Socio-Political Ethics In Islam And The West: A Comparative Perspective


At the outset it must be clarified that there are commonalities among religions so far as their spiritual and philosophical messages are concerned but at the same time there are distinctive and differential characteristics as well. However, these distinctive characteristics must not be conceived as fault lines between civilizations capable of generating third world war as Huntington would like us to believe.1 These differences or unique features must be celebrated as diversities of the common heritage of our existing human civilization as reaffirmed in the UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Article 1 of the Declaration affirms “Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind. As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature. In this sense, it is the common heritage of humanity and should be recognized and affirmed for the benefit of present and future generations (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: 2001).” It further asserts that “Cultural diversity widens the range of options open to everyone; it is one of the roots of development, understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: 2001).

It should also be borne in mind that after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and subsequent collapse of socialism in Eurasia, Francis Fukuyama was emboldened to pronounce the death of Communism and declare the victory of Liberalism/Capitalism over all rival or competing ideologies (Fukuyama: 1993). Fukuyama seems to be partially right that the Western liberal democracy based on tolerance of dissents is one of the finest systems of governance. But he errs when he thinks that it (Western liberal democracy) is the common standard of achievements for all cultures and civilizations. He himself accepts: “More than ten years ago, I argued we had reached the ‘end of history’: not that historical events would stop, but that History understood as the evolution of human societies through different forms of government had culminated in modern liberal democracy and market-oriented capitalism (Fukuyama: 2002, 27-28).”

He asserts: “ It is my view that this hypothesis remains correct, despite the events since September 11: modernity, as represented by the United States and other developed democracies, will remain the dominant force in world politics, and the institutions embodying the West’s underlying principles of freedom and equality will continue to spread around the world (Fukuyama: 2002, 28).”).” In fact, the plethora of serious literature available on cultural relativism or the great debate on universalism versus relativism establishes it quite clearly that the monopolistic discourse on common standards is not acceptable in its present form to a vast majority of people living in the non-Western world. In the Western world itself the discontents against electoral democracy controlled by corporate elite is a matter of significant concern. Notwithstanding all these, it cannot be denied that democracy as an accountable and responsible system of governance is widely accepted as the ideal form of government.

Winston Churchill had eloquently defended democracy by saying: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all the other forms that have been tried from time to time (Heywood: 1997, 65).” Moreover, it is also true that the liberal model of democracy based on tolerance of dissents is the product of the peculiar circumstances faced by the West in early modern period. The factors like Dark Age, the Church-State conflict, and people facing subjugation of worst kind from the reactionary medieval institutions prepared ground for Renaissance, Reformation and Enlightenment which further contributed to Western modernity and liberalism. The same sequence of events or historical evolution is not noticed in other societies simply because other societies had different challenges and predicaments. Thus the non-Western societies tried to address the problems and challenges according to their own cultural milieu and civilizational consciousness.

It is desirable to mention especially in the context of the Eastern societies that here religion plays the deterministic normative role in structuring and restructuring of social and political institutions. It is because all major religions of the world were born in the East whereas no major political ideologies originated in the East. Again, all major political ideologies originated in the West but no major religion took birth in the West. Thus political ideologies in the West and Religion in the East will continue to be a major force. The ‘End of History’ thesis can thus be applied on the West but not to the East because there is a resurgence of identity politics and not the decline of the normative value of religion. The Hindutva- based majoritarian cultural nationalism capable of culminating into fascism in India,2 the Theo-fascism in Pakistan supported and championed by a section of conservative, sectarian and fundamentalist followers of Islam,3 the Arab Spring and its subsequent Islamization,4 the ethnic conflict in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar5 and numerous other events influenced by the forces of religion establish this fact that religion is perhaps the most significant factor in determining the socio-political ethics in the East. It is interesting that political resurgence of religion in the East is transcending the continental boundaries to find a noticeable space in the West. The current bout of xenophobia expressed through peaceful as well as violent means and growing Islamophobia markedly evident in the West is a pointer to the fact.

It is observed that of late there seems to be a kind of consensus being built up in the academic fraternity in the West regarding the significance of normative value of Islam in the changing scenario of the Muslim world. There are many Western scholars who see a political resurgence of Islam in the past few decades especially after the great Islamic Revolution of Iran, 1979. American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington is one such serious scholar who believes that there is an upsurge in the process of Islamization. He observes about the political resurgence of Islam that it “is a broad intellectual, cultural, social, and political movement prevalent throughout the Islamic world (Huntington: 1997, 110).”

He further observes: “…Islamic Resurgence in its extent and profundity is the latest phase in the adjustment of Islamic civilization to the West, an effort to find the “solution” not in Western ideologies but in Islam. It embodies acceptance of modernity, rejection of Western culture, and recommitment to Islam as the guide to life in the modern world (Huntington: 1997, 109-110).” Interestingly, he capitalizes “Islamic Resurgence” and gives reason for doing so in these words: “Islamic Resurgence, he adds “…refers to an extremely important historical event affecting one-fifth or more of humanity, that it is at least as significant as the American Revolution, French Revolution, or Russian Revolution, whose “r’s” are usually capitalized, and that it is similar to and comparable to the Protestant Reformation in Western society, whose “R” is almost invariably capitalized (Huntington: 1997, 109).

