Ask yourself these questions. . . Is Islam an individual matter? Does it have anything to do with the public sphere, with matters of governance? Does Islam have any vision for governing societies?
Muslims would generally agree that governing according to Islam, aka Khilāfah, aka Islamic state, is something necessary or at least something commendable. But ask yourself this— when was the last time you heard a lecture about the Khilāfah, or about the fiqh of the Islamic state? In contrast, when was the last time you heard about the fiqh of prayer, or fasting, or about dhikr? Have we reduced Islam to personal fiqh? What has happened to the domain of Islamic political thought?
It is a matter of faith for us that Islamic teachings remain as relevant today as they ever were. Politics is in essence managing our resources for a greater, collective good, about working together as communities, and as an ummah. In Arabic the term is siyāsah, which is found in the following Prophetic ḥadīth:
كَانَتْ بَنُو إسْرَائِيلَ تَسُوسُهُمُ الأَنْبِيَاءُ، كُلَّمَا هَلَكَ نَبِيٌّ خَلَفَهُ نَبِيٌّ، وَإنَّهُ لاَ نَبِيَّ بَعْدِي. وَسَتَكُونُ خُلَفَاءُ فَتَكْثُرُ
The Israelites used to be governed/managed (politically) by the prophets. Whenever one of them died, another took his place. But there will be no prophet after me, but only khulafā’ (caliphs). [al-Bukhārī, Muslim and others]
The terms also finds itself from a report from ‘Umar:
خطبنا عمر بن الخطاب فقال قد علمت ورب الكعبة متى تهلك العرب، فقام إليه رجل من المسلمين فقال: متى يهلكون يا أمير المؤمنين؟ قال: حين يسوس أمرهم من لم يعالج أمر الجاهلية ولم يصحب الرسول صلى الله عليه وسلّم
Once ‘Umar addressed us and said, I indeed know, by the Lord of the Ka‘bah, when the Arabs will be destroyed. A man stood up and asked, When will they be destroyed O Commander of the Faithful? He replied, When they entrust their affairs (siyāsah) to those who have not eradicated the matters of jāhiliyyah and those who will not be from the Companions. [Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah, al-Bayhaqī]
So politics (siyāsah) is an essential part of human collective life and hence an integral part of the religion of truth.
But our collective lives are a mess. We have many great individuals among us who are quite diligent in their prayers and even cry when reading the Qurʼān, but when they sit in committees to run a masjid or a school or an event, chaos breaks loose. Tensions rise, accusations are leveled, backbiting occurs!
The Judgment of Akhirah is about individuals, but the Prophet of Islam established communities, social environments and, yes, states. They didn’t focus on knocking on doors and reaching every individual person but they had a broader mission. The majority and bulk of Arabia did not embrace Islam when each person was convinced of its truth, but when the writing on the horizon changed after the conquest of Makkah. The early Muslims conquered lands but did not force Islam on individuals. Why did the masses embrace Islam, then? The Muslims established order and institutions and a new way of organizing things, the writing on the horizons changes, and that brought the masses of people to them.
The Prophet and early Muslims had a profound sense of mission. We owe it to them to try to understand what that was and what happened to us. . . .