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Can an Islamic State be Secular?

Amaar Ahmad

It can be argued that the minimum definition of a secular state is one that permits all its citizens to freely practice, profess and propagate their religion (or the lack thereof) and it does not enact laws which discriminates in worldly affairs between citizens on the basis of their faith. Can an Islamic state offer a constitution and an environment which meets this description of secularism?
If you seek an affirmative answer using the orthodox version of Islam as represented by our conservative politico-religious groups then you are going to be disappointed. But if you analyze the mission of Prophet Muhammad (sw) rationally then you are likely to be pleasantly surprised. The more you see into his life the greater the gulf you find between his actions (Sunnah) and that of our so-called Islamic leaders. The following ten arguments would show that the demagogues and self-righteous Mullahs have completely subverted the teachings of Islam:
1. Freedom to practise religion:
As ruler of Arabia, Prophet Muhammad granted a charter to Christians by declaring for them the freedom to freely practice their faith. The pact guaranteed that any Christian can profess his or her faith, that no Christian woman can forcibly be converted by her Muslim husband and that Muslims are supposed to respect and protect churches. This letter, sent to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, was an unprecedented testament to the magnanimity and liberality of Prophet Muhammad in an era when the world did not know tolerance. It is therefore extremely embarrassing that modern Muslim countries limit the practice of other faiths within their dominions.
2. Freedom of worship:
There were hundreds of idols in the sacred Kaaba that had been built by Abraham and consecrated for the worship of one God. Before he returned as the conqueror (and therefore as a ruler), the Prophet spent fifty years of his life in Mecca but never took the law in his own hands to demolish them. Certain puritanical brands of Islam, however, make it incumbent on themselves to ‘cleanse’ shrines and mosques of any trace of Shirk (polytheism). The hideous attack on Data Darbar in Lahore which is a mausoleum of an Islamic mystic is therefore yet another transgression by these deviants.
A famous hadith relates that the Prophet permitted Christian priests of Najran – who believed in Trinity-  to offer their prayers in his mosque. Contrast this with how Mullahs of today literally wash their mosques with milk if ‘filthy infidels’ (i.e. Muslims of other sects) happen to offer worship therein.
3. Prohibition of compulsion in faith:
A well-known Quranic verse states that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ (2:256). Not many know of its context. Before the arrival of the Prophet, some polytheists of Madina had dedicated their children to be raised in the monotheistic Jewish tradition. The parents, who later converted to Islam, objected to when the Jewish guardians kept these children with them. However, the Prophet in the light of this Quranic verse refused them permission to forcibly take back their children and to convert them to Islam. Imagine the hell our religious parties would raise if children of Muslims were raised in a different faith.
4. Definition of Muslim:
A census was once conducted on the instruction of the Prophet to count the number of Muslims in Madina. The criterion set forth for being considered a Muslim for the purposes of census was only a simple declaration of Islam by the respondent (Sahih Bukhari). No distinction was made between momineen (true believers) or munafiqeen (hypocrites) in the final tally. In our era, however, a Pakistani parliament came up with a different definition of a Muslim for ‘the purposes of law’.
5. Equality of citizens:
The famous constitution Misaaq-i-Madina overseen by the Prophet declared that ‘the Jews and Muslims are one nation’ (Ummat-un-wahida). This charter negated any distinction and discrimination between the citizens of Madina and established their rights and responsibilities. It included a clause stipulating that every group – Muslim or otherwise – would defend the city against foreign attack. It is not without irony that in the armed services of Pakistan currently there is an unstated rule that no Ahmadi can advance beyond a certain rank regardless of his contributions. Furthermore, our religious parties see nothing but an enemy in the form of a Jew who is fundamentally incapable of being a regular citizen of a state.
6. Blasphemy:
Contrary to popular belief, there is no death penalty for blasphemy in Islam. Abdallah bin Aby Salool, a chief of Madina and a known hypocrite, declared himself the ‘most honorable’ man and the Prophet the ‘most dishonorable’ person of the city (Quran 63:7). In response to this blasphemy, his own son, who was a pious Muslim, asked the Prophet for permission to kill his father. The Prophet completely refused. Abdallah later died a natural death unmolested by any of the Prophet’s companions and the Prophet himself led his funeral prayer.
Moreover, at both Mecca and Taif, while the Prophet bravely endured ruthless persecution and abuse, the opponents spared no moment in resorting to blasphemous language against him. None of his followers – the venerated Sahaba – ever attacked those who committed blasphemy during this period. Despite the hate and vitriol of his enemies, the Prophet instructed them steadfastness and resilience. Muslims of today who demand death penalty for Salman Rushdie or a ban on Facebook can take a lesson from this. They claim devotion to the Prophet but none of them bothers to spend their energy in raising their pens or voices in articulating the lofty virtue and nobility of character of their Prophet before a Non-Muslim audience.
7. Assistance from Non-Muslims:

