Drew Loewe, Saint Edwards University
I argue that a sub-area of Burkean criticism should be developed using Burke’s constitutional dialectic to examine constitutions as the primary objects of study. To demonstrate the possibilities of this strain of criticism, I use Burke’s constitutional dialectic to examine the draft constitution for an Islamic state urged by the worldwide movement Hizb ut-Tahrir. In that document, internal conflicts and differences, not to mention challenges coming from ideologically incorrect states, are anticipated and woven into a comprehensive plan offering Islamic answers to citizens’ problems and to the problem of the state’s place and purpose. I argue that the draft constitution is a systematic strategic act of totalizing comprehensiveness that trades agency for order, with troubling consequences.
KENNETH BURKE POSITIONED THE LONG “Dialectic of Constitutions” section of A Grammar of Motives as “logically prior” to dramatism itself (Grammar xvii) or, more emphatically, as “a representative anecdote” for a “generative model for the study of language as symbolic action” (“Questions and Answers” 334). Yet Burke was dismayed at the relative neglect of this section by reviewers, scholars, and teachers (Grammar 1, Dramatism and Development 24, Rueckert x). I say “relative neglect” because Robert Wess and Michael Feehan, in essays appearing in a 1991 double issue of Pre/Text, argue for the centrality of the constitutional dialectic to dramatism. Were we able to communicate with Burke now, he might be pleased to learn that stock in the dialectic of constitutions has risen. Articles such as Virginia Anderson’s “Antithetical Ethics” (1995) and monographs such as Wess’s Kenneth Burke (1996), Gregory Clark’s Rhetorical Landscapes (2004), Dana Anderson’s Identity’s Strategy (2007), and Elizabeth Weiser’s Burke, War, Words (2008), have contextualized, extended, and used Burke’s constitutional dialectic, contributing to a richer understanding of what Clark describes as Burke’s larger concern with “the constitutive rhetorical function of symbols” (125).
Even with these important recent advances, however, criticism of constitutions themselves as the primary object of study have not been well represented in our scholarship. I contend that we gain by Burkean readings of other constitutions besides the U.S. Constitution, so I undertake one such reading here, in the hope of offering a first step in the direction I suggest. I examine a particular constitution at the heart of an ongoing ideological struggle: the 186-article draft constitution for an Islamic khilafah (caliphate) state advocated by the global movement Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). As Burke argues, and recent Burke scholarship acknowledges, constitutional enactments can offer particularly salient insights into forms of talk about human motives.
HT, whose name translates to “Party of Liberation,” seeks to spread the Da’wah (call to Islam) and to create a wide-ranging, perhaps even global, state that implements Islam as a comprehensive way of life. HT is openly active in the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Denmark, Malaysia, and Bangladesh, and more or less covertly active in several other countries. Reliable membership figures are difficult to come by. While remaining political outsiders (a position mandated by the ideological purity of its vision of Islam), HT nevertheless commands the attention of thousands of Muslims, particularly among young English-speaking Muslims. HT adherents march in demonstrations, distribute HT literature and videos, and tirelessly spread HT doctrine in person, on television, and on the World Wide Web. Perhaps one measure of HT’s persuasive influence, beyond simple membership estimates, is the success that various HT branches have enjoyed in hosting conferences on the khilafah state. For example, a 2007 HT conference in Indonesia filled a soccer stadium with a crowd estimated at 80,000 strong (Marks n.pag.).
While it may seem strange to focus critical attention on such an outré document as HT’s draft constitution, this document (examined here in HT’s English translation) has animated HT’s prodigious rhetorical campaigns for over five decades in many countries. Thus, the draft constitution warrants study as a window into human motives clustering around competing contemporary political and religious narratives.
