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Andrew F. March Geneaiogies of Sovereignty in isiamic Poiiticai Theoiogy

Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: "I will create a vice- gerent [khalifa (caliph)] on earth." They said: "Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood?—whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?" He said: "I know what ye know not." Qur'an 2:30







scholarship by the moniker "political theology" is largely an exercise in revelation. As a claim, "political theology" is the assertion that certain concepts, gaps, and aspiradons immanent in Western political theory are transferred from theology either in the form of presence or of absence.^ We take certain concepts to be archetypically secular and this-worldly but we can discern their origins in the theological imagination. Or, perhaps, we suffer from an anxiety about our abil- ity to account for certain goods—ultimate foundadons, the telos of history, moral motivation—that is readily explained as a trauma from the loss of things we imagine ourselves to have had in some previous, theologically infused, era. We are aware they are missing and we miss them. As a field of inquiry, "political theology" is a call to explore the symbolic dimension of politics, the cr)^to-theological origins of political concepts and practices, or the ways in which certain poHtical

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practices—violent ones in particular—come to have meaning for us and other ones do not. The most obvious condition of possibihfy for this discourse is the presumption that we live in a secular world. Pohtical theology is revela- tory in this mundane sense—it seeks to reveal aspects of our contem- porary, pseudo-secular condition that are opaque to us. In this sense, it is something of a misnomer, which itself is perhaps another symptom of the kind of forgetting that it seeks to undo. For there is often httle logos in political theology, indeed, very little theos. Political theology traffics in analogies, symbols, and imputations of meaning. It does not traffic very much in formal theology. This makes sense, since "pohtical theology" as a claim and field of inquiry is a critical practice. If modem pohtical theory and practice itself expounded at length on its ovra theo- logical origins and assumptions, there would be nothing critical about "political theology." By contrast, the analogous critical move in exphc- itly theistic political cultures is to uncover the secular, the mundane, and the human undemeath what exphcitly travels as the sacred or the theological.

Political theology is an intrinsically comparative practice, but this basic feature of its practice in the West needs to be borne in mind. In other contexts, the Islamic world in particular, the relation of the manifest and the concealed is reversed. The age of secularism as a call and a discourse of legitimation is (long) over. The temptation is reversed—praetorian dictatorships adopt constitutions that declare Islam to be the state religion and sharia to be a/the source of law. The critical move, albeit not a very challenging one, is to impute secu- larify to what travels as the sacred. So, for example, since all divine law needs to be articulated, interpreted, and organized by humans, it has been claimed that there is no such thing as divine sovereignfy or the mle of God's law. Moreover, since the temptation to present what is human as divine is so overwhelming, and the dangers when this temptation is present so singular, Muslims ought to simply embrace secular constitutionalism and save the sacred from politics (An-Na'im


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That is not the direction I intend to take this essay, although I do want to bring the theological back into political theology. Instead, I will discuss some of the main paths that have been opened up in modern Islamic political thought toward that most prized object for all politi- cal theologies in the Abrahamic tradition; sovereignfy. This inquiry is not only urgent, but also newly exciting, in hght of the past few years in the Middle East. The events that hastily came to be called the "Arab Spring" have done much to reopen the question of what it means for a Muslim sociefy to be ruled legitimately and to challenge Islamist parties to account for their visions of sovereignfy and legitimacy in the public sphere. In this sense, the Arab Spring has brought the politi- cal back into pohtical Islam and brought Islamic political thought back into history.

LEGACIES The principle rallying cry of the Sunni Islamist movement during the middle of the twentieth century was the proclamation of God's exclusive sovereignfy (hakimiyya) over the world, including human political action. What we might call "high Utopian Islamism" rejects any form of comparison or similarify with modern Western ideals of governance. The common Abrahamic belief in God's cosmic, creative sovereignfy—what we might call divine sovereignfy as fact—leads to an uncompromising insistence on God's exclusive legislative and normative sovereignfy. The statements of Sayyid Qutb on the rigorous demands of a commitment to divine sovereignfy remain among the most influential;

If we look at the sources and foundations of modem modes of living, it becomes clear that the whole world is steeped

in jahiliyya [pagan ignorance]

the sovereignfy of God on earth. It attempts to fransfer to

man one of the greatest attributes of God, namely sover-

eignfy, by making some men lords over others

more subtle form of claiming that the right to create values.

in the

based on rebellion against

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


to legislate rules of collective behavior, and to choose a way of life rests with men, v^dthout regard to what God has prescribed (Qutb 1964, 8).

As is Mddely appreciated, Qutb's view was a nostalgic one, harkening back not to the recent past before the collapse of Muslim independence but all the way back to the first generations of Islam. And yet even this belies the fact that the meaning and institutionalization of God's sover- eignfy on earth was no less a problem for the earhest Muslims than it was for later ones. The earliest Muslims were afflicted not only vdth violent strug- gles for political power as part ofthe birth pangs of empire but also with conflict over what it means to submit to God's sovereignfy. Consider the sla5dng of the fourth caliph, 'Ali, at the hands of some of his ovra partisans four decades after the founding of the Muslim communify as a political entify in Medina. As is well known even to nonexperts, 'Ali agreed to an arbitration vdth his opponent in the first civil war (656-661), Mu'avwyya—the kinsman ofthe assassinated third caliph 'Uthman and himself the founder of the Umayyad dynasfy (661-750). A group of 'Ali's own partisans, later knov\m as the Kharijites ("those who go out"), found this submission to human authorify abominable. Rather, foUovwng the Qur'an, they held that "there is no mle but God's" {la hukma Ua lüláh), and even 'Ali's ov^oi authorify as the rightful Imam of the Muslim communify could not supersede it. Thus, while the Sunni- Shi'ite split that we are familiar vwth today did not originate contempo- raneously with the assassinations of'Uthman and 'Ali and the first civil war ifitna), 'Ali was indeed killed for an idea.

