COLLOQUIUM: ‘Progressive Muslims’ Call for Abandoning Religion in order to Survive?” - Part II

Posted Jun 10, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version Bookmark and Share


With all due apologies, and with due respect I was a bit surprised to read the above. It seemed a line from the O’Reilly Factor. May I dare to say a couple of things. I am not sure who is espousing theocratic states that you mention. Did we not just create a shia thoecratic state in Iraq? ...after we liberated the Iraqis from a secular state! Sastani grew up in Iran and speaks Arabic with a Persian accent. He wants to shift the center of shiadom back to Basra from Qom. Selective amnesia lets us forget that the Talibaan were actually a product of the CIA and the ISI, used to fight the Russians who were returning to Afghanistan through the Northern Alliance (source Imperial Hubris by Anonymous, Unholy Wars by Cooley, Charlie’s War by George Criel, and Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky). Using the worst example of a failed state, as an example of the implementation of Islam seems as bad a case study as using the example of the Nazis as a way to show that the Nazis were the embodiment of Christianity. Hitler’s troops used to wear “God is on our side” and were normally sprinkled with Holy Water when they went to war. Of course they never embodied Christianity just like the Talibaan were not really implementing any Islam. Afghan society was, and remains embroiled in chauvinism and barbarism even after liberation by our forces.

However today “after liberation” CNN does not give us our daily dose on the abuse of Afghan women clad in Burqas. I guess all Afghans turned into Swedish liberals the day Mulla Omar fled on his motorcycle. I don’t recall any mass burning of the blue burqas and don’t really see throngs of Afghan women anywhere in Kabul. The Mayor of Northwest Kabul Mr. Karzai cannot dare to venture outside Kabul and still has to use US Marine body guards to save his own skin. His minority non-Pashtun government was elected by voters whose numbers exceeded the entire population of Afghanistan. Democracy? My point is that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Secularism does not guarantee freedom or even democracy. The world is full of non-religious states that have been the most ruthless on the planet. Your escape from the Gulag twice is ample proof that state power can be misused in the name of religion or personalities or racism. Indian “Democracy” needs half the Indian Army of 700,000 soldiers to control the state of Kashmir and that “secular democracy”, based on the so called Gandhian No-violence allowed the massacre of 9000 Muslims just a few years ago. I am sorry but I cannot accept the Badshah Khan model as the best model to form a state in the Subcontinent. We can agree to disagree.

An Islamic republic is not congruent to a theocratic state. I do not consider Omar Bin Khattab a religious scholar or a “mullah”. However he was a successful caliph duly elected by the people. If Pat Robertson had been elected as President, would the USA become a theocracy? Many would argue that today’s government is more tied in to religion than any other the US has ever seen. During the medieval times, the government in Al-Andulusia Spain was an Islamic republic but allowed Rabbi Hasdai Shaprut a Jew to become the Prime Minster (Grand Vazier) and commander of the Armed forces for 30 years. The Muslim Al-Anudulian state was the progenerator of the European renaissance. Sultan Salahuddin of Egypt headed a Muslim state but allowed Rabbi Moses Maimonides to be the surgeon general and spawned art, literature, painting and scientific knowledge along with freedom, peace and justice. A state created for the Muslims of the Subcontinent, Pakistan is not only a state for the Muslim, but also a Muslim state. Democracy in Pakistan or lack of it is besides the point. Many external factors are responsible for the issues with the government there. Opposing all states based on religion would negate the basis of a country that hosts 150 million proud Muslims

Imam Faisal in his book “What is Right with Islam” says the USA is the most “shariah compliant” country in the world and discusses the separation of Church vs. state and the separation of religion from the state. He argues that the “church” had to be separated from the state in the USA and France because of the power that the Vatican and the Church establishment manifested. In Sunni Islam at least, since there is no power for the clergy, the separation is non-sequator. Anyone can lead the Muslim congregation and we do not need anyone to read the Quran for us.


  As I noted in my email of January 31st,  Junaid Afeef contrasts the political term “Islamic state” with the non-political term “state of Islam.  These are diametrical opposites.

  The term “Islamic state” was popularized by Syed Qutb in his vaunted clash of civilizations which half a century ago he called Muslims to wage against the decadent West so that they could impose what he called the pure truth of Islamic law.  His confrontational paradigm of thought was a perversion of Hasan al Banna’s more enlightened teachings.  But, this is another subject.

  Neither the Iranians under Imam Khomeini nor the Taliban under the Saudis used secular Western terminology.  They avoided the term “state” because it was developed to replace the claims of divine right of kings and of the Pope as the ultimate authority.  The concept of “state” was designed to place ultimate authority in the “people” and, in practice, in whoever could manipulate and control the “people.”  The term “state” by definition excludes God as the ultimate source of authority in human affairs.
  This is why the founders of America uniformly condemned “democracy” and said their aim was to create what George Washington called “a Republic, if you can keep it.”  A republic has the procedural mechanisms of popular representation, which one might call democracy, but it recognizes, as Thomas Jefferson put it, that a free people can remain free only if they are properly educated in virtue and that virtue can be understood and practiced only within the overall framework of enlightened religion. 

  The Founders did not want any clerics to impose a particular religion in political governance nor anyone else to impose a bias against religion.  The role of government in a republic is to assure that the Creator and Sustainer (both key terms), whether indirectly through natural law or directly through universal revelation or both, provides the ultimate guidance for the people, who in turn will make laws reflecting this higher source of knowledge.

  The Iranian Revolution of a generation ago aimed to create an “Islamic republic,” which could have equated with what Jefferson had in mind.  In fact, Imam Khomeini’s wilayat al faqih or “governance by the experts in fiqh” did not necessarily mean anything more than Montesquieu’s call for the judiciary as the ultimate decision-making power on what is constitutional or right and wrong.  This preeminence of the judiciary in the American system of government was a very iffy proposition and took hold only through a quarter-century of brilliant leadership by U.S. Chief Justice John Marshal at the beginning of the 19th century.  Some would argue that this “third estate” has now gone too far and is undermining checks and balances by usurping unintended power.

  In a chapter of a book published a decade ago apparently only in Farsi in Iran, I argued that Imam Khomeini did not have in mind the institution of the wilayat as it was developed later by the extremist revolutionaries around him.  Of course, this may be why the book was withdrawn later from distribution.  All revolutions tend toward extremism and thus are Islamic only as a last resort.  In my view, even the American Revolution might not have been necessary, because it aborted a movement in England from which the Americans derived all their principles.  This Whig party was still a minority in Parliament, but without the American revolution it might well have become the majority and changed world history.

  You rightly point out that, “An Islamic republic is not congruent with a theocratic state.”  An Islamic republic, like the American republic as originally intended, is a theocentric polity (a system of governance that recognizes God as the highest source of truth and love) with theomorphic institutions of governance.  Such institutions are designed to facilitate a mutually interdependent balance of order, justice, and liberty in accordance with the nature of persons as the imagio dei or what the Prophet, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam, called man created in the “image of God” to reflect at his own limited level the 99 names of Allah.  I have argued at great length that such theocentricity and theomorphism require a framework of human responsibilities and rights as best developed by the three centuries of classical Islamic thought (from Al Ghazzali to Al Shatibi) in the maqasid al shari’ah.

  A theocratic state is governed not by God but by theocrats or professional clerics who substitute for God.  Theocratic Islam would be the ultimate oxymoran.  But, so is an Islamic state, because the term “state” eliminates God from governance, whereas Islam provides that good governance comes from awareness of and submission to God through human understanding of the universal principles of justice inherent in tawhid or the coherence of the universe.

  Omar ibn Khattab, radi Allahu anhu, was not theocratic but rather the opposite, namely, theocentric. and his system of government was theomorphic.  He supported and practiced the four requirements of representative government, albeit not in the form currently popular today.  According to the maqasid al shari’ah, and specifically to the maqsud known as haqq al hurriya, these are khilafa, shura, ijma, and an independent judiciary.  The usurper caliphs after the khulafa’a al rashidin innovated the imperial institution of theocracy and state despotism as part of the political degradation that came from revival of the jahiliya.

  The same happened in Andalucia, beginning very early in the first decade of the new millennium (A.C., after Christ), which witnessed the beginning of a steadily downward trend, despite the material glories of Cordoba, which resulted in the final extirpation of Muslims from Spain.  The Andalucian or Western Caliphate started as an Islamic republic but ended as a theocratic state constantly threatened by warring princes who often made alliances with Christian princes to enhance their own parochial power.  This history in Spain illustrates both the best and the worst of Muslims’ efforts and failures in applying Islamic principles to social life.

  Similarly, the Islamic caliphate was not intended to be a state, much less a theocracy.  You are familiar with my view, as stated in my posting of January 31st, that the institution of the caliphate was never intended to be political in any way.  Imam Abu Hamid al Ghazali called it an ummatic umbrella functioning only to protect the functional integrity of Islamic law rather than to govern politically.  Ibn Taymiya asserted that the unity of the Muslim community depends not even on any symbolism represented by the Caliph, much less on any caliphal political authority, but on “confessional solidarity of each autonomous entity within an Islamic whole.”  In other words, the Muslim umma or global community is a body of purpose based on worship of God. 

