20.11.2018 in Exploratory
The Crisis of Authority in Islam


Authority refers to the ability to control a given social sphere through giving directions, making decisions and ensuring that certain rules and regulations are obeyed within the given sphere. It spans across religious, social and political fields. Every religion is guided by a common denominator that put people together, giving them a common guidance and rules of adherence. These fundamental directions are vital in the way the religion is governed and how the leaders guide the followers during the times of discord. The inability of the religious leaders to solve problems or give directions whenever disagreements arise, whether over misinterpretation of fundamental principles or through disobedience, leads to crisis. Many people are today seeing discord among Muslims.

Scholars and religious analysts have come out and regarded Islam as a religion that is facing an authority crisis, because they see a disjointed and disagreeing religion that has no centre of command and guidance of its people with regard to their fundamental laws and principles . This has been so especially when some of the people who claim to be strong members of the religion commit acts that other members condemn and disown. This raises the question, are members of Islam reading from the same script? Who is right and who is wrong, because both the opposers and proponents refer to the same religion and the Qur’an to justify their stand? For example, strong Muslims engage in terror attacks, and give their reasons as religious, often performing religious rituals to thank Allah after they have killed or even performed heinous acts that are unacceptable to the rest of humankind. The fact that these acts are supported in some of the Islamic quotas and disowned by others may represent differences that may be hard to explain, especially to the people outside the religion. This paper will examine the different levels of authorities as recognized by Islam, their significance, and eventually determine whether there or not there is any crisis in authority within the realms of the religion.

Different Levels of Authorities

Social Authority

Social Authority refers to the regulations and restrictions that enable the flourishing of relationships between individuals in a society. Every individual has his or her responsibility to ensure that the society remains tolerable for everyone. Islam respected the social milieu and had great regard for the rights of individuals as well as their freedoms to engage in different activities. In most of the regions where Islam was practiced, it was the religion of the majority and had its influence on the rulers and the general society. As time progressed, these practices were passed on to the next generations, but some of them changed with the invention of modernity. Eventually, Muslims started engaging in politics and leadership, and their influence on the society increased. The culture and tenets of social integration continued to change and today, there are many issues that were possibly not incorporated in the traditional setting. The mainstream Islam allows for Islamic democracy and pluralism. These two main aspects have encouraged the emergence of new movements and groupings, all of whom claim their allegiance to the traditional Islam. The religion is even facing issues never experienced before, such as the fight by women to be ordained as Imams.

These are fronted by factions in the religion who call themselves progressive Muslims. While it is important to synchronize the traditional Islam with modernity, there is also need to ensure that the changes are well thought out and properly executed, to ensure that the changes do not affect the well being of Islam. However, these progressive movements that ride on the democratic nature of Islam have continually scathed the traditional and mainstream beliefs of the religion. The democracy is no longer a tool to bring integration, but has become a disintegrating agent.

The progressive movements are getting more popular than the mainstream Islam because they are more of modern and allow liberalization, as opposed to the traditional Islam which was strict and firm of some of the values. Eventually, the increasing number of supporters of such movements has put the mainstream religious leaders at bay, making their voices mute and unheard. There has consequently been a deficiency in the way social authority is exercised, with the increased rebels opting to carry out their own practices. They further justify their acts, using the same Qur’an and hadiths to make their deeds acceptable. Overall, the social authority in Islam is being hurt deeply by these democratic factions and eventually, the social authority crisis continues to get worse among the Muslims.


Political Authority

Political authority refers to the governance of the people through political frameworks. There are many Islamic States in the world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. Islam was formed on the basis of political and social environments, and teaches about obedience of the people in authority. It is regarded as a religion of Law. Rulers from some of these Islamic nations double as supporters and leaders of the religion as well, leaving them to take more roles than just their political responsibilities. In the past, these rulers have led their military troops into wars, with a common saying that it is always ion the name of Allah.

Salafism is one of the religious groupings among Sunna Muslims, who regard themselves as the best interpreters of the Holy Qur’an. They are extremists and want everyone on the world to convert into Islam. The group was formed on the tenet that all people who went against Muslims were enemies of Allah and deserved to die. They do not tolerate even moderate Muslims. Salafis, whose name means ancestors argue that the Prophet gave Muslims permission to fight back in order to keep non-Muslims away through jihad. However, despite the agreement on some of the basic values of the group, the modern salafism is faced by unprecedented disconnects, as Muslims from different parts of the world are embracing their own style of the same. There is currently no universal sense of command in the group. The lack of central coordination and command is a big threat to the general existence as a single unit group. Salafism is responsible for many terrorist attacks and fighting across the globe, and they do not have any form of reconciliatory terms that can be used by their leaders to guide them. Salafis are also referred to as Wahabis. They however prefer the former because the ltter seems derogatory to them. Some of the renowned followers of Wahabbism are Osama bin Laden and other notable Taliban leaders in the Middle East.

The emergence of Jihadi-Salafism in the recent years has been compounded by the lack of adequate guidance among the salafis. While Salafis traditionally did not engage into politics, Jihadi Salafists have adopted the modern political stands, analyzing and even getting involved. The initial Salafis did not engage into politics, and even accepted rulers who were not of their own belief. Jihadi Salafists today are at war with most of the political leaders who do not support them. They have led to increased global tensions. The tough religious stands and the exemption of other people from their mainstream thinking leads to lack of tolerance and acceptance of the diversity of the people in the world. This is made worse by the new form of activism, which leads to the ruthless and physical confrontation in the belief that it is the elimination of the people who are not for Allah. This shallow interpretation of the Qur’an has not only increasingly led to a continued discord of the Salafist movement among themselves, but has also led to condemnation and deep differences between themselves and other forms of Islam. Looking at it critically, there exists many fundamental issues that a good leadership could address if there existed any, and lack of one leads to far reaching effects and gaps that are hard to bridge.

