Islamic Politics

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Modern Islamic Politics in the Middle East

Modern Islamic Politics in the Middle East


Islamic political thought has found numerous expressions from its very beginnings through modern times. As such, presenting an overview of its development and essence is not an easy task as one must include not only the contributions of key Islamic political philosophers (e.g., al-Farabi, Ibn-Khaldoun, and Avicenna), but also the religio-political credos of main Islamic schools of thought (i.e., the Sunni, the Shi'a, and the Kharijites), as well as an overview of main Islamic political concepts (i.e., the question of succession and leadership, or the khalifah versus the imamah precepts). Although some have argued that Islamic political thought has been neglected by all but a few specialists, several scholars have undertaken the arduous task of exploring, discussing, and summarizing the milieu, meaning, and significance of Islamic political thinkers, ideas, and developments (Ayoob, 2007; Black, 2001).

Through philosophers, concepts, and religious movements, Islamic political thought has impacted religious, secular, and academic communities. Thus, given its intellectual and practical significance, the need to more fully comprehends the dynamics and development of Islamic political thought warrants and justifies the inclusion of this chapter in this handbook. First, this chapter defines the concept of Islamic political thought in terms of its etymology. Second, it surveys the classical period of Islamic political thought, including its origins, the religious-political schism within Islam, and the contributions of key classical Islamic political philosophers. Third, the chapter summarizes modern expressions of Islamic political thought and current academic research on the topic. The conclusion recaps the main points in the historical and academic development of Islamic political thought.


Pre-modern Islamic Political Thought

It would be impossible to include all thinkers, concepts, and movements that are part of this period of Islamic political thought. Such an endeavor should begin with Muhammad's life and his political contributions to the first Islamic state, the religious and political schism within Islam, a discussion of the Sunni tradition (sunna), and the Shi'ite theories of leadership (imamah; 622-1000), an overview of the theory of the caliphate in din wa dawal (religion and the state; 1000-1220); and an explanation of Shari'a ideology and the spread of Islam (1220-1500). In addition, a summary of the works of major Islamic political philosophers and thinkers during this period should be included. All this is summarized briefly next beginning with Muhammad's life as both a religious and political leader.

Muhammad as a Political and Religious Leader

Muhammad's position in the early Muslim community was of God's appointed religious, political, and military leader, which was a central factor in keeping the Muslim community united both religiously and politically. Thus, Muhammad's death in 632 CE suddenly posed several questions to his followers: Who should succeed Muhammad? What is the Islamic way of choosing his successor? What type of government should the Muslim community have? The answers to these questions were further complicated as Muhammad died without giving clear instructions as to how to choose a successor or the type of government that the community needed ...
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