As Burke reminds us, “there is a test applicable to visions: the test of moral grandeur and stylistic felicity” (Grammar 345). Alternatively, as Ross Wolin puts it, “practicality is not the proper test” for criticism of a moral vision (163). Even a constitution such as this one, which is unlikely to be enacted, is an especially important site for understanding attempts at “linguistic transformation” (Grammar 402) through dialectic that desires to have “human relations grandly converge” (Grammar 324). Moreover, it would be foolish to dismiss HT’s draft constitution as the mere Utopian wish of fringe radicals. The thousands of interviews of Muslims reported in the recent Gallup Press book Who Speaks for Islam? show that Muslims in many parts of the world support a greater role for shari’a law among Muslims throughout the world (though this support should be contextualized--shari’a, like Islam itself, is not monolithic) (Esposito and Mogahed 92-93). As thousands of HT members and supporters work to implement the document that would breathe life into the caliphate state, and multiple governments around the world work to resist, the HT draft constitution creates a dialectic between a comprehensive vision of Islam underwritten by God’s will and the identity and social power of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
For Burke, one of the benefits of the Grammar’s attempt to purify war by examining symbolic action was its orientation toward “encouraging tolerance by speculation” (442). As a “set of coordinates” (377) for analyzing motives, HT’s draft constitution is important evidence of an attempt to fashion an enduring framework for a collective narrative about who We are and what We value. The draft constitution manifests the human drive for answers to questions about human purpose and about managing the causes of strife. I argue that the HT draft constitution offers a systematic strategic act of totalizing comprehensiveness that trades agency for order through a master motive of pious rejection. We cannot begin to find the common ground from which to begin mutual “tolerance by speculation” until constitutional wishes are examined; but there is little “tolerance by speculation” to be found in this document. Instead, it offers a brittle fantasy of a purified, comprehensive theocracy likely to sow discord and violence.
In 1953, Muhammad Taqiuddin an-Nabhani (1909-1977), a jurist in the shari’a Court of Appeals in Al-Quds (Jerusalem), founded HT as a revivalist Islamic political movement (“Who Is Hizb ut-Tahrir?”). As David Commins points out, when Nabhani founded HT, the world’s dominant ideologies were “capitalism, socialism (including communism), and Islam” (197). Nabhani rejected capitalism (and its political structure of democracy) because of his belief that capitalism derives from humankind, not God; thus, human rights in a capitalist democracy are guaranteed merely by humankind (197-98). Nabhani also rejected socialism and communism because of their origins in materialist ideas and in their views of society’s basis as derived from material and structural conditions (197-98). Nabhani was angered by what he saw as the Islamic world’s “state of gloom, anarchy and decline,” relative to competing ideologies, which he blamed on Muslims’ neglect of the Arabic language (the language Muslims believe that God used for his final revelation) and Muslims’ acquiescence in the influence of non-Islamic ideologies (Concepts of Hizb ut-Tahrir 3-5).
In Nabhani’s reading of Islamic history, earlier Muslims “used to understand that their existence in life was for the sake of Islam” (4). Islam, in Nabhani’s view, compels Muslims to spread the Da’wah (call to Islam) and to create a state implementing Islam as a way of life (5). The Muslim world went wrong, and Islamic states declined, he argued, when they lost the focus on Islam as supported by a strong state, settling instead for the mere outward tokens of religious practice (mosques, books, education) while “they kept silent over the domination of kufr (disbelief; non-Muslim). . . and . . . colonisation” (5). Past reform movements from within Islam fell short, Nabhani claimed, because they failed to maintain the correct ideas about Islam and they failed to use the correct method. In particular, Nabhani blamed Muslim scholars for studying Islam scholastically, removing it from practical concerns, for misunderstanding Quranic verses, for allowing “the malicious West hateful of Islam and the Muslims” to attack the faith, and for allowing Muslims to believe that an Islamic state was only a Utopian dream (7-11). Nabhani founded HT to link a purified Islamic ideal (unified community of believers living in a just state) with the clearest Islamic method (following Muhammad’s example of inviting non-Muslims to convert). Nabhani hoped that this ideal and method would first take root in a Muslim country, remaking that country into “a nucleus for the great Islamic State that resumes the Islamic way of life by the application of Islam completely in all Islamic lands and conveys the Islamic da’wah to the entire world” (11).
In HT doctrine, every Muslim is duty-bound to work for the revival of the caliphate state (3). Nabhani even challenged contemporary Muslims to exceed the glories of past caliphates:
If the Muslim Ummah [community of believers]… in the past, lived in a country which did not stretch beyond the Arabian Peninsula, and which… numbered only a few million, [yet] . . . when she embraced Islam and carried its Message[,] she represented a world superpower . . . conquer[ing] [foreign] lands and spread[ing] Islam over almost the whole…inhabited…world . . ., then what are we to say about the Ummah today; numbering more than one billion, . . . if she were a single state, stretching from Spain in the East to China in the West and from Turkey in the north to Malaysia in the south . . . [and] carrying a single correct ideology to the world? She would undoubtedly constitute a front…stronger in every respect than the leading superpowers put together. The Islamic State 238-39.
