Book Review | Ihsan as the basis of “Good Governance”

Muqtedar Khan’s Islam and Good Governance is a fresh and unique approach to the Islamic political philosophy through the prism of Ihsan ~
Book Review | Ihsan as the basis of “Good Governance”

TheQur'an states: "Allah loves the good-doers [Muhsinin]" (Q. 2: 195); "Shall thereward of good [Ihsan] be anything but good?" (Q. 55: 60); and "God commandsjustice, doing good [Ihsan]" (Q. 16: 90). The Prophet (pbuh), in a seminalTradition, taught that "God has ordained Ihsan in all spheres of life". TheArabic term 'Ihsan' (which is variedly translated as perfection, goodness,excellence, beautify, beautiful, etc.) occurs over 190 times in the Qur'an andhas been explained in the Prophetic Traditions (Ahadith) as well. As an Islamicconcept/ value, it has been explored, but mostly in the mystical tradition, butin the Islamic scholarly tradition, this concept has received very littleattention, as far as its overall content and context is concerned. In otherwords, "Muslim scholars have written extensively about the concepts of Islamincluding Ihsan, but not much about the role of Ihsan in politics or ingovernance". Taking insights from this very fact, M. A. Muqtedar Khan(Professor in the Department of Political Science and IR, University ofDelaware, USA), attempts to develop a vision of Ihsan-based politicalphilosophy, in his Islam and Good Governance (hereinafter abbreviated as IGG),as none of "the books on Ihsan have ventured into politics" (p. 3).

Bringing"Ihsan—doing beautiful deeds—into politics", Khan seeks to "develop a politicalphilosophy based on Ihsan" by articulating "an alternative vision andunderstanding of the role of Ihsan in politics that can be inspirational,enlightening and even desirable" (pp. 2, 3). That is, Khan pronounces "a visionof a beautiful (love-based society) and a state of Ihsan", and thus "move[s]away from the now failed vision of Islamic states" (p. 2; italics in original).

Consistingof eight (8) chapters, including introduction and conclusion, it is preceded,among others, by 'Foreword' by Professor John L. Esposito (pp. vii—x)—whereinhe praises Khan both for proposing vision of "a state that is not based on asecular or Islamic model but rather on Ihsan", taken in mystical sense (p. ix),as well as for advocating/ presenting "a paradigm based on Ihsan and itsapplication for a postcolonial relationship of Islam and politics" (p. x). Itis, however, deplorable to see that a reputed and respected scholar like Espositodifferentiates between Islamic and Ihsan based model giving the impression thatthe latter is 'non-Islamic'.

Employingtwo methodological gambits—deconstructing existing orthodoxy and reconstitutinga new and more mystical and compassionate narrative of Islamic principles andvalues—it "seeks to find a meeting point" by bringing together "mysticism,theology, and political theory" (p. 5). Khan provides the detailed descriptionof his vision of good governance in seventh chapter (pp. 209-46).

Makinga "Quest for a Political Philosophy of Ihsan" (pp. 1-8), the introductorychapter provides both the philosophical and theological foundations forunderstanding this work as well as offers an outline/ structure of the book."None of the books about Ihsan", argues Khan on the basis of the literaturesurvey, "have ventured into politics" so far; therefore, IGG developsIhsan-based political philosophy that "emphasizes love over law, process(Islamic government) over structure (Islamic state), and self-annihilation(Fanna) over identity or self-assertion" (p. 3). Revisiting Islam's fundamentalsources, it rearticulates "a vision of Islam that is at once authentic andtransformative" and emphasizes "Islamic idealism … over Muslim realism" as well(p. 4).