A' M was perhaps the last semi-charismatic "Imam of Guidance"^ who had a chance to preserve both Muslim pohtical and moral unify. 'Ali's assassination was thus a kind of trauma that marks the true begin- ning of Islamic political history: unlike the partisans of Mu'awiyya, who fought for their kinship rights or for a very basic idea of 'Uthman's constitutional legitimacy, the Kharijites unleashed a politico-moral problem on the Muslim communify. What is divine sovereignt}^?

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What does it mean for God alone to mle? How can the sacral commu- nify uphold both the obligation to obey the Imam of Guidance even unto death and the obligation to obey only God through His Law? If the communify must have, not only for political but also for salvific purposes, the right Imam of Guidance, but that man is bound by the law, who then decides what the law is and when it has been violated? Answering these questions, it is little exaggeration to say, was the prob- lem ofthe early Islanüc public sphere. This is not the place to examine the full range of attempts in premodem Islamic political theology to recover from this early loss of unify and simplicify by accounting for the meaning of divine sover- eignfy and the acceptable modes of entmsting that sovereignfy to fallible human actors. Suffice it to say here that modem Muslims are bequeathed a collection of concepts related to sovereignfy rather than

a single model fit for emulation or recovery. The first concept is the

idea of political authorify as a kind of contract between the commu- nify and the mler. Even the career ofthe Prophet Muhammad suggests two sources of political authorify: designation by God, as revealed in the Qur'an, of Muhammad as one to be obeyed as God's messenger, and the voluntary agreement of his followers to obey him through a contract known as the bay'a. For the earliest Muslims, the source of

a ruler's political sovereignfy was his election by a council represent- ing the people as a whole. God was sovereign on earth insofar as his communify had vahdly selected a leader to guide them in accordance vwth his revealed message.^

The second major concept is the idea of God's will as embodied not in the person ofthe imam or caliph but in the corpus ofthe divine law. Eventually, even the fiction of election by the people's representa- tives was to succumb to pohtical reahfy. Rulers came to power through conquest, and thus their own vidll and capacify were factual sources of political sovereignfy. Yet while neither the idea of divine designa- tion nor Hobbesian realism was entirely absent from Islamic political theology, nor did they fully displace legahsm. Divine sovereignfy came to be a function not of a particular mler's right to command but ofthe

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


extent to which he applied God's law. But this opens up new sources of sovereignty. The class of scholars ('ulama', or jurists: juqaha') came to represent both God and the people, insofar as God's law was only known through texts that required expert knowledge to master, and the popular will of the umma (community) could only be to be ruled by God's law. A remarkable statement by a fourteenth-century scholar encapsulates this view:

Properly speaking the mlers are obeyed [only to the extent] that their commands are consistent with the religious sciences. Hence, the duty to obey them derives ftom the duty to obey the jurists. Obedience is due only in what is good and what is required by the religious sciences. Since the duty to obey the jurists is derived ftom the duty to obey the Prophet, then the duty to obey the mlers is derived ftom the duty to obey the jurists. Furthermore, since Islam is protected and upheld by the mlers and the jurists alike, this means that the laity must follow these two (Ibn Qay3dm al-Jawziyya 1973,1:10; Abou El Fadl 2012, 49).

This quotadon suggests that the scholars themselves, as the custodians of the law, are the tme sources of sovereignty and the ones entitled to transform a usurping warlord's possession of coercive capacity into legidmate authority. But it also points to a third major concept, namely, the division of authority into a sphere for secular mlers and one for the scholars. Mature Islamic political theory, especially after the Mongol destruction of even the symboHc fiction of the 'Abbasid caliphate (1258), accommodated the personal and arbitrary nature of political sovereignty in an important way. Briefiy, many jurists after the thir- teent h centur y wer e eager t o kee p political Hfe withi n a sharia-based normadve ftamework. The jurists' strategy was twofold: first to try to induce de facto mlers to comport with the sharia and thus acquire a dimension of legidmacy beyond mere Hobbesian right but also, more

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interestingly, to carve out large spheres of discretionary authorify for mlers, govemors, ministers, generals, and other executive officers that were not regulated by detailed prescriptive norms formulated by the jurists but were still within the larger canopy of sharia because of their conformify vwth the looser standards of public welfare (salus populi). This genre ofwriting about God, sovereignfy, and pohtics, known as siyasa shar'iyya (roughly: "religiously legitimate governance"), stipu- lated a sort of condominium of authorify whereby scholars apply their understanding of God's law in the civil realm fully independently from the secular mlers, and the secular rulers in tum enjoy a certain space to exercise temporally bound powers of command beyond the strict letter of the law (Johansen 2008). Key figures here include the Sj^ian Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328 CE/661-728 AH) (Ibn Taymiyya 1967; 1983; 2000)'* and his student, the above-quoted Ibn Q_ayjdm al-Jawziyya (Ibn Q_ayyim al-Jawziyya 1973; 1991). Their doctrines have, if anything, been even more influential in the twentieth century than they were in their ovwi time, as we vwll see below.

What is important to note here before turning to the modern context is that for centuries legitimate Islamic rule accommodated multiple sources of law, both the religious law of the jurists (fiqh) derived from the textual sources of revelation and the "secular" law of the rulers, often referred to as siyasa or qanun. Nonetheless, if the broader idea of "divine law" is defined in such a way as to include both the extra-political, textually derived doctrines of the jurists (what most think of as sharia) and the realm of discretion and judgment in politics as long as it is constrained by rehgious goals and departs firom religious moralify in the least possible amount, then the "rule of God's law" can eftectively be said to always be in force under just Muslim rulers.

DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY IN ISLAMIC MODERNITY In this section, I introduce three visions of sovereignfy representing attempts by modem Muslims to reconcile the ideals of divine and popu- lar sovereignfy. Two of these are embodied in actual states and their official discourses of sovereignfy, while the third is a purely intellectual

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


attempt to theorize the relationship between divine sovereignfy and democratic authorify.