The first Muslim migration from persecution in Mecca was to the Christian kingdom of Abbysinia whose ruler Najashi believed in tolerance and freedom of religion. He refused Qureshi demand for repatriation of these refugees. The Prophet openly showed his admiration and appreciation of Najashi for this act of benevolence. Contrast this with when our Mullahs declare anyone even remotely associated with the Christian West as an enemy of Islam.
8. Apostasy:
Simple apostasy or reneging from belief and which is not aggravated by war or rebellion is not punishable in Islam either. There is simply no basis from the conduct of the Prophet to having apostates killed. Ibn Abi Surh, once a Quranic scribe, became an apostate and engaged in open hostility to Muslims. The Prophet had given orders for his execution – not for apostasy per se – but  for crimes of inciting vitriolic opposition and disorderliness against Muslims. During the conquest of Mecca, however, the Prophet mercifully forgave him.
If capital punishment for apostasy was part of religion, it was unlikely that the Prophet would have forgiven Ibn Abi Surh and that too at such an opportune moment. However, the bread and butter of the Mullah today is to work lists of apostates and to have them declared wajib-ul-qatal (worthy of slaying).
9. Obedience to a Non-Muslim authority:
The Prophet’s thirteen years of persecution in Mecca under a hostile authority of Qureish tribe should be sufficient to dispel that a Muslim cannot be loyal citizen of the state even if dominated by Non-Muslims. There is not a single moment where the Prophet broke the rules or norms of the city. When the council of Qureish asked him and his followers to relocate to Shaib-i-Abi-Talib, in violation of their rights, he complied. Furthermore, it was customary for a person coming to Mecca to seek ‘aman’ or protection from a Qureishi chieftain. When the Prophet returned from his well-known trip to Taif he took protection from Adi bin Matab, a polytheist, in following this custom.
These examples clearly go to show that secular obedience to a Non-Muslim authority is part of the Islamic faith. Deviating from the Sunnah, rebellious-minded Muslims never accept that a Non-Muslim can possess legitimate authority over a state.
10. Protection of Non-Muslim property:
At the battle of Khyber against a Jewish tribe, a herdsman incidentally converted to Islam. He also had with him herds belonging to his Jewish masters. Upon inquiring from the Prophet about what he should do with them, the Prophet instructed him to turn the animals back to their owners. If the protection of the property of Non-Muslims was not necessary then returning it to an enemy at a critical moment of war would have made no sense. In violation of the Prophet’s Sunnah, the Mullahs frequently declare that the lives, wives and properties of infidels are mubah (permitted).
The aforementioned arguments are not an apologetic defense of Islam before a secularist jury. They are necessary to establish that the original Sharia of Prophet Muhammad (sw) satisfies the rigorous demands of secularism as defined earlier. This endeavor is also necessary for two other reasons. Firstly, the fools who operate in the name of Islam and have brought much disrepute to their faith by their intransigence, ignorance and hostility need to be challenged and discredited very religiously. Secondly, the ears of many Pakistani Muslims are responsive to religious sermons rather than to secular ideals. Hatred and bigotry in Islam’s name can therefore be strongly refuted using the Prophet’s Sunnah.

The Prophet’s examples are a powerful reminder that his Islamic state offered tolerance, equality and justice to Muslims and Non-Muslims alike. Hence the rationale for why M. A. Jinnah repeatedly referenced the spirit of Islam in his speeches for Pakistan. Just like rational and decent people of Pakistan demand the Pakistan of Jinnah so must true and honest Muslims demand the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad (sw).
The so-called Islamic laws of Pakistan are a total mess and stand at odds with the Prophet’s instructions. If not for secularism then for Islam’s sake, the powers that be in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan must restore the rights and privileges of citizens which they are long due.

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.


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