Sunni Islam and the State

  • Denis Dragovic
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Compromise after Conflict book series (PSCAC)


Understanding the role of the state in Islamic theology requires beginning with an understanding of the basis upon which Allah chooses who will be taken to paradise and who will be sent to hell—a much disputed topic in early Islamic theological circles. The debate revolved, in part, around the power of man’s reason. Of the early schools of theology the Mu‘tazili argued that through rational thinking man could make the right choices in life and Allah was then obliged to take with Him those who had chosen well as He Himself is rational. The Ash‘ari disputed this and argued that man can only know right and wrong by way of revelation and even if we were to abide by the laws revealed to man Allah has no obligation to save those who lived accordingly. A third school, Maturidi, took the middle ground and argued that revelation guides man and reason helps to bring clarity to its meaning. In addition, they disagreed with there being any obligation upon Allah to accept those who lived righteously, but they believed in His wisdom and that there would be some rhyme and reason to the choices that He made. While Maturidi thought has largely stayed true to its foundations the Ash‘cari school softened its stance on some issues becoming, by the fourteenth century, less distinguishable on this matter from the Maturidi view.1


Fourteenth Century Metaphorical Interpretation Islamic Jurisprudence Theological Teaching Islamic Theology 
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  1. 1.
    For a discussion of topics in which the Ash’ari school has seen its position shift see Zafar Ishaq Ansari, “Taftāzānī’s views on taklīf, ğabr and qadar: A Note of the Development of Islamic Theological Doctrines,” Arabica 16, no. 1 (1969).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Antony Black, The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Patricia Crone, “Ninth-Century Muslim Anarchists,” Past&Present 167, no. 1 (2000): 15.Google Scholar
  4. 9.
    Mustafa Ceric, Roots of Synthetic Theology in Islam: A Study of the Theology of Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi (d. 333/944) (Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, 1995). 45.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    W. Montgomery Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Oxford: Oneworld, 1998). 314–16.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Denis Dragovic 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denis Dragovic
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MelbourneAustralia

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