Ever since the beginning of human existence, humans have lived as individuals, solely concerned about their own individual self interests. However, as time passed by, and a noticeable evolution in human nature and thought could be seen, we could see that man discovered that it was much easier and safer to live in communities rather than on his own. And that idea generated a transformation in human thought, from focusing on his self interest to focusing on the general public interest.
This theory of ignoring individual self interests in order to subject oneself to the general will, in search of security and well-being, was later seen and emphasized in the work of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a European philosopher that lived in the 1800’s, whose main argument revolved around the idea that people are better off subjecting to the general will even if they have particular interests (Ebenstein Pg. 459-461).
However, when communities became larger and people’s relationships with one another become more intense and sophisticated, it was extremely necessary for them to find a way to organize both their lives and thoughts. At this point in history, a primitive concept of government emerged as a suitable solution; a person who is respected and elected by all members in the community, and who would also be responsible to judge and settle disputes that occurred between people under his jurisdiction.
As the population mentioned above started to reproduce and grow in number, it became impossible for one single person to function efficiently as both the so-called government and the leader of this large and expanding community. Consequently, the leader started to appoint other compatible individuals who will eventually help him in fulfilling his complicated task, and that marked the origin of what we call today a governmental bureaucracy. Now that there is more than one person in power, a new basis for authority was required, which was also accompanied by new emerging and clashing self interests by the people.
Force was found to be the only tool by which governments could control these growing populations with a wide range of conflicting ideas and views. And as we observed throughout history, governments being much stronger than their subjects found nothing to prevent them from using force towards all opposition groups and acting according to their own well being. As a result of this, the concept of a government lost its real essence and meaning. Did the introduction of the Islamic religion help reform and revive the concept of the government?
Or is the government an entity that has to be isolated from religion in order to function properly? These are extremely vital questions that are frequently debated by Islamic philosophers and theorists till the present day. It was important to make such an introduction in order to be able to understand the origin of the government and also to understand that it has emerged in order to protect people’s interests and the interest of the common good.
As the concept of government was at its worst and started to loose its real essence, the Islamic religion was introduced by the Muslim Prophet Mohamed (PBUH) which emerged to reestablish the grounds on which governments based their legitimacy as well as to reform the social structure from its deficiencies caused by the corruption of rulers. It is a well-known fact that there was no state structure in pre-Islamic Arabia. The tribal chiefs in Mecca led by the tribe of Quraysh made all the important decisions.
(Engineer) At that time in the Arabian Peninsula, prior to the introduction of Islam, there was a time of social tension, injustice, and corrupt tribal leaders. Slavery was also common, and most importantly there weren’t any clear and common moral standards that people believed would be in the benefit of the common good. The Islamic religion was introduced in order to restore these lost values and social structures, which would later lead to a just and organized government working in the benefit of the common good instead of the different self interests we discussed earlier.
This was emphasized in the book written by Watt called “Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman”, where he says: “The Arab world was given a framework of ideas within which the resolution of its social tensions became possible. ” Also he says “The conceptual structure found in the Qur’an was merely a framework. The framework had to support a building of concrete policies and concrete institutions. ” (Montgomery Pg. 229)
These quotes indicate that the Islamic religion was introduced in order to re-organize the thoughts, beliefs, and moralities of people, which would be accomplished by the skillful, wise, and seer prophet. As time evolved and the Islamic religion started to gain more and more followers and strength, the leadership qualities of the Prophet started to emerge, which in my point of view was an attempt to show the people what the qualities of a ruler aught to be and how the structure of the government is both formed and ruled while also being in compatibility with the Islamic religion and Shari’a.
In support of this argument, Asghar Ali in one of his articles shows us how the Islamic government with the help of the prophet managed to establish institutions as follows: “Thus both the institution of army as well as that of police (shurta) came into existence only in the post-Islamic period when a primitive state structure came into existence. The state structure which, came into existence after the death of the Holy Prophet could be described as proto-democratic. ” (Engineer)
This clearly shows us the clear goal of the Muslim religion and the prophet in setting up both a religion that would lead the people to a desirable end, which was heaven, and a stable structure for a government that would evolve into an organized entity that would help its populations find the rightful path towards the life that is mostly compatible with the Islamic Shari’a and the heavenly goal. It is true that following the birth of Islam, religion was considered a basic element that determined to a great extent various political policies of the government.
Yet after the death of the Prophet (PBUH) and the first four caliphs, the rightly guided caliphs, we could see a slight change in the attitude and point of view towards the Islamic religion by government officials and rulers. This was due, in my point of view, to the absence of great religious figures as well as believers from the early Islamic Ummah. The religious institutions declined and as a consequence the role of religion as a standard for rule was present, yet both undermined and coerced.