InChapter 2, "The Loss of Ihsan" (pp. 9-42), Khan demonstrates how "Islamicscholars deduce legal rulings … excluding the Ihsan" (p. 39). Chapter 3 (pp.43-76) explores "the modern manifestations of the Islamic tradition of revivaland reform as a response to the challenges of modernity … [and] the West" (p.45). Chapter 4 provides a detailed examination of "Classical and ContemporaryUnderstanding" of Ihsan (pp. 77-102) and scrutinizes the views of classicalscholars, like Ibn Taymiyya, al-Ghazzali, and Ibn Arabi, etc., and thenevaluates some contemporary prominent works (both in Arabic and English) onIhsan, namely Sheikh Abdelsalam Yassine (1998), Shaykh Muhammad Bin Hasan(2010), Sachiko Murata and William Chittick (1994), and Sheikh Muhammad HishamKabbani's (1998), as these scholars, and their works, "represent many differentschools of thought" (p. 89). By this evaluation, Khan concludes that "theawareness of Ihsan and its place in Islamic value system was minimal" (p. 102).

Thiscritical evaluation and scholarly understanding on Ihsan is the basis ofChapter 5, "Unveiling Ihsan: From Cosmic View to Worldview" (pp. 103-59),wherein Khan introduces his understanding of Ihsan by looking at this concept"afresh, revisiting the key sources of Islam" (p. 124), unpacking them, anddefining Ihsan beyond 'a spiritual state'. That is, he presents a "new visionof Ihsan" which is jointly "influenced" by his "reading [of] the tradition" aswell as his "experiences" as a "globetrotting mystic-curios" (p. 111).

Chapter6 (pp. 161-208) provides a "critical reading of the history of Islamicpolitical thought" by identifying the "different iconic perspectives andapproaches that Islamic political thinkers have adopted" in conceptualizing andstudying Islamic political philosophy (p. 161; italics In original). Thiscritical analysis is done in two sections: 'Islamic Theories of Polity andGovernance' (pp. 172-92) and 'Islamic Polity and Islamic Governance' (pp.192-207). Section-I explores the political philosophy of five (5) "keythinkers", namely al-Farabi, al-Mawardi, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Khaldun, and Saa'diShirazi, who represent "major trends in the premodern period" (p. 163; italicsin original). Here it is interesting to note that Saa'di, an exemplaryrepresentative of Sufi ethos, is explored and presented as "representative ofSufi political thought" (p. 188). Khan's major aim for selecting Saa'di'spolitical philosophy is to highlight both Sufi contribution to "good governanceand good living" as well as to demystify the notion that there is no, or onecannot built, "Sufi conceptions of an Islamic polity" (p. 192). Section-IImakes a critical survey of four "key [political] theories" of post-colonialperiod with a focus on the writings/ ideology of Syed Qutb, Mawlana Mawdudi,Ayatollah Khomeini, and Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, as they represent "importanttrends in Islamic political thought", which emerged in response "to the dualchallenges" posed by modernity and the West (p. 163). In a nutshell, Khan heremakes a 'transition' from 'politics as we know' to 'politics of Ihsan'/ 'Stateof Ihsan', which is elucidated Chapter 7, "Ihsan and Good Governance" (pp.209-46)—the hub and heart of IGG.

InChapter 7, Khan first provides an outline of his vision of 'an alternate way ofthinking about Islam's role in politics in different sections, viz., 'The Stateof Ihsan' (pp. 212-26), 'The Society of Muhsins' (pp. 226-44), and 'Ihsan andGood (ness) Governance" (pp. 244-46). In sum, Khan proposes "a broad model ofgood governance that seeks to realize the highest virtues in Islamicethos—Ihsan" (p. 209). It discusses, at length, "what constitutes a State ofIhsan", and advances a "vision of Islamic governance" which is based on theidea that Islamic governance is "the realization of virtuous outcomes such associal justice, tolerance, acceptance, compassion and peace" and is not justmeant for "the implementation of Islamic laws" (p. 209).

