Anarchism and Islam

Islamic anarchism is based on an interpretation of Islam as "submission to God" which either prohibits or is highly critical of the role of human authority.

Historical anarchist tendencies in Islam

Throughout Islamic history there have been Muslim groups, movements, and individuals which could be described as anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, egalitarian, or opposed to the rule of specific governments. Among these, only a few are properly associated with the anarchist label.


An early example of anti-authoritarianism in Islam is the movement of the Khawarij, which dates back to the time of the split between Sunni and Shi'i Islam. The Shia claimed Ali and his descendants (the Ahl al-Bayt) were the rightful successors of Muhammad. The Sunnis believed (at least initially) that the leader of all the Muslims had to be from the Quraysh tribe but could be chosen by the Muslim community. Sunnis also tended to be conservative; as long as certain minimal functions were being carried out, it was wrong to rebel against the lawful Muslim ruler, even when they were being sinful.

The Khawarij initially supported the leadership of Ali, but turned against him when they disagreed with some of his decisions. They claimed that any qualified Muslim could be the Imam, the community's spiritual and religious leader. They were also more willing to rebel against Muslim rulers.

At least one sect of Kharajites, the Najdiyya, believed that if no suitable imam was present in the community, then the position could be dispensed with.[1] The Nukkari, a subsect of the Ibadiyya, reportedly adopted a similar belief.[2]


A strand of Muʿtazili thought paralleled that of the Najdiyya: if rulers inevitably became tyrants, then the only acceptable course of action was to stop installing rulers.

Sheikh Bedreddin

Sheikh Bedreddin (1359–1420) (Ottoman Turkish: شیخ بدرالدین) was a proto-Socialist revolutionary Sufi theologian and charismatic preacher who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1416. His full name was Şeyh Bedrettin Mahmud Bin İsrail Bin Abdülaziz.

His writings were condemned by a number of Ottoman religious scholars such as İsmail Hakkı Bursevi. Others instead praise him. He is a popular figure among Turkey's left. Nâzım Hikmet was jailed for inciting rebellion after encouraging military cadets to read Bedreddin's work. The musicians Cem Karaca and O. Z. Livaneli composed a song based on Hikmet's epic poem, the Şeyh Bedrettin Destanı. In Hikmet's work, Bedreddin and his companions emphasize that all things must be shared "except the lips of the beloved."

Sheikh Bedrettin's proto-socialist ideas emphasised direct action, direct democracy, international and interfaith human solidarity, equality and communal life. He is highly respected among the Turkish anarchists.[3]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890 – 20 January 1988) (Pashto: خاں عبدالغفار خاں) was a Pashtun political and spiritual leader known for his nonviolent opposition to British Rule in India. A lifelong pacifist, a devout Muslim,[4] and a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, he was also known as Badshah Khan (also Bacha Khan, literally "King Khan"), Fakhr-e-Afghan (pride of Afghans) and Sarhaddi Gandhi (Urdu, Hindi lit., "Frontier Gandhi").

Ghaffar Khan's Muslim pacifism was based on the anarcho-pacifist ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy.

Sayyid Qutb

Although being seen as a Islamist, Sayyid Qutb vouched for an Islamic society where all authority and sovereignty held by man would be eradicated because he believed that the only one with the right to authority and sovereignty is God. He believed this society would be achieved through a vanguard that would lead the Muslims into the fight against tyrannical forces . He also believed in social justice and economic and social equality where the Ummah would throw away materialism, corruption and other so called "man made" ideas in order to worship spiritually and complete the religious obligations.

Ali Shariati

Main article: Ali Shariati

An important and influential figure in the 20th century was Ali Shariati, who was considered the principal theoretician and leader[5][6] of the popular movement that ultimately culminated in the mass uprisings that led to the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow and dissolution of the Pahlavi Iran on 11 February 1979.

From the 1950s and on, Shariati was continually persecuted and often imprisoned in solitary confinement by the Imperial authorities with the support of the mainline Shi'a clergy who feared that Shariati was poised to become a national leader in the same vein as Mohammad Mosaddegh. Shariati's anticlerical and populist interpretation[7] of Twelver Shi'i Islam was strongly influenced by the nationalist republican historian and philosopher, Ahmad Kasravi, who had advocated a secular reformist interpretation of Islam, intertwined with a detailed study of the history of the Iranian peoples.

However, while Kasravi was a conservative nationalist, Shariati was on the opposite end of the spectrum, embracing both the far left and radical traditionalists. Shariati was one of the very few national figures who was popular and respected across the diverse ethnolinguistic spectrum of Iran, as loved by the Sunni Kurds and Baloch people as he was by the Shia.[8]

The continuous persecution of Shariati by both the Imperial State and the followers of Ruhollah Khomeini began to take its toll on his health. After his last incarceration, having spent eighteen months in solitary, Shariati spent the next three years under close surveillance and his freedom of movement highly restricted under virtual house arrest. On 20 March 1975, under the stipulation that he remain in exile permanently, Shariati was granted permission to leave Iran for the United Kingdom. Three weeks after his arrival in London, Shariati suffered a heart attack and shortly thereafter died.

Although Shariati was not an anarchist, his vision of Islam[9] was highly influenced by the Third-Worldism that he encountered as a student in Paris — ideas that class war and revolution would bring about a just and classless society — from one side, and the Islamic fundamentalist movements of his time from the other side. He is said to have adopted the idea of Gharbzadegi from Jalal Al-e-Ahmad and given it "its most vibrant and influential second life." [10] was that of a religion based upon the values of social justice, women's rights, minority rights, land reform for farmers and agrarians, advocacy for the poor and indigent, as well as a direct democracy that would allow for self-governance instead of having to rely on career politicians and elected representatives. He believed that the only true reflection of the Islamic concept of Tawhid (unity and oneness of God) is a classless society.


Main article: Hardline (subculture)

Hardline is a radical deep ecology movement with roots in vegan straight edge hardcore punk, absorbing several influences from Islam and with some followers being Muslims themselves. It ultimately led to the creation of several more explicitly Muslim organizations like Ahl-i-Allah (The People of Allah) and Taliyah al-Mahdi (The Vanguard of the Mahdi).

See also

Related movements

Relevant individuals

Social groups/places

Related concepts

Other religious anarchisms


  1. Crone, Patricia (1 January 1998). "A Statement by the Najdiyya Khārijites on the Dispensability of the Imamate". Studia Islamica (88): 55–76. doi:10.2307/1595697. JSTOR 1595697.
  2. Adam Gaiser (2010). Muslims, Scholars, Soldiers: The Origin and Elaboration of the Ibadi Imamate Traditions. Oxford University Press. p. 175 note 90. ISBN 978-0-19-973893-9.
  3. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-20. Retrieved 2010-10-04.
  4. An American Witness to India's Partition by Phillips Talbot Year (2007) Sage Publications ISBN 978-0-7619-3618-3
  5. Abrahamian, Ervand. 1993. ‘Ali Shariati: ideologue of the Iranian revolution’. In Edmund Burke and Ira Lapidus (eds.), Islam, politics, and social movements. Los Angeles: University of California Press. First published in MERIP Reports (January 1982): 25-28.
  6. Gheissari, Ali. 1998. Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  7. Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p. 129
  8. Ostovar, Afshon P. (2009). "Guardians of the Islamic Revolution Ideology, Politics, and the Development of Military Power in Iran (1979–2009)" (PhD Thesis). University of Michigan. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
  9. Shariati, Ali, "A Manifestation of Self-Reconstruction and Reformation", (1975), p. 394
  10. Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet : Religion and Politics in Iran, p. 330

Further reading

External links

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