I want to be clear from the outset what I mean by “fundamentalists.” I’m not talking about Muslims engaged in suicide bombing, plane hijacking, church burning, cartoonist murdering or teddy bear rioting. Those people have departed from any semblance of what I can call Islam. So, for the sake of distinction making let’s call them “extremists.” I’m talking about a rigorously literal and conservative interpretation of Islam which includes movements to establish a new Caliphate and an emphasis on end times prophecies. These are the type of fundamentalists that join Islamic political parties, or separatist movements. And despite what the fear mongers pretend, very few of these fundamentalists have any interest in imposing Islamic law on America. They’re far more concerned with countries like Saudi Arabia, which they don’t view as legitimate in any sense. At most they’d like America to stop thwarting their efforts in their own lands.
Putting all that aside, to explain why Muslim fundamentalists should embrace voluntaryist anarchy we’ve got to start with some basic review of these two areas of islamic scholarship, the Caliphate and end times prophecies. This argument is primarily written for the fundamentalists themselves, but I’ll try to explain it in terms accessible to a general audience.
Islam attributes sovereignty to God and God alone, and places mankind as vicegerents of God’s sovereignty on Earth. The secular State attributes sovereignty to itself, and makes all other law subservient to its law. Islamic fundamentalists compare this to the idolatry of Pharaoh in the time of Moses, and they argue that so long as they must acquiesce to the sovereignty of the State they cannot be free to worship God as the lone sovereign. In order to be a proper servant of God they must be free from all political slavery. And so, they argue, they must establish an Islamic State built on three basic foundations: The ruler is a vicegerent of God, a Khalifah in Arabic; the law of the land is divine law, Shariahin Arabic and; sovereignty belongs to God alone, and not to the State.
While I am in agreement with the position that the sovereignty of the State is a kind of idolatry and political slavery, I do not believe that draping islamic paraphernalia over the existing model of political slavery magically solves the problem of political slavery. Most Islamic movements aim to achieve this ideal Caliphate by forming political parties and working within the existing political systems in their countries. But this strategy requires acquiescing to the sovereignty of the existing State, which they regard as idolatry. They also presume that because prophet Muhammad and the Caliphs of the past occupied positions of leadership that they constituted an “Islamic State” while I would argue that the foundations on which Muhammad built the social order in Medina did not constitute a “State” by modern definitions, and misunderstanding this distinction is a huge contributing factor to the failure of these movements.
Western civilization saw the need for pluralism after suffering the predation of a medieval Church with a monopoly on law. So, taking the monopoly away from the Church and giving it to the State was fair seeming. Nationalism replaced faith as the unifying principle of secular society, but now we see Western civilization suffering the predation of secular States with regional monopolies on law.
The problem is monopoly. Anywhere you find a monopoly you find power used to oppress the powerless. You cannot protect pluralism by creating a State, because the very definition of a “State” is a regional monopoly on coercive violence.
In Medina under the leadership of the prophet Muhammad pluralism was accomplished differently. The social order accommodated a wide diversity of tribes, many of which were non muslims, that were afforded complete self determination. So, the muslims were under the leadership of prophet Muhammad, but the Jewish and pagan tribes of Medina were respected as independent units of society. They were free to choose their own leaders, to practice their own religion, to form their own judiciaries, and to live by their own law, not islamic law. In this way no institution claimed sovereignty over others, and no theological monopoly existed either.
During his life all Muhammad’s followers consented to his leadership voluntarily and individually, face to face. He never claimed the authority to legislate over people who did not consent. Most muslims will say that Muhammad’s authority as a leader came from God, which is a fine answer for a muslim, but not for the Jews and Pagans of Medina. In Medina’s social order authority was derived from an oath, Bayah in Arabic. This oath was an explicit voluntary arrangement, not a coercive one. It was an agreement between individuals outlining mutual rights and responsibilities, not arbitrary authority to enforce sociopolitical preferences through violence.
This is why I say no State existed in Medina. The independent tribes negotiated a covenant, Mithaq in Arabic, which was the first written constitution in history. Prophet Muhammad never claimed that the Quran was their constitution, as modern islamic States do. The Mithaq outlined a mutual protection pact to defend one another from outside attacks, a non aggression pact to prohibit attacks from within, and a system of arbitration, to impartially settle disputes between tribes. In this way every community was free to regard God as sovereign without any intermediary, and free to live according to their conception of Law without imposing it on others. But none of these provisions constituted a violent monopoly, and therefore the Mithaq did not constitute a State.
No modern muslim country runs this way, and nothing fitting the definition of a “State” could run this way, but this is the heyday fundamentalists long for. I would argue that if muslim fundamentalists believe the end times prophecies described in islamic scripture it is impossible to believe an ideal islamic Caliphate such as this can be achieved by them.
The Hadith of Jibril is one of the most explicit expressions of the islamic creed. In it the Angel Gabriel appears to Muhammad in front of his congregation and asks him questions concerning islam. This is from where we derive the five pillars of islam and the six articles of faith. At the end Gabriel asks about the signs of the last day, and the Prophet gives him two. First, that Bedouins will compete in the building of tall structures. And second, that a slave girl will give birth to her own mistress. You’d have to be blind not to see the first sign in Dubai today, but the second has been the subject of much speculation. The belief that we are currently witnessing the end of history is virtually universal among muslim fundamentalists. Just as you’ll hear dog-whistle references to the Book of Revelations from American evangelicals.
