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Is the deen of Islam secular?

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The Medinan state is highly instructive in terms of Islamic laws implemented by the Prophet (pbuh), the underlying principles, institutions, processes and social structures. Collectively they produce a unique society, one rich in divine symbolism, blending the sacred and the profane, from the consultative appointment of a guardian figure as a ruler, payment of taxes, submission to Allah’s laws, judgments derived from Islamic sources resulting in divine justice, collective values and the fulfilment of religious social obligations – dimensions which are missing in secular societies.

The primary sources of revelation comprise the Quran, Sunnah and consensus of the prophet’s companions. Each evidences the nature, form and content of an Islamic polity, illustrating Islam is most certainly not secular.


Quran: Many Quranic verses oblige Muslims to rule by Islam, and many requiring the presence of political authority and institutions to implement their rules – reflecting explicit and implicit obligations for Islamic authority. This is how the revelation fundamentally works for all issues, rarely articulating the circumstances, realities and events in their entirety.

“Whosoever does not rule by what Allah has revealed they are the disbelievers…” (5:44)

“And rule by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their whims, and beware they may deviate you away from part of what Allah has revealed to you.”(5: 49)

“Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority…” (4:59)

“And if you judge between people, judge with justice…” (4:58)

“But no, by your Lord, they will not believe until they make you, [O Muhammad], judge over that which they dispute among themselves…” (4:65)

“If you come on them in the war, deal with them so as to strike fear in those who are behind them, that they may remember. If you fear treachery from any group throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms…” [Anfal: 57-58]

“And if they incline to peace, incline to it too and trust in Allah…” [Anfal:61]

“And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding…” (2:179)

“As for the thief, male and female, cut off their hands, as a retribution for their deed and an exemplary punishment from Allah…” (5:38)

“Take alms from their wealth, with which you may purify them…” [At-Tauba:103]

“O you who believe fulfil the contracts (undertakings)…” (5:1)


Sunnah: The seerah (biography) of the Prophet (pbuh) details the Islamic state of Medina, from its inception through to its expansion and consolidation throughout Arabia by the time of his death.

Revelation informed its foundations, pillars, institutions, army and its domestic and foreign relationships. From the outset the Prophet (pbuh) ruled over the Muslims, managed their affairs and created an Islamic society.

A brief review reveals treaties he made with the Jews, Banu Dhamra and Banu Madlij, then with the Quraysh, Elat, Girba and Azrah. He established covenants that no one would be prevented from performing the Hajj or attending the haram. He sent companions in expeditions to fight the Quraysh, the Romans, the Domma of Jandal whilst personally leading the army in numerous battles.

Abu Bakr and Umar (ra) were the Prophet’s (pbuh) viziers (assistants) and he appointed wulah (governors) for provinces and ummaal (mayors) for the cities. He appointed Attab ibn Aseed over Makkah after its opening and Bazan ibn Sasan as wali (governor) over Yemen. He appointed Mu’az ibn Jabal over Jund, Khalid ibn Sa’id as amil (mayor) over San’aa, Zayd ibn Labeed al-Ansari over Hadramut and Abu Musa al-Ash’ari over Zabeed and Aden. He appointed ‘Amr ibn al-’Aas over Oman whilst Abu Dujana was ‘amil over Madinah.

He appointed secretaries as heads of departments. Ali was secretary of agreements and peace treaties. Mu’ayqeeb was in charge of the Prophet’s official seal and secretary for booty. Huzayfah ibn al-Yaman used to assess the fruits of the Hijaz, Zubair ibn al-’Awaam used to record funds of the sadaqah, al-Mughira ibn Shu’abah used to record debts and transactions and Shurabeel ibn Hasanah wrote letters to other states. He assigned fourteen men for a Shura council whom he used to refer to for seeking opinions, seven from Muhajiroon and seven from Ansar. Amongst them were Abu Bakr, Hamza, Umar, Ali, Ja’far, Bilal, Ibn Mas’ud, Salman, Ammar and Abu Dharr.

