Harmonisation of religion and state


Islam aims to build the whole man and does not leave politics to so-called secular Rulers.

AS Islam does not involve itself in the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, it simply cannot set in contrast the theocratic state with the secular state. Such dichotomy between the sacred and the profane leads to the separation between “otherworldliness” and “secularity”, with the former world deemed higher or holier than the profane, secular one in which we are now living.

This divisive assumption has little in common with the worldview of Islam, in which the al-dunya aspect must be related in a profound and inseparable way to the akhirah aspect.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal, a philosopher in British India, points out that in Islam the nature of an act, however “secular” in its import, is determined by the attitude of mind with which the agent does it. An act is temporal or profane if it is done in a spirit of detachment from the infinite complexity.

Moreover, as pointed out by English Muslim author Martin Lings, “In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful” was the first verse of every surah of the Quran, and following the example of the Prophet, Muslims used it to inaugurate every Quranic recital, and by extension every other rite, and by further extension every act or initiative. Islam admits of nothing profane in Muslims’ life and outlook.

Another fundamental background of secularisation is the historical division between clericalism and laicism.

American theologian Harvey Cox summarises thus: early in the Christian centuries people began to use “secular” to designate this world as opposed to the other world. Later, “secular” was used to designate those institutions and activities that fell outside the control of an increasingly powerful church. Still later, even priests who served in the everyday world rather than in religious orders were called secular priests, and still are in many places.

That is why when privileges or properties were removed from ecclesiastical control or when schools or hospitals were taken over by the state, the process was described as “secularisation”.

In contrast, according to Iqbal, in Islam it is the same reality which appears as religion looked at from one point of view and State from another.

To quote Iqbal, “Primitive Christianity was founded, not as a political or civil unit, but as a monastic order in a profane world, having nothing to do with civil affairs, and obeying the Roman authority practically in all matters.

The result of this was that when the State became Christian, State and Church confronted each other as distinct powers with interminable boundary disputes between them. Such a thing could never happen in Islam; for Islam was from the very beginning a civil society, having received from the Quran a set of simple legal principles which carried, as experience subsequently proved, great potentialities of expansion and development by interpretation and elaboration (and specialisation). It is misleading to suggest a dualism which does not exist in Islam.”

Iqbal’s statement that Islam was from the very beginning a civil society also refers to the Prophet Muhammad’s success during his own life, which has been so tremendous that during his Farewell Pilgrimage in the year 10 Hijrah calendar, he could address some 140,000 Muslims that had come that year to Mecca, not counting many times more who had remained at home.

We possess in all about ten thousand reports (eliminating the repetitions) of the traditions on the life of the Prophet Muhammad – which is a living representation and interpretation of the Quran.

The teaching of the Prophet concerns all walks of life – a complete code of human life, which not only covers faith and belief, but also practices. He prescribes rules for the spiritual practices which possess a material utility, and temporal practices which acquire sacred moral character when they conform to Divine prescriptions.

He prescribes individual and collective aspects of life – thus establishing a harmonious equilibrium. Even politics are not excluded from its purview, as Islam aims to build the whole man and not a partial, spiritual aspect only, not leaving politics to so-called secular Rulers.

The Prophet Muhammad was an organiser; he founded a well-disciplined State out of the existent chaos, administered it himself and gave peace and order in place of war.

He commanded armies for external defence, and defeated enemies often three to fifteen times more numerous than the volunteers he had at his disposal.

He was a great and all-round legislator, prescribing rules for all legal questions and leaving a new system of law, which dispensed impartial justice, in which even a head of State was as much a subject to it as any commoner.

The Prophet Muhammad did not declare himself to be above the ordinary law which he imposed on others.

Sources of Islam contain directions for the conduct of the head of State, as well as a simple commoner, of the rich as well as the poor, for peace as well as for war, for spiritual culture as for commerce and material well-being.

He married, and left a model of family life, which is the smallest unit of society.

The Quran, hence, speaks of the best rules relating to social life, commerce, marriage, inheritance, penal law, international law, and so on. In that system, religious tolerance was so great that non-Muslim inhabitants of Muslim countries equally enjoyed complete juridical, judicial and cultural autonomy.

In the matter of the revenues of the State, the Quran fixed the principles of budgeting and paid more thought to the poor.

Dr Mohd Sani Badron is principal fellow/director of Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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