The political system of Islam is based on the three principles of Towhid (Oneness of Allah), Risala (Prophethood) and Khilifa (Caliphate). Towhid means that one Allah alone is the Creator, Sustainer and Master of the universe and of all that exists in it - organic or inorganic. He alone has the right to command or forbid. Worship and obedience are due to Him alone. No aspect of life in all its multifarious forms ¾ our own organs and faculties, the apparent control which we have over physical objects or the objects themselves ¾ has been created or a acquired by us in our own right. They are the bountiful provisions of Allah and have been bestowed on us by Him alone.
Hence, it is not for us to decide the aim and purpose of our existence or to set the limits of our worldly authority- nor does anyone else have the right to make these decisions for us. This right rests only with Allah. This principle of the Oneness of Allah makes meaningless the concept of the legal and political sovereignty of human beings. No individual, family, class or race can set themselves above Allah. Allah alone is the Ruler and His commandments constitute the law of Islam.
Risala is the medium through which we receive the law of Allah. We have received two things from this source- the Qur’an, the book in which Allah has expounded His law, and the authoritative interpretation and exemplification of that Book by the Prophet Muhammad (blessings of Allah and peace be upon him), through word and deed, in his capacity as the representative of Allah. The Qur’an laid down the broad principles on which human life should be based and the Prophet of Allah, in accordance with these principles, established a model system of Islamic life. The combination of these two elements is called the shari’a (law).
Khilifa means “representation”. Man, according to Islam, is the representative of Allah on earth, His vice-gerent- that is to say, by virtue of the powers delegated to him by Allah, and within the limits prescribed, he is required to exercise Divine authority.
To illustrate what this means, let us take the case of an estate of yours which someone else has been appointed to administer on your behalf. Four conditions invariably obtain- First, the real ownership of the estate remains vested in you and not in the administrator- secondly, he administers your property directly in accordance with your instructions- thirdly, he exercises is authority within the limits prescribed by you- and fourthly, in the administration of the trust he executes your will and fulfils your intentions and not his own. Any representative who does not fulfil these four conditions will be abusing his authority and breaking the covenant which was implied in the concept of “representation”.
This is exactly what Islam means when it affirms that man is the representative (khalifa) of Allah on earth. Hence, these four conditions are also involved in the concept of Khalifa. The state that is established in accordance with this political theory will in fact be a caliphate under the sovereignty of Allah.
The above explanation of the term Khilafa also makes it clear that no individual or dynasty or class can be Khalifa- the authority of Khilafa is bestowed on the whole of any community which is ready to fulfil the conditions of representation after subscribing to the principles of towhid and Risala. Such a society carries the responsibility of the Khilafa as a whole and each one of its individuals shares in it.
This is the point where democracy begins in Islam. Every individual in an Islamic society enjoys the rights and powers of the caliphate of Allah and in this respect all individuals are equal. No-one may deprive anyone else of his rights and powers. The agency for running the affairs of the state will be formed by agreement with these individuals, and the authority of the state will only be an extension of the powers of the individuals delegated to it. Their opinion will be decisive in the formation of the government, which will be run with their advice and in accordance with their wishes.
Whoever gains their confidence will undertake the duties and obligations of the caliphate on their behalf- and when he loses thisconfidence he will have to step down. In this respect the political system of Islam is as perfect a dorm of democracy as there can be. What distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy, therefore, is that the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty, while the former rests on the principle of popular Khilafa. In Western democracy, the people are sovereign- in Islam sovereignty is vested in Allah and the people are His caliphs or representatives. In the former the people make their own- in the latter they have to follow and obey the laws (shari’a) given by Allah through His Prophet. In one the government undertakes to fulfil the will of the people- in the other the government and the people have to fulfil the will of Allah.