Imam Ghazali / Islamic Themes / Khilafah

Imam Ghazzali: On the Caliphate

Al-Ghazzali and Imama (‘Caliphate’)_

al-iqtisad fi’l-i`tiqad

Imam al-Ghazzali writes in his doctrinal treatise the following:

Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (Allah have mercy on him) says: “the security of the world, its inhabitants and things cannot be achieved except with a just ruler (sultan muta`) where the deaths of both the rulers and the leaders (al-a’imma) give rise to times of extreme sedition and chaos. If this [kind of chaotic situation] continues without another just ruler being appointed, then there will continue to be chaos and disorder […] this is why it is said the religion and the ruler are ‘two connected guarantors’ and that the religion is the foundation (uss) and the ruler its guardian (haris). If there is no foundation for [the religion], it is doomed and if there is no guardian for it, it will perish[1] […] this is a malady for which there is no remedy except through a powerful and just ruler who will unify the disparate and differing views. Hence, it is clear that the ruler is necessary for both the systems of this Religion and the systems of this world and vice versa. In addition, the systems of this Religion are necessary for the success and joy of the Hereafter and this undoubtedly was the objective of the Prophets. Therefore, the obligatory character of [appointing] the ruler (imam) is established from the Law (al-shar`) which may not in any way be abandoned. Know this.”[2]

و يقول أبو حامد الغزالي رحمه الله : إن الدنيا والأمن على الأنفس والأموال لا ينتظم إلا بسلطان مطاع، فتشهد له مشاهدة أوقات الفتن بموت السلاطين والأئمة، وإن ذلك لو دام ولم يتدارك بنصب سلطان آخر مطاع دام الهرج، وعمّ السيف وشمل القحط، وهلكت المواشي، وتعطلت الصناعات، وكان كل من غلب سلب، ولم يتفرغ أحد للعبادة والعلم إن بقي حيًا، والأكثرون يهلكون تحت ظلال السيوف، ولهذا قيل الدين والسلطان توأمان، ولهذا قيل : الدين أُسٌّ والسلطان حارس، ومالا أُسَّ له فمهدوم . وما لا حارس له فضائع، وعلى الجملة لا يتمارى العاقل في أن الخلق على اختلاف طبقاتهم، وما هم عليه من تشتت الأهواء، وتباين الآراء لو خُلُّوا وشأنهم، ولو لم يكن لهم رأي مطاع يجمع شتاتهم لهلكوا من عند آخرهم , وهذا داء لا علاج له إلا بسلطان قاهر مطاع يجمع شتات الآراء، فبان أن السلطان ضروري في نظام الدين ونظام الدنيا، ونظام الدنيا ضروري في نظام الدين، ونظام الدين ضروري في الفوز بسعادة الآخرة، وهو مقصود الأنبياء قطعًا، فكان وجوب الإمام من ضروريات الشرع الذي لا سبيل إلى تركه فاعلم ذلك . أ . هـ .

  • What are some of the points mentioned by Hujjat al-Islam Imam al-Ghazali? They include:
  1. Material and worldly security is dependent upon the existence of a just ruler.
  • Little do people heed this thinking any other type of ruler is in the interest of Muslims.
  • The ruler will carry out his divinely ordained duties being answerable to the people, implementing their rights, etc.
  • All belief systems other than Islam will seek only material benefit and self-interest of the few.
  1. The absence of the rulers and scholars leads to destruction, chaos and fitna.
  • We witness the fitna today in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.
  • Powerless nations and people will always be controlled by the powerful.
  • Our noble Imams are dwindling leaving a void for self-styled cowboy or rogue scholars to enter and misguide.
  • The orthodox tradition of the past is slowly being lost to modern reformulations.
  1. Islam is the foundation and basis and the ruler is its watchman, guardian and protector.
  • The Religion of Islam is always in a serious and vulnerable state without a protector.
  • We see Muslims being tempted away from Islam and to non-Islam (kufr) and the dunya.
  • The Islamic culture, traditions, etiquettes, morals and thoughts all remain open to peril and danger without that protector.
  1. Both guarantee security and safety.
  • Together, The Religion and the State will ensure success and betterment.
  • Both are inseparable (‘twins’).
  1. Both are connected and must not be separated, i.e. religion and power or authority must remain conjoined and engaged.
  • How foolish and dangerous it is that Muslims call for secularism.
  • To disengage Islam from its political/ruling system is to alter Islam.
  • To think Islam will be saved by trying to change the heart of every single Muslim person is impossible.
  • To think Islam will be saved by trying to change the belief (iman) of every single Muslim person is impossible.
  • To think Islam will be saved by trying to integrate it into the current political structures is dangerous.
  1. The obligation of appointing a ruler is established from textual evidences and may never be abandoned.
  • Many Muslims fail to see the extreme importance of this obligation.
  • Some Muslims do not even consider it a religious obligation at all.
  • Some Muslims knowingly give excuses for not working to appoint a just ruler.
  • Two evidences for the obligation are:
1. (O believers! Obey Allah, obey the Messenger and those in authority over you…).[1]