Saudi Arabia: God's Sovereignty in Condominium

It has been argued that the late medieval Islamic model of mle briefiy infroduced above, the "siyasa shar'iyya" model, whereby scholars apply their understanding of God's law in the civil realm fully independently from the secular mlers and the secular mlers in turn enjoy a certain space to exercise temporarily bound powers of command, is most closely represented in the modern world by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Vogel 2000). As is well knowm, power in Saudi Arabia is divided between a class of religious scholars and the Al Saud family. The class of scholars in this case are bound by a particularly rigorous understand- ing of Islamic creed and legal doctrine, based on a strict form of reli- ance on revelation (the Qur'an and the Prophetic sunna), resuscitated in the eighteenth century by religious reformer Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab. This school (Wahhabism to outsiders, Salafism internally) is characterized by its obsessive preoccupation with expurgating any conceivable departure from the strictest monotheism in Muslim behef and practice, such as venerating the graves of revered ancestors (includ- ing that of the Prophet Muhammad himself) or looking to any sources of moral and epistemic authorify outside of revelation. Like many Christian Protestant-reformist movements, it insists on forming creedal and legal docfrines based to the greatest possible extent on revelatory texts, followed by the recorded original understanding of revelation by the first generation of Muslims (the salaf) and then a narrower geneal- ogy of righteous forbearers, most notably Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855 CE/164-241 AH) and Ibn Taymiyya.

As such, an insistence on the sfrictest possible acknowledgement of the sovereignfy of God in worldly affairs characterizes Salafi pohtical theology. The Saudi Basic Law of 1992, a pohtical compromise weighted in favor of the king, declares that the Kingdom's "constitution [dustur] is the Book of God and the Sunna of His Prophet," (Art. 1) and that "govemment [ol-hukm] derives its authorify [sulta]from the Book of God

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and the Sunna of His Prophet, the two of which are sovereign [haki- man] over this law [nizam] and all other state laws."^ The Basic Law is thus replete with references to its own limited authorify and the exis- tence of a prior, pre-pohtical body of law (not just abstiact, constitutive authorify). The very function ofthe executive is defined as applying the sharia (Arts. 23, 55) and the application of properfy and labor rights (Art. 17), human rights (Art. 26), criminal punishments (Art. 38) and, indeed, all public policy {siyasa 'amma) is to be carried out "in accordance v^th the Islamic sharia." This amounts to wide authorify for the religious scholars. In their judicial capacify, these scholars are declared to be an "independent authorify [sulta] not subject to any authorify [sultan] other than the authorify ofthe Islamic shari'a" (Art. 46). Legislative authorify belongs formally to the king, but it is limited in scope—judicial author- ify is, in fact, the authorify to legislate vddely and to represent God's sovereignfy.

There is an institutionalization of the traditional contractual component of the temporal mle (through the rendering of the bay'a), but the notion of popular participation in divine sovereignfy is mini- mized. Executive power is, of course, hereditary (Art. 5) and any popu- lar ratification of a new monarch occurs after the fact (Art. 6) and is perfunctory.^ The king's authorify is hmited by the "sharia," and while this means the religious scholars, all the official bodies of religious authorify are appointed and dissolved by the king. Nowhere does the document mention the Muslim people as a source of sovereignfy or political authorify, as does, for example, the constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom ofJordan, similarly a hereditary monarchy sfyling itself after Islamic tradition: "The Nation is the source of all powers" (Article 24.(i)).

In political practice, it would first appear that the king is the bearer of sovereignfy in a Schmittian-realist sense, not to mention a Weberian one. The Basic Law refers three times to the king's emer- gency powers and right to suspend the law (Arts. 61, 62, and 82), and the king appoints to their judicial positions those scholars who ideally represent the prepolitical legislative sovereignfy of God. However, it is

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


clear that as a normative matter at the very least, and a practical one to an indeterminate extent, the Saudi monarch can in no way be regarded a sovereign in the tradition of Bodin, Hobbes, and Schmitt. Article 82 tries (although Schmitt reminds us of its futilify)^ to limit by law the extent to which the law itself can be suspended: "No provision of this Law whatsoever may be suspended except on a temporary basis, such as in wartime or during the declaration of a state of emergency. Such a suspension shall be in accordance with the terms of the Law and may not violate Article 7," which reads: "Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia derives its authority from the Book of God and the Sunna of the Prophet (PBUH), which are the ultimate sources of reference for this Law and the other laws ofth e State."

There is no doubt that the authorify of this regime is, in its own account, not a function of its own will or divine designation but of its fidelify to whatever is interpreted as God's law. More important, what- ever public and private licenses the rulers of that kingdom habitually take, they have made no effort to claim that their edicts represent the sharia. As a matter of historical and sociological fact, it is also clear that any such efforts on the king's part to claim the right to pronounce on matters of divine law (fiqh) would certainly fail, and would likely provoke a crisis of legitimacy. It is hardly overly apologetic to claim that the Saudi model represents as close as possible an instantiation of the premodem siyasa shar'iyya ideal: a bifurcation ofthe representation and execution of God's sovereignfy into extensive social power held by the scholars and pohtical-coercive power held by the rulers. Indeed, the confidence ofthe scholars in their ovm independent representation of divine sovereignfy extends to the point that, despite the right of the king to formulate policies under the siyasa shar'iyya doctrine, "the shari'a courts of the kingdom refuse to enforce the [king's] nizams. When confronted vdth a case arising under a nizam, the shari'a court judge will do as he himself thinks right" (Vogel 2000,175).

One final issue: the Basic Law declares that Saudi Arabia is a hereditary monarchy; yet what about the sovereignfy of God through shaxia authorizes these particular rulers? What is the source of this

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family's derivadve political sovereignty? As noted above, many premod- ern Islamic political theologians assumed (as did, inter alia, Hobbes) that power would simply be seized or usurped. Short of an ideal found- ing election by the people who loose and bind, power would have to be transformed into legidmate authority through a new dynasty's self- binding by Islamic law. This characterizes the attitude ofmany Wahhabi scholars toward their various alliances with the Al Saud family since 1745: the identity of the mler is not pardcularly important since, as Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab is reported to have declared, "whoever gains power by force over a city or country has the legal status of the imam in all things" (Vogel 2000, 210).