Some of the minor prophecies are really fascinating. For example, Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said that near the Last Day a man will leave his home in the morning, and be informed what is happening to his family by a voice from his hip. Sure sounds like a cell phone, doesn’t it? I regard prophecies as I regard conspiracy theories. They are all true in some sense, false in some sense and meaningless in some sense. And if you ever learn the Truth behind them it would likely be far more strange and illuminating than you imagine.
The major signs of the End Times in islam will be very familiar to Christian fundamentalists. They aren’t precisely the same, but very similar, complete with the armies of Gog and Magog, the Beast and an epic battle between the false messiah and the second coming of Jesus. But the islamic account introduces a new character known as Imam Mahdi.
Imam Mahdi is a prophesied redeemer of authentic religion said to reestablish justice and harmony, and rid the world of tyranny. This role puts him direct opposition to the Anti Christ, who is prophesied to rule a vast dictatorship from Jerusalem. The two clash, and Imam Mahdi is unable to triumph without the aid of Jesus’ return.
Here is why I say the muslim fundamentalist cannot believe the prophecies of Imam Mahdi and advocate an islamic State or Caliphate at the same time.
It is reported in the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, which is a compilation of widely accepted prophetic sayings that Muhammad said:
“I will remain amongst you for as long as God Wills. Then there will be my successors upon the Prophetic methodology. And they will remain for as long as God Wills. Then there will be a reign of oppressive kings, and it will remain for as long as God Wills. Then there will be a reign of despotic tyranny, and it will remain for as long as God Wills. Then there will be a successor once again upon the Prophetic methodology. (Musnad of Imam Ahmad #17680)
In another narration it is reported that after the reign of tyranny Muhammad said:
“a man from the family of my house will come and fill the earth with justice just as it had been filled with transgression. (Al-Fitan of Nuaim ibn Hammad #38704)
For non muslims this likely sounds like the writings of Nostradamus, but for muslims, especially fundamentalists, these are sound narrations from a Prophet of God to be taken seriously.
Scholars have identified the first rightly guided successors as the four Caliphs, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali. They identify the oppressive kings as the Ummayads of Damascus, the Abbasids of Baghdad, and the Ottomans of Istanbul. And they identify the despotic tyrants as all those petty dictators we commonly see today. But what of this new successor? The appearance of a man from the family of the Prophet who leads as the Prophet lead? Most scholars who actually have the nerve to comment on this narration identify this figure as Imam Mahdi.
This means a few important things about the road ahead for muslim fundamentalists. First, it means that rightly guided leadership only existed in the muslim community for about 30 years. So, it’s a wonder why any muslim anywhere trusts any government anywhere anymore. It is clear that we are already ruled by a reign of tyrants, called the Age of Fitnah (oppression, strife and tribulations) in the literature. And we know somethings about the Age of Fitnah from other sources. For example Muhammad is reported to have said, “When rule is taken by people who are unworthy of it expect the Last Hour.” (Sahih Bukhari) During this time “mosques will be grand structures but will be devoid of guidance” and “religious scholars will be the worst of those beneath the sky.” (Sahih Bukhari) Sound familiar?
So, for muslims who accept this any attempt to reform the State, or establish an islamic State or a Caliphate that is prior to the appearance of Imam Mahdi can only result in further tyranny. If rulers inevitably become tyrants, then the only acceptable course of action is to explore stateless alternatives to societal needs.
Second, according to prophecy Imam Mahdi does not come to power by some democratic process, and he doesn’t ascend the throne of an existing State by force of arms. It is known (let’s say “claimed” for our non muslim readers) that he is a reluctant leader who is not even aware of who he is until others recognize the signs and begin to make bayah to him themselves.
“Bayah” is a forgotten concept in most muslim countries, just as “consent of the governed” is a forgotten concept among most Americans. Violent monopolies claim to enjoy “tacit consent” from their subjects, which means if you say nothing they assume you consent. And in my experience, even if you tell them you don’t consent they govern you anyway. So, for the muslim fundamentalist, the most important right to be demanded is the right to make your oath explicitly to the leader of your choice. This means you must afford the same right to others to make their oaths explicitly to the leader of their choice, and not claim to rule them against their will. No State, whether it’s “islamic” or not, can ever afford such a right on its subjects, because it defies its nature as a monopoly.
It is contradictory and naive for muslim fundamentalists to imagine that an islamic State would prepare for the appearance of Imam Mahdi, as Iran postures itself, because such a State would defacto be part of the reign of despotic tyranny. When Imam Mahdi appears it will not be the tyrants who pledge oaths to him. And even if they did, the tyrant does not bring their subjects with them if they do. If Imam Mahdi does lead according to Prophetic methodology, as the literature claims, he would reject any doctrine of tacit consent and take bayah only face to face from individuals, voluntarily. Further, he would not claim any authority to legislate over those who did not consent, instead allowing non muslim segments of society to legislate themselves according to their own consensual agreements, as the Prophet did.