Nabhani mapped HT’s ideologically correct transformative vision onto three sweeping stages. In the first stage, the movement will seek to inculcate belief in its mission and gather followers; in the second stage, followers will establish Islam in worldly affairs; finally, the movement will establish an Islamic government, overseen by an elected male Muslim, the khilafah, and will use the state to spread the call to Islam to the world (The Methodology of Hizb ut-Tahrir for Change 32-35). Nabhani argues that spreading the call to Islam “dictates the invitation of the people to Islam, acculturating them with its concepts and rules, and the removal of any material obstacle,” including, under certain conditions, opposing peoples and states (The Islamic State 48; 143-44). Nabhani goes on to explain that the method of propagating this call is “a defined method that never changes, which is Jihad,” defining Jihad as “the call to Islam which involves fighting, or the contribution of either money, opinions, or literature towards the fighting” (143). Relying on Muhammad’s example, Nabhani proposes that non-Muslims be invited to convert; failing that, non-Muslims should be invited to “pledge allegiance to the State and the regime” and pay Jizyah (tax for living under the protection of the Muslim state) (144). If non-Muslims neither convert nor pay Jizyah, “then…fighting would be lawful.” (144). In HT doctrine today, the scope of fighting on behalf of the state is not limited to fighting external obstacles. For instance, Abdul Qadeem Zallum, Nabhani’s successor as party head, argued that Muslims must stop “the dismemberment of any country from the body of the Khilafah… even if [such action leads] to the killing of millions of Muslims” (197).
Although HT describes itself as a political party, it does not intervene in the political process by, for example, running candidates for office or intervening with lawmakers through procedural channels. Indeed, HT doctrine eschews gradual change from within kufr states, using that term for “non-believer” as a dyslogistic epithet marking all other existing governments, including current governments in Muslim countries, which HT condemns as Islamic in name only. As HT puts it, “Today, it is clear that…no country including every single Muslim country implements Islam” (“Clarifying the Meaning” n.pag.). Nabhani divides the world into, on the one hand, the Dar-al-Islam (realm of Islam) and, on the other hand, the Dar-al-Kufr (realm of unbelief), also known as the Dar al-Harb (realm of war) (The Islamic State 240, 278). In HT doctrine, the realms of unbelief and of war are synonyms because “in origin the aim of Islam is to spread to all lands until the Islamic state encompasses the whole globe” (“Clarifying the Meaning” n.pag.).
But, how would this global state structure human relations within the frame of a purely Islamic political arrangement? To add flesh to his polemical and ideological skeleton for HT’s transformation of Muslims’ place in the world, Nabhani drafted a lengthy constitution for the khilafah state. Before using the tools that Burke gives us to examine the draft constitution as important symbolic action, I will pause to trace Burke’s development of the constitutional dialectic.
“The Dialectic of Constitutions” ends the Grammar, and is its longest section. Yet, Burke’s original plan was exactly the opposite. Searching for an appropriate “representative idealist [agent-centered] anecdote” to introduce his work on “rhetorical strategies and symbolic acts,” Burke settled (after several blind alleys and abandoned drafts) on “The Constitutional Wish” (323). But, Burke soon found himself in the unenviable position of needing to introduce his introduction so he could establish why a written constitution is a fruitful place from which to begin understanding talk about human motives (323-24). Escaping “the hint of an infinite regress” of introductions (338), Burke eventually found a way out of his dilemma.
Conceiving of “constitution” as “enactment” returned Burke to his “final set of terms,” the dramatistic pentad (340). Burke’s struggles with finding the right anecdote led him, as Wess puts it, to “the discovery of the convertibility of substance and motive” (Wess “Dialectic” 13). As enactments, constitutions are evidence of agents’ purposeful acts within a historical scene (and looking ahead to future scenes) that use symbolic action (not force) to create a particular political order and group character. Burke argues that the pentad’s terms and ratios are central to asking questions about human motives and can readily be justified by “the ‘collective revelation’ of common usage” and application; thus, “they [need] nothing to proceed [sic] them” (340). Burke’s maneuvering to justify his choice of anecdote and method links motives with the rhetorical ground upon which motives are born:
Men’s conception of motive…is integrally related to their conception of substance. Hence, to deal with problems of motive is to deal with problems of substance. And a thing’s substance is that whereof it is constituted. Hence, a concern with substance is a concern with the problems of constitutionality. And where questions of constitutionality are central, could we do better than select the subject of a Constitution and its typical resources as the anecdote about which to shape our terms? (337-38).