  Many Muslims nowadays are calling for a return of the caliplate in its imperial form embodied in the Ottoman empire.  They want what Shah Wali Allah of India in the 18th century condemned as the khilafat dhahira or external and exoteric caliphate.  Instead, he called for the khilafat batina or esoteric caliphate formed by the spiritual heirs of the prophets, who are the sages, saints, and righteous scholars.  The classical or late Abbasid scholars, faced with a gradual process of creeping despotism, denied the divine right not only of kings but of every human institution based on or contributing to the worship of power and privilege that had brought corruption upon the earth.

  You say that Pakistan is a Muslim state.  I would agree.  A Muslim state is a state governed by Muslims.  So are Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, and Saudi Arabia, but these are definitely not Islamic because they are not republics, even though some of them claim to be.  In fact, I would not call the government of any Muslim country today Islamic, and there may indeed never be one. 

  Perhaps our best hope, despite all the odds against it, may be modern Iraq, but only if the forces following Ayatollah Sistani’s inspiration can succeed in drafting a constitution providing that Islamic law, as interpreted through its universal principles or maqasid, is the source of law, not merely, as the American pro-consuls have insisted, a source of law.

  Ayatollah Sistani has experienced enough of the failed Iranian experiment to know the dangers of following this route in Iraq.  Iran is plagued by extremists on both the “right” and the “left,” who are locked in mortal combat.  Both sides, the radical right and the progressives or liberals on the left, are becoming less and less Islamic every day.  Iraq has enough ethnic and tribal cleavages without introducing battles over what we in America call denominationalism.

  You cite the contention in Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s wonderful book, What is Right with Islam, that the United States is the most “shari’ah compliant counry in the world.”  I would agree generally in this statement.  Imam Abdul Rauf has a profound understanding of Islam, but he is way off base in lauding “democratic capitalism” as America’s greatest gift to the world.  This is the line of the Neo-Conservatives, who are the most un-conservative force in American history because they are committed not to conserve but to destroy America’s raison d’etre or reason for being.  But, this is another subject. 

  This month, I am preparing reviews on a great number of books for the Muslim World Book Review and have many pages of notes on how to summarize both the best and the worst of Imam Abdul Rauf’s latest book.  If one ignores his understanding of America, his is one of the best books available for both the Muslim and non-Muslim who want an introduction to what one might call traditionalist Islam, the kind that is identical with the wisdom of traditionalist or classical America.


In your very thoughtful posting to Salam, you said: “Perhaps our best hope, despite all the odds against it, may be modern Iraq, but only if the forces following Ayatollah Sistani’s inspiration can succeed in drafting a constitution providing that Islamic law, as interpreted through its universal principles or maqasid, is the source of law, not merely, as the American pro-consuls have insisted, a source of law.” 

I’m troubled by that position.  I have no problem in stating the need in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter, for universal principles consistent with Islamic law.  But why not Judaic law or Christian law as the source of law?  Why so exclusionary, other than that you and other adherents to the Islamic faith see the universality of maqasid as the source of law.  If I agreed with your position, I would be forced to propose amending the U.S. Constitution to state that maqasid is the source of law for America.  I don’t think Jefferson or other founders had that in mind. 

God does not need the state to exist.  Man does.  The state is merely a tool, the only legitimate monopoly over the instruments of coercion, and the First Amendment is an excellent expression supporting both freedom of religion and thought, as well as a polity that separates moral and religious law from the laws of the state.  Let there be a continuing debate over critical moral issues, without having one set of religious laws use the coercive powers of the state impose itself on all citizens until there is an overwhelming political consensus among all citizens to impose that moral standard on themselves and future generations.  Another way of stating my point, is that the state, like any other tool, is a secular instrument, a creation of imperfect human beings, including religious and spiritual leaders.

I certainly would not want to be governed by maqasid al shari’ah and I would not want to impose that on others.  Why not resolve the dilemma by stating the universal principles without explicitly mentioning that that their source is maqasid al shari’ah?  My fear is that a majority will jam down their words down the throats of non-believers in the faith of the majority.  That’s not what Jefferson would have accepted.


Dr. Crane thanks you for your response. As usual, your email was full of knowledge under which we can bask ...............but but but….................with all due apologies, as a humble student of political science let me state my point of view. I really needed to respond to you since this is part of our ongoing discussion…...........