However, there appears to be a slight further twist in the Saudi- Wahhabi saga. While it is clear that legidmacy in the practical, socio- logical sense is a function of the royal family's ongoing sponsorship of right religion and deference to the judgment of the scholars, the mj^h of an originadng pact (bay'a) between Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab and Ibn Sa'ud remains part of the overall apparatus of legitimation vwthin the realm. Vogel vwrites that as part of his eighteenth revival movement, Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab "asked Ibn Sa'ud to mount holy war for Islamic reform and offered him in retum suzerainty over its conquests" and that "this compact, dravm up in 1158/1745 is still the basis for Saudi Arabian legitimacy" (Vogel 2000,207; emphasis added). The reladve importance of the procedural element in jusdfying polidcal sovereignty should not be exaggerated; but even the myth of this founding contract reveals the element within Islamic polidcal theology of the class of scholars them- selves as a source of sovereignty, primarily as the permanent custodians of sharia but also as "people who loose and bind" and may authorize a worldly mler.

The key to the tradidonal siyasa shar'iyya model, as exempHfied by the modem Saudi arrangement, is that upholding a rigid ideal of divine sovereignty, or rule by God's law, requires a restricdon on the appHca- don ofthat sovereignty. A buffer is maintained between the jurisdicdon claimed by the reHgious law and the more discredonary acts taken by the secular authorides. The scholars do not have to execute actual coercive

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


authorify or to enact pohcy on transitory temporal matters. Those discre- tionary policies and laws may be in an indirect sense authorized by the divine law, and thus belong in a broad sense to the sharia if they remain vidthin the boundaries set by the revelatory texts, but no single act or pohcy ofthe pohtical realm asserts the kinds of claims to tmth, textual authorify, or ümelessness that the ruhngs, doctrines, and judgments of the rehgious law do. Thus, the temporal world can function under the broad canopy of rehgious legitimacy vwthout any tainting or compromis- ing ofthe sacred law. This gap, or buffer, serves as an ahbi for the sacred law against the failures, corruptions, and hypocrisies of the political realm and so plays a crucial role in guaranteeing its continuous prestige.

Iran: The Sovereign Jurist

A similar attitude of haughfy distance from and indifference to the exer- cise of executive authorify also characterized Shiite jurists during the Safavid and Qajar dynasties, despite certain theological problems not faced by Sunni scholars.^ However, the secularizing will ofthe Pahlavi shahs meant that by the mid-twentieth century there was even less of a remnant of Islamic law in the Iranian legal system than there was in most of the modernizing, semi-secular Arab regimes. Combined with the greater, more formalized, and more centralized authorify held by the Shiite scholars in comparison with their Sunni counterparts, this meant that the Islamist rejection ofthe Pahlavi state would be total and would be lead by the scholars as a social group (Arjomand 1988). In the theory of governance developed by the Ayatollah RuhoUah Khomeini in the years before the revolution, there was an identical emphasis on the God as the sole source of sovereignfy and the law as the sole embodiment or representation of God's sovereignfy. In "Islamic Government," Khomeini wrote, "the legislative power and competence to establish laws belongs exclusively to God Almighfy. The Sacred Legislator of Islam is the sole legislative power" (Khomeini 1981, 55). In Islam "it is law alone that rules over sociefy" (56). How, though, does this lead to Khomeini's purely innovative doctrine ofthe "gover- nance of the jurist" (vilayet-ifaqih)7

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Khomeini gives two primary arguments for the direct, unmedi- ated right of the supreme rehgious authorify to claim supreme politi- cal authorify. The first source of the practical, political sovereignfy of the jurist is an argument from reason; "Since Islamic government is a government of law, knowledge of the law is necessary for the mler." Classical Sunni jurists also preferred that the mler have extensive reli- gious knowledge. However, Khomeni derives a further conclusion from the shared premise that Islamic mle is the mle of di\ine law; "The mler

must surpass all others in

Knowledge of the law and

justice, then, constitute fundamental qualifications. Other matters have no importance or relevance in this connection Reason also dictates [this], because Islamic government is a government of law." Since "the mler must submit to the jurist, asking him about the laws and ordinances of Islam in order to implement them, then the tme mlers are the jurists themselves" (59-60; emphasis added). Khomeini takes the nomocratic and epistocratic assumptions of Sunni siyasa shar'iyya doctrines and cuts out the middleman between the scholars and the people. Of course, in doing so, he not only claims political authorify for the scholars but also collapses the distinction insisted upon by the Sunni scholars between different kinds of knowledge. In his final twist, Khomeini fuses what for Sunnis would only be dispersed, collectively held knowledge into a single figure; "What if one of us becomes the foremost jurist of his age and is able to enforce his authority? Can there be any difference in the authorify of the Most Noble Messenger, that of 'Ali and that of the jurist?" (63)

In addition to this argument from reason, however, Khomeini also gives a historical genealogy, amounting to an argument from revelation. The details are too obscure for present purposes, so briefly; Khomeini cites a series of hodith-reports atfributed to both the Prophet Muhammad and various Shiite Imams that the scholars are the succes- sors ("caliphs") of the prophet and the imams after the Occultation. A statement attributed to the seventh Shiite imam, "the jurists are the fortresses of Islam," is interpreted by Khomeini to "ascribe to the jurists the dufy of being guardians of the behefs, ordinances, and insti-

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tutions of Islam" (73), which includes the penal codes, defense, social justice and taxation, vwthout which "the walls ofthe fortress" crumble (74). "The preservation of Islam [that is, creating a state] is even more important than prayer" (76) and "all ofthe tasks entrusted to the proph-

ets must also be fulfilled by the just jurists as a matter of dufy" (78). "Indeed, it is precisely because the just jurists have not had executive


traditional statements about the importance of the scholars as guard- ians of Islamic knowledge and piefy to amount to a sort of "Donation of Constantine" whereby public authorify belongs to the scholars as right.

