Separation of church and state
- There are no specific Qur’anic guidelines relating to separation of church and state and no specific descriptions of what an “Islamic state” would look like. The Prophet Muhammad (p) did not leave a plan for his succession or for what kind of state would follow him.
- If one looks at the 1400 years of Islamic history (apart from the first sixty years or so, when first the Prophet Muhammad (p) and then what are known as “the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs" were both the religious and administrative leaders), government leadership was generally separate from religious leadership exercised by religious scholars who were often at odds with and even oppressed by heads of state.
- There is no specific “Islamic” model in existence today of how a government should be selected and run, and for most of Islamic history there was no purely Islamic stat, but rather various monarchies that developed shortly after the beginning of Islam and continued until the early nineteenth century. However, a true “Islamic” state would definitely not be a dictatorship, monarchy, or totalitarian regime, as are the majority of present-day governments today in countries with Muslim populations.
- The term “Islamic State” is actually a new one created by 20th century Islamic thinkers, largely in response to the growing spread of Western culture which they viewed as a threat to Islamic identity.
- While there are no specific guidelines for running a government, the Qur'an advocates basic principles, such as consultative governance, or shura, and the Prophet (p) and his immediate successors treated minorities equally and governed by consent and consultation.
- Islam aims to inform the nature of government to ensure that it safeguards and upholds certain principles, including the preservation of life, religion, intellect, property, honor, and lineage, which is the goal of Islamic legislation, much as the American constitution lays down the basic principles of our government.
- However, according to some Muslim scholars, secularism is not a pre-requisite of democracy. There are many examples of countries with established religions that simultaneously have fully functioning democracies. England, for instance, is formally a theocratic democracy, where the monarch is head of the church as well as head of the government.
- Even in the U.S., our currency states “In God We Trust;” our Pledge of Allegiance mentions God, and the Congress is opened with a religious invocation.
- If by separation of church and state one means that religious groups have the autonomy and freedom to practice their faith, this is a concept that, according to Muslim historians, was generally respected and upheld during traditional Muslim rule. The religious and ethnic strife we see today is to a great degree a modern phenomenon in reaction to colonial politics or influences.
- Rather than focusing primarily on the separation of church and state, the key issue in measuring the viability of a particular government is whether it upholds the religious freedom and equality of all its constituents.
- Islamic teachings also impact areas of civil law such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and penal law, subject to interpretation based on the particularities of the time and context.
Modernism, post-modernism, and faith
- The question of modernism and faith depends largely on what is meant by "modernism." Modernism has many aspects, including the use of science, reasoning, and invention to improve our lives. This aspect of modernism is in line with the Islamic philosophy that led to the flowering of science and learning at the height of Islamic civilization.
- Moreover, Islam is a universal religion, for different times, peoples and places, and has the capacity to adopt the positive or beneficial, and modify or avoid the detrimental. Most Muslims don’t think of modernity as a break with the past, but rather the advent of new and better technology and an improved standard of living, which has permeated almost all societies, including Muslim ones.
- Modern rationalism has its counterpart in the concept of ijtihad, or independent thinking, which facilitates reform and reinterpretation of Islamic law according to the requirements of time and place.
- Islam also encourages free trade, investment, private property, and commerce, all elements of a modern economy. However there is a strong spirit of economic equity that is manifested through the third pillar, Zakat, or charitable giving, which is obligatory on Muslims as a means of sharing their wealth with those in need.
- Additionally, according to Islamic principles corporate profit should not be the bottom line as it is in a modern capitalistic economy, but should be balanced against ethical issues relating to resources, the environment, equitable wages, and other important considerations that often lower the profit margin in a mass production economy where morality plays a minimal role.
- Islam is obviously not compatible with forms of modernism opposed to the concepts of God, morality, or religion, such as those based on the assumption of a godless world where material realities are the ultimate truth and goal.
- And while the modern age has brought about a standard of living for millions of people that could never have been imagined, for millions of others it has merely increased their poverty and misery, depriving them of the basics of food, clean water, shelter, medicine, and security.
- Similarly, the same basic human problems that have plagued human societies since time immemorial continue to impact societies and have reached new levels in modern times, including issues relating to morality such as STD’s, AIDS, alcoholism, drugs, theft, murder, oppression, poverty, disease and war.
- Modernism void of morality has not improved the human condition, and in fact the modern world witnessed the two most deadly world wars in history, the Holocaust, the invention and use of the atomic bomb, global warming, and the destruction of the environment. Terrorism is also a modern phenomenon.
- So, while there is no general incompatibility between Islam and the modern world, there are modern ideologies and attitudes that are not compatible with Islam or with other faiths and moral systems.
- Many of the precepts prevailing in the modern world are being questioned today in the face of major problems created by irresponsible and greed-driven attitudes and worldviews that see technology, progress, and profit as ultimate goals regardless of consequences.
- Uncontrolled globalization has not only stripped the earth of irreplaceable resources but also created huge economic disparities between and within countries.
- The very fate of the world now hangs in the balance as global warming threatens the future of our planet if humans do not re-evaluate and adjust their values and lifestyles.
