In making an assessment of Islam in relation to politics, one crucial point must be taken into consideration, which is that, politics is only a relative and not the real part of Islam. This difference between a real and a relative feature is that what is essential is relevant in all circumstances and at all times, whereas the relative is required only in relation to particular sets of circumstances. Wherever such circumstances do not exist, relative features lose their relevance and therefore their desirability. This difference between the real and relative is illustrated by the Quranic injunction to perform the Hajj pilgrimage: “Pilgrimage to the House of God is a duty to God for all who can make the journey” (3:97).
The wording of the command to perform Hajj shows that it is not obligatory for all believers in any absolute sense. It is obligatory rather for those who have the means and the resources, and who are in good enough health to reach the place of pilgrimage. Neither does this injunction even imply that those who do not have the means should make superhuman efforts to find the wherewithal for the journey, so that they may perform this ritual worship. This injunction means that those who have the means should perform the pilgrimage and those who have not will not only be exempted, but will not even be held to account for having failed to do so.
The same is true of politics. That is, if a group of Muslims find themselves in a position to establish the political system of Islam by peaceful methods, and without any violence, then the Shariah will require them to do exactly that. But for those who do not find themselves in such a position, it is not their bounden duty to establish an Islamic political system, nor are they required to set in motion political initiatives calculated to create opportunities to do so.
That is why the Quran at no point gives the following command: “O Muslims, establish the political system of Islam.” On the contrary, the Quran makes such clear statements about government and politics as prove that they are relative and not the real parts of Islam. For instance, addressing the believers the Quran says:
God has promised those of you who believe and do good works that He will make them masters in the land as He had made their ancestors before them, in order to strengthen the faith He chose for them, and to change their state of fear to a sense of security. Let them worship Me and no other gods besides Me. Wicked indeed are those who after this deny Me. (24:55)
From this it is abundantly clear that political power is a gift from God and is far from being a matter of a goal to be attained by human efforts. That is, it is not the Islamic way to launch movements with the aim of achieving political ascendancy. On the contrary, the objective of the Islamic struggle is to inculcate in people the Islamic character and the true spirit of Islam. And then, if, in any given society, a large number of people were to become imbued with this true spirit, a time might come when God in His wisdom saw fit to invest them with political authority.
Similarly, the Quran says for the benefit of the believers: “God is powerful and mighty: He will assuredly help those who, once made masters in the land, will attend to their prayers and pay the alms tax, enjoin justice and forbid evil.” (22:41).
From the following verse also, we learn from God’s injunction to the Prophet that the matter of political power rests entirely in the hands of God: “Say, Lord, Sovereign of all sovereignty, You bestow sovereignty on whom You will, and take it away from whom You please” (3:26).
That is why political power cannot be the goal to which believers direct their efforts. The first and foremost duty of the believers is for all of them, as individuals and without exception, to fulfill their personal obligations to the utmost extent. Afterwards, if circumstances are conducive, and they receive political power purely by the grace of God, the responsibility of moral governance will fall upon them, as is mentioned in the above-quoted verse.
It must be conceded that the establishment of an Islamic State is the responsibility not of individuals but of the society to which they belong. In Islam there are certain injunctions of an individual and personal nature, such as ritual fasting, which depend solely upon the will of the individual for their accomplishment. But the establishment of a political system on the basis of Islam depends upon the will of society as a whole. Only if there is a Muslim society possessed of the collective will to accept and institute Islamic government, can a political system based on Islam with all its social caveats, be established.