SEPARATION OF CHURCH and State is widely accepted in the West and thus has become a globally-accepted tenant of political thought. Historically, the idea emerged as a practical strategy for dealing with issues related to varieties of Christians and to other people resident under the purview of Western culture.
Universalization of the Principle
Gradually, however, the Separation of Church and State has become a popular premise for the conduct of all modern states. It is now seen that citizenship rather than religion should be the basis for belonging to a state, since various citizens may have various religions.
If the State commits to one religion, members of the other faiths should feel alienated since that would mean that 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 the right to hold certain positions in the state, such as the office of president, or other key positions. This would create disturbances and conflicts that would present obstacles for the progress in the State’s conduct of affairs.
Secular = Neutral?
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 to practice whatever rituals they please, as long as they do not compromise the rights of others.
This is the ideal side of a neutral secular state which 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 were in fact no relationship between state affairs and values based on religion, and if the two were separate entities with no overlap.
However, religions do not deal only with collections of beliefs, rituals and individual behaviors independent of society. Most of the well-known religions—Judaism, Christianity and, Islam—have laws that regulate relationships among people—whether on an individual basis, within the family, or affecting 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. Cases in point are state laws regarding whom one may marry (close relatives, mixed race, same sex) as well as taxing and licensing the sale of tobacco ad alcohol.
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 forefront in Western foreign policy, particularly in its dealings with the Islamic world: values condemning any practice deemed in the West as a violation of individual or group human rights, asserting the right of Western entities to intervene by force and to overturn traditional patterns of government and family structure.
At the same time, some important internal aspects of the Christian religion have been left out of consideration in the establishment of the state. Recent liberal movements within the West 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 has been supported by the existence of the various versions of the Bible with discrepancies among them.
Thus, certain restrictions made in the scriptures, such as the prohibition of homosexual behavior, should be seen, in the liberal view, as mere laws of the society at a certain time—such 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 on a life of its own and is no longer a neutral or unbiased point of view. Secularism might be seen as a religion in itself, which, in the West, has its own fervent followers who attack and fight against normative Christianity. More and more, secularism leads one away from faith in God (Allah) and into atheism or agnosticism.
So how are Muslims to approach the modern trend of separation of religion from the state? The basic stance in Islam is that the Quran is one hundred percent the Words of Allah, and that the Sunnah was also a result of the guidance of Allah to the Prophet ﷺ.
The blessings of Islam cannot flourish in a Muslim society when moral values and practices of Prayer, Charity and Fasting are separated from the state because the total package of Islam guides us through every principle of running the state and thus the principles of bringing true goodness into our lives. Muslims have no choice but to reject secularism for it excludes the framework for implementing the life-giving Law of Allah.
Supporters of the secular state argue that, in principle, the values of one religion cannot be imposed on members of other 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 the state that will protect people of all faiths living in the state.
Separate but Equal?
Secularists in the West will agree with this, but 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, in effect, another religion.
For Muslims, the term dîn, roughly translated ‘religion,’ does not refer only to a collection of beliefs and rituals, but it refers also 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 or even a sizeable minority, for it requires people to replace their God-given beliefs with an entirely different set of man-made beliefs. Separation of dîn and state is not an option for Muslims because it requires us to abandon Allah’s decree for that of man.