Environment issues (global warming) and faith
- While issues of the environment and global warming are recent concerns, there are references in Islamic tradition to environmental concepts that are quite contemporary.
- There are numerous references throughout the Qur’an to creation and nature as signs of God, such as the following: “Verily, in the alternation of the night and the day, and in all that Allah has created, in the heavens and the earth, are signs for those who fear.”
- The Qur’an describes the role of humans as unique among all creation in being responsible for the welfare and upkeep of the earth: “It is He who has appointed you (humankind) as vicegerents on earth." (Qur’an 25:39) This responsibility is also reflected in a prophetic saying: “The world is green and beautiful and Allah has appointed you as stewards over it.”
- Likewise there are numerous injunctions against waste, extravagance, and misuse of resources, including natural resources, as in the Qur’anic instruction: “O Children of Adam, wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer and eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for God does not love the wasters" (Qur’an 7:31). Rampant consumerism and greed are condemned and balanced by commands urging sharing, charity, and simplicity.
- There is a prophetic saying that even when washing at a running river, one should use moderation and avoid waste. Moderation in all things is enjoined, and, in fact, the Muslim community is referred to as the “middle nation.”
- Islam also emphasizes the importance of avoiding harm to any living thing, whether plant, animal or human, as emphasized in a prophetic saying, “There shall be no harm or reciprocating harm.”
- The issue of the environment and global warming is one of the most critical concerns of our time, which must be addressed by all faiths, cultures, and nations, as it affects the very future of humankind on this earth.
- There are many steps that people can take to reduce global warming and preserve the environment, but they can be summed up in two steps: live simply and live consciously.
Extremism, fundamentalism, and faith
- The terms "extremism" and "fundamentalism" have come to be associated with Islam in recent years.
- Muslims often take issue with the term “fundamentalism” because it was first used in reference to an American Protestant movement. The American Heritage Dictionary defines fundamentalism as a “usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.”
- The term has been used to apply not only to Muslims but those of any faith who have returned to a literal interpretation of religion, often in reaction to modernism, and especially in the later part of the twentieth century often in reaction to certain aspects of modernity that challenge identity and tradition.
- Fundamentalism, often arising in opposition to secularization and a marginalization of religion, generally has several characteristics: a simplistic world view that divides everything into good and evil, an acceptance of much of modern science and technology while rejecting modern concepts such as democracy, and an absolutist and literalist approach to certain religious beliefs or principles.
- While these may be characteristics of some Muslim groups or segments of society, they are not representative of all Muslims who are a diverse and multi-faceted population of 1.5 billion people.
- Fundamentalism does not always translate to extremism or terrorism, but the terms and characteristics are often used interchangeably.
- Extremism is antithetical to the very definition of Islam, which is a religion of moderation that directs Muslims to be a justly balanced community of believers: “Thus have We made you a justly middle/balanced nation, so that you may be witnesses of truth before humankind…” (Qur’an: 2:143).
- This verse firmly asserts that the prescribed course for the Muslim community is the balanced middle way.
- This injunction towards moderation and balance is reiterated in other verses and in the practices and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (p), with reference to various aspects of life. He instructed his followers, “Always follow a middle course, whereby you will reach your goal" (Sahih Al-Bukhari).
- He specifically warned against and prohibited extremism and exaggeration in religion, saying: “Ruined are those who insist on hardship in matters of faith.”
- While one can be an extremist without being a terrorist, and terrorists are a miniscule minority among even those with extreme views, it is important to understand the historical origin of terrorism among Muslims.
- While historically there have been groups like the Kharijites, who killed large numbers of Muslims and even the 4th Caliph in the early history of Islam, and the Assassins in the 12th century who based their lifestyle on killing, as reflected in their name, generally speaking such groups either disappeared or became moderates.
- The paucity of groups adhering to similar violent religious ideologies, and their eventual assimilation or isolation in Islam’s 1400 year history, bears witness to the moderate nature that has generally characterized Muslim societies.
- Modern day terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon enabled by modern technology.
- Its use among Arabs or Muslims dates back to the PLO and other Palestinian groups in the 1970’s, which were generally not Islamic in nature until the formation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the 1980’s.
- It was then adopted in the 1990’s by al-Qaeda and other groups who had been allies of the U.S. in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, but who, when the war ended, turned their fighting ideology against the U.S.
- The use of suicide bombers began not with Muslim groups but with the Tamil Tigers, or LTTE, who used this tactic to assassinate Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
- After 9/11 and the war in Iraq, terrorism has been used in a variety of countries, and particularly in Iraq against Muslim civilians.
- Muslim extremists justify their extreme views and actions by taking Qur’anic verses out of their social-historical context, not considering the time, place, and specific circumstances in which these verses were revealed, a practice commonly known as “cherry picking.”
- Verses commonly quoted by extremists must be understood in their context: the struggle of the early Muslims against the Makkans who fought and persecuted them first in Makkah and then after Muslims established a state in Medina, where Muslims fought back for the first time.
- These verses cannot be used to advocate a war against people merely for their faith, nor to justify targeting innocent civilians.
