follow Allah’s guidance.
To proceed, I invite you both to Islam; accept Islam and you will attain salvation, for I am Allah’s Messenger to all mankind so that I may warn those who are alive and establish (Allah’s) word over the unbelievers. If you declare your Islam I will appoint you both as governors [of your lands], but if you refuse then (know that) your dominion is only fleeting, and my horsemen will dismount in your courtyard, and my Prophethood will prevail over your dominion.
*“Saudi Arabia” is a construct of the British Foreign Office and is not recognised by the writer of this blog