In December 2015, the president of The Gambia
declared that his country would become an Islamic Republic. Headlines have referred
to the new designation as an “Islamic State”. However, The Gambia is actually joining the
ranks of other Islamic Republics, all of which have no affiliation with the terrorist group.
So what exactly is an Islamic Republic? And how is this different from an Islamic State?
Well, although they’re used interchangeably, they have clear differences. An islamic republic
is an elected, democratic government that is primarily based on sharia law, which is
in accordance with Muslim scripture. An Islamic republic operates similarly to other non-religious
republics, however the specific title is self-applied. Although a number of countries may fit the
bill for an Islamic republic, like Iraq, they do not use the term. Historically, nations
have applied this title after overthrowing authoritarian regimes or formally breaking
away from secularism. By comparison, The Islamic State, or ISIS,
is not a republic but a “caliphate”, meaning that there is a single, unelected leader.
Other Islamic countries, like Saudi Arabia, operate under a monarchy, and are similarly
unelected. After The Gambia, there are only four other
Islamic Republics: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Mauritania. In all of these countries,
the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim, and most government representatives
are elected. The term “Islamic Republic” dates back
to the 1950’s with Pakistan being the first to adopt the title. Iran followed during the
Iranian Revolution in 1979, after the secular and autocratic Shah was ousted. A new, more
democratic constitution was instituted by the country’s religious leader. In their
new constitution, Iran established that God, or Allah, would have “exclusive sovereignty
and [the] right to legislate” while also stating that “the task of appointing the
Leader shall be vested with the people” Afghanistan followed a similar path in 2001,
after US troops toppled the country’s extremist leaders, the Taliban. Since then, Afghanistan
has been able to maintain most of its democratic structures, like presidential elections and
a three-branch government. But Afghan law still presupposes that all Afghans are Muslims
In The Gambia’s case, the decision to become an Islamic Republic does not stem from a political
revolution or a new constitution. Rather, The Gambia is using the title as a way to
formalize its Muslim identity and distance the country from its history as a British
Colony. The Gambia’s president says that the change will not introduce a dress code
or prevent non-muslims from adhering to their faith. However the president was later criticized
for passing a law requiring all female government employees to wear headscarves.
In short, an Islamic Republic is basically a legislative rebranding. It can be made for
political reasons, as in Afghanistan’s case; or for cultural identity, like in The Gambia.
It does not necessarily mean that the government is working with extremist groups like ISIS
or that they are directly enforcing sharia law on their citizens. The only thing that
unites the world’s Islamic Republics is that Democracy and Islam are working together.
A number of Islamic countries and groups base
their legal system on the controversial “sharia law”. But what exactly is Sharia law? Find
out in our video. thanks for watching! Make sure to subscribe to TestTube News for more