Fukuyama also reflects the greatness of the practical bent of mind when he tries to revisit and review his ‘end of history’ thesis after the events of September 11. He observes in his essay entitled “History and September 11”: “Americans have tended to believe that their institutions and values—democracy, individual rights, the rule of law and prosperity based on economic freedom—represent universal aspirations that will ultimately be shared by people all over the world, if given the opportunity. They are inclined to think that American society appeals to people of all cultures (Fukuyama: 2002, 28).” Revisiting his own thesis he asks: “Is it just our cultural myopia that makes us think that Western values are potentially universal ones? (Fukuyama: 2002, 29). The answer of this question may not sound ‘good’ for many but is in affirmation. A comparative analysis of socio-political ethics in Islam and the West answers this question quite convincingly.

Fukuyama observes: “The Islamic world differs from other world cultures in one important respect. In recent years it alone has repeatedly produced significant radical movements that reject not just Western policies but the most basic principle of modernity itself, that of religious tolerance. These groups celebrated September 11 because it humbled a society that they believed was at its base corrupt. This corruption was not just a matter of sexual permissiveness, homosexuality and women’s rights as they exist in the West, but stemmed in their view from secularism itself. What they hate is that the state in Western societies should be dedicated to religious tolerance and pluralism, rather than to serving religious truth. While people in Asia, Latin America, the former socialist bloc or Africa find Western consumerism appealing and would like to emulate it if only they could, fundamentalists like the Saudi Wahabis, Osama bin Laden or the Taliban see it as evidence of Western decadence (Fukuyama: 2002, 31).

One can agree with the proposition of differences between Islam and the West but it is very difficult to accept that the September 11 attack or any other terrorist attacks on the US or on other Western countries were executed simply because the radical Islamists of the Middle East hate the West for the reason that it practices religious tolerance and pluralism. In fact the constant support of the United States to brutal assault on Palestinians by Israel, misuse of the veto power by the US in the Security Council of the United Nations, its constant support to repressive monarchies in the Middle East, its disproportionately excessive use of force against Iraq and sending a peaceful country into a civil war-like situation, its ‘divide and rule policy’ creating Shia-Sunni conflict resulting in the deaths of thousands of people in the Middle East, its rhetoric against Islam, its undue interference in Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, its policy of nuclear apartheid in the Middle East, etc. are reasons for the anger of the Muslims across the globe.

Huntington interestingly points out: “Non-Westerners also do not hesitate to point to the gaps between Western principle and Western action. Hypocrisy, double standards, and “but nots” are the price of universal pretensions. Democracy is promoted but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; non-proliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue with China but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is repulsed but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of principle (Huntington: 1997, 187).

The West has to learn to transcend its spirit of tolerance beyond its own geographical and political boundaries. It has to realize that there is not only one ‘Modernity’ with capital ‘M’ but there are many modernities. It is interesting that even the computer manifesting Western technological revolution does not accept the word modernities. It reinforces the claim of those who argue that technology too has an ideology. The ideological bias of the Western technology manifested through computers is evident from the singularisation of the word ‘modernity’ and its insistence upon not accepting the pluralization of the word. This Eurocentric view of modernity has been challenged by many Islamic scholars and also by postmodern school of thought.

Murad Hofmann, a German diplomat who embraced Islam does not seem to be impressed by the goods of Western modernity as he asserts: “Today after the bankruptcy of communist ideology and system evident since 1990 and the alarming sins of a spiritual and value crisis in the West, we know that Muhammad Asad was right after all: Christianity is going through a virtual change of paradigm, and the so-called “project of modernism” is failing under our very eyes. Western theologians and scientists have begun to doubt whether their basic assumptions are valid after all (Hofmann: 1996, 9).

He further observes “Islam is no longer expected to disappear but rather to expand and even to explode. NATO generals when making operational plans are advised to take into account that the most likely military confrontation of the future will not be an East-West but a North-South conflict, Islam being the new expansive and aggressive potential enemy” (Hofmann: 1996, 9). Murad Hofmann agrees with Muhammad Asad that after the Second World War people in the West will ‘look for spiritual truth’(Hofmann: 1996, 8). His assessment and analysis about the people in the West would look for the spiritual truth is proving to be correct if we believe in the facts and figures relating to conversion of people in Islam. The emergence of the New Right and the Christian Right in the West also verifies his assessment.

Islamic Commonwealth and Modern Nation-State System

The social, political, economic and ethical standards prescribed by Islam are very different from the West. Islam dose not distinguish between society and state as the modern and contemporary Western political thought does. The socio-political ethics in the West stand on the principle that the individual as a member of society is entitled to certain rights against State which is a ‘necessary evil’. The rights so claimed are sacrosanct and cannot be compromised with in any circumstances whatsoever. In fact preservation and promotion of these rights of individuals becomes summum bonum or the most important duty of the State. If State fails in its duty of protecting these rights then it loses the justification for its existence and continuance. The State is an artificial institution created by the rational and autonomous individuals for their benefit. The State exists and continues to operate merely as an empire in a cricket match entrusted with the duty of observing that the players are playing the game according to the prescribed rules of the game. However, these contentions seem contradictory when we see the operating style of the modern states in the West.