Thus, Khomeini's prerevolutionary doctrine excludes the people as a source of sovereignfy and political authorify even more than the Sunni siyasa shar'iyya model and its modern Saudi embodiment. Khomeini's idea of Islamic government is purely constitutional but "not constitutional in the current sense ofthe word, i.e., based on the approval of laws in accordance with the opinion ofthe majorify" (56; emphasis added). Popular consent as a precondition of legitimacy is not absent, though. Rather, it is immanent: "The body of Islamic laws that exist in the Qur'an and the Sunna has been accepted by the Muslims and recognized by them as worthy of obedience. This consent and accep- tance facilitates the task of govemment and makes it truly belong to the people" (56; emphasis added).

In the actual 1979 constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, things get slightly more complicated. The constitution largely follows Khomeini's conceptions of divine sovereignfy and the direct succession of the jurist(s) to political authorify. The constitution declares that the Islamic Repubhc is based on behef in "the One God, His exclusive sover- eignfy and the right to legislate, and the necessify of submission to His commands" (Art. 2), and that "absolute sovereignfy over the world and man belongs to God, and it is He who has made man master of his ovwi social destiny" (Art. 56). The concentration of actual power in the hands ofthe class ofjurists is well known: all judges must be clergy, all applied laws must be derived from or compatible with sharia, a Guardian Council (composed mostly of clergy) has a veto over legislation passed

that Islam has declined" (80). In essence, Khomeini takes

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by the parliament and, of course, bestriding the entire system is the sovereign-like figure ofthe Supreme Leader with the ultimate right to decide on all legislation, policy, and, paradigmatically, to "decide on the exception." Importantiy, the constitution declares that "during the Occultation ofthe Lord ofthe Time [the imam], the guardianship and leadership of the umma devolve upon the just and pious jurist" (Art. 5; emphasis added). The people is not declared to be the actual source of the regime's legitimacy; rather, the regime itself was only "endorsed by the people of Iran on the basis of their long-standing belief in the sover- eignfy of truth and Qur'anic justice" (Art. 1; emphasis added). However, the people does not entirely vanish, neither as an agent of political decision-making nor as a source of legitimate authorify. While the Supreme Leader is elected by a Council of Experts (similar to the Vatican's College of Cardinals), the constitution seems to prefer that such a rehgious figure already "be recognized and accepted by the majority ofthe people" (Preamble; Art. 5; Art. 107). Moreover, in prac- tice, the people is given substantial input into the creation of those bodies that represent both the people and God's sovereignfy (hakimiyet). Not only does the people elect a parliament (the Islamic Consultative Assembly), it also elects the president and the Council of Experts itself. This kernel of popular sovereignty enshrined in the constitution is, of course, one fount of the chronic legitimacy crisis faced by the Islamic Republic, most manifestly during the 2009-10 protests.

But perhaps a greater source of this legitimacy crisis is precisely the fusion of all authorify into one figure and the sacrahzation of the political. In fusing all kinds of social and political lavraiaking into the same kind of sacred nomos, the political is not so much reclaimed for the sacred as the sacred is reduced to the political. It is a short step from the prerevolutionary ideological claim that the state must be run by the sacred law to the position that whatever the state requires for its defense, preservation and welfare is what the sacred law is. There is a revolution in this shift from the claim that the political is authorized by the religious and the worldly rulers must be obeyed as a religious obligation, to the claim that "obedience to the [state] law is like the

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


daily prayer and fasdng, and disobeying it is hke disobeying the Islamic Sacred Law" (Arjomand 1988, 182), or Khomeini's notorious edict that "Islamic government takes precedence over all else, even prayer, fast- ing and the pilgrimage to Mecca" (that is, the most basic personal reH- gious obligations). The Hobbesian effect of secularizing reHgious law by sacralizing the polidcal was clearly not the intendon of those revo- ludonaries who sought to restore divine sovereignty where it had been usurped. However, given his scheme, Khomeini could only present the Guardian-Jurist as having no limits. Since he speaks for both the state and the sharia (unHke the Saudi King), the Supreme Leader's excepdons and innovadons cannot be localized and characterized as mere public policy.

Thus, given that Islam traditionally lacks a tme Caesaropapist conception of divine sovereignty (especially Shiites in the absence of the imam) and the prerevoludonary promise was not the mle of jurists but the rule of the law they merely knew, it is noteworthy that Iran's present legitimation crisis is at least partially a function of the ehmina- don of the traditional buffer created by siyasa shar'iyya models between religious authority and the vicissitudes and risks of political gover- nance. This speaks to a certain cunning in the siyasa shar'iyya model and helps explain its widespread popularity vwthin modern Islamic polidcal theology. However, in recent years the notion of sovereignty underpinning the (Sunni) siyasa shar'iyya doctrine has been subject to a kind of democradzing revolution. I turn to this third modem Islamic concepdon of sovereignty by way of conclusion.

Islamic Democracy: The Caliphate of Man

Since the 1970s, many thinkers in the orbit of the MusHm Brotherhood and ideologically similar organizations have refined Islamist thought on the reladonship between divine and human authority. In this final section, I single out Tunisian Islamist leader Rashid al-Ghannushi as a theorist of a complex ideal that seeks to reconcile both divine and popular ideals of sovereignty. Ghannushi's thought (shared with many modem Islamic polid- cal thinkers) is built on the doctrine of a divine covenant of vicege-

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rency with mankind-at-large. Pointing to Qur'anic verses in which God refers to mankind as a whole as his depufy or vicegerent (khalifa:

caliph), particularly Q, 2:30, Ghannushi begins his treatment of fi-ee- dom, responsibihfy, and sovereignfy directly with the people rather than with the obligation of Mushms to obey God's competent represen- tatives: the scholars and mlers. He vmtes that the Islamic conception of politics is based on a metaphysical account ofthe totalify of existence, premised on the beliefs "that God is the creator and master of all exis- tence, more knowledgeable than His creatures and the highest legisla- tor and commander, and that man has been distinguished from the rest of God's creatures by his designation as God's depufy (istikhlaf), through which vdth he has been entrusted with reason, vwll, fteedom, responsi- bihfy and the divinely ordered path for his life" (Ghannushi 1994, 37).