Burke maintains that constitutions are particularly representative anecdotes for a work “[o]n Human Relations” because constitutions are “anecdote[s] summational in character…wherein human relations grandly converge,” human wills are enacted agonistically, and “the attempt is made, by verbal or symbolic means, to establish a motivational fixity of some sort, in opposition to something that is thought liable to endanger this fixity” (323, 324, 357). Thus, a written constitution, by creating a body politic and the structure of motives on which that body stands, can serve as “a calculus of motives…a terminology, or set or coordinates, for the analysis of motives” (325, 377). If history is best viewed as an “unending conversation,” as Burke’s parlor metaphor (Philosophy of Literary Form 110-111) suggests, then constitutions are texts that work internally and externally to structure the parlor and to purify war. Using the image of the fencing statue (what can be said to make the defender’s parry timeless, regardless of which weapon or line of attack future opponents take?), Burke calls our attention to the contexts in which agents make particular constitutional enactments and to the oppositions within those enactments that can become motives shaping history’s ongoing conversations (365).
Turning to the example most familiar to his readers, the U.S. Constitution, Burke foregrounded one of the pentadic terms—Agent—to exemplify how motives can best be examined (323). Constitutions are symbolic actions intended to shape the realm of possibilities for each society’s view of who We are, how We should act toward One Another, and how We relate to Them. Such generalized enactments are philosophically “idealistic” because they position the agent’s unique characteristics as the source of present and future acts (171, 323, 360). As Burke points out, the U.S. Constitution is an especially idealistic document because it is interpreted using “the fiction that the will of the people today is consubstantial with the will of the Founding Fathers,” making today’s interpreters “co-agents” along with the Founders (175).
Burke also calls our attention to the importance of agent-to-agent address in constitutions (360). Constitutions create an I or a We that addresses a You, with statements and definitions becoming exhortations: “What a Constitution would do primarily is to substantiate an ought…to base a statement as to what should be upon a statement as to what is” (358, emphasis original), or, more specifically, “If a Constitution declares a right ‘inalienable,’ for instance, it is a document signed by [people] who said in effect, ‘Thou shalt not alienate this right’” (360). I or We state (or define) X; X shapes the realm of what you can (or ought) to do. Burke’s focus on agents highlights how constitutions are evidence of efforts to create a timeless continuity of shared history and values, while using the necessarily elastic constitutional terms to enable interpretation as contexts change (as new attacks are launched at our hypothetical fencer, still holding the parry).
While he stresses the role of agents, Burke also points to a special conception of scene for constitutions: the “Constitution-Behind-the-Constitution” or the “wider circumference” for constitutional acts (362). This “wider circumference” describes any particular “social, natural, or supernatural environment in general” in which the constitutional enactment or its later interpretation occurs. (362). For example, with the U.S. Constitution, Burke points to the influence of business interests on legal interpretation and to the Constitution’s origin within a time of “retraction and consolidation” after the revolution (362-63). To see the full range of strategies of a constitutional enactment through the lens of this widened circumference, the critic must pay attention not only to the text but also to these particular contexts. A complete statement about motives obliges the critic, Wess contends, to engage in “[c]onstitutional analysis” that “uncovers the rhetorical situation within which the pentad functions” (178). Putting it another way, Wess asserts, “In the pentad, all roads lead to the act–that is, to the constitution” (181) so critics must not simply pull the pentad out of the Grammar, a practice that irritated Burke (“Questions and Answers” 334).
What emerges from this crystallizes into a critical framework for Burkean analysis of constitutions as the primary object of study and as strategic, stylized purifications of war. Critics should argue for a particular conception of the constitution behind the constitution, show how the constitution strategically positions the Agent’s unique characteristics as the source of present and future acts, focus on constitutional appeals to, and tensions among competing idealistic concepts, identify constitutional exhortations as addressed (We, One Another, Them), and account for how the constitution attempts to remain timeless within present and future contexts. Of course, such critical considerations may be important in examining a range of symbolic action, not just constitutions. However, constitutions present particular rhetorical challenges. They must breathe life into a new state, manage the tensions of past, present, and future, and create a new national character that remains vibrant–ideally, in perpetuity. The HT draft constitution is evidence of one worldwide effort to meet that rhetorical challenge, but with troubling implications.