The modern or postmodern states are sovereign entity and sovereignty in the political discourse is understood as unlimited and absolute power of the state. The attributes attached to sovereignty in the discipline of Political Science are: indivisibility, inalienability, universality, infallibility, and all-comprehensiveness. Thus the power of the State cannot be challenged and it can do anything or everything. The only condition that the liberal democratic political ethics imposes is that the action of the State should be legitimized by seeking support of the majority of the citizens living in a territorial unit called State. The State observing the democratic principles of seeking approval of an elected body called legislature or executive is permitted to go for anything—from coercive diplomacy to war, using all the available means of destruction—from conventional weapons to the weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, nuclear etc.). The State here becomes what Max Weber calls ‘the organizer of violence’.

Islam on the other hand, prescribes a commonwealth of the Ummah in which every believer is an equal partner and stake holder. It is in fact a self-governing community where the caliph is regarded as the servant of God and of the people. The caliph and the Ummah are equally bound by the will of God revealed through His messenger. Neither the caliph nor the Ummah is supposed to disobey the command of God. Islam does not create a state which in the Western paradigm of governance is sovereign and supreme. Islam creates a self-governing community or commonwealth and therefore, it cannot be understood or analyzed in the Western paradigm of State and Government.

The Islamic idea of Ummah is in direct conflict with the Western notion of nation- state system. In fact the nation-state system divides people into autonomous and sovereign territorial states whereas the concept of Ummah transcends national boundaries and seeks to unify people on the basis of commonly shared heritage. Ummah is a supra-national community of believers. Interestingly, the Charter of Medina included Jews and pagan citizens as members of the Ummah. If the term Ummah is interpreted narrowly, it may include all Muslims living anywhere in the world. Thus a Muslim born and living in the USA or India is an indivisible part of Ummah. This all-comprehensive nature of Ummah is alien to the contemporary

Western political thinking.

The concept of sovereignty as absolute and supreme power of the state does not fit in the paradigm of Islamic commonwealth. Here neither the individual designated as caliph nor the body created for aiding and advising the caliph possesses the supreme law-making power. The law-making power of the commonwealth is limited and restricted. The commonwealth is basically entrusted with the responsibility of implementing and creating conducive conditions for the enforcement of the divine law revealed in the Holy Quran and subsequently developed and elaborated in other sources of Islam. Although the idea of sovereignty is alien to Islam yet for our understanding it can be observed that according to Islamic sources sovereignty is the attribute of Allah. Allah alone has the finality of judgment in all walks of life. This can be understood in the light of the claim of Islam that it is the complete code of life. The Holy Quran is the final revelation of Allah which codifies the complete principles of guidance and governance for all time to come. The will of Allah as expressed through the divine revelation i.e. the Holy Quran is supreme and even the collective will of all people comprising Ummah shall be unacceptable if it is in conflict with the will of Allah. Thus there is no place for the concepts like ‘Supremacy of Parliament’ and ‘legal6 or political7 or popular8 sovereignty’ as enunciated by the Social Contractualists Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau respectively.

The modern nation-state system as perceived in the ideological and theoretical paradigm in the West is considered as the final culmination of institutional evolution of human society. State here is the supreme institution which alone enjoys sovereignty. Although the modern political theory has rejected the divine origin theory of State under which the State was regarded as a divine institution created by God, it has itself elevated the State to the level of God. The State though not divine is never less than a divine institution. In one respect it is more powerful than the medieval State system in the sense that it is sovereign and all other institutions including the Church has been subordinated to State. Now the politics devoid of religious component determines the social and ethical standards. Unfortunately, it does not face competition with any other institution of the society. The end result of this theoretical paradigm is that the governance has become an art which is called statecraft. The statecraft is in fact managing the affairs of people in such a manner that peace and tranquility is not disrupted. Resistance to State is criminalized. It is argued that the State alone is capable of promoting common good and if it is challenged it will lead to anarchy. Thus the choice is limited: either anarchy or an authoritarian State. The State defines and determines the national and public interest and claims to safeguard it with all resources at its disposal. Paradoxically, this State is claimed to be a Welfare State. The idea of this infallible State and statecraft is not only alien to Islam but also in conflict with the socio-political ethics in Islam.

Nationalism versus Islamic Universalism

The idea of nationalism is also in direct conflict with Islamic ethics of universalism. Maulana Maududi, an erudite Islamic scholar observes that “the distinguishing mark of the Islamic state is its complete freedom from all traces of nationalism and its influences, direct and indirect. It is a state built exclusively on principles (Maududi). There is no doubt that nationalism as an ideology culminates in fascism and xenophobia. It divides people into artificially created political entities and keeps them dispersed by developing a discourse of “us” and “them”. Notably the ideology of nationalism goes against the basic spirit of all major religions of the world. For example; Hinduism believes in Vasudeva Kutumbakam9 which means all human beings belong to one human family. Christianity too believes in universalism rather than nationalism of any form. The message of Jesus (PBUH) is for all people. This is the reason that Christianity born in Arabia flourished in other continents. Similarly, Buddhism originated in India and found space in the South-East Asian countries. In fact, Religions have a universal appeal and their underlying message is universal brotherhood. It is unfortunate that the unifying force of religion is being misused to divide the people across the globe.

