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Why Are There Secular Authorities in Islamic Countries?

24 February, 2017
Q If Islam does not coerce, then why do clerics need to have secular authority in Islamic countries?


Salam TJ,

Thank you very much for your question. 

First of all, in Islam there is no priesthood. The so-called clerics are Muslim scholars who are respected and honored by the people for their scholarship in religious matters.

It is true that the Shiite Muslims scholars have titles and are held in greater honor than among Sunnis. But this does not mean that “secular authority” is to be vested in the scholars. 

As Islam is a comprehensive system for human life in all its aspects and ramifications, politics is not excluded from the purview of Islam.

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Politics is considered as a sphere where Islamic justice and equality are made manifest. Hence, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was not only the religious leader of Muslims, but also the political leader.

So, were the Rightly Guided Caliphs who succeeded him. Obeying God’s commandments in the Quran and following the example of the Prophet, they strove to exemplify Islam in all spheres of human life as best as they could so that they could establish a model society in Arabia which placed the good of all above the good of “the ruling elite.” 

Today, politics have come to stand for all the Machiavellian practices of the tyrannical and self-seeking clones of Caligula and Hitler. And so, it is easy for the Islamophobes to denigrate Islam by describing it as “political”. 

Islam is not merely concerned about the “salvation” of individuals, but also of the society. Indeed, there cannot be any individual salvation that ignores the travails of the society. And politics is the means of striving for the welfare of the society. 

Islam aims to manifest itself in three different aspects: (1) in a code of beliefs that direct and motivate the people in all facets of their life; (2) in the practical day-to-day life based on those beliefs; and (3) in a just social order based on the first two foundations. 

Thus, the aim of politics in Islam is the establishment and maintenance of a just socio-political order, where there is equity and fairness in the affairs of men.

Indeed, the very backbone of the whole act of divine creation itself is justice. The balance and the due proportion evident in the heavens and the earth are a manifestation of God’s justice, and make it necessary that we human beings also should strive for justice. Allah says in the Quran:

{Glorify the name of your Lord, the Most High, Who creates, then makes complete, And Who makes (things) according to a measure, then guides (them to their goal).} (Al-A`la 87:1-3)

If we study the cause of the ruin of many past civilizations, we find at the root is the neglect of the principle of justice. In fact, justice is a value which a ruler can ignore only at his own peril.

In the case of a people who violate the fundamentals of justice, God will punish them severely; that is the valuable lesson we learn from history.

The Quran repeatedly admonishes the believers to travel in the world and study the history of past societies, particularly the nations that were destroyed for their iniquities. 

God says:

{Surely Allah enjoins the doing of justice and the doing of good (to others) and the giving to the kindred, and He forbids indecency and evil and rebellion; He admonishes you that you may be mindful.} (An-Nahl 16:90)

Again, we read in the verse:

{O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Aware of what you do.} (Al-Ma’idah 5:8)

Thus, we can see that Islam does not visualize religion as so rarefied and sublimated as to ignore social or political concerns. For this reason, Islam cannot approve of a purely spiritual movement that never bothers about the problems of the people.

Islam does not leave burning issues of the society to the whims of self-seeking politicians, but deals with politics itself, which cannot be separated from life. It is for the same reason that good Muslims are committed citizens of a country and not ascetics who flee from the day-to-day affairs of the world. 

The emphasis on justice very clearly bears out Islam’s stance on a justly balanced society. The realization of which, in space and time, is the desired end of all the means at the disposal of a Muslim society.

This highlights the fact that in Islam, there is no scope for theocracy because a theocracy presupposes an elitist or priestly class that have the exclusive privilege for interpreting religious law and wielding political power.

So, most assuredly, Islam does not subscribe to any such theocratic arrangement.

Instead it establishes the rule of law and equality of all before law. The rulers must represent the people and should try their best to make the living conditions of the people easy and comfortable; and they are answerable to God. 

It is to be emphasized here that the inspiration for such a system is derived from Divine Revelation; and so, we may describe the Islamic political system as a divinely inspired democracy. 

And God knows best. 

Thank you again for your question and please keep in touch. 

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Terminological Chaos: Political Islam and Islamism