For HT, Islam is not just a set of religious beliefs practiced in certain ways in certain places at certain times. Instead, HT views Islam as “a comprehensive way of life that is capable of managing the affairs of state and society” (“Draft Constitution”). As former HT member (now outspoken critic) Majid Nawaz puts it, “Religion had been merged with politics in such a way that we worshipped God through our political activities” (qtd in Rowland and Theye 69). Thus, the draft constitution is a detailed plan for carrying out the state’s “primary function,” namely, “to carry the Islamic Da’wah” (Art.11, Nabhani, The Islamic State 242). Indeed, for HT, the very “raison d’etat of the Ummah is Islam in the forceful persona of its State; the sound implementation of its rules; and in the persistence of conveying its Da’wah to mankind” (Art.183, The Islamic State 275). There are no U.S. Constitution-style efforts to manage tensions between religion and the state here; this document creates a state in which religion is central.
The draft constitution contains ten sections totaling 186 articles. Spanning almost 10,000 words in the English translation that HT distributes, it touches all aspects of citizens’ lives: religious practice, government, military, judicial, and financial matters, and economic, social, political, and educational policy. The role of the Islamic government in citizens’ lives in HT’s khilafah state is comprehensive. Indeed, in reaching out to the Egyptian people in the wake of Mubarak’s recent ouster, HT uses this very comprehensiveness as a selling point for its solutions to humankind’s troubles:
We in Hizb-ut-Tahrir fully realise that the Ummah’s choice is Islam and that she will choose the rule of Islam, not the rule of Jahiliya [ignorance of Islam]. We also inform you that Hizb-ut-Tahrir has drafted a comprehensive constitution with its incumbent motives. It is a pure Islamic constitution based exclusively on the Shari’ah texts and their denotations. (“To the Sincere Noblemen,” bracketed text mine)
By contrast, the U.S. Constitution, drafted in the wake of America’s revolution against British rule, divides governmental power and contains just seven articles augmented, over the years, by twenty-seven amendments (authorized by Article V), for a total of about 4400 words. While HT’s draft constitution allows for removal of the khilafah as head of state under certain circumstances (Articles 38 and 39), it does not provide any express means of amending its 186 articles. Its provisions and HT’s campaigns citing the draft constitution create, what might only half-jokingly be dubbed, a turnkey solution for ideological and methodological impiety.
Indeed, solving the problem of impiety is this imagined state’s root motive. Thus, the “constitution behind” the HT draft constitution is a complete rejection of competing ideologies such as capitalism, democracy, socialism, individualism, and nationalism coupled with the imperative to succeed where other Islamic movements failed (because, in HT’s view, their methods were impious). Ultimately, to break from competing ideologies and impious methods is, for HT, to return to God, to the perfection of the very idea of unified timelessness and the source of all law. “We the People” are not the source of governmental legitimacy and authority, while “secur[ing] the blessings of Liberty” (to borrow two aspirational phrases from the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble) takes a backset to creating a harmonious order. The common mythos of U.S. culture (often despite the actual conditions on the ground) is one of individual freedom and self-determination—that is, pentadic Agency. For HT, (God’s) Order comes to the fore and, indeed, supersedes other terms.
Order, as the draft constitution portrays it, results from the state’s (correct, pious) “moral grandeur,” to return to Burke’s term. As for the second half of Burke’s test of visions, “stylistic felicity,” the English translation that HT uses is written in what Byron Hawk has, in another context, called “the style of no style” (85). Through a prose style that often reads more as a rule book than as a set of broad principles, the draft constitution positions its articles as foundational, comprehensive, and able to anticipate, answer, and transcend competing political ideologies founded on any basis other than (HT’s conception of) Islam.
Islam is a heterogeneous worldwide religion with no centralized clergy structure. Despite Islam’s immense diversity, the draft constitution uses the singular article “the” throughout (“the Islamic Da’wah,” “the Islamic point of view,” “the Islamic personality,” and, most saliently, “the Islamic State”), linguistically transforming diversity (and the potential for dissension) into unity. The draft constitution attempts to transcend potential divisions among citizens that might derive from nationalism, sectarianism, race, or class by declaring that the state rests on a foundation of Islamic aqeeda (core Islamic creed; from root word connoting “knotted together”) (Art. 1, The Islamic State 240). Nothing within the state’s political, social, or economic structures, institutions, or state-controlled educational curriculum can be done unless it derives from aqeeda (Art. 1, Art. 165, The Islamic State 240, 271).
