The primary difference between Christian and Islamic theories of statehood lies in the relationship between temporal and spiritual duties and by extension, temporal and spiritual authorities. Christian political theory has left open the possibility for separation between these two authorities, based on an understanding of the primary end of the Christian and his temporal and spiritual duties. As Augustine points out, Christians are pilgrims while they are on earth and, as such, they should be primarily concerned with glorifying God and preparing to be with Him for eternity; they must be careful lest the pleasures of the world distract them from worshipping God. The primary function of the Christian is not to redeem the world or to correct its failings. There certainly is room for the Christian to be involved in the power structures of the world, striving for just government and seeking for society to be run by laws that reflect the divine order; nevertheless, there is a recognition that society cannot be perfected until all men are either removed from society (eternally punished in hell) or else redeemed and made new by God’s grace.
Islamic political theory on the other hand leaves little or no room for separation between temporal and spiritual authority, at least in the ideal Muslim community (umma). As mentioned earlier, unity is a key concept in Islam—specifically the unity of the believers. The umma is a single community that is separated from the rest of world by its identification as the people who are submitted to God; the umma are the believers mentioned in the Qur’an, the ones who obey God and look forward to receiving His blessings. The ideal Islamic society is one in which all men are willingly submitted to God.
The theory of statehood with the khalifa at its head is the ideal towards which Muslims strive. This ideal state is ruled by the deputy of God who ensures that the society operates within the guidelines laid out in Islamic law (shari’a) and that its citizens fulfill all their duties and obligations. The umma has the duty of bringing glory to God and to His Word. That this duty includes bringing men into dar al-islam and may involve war is found among the collected sayings of Mohammed, or hadith, stating, “He who fights that Allah’s word (i.e. Allah’s religion of Islamic monotheism) be superior, fights in Allah’s cause” and, “I have been commanded to fight the people until they say: ‘There is no God but Allah.’” The duty of the umma is both temporal and spiritual; in fact it is difficult to even understand this distinction within Islam. The religious duty of Muslims is combined with their identity as a community or state. In order for this duty to be fulfilled, the state must spread its control until the world is brought into submission to God and His shari’a (law).
If you’ve stuck with me this far, the payoff is just around the corner. Check back next week to see why Islamic just war theory is incompatible with Western values.
Other posts in the Jihad and Justice series: