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The foremost feature of a good social order from an Islamic perspective is twofold: All people are God’s creatures and therefore no one enjoys any superiority coming from birth (race, family, and color, etc); and the authority’s power is neither absolute nor designed to enslave people. Rather, its main objective is to establish and promote the virtues approved by God and to prevent and suppress vice. This is why all administrators in every rank should display righteousness and respect for God in their character, words, and actions. They should imbibe this spirit and infuse it into society.

M. Fethullah Gülen writes about a good social order envisaged by Islam as follows:

“The main aim of Islam and its unchangeable dimensions affect its rules governing the changeable aspects of our lives. Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances.”

The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, says that all people are as equal as the teeth of a comb.4 Islam does not discriminate based on race, color, age, nationality, or physical traits. The Prophet declared: “You are all from Adam, and Adam is from earth. O servants of God, be brothers [and sisters].”5 Those who are born earlier, have more wealth and power than others, or belong to certain families or ethnic groups have no inherent right to rule others.

Islam also upholds the following fundamental principles:

1. Power lies in truth, a repudiation of the common idea that truth relies upon power. 2. Justice and the rule of law are essential. 3. Freedom of belief and rights to life, personal property, reproduction, and health (both mental and physical) cannot be violated. 4. The privacy and immunity of individual life must be maintained. 5. No one can be convicted of a crime without evidence, or accused and punished for someone else’s crime. 6. An advisory system of administration is essential.

All rights are equally important, and an individual’s right cannot be sacrificed for society’s sake. Islam considers a society to be composed of conscious individuals equipped with free will and having responsibility towards both themselves and others. Islam goes a step further by adding a cosmic dimension. It sees humanity as the “motor” of history, contrary to fatalistic approaches of some of the nineteenth-century Western philosophies of history such as dialectical materialism and historicism.6 Just as every individual’s will and behavior determine the outcome of his or her life in this world and in the Hereafter, a society’s progress or decline is determined by the will, worldview, and lifestyle of its inhabitants. The Qur’an (13:11) says: “God will not change the state of a people unless they change themselves (with respect to their beliefs, worldview, and lifestyle).” In other words, each society holds the reins of its fate in its own hands. The Prophetic Tradition emphasizes this idea: “You will be ruled according to how you are.”7

As Islam holds individuals and societies responsible for their own fate, people must be responsible for governing themselves. The Qur’an addresses society with such phrases as: “O people!” and “O believers!” The duties entrusted to modern democratic systems are those that Islam refers to society and classifies, in order of importance, as “absolutely necessary, relatively necessary, and commendable to carry out.” The sacred text includes the following passages: “Establish, all of you, peace!” (2:208); “Spend in the cause of God and on the needy of the pure and good of what you have earned and of what We bring forth for you from earth!” (2:267); “If some among your women are accused of indecency, you must have four witnesses (to prove it)” (4:15); “God commands you to give over the public trusts to the charge of those having the required qualities and to judge with justice when you judge between people” (4:58); “Observe justice as witnesses respectful for God even if it is against yourselves, your parents and relatives!” (4:135); “If they (your enemies) incline to peace [when you are at war], you also incline to it!” (8:61); “If a corrupt, sinful one brings you news [about others], investigate it so that you should not strike a people without knowing!” (49:6); “If two parties among the believers fight between themselves, reconcile them!” (49:9). To sum up, the Qur’an addresses the whole community and assigns it almost all the duties entrusted to modern democratic systems.

People cooperate with one another by sharing these duties and establishing the essential foundations necessary to perform them. The government is composed of all of these foundations. Thus, Islam recommends a government based on a social contract. People elect the administrators and establish a council to debate common issues. Also, the society as a whole participates in auditing the administration. Especially during the rule of the first four caliphs (632–661), the fundamental principles of government mentioned above—including free election— were fully observed. The political system was transformed into a sultanate after the death of ‘Ali, the fourth caliph, due to internal conflicts and to the global conditions at that time. Unlike under the caliphate, power in the sultanate was passed on through the sultan’s family. However, even though free elections were no longer held, societies maintained the other principles mentioned.