Creed, then, is the pure source of present and future action. It is the way to learn about and to enact belief in Islam as God’s final revelation while spreading that belief to others and getting down to the core of Muslim belief enacted in a political arrangement that unites Muslims, resists outsiders’ attempts to divide the Ummah, and endures in the face of history’s constant flux. The draft constitution, to use Burke’s term, “establishes a motivational fixity” (Grammar 357) that opposes threats to the state’s continued vitality. Motivational fixity is crucial for preserving the state’s role as the community in which Islam is lived out and competing ideologies and states are rejected.
For HT, the linguistic source for living out creed is purified: the draft constitution stipulates that because Arabic “is the language of Islam,” it will be “the sole language used by the State” and thus part of an educational scheme mandating that Islamic culture and the Arabic language receive as much class time per week as every other subject combined (Art. 8, 168, The Islamic State 241, 272). Just as the chief purpose of the state is to carry the call to Islam, so too the function of education is to “produce the Islamic personality” equipped with “different disciplines of knowledge and sciences connected with life’s affairs,” all within the framework of the single language of God’s final revelation (Art. 167, 172, The Islamic State 272, 273). The draft constitution goes on to urge that Muslim males serving their compulsive military service “should be provided with the Islamic education” to come to “a full awareness of Islam, in toto”(Art. 63, The Islamic State 253).
In contrast with popular caricatures of an Islamic state, the state envisioned by the draft constitution is not a medieval anachronism that would reject advancements in science and technology. Instead, in setting educational policy it draws a bright line distinguishing between, disciplines and skills “such as business administration, navigation, and agriculture,” which may be “studied without restriction or conditions” as to their cultural origin and, on the other hand, disciplines and skills “that might be associated with a particular culture” or “influenced by a particular view, as with painting and sculpturing” (Art. 171, The Islamic State 272). This latter category quite simply “will not be studied if they contradict the Islamic point of view” (Art. 171, The Islamic State 272). Put another way, the draft constitution chooses between technologies and ideologies: the former can be diverse, the latter cannot. In its educational policy, the draft constitution seeks to develop advanced, educated citizens best able to carry the call to Islam by striking a balance between the ideal of a modern, advanced education and the ideal of ideological and cultural purity. To strike this balance now and in the future, the document refers citizens once again to origins and substance.
From the individual level to the state itself, the draft constitution positions the Islamic creed and its resulting character as the essence of ideologically, religiously, and politically correct action. The state acts chiefly through a single individual, a male Muslim who, once elected, assumes the title of khilafah (Art. 26, The Islamic State 242). Indeed, the draft constitution makes no distinction between the man and the state: “the Khilafah is the State. He possesses all the authority of the State” (Art. 35, The Islamic State 246). He has the power to issue binding law, set foreign and domestic policy, make war and sign treaties, set the state budget, and appoint judges (Art. 35, 37, 39, The Islamic State 246, 247). The khilafah’s power “to conduct the affairs of the citizens” is a matter of “absolute right” (Art. 37, The Islamic State 247), albeit within limits set by shari’a law (as HT sees it),and subject to limited judicial review by judges the khilafah appoints (Art. 40, 78, The Islamic State 248, 255).
Yet, to ensure that the state remains uncorrupted from kufr political systems, even the khilafah cannot accept an oath of allegiance from non-Muslim states or from states under protection of non-Muslim states (Art. 29, The Islamic State 245). Like domestic policy, all foreign policy must have its genesis in da’wah (Art. 183, The Islamic State 275). The unique characteristics of Islam become the source of life in the khilafah state and in its relations to other states. To purify internal strife in the khilafah state through linguistic transformation, the draft constitution seeks to anticipate and manage competing rights. Among the many conflicts that it anticipates are conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims, between citizens competing for economic resources, and between the khilafah state and other states. Because the state will follow an exclusively Islamic origin and method, the draft constitution imposes shari’a law on all citizens, whether Muslims or not, and forbids non-Muslims from forming political parties or voting to elect the khilafah (Art. 7, 21, 26, The Islamic State 241, 243). It does permit non-Muslims to voice complaints about the application of shari’a on them, and allows them to serve on the elected assembly able to offer advice to the khilafah, but only with the limited role of complaining of unjust treatment (Art. 20, 103, The Islamic State 243, 260). Non-Muslim males are not required to serve in the military or to pay taxes that Muslims must pay, but are subject to the Jizyah protection tax (Art. 140, 142, The Islamic State 266, 267).