Nationalism is a political ideology which cannot find a religious justification. It negates Islamic universalism expressed in the concept of Ummah. It is against Islamic caliphate system. Sir Mohammad Iqbal has considered nationalism as against the very teachings and ethics of Islam. In his famous poem Watanniyat (nationalism), he has denounced nationalism as idolatry and nation as an idol erected by modern political theory. The translation of few lines of his poem which is in Urdu is presented here:

In this age the wine, the cup, even the jam is different,
The cup-bearer started different ways of grace and tyranny,
The Muslim also constructed a different harem of his own
The Azar of civilization made different idols of his own,
Nation is the biggest among these new gods!
What is its shirt is the shroud of Deen (religion)10

Maududi appreciates Islamic state founded by the holy Prophet (PBUH) and his companions on the ground that it was established with a purpose and its affairs were conducted not by creating an illusion of certain defined common good or national interest but on purely moral basis. Maududi observes about what he considers an ideological state or an Islamic state: “A state having its foundations in certain recognized moral principles and free from all traces of nationality or race is one which the world has known but once only and the advantages of which it does not appreciate even to this day” (Maududi). He complains: “In ancient times men knew only of government by families or classes. Later on, they had experience of racial and national governments. But the idea of a state conducted on a definite set of principles and ruled by a group of persons composed of widely differing nationalities who have accepted those principles as the basis of their entire life, social, economic and political—such acceptance of principles being their sole title to have a voice in the affairs of the state, this has never struck root in the narrow mind of man” (Maududi). Maududi argues that a very dim perception of this ideological state was inherent in Christianity in the beginning or in French and communist revolutions but soon they all were infected by the evil spirit of nationalism. According to him, “From the dawn of history to, down to modern days, Islam is the only system in the world which seeks to organize the state on the basis of an ideology free from all traces of nationalism and invites mankind to form a non-national state by accepting its ideological basis (Maududi).

The modern nation-states are basically territorial units built upon racial or national basis. Nationalism is the most important ideology of the state irrespective of its ideological or any other affiliations. This nationalism, at times is overstretched to justify genocide of minorities as in the case of German nationalism madly created by Hitler and his followers which culminated in genocide of Jews in Germany. Similarly, Serb nationalism brought untold misery to Bosnians Muslims in the last decade of 20th century. Above all, the ill effects and the most dangerous consequence of aggressive and expansionist nationalism brought the two World Wars. Perhaps this is the reason that there are social scientists that have been unequivocal in their criticism and condemnation of nationalism. They argue that creation of nation-state was the gravest mistake committed by man.

Differing views on Rights and Duties

Harold J. Laski says: “A state is known by the rights it maintains” (Laski: 1925, 91 ). Human rights have assumed special importance in our time. There are certain rights that are universally recognized and projected as sacrosanct irrespective of cultural and other differences. These rights include right to life, liberty, equality, freedom of thought and expression, freedom of belief and faith etc. These rights are also recognized by the United Nations and explicitly mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These three instruments together constitute the “International Bill of Human Rights”. The UN through the first “International Bill of Human Rights” recognizes these rights and asserts that these rights are universally applicable to all peoples and nations irrespective of their divergent social, cultural, political, economic and ideological traditions (Vijapur: 2010, 55-56). It is mentioned in the Preamble of the UDHR that the rights provided under the Declaration are “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations (Vijapur: 2010, 56). It is interesting to note that the rights mentioned in the International Bill of Rights are “predominantly based on Western socio-political philosophy and liberal traditions and is the product of the experiences of peoples of England, France and the United States from the 17th to the 20th centuries but the majority of Western scholars and nations consider that it is valid for all nations and peoples” (Vijapur: 2010, 56). However, there are voices of dissent against the claim of the universality of these human rights. This has given birth to universalism versus cultural relativism debate.

It is argued by many non-Western scholars and countries that the universality of the idea or concern for human rights in general is perfectly alright but superimposing a particular model of human rights is unacceptable. It is observed: “Human rights are the product of historical, cultural and socio-political of a given society. Different societies have formulated their conception of human rights to suit their particular social, cultural and political settings. Hence cultural specificity has to be taken into cognizance while formulating and implementing human rights standards and norms. There cannot be uniform human rights standards or a meaning of a right. There can be different meanings attributed to a right even within a single tradition. This is a challenge posed by those who believe in cultural relativism as against universalism. Besides being culturally specific, the concept of rights, it is contended, also inheres dynamism that lends its meaning and interpretations to constant evolution and change (Vijapur: 2010, 56). Islamic concepts of human rights are thus quite different from the western perspective on human rights. While analyzing and comparing the both, one finds that the Western approach is rights-centric whereas Islamic approach is an attempt at striking a balance between rights and obligations. The western approach recognizes individual as the main claimant of human rights. This individual is considered as a rational creature capable of governing himself. The rational choice of the individual cannot be restricted by any institution as he/she alone knows what is good or bad for him/her. Thus his/her homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, heterosexual, or any other conceivable type of sexual inclinations (buggery, bestiality, etc.) must be preserved and protected by the society and state.