Ghannushi distinguishes Islamic approaches to freedom, human rights, public justification, and the state from "Western" concep- tions, which he tends to see in a reductive way as all based on a kind of arbitrary, foundationless human will and purposeless philosophical anthropology. But Ghannushi's project is not just a reassertion ofthe traditional right ofthe scholars, as custodians ofthe law, to represent the people and constrain the mlers. He promises an incorporation of democratic institutions and practices into Islamic pohtical thought (88). Predictably, he finds precedent for democratic institutions in Qur'anic and early Islamic practices of consultation (shura), popular ratification of mlers (bay'a), communal consensus about religious prac- tices and points of law (ijma'), and the collective scope ofthe injunction to "command the right and forbid the wrong."

But the more radical aspect of his theory is the universaliza- tion and popularization of political sovereignfy through the doctrine of man's vicegerency of God (istikhlaf). Ghannushi identifies the cove- nant of vicegerency ('aqd al-istikhlaf) as the central idea of Islamic civilization and the basic principle of Islamic political philosophy. Contiguous with, but not quite identical to, the idea of a primordial covenant of belief and submission to God, man's vicegerency is the precondition for individual agency as well as for collective political life. God's master legislation for mankind presupposes a human agent

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


who can receive this law as a moral charge, has the moral capacify to either fulfill it or neglect it, and can accept collective responsibil- ify for its enactment. Sovereign authorify is thus held by mankind at large as a collective trust bestowed by God; "If original sovereignfy in the Islamic state is only God's will, represented by the shari'a, then the authorify of the Muslim sociefy is as agent or representative of God, and God is the one who bestowed this sovereignfy and authorify on the umma, within the framework of His shari'a, and made the umma his depufy [ostakhîa/oho/i'1-ord]" (165).

An appropriate place to begin is with Ghannushi's story about the founding of the state and the source of its legitimacy. Ghannushi explicitly rejects the realism of late medieval Islamic political thought, encountered above in Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's statement that "whoever gains power by force over a cify or country has the legal status of the imam in all things." However, while he sees the Islamic state in contractual terms, he also rejects the Western social contract account of the state's legitimacy as originating in the free act of self-binding by persons in a state of nature. Ghannushi's account depends on a distinction between the origins of governance as such (huîcm; mle) and the origins of a regime or mler (hakim). Governance as such—the state, including its consti- tutional framework—preexists all human capacities to make worldly contracts, because it is both natural and divinely ordained. "The contract is what establishes the state in Rousseau. However, in Islam, the contract of bay'o does not found the state, because the Text already has, and Muslims are not free as long as they remain Muslims to apply

the rules of shari'a or to invalidate

The state is an original

need in human sociefy, not an exceptional or emergency manifesta- tion" (146). While the idea of "divine sovereignfy" might strike the critical secular reader as vague or nonsensical, here we see one clear implication of the belief in it; that the state is always already justified, requiring no further philosophical or theological grounding, and that the umma has no moral option of doing away with it.

But if human freedom and will do not extend all the way dowm to the authorify to originate civil sociefy, the authorization of all actual

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political power within it flows entirely from the people. Ghannushi declares unambiguously that the contract established by the people is the source of any ruler's or imam's authorify: "the authorify of the caliph is derived from the umma" (140). In contrast with the perfunc- tory, ex post facto ritual of the bay'a as described in the Saudi Basic Law, Ghannushi argues that the early caliphs both made extraordinary efforts to collect the bay'a from the umma-at-large and declared their own authorify to be contingent on their fiduciary obligation to mle within the hmits of God's law. "What can be concluded from this is that the umma is the source of all authorities and powers and has supreme sovereignfy, all within the framework of the constitution (the sharia)" (141). The ruler (including the entire executive apparatus) is thus an agent {wakil) or employee {ajir) of the umma, contracted with the sole purpose of helping the umma discharge its own covenantal obligation to obey God's law.

Again, this is not a theological justification for de facto abso- lutism along the lines of Hobbes's account of the popular origins of absolute monarchy. Ghannushi rejects the mere ex post facto ratifica- tion of appointed mlers and the restriction of suffrage to a small elec- toral college of elites. Even if select, elite bodies of representatives are formed and exercise a mediating fiduciary role (as with the scholars in the traditional siyasa shar'iyya conception), their own limited represen- tative authorify is derived exclusively from popular ratification and not their own epistemic claims. This also includes the right to remove an errant mler who violates the terms ofthe contract:

The basic mle is that the one who possesses the right to appoint also possesses the right to remove, so if it is the people who loose and bind who appointed him, then they are called upon to remove their confidence from him, announce this and appoint another. But if the people who loose and bind only have the authorify to nominate candidate(s) to be directly elected by the umma, then it is upon the people to declare its lack of confidence and appoint new candidates for the imamate (185).

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Politica l Theolog y


The people is also given substantial legislative authorify. Ghannushi refers to the umma as "the source of legislation [masdar al-tashri']" and notes that while God is the primary and original source of legislation, the umma participates in divine will through its public practice of mutual consultation (shura). Moreover, for all the binding and constraining qualify ofGod's etemal law, "the goal ofthe eternify of this final, sealing law required restricting and limiting the text of reve- lation to a determination of general principles and a few select particu- lars for organizing human relations and economics." The revealed law leaves the "filling out ofthe details ofthat framework to the legislative efforts ofthe umma, developing with time," a practice that Ghannushi equates with the idea of universal communal consensus (ijma') as a source of divine law alongside revelation. This fact induces Ghannushi to proclaim that when deliberating about political matters "the umma is guided by God and acquires from His light protection against collec- tive error" (119).