Through these broad grants of authority and particular limits on authority, the draft constitution establishes the khilafah as the living model of a particular view of the Islamic personality. Compared with the U.S. Constitution, memorably described by Burke as “a Constitution for small business”; that is, a constitution providing “coordinates [to] think by” that emphasize a shared investment in tropes of private industry, making one’s own fortune, and upward mobility, the HT draft constitution is a constitution for transforming creed into deed (Grammar 367). Its “coordinates to think by” are a stunningly thorough expression of “the” Islamic personality enacting the aqeeda.
But what of strategically answering the problem of religious freedom? Not all citizens of the khilafah state will be Muslims, after all. The draft constitution grants non-Muslims the right to “follow their own beliefs and acts of worship”; however, the articles describing rules for divorce, child custody, and religious training of children in mixed households favor Islam (Art. 7, 118, The Islamic State 241, 263). Perhaps the fullest expression of the state’s investment in Islam’s status as paramount, even with a scope of religious tolerance, can be found in this section of one of the general articles at the beginning of the document: “The Murtadeen [apostates] will be treated according to the rules of Murtadeen, provided that they themselves have renounced Islam” (Art. 7, section c., The Islamic State 241). Islamic thought is not monolithic on this issue. However, a view that has persisted in some strands of Islamic thought is that apostasy is, as Bernard Lewis puts it, “a capital offense, both for the one who is misled and the one who misleads him” (55).
HT spokespersons generally refuse to answer questions about apostasy in the khilafah state, but the draft constitution’s grants of protection and limited political rights to non-Muslims, coupled with descriptions of how Islam is nevertheless to control many facets of non-believers’ lives, attempt to shape the realm of what’s possible in individual lives and religious expressions. HT’s brand of Islam tolerates other religions, on its own terms, but remains the expression of pious rejection, the paramount political engine that does not brook renunciations. In short, the document creates an Us (all citizens in the state, co-existing) circumscribed by another, smaller Us (only the Muslim citizens) on the dominant side of a “Thou Shalt Not,” strategically positioning Islam as both flexible enough to tolerate other religions (up to a point) and important enough to defend against influence from other religions or from renunciation.
The draft constitution’s longest section, Articles 119-164, addresses competing rights and obligations as managed within the state’s economic system, a system Nabhani mapped out as a refutation of competing ideologies of capitalism and socialism that both derive from corruptible man-made ideas. The state’s basic task in setting economic policy is how best “to distribute funds and benefits to all citizens, to enable them to possess them and to work for them” (Art. 120, The Islamic State 263). To begin that task, the draft constitution declares the fundamental starting point that “Wealth belongs to Allah” (Art. 122, The Islamic State 263). While God permits persons to own and dispose of property and to earn profits, their actions are “restricted by the permission of Shari’a” (Art. 128, The Islamic State 264). Thus, “Squandering, extravagance, and miserliness are forbidden,” as are “capitalist companies, cooperatives, and all other illegal transactions such as Riba (usury), fraud, monopolies, gambling and the like” (Art. 128, The Islamic State 264). The state is to provide “free health care for all,” “guarantee adequate support” for the needy, provide shelter and sustenance for “the disabled and handicapped,” and “guarantee employment for all citizens” (Art. 149, 152, 160, The Islamic State 269, 270).
Toward those ends, the state “must ensure the circulation of wealth among all citizens and forbid the circulation of wealth among only a sector of the society” (Art. 153, The Islamic State 269). Zakat (mandatory alms) that the state collects are “only to be spent in one or more of the eight categories mentioned in the Qur’an” (Art. 139, emphasis original, The Islamic State 266). To prevent foreign influence over the khilafah state’s economy and currency, the draft constitution forbids foreign investment and mandates that the state issue its own currency that is “not…associated with any other foreign currency” (Art. 161, The Islamic State 162, 271). To avoid the boom-and-bust cycles of the currency markets, the state may not issue currency unless gold or silver reserves completely cover it (Art. 163, The Islamic State 271).