Islam on the other hand, disapproves this approach to human rights. It does not permit sexual anarchy or sexual perversion. It emphasizes the fact that the will of individual must not be in conflict with the will of Allah. It recognizes the fact that there is no end to human desires and therefore, society cannot be structured on the hedonistic desires of man. Allah says in the holy Quran: “And rule among them by what Allah has revealed and follow not their desires away from the Truth which has come to you (Al-Maidah: 48). In fact Islam considers family as the basic unit of society and not the atomized, isolated, asocial and self-governing so-called sovereign individual. Since family is the basic fabric of the Islamic society, it cannot afford to allow live-in relations. It cannot legitimize gay and lesbian relations. It criminalizes premarital, post-marital or extra-marital physical relations. For the time being, people may argue that it goes against the very spirit of freedom and liberty but if we think in the collective interest of society organized on the basis of high ideals and moral standards, we will certainly appreciate it. Sexual anarchy is creating havoc in the world in the form of HIV-AIDS. Western society is proposing the idea of safe sex as a solution to the menace of HIV-AIDS. However, it does not seem to work as the rate of HIV-infected patients is going alarmingly high. Under these circumstances, one can propose an Islamic solution to the problem of AIDS. The Islamic way of maintaining dignified and safe sexual relations through permanent marriage can definitely lead to an HIV-AIDS free world.

The Islamic approach to human rights and duties is different from the West in one more respect. The Western discourses on human rights have evolved in peculiar circumstances under which projection of man as a rational creature quite capable of knowing and doing what was good for him, was necessary. This projection was needed in a struggle of common masses against reactionary religious authorities, conservative feudalism, and totalitarian monarchies. Thus, rights and liberties were demanded on the basis of a justifying political and social discourse. Western liberal model of human rights projecting man as a rational individual evolved in this background. On the other hand, Islam in Arabia came at a time when it was a conservative and stagnant society. Rational and progressive thinking was criminalized. At that time, Islam emerged as a progressive force. It provided certain inalienable rights to people against arbitrary rulers, lords, and powerful individuals or groups. Interestingly, it provided rights to men and women both, to rich, poor, destitute, slaves, and even to animals. However, it did not recognize man as perfectly rational creature capable of conducting himself in a desired manner in all circumstances. Islam recognizes the worth and dignity of man but at the same time it also takes into consideration the inherent weaknesses of human nature. Therefore, it constantly warns man against evil and impress upon him/her to lead life in accordance with the will of Allah which has been clearly revealed in the holy Quran. The most important aspect of rights and duties in Islamic perspective is that it tries to strike a perfect balance between rights and obligations.

Divergent Views on Justice and Equality

Every society has the concept of justice and it is the basis of determining right and wrong, just and unjust in that society. Also, every society is governed by certain norms and values and these in turn, determine the concept of justice. Since norms and values change with changes of times, circumstances and places, the concept of justice also undergoes a change. The Western society based on Liberalism/ Capitalism subscribes to this idea of justice. The implications of this view of justice are dangerous as many standards are set and thus the universalisation of justice becomes difficult. Imperialism/Colonialism and exploitative global capitalism thrive due to this.

In fact this relative view of justice suits the interest of power-centric major actors of international politics. The ever changing idea of justice develops different parameters according to circumstances. Thus the powerful countries and societies deny others the rights and freedom they cherish. There are numerous examples to highlight the dangerous implications of this view of justice. For example: “In 1996 Madeline Albright, the then UN Ambassador to the United Nations, was asked on national television what she felt about the fact that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US economic sanctions. She replied that “it was a very hard choice, but that all things considered, we think that the price is worth it” (Roy: 2001, 225).

‘Operation Infinite justice’ renamed ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ has brought untold misery to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. From Guantanamo11 to Abu Gharaib12, there was colossal violation of human rights and dignity. The killing of two million people in Iraq in a span of five years and unknown number of men and women, old men and children in Afghanistan by ‘International Coalition against Terror’ is enough to expose the peril of different or double standard of justice. Tariq Ali argues: “With the revelations of the abuses at prison in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba, the U.S. A. has lost whatever moral authority it purported to have, and the result is a genuine clash of civilizations—one that could have been easily avoided” (Ali: n.d, 46).

From the Treaty of Versailles to the creation of the United Nations, we find injustice done to people at large. The present international political order dominated by the UN and the NATO, and the international economic order controlled and regulated by the trinity of the World Bank, IMF and WTO is based on unjust principles. In fact it is victor’s justice that prevails and manifests through various international and regional institutions today. For example; the United Nations which was created with high hopes of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war13 and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights and justice has been reduced to be a body controlled and regulated by the major powers of the world thanks to unjust provision of veto power given to the victors of the Second World War.14 The Charter of the United Nations suffers from inherent contradictions as on the one hand it declares that it will function on the basis of the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members15 and on the other hand, creates five big bosses in the Security Council. These five big bosses are entrusted with the power and authority of undermining the collective wills of all members of the General Assembly.16 The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established by deliberately creating a kind of red scare when ideological polarization was the most dominant feature of the international politics. After the demise of USSR the NATO had become redundant but the US- led Western bloc found out rather invented a new enemy i.e., Islam and got the justification for an uncalled for military alliance. The ‘green scare’17 has taken the place of ‘red scare’18 and the result is the growing menace of Islamophobia deliberately created and sustained through the means of mass deception.