He collected funds due on Muslims and non-Muslims and on lands, fruits and livestock including: zakat, ushr, fai, kharaj and jizyah. The funds of spoils and booties went to the Bait al-Maal (treasury). Zakat was distributed on the eight categories mentioned in Quran and never used to manage the affairs of the State which was funded through the fai, kharaj, jizyah and booty.

Some of the supporting evidences from the hadith literature include:

“The prophets ruled over the children of Israel, whenever a prophet died another prophet succeeded him, but there will be no prophet after me. There will soon be Khulafaa’ and they will number many.” They asked; “what then do you order us?” He said: “Fulfill the Bay’ah to them, one after the other and give them their dues for Allah will verily account them about what he entrusted them with.” (Muslim)

“Indeed the Imam is a shield, from whose behind (one) would fight, and by whom one would protect oneself.” (Muslim)

“And do not dispute with the people in authority, unless you see (in their actions) an open disbelief upon which you have a proof from Allah” (Bukhari)

“Whosoever gave a bay’ah to an Imam, giving him the clasp of his hand, and the fruit of his heart shall obey him as long as he can, and if another comes to dispute with him, you must strike the neck of that man.” (Muslim)

When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) sent Mu’az to Yemen he said to him, ‘How would you judge if a matter was raised to you?’ He said, ‘By the Book of Allah.’ He said, ‘If you do not find it in the Book of Allah?’ He said, ‘I would judge by the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah.’ He said, ‘If you did not find it in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘I would perform my own ijtihad, sparing no effort in doing that.’ He said, ‘He hit his hand on my chest and said: Praise be to Allah who helped the messenger of the Messenger of Allah in that which pleases the Messenger of Allah’” (Al-Baihaqi, Ahmad and Abu Dawood)

“Be careful of the prayer (du’a) of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

“The Prophet (pbuh) appointed Ibn al-Lutbiyyah over the sadaqah of Bani Saleem, “When he returned and revised accounts with him, he said, ‘This is what is yours, and this is a gift to me.’ The Prophet (pbuh) replied, ‘Won’t you stay in your parent’s home and see if you get your present, if you say the truth?’” (Bukhari and Muslim)

“When the Prophet (pbuh) appointed anyone as leader of an army or detachment he would exhort him to fear Allah and to be good to the Muslims who were with him. He would say: Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make just war, do not embezzle the spoils; do not break your pledge; and do not mutilate (the dead) bodies; do not kill children…” (Muslim)

“Whomever we appointed in his job and we provided him (some funds), so whatever he took unduly would be misappropriation.” (Abu Dawood)


Consensus of the Companions (Ijma al-Sahaba): The companions agreed upon the necessity of establishing a Khalifah after the death of the Prophet (pbuh).

The consensus was clear upon the death of the Prophet (pbuh) as the companions worked to appoint a successor even though the burial of the dead person is obligatory. Other companions remained silent about this and participated in the delaying of the burial for two nights, despite having the ability to deny the delay and to bury the Prophet (pbuh).

They agreed to appoint Umar as a successor to Abu Bakr, and upon Uthman’s death to appoint Ali as a successor to him. The companions consented throughout their lives, upon the obligation of appointing the Khalifah despite at times differing on the specific individual who would fill the office.


Scholars: In pursuance of the decisive legal imperatives from the above Islamic sacred texts, all of the eminent jurists of all legal schools scholars agreed on the obligation of the Caliphate and its role:

“The word imamah denotes the succession (khilafah) of Prophethood in the protection of the deen and the management of the worldly affairs, and its contracting to the one who fulfils it in the ummah is an obligation by consensus…” (Imam al-Mawardi [d. 450 AH], al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah, p.56)