Insection-I, Khan first proposes "five normative Ihsan-based principles" of goodgovernance, which "shape the structure and nature of the state" as well as"inform the constitution of the society" (p. 211, cf. p. 226). These principlesare: (1) To "think of the modern concept of sovereignty in the same vein as onethought of Tawheed in the political sense" (p. 215); (2) To "return to theprophetic example (Sunnah)", or to look "explicitly and exclusively at theprophetic example for principles of good governance", and "not to privilege theexample of the rightly guided Caliphs" (p. 216); (3) To "stop attaching toomuch significance to the structure and architecture of the government": "goodgovernance is the deliverable and Muslims should focus on Islamic (good)governance rather than Islamic government" (italics in original), and "pursuegradual democratization with emphasis on Islamic or good governance" (p. 218);(4) To be "more concerned with national virtue than national identity" (p. 221;italics in original); and (5) To rescue justice "from the limiting influence oflaw" and to base it entirely on "the Quranic conception of justice that definesboth state and state laws rather than law defining the state and the concept ofjustice" (pp. 225-26).

Inthe next section, he submits five more principles which form basis of his"theory of good citizenship necessary for good governance" (p. 226). Theseprinciples "characterize", in Khan's vision, "a society of Muhsins" (p. 227),and are summarized as: (1) The "citizens of the State of Ihsan … [should] bearwitness to God about the state of governance", similar to the mystical state ofIhsan (p. 227); i.e., to become 'Citizens as Witnesses', so that to create asociety of Muhsins "that holds a mirror to its government in pursuit of goodand virtuous governance" (p. 228); (2) To "employ a similar index" as UNDP's'Human Resource Index' which must have "indicators for spiritual health" aswell (p. 230) and is aptly labeled as 'Citizens as Character Builders' (p.229); (3) To implement 'Shariah by Shura' framework—a two-way process of Shura"to arrive at Shariah rulings"—for resolving challenges and issues between"government and the citizens" (p. 233), based on the principles derived fromthe Qur'an (42: 38 and 4: 59)—which is, in Khan's opinion, "the best way togovern" (p. 235); (4) To use the concept of freedom (hurriyah) both as a"necessary condition to enable the politics of Ihsan" (p. 238) and to conceive"citizenship as self-regulating freedom" (p. 236); and (5) To focus on'God-centric' governance instead of 'God Governance', and to differentiatethem—i.e., to make "a shift from the authoritarian model of governance to amore democratic model", in which "the citizens are God-centered and so is thesociety, but the state itself is more focused on good governance" (p. 244).

Inthe 'Closing Thoughts' (pp. 247-50), Khan "encapsulate[s] and summarize[s]" his"vision of Islamic political philosophy anchored by the concept of Ihsan" (p.247) and seeks "Ihsan to be realized in the public sphere" as it "emphasizescompassion and love" (p. 248). Thus, in this book, Khan channels the concept ofIhsan from merely a virtue/ value/ dimension of Deen (Religion) to its advocacyas the foundation of "good governance in Muslim societies" by infusing "thevirtue of Ihsan in the legislation of Shariah, in the conception of citizenship,in the delineation of the purpose of the state and in guiding the activism ofcivil society" (p. 249).

ThoughIGG has a number of grammatical mistakes, typographical errors, and technicallapses; nevertheless, it is gratifying to see Khan's IGG is a unique and freshcontribution which has been acclaimed and commended by numerous reputedacademicians, especially from USA. Though many academics, especially politicaltheorists, will show reservations in accepting, wholeheartedly, Khan'sIhsan-based vision of good governance (both its principles and practicality),but none will hesitate in appreciating him—that will be really againstIhsan—for his 'innovativeness': be it in his reading of the sacred sources, inreviewing and analyzing the Islamic scholarship, or in developing his 'unique'vision. In sum, Khan's Islam and Good Governance is a fresh and unique approachto the Islamic political philosophy through the prism of Ihsan. It will provevaluable to the students and scholars of Islamic/ Religious Studies, ComparativePolitics, Political Science and Philosophy.

DrTauseef Ahmad Parray is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC for Women,Pulwama (J&K).

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