Islamic Concept of Justice

Justice occupies an important place in Islamic socio-economic and political ethics. It is also one of the attributes of God. The holy Quran declares: “We sent Our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Measure in order to establish justice among the people…”(The Quran, 57:25). It is important to note that justice is accorded such an important place in Islam that the purpose of the sending down the messengers of God is to establish justice in the world. In fact, the repeated assertions of the powerful nations of the world that they believe in peace, human rights and tolerance looks shallow as they deliberately avoid mentioning justice in many cases`. Islam on the other hand, accord primacy to justice in public and private domain both. It does not justify injustice in any case whatsoever. In all circumstances and at all times the justice will continue to be the parameter of judging the righteousness of a person or of an institution including the state. Justice is eternal and is to be the guiding principle of life. No compromises can be made either in the name of statecraft or the pressing circumstances like war or emergencies.

Islam views justice as an eternal and absolute concept like truth. Justice is unchangeable and infallible and is governed by Quran and Sunnah. Neither State nor individual or group can modify or bring an amendment in the Quranic injunctions. The beauty of the concept of justice in Islam is that it is universal and transcends national and ideological boundaries. It is based on the principle of non-discrimination. There is one parameter for all. There are many Quranic injunctions and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) to testify this fact. Few of the verses and Prophet’s sayings are being reproduced here:

“Surely we have created you all from a single male and a single female and made you into tribes and families that you many know one another. Surely the noblest among you with God is the most dutiful of you” (The Quran, 49:13). It is further declared that “Mankind is but one Community” (The Quran, 2:213).

The holy Prophet in his farewell sermon commanded:

“No Arab has superiority over a non-Arab nor is a white any better than a black. The only criterion for the superiority and respectability is the one having the element of piety. All human beings are the off-springs of Adam and the very existence of Adam was from clay”(Hambal: n.d, 411).

The holy Quran clearly mentions:

“He, who killed any person unless it is a person guilty of man slaughter, or of spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (The Quran, 5:32).

“The Holy Quran also declares that there is no compulsion in religion.” (The Quran, 2:256).

The importance of Justice in Islam can be also understood from the verse which commands: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor.” (The Quran,4:135).

The above-mentioned verses of the Holy Quran and the sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PUBH) make it clear that Islam affirms the unity of mankind and strongly disapproves any attempt to divide humanity in superior and inferior groups on the bases of color, race, creed or place of birth.

Thus Islam does not allow even the mightiest nation or group of nations to do anything causing damage to humanity. An Islamic Commonwealth with all its power cannot afford to act like the West has been acting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. Economic sanctions leading to deaths of children or cluster and carpet bombings leading to deaths of innocent people may be considered as crime against humanity. Islam goes to the extent of saying that the killing of a single innocent person shall be considered as genocide.

Thus we find that justice is linked with equality, non-discrimination and universal brotherhood in Islam. Islam talks of equality of all mankind whereas the West has given equality or at least in theory accepted the equality of all but within the periphery of its national territorial states. The people living in colonies were not allowed to lead a dignified life and the racial discrimination was legally permissible. Even today, we find that the coalition of Western countries is not treating people in non-Western Societies on equal footing. Thus gross injustice is being done to people of non-Western Societies. William Blum observes: “From 1945 to the end of the century, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments, and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the US caused the end of life for several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair”( Blum: 2003, 2).

One of the characteristics of the dual approach to justice is the criminalization of the resistance to injustices and cruelties. The contempt shown and opposition expressed to the Palestinian liberation struggle against Zionist occupation is a pointer to the fact. The impunity enjoyed by the Zionist Israel despite its repeated violations of the UN resolutions and provisions of Geneva conventions and the unjust conditions imposed on Palestinian people explicitly manifest the dual approach to justice.

On the other hand, it is also noticed that the major powers of the world led or persuaded by the United States are mounting unjust pressure on developing nations to abandon their nuclear programs even for the peaceful purposes because the major powers fear that uranium enrichment may eventually lead to production of nuclear weapons. It is argued by the so-called members of the elite nuclear club that possession of nuclear weapons by the countries like India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, Libya etc. will pose threat to international peace and security. Thus economic sanctions are imposed on developing countries to compel them to submit to the wishes of the nuclear powers designated as the legitimate nuclear powers under the unjust international treaties like the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This is nothing but the policy of nuclear imperialism practiced and perpetuated by the hegemons. By doing this, the nuclear imperialists try to maintain their monopoly over the means of destruction i.e., nuclear bombs. It is important to note that the United States is the only country in the world which has used nuclear bombs against civilian population in Japan and since then it has kept its nuclear options open even against non-nuclear states. Therefore, it is obvious that the non-nuclear states find themselves defenseless against the possibility of nuclear onslaught by the nuclear powers. This is the reason that the non-nuclear countries try to acquire nuclear weapons to avoid nuclear blackmail in future. This is perhaps the most important cause of nuclear proliferation.

