The Concept of Wokeism in Islamic Legal Philosophy

Emine Enise Yakar
Emine Enise Yakar is Associate Professor in the Theology Faculty of Recep Tayyip Erdogan University

In recent decades, the concept of wokeism emerged as an ideology in the West. At the beginning of the twentieth century, wokeism provided support for the oppressed, persecuted, and marginalised black people in America with the intent of opposing racism. However, the term has recently started to be used as an outrage that exploits financially, physically, radically and mentally particular groups of people. The Fairport Education Alliance defines wokeism as such: “Wokeism is weaponised personal grievances masquerading as a genuine social concern. It’s defined by its fraudulent nature, as being distinct from legitimate social grievance. Wokeism only knows outrage – it knows not empathy for victims.” [1] For many, the meaning of wokeism has shifted from positive to negative.

Despite the inversion of the meaning of wokeism, its conceptualisation remains unclear and contested. Some academicians describe it as utopic limitless liberalism or cancel culture obsessively voicing race, class and gender inequalities. [2] Others define it as political correctness to provide support to the ostracised, marginalised, and weak people by exploiting the feelings of these people with the intent of protesting political and legal policies of governments. [3] Still others acknowledge the concept as a new religion on account of its deifying group identity. [4]

This article evaluates the concept of wokeism first as a utopic limitless liberalism/cancel culture and then as political correctness within the scope of Islamic legal philosophy. In the first instance, if the concept of wokeism is accepted as limitless liberalism/cancel culture, the meaning of liberalism and its limits is sought to be identified in terms of an Islamic legal perspective. Liberalism is one of political and social concepts rooted in the West. It generally brings out a kind of individualism that severs an individual from community and leaves his/her individually isolated. [5] In considering the concept of ummah (an imagined community which links all Muslims), a liberalism that envisages an isolated individual is not appropriate from the perspective of Islamic legal philosophy. While liberalism does not necessarily tolerate the repression of the community on individuals’ freedom and rights, the concept of ummah puts an emphasis on the mutual responsibility of individual and community. In this regard, a Muslim individual cannot claim limitless liberalism because he/she is liable to his/her community. The concept of wokeism as limitless liberalism/cancel culture has its limits and conditions in accordance with the mutual responsibility of individual and community that is established in Islamic legal philosophy.

In the second instance, it must be evaluated whether the concept of wokeism as political correctness exists in Islamic legal philosophy. The concept of “obedience to the ruler” is an entrenched idea in traditional Islamic law. Muslim scholars have almost unanimously agreed that it is obligatory to obey the ruler who takes power whether by consent or by force. In their view, obeying the just or unjust ruler is still a better attitude than revolting against him/her because civil uprising and insurrection conduce to civil conflict and the depredation of both public and private possessions. [6] The unity of the Muslim community, therefore, is acknowledged as the key legal reason that induces Muslim scholars to establish the principle of obligatory obedience within the doctrine of siyāsa shar’iyya (a fundamental legal doctrine that establishes the relationship between the ruler and its subjects). Some conditions have also been established to identify the concept of obedience to the ruler. If the ruler strays away from justice, righteousness, and virtue, it is the duty of people to admonish and exhort him without applying violence, hatred, and deception. This establishes the legal basis of the concept of admonition and exhortation in the relationship between the ruler and his subjects. It will further have to be evaluated whether wokeism as both limitless liberalism/cancel culture and political correctness exists in Islamic legal philosophy.


  1. What is Wokeism,” Fairport Educational Alliance, accessed on 24 February 2023.
  2. David Hilborn, “Free Speech, Wokeism and Cancel Culture: Theological Issues and Contemporary Applications,” 19 August 2022, video.
  3. Then and Now, “Wokeism,” 10 August 2021, video.
  4. James M. Patterson, “Wokeness and the New Religious Establishment,” in National Affairs, accessed on 24 February 2023.
  5. Arif Aminmohamed Jamal, “Liberal Theory and Islam: (re)imagining the interaction of religion, law, state and society in Muslim contexts,” PhD diss., (University College London, 2010), 211.
  6. Emine Enise Yakar, “The Interaction between Islamic Legal Methodologies and Social Contexts in the Light of the Contemporary Practice of Iftā: A Case Study of Two Religious Institutions,” PhD diss., (University of Exeter, 2018), 243-246.