The belief that God is the sole Legislator flows directly from the Muslim confession of faith, la ilaha illa ‘Llah, which can be interpreted as meaning that ‘there is no legislator but the Legislator’. The message embodied in the Qur’an – and the laws derived from it and from the Sunnah of the Prophet – bind the community together; no exterior pressure is required to make this binding effective.
True sovereignty resides neither in the ruler nor in government nor in a statistical majority; it belongs to God, but is in a certain sense delegated to His ‘rightly-guided’ community; and the Law, precisely because it is a ‘reminder’ of the laws inherent in our own created nature, should not in principle require the apparatus of the state, officials and policemen, to make it effective. Whatever place the contemporary Westerner may give to religion in his personal and social life, this is still only ‘a place’; it is seen as one element in the total structure of human life, but it is not itself that totality. For Islam, on the other hand, the social order is a part of the religion and cannot be separated from it. The function of the ruler (or ‘government’ as such) within this system is strictly limited. Islamic society is theocentric rather than theocratic. Were it the latter, there would be a need for a semi-divine ruler, the representative of God on earth and the interpreter of His will; but in the context of a theocentric society the ruler occupies a peripheral rather than a central role.
Despite certain idealistic theories arising from nostalgia for the time of the Rashidun, the first four caliphs, the Muslims have on the whole taken a very pragmatic view of the ruler’s function. He is not expected to be a saint or a sage or even a good man in the usual sense of the term, and his private vices may be overlooked so long as they are kept private. What is required of him is that he should have a strong right arm with which to defend the community against its enemies, and to maintain the Law.