Nonetheless, the constrained nature of popular sovereignfy in Ghannushi's political theology should not be dismissed. Just as the covenant of vicegerency is not merely a theological story that results in authoritarian guardianship, neither is the insistence on the primacy of God's sovereignfy in an Islamic democracy rhetorical cover for a kind of Lockean vision of popular sovereignfy endowed Mdth God's imprimatur and hedged in only by a loose conception of natural right. "Man is not the possessor of original right over himself or others but is only a depufy or agent. [He] is not the possessor of supreme sovereignfy but is only the possessor of a right to an ordained authorify by the supreme legis- lative authorify emanating from God. His only choices are to worship God in accordance with the covenant of vicegerency or to reject it and be ranked amongst the unjust, corrupt infidels" (99).

Indeed, Ghannushi asserts starkly the ontological priority and normative supremacy of sharia to any human political authorify, whether autocratic or democratic:

If the justification for the existence of an Islamic govern- ment is the implementation of sharia, putting God into

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the context of history, unidng the divine with the human, coloring life with God's hue, then it does not deserve the obedience of its citizens to its commands except to the extent that they now from submission and adherence to sharia and are in accord vdth the Legislator, or at least not in confiict with him. The Islamic state has no right, whether it is conceived as a political community that has bound itself in a covenant of loyalty and obedience to God or as the collection of executive, legislative and judicial authorides, to depart ftom the sharia, because the sharia, in the language of consdtudonal authority, is the original, foundational authority for the community and the govern- ment (105).

Is the people then the author in any way of the law that precedes the polidcal and constrains its will? Ghannushi regards the divine constraint on the exercise of popular will as "a self-limitation after this umma has approved of and consented to God as its Lord and Islam as its reHgion, voluntarily and fteely" (169; emphasis added). The people, then, fteely adopts divine sovereignty through the sharia in an impHed sense—it is the only will the people can have consonant with its awareness of its primordial covenant of vicegerency with God. This bears some compar- ison to the idea found in the constitudon of the Islamic Republic of Iran that the people has already impHcitly consented to the entire system of mle by jurists. Apart ftom the fact that Ghannushi does not autho- rize any single clerical mler, or a class thereof, to claim any kind of "donadon" of authority, is there an important difference between his attempt to reconcile the rhetoric of divine and popular sovereignty and the and-democradc concepdons of sovereignty encountered in the previous two cases?

If there is a deep difference, and a genuinely radical shift in the direcdon of popular sovereignty, it Hes less in th e insistence on popular control over rulers than in popular pardcipadon in the determinadon of what in the sharia is timeless, fixed, and specific and what is a matter of general ethical principles open to reinterpretadon and appHcadon in

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


time. In all political worlds that posit a "mle of law" that precedes and constrains pohtical outcomes, sovereignfy is not only a matter of who decides when the law is suspended in the name of law but also of who decides on the original boundary between ethics and pohtics. This is the abiding tension in hybrid theories of sovereignfy like Ghannushi's, and I do not intend to pronounce on its resolution. But it is quite clear that theories hke this lay the groundwork for the people collectively not only to exercise an extensive guardian function over its human guardians but also to be the decider of how God's sovereignfy is brought into the world. In his extensive and forceful defense of the "Text" as the first pillar of Islamic political order and the originating and supreme author- ify within it, Ghannushi writes that the reference to "Text" and sharia as supreme authorify and source of all other powers is not a reference to "positive jurisprudence [fiqh] and expert reasoning as to the details [ofthe law]. Rather, perfection—^which is a description ofthe sharia— is not in the particulars but only in the generalities" (101). The entire dilemma, and essential ambiguify, in Ghannushi's hybrid conception of sovereignfy is expressed a few pages later at the end of his core expo- sition ofthe meaning of divine sovereignfy:

The foundations of this [just, divine] law are not posited by a majorify of sociefy, or a dominant class, or even a people preoccupied with its own partial interest, but only by God, the Lord of all. It is enforced, explained and applied to new realities through new specific acts of legislation by a human body chosen and supervised by the people. The people thus has sovereignfy over this body, involving appointment, supervision and removal. This is the author- ify ofthe people [sultat al-umma], or consultation (106).

The ambiguous promise of Ghannushi's doctrine of vicegerency—his caliphate of man—is that the sovereign decision to bind oneself and others, to speak in God's name, to authorize agents both to enact one's own vrtll and discharge one's obligations has devolved upon the people collectively. But there is something crucial to note here.

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For while Ghannushi draws heavily from siyasa shar'iyya theo- rists and points carefully to distinctions between the status enjoyed by rules expertly extracted from revelatory texts and commands issued in the civil ream of statecraft, his theory does not exactly observe the traditional boundary between the prepolitical realm of religious law (fiqh) and the pohtical realm of discretionary, temporally binding public policy (siyasa). In defining the living sharia as that which the people "enforces, explains and applies to new realities through new specific acts of legislation," the people is not only authorized to act politically in the world, but its pohtical acts are seen to represent the sharia. The people's political action is not observing or abiding by the boundary between religious law and political action but creating it.

Insofar as Ghannushi stresses the idea of the universal caliphate and the description of politics as the umma's discharging of its half of the contract of vicegerency, there appears again a kind of sacral- ization of politics. Yet it will be remembered that I argued that this is precisely one source of the legitimation crisis in postrevolutionary Iran—the dissolving the prepolitical mle of sharia into the regime- protecting will of the Jurist. We see that Ghannushi's assignment to the umma of the sovereign right not only to control secular rulers but also to determine what it means to "apply the sharia," what is timeless and binding in God's law, and what is always a matter of collective judg- ment and discretion suggests the possibihfy of a popularization of the Khomeinist model. The gambit, though, is to avoid the legitimation crisis that the unification of rehgious law and pohtical action creates in a regime like Iran. For if it is "the people" unifying these spheres and sacrahzing the pohtical in this way, the ideal of the rule of God's law is not sacrificed at the altar of regime self-preservation. Rather, in appropriating sharia for its own pohtical action, the people vanquishes the specter of an altema- tive, more legitimate law haimting pohtics and challenging its legitimacy.