The present nuclear non-proliferation drive spearheaded by the United States and its allies also shows the signs of nuclear apartheid. It is because besides Iran and North Korea there are several other undeclared nuclear states including Israel. But the nonproliferation drive is directed predominantly against North Korea and Iran. This is grotesque injustice and double standard of the worst kind which is bound to prove counterproductive to the nuclear non-proliferation movement. Anyone with a commonsensical understanding of justice can understand that the two countries (Iran and North Korea) have been targeted for reasons other than nuclear non-proliferation drive. If possession of nuclear weapons by Israel is not a threat then acquisition of the weapons by Iran or North Korea or for that matter by any other country cannot be a threat to international peace and security. Moreover, the United States, Russia and other nuclear countries are reported to have large stockpiles of nuclear weapons that constantly remind the international community of a nuclear holocaust in future. Thus the gospel of peace and justice by the dominant powers of the world in this case seems like sinners are teaching the virtues of chastity.

The Islamic concept of Justice is closer to heart and conscience because it believes that sovereignty belongs to God. The ruler or the state is not sovereign. The Western concept of sovereignty elevates state to the level of God and makes it supreme, absolute, all comprehensive and infallible. Islam declares that no one except Allah can enjoy absolute power. Only Allah is supreme and infallible. Thus in an Islamic Society/State/Commonwealth the divine revelation (Holy Quran) has supremacy and the ruler and the ruled alike derive their rights and duties from it. There is no fear of tyranny of majority or a powerful individual in Islamic Society. This basic idea relating to state/society and ruler ensures justice in absolute sense of the term. Thus Islam does not create a state, which can be called “the organizer of violence”. It does not propose a nation-state system which justifies all atrocities in the name of statecraft. The Islamic Commonwealth has to dispense justice in all circumstances and for all. The necessary fall out of this concept of sovereignty and state is that the spirit of non-aggression; mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and justice becomes a universal and eternal value. Hence, unjust foreign policies cannot be conducted by giving undue importance to the so-called national interest. Allah commands in the holy Quran: “And let not the hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just; that is nearer to piety” (The Quran, 2:256).

Secularism and Islam

Secularism is a political ideology or doctrine which emphasizes privatization of religion. Secularization of politics and society was proposed in the West to buy peace between warring sects and persuasions of Christianity. It was also needed to resolve the unending conflict between Church and State during medieval time. However, this has never been a course of collision in the glorious history of Islam. As Islam does not distinguish between temporal and spiritual matters of man, it proposes to conduct every aspect of human life in accordance with the will of Allah. Islamic commonwealth is a political as well as a religious institution and the Caliph of the commonwealth is the religious and political head of the Muslims across the globe. Therefore, the question of separating religion from politics does not arise at all in the paradigm of Islamic politics. The Islamic Caliphate right from the very beginning till its end after the First World War maintained a perfect balance of religion and politics without compromising with the principles of governance.

However, of late we see that attempts at Islamization have compounded the problem in the Muslim world. Sectarian conflicts are rising to alarmingly high degree. From Indian subcontinent to the West Asia, we find intolerable havoc being created by the so-called Islamists. In the name of Jihad for establishing their version of a puritan Islam they are indulged in indiscriminate killings and violence. It is painful to see that the same Islam that brought peace in the Arabian Peninsula when it was ravaged by violence and terror is now being misused by a section of its hot-headed, mindless followers for justifying a cult of suicide bombings and terrorism directed against innocent people. As a consequence to this sorry state of affairs, there are scholars and activists in the Muslim world itself who argue for secularization of politics in Muslim societies. A strong post-Islamic discourse is emerging in the Muslim world as a reaction to the counterproductive Islamism. The Muslim world today presents the pre-modern scenario in the West which eventually paved way for the emergence of Secularism. The Arab Spring should be a reminder to the fact. Nevertheless, advocating extreme secularization as a solution to the problems in the Muslim world will be as dangerous as the attempts at Islamization. Indeed, the Muslim societies have to strike a balance between Islamization and secularization or else they will be compelled to follow the Western course of sending religion into exile by privatizing it.


In conclusion it can be argued that there are many points of differences and distinctions between the Socio-political ethics in Islam and the West but they should not be brought to the level of confrontation. These differences and distinctions should be recognized, respected and celebrated as the rich diversities of mankind. Article 2 of the UESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity states “In our increasingly diverse societies, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities as well as their willingness to live together. Policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace. Thus defined, cultural pluralism gives policy expression to the reality of cultural diversity. Indissociable from a democratic framework, cultural pluralism is conducive to cultural exchange and to the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain public life.”