“All of ahl ul-sunnah agreed, as did all the murji’a, all the shi’a, and all the khawarij upon the obligation of the Imamah, and that it is obligatory on the ummah to submit to a just imam, who establishes upon them the ahkam of Allah, and manages their affairs by the ahkam of the shari’a with which the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) came; except only the najadat from the khawarij who said: the people are not obliged with the imamah, rather what is upon them is to mutually practice the what is correct between them.” (Ibn Hazm [d. 456 AH] al-Fasl fi Milal wa ‘l-Ahwaa’ wa ‘l-Nihal, 4:87)

“They (scholars of ahl al-sunnah) said regarding the khilafah and imamah that the Imamah is an obligation obligated on the ummah to the end of establishing the imam who would appoint for them judges and ministers, secure their frontiers, mobilise their armies, divide the fay’, and give justice to the oppressed from the oppressors; and they said that the way of contracting the imamah for the ummah is by their choice through exertion of effort.” (Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi [d. 429 AH], al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, p.340)

“The Imamah is a complete authority and general leadership over all the people in all important religious and temporal affairs. Its roles includes the defense of the territory of dar al-Islam, looking after the interests of the community, establishing the Islamic da’wah by providing evidence and proof and by the sword, restraining deviation and inequity, providing help and support to the oppressed against transgressors and recovering dues from those who refuse to fulfill them and providing them to those who were deprived of them…the companions of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) saw that moving swiftly to appoint the imam was the right thing to do; thus they left the preparation of the Prophet’s burial because of being engaged in this task, fearing lest a tribulation encompass them.” (Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni [d. 478 AH], Ghiyath al-Umam fi Tiyath al-Dhulam, 1:22-23)

“Appointing the Imam is from the most important interests of the Muslim and the greatest pillars of the deen. It is obligatory insofar as it is known by text that it is indicated upon as such by the revelation…” (Imam Sayf al-Din al-Amidi [d. 631 AH], Ghayat al-Muram fi ‘Ilm al-Kalam, p.366)

“This ayah is an evidence for the appointment of an imam and khalifah. He is listened to and obeyed, for the word is united through him, and the ahkam (laws) of the khalifah are implemented through him, and there is no difference of opinion regarding the obligation of that between the ummah, nor between the scholars, except what is narrated from al-Asamm (lit. the deaf), who was indeed deaf with regards to the shari’a, as were all those held his opinion and who followed it.” (Imam al-Qurtubi [d. 671], al-Jami’ li Ahkam al-Qur’an, 1:264-265)

“They (the scholars) consented that it is an obligation upon the Muslims to appoint a khalifah, and that its obligation is by revelation, not reason…”

“And the sahaba delayed his (pbuh) burial from the day of Monday till the night of Wednesday, the end of the day of Tuesday, being occupied with the matter of the bay’ah so there would be for them an imam to return to his decision if they differed in any matter of the funeral and burial, and so they would obey his command, so that dispute and disunity does not occur, and this was the most important of matters, and Allah knows best.” (Imam an-Nawawi [d. 676 AH], Sharh Sahih Muslim, 12:205 & 7:36 respectively)

“There is (scholarly) consensus on the appointment of an imam being obligatory” (Imam al-Taftazani [d. 792AH], Sharh al- Aqa’id al-Nasafiyyah, p.353-354)

“When the Prophet (pbuh) passed away, the companions (ra) prioritised the matter of the political leadership (the imamah) and pledging alliance to an imam over everything else, to the extent that they were busy with it (giving it priority) over the funeral preparations of the Prophet (pbuh)…From the strongest evidences for the obligation of appointing an imam and pledging allegiance to him is what Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi, ibn Khuzayma and ibn Hibban in his sahih extracted of the hadith of al-Harith al-Ash’ari in the wording (that the Prophet (pbuh) said), “Whosoever dies whilst not having over him an imam of the jama’ah, then indeed his death is the death of jahilliya.” Al-Hakim also narrated it from Ibn ‘Umar and Mu’awiya and al-Bazzar narrated it from Ibn Abbas.” (Imam al-Shawkani [d. 1250 AH], al-Sayl al-Jarrar al-Mutadaffiq ‘ala Hada’iq al-Azhar, 1:936)

A review of even Western scholarly literature would suggest the same.

The political historian Anthony Black in "The history of Islamic Political Thought” was forced to conclude when reviewing Islamic history:

“Current scholarship still indicates that Islam, unlike Christianity, had from the start a political and military component… It is, therefore, peculiarly difficult to separate religion from politics by appealing to the Quran and original Islam.”

Bernard Lewis is also very clear on this point in his book “Islam and the West”:

The notion of church and state as distinct institutions, each with its own laws, hierarchy, and jurisdiction, is characteristically Christian, with its origins in Christian scripture and history. It is alien to Islam… From the lifetime of its founder, Islam was the state, and the identity of religion and government is indelibly stamped on the memories and awareness of the faithful from their own sacred writings, history, and experience.

For Muslims, Muhammad’s career as a soldier and statesman was not additional to his mission as a prophet. It was an essential part of it.

In 1877 Edward A. Freeman in his book “The Ottoman Power in Europe” wrote:

The successor of the Prophet, the Caliph, is Pope and Emperor in one. In the Mohommetan system there is no distinction between Church and State, no distinction between religious and civil duty. Every action of a good Mussulman is not only done from religious motive, but is done directly as a religious act.

Edward Gibbon author of the classic “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” noted:

The order, the discipline, the temporal and spiritual ambition of the clergy, are unknown to the Moslems; and the sages of the law are the guides of their conscience and the oracle of their faith. From the Atlantic to the Ganges the Koran is acknowledged as the fundamental code, not only of theology but of civil and criminal jurisprudence; and the laws which regulate the actions and the property of mankind are guided by the infallible and immutable sanction of the will of God

Dinesh D’Souza wrote in “What’s So Great About Christianity?”:

The prophet Muhammad was in his own day both a prophet and a Caesar who integrated the domains of church and state. Following his example, the rulers of the various Islamic empires, from the Umayyad to the ottoman, saw themselves as Allah’s vicegerents on earth

Reverend R. Bosworth-Smith wrote in “Mohammed & Mohammedanism” in 1946:

Head of the state as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one; but, he was pope without the pope’s claims, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a bodyguard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue. If ever any man had the right to say that he ruled by a Right Divine, it was Mohammad, for he had all the power without instruments and without its support. He cared not for dressing of power. The simplicity of his private life was in keeping with his public life.

According to Efraim Karsh, author of “Islamic Imperialism: A History”:

Islam has never distinguished between temporal and religious powers, which were combined in the person of Muhammad.

Bernard Lewis is also very clear on this point:

In Islam, the process was quite different. Muhammad did not die on the cross. As well as a Prophet, he was a soldier and a statesman, the head of a state and the founder of an empire, and his followers were sustained by a belief in the manifestation of divine approval through success and victory. Islam was associated with power from the very beginning, from the first formative years of the Prophet and his immediate successors. This association between religion and power, community and polity, can already be seen in the Qur’an itself and in the other early religious texts on which Muslims base their beliefs.

One consequence is that in Islam religion is not, as it is in Christendom, one sector or segment of life, regulating some matters while others are excluded; it is concerned with the whole of life—not a limited but a total jurisdiction. In such a society the very idea of the separation of church and state is meaningless, since there are no two entities to be separated. Church and state, religious and political authority, are one and the same.

In classical Arabic and in the other classical languages of Islam there are no pairs of terms corresponding to lay and ecclesiastical, spiritual and temporal, secular and religious, because these pairs of words express a Christian dichotomy which has no equivalent in the world of Islam. It is only in modern times, under Christian influence, that these concepts have begun to appear and that words have been coined to express them. Their meaning is still very imperfectly understood and their relevance to Muslim institutions dubious..

‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things which are God’s.’ That is, of course, Christian doctrine and practice. It is totally alien to Islam…


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