CONCLUSION While the preceding analysis suggests a democratizing or even liber- alizing form of the sacralization of politics, it is important to resist

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


the temptation to see Islamist political thinkers and actors as either democrats or theocrats, as either "liberal Islamists" who find an Islamic language for posM948 human rights schemes or "radical Islamists" who speak instmmentally about moderation until they are in power. Approaching the questions of law, pohtics, and revelation through the problem of sovereignfy allows us not only to make finer distinctions between various Islamic political theologies but also to appreciate that the tension between visions of divine and popular sovereignfy is authentic. For Ghannushi, the doctrine of man's universal vicegerency {istikhlaf) is primarily a move internal to Islamism that is certainly in a democratizing direction but not with European parliamentary democ- racy as its unambivalent aim.

I will conclude, however, with one nod to current events, since this is where I began. At the time of writing, Tunisia is awaiting the proposals of semi-public constituent assembhes for new postrevolu- tionary constitutions. Inevitably, this process is fraught with tension and the possibilify of extensive violence is far from foreclosed. Are the tensions between Islamist and secular parties only a sign of the superficial or insincere nature of Islamist parties' rhetorical support for democracy and the "civil state"? Would the preceding analysis of the "people" as the bearer of effective sovereignfy predict a more enthusi- astic commitment to the vddest possible popular basis for postrevolu- tionary constitutive politics? The move from thinking about the theological bases of political sovereignfy to thinking about coalitions and commitments in specific, bounded countries is not a direct one. The doctrine of the universal caliphate—the caliphate of man—is ambiguous with regard to its universalism both globally and locally. It is mankind, the children of Adam, referted to in Q. 2:30: "I will create a vicegerent on earth." Yet mankind assumes the benefits and burdens of this covenant upon acknowledgment ofthe truth of Islam and the authorify of sharia. Thus, the sovereign communify in this scheme is not "the people" as such— any people that might find itself contracting or founding a new polis— but rather the umma. Are secular co-citizens of countries like Tunisia and Egypt—in the sense of co-citizens who do not begin with the cove-

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nant of vicegerency and the obhgation to execute the sharia (however this is understood) as the source of all political meaning—participants in this universal caliphate? It is easy to become alarmist over statements on the part of Islamist actors to the effect that the sovereign, constitu- ent communify is limited to those who accept the sovereignfy of God and the authorify ofthe sharia, but it nonetheless appears true that the gap between democratic Islamists' acceptance ofthe institutions and practices of constitutional, parliamentary democracy and the agoniz- ing challenges of radical moral pluralism in bounded communities is not bridged by the pohtical theology ofthe universal caliphate alone.


1. In Schmitt, "pohtical theology" is not only a practice, a way in which one can choose to think about pohtics, but also a claim about the world.

All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts not only because of their historical development—in which they were trans- ferred from theology to the theory of the state, whereby, for example, the omnipotent God became the omnipotent lawgiver—but also because of their systematic stmcture, the recognition of which is necessary for a sociological consideration of these concepts (Schmitt 2006, 36).

2. Early Muslims viewed the imam not only as a pohtical leader but as a comprehensive, all-purpose "Imam of Guidance" (Imam al-huda) who gave them their legal existence and led them in both worldly and spiritual matters (Crone 2004, 21-23).

3. The most famous work ofpremodem Islamic constitutional law is Abu al-Hasan Mawardi's, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya (The Rules of Govemance). Mawardi's dates are 974-1058 CE (364-450 AH). Other major figures included al-Baqillani (d. 403/1013), al-Baghdadi (d. 429/1037), Abu Ya'la Ibn al-Farra' (d. 458/1065), al-Juwayni (d. 478/1085) and al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111). Selections of these and other important premodem works

Genealogies of Sovereignty in Islamic Political Theology


on consdtudonal theory are coHected in Ibish and Kusuji (2000).

4. Note Ibn Taymiyya's gloss on the central Qur'anic verse on polid- cal authority (4:59: "Obey God, the Messenger of God and those in authority."): "Those in authority are oftwo types: the scholars and the mlers" (IbnTaymiyya 1983,116).

5. Note that, in keeping vwth the medieval siyasa shar'iyya ftamework, any posidve law enacted by the worldly power, including the Basic Law itself, is referred to as a nizam (pi.: anzima; Hterally "order"), in order to distinguish it, to its detriment, ftom laws derived ftom the sharia.

6. Árdele 6 simply states that the cidzens "give aHegiance" to the king on the basis of the Qur'an and the Sunna. The Arabic uses the present tense (as translated above), while the official EngHsh language trans- ladon of the Basic Law uses the future tense: "cidzens s}uúl give the pledge of aHegiance" (See Podeh 2012).

7. "The excepdon, which is not codified in the existing legal order, can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence to the state, or the like. But it cannot be circum- scribed factually and made to conform to a preformed law" (Schmitt 2006, 6).

8. Brieñy: the entire sphere of worldly authority in the absence of the true, infallible imam—whose return Shiites await—is problem- adc for Twelver Shiism. "Twelver" is, of course, a reference to the twelfth infallible Imam in an unbroken Hne through Muhammad and 'Ali who vanished into occultadon in the tenth century. In his absence, any kind of worldly authority is theologically problem- adc, which is not to say that the Shiite clergy did not arrive at prag- matic accommodadons with worldly power along Hnes similar to the Sunni siyasa shar'iyya model (see Mottahedeh 1985 and Lambton


9. And lo! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to estabhsh upon earth one who shall inherit it ¡khal- ifa]." They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as wiH spread cormption thereon and shed blood whereas it is we who extol Thy limidess glory, and praise Thee, and haHow Thy

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name?" [God] answered: 'Verily, I know that which you do not know.

This is Muhammad Asad's translation. Asad's commentary is instruc- tive, and very much consonant with Ghannushi's views: "The term khalifah—derived from the verb khalafa, 'he succeeded [another]'—is used in this allegory to denote man's rightful supremacy on earth, which is most suitably rendered by the expression 'he shall inherit the earth' (in the sense of being given possession of it)." The other verses are 6:165, 27:62 and 35:39. A fifth verse, 38:26, refers to David as God's depufy.


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