Islamic Civilisation — 01 August 2011
Comparative Politics: Between the Caliphate and Chinese Political Thought

Here it seems useful to refer to Chinese political thought for triangulation. In Chinese political thought, the rule is classified into Dézhì, or rule by virtue of Rújiā, Confucian school, and Fǎzhì, or rule by law, of Fǎjiā, legalist School.

The ideal of the main trend of Chinese political thought has been Dézhì, the rule by virtue, despite Fǎzhì, the rule by law, has always been the real politics historitcally.

The world view of this Chinese political thought is called Huayizhìxù, China-barbarian order. In this world view, the moral teaching of Confucianism is pivotal and it is regarded as the very Civilization itself and any country which accepts this teaching become a part of Zhōnghuá, Sinocentric world, thus, Wángtǔ, literally Land of King, or Shénzhōu, Divine State, which is the land of the Civilization and the areas outside this Sinocentricworld are called Huawaizhidi, uncivilized land. Although Huángdì the emperor is regarded as Tiānzǐ, Son of Heaven, he is not above this teaching, but he is required to rule embodying the virtues of this teaching.

For both Islamic and Chinese political thought, the central idea is the divine order which is the aim to be realized by the politics, not the person of Ruler. In Islam, this order is conceptionalized as the Law, the Revealed Divine law, Shari‘ah, while in China it is called, Wángdào, literally the Way of King, virtuous rule according to Confucian teaching.

Thus, the comparative analyses between Western political thoughts, Islamic one, and Chinese one brings to light the fact that the basic frame work of Western political thought is rule of the man, while Islamic one, Khilafah, is rule of law and Chinese one is rule of virtue.

In the process of theorization of Khilafah of Sunni school, counter-argument against Shiite Imamology has crystallized the concept of “rule of the law”, the sovereignty of Shari`ah, in contrast to concept of “rule of the man” of Shiite Imamology in which the person of the divinely nominated infallible Imam is the sole source of legitimacy of the rule and only it is what guarantees the good governance, which we can find clearly even in contemporary Shiite political thought of post-Imam Era (Ghaibah) symbolically called theory of “Wilayah al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist )”

On the other hand, Katou Takashi, a Japanese scholar of New Testament and comparative civilization, proved theologically that Western political thought is classified definitely by “the rule of people”. Kato argues, “the rule of man by man” has become the most essential characteristic of Christianity since the infant community of Jerusalem transformed from a sect to the Jerusalem Charch” and “the feature of this principle is that the human beings are divided into two types and the upper class is to control or  manage the lower class. After proclaiming that rule of man is the essential feature of the Christian societies, on this vies of Christian society, Kato analyses that the dual structure of “rule of man” with sub-division of the secular domain of “the ruling clergy – ruled laity” into “ruling aristocrat – ruled common people and slaves” is the social structures of the Western Christian civilization, and its spread to a global scale is the modern world.  [1]

On the other hand, Western political thought can scarcely imagine form of the rule other than “rule of the man”, i.e., rule of the single person, monarchy or dictatorship, rule of the minority, aristocracy or oligarchy, and rule of the majority or democracy. The idea of rule of the law only appeared quite recently in 17 century in England, as we have told, and even this new borne concept of law has soon degenerated into “rule by the law” in Chinese sense, or Rechtshtaat, or “rule of the commandments of the rulers” in our terminology. We can only find trace of concept of rule of the law in Western political thought in the concept of “human rights” as supplement to “the rule of man” of the democracy to complement its defects and to neutralize its evils.

Historically speaking, Khalifah had lost his real power early Abbasid (750-1258) and his authority had become nominal and the political power had shifted to his subordinates, Sultans, Amirs, and Wazirs, a parallel phenomenon of which we find rather in history of Tennnousei, institution of Japanese Emperor, rather than institution of Chinese Emperor itself.

Both of them claim that their political order is universal, thus their rule is the sole legitimate rule. This universalism is expressed by the dichotomy of Dar al-IslamDar al-Harb, House of Peace – House of War, Law-governed Space – Lawless Land, in Islam, and, , Zhōnghuá, or Wángtǔ, ShénzhōuHuàwàizhī, Sinocentric world, or Land of King, Divine State, Land of the Civilization -Uncivilized Land, in Chinese political thought.

In spite of their universalism, both of them are not totalitarian, contrary to the notion of the modern Western territorial state, but rather are multi-ethnic and multi-religious.

As for the multi-ethnicity, beside the fact that various ethnic groups had coexisted in Islamic Caliphate and Chinese Empire, the political power has been shifted from Arab to Persian, then to Turk in case of Islam, and Chinese history has Mongol dynasty of Yuán(1279-1368) and Manchurian Dynasty of Qīng (1644-1911).

Regarding multi-religiousness, though indeed Islam in Khilafah and Confucianism in China were the base of their respective rule, both of them are not “theocracy” in the Western sense, i.e, the rule by the priests, and the “freedom” of religion, in the narrow sense of the West, had been enjoyed by people respectively in their “communal-private” sphere, for there were no “individual” in traditional Islamic and Chinese society, and besides `Ulama’ or Fuqaha’ in Islam and zhě in China,  who constituted the religious establishment of the Empire, were rather scholars than priests.

In Islam, Christian, Jew, and Zoroastrian were accepted as Dhimmi, protectee, then the category of Dhimmi is expanded to followers of all religions, while in China, Prof. Tu Weiming said ;“Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism and Islam were lumped together as ‘the four teachings’ of China”. (Osman Bakar, “Confucius and the Analects in the light of Islam”, Osman Bakar(ed.), Islam and Confucianism, p.68.)

Islamic Dar al-Islam and Chinese Zhōnghuá, Sinocentric world or Wángtǔ is a space in which Divine Order is established, and as such its boundary must be rather vague, not clear cut, contrary to the notion of the territorial nation state. The boundary of Dar al-Islam and Zhōnghuá, Wángtǔ is continuously changing according to the religio-cultural condition of the inhabitants and the power relations with the outer world.

Although the similarities are remarkable, there are some important differences between Islamic political thought and Chinese one.

Because Confucian teaching is focusing on moral codes and rules of courtesy while Islamic Shari‘ah includes public law and private law as well as moral codes and rules of courtesy, therefore definition of “self and others” and rules relating “self and others” both inside of Dar al-Islam and outside of it, in Islam is, positively speaking, more articulated, stable and predictable than ones in Confucianism, or, negatively speaking, more inflexible, rigid, fossilizing, difficult to adapt itself to changing situations.

The boundary of Huáyí is quite ambiguous both at the level of countries and at the level of individuals. We can find only difference of graduation in mastery of virtues of Confucian teaching, while in Islam distinction between ‘self and others’ is rather dichotomic. Consequently, Chinese political thought rejects categorically to spread territory of Zhōnghuá, Sinocentric world or Wángtǔ , by force as the condemnable Bàdào, way of hegemon, and considers its spread through its voluntary acceptance by others yearning for it, Wánghuà, Islam rather regards it obligatory to spread its order or the rule of Law, Shari‘ah, not Islamic faith, all over the world by military force, even though this missionary campaign should be performed according to Islamic law of warfare.

[1] Katou Takashi, Ishshinkyounotanjou(The Birth of the Monotheism), Tokyo, 2002, 260-286.

Dr. Hassan Ko Nakata is former Professor of Theology at Doshisha University, Kyoto, Japan. He is the author of several books and articles in English, Arabic and Japanese.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect New Civilisation’s editorial policy.

This article was originally published as part of the study “The Deconstruction of the Sunnite Theory of Khilafah – Spreading the Rule of Law on Earth”


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