The draft constitution portrays its economic principles as derived from God’s true, timeless ownership of all, including monetary wealth. From the individual to the state to the international level, it enacts economic policy as creed and as performance of “the Islamic personality.” Through exhortation and prohibition, the draft constitution positions the acquisition, use, growth, and distribution of wealth as a potentially corrupting force to be converted into an avenue of worship and obedience. Wealth is to be spent and managed in specific ways, all in the Ummah are to be provided for, the state’s economy is to be kept uncontaminated by foreign influence, and the shocks of other states’ experimentations with economic policy not derived from Islam are to be walled off. Whether any particular state could actually meet these goals by following these strict principles is beside the point, at least so long as HT confines itself to persuasion only (though Nabhani’s writings transform “fighting” into a legitimate means of political action). What matters is that the draft constitution takes one of the most fractious and turbulent human symbol-systems ever devised—wealth—and attempts, by language, to preempt present and future misalignments with God’s will that wealth all too often brings about.
I hope that this essay shows the merits of using Burke’s constitutional dialectic to examine constitutions themselves as the objects of study. Comparative studies of ideological opponents’ constitutions and close readings of draft constitutions for emerging nations are potential avenues for continuing Burke’s project of ad bellum purificandum with the constitutional dialectic at its heart.
As this essay has shown, HT’s draft constitution for the khilafah state attempts to comprehensively chart a new Islamic nation that touches all aspects of citizens’ lives, transcends differences, and perpetuates the call to Islam. Thus, this document offers particularly salient evidence of one worldwide effort to transform human relations through symbolic action and offers an example of the kind of primary criticism I suggest.
While the U.S. Constitution, too, is evidence of human attempts to fix motives and to parry present and future threats to a new state, its sparse provisions “grandly converge” human relations in a divided government whose powers have their genesis in citizens’ shared mythos of self-determination, individual liberty, and (let me be blunt) capitalism. The dialectic of the U.S. Constitution is a dialectic of competing ideals, rights, and interests that emphasizes, especially in the Bill of Rights, the individual agent’s rights to be free from state action. The dialectic of the HT constitution is a dialectic of rejection—rejection of impious political arrangements (that is, every other political arrangement besides the khilafah state) and rejection of potential fractiousness that might impede the development of “the Islamic personality” or the call to Islam.
In short, HT’s generalized wish trades agency for order. Burke reminds us that constitutions offer strategic answers, derived from ideals, to the shared problems of living, derived from partial, time-bound human existence. If not continually reenacted and performed, even a shared vision of the perfect state sows the seeds of its own unmaking. In this case, internal conflicts and differences, not to mention challenges coming from ideologically incorrect states, are anticipated and woven into a comprehensive plan offering Islamic answers to citizens’ problems and to the problem of the state’s place and purpose. Instead of creating a linguistic framework for the Sisyphean tasks of political negotiation and judicial interpretation, HT offers a brittle fantasy of a totalized, comprehensive state that trades agency for order.
I say “brittle fantasy” because the state that HT envisions, the state it seeks tirelessly to implement (thus far through persuasive means only) is so comprehensive, so ideal, so perfected as to be rotten, to borrow a plank from Burke’s “Definition of Man” (Language as Symbolic Action 16-17). The HT draft constitution squeezes out all the air from the kind of contextually reworked “general chapterhead” concept of broad values and principles that Burke describes as features of “our secular Constitutions” (Grammar 366). What’s left is, in HT’s own characterization—indeed used by HT as a selling point—is an already worked-out set of ideological and political arrangements for rejection and transformation derived from the purest of pure foundations: God. HT’s drive to purify war through aqeeda, as this essay has shown, yields insights into the unique human genius/psychosis for elaborate symbolic enactments that mark out an Us versus a Them: the pure state with its pure basis versus “the realm of war,” Islam versus kufr, full citizens versus tolerated citizens. Unfortunately, though, Nabhani’s “lawful fighting” as political method is incipient in this document because there is precious little “tolerance by speculation” or hint of a Burkean comic frame to HT’s efforts to transform the world. The draft constitution’s strategic oppositions and end-of-the-line terms for order all but guarantee that there will always be a huge gap between perfected generalized wish and political reality. Pious rejection and frustrated transformations of substance are not the seeds of a purified war.
* Drew M. Loewe is an Assistant Professor in the department of English Writing & Rhetoric at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and by phone at (210) 478-8220.
I thank the editor, Andrew King, and KB Journal’s anonymous external reviewers for their probing and helpful comments that have strengthened this article.
1 These eight categories, specified in Qur’an 9.60, are the poor, the needy, administrators, converts and certain non-Muslims, captives, debtors, those carrying out Jihad (not necessarily meaning war or fighting), and travelers (Benthall 31-32). The exact parameters of these categories, whether one must be a Muslim to receive Zakat funds, and other details are, as with practices of other religions, a subject of debate among Muslims (31).
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