You write: “Junaid contrasts the political term “Islamic state” with the non-political term “state of Islam.  These are diametrical opposites.”

There is no contradiction with what you say here…............“State of Islam” would surely refer to the religion, whereas “Islamic state” refers to a country that defines itself as “Muslim”.

“The term “Islamic state” was popularized by Syed Qutb in his vaunted clash of civilizations ...”

You have mentioned Qutub on many occasions…so I must burst his bubble. I think Qutub was reacting to colonialism, the vestiges of post colonialism, and superpower rivalry as embodied in the policies of Nasser who wanted to impose another religion on Egypt “Leninism”. I am not sure if I would give Syed Qutub so much credit on this matter.

I know a lot has been written about Qutub, mostly in the context of “The Ikhwan ul Muslimeen”, Egypt and Israel. But in the greater Islamic world, specially in the non-Arab world, Qutub was a minor figure. The larger than life personality that holds power in more than three countries is Maulana Moudodi (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).  Syed Qutub was a disciple of Maulana Abul Aala Maudodi schooled by the Deobandis of Deoband (see Barbara Metcalfe’s book on the subject).  Moudoodi also has support in Indonesia where the Jamiah Islami was modeled on the Indian/Pakistani Jamaat e Islami.

In British India Moudodi formed the Jamaat e Islami much before the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen. My ancestors formed the Nadwa Nizamiyaah institute in Farangimahal (which Shibli Naumai called the Oxford/Cambride of our India” ... ) and formed the Jamiat Ulema Hind. The Nizamiyaa institute created curriculums for the Mughal, Fatamid and Ottoman empires for centuries. The Deobandis used the Nizamiyaa knowledge base but since Moudodi was Western educated, he was influenced by many new Western ideas. His attempt at REFORMATION was also governed by ground realities of the British Empire and strategising the right response to colonialism.

Moudodi and the Deobandis were a bit more radical in their approach. He supported the Quit India Movement but he opposed both the Indian National Congress and the Indian Muslim League both of which wanted secular republics as successor states to British “India”. Some Like Ira Lapidus have claimed that Moudodi considered India “Darul Harb” in which the rights of Muslims and Muslim power cannot and should not be sacrificed to anyone, specially the tyranical majority of Brahmanistic disguised “democracy”. In this context Moudodi opposed Pakistan since it would mean giving up 150 million Muslims to eternal subjugation. After 47 however he concentrated his energies on trying to first build a social welfare system in Pakistan and then to take over the government through the polls. Ironically the Jamaat’s the first electoral victory in the Pakistani polls was given to the Moudoodi followers in the aftermath of 9/11 in two of the Pakistani provinces

Moudodi and Qutub and others were trying find the right mix of religion and state power, just like England under Cromwell and others were trying to figure out how much power the King/queen were allowed to have as head of state and head of church.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with calling a country Islamic, just as there is nothing wrong with a person calling themselves Muslim

An independent State is defined as follows:

. Has space or territory which has internationally recognized boundaries (boundary disputes are OK).

. Has people who live there on an ongoing basis.

. Has economic activity and an organized economy. A country regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money.

. Has the power of social engineering, such as education.

.  Has a transportation system for moving goods and people.

.  Has a government which provides public services and police power.

.  Has sovereignty. No other State should have power over the country’s territory.

.  Has external recognition.

The statement “The term ‘state’ by definition excludes God as the ultimate source of authority in human affairs.” might have been true half a century ago but political science has grappled with the issues raised anf found solutions to the problem. The Pakistani constitution does clarify the old Locke/Hobbs/Aritotle definitions in slightly different terms.

Since Pakistan was the FIRST country that used the nomenclature “Islamic Republic”, she undertook an experiment as espoused by the founding fathers who were Muslim political scientists…this experiment was based on the writings of Neitzche inspired Dr. Alama Iqbal who was defining the role of religion and politics in “The Role of Reconstructionist Thought In Islam”. While we are most forgiving to the founding fathers of America for trying the grand experiment of creating a “republic”, we are so hard and unforgiving upon Jinnah and Iqbal who were also trying to create a modern state while grappling with the issues of state power, theocratic power and the roles of republic and the definition of sovereignty.

