In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Islamic Political Theory

  • Introduction
  • Imperialism and the Call for Reform
  • Islamic State
  • The Separation of Religion and State
  • Justice
  • Democracy and Pluralism
  • Equality, Freedom and Human rights
  • Citizenship and Religious Minorities
  • Islam and Gender
  • War, Rebellion, and Military Jihad
  • Islam and the Economy

Islamic Studies Islamic Political Theory
Rachel Scott
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0190


Islamic political theory includes works that are taken from multiple genres and discourses, since, historically speaking, political science and political theory did not exist as independent disciplines in Islam. Thus the works that discuss political theory listed here come from juristic works, administrative handbooks, works in the “mirrors for princes” genre, and philosophical works, in addition to Qurʾanic exegesis, historiography, theology, and ethics. Works on political theory include works that are descriptive, works that are normative, and works that are a combination of the two. One might pose the question of how one defines political theory as “Islamic.” This entry takes a broad perspective and defines political theory as Islamic if the thinker concerned engages with the Islamic discursive tradition (Qurʾan, Hadith, and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence)). Thus, for example, while this entry includes contemporary thinkers who argue for an Islamic state, it also includes thinkers who argue for the separation of religion and state while using Islamic sources and history as a basis for their political theory. The work is organized into two main sections. The first section is organized historically on the basis of the following periods: (1) Time of Muhammad and the Early Ummah; (2) Classical; (3) Middle or Premodern Period; (4) Modern; and (5) Contemporary. The second section, on Topics within Islamic Political Theory, is organized thematically and includes themes relatively organic to the tradition, such as justice, the caliphate, and religious authority, in addition to themes that have been more of a concern to modern Islamic thinkers in response to Western norms, such as human rights and democracy.

The Time of Muhammad and the Early Ummah

This section lists sources from—and about—the time of Muhammad and the early ummah up to 750. This period was a time during which the Islamic community was in a state of considerable flux as the new religion was established and then consolidated in diverse historical, social, and political contexts. References to this time can be found in all periods and topics reviewed here. Sources here look at what might be best described as proto-Sunnism and proto-Shiʿism since it is not until later—anywhere from the 8th to the 10th century—that Sunni and Shiʿa identities became more fully crystallized. While most of the primary sources in this section are not contemporaneous with the time of the Prophet—at least in their written form—they are some of the earliest available. The sources tend not to theorize on politics as such but are descriptive, and provide ideal models to be followed. This is particularly the case with regards to the time of Muhammad and the first four caliphs (622–661), a time that was later prioritized by Sunni Muslims as a model to be followed.

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