Contemporary Islamic thinking has tended to accept the nation state uncritically, seeing the centralized state as the principal medium through which an Islamic politics should be realized (Qutb; al-Awwa). Others have critiqued such attempts to mold Islam in the image of the nation state arguing that the structures of the modern state have never been compatible with Islamic governance (Hallaq, 2013).
This project does not explore the question of Islam’s compatibility with the modern nation state. Rather, it undertakes an anarchist reading of Islamic thought to elucidate ways in which Islamic themes and ideas work to limit—and counteract—the power of the modern state. With some exceptions, anarchism has been neglected within Islamic studies (Abdou, 2022; Sedgwick, 2021; Karamustafa 1994). This project seeks to address such a dearth and asks whether the Islamic tradition can provide a way of thinking that makes ways of living beyond the reaches of the state possible. It asks whether there is a kind of Islamic political order that can create a form of life without the overwhelming presence of modern statehood.
This paper approaches this question by exploring Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s (d. 1111) treatise on friendship. Al-Ghazali calls upon Muslims to put their friends before their relatives and children. He also argues that friends should offer up their wealth to each other without being asked. This paper puts The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam into conversation with Aristotle’s Nicomedean ethics and the anarchist Peter Propotkin’s thinking on mutual aid. It contends that al-Ghazali offers a radical picture of mutual support and aid among friends that transcends reliance on state institutions for welfare and support. It argues that al-Ghazali’s notion of friendship undermines the centrality of the family that has been so central to the modern nation state.
While this paper argues that al-Ghazali’s thinking on friendship has anarchist implications, it does not argue that al-Ghazali is entirely anarchist. Al-Ghazali’s writings on the principle of commanding good and forbidding wrong illustrate that he accepted state power even though he was suspicious of it. Rather, the paper uses anarchism as a heuristic device or as a lens through which to look at the ways in which the Islamic tradition—in this case al-Ghazali’s conception of friendship—can help inform ways of thinking about limiting state power.