Islam is an inclusive religion. It is based on the belief in one God as the Creator, Lord, Sustainer, and Administrator of the universe. Islam, [in the sense of submission to God,] is the religion of the whole universe. That is, the entire universe obeys the laws laid down by God, so everything in the universe is “Muslim” and obeys God by submitting to his laws. Even a person who refuses to believe in God or follows another religion has perforce to be a Muslim as far as his or her bodily existence is concerned. His or her entire life, from the embryonic stage to the body’s dissolution into dust after death, every tissue of his or her muscles, and every limb of his or her body follows the course prescribed for each by God. Thus, in Islam, God, nature, and humanity are neither remote from each other nor are they alien to each other. It is God Who makes Himself known to humanity through nature and humanity itself, and nature and humanity are two books (of creation) through each word of which God is known. This leads humankind to look upon everything as belonging to the same Lord, to whom it itself belongs, so that it regards nothing in the universe as alien. His love and favors do not remain confined to the people of any particular race, color, or ethnicity. The Prophet summed this up with the command, “O servants of God, be brothers (and sisters)!”

A separate but equally important point is that Islam recognizes all religions previous to it. It accepts all the Prophets and Books sent to different peoples in different epochs of history. Not only does it accept them [in their pristine purity], but also regards belief in them as an essential principle of being Muslim. By doing so, it acknowledges the basic unity of all religions. A Muslim is at the same time a true follower of Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and of all other Hebrew prophets, upon them be peace. This belief explains why both Christians and Jews enjoyed their religious rights under the rule of Islamic governments throughout history.

The Islamic social system seeks to form a virtuous society and thereby gain God’s approval. It recognizes right, not force, as the foundation of social life. Hostility is unacceptable. Relationships must be based on belief, love, mutual respect, assistance, and understanding instead of conflict and realization of personal interest. Social education encourages people to pursue lofty ideals and to strive for perfection, not just to run after their own desires. Right calls for unity, virtues bring mutual support and solidarity, and belief secures brotherhood and sisterhood. Encouraging the soul to attain perfection brings happiness in both worlds.

As justice and the rule of law are an Islamic constitution’s foremost articles, people are to obey the authority so long as the authority does not order sinful acts, so that anarchy and social disorder can be avoided. Just as a Muslim individual is responsible and accountable for his or her happiness and salvation, so too, a Muslim community is responsible for its own felicity and salvation, for: God does not change the state of a people unless they change themselves (13:11). People make their own history and are responsible for their own individual and social conditions.

Essentially, the Religion is an extremely important barrier to wars, anarchy and terror in the world. Virtues like love, mercy, compassion and doing good to others have sprouted mostly in the “gardens” of the Religion and their standard was raised by the Religion. In addition, for example, the Holy Qur’an explains that killing a person unjustly is like killing all humanity, and saving one human being’s life is like saving the lives of all humanity (5:32). Moreover, it is the goal of the Religion that anarchy and disorder not remain on this earth (2:193). Justice is as important a principle as religious faith.

As M. Fethullah Gülen mentions, the advisory system of administration is essential. Learned and pious people who possess sound judgment and expert knowledge, as well as enjoying the people’s confidence, must be located and clarify their opinions based on the dictates of their conscience. This advisory system is so important that God praises the first, exemplary Muslim community as a community whose affair is by counsel between them (42:38).

This becomes even more explicit when we realize that this first community was led by the Prophet, who never spoke out of caprice or on his own authority, but only spoke what was revealed to him by God (53:2-3), and that God considers consultation so important that He orders His Messenger to practice it with his Companions (3:159). This order came after the Muslims’ reverse at the Battle of Uhud (625) due to some of the Companions’ disobedience to the Prophet. Informed of the Makkans’ march upon Madina, the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, had taken counsel with his Companions as to how best to resist the enemy. Although he had advised that they should defend themselves from within the boundaries of Madina, when the majority of the Muslims supported the view that it would be better to fight on the open ground outside the city, he had resigned himself to the opinion of the majority.8 It was after the setback at the Battle of Uhud that God ordered His Messenger to take counsel with his Companions in affairs of public concern.

Freedom of opinion to promote virtue and prevent vice is also essential to Islamic public life. It is more than just a right for Muslims— it is their essential duty. Freedom of conscience and speech is the pivot that ensures the correct functioning of Islamic society and administration.

Another fundamental principle to mention for Muslim collective life is the public treasury, which is viewed as “God’s property” and a trust. Everything should be received through lawful sources and spent only on lawful purposes. Administrators have no more control of the public treasury than trustees have over the property of minor orphans in their custody: If he is rich, let him abstain altogether; if poor, let him consume it in a just and reasonable manner (4:6). Administrators must account for the public treasury’s income and expenditure, and Muslims have the right to demand a full account of these.