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Written by Louay Safi   
May 12, 2001 at 09:00 PM
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Islam and the Secular State
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This calls upon Muslim scholars to engage in new thinking that aims at redefining political principles and authority. In doing so, Muslim scholars should be fully aware of the need to transcend the historical models of political organizations in Muslim society. Political structures and procedures adopted by early Muslim societies are directly linked to their social structures, economic and technological developments, and political experiences. While historical Islamic models provide a mine of knowledge for contemporary Muslims to utilize, any workable formulation of the modern Islamic model of the state that is true to Islamic values and ethos must emerge out of fresh thinking that takes into account the structure of modern society.


Islamic political thought, I believe, can make a profound contribution towards reclaiming the moral core of social life, and preserving religious traditions, without sacrificing the principle of freedom and equality promoted by the modern state.


The hallmark of Islamic political experience is the limitations historical Muslim society was able to place on the actions of rulers, and the presence of vigorous and robust civil society. Many of the functions the secular state assumes today were entrusted to civic institutions, including education, health, and legislation. The state was mainly entrusted with questions of security and defense, and was the last resort in question relating dispensation of justice. This understanding of state power would potentially free religious communities from intervention of the state and state officials, who tend to enforce their religiously based values and notions on the members of society, including those who do not share with them some of those values and beliefs.


The notions of individual freedom and equality are intrinsic to Islamic political thought, and those principles requires that individuals have the basic civil liberties offered by the modern state. However, by freeing civil society from the heavy hand of the state, and by extending individual liberties to the community, and recognizing the moral autonomy of social groups. Social and religious groups under the Islamic conception of law (shari’ah) would have the capacity to legislate their internal morality and affairs in their communities. While the new sphere of freedom acquired under this arrangement allow for differentiation among citizens, equality would have to be maintain as the criteria of justice in the new area of public law, and in access to public institutions—i.e. in matters that relate to sphere of share interests and inter-communal relations.






[i]     Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. John Cottingham (Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 49.

[2]     Jean-Jacque Rousseau, The Social Contract, trans. Maurice Cranston (London: Penguin Boo0ks, 1968), p. 186.

[3]    Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York, Macmillan, 1929), p. 640.

[4]    Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1966) p. 66.

[5]     Ibid., pp. 74-5.

[6]    Ibid. p. 45.

[7]   Rashid al-Ghanoushi, Al-Huriyyat al-Ammah fi al-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah [General Liberties in the Islamic State] (Beirut: Markaz Dirasat al-Wihda al-Arabiyyah, 1993), p. 258.

[8]    To review the full text of the Compact of Madinah, please refer to Ibn Hisham, Al-Syrah al-Nabawiyah [The Biography of the Prophet], (Damascus, Syria: Dar al-Kunuz al-Adabiyah, n.d.), vol. 1, pp. 501-2.

[9]    Ibid., p. 501.

[10]      Ibid.

[11]    Qur’an: Chapters Al-Tawbah 97, and Al Hujurat 14.

[12i]   Ibn Hisham, Al- Syrah, p. 501.

[13]   Ibid.

[14]  Ibid.

[15]    Abu al-Ala al-Mawdudi, Nazariyat al-Islam wa Hadiyah (Jeddah: Dar al-Saudiah, 1985), p. 47.

[16]    Ibid.

[17]        Ali bin Muhammad al-Mawardi, al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyyah (Cairo: Dar al-Fikr, 1983/1401), p.59.

[18]       Ibid. pp. 20-23.

[19]   Ibid. p.24.

[20]    See Ibn al-Qayim, Sharh al-Shurut al-Umariyyah (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm lilmalayin, 1961/1381).

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