Islam, Terrorism, and the “Separation of Church and State”

Collective Guilt in the Cause of Counter-Terrorism

The influential founder and editor of the National Review, William F. Buckley, Jr., has used his podium to defend the most extreme barrage of recent hate attacks on Islam, namely, the scurrilous distortions by the Rev. Franklin Graham.  Graham contends that Islam is inherently a religion of violence, as demonstrated by the alleged failure of its leaders to adequately condemn the terrorist attack on America’s symbols of economic and military power on September 11, 2001.


The leading spokesmen of Islam throughout the world immediately and universally condemned this terrorism.  This fact is now slowly being acknowledged as truth emerges from the fog of fiction that had overshadowed the truth. 


None of these spokesmen have apologized for this act of terrorism, because it so obviously has nothing to do with the teachings of Islam and because Muslim spokespersons therefore have no reason to apologize for anything.  The Holy Father in Rome has apologized for the Crusades only because the head of the Roman Catholic Church instigated them, whereas the instigators of 9/11 were renegades from the Islamic faith.  The universal prohibition of collective guilt, accepted by moral theologians, precludes apologies by those who are not guilty of 9/11, just as it precludes the collective demonization of innocent Israeli and American civilians by such as Osama bin Laden.


Buckley’s New Twist in an Old Crusade

Buckley’s attack on Islam is significant because it introduces a new twist in the demonization of Islam, one that most Muslims cannot even understand, much less refute, because it is so off-the-wall.  In the August 23rd, 2002, issue of The Washington Times, the following quote of Buckley is reported approvingly:

The charges by the Rev. Franklin Graham are not only justified, they are unanswerable.  It is Dr. Graham’s point that if we assume, for the sake of ecumenical bonhomie, that the terrorists were not really representing Islam, that they were extremists torturing the word of the Prophet, okay, then that is exactly what we should be told by men of Islam in authority. And that should be easy to do, inasmuch as the high priests of the Islamic world are also its secular leaders.  The Muslim religion does not condone the separation of church and state.

The concept of a wall separating “Church from State” was introduced by Thomas Jefferson in a private letter in the context of his support for freedom of religion.  The American doctrine of freedom of religion was encapsulated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The Constitution was designed to spell out the mechanics of governance in order to protect against both elitism and mob rule by the demos or people.  The first ten amendments to this Constitution, adopted two years later in 1791, were designed to spell out the substantive principles of the Declaration of Independence, which lay the foundation for the Great American Experiment in self-determination and self-government.

The very first amendment, and therefore the most important one, commenced with the words: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

Jefferson reflected the most basic teachings of Islamic law, the maqasid or universal principles of the shari’ah, when he taught that building a wall between “Church and State” refers to preventing an organized clergy or state religion from gaining political control of a society, because this is the greatest threat, other than anarchy, to freedom of religion, especially to freedom of religion in public life. 

Buckley has led the “strict constructionists” in interpreting this Jeffersonian phrase to mean three things: 1) the citizens in a republic can maintain freedom for religion in public life only by avoiding the establishment of a single religion; 2) protecting freedom of religion is the only way to assure that the wisdom of divine revelation and natural law can inform the public square; and 3) without this religiously based wisdom, no republic of free people can long survive. 


The principal attack on Jefferson when he ran for the U.S. presidency in 1802 was