About the author:
*Dr. M. Mohibul Haque
, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, AMU Aligarh

Ali, Tariq, “Tortured Civilizations: Islam and the West”, in Colin Mooers (ed), The New Imperialists, Ideologies of Empire, Oneworld, Oxford, n.d.
Al-Maidah: 48
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity adopted by the UNESCO on November 2, 2001.
Fukuyama, Francis, “History and September 11”, in Ken Booth & Tim Dunne (eds), Worlds in Collision, Terror and the Future of Global Order, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2002
Fukuyama, Francis, End of History and the Last Man, Penguin Books, 1993
Hambal, Ahmad Bin, Al-Musnad, Vol.V
Heywood, Andrew, Politics, Macmillan, London, 1997
Huntington, Samuel P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Penguin Books India, 1997
Laski, Harold J., A Grammar of Politics, London, 1925
Roy, Arundhati The Algebra of Infinite Justice, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2001
The Quran
Vijapur, Abdulrahim P., Human Rights in International Relations, Manak Publications, New Delhi, 2010

1. Samuel P. Huntington is an American political scientist. He argues in his clash of civilization thesis that in the post Cold War world the ideological conflict is unlikely and the clash of civilizations seems to be inevitable. He observes that in future the most likely cause of conflict at global level will be religious and cultural identities of the people. He goes to the extent of arguing that the fault lines between civilizations are capable of causing third world war. See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1997.
2. Hindutva is an ideology emphasizing militant Hindu nationalism. The term was first coined by militant Hindu leader V.D. Savarkar in 1923. Hindutva- based cultural nationalism is supported and championed by the Sangh Parivar (a conglomeration of the organizations like the Rashtriya SwayemSevak Sangh(RSS), Vishu Hindu Parishad(VHP), Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini, Hindu Vahini, Rama Sena, Abhinav Bharat, and several other outfits. The organized political expressions of Hindutva are found in the ideologies of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena.
3. Theo-fascism is a term that denotes extreme religious views favoring oppression of all forms of dissent. It claims to be puritan in nature and discards diversities within a religious dispensation. It also treats other religious affiliations as its rivals. Pakistan at present is in the grip of Theo-fascism which has endangered the peaceful-coexistence between the various sects in Islam and also between the Muslim and other religious communities. What is unfortunate is the fact that Theo-fascists distort religious texts to justify violence and terrorism.
4. The expression Islamization of Arab Spring has been used to delineate the attempts by Islamists to hijack the movements for democracy in the Arab world.
5. The ethnic conflict in Myanmar between the majority Buddhists and Muslim minority has left hundreds of Muslims dead. The anti-Muslims Buddhist Movement 969 in Myanmar, supported by spiritual Buddhist leader Wirathu is responsible for the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar.
6. Legal sovereignty means supreme law-making power of State. This supreme law-making power of the state is neither bound by moral nor by natural laws. Thomas Hobbes is considered as the father of legal sovereignty.
7. Political sovereignty is generally understood as the unseen power behind legal sovereignty. It is unorganized power of the people in a given territory that provides legitimacy to the laws of the state. The legal sovereign bows to political sovereign according to Dicey. John Locke is considered as the father of political sovereignty.
8. Popular sovereignty emphasizes that people are the source of all the powers and authority of the State. It means that sovereignty of the State is neither based on God’s will nor on naked power but on the people’s will. Rousseau is considered as the father of popular sovereignty.
9. Vasudeva Kutumbakum is a Sanskrit phrase which emphasizes to treat all human beings as members of a single family. Interestingly, it opposes single worldview. It also calls for celebrating diversities of the cosmos.
10. Article (Bang-e-Dra-102) Wataniyat (Patriotism), available at
11. Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp is maintained by the United States for what it claims ‘extraordinarily dangerous prisoners’. The prisoners have been detained here in violation of the principles of natural justice. Flagrant violation of human rights including cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and brutal torture has been reported from the detention camp. It has been also compared with the Concentration Camps maintained by the Nazis in Germany. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have severely criticized the US government for the violation of rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
12. The United States invading forces maintained Abu Gharaib prison in Iraq since 2003. The prisoners faced numerous sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses by US soldiers, including sodomy and beatings. The report of abuses widely published in international media was confirmed by the US Army report.
13. The Preamble of the United Nations declares: WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind….
14. The Second World War was fought between the Allied Forces (USA, U.K., USSR, France and China) and the so-called Axis Powers (Germany, Italy and Japan). The Axis Powers were defeated and the Allied powers emerged victorious. The victors determined international politics by creating and controlling the most important international organization—the United Nations. They assumed the status of the privileged permanent members of the Security Council and got enormous powers under the Charter of the United Nations.
15. See the UN Charter, Article 2.1.
16. The five permanent members of the Security Council with veto powers have frustrated attempts by international community to achieve an international order based on equality and justice. There are many instances when the United States of America misused veto power to deny the legitimate rights of Palestinians. It is interesting to note that more than 130 countries of the world have recognized the legitimate right of Palestinians to have the status of a sovereign state but the United States has consistently denied this right by invoking veto power. USA has also used veto power to justify Israeli atrocities in Palestine. See “A Short History of US Vetoes of UN Peace Resolutions” at
17. The color green symbolizes Islam; therefore, green scare means the fear of Islam or Islamic militancy.
18. The color red symbolizes Marxism. Marxism/Socialism was perceived and projected as a threat to freedom, democracy and to international peace and security during the Cold War. This propaganda was deliberately launched by the Western bloc headed by the United States to discredit Marxism.

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