The Concept of an Islamic Republic

The Concept of an Islamic Republic

According to Hamilton,  “in any Democracy–either a Direct or a Representative type–as a form of government, there can be no legal system which protects the individual or the Minority (any or all minorities) against unlimited tyranny by the Majority….. Such a form of government is characterized by The Majority Omnipotent and Unlimited. This is true, for example, of the Representative Democracy of Great Britain; because unlimited government power is possessed by the House of Lords, under an Act of Parliament of 1949–indeed, it has power to abolish anything and everything governmental in Great Britain. Under this form of government, neither the courts nor any other part of the government can effectively challenge, much less block, any action by The Majority in the legislative body, no matter how arbitrary, tyrannous, or totalitarian they might become in practice. The parliamentary system of Great Britain is a perfect example of Representative Democracy” [Hamilton, 1976[1]].

In contrast to ‘Democracy’, “a Republic is: a constitutionally limited government of the representative type, created by a written Constitution-adopted by the people and changeable (from its original meaning) by them only by its amendment–with its powers divided between three separate Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. Here the term ‘the people’ means, of course, the electorate. The people form their governments and grant to them only ‘just (limited) powers’, in order primarily to secure (to make and keep secure) their God-given, unalienable rights. The American philosophy and system of government thus bar equally the “snob-rule” of a governing Elite and the “mob-rule” of an Omnipotent Majority. This is designed, above all else, to preclude the existence in America of any governmental power capable of being misused so as to violate the individual’s rights–to endanger the people’s liberties” [Hamilton, 1976].

Put in simple words, in a Democracy the Majority can make or abolish any law whatsoever without any restrictions. The legislative power of the Majority is not limited by any constitution. The parliamentary system of Great Britain is a perfect example of this form of government. On the other hand in a Republic, the legislative power of the Majority is limited by a constitution. The Majority cannot make any law against the basic principles enshrined in the constitution. This is the form of government that was envisaged by the American forefathers and the United States of America was meant to be a Republic rather than a Democracy.

Now the question remains that what is the basic difference between an ordinary (secular) Republic and an Islamic Republic? A short answer to this question is that in any Republic, the Majority cannot do any legislation against a constitution that is framed by their founding fathers based on the collective human wisdom. In an Islamic Republic, the Majority cannot do any legislation against the Quran revealed by the Almighty God or against a constitution derived from the Quran. In a Democracy, the Majority can do any legislation whatsoever without any restrictions.

In other words, in a Republic the power of the Majority is limited by a man-made constitution derived from the collective human wisdom; in an Islamic Republic the power of the Majority is limited by the Word of God (the Quran), or limited by a constitution derived from the Quran (the Divine Book); and in a Democracy the power of the Majority is not limited by anything.

The form of government envisaged by the Quran is not a pure democracy or theocracy or constitutional theocracy or constitutional monarchy but a constitutional republic, with the Quran being the basis of the constitution. There is no room for theocracy in an Islamic Republic, considering theocracy as a form of government in which the ruler is considered to obtain guidance directly from God[2]. After the demise of Muhammad (s.a.w.), the Last Messenger of Allah, any belief about anyone obtaining guidance directly revealed to him by God is not in accordance with the Quran. The word of God is completely perfected[3] and well-guarded in the Quran[4]. All that may be required is the definitive interpretation of the word of God, for which the Supreme Judicial Institution of the Islamic Republic would be the final authority. Individual scholars may have their own interpretations of the Supreme Islamic law given in the Quran and may differ in their opinion as legal experts may differ about the interpretation of any secular law but the interpretation of the Supreme Court of the Islamic Republic is to be considered final and definitive. As far as the exercise of legislative authority (within the bounds of the Quran-based constitution) is concerned, it has to be with the participation of the people[5] either directly or through their representatives.

The term ‘Khilafat’ literally means ‘succession’, i.e. the following of one (ruler) after the other in time. The term per se does not indicate any particular form of government. The first head of the Islamic State after the death of the Prophet (s.a.w.) was known as his Khalifa or successor (i.e. khalifa-tu-Rasool), the later heads of the state being the subsequent successors.

Although the term khalifa[6], and its plural forms khulafa[7] and khalaif[8] have been used in the Quran, but nowhere it is explicitly mentioned that anyone is Allah’s Khalifa. These terms have been used in the Quran either to refer to the successor(s) of previous creation or generations or rulers but not specifically the successors or vicegerents of Allah, as is assumed by some scholars. That is why neither the Prophet (s.a.w) ever called himself Khalifatullah nor his successor assumed such a title but he was known as a Khalifa-tu-Rasool.


[1] A. L. Hamilton, (1976), “The American Ideal of 1776 – The Twelve Basic American Principles”

[2] Lila Perl, ‘Theocracy’, Marshall Cavendish, 2007.

[3] A-Quran Surah 6: Verse 115

[4] Al-Quran Surah 15, Verse 9

[5] Al-Quran Surah 42: Verse 38

[6] Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 30; Surah 38: Verse 26; Surah 10: Verse 73; Surah 35: Verse 39

[7] Al-Quran Surah 7: Verse 69; Surah 7: Verse 74; Surah 27: Verse 62

[8] Al-Quran Surah 6: Verse 165; 10:14

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