Islam and the Foundations of Political Power

News 2012

​Ali Abdel Razek’s Islam and the Foundations of Political Power -
A Progressive Voice

December 12, 2012

“It is important for Muslims not to put things that they have created in their own history, or their interpretations or acts, within the sacred law that was left by the Prophet.” With these words Professor Filali-Ansary went to the very heart of Ali Abdel Razek’s Islam and the Foundations of Political Power. The English translation of the ground-breaking work, edited by Professor Filali-Ansary, was launched at the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations on 12th December.

At the launch which was attended by Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi, Chairman, AKU Board of Trustees, Mr Firoz Rasul, AKU President and Mr Yusuf Keshavjee, AKU Trustee, Professor Filali-Ansary and Professor Azim Nanji of Stanford University shared their insight into Abdel Razek’s landmark essay which was first published in Egypt in 1927 under the title Islam wa usul al hukm.
Professor Azim Nanji discussed Abdel Razek’s work within the larger context of the world stage at the time of its publication. There was a new world order being carved he said, and although this would directly affect Muslim societies, Muslim leaders had been invited to these negotiations not as participants but as spectators.

He went on to share with the audience the responses and perceptions of his students at Stanford University where he taught the work of Abdel Razek in his seminars. His students, many of whom were confronting the same questions today as Abdel Razek had asked almost a century ago, found the ideas presented in Islam and the Foundations of Political Power to be remarkably progressive.

Filali-Ansary pointed out that for Muslims, with the death of the Prophet, revelation is “closed forever”. Prophet Muhammad is seen as the last prophet with whom the cycle of prophesy ends. So sayings attributed to the Prophet are seen as sacred and unassailable. It is thus a matter of profound importance, he emphasized, that words should not be ascribed to the sacred texts that are not from the Prophet, but rather from persons expressing their own sentiments or wishing to forward their own agendas.

When it comes to matters of statehood and governance – the danger of mixing the sacred with the profane becomes all too evident. As Filali-Ansary said, “If it is said that the Prophet has created a state in his lifetime, and that the creation of the state was part of his mission, it means that Islam enjoins Muslims to go into politics and create a state of their own.”

This, he said, is precisely what many Muslims are doing – attempting to create an Islamic state. But as Ali Abdel Razek demonstrates so decisively in his famous essay – nothing in what the Prophet has left says that Muslims are enjoined to create a state or to engage in politics as Muslims.

Ali Abdel Razek explains that while the community of believers which the Prophet created may appear to have some of the features of a polity – it was not in fact a polity – nor ever intended as such.

Dr Farouk Topan, AKU-ISMC Director, then chaired a lively Q & A, followed by a reception and refreshments. Professor Filali Ansary was available to sign books and chat with students, scholars and guests.