The fact that Islam is comprehensive does not mean that it is totalitarian
Fatwa No: 318430

  • Fatwa Date:17-2-2016 - Jumaadaa Al-Oula 9, 1437
  • Rating:


I have been debating with some friends of mine (who are newly converts to islam and lived all their lives with the conviction that democracy is the best governing system) on whether there is any area, field, or aspect of life that is not governed by Islam. I could provide a ruling for every aspect of life in the sharia, so they came to the conclusion that Islam must be a totalitarian system then and quoted a definition of 'totalitarism', which they showed me on this page: It says: “A form of government in which the state controls every aspect of the individual’s life and all opposition is suppressed.” I do not think that this definition can be fully used in regard to Islam since Islam is much more than just a state. For me, there is no separation between state and religion in Islam. I mean, even though I am of the opinion that Islam could be considered a totalitarian system, so what? Would it be bad? I do not think so. Nowadays, people think of totalitarism as of something bad, but democracy turned out to be a stinking mess. I mean, if Islam is a perfect system and a complete way of life, then why even allow opposition to grow? I do not think that that would be in accordance with the sharia. Could you please elaborate on that?


All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger. 

There is no doubt that Islam is a comprehensive system that organizes all the aspects of people's lives, whether religious or worldly; Allaah, The Exalted, says (what means): {Say, "Indeed, my prayer, my rites of sacrifice, my living and my dying are for Allaah, the Lord of the worlds.}[Quran 6:162] He also says (what means): {But no, by your Lord, they will not (truly) believe until they make you (O Muhammad) judge concerning that over which they dispute among themselves and then find within themselves no discomfort from what you have judged and submit in (full, willful) submission.} [Quran 4:65] The second verse was revealed regarding a dispute between two Companions over watering the land, which is clearly a general worldly matter. More important worldly affairs are worthier of being governed by Islamic law for a greater reason. Please refer to fatwa 258751 about the invalidity of separation between religion and state.

The claim that because Islam is a comprehensive religion organizing all aspects of life that would mean that it is totalitarian in the modern sense of the term 'totalitarianism' indicating hegemony and domination and tyranny is wrong and contrary to the truth. The fact that Islam is comprehensive does not mean that it is an authoritarian religion. There is broad room in Islam for ijtihaad (personal reasoning) with regards to novel events in people's lives. There are general principles organizing the process of ijtihaad governed by the principle of the elimination of evil and the realization of benefit, as stated in the verse (which means): {And spend in the way of Allaah and do not throw (yourselves) with your (own) hands into destruction (by refraining). And do good; indeed, Allaah loves the doers of good.} [Quran 2:195]

Ibn ʻAbbaas,  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him reported that the Prophet, sallallaahu ʻalayhi wa sallam, said, “Harm may neither be inflicted nor reciprocated (in Islam).” [Ahmad in Al-Musnad]

What further exonerates Islam from authoritarianism and tyranny is the fact that shura (consultation) is a fundamental principle in the Islamic system of governance. Just as Islam set the fundamental rulings and provisions and left room for ijtihaad by scholars, it set general rules of governance and left the details to be decided based on consultation. For more details in this regard, please refer to fataawa 84768 and 84540.

The Islam-oriented system of government is neither authoritarian nor democratic in the idiomatic sense of democracy as the rule of the people by the people. There are significant differences between the Islamic system of government and the so-called democratic system. We have clarified these differences in fatwa 85826.

We would like to warn against being drawn to terms without delving into their genuine meanings and understanding the objectives behind them, thus allowing the person to judge their realities. Scholars laid down the general rule: “It is the intended meaning that counts, not the mere term.Shaykhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him wrote, “Any term which has both true and false connotations must, when used, be clarified in light of its true connotation. It is said that most of the difference of opinion related to terms among the rational people is because of ambiguous terms; and that much of people's disputes in this regard is because of general terms that have different meanings, as some people understand one meaning that merits approval while others understand another meaning that merits disapproval.

As you mentioned, democracy has flaws that make it unsuitable as a system of governance. One of those flaws is that it leads to much chaos, confusion, and immorality which may be committed under the pretext of freedom. The present-day reality testifies to that. As to your statement, “Even though I am of the opinion that Islam could be considered a totalitarian system, so what? Would it be bad?” our answer is: There is no doubt that the totalitarian and authoritarian systems of governance are bad (and incompatible with Islam) because they are based on oppression, the prevalence of the powerful over the weak, the subjugation of the poor to the rich, and allowing the rich to grow richer at the expense of the poor, as evidenced by the present-day reality.

The Islam-oriented system of governance sets a guarantee to prevent the chaos that the democratic system may cause and the evils that result from the tyrannical system. The Islam-oriented system of governance has its own rules based on an orthodox approach and is a straight path revealed by the Creator of human beings Who knows best what benefits them and what harms them and sets the legislation governing their lives accordingly. Allaah, The Exalted, says: (what means):

·   {Does He Who created not know, while He is the Subtle, the Acquainted?} [Quran 67:14]

·   {...Unquestionably, His is the creation and the command; blessed is Allaah, the Lord of the worlds.} [Quran 7:54]

As-Saʻdi  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him said in his comment on the second verse, “{His is the creation} refers to all things in the heavens and on Earth, all higher and lower creations, their qualities, and actions; and {His is the command} refers to all laws and all prophethood. Hence, creation includes His universal predestined laws, and command includes His religious laws and then the rewards that will be conferred in the Hereafter...

Allaah knows best.

Related Fatwa