These disjoints among the Muslims, where some of them refer to others as not Muslims lead to the current common saying that there is no authority In the Islam religion. Analysts and scholars look at some of these issues to draw their verdict, and from an analytical point of view, they get the right answers. The Wahabbis look at Islam in one dimension, interpret the Qur’an literary and engage into radical activities . Islam is based on the Qur’an, and the teachings, or hadiths from Prophet Mohammed (SAW). The Salafis or Wahabis regard the other Muslims who are not among them as others. They divide Muslims into three, themselves, as the most righteous and chosen group, the others. These other Muslims, according to the Wahabis are classified together with Jews and Christians. This kind of rejection for some of their fellow Muslims is a cause to ponder and a directive that there might not be adequate authority in Islam after all.

Religious or Intellectual Authority

The modern society has by a large extent disregarded the Ulama principles, the people who were educated as per the traditional religious circles. The modern world has weakened the social integration, glorifying capitalism and controlling virtually every social aspect among the people. the modern world often see the Ulamas as stagnant and people who have failed to evolve with the quickly changing people. Despite these demeaning experiences, the UIama has surged ahead and continued to spread the values of traditional Islam and has consequently managed to retain some of the original and traditional pride. Their learning centers and number of enrolments has increased by more than ten times since 1960s.

The increased presence should translate to increased influence in the society. This has however not been the case. The Ulama principles are still seen as traditional and many people are involuntarily getting swept away by the Western modernization. Scholars and religious analysts have continued to water down the influence created by Ulama, and have presented a verdict that these principles of tradition and the prophet Mohamed’s (SAW) hadiths are getting eroded . They have watered down the influence of such traditions. One of the fundamental reasons why the Ulama may not have had any chance to bring any significant change to the modern Islam, is because they do not hold and special and identified position and authority. Their opinion ids therefore not strong, because it is neither institutionalized nor formalized to incorporate a global presence, but a few individuals make appearances at local levels. When such ideas are left to local Ulamas, they are overwhelmed and are likely to fail to convince their people.

The biggest fight that exists today is that between tradition and modernity. While both have influence, tradition is usually seen as a tool of understanding how things came to be what they are today, without necessarily giving any influential guidance for today. On the other hand, modernity dictates masses and leads people in decision making and the general perception of the world today. People tend to rely more on the modern day development in making decisions over their lives, than they do on tradition. Ulama have several weaknesses that make its influence at a low, if not negligible. First, it follows more of religious and social aspects than it does on the political front. The political influence in the modern society is much higher than the religious or even intellectual authority. It is therefore hard for any other force to try to control the world society, if they do not have any political edge. Ulama are therefore not effective in influencing the perceptions and the general governance of the people. With the Western Modernity being the main influence in the social groupings, as well as the political governance, the traditional principles are slowly being eroded and their influence quickly disregarded.

Ulama have a little religious authority. In the past, those who follow the Ulama principle have continually allowed other people to integrate their thoughts and ideas in trying to decipher the religious sphere. Instead of making their presence known by not only holding onto the past by making interpretations for the modern occurrences, the Ulama have taken a rear seat and watched as scholars try to bridge the gaps between the past and the present. Ideally, religion, which is formed on the tenets of certain individuals and their experiences in the past, should form a very strict section from which the rest of the modern ideals are formed. Strict adherence to the traditions ensures that the religion remains on course and has true leadership. The people who understand these basic principles of the religion offer explanations to the modern and changing world, whenever there is need. With regard to this responsibility, the Ulama have failed to live up the expectations. There exists many differences in religions interpretations all over the world, with same hadiths and Qur’an verses being interpreted differently to suit certain people. The Ulama has not been vocal and clear on issues such as Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, as well as issues like Prophet Mohamed’s (SAW) stand over intolerance of non-Muslims. The Ulama has completely failed to exert any authority and provide direction in interpreting the law and Islam in general.


Social authority is an important aspect in integrating the different people there are today. Many societies comprise of many religions as well as many ethnic and other social groupings. Islam is among the leading religions in the world in terms of population. Therefore, the society has many Muslims. The social authority among the Muslims has been good in the last few centuries. However, the modern times have changed and there have not been adequate regulation of the social Muslim sphere. The diversity and recruitment of new members has led to reduced regulation and passing over of some of the important values of the religion. The traditional setting where people were recruited from a tender age has changed and the Islam society is now more diverse than it has ever been. Different groups have emerged, most of them under their ideals and with little relation to the mainstream Islam. It is true, therefore that Islam has lost its influence on the social authority sphere.

Islam is at the moment facing challenges between the two mainstream beliefs. Salafists hold their faith very strongly and regard their simple and literal interpretation of the Qur’an as the best. They see themselves as the chosen ones and as the true followers of Islam, to appoint that they see other Muslims who do not share these ideas ass not part of them, and as group them with Jews and Christians. However, the recent indulgence in politics among the Jihadist Salafis might raise questions over whether the traditional and desired path is followed to the latter. Traditional Salafis were not political, yet the modern day leaders of the religious outfit have supported, or shown no condemnation of the activities. There lacks leadership and the religion is basically facing crisis in political authority.

There is a disjoint in the religious authority of Islam to its people. There is not adequate guidance and interpretation of the traditional values of the religion. This has led to loss of values and expected outcomes from the followers. The Ulama have not taken up their religious roles and taught the people how some of the controversial teachings came to be and how they should be taken up. Such an important endeavor would lead to more controversies and confusion in future because Islam as a religion is trying to remain as it was traditionally, but there is little information that is being offered as to why it should remain that way. Due to the social dynamism and western influence, the followers might eventually lack the belief and urge to put up with some of the values that may be prohibitive.

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