By Dr. Fathi Osman
Islam is a religion, not a mere political system; it appeals primarily to the inwardness of the human mind and spirit, the promises the whole fulfillment of every individual and absolute justice in the eternal life to come. However, it requires that the individual’s spiritual development be represented and reflected in reforming personal behavior and social relations, in order to prove innate change and achieve salvation with its eternal rewards.
Islam not only has a vision of a just society, but also presents general principles of a whole way of life for the individual, the family, the society, the state, and the world relations in order to secure balance and justice in the whole human sphere. It offers the basic moral and organization rules for relations between man and woman, between the elderly and the young in the nuclear and extended family, and in the society, between the haves and the have-nots, between the rulers and the ruled, and between Muslims and others within the local society and throughout the world. Like ideologies, Islam does not provide detailed practicalities and programs, since such details are changeable to fit unceasing change in human circumstances in different times and places. Islam allows extensive room for the creativity of the human mind to cope with emerging changes, for the human mind is God’s gift to be fully used and developed, it should not be restricted or crippled by that other gift of God, His guiding messages. It is the same One God who created the human being, and Who grants him or her spiritual, moral, and intellectual faculties, and to whom He has sent His guiding messages as well, both are made in accordance with the all truth.
Thus, no contradiction between both may exist; Almighty Allah says,
And so set your face (and direct yourself) sincerely towards the faith, which is in accordance with the nature upon which God has originated human beings… (Ar-Rum 30:30)
God’s messages aim to develop the human being in his or her totality: spiritually, morally, intellectually, physically, individually and socially, and to guard him or her against egotism without suppressing human individuality and personal creativity. Divine guidance develops individuals through to their full spiritual potential instead of being deformed by selfish greed in a material civilization— as the American philosopher John Dewey has sharply pointed out.(1)
Therefore, Islam can be presented to and dealt with by a non-Muslim as an ideology, with some flexibility in using the term since it was coined for human ideas, or as general principles for a comprehensive way of life. Naturally, however, the intellectual conviction cannot provide the same moral depth, width and constancy as a religious commitment, which looks for the acceptance of the Absolute Supreme and the reward of eternity. Freedom and equality for all human beings are, for the believers in God, definite results of the belief in the One who is the only distinctive and supreme “the One to whom all greatness belongs,” “there is nothing like unto him,” “there is nothing that could be compared with Him.”(2)
All human beings are equally God’s creation, and each is free since he or she is only subject to God’s physical and moral laws, and each is equal to any other human being. Caliph `Umar (13-23H/634-44 C.E.) tersely addressed the Muslim governor of Egypt whose son beat an Egyptian child, “Since when did you impose slavery on human beings while their mothers bore them free!”(3)
However, the religious dimension in the Islamic ideology or plan, of individual and social, local and global reform, does not mean the establishment of a theocracy. There is no clergy in Islam; any intelligent human being who knows the language and the style can understand and interpret God’s message and no supernatural or metaphysical power can be required or claimed for such a work.
God’s message has ‘been preserved and made known publicly through centuries; and no human being can add to it or detract from it. The ideology of Islam, if we may say so, is not totalitarian. It does not dictate details that dominate every moment or make an imperative for any human thought and move, nor does it claim to provide a definitive prescription in advance for every specific problem that may emerge at any time in the future. Islam presents the essential guidance that allows the creativity of the human mind to conceive, infer from, and build upon it. The ruling authorities cannot monopolize providing the interpretation of the divine guidance or offer new solutions for emerging problems from above without involving the people, and every sane adult has the right to participate in such a process.
 John Dewey, Individualism: Old and New (New York: Minton & Batch, 1930; Arabic translation by Kyayri Hammad, Al-Fardiyya Qadiman wa Hadithan, Beirut: al Hayat Publications, 1960), p. 10-18
 See the Qur’an in the following Surahs Al-Hashr 59:23, Ash-Shura 42:11 and Al-Ikhlas 112:4.
 Ibn `Abd Al-Hakam, `Abd Ar-Rahman ibn `Abdullah, Futuh Misr wa-l-Maghrib, ed. by Abd Al-Manim Amir, Cairo: Ministry of Culture, 1961, p.224-6.
Source: Taken with modifications from the author’s “Islam in a Modern State: Democracy and the Concept of Shura”