- One of the greatest sins in Islam is the taking of an innocent life, which is the definition of terrorism. The Qur’an says that killing an innocent person is like killing all of humanity (5:32). Victims of terrorism are usually helpless civilians merely going about their daily affairs.
- As previously mentioned, even in a state of war there are strict rules in Islam, which include not targeting women, children, elderly, and the clergy, or even the ecosystem or infrastructure
- In other words, warfare in Islam should involve only combatants, and every effort should be made to avoid harming non-combatants, whereas terrorism specifically targets non-combatants. Injustice or war cannot be used to justify acts which contradict the teachings of Islam.
- Those that attempt to justify terrorism do so, not only by taking verses out of the specific social-historical context of the early Muslims who were persecuted and attacked, but also by selectively quoting some verses while ignoring others on the same topic. The Qur’an is a complete book and should be read as such.
- Terrorism is the epitome of injustice because it targets innocent people who had nothing to do with the injustice or oppression the terrorist claims to address.
Pluralism in your faith
- The Qur’an not only recognizes the validity of other faiths but regards as a tenet of faith that Muslims equally respect all past prophets and revelations.
- And while Islam strongly advocates the position that it is the last and final religion, the Qur’an also recognizes the diversity of peoples and creeds, and, most importantly, that salvation lies with God alone
- The Qur’an affirms that people of other faiths who believe in God and do good works are entitled to the same reward for their actions: “The Muslims, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians, any who believe in God and the last day and do good have their reward with their Lord. There is nothing for them to fear; they will not sorrow.” (Qur’an 2:62)
- The Qur’an also acknowledges that righteous, pious, God fearing people are found in every faith, and that what is important in this life in the realm of human relations is good deeds and sincere cooperation, which applies to Muslims and non-Muslims alike: “…Among the people of scripture is a community that is upstanding; they read the signs of God through the hours of the night, prostrating themselves. They believe in God and the last day, and they enjoin what is fair and forbid what is repugnant, and they race to good deeds; they are among the righteous. And whatever good they do, they will not be denied it; God knows the conscientious” (Qur’an 3:113-115).
- These verses espouse an incredibly contemporary concept of religious pluralism. Combined with the belief that the monotheistic message Islam came to complete is universal and that God alone is qualified to judge who deserves and receives His mercy and reward, these tenets present a pluralistic view of religious diversity that is rarely expressed in pre-modern religious texts.
Etiquette of Religious Discourse
- When discussing religious doctrine, the Qur’an urges respectful dialogue that emphasizes commonalities: “And do not dispute with the People of the Book except in the best way. . .and say, ‘We believe in the revelation which came to us and which came to you; our God and your God is One, and we submit to Him'” (Qur’an 29:46).
- This emphasis on a common platform is at the heart of interfaith dialogue: “Say, O People of the Book, let us rally to a common formula between us: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves Lords and patrons other than God” (Qur'an 3:64).
- The Qur’an emphasizes that all places of worship should be respected and protected, not merely Muslim houses of worship or mosques: "And if God did not repel some people by others, cloisters, and churches, and synagogues, and mosques in which God’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down" (Qur'an 22:40).
- It is significant that the Qur'an does not differentiate among houses of worship and affirms that they are all places where God is worshipped, an important principle in establishing religious pluralism.
- Additionally, the pluralistic nature of Islam is seen from the fact that Muslims are permitted to eat food, or specifically meat, slaughtered by the “People of the Book”, a Qur’anic term generally used to refer to Jews and Christians, but in later times expanded to include other faiths.
Universality of Religions
- The Qur’anic view of other religions is that Islam is a continuation of the same fundamental message sent to all of humanity through the many messengers sent by God, all of whom taught the same basic message – worship God and live a righteous life: “We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him” (Qur’an 29:46).
- While different faiths have different paths, the essence of all religions is the same, based on a belief in God and other tenets, combined with a duty to do good to others: “Righteousness is not that you should turn your faces to the East and the West; rather, the righteous are those who believe in God and the Last Day and the angels and scripture and prophets; and who give material gifts out of love for God, even of what they care for, to relatives and orphans, and the poor and the traveler and the needy, and for the purpose of liberating the enslaved; and who pray regularly and give alms; and who fulfill their promises; and those who are patient in misfortune, affliction, and hard times: they are the ones who confirm the truth, and they are the conscientious” (Qur’an 2:177).
- In other words, religiosity is not in the minor details that adherents often get caught up in but rather in the broad universal principles of good deeds and kindness towards others, particularly the downtrodden, poor, and oppressed.
- This verse emphasizes that the real aim of the Qur'an and Islam is the universal goal of producing ideal persons whose actions towards others and ability to withstand hardship with patience is the true mark of their God-consciousness.
Freedom of Religion
- As mentioned in this and previously mentioned verses, the Qur’an makes it clear that religious diversity is part of God’s plan and that He could have created everyone as followers of a single faith if He had so wished: “Now if your Lord had willed, everyone on earth would have believed; are you then going to compel the people to become believers?” (Qur’an,10:99)
- The Qur’an further states that faith cannot be forced upon people but is a personal and individual choice, contrary to the common perception that Islam should be or was spread by the sword