﴿ يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ أَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَأَطِيعُواْ الرَّسُولَ وَأُوْلِي الأَمْرِ   مِنكُمْ

Imam al-Tabari says regarding the verse that “…‘those in authority’ refers to the rulers.”[2]

قال الطبري : أن أولي الأمر هم الأمراء

Imam Ibn Kathir says: “the most apparent meaning – and Allah knows best – is that the verse is general referring to all people in authority of the rulers and scholars…”[3]

قال ابن كثير : الظاهر – والله أعلم أن الآية عامة في جميع أولي الأمر من الأمراء والعلماء

The reasoning from this verse is the following:P1. Allah makes obligatory conditional obedience to the rulers (umara’).[4]P2. For this obligatory command to be realized the rulers must exist.

P.3 [Allah does not command obedience to what does not exist].


C1. Therefore, the verse implies appointing the rulers in office.

2. From Ibn `Umar: The Prophet (saw) said: “whoever dies without a pledge of allegiance (bay`a) on his neck, dies a death of jahiliyya…”[5]

من مات وليس في عنقه بيعة مات ميتة جاهلية

P1. The bay`aon the neck of every Muslim is obligatory to have.P2. The bay`a cannot be done without there being an imam.


C1. Therefore, appointing the imam is obligatory.

  • If we are seeking the supreme felicity and success in the hereafter, then this is not realisable or possible unless the worldly duties and imperatives given to us are within a mechanism allowing us to faithfully and correctly adhere and fulfil those duties.
  • Thus, the dunya is connected to the akhira.
  • What you believe, do and live by now determines your outcome later.
  • We should heed our Imams.
  • They are our guiding lights.
  • We follow their footsteps and the knowledge & legacy they left us.
  • Re-establishing Allah’s Religion comprehensively again is the utmost imperative.

The reality is the best pointer to show us why we so urgently need an imam: one man, who will unite the lands, people, and resources and bring order from disorder.

Peace and blessings be upon our Master Muhammad, his family and his Companions.

S. Z. Chowdhury

[1] A statement attributed to Imam `Ali (ra). See Ibn al-Muflih al-Hanbali, Adab al-Shar`iyya, vol.1, p.200.

[2] See al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisad fi’l-I`tiqad, p.199. for a small discussion, see as well Brague and Cochrane, The Law of God, pp.182-185; A. Engineer, The State in Islam, pp.93-95; A. K. S. Lambton, “The Internal Structure of the Saljuq Empire” in The Cambridge History of Iran, ed. by W. Bayne et al, vol.5, pp.203-209 and idem, State and Government in Medieval Islam, pp.117-127; M. Taher, Encyclopaedic Survey of Islamic Culture, pp.50-52 and F. Najjar, “Siyasa in Islamic Political Philosophy” in Islamic Theology and Philosophy, A. Hourani and M. Marmura (eds.), pp.96-99.

[3] Surat al-Nisa’:59.

[4] See al-Tabari, al-Jami` al-Bayan, vol.7, p.497.

[5] See Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-`Azim, vol.2, p.303.

[6] So long as they rule with the Qur’an and the Sunna.

[7] Muslim, Sahih, no.1851.


2 thoughts on “Imam Ghazzali: On the Caliphate

  1. salaam,
    i have read your blog, and it really interests me as i am doing an essay on the topic of bayyah, i couldnt find the referance to the hadith by h. umar (ra), i would appreciate it if you could send me the reference to the hadith in regards to the jahiliyyah death if a person had not pledged allegiance before he died.
    kind regards,

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