Marx and Soviet Revisionism created Plato’s republic as a PEOPLES republic, where all sovereignty rested with the people. This was unacceptable to the Deobandis (who had tremendous street power under the Jamat e Islami) Anathema even the most liberal Pakistanis. The preamble of the Pakistani constitution thus states “all sovereignty rests with Allah”. This is an important part of the Pakistani experiment which created the first modern Muslim state and proudly called itself ISLAMIC REPUBLIC. The term Islamic Republic in no way gives an iota of power to any cleric or theocracy…............parliament sets those limits as in the British democracy…............however the constitution also states “no law shall be made repugnant to Islam”. This paramount law defines the parameters on various laws…..TOTALLY OPEN TO interpretation and reinterpretation by the lawmakers and the judges

I am not sure why there is such animosity to the term “ISLAMIC REPUBLIC”. Ayub Khan, under tremendous American pressure actually had to abandon it in the 63 constitution but it was again resurrected in the 73 constitution

I also would humbly want to make a point on the “failure” of the Iranian revolution and the discussion of theocracy there under the background of what happened to Mosaddagh. Imam Khomeni opposed the Reza Shah Pehlavi the son of a military major who in his arrogance called himself “Shah” and a descendent of Cyrus the great. He opposed Reza Shah on many counts. He opposed Reza on because he was a dictator and the SAVAK was the most ruthless intelligence service in the world. He opposed Reza because of the economic disparity and because he did not like Exxon taking over the oilfields instead of Iran Oil Co…and so on and so forth. He survived because clerics were the only ones the Savak did not eliminate. As a matter of fact there were more intelligent and more popular leaders in Iran…but all of them got eliminated. Khomeni could have been a PLUMBER and he still would have led a successful revolution. In another country a steel worker Lech Welensa accomplished just that…...........after the revolution stuff happened… it usually happens in most revolutions…French, Soviet, and as you repeatedly point out…it also happened to the American revolution


  Just have time to say that I hve always been a supporter of Maulana Maududi, because he was constructive and positive and came from a culture that was basically open, whereas Syed Qutb came from a closed culture and appeared to be both alienated and hostile.  Both wanted to establish the ideal Islamic state, but Maulana Maududi was more realistic, even though his party never became broadly popular.  Khurshid Ahmad was and is an old friend of mine, and actually was responsible more than anyone else in my recognition that I have always been a Muslim.

    Incidentally, Norm in response to your last email giving reasons why Islamic law should not be adopted as the framework or “the” source of authority in the Iraqi constitution, my counter-argument is that the best way to assure that extremism will not triumph is to provide a framework that is inherently anti-extremist and also cannot be challenged by those who might tend toward extremism.  In a Muslim country, the most effective framework is Islamic law, provided that this law is interpreted as a universal code of human responsibilities and rights.  It is perhaps fortunate that Ayatollah Sistani’s supporters got only a bare majority in the recent vote, because this will require bargaining with the Kurds and perhaps others for a more universal framework than the parochial one that otherwise might have resulted.  Competition in the field of ideas is always good.

  The need for what is known as “exceptionalism” is also good for a Christian-majority country.  The universal principles are the same in every religion, but religious people should be careful not to separate such principles from their own religion.  Ecumenism based on eclectic common denominators is useless in bringing cooperation among people of different faith traditions.  A Jew should always be a proud Jew, a Christian a humble instrument of charity, and a Muslim a warrior for justice.  This is the only way that everyone can offer the wisdom of one’s own religion so that everyone can learn from everyone else.

  America originated as a Christian nation, so it should be a proud Christian nation with a mission to bring the best of Christianity to the world.  This should include recognition that all religions are legitimate paths to God, but this would require acceptance of Islam as legitimate, since this is part of the Islamic wisdom that is needed in Christian circles.  Christians have much to learn from the best of Islam, but Muslims have perhaps even more to learn from the best of Christianity.

  Everyone needs a clear identity, and actually several layers of identity, starting with one’s primordial identity as a spiritual being beyond space and time and ending perhaps with one’s identity as a member of a political party (which I consider to be the two extremes of the spectrum).  Jeremy, you are one of the great seminal thinkers on the subject of identity.  Perhaps you can send us a copy of your article on the subject in  A Muslim majority country should be proudly Muslim in order to identify with a higher mission than merely its own power. 

  The same is true of Israel.  Of course, in my view, if the Zionists were truly proud Jews they would not have created the State of Israel because its purpose was not to bring the wisdom of Judaism to the world but to project the material power of Jews as a means of physical survival.  Whoever seeks mere survival will die.  This iron law of reality applies especially to entire civilizations, which is why I am so concerned about the hijacking of both my party and my country by the Neo-Cons.

                      Long live an Islamic Constitution in Iraq,