Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris
Separation of church and state is widely accepted in the West and thus has become a globally political thought. Historically, the idea emerged as a practical strategy for dealing with issues related to the Christians and other people in the Western culture.
Gradually, however, separation of church and state has become a popular premise for all modern states. It is now seen that citizenship rather than religion should be the basis for belonging to a state, since different citizens may have different religions. If the state commits to one religion, members of other faiths would feel alienated since a foreign religion would be imposed upon them. They may be prohibited from practicing the rituals of their religion and they may be deprived of their right to hold certain positions in the state, such as president, or other key positions. This would create disturbances and conflicts that would present obstacles for the progress of the state.
For these reasons, advocates of this policy of separation find that it is best if a state takes a secular approach, neither supporting nor denying any religion. It is up to the citizens to follow whatever faith and values they choose and practice what rituals they please.
This is the ideal side of a neutral secular state that Western politicians wish to project. However, the theory of separation of state and religion makes several underlying assumptions that are hard to come by in the real world. Let us consider some of them.
It is assumed that it is possible for a secular state to take a neutral stand toward all religions, based on the implication that religion interferes with, and possibly upsets, matters of state. This could be the case if there was in fact no relationship between state affairs and religion, and the two were separate entities. However, religions do not only deal with collections of beliefs, rituals and individual behaviors that do not affect the society. Most of the well known religions -Judaism, Christianity and Islam- have laws that regulate relationships between people; whether on an individual basis, among the family, or with the society at large, in addition to other laws observed regarding food and drink, and many other daily details that cannot be separated from the business of the state.
To accommodate for this, Western politicians had to make a compromise. They decided to include some of the values of their religion -Christianity- in the making of the rules of the state. And Christian values are certainly vivid in Western foreign policy, particularly in its dealings with the Islamic world. At the same time, some important aspects of the Christian religion were left out. Recent liberal movements have come to attack The Sacred Book of Christianity, claiming that what was always believed to be the word of God is no more than the writings of people who were deeply influenced by the culture in which they lived. This view was supported by the existence of many different versions of the Bible with discrepancies between them. Thus, certain restrictions made in the scriptures, such as homosexual behavior, should be seen as mere laws of the society at a certain time so that there would be no reason to abide by such dated laws today. This movement has gained support from politicians, leaders and even scholars of religion. The result is that secularism has taken a life of its own and is no longer a neutral or unbiased point of view. It might be seen as a religion in itself, which, in the West, has its own fervent followers who attack and fight Christianity.
So how are Muslims to approach the modern trend of separation of religion and state in their countries? The basic belief in Islam is that the Qur’an is one hundred percent the word of God, and the Sunna was also as a result of the guidance of God to the Prophet peace be upon him. Islam cannot be separated from the state because it guides Muslims through every detail of running the state and their lives. Muslims have no choice but to reject secularism for it excludes the laws of God.
Supporters of the secular state argue that the values of one religion cannot be imposed on members of different religions that are present in our countries. However, whether the non-Muslims in a state are few or many, secularism is not the answer. The non-Muslims in Muslim states will either be secularists themselves, in favor of abandoning the laws of Islam in the state, or will be devoted followers of their own religion, who wish that the state follow the rules of that religion. So in either case, a compromise cannot be made in accordance with the Islamic point of view. What needs to be pointed out is that under the law of Islam, other religions are not prohibited. At the same time, people are provided with doctrines for legislation and running of state that will protect people of all faiths living in the state.
Secularists in the West will agree with this, then they will point out that under Islamic law, people are not all equal. No non-Muslim, for example, could become the president. Well, in response to that fact, in turn, secularism is no different. No Muslim could become president in a secular regime, for in order to pledge loyalty to the constitution, a Muslim would have to abandon part of his belief and embrace the belief of secularism — which is practically another religion. For Muslims, the word ‘religion’ does not only refer to a collection of beliefs and rituals, it refers to a way of life which includes all values, behaviors, and details of living.
Secularism cannot be a solution for countries with a Muslim majority, for it requires people to replace their God-given beliefs with an entirely different set of man-made beliefs. Separation of religion and state is not an option for Muslims because is requires us to abandon God’s decree for that of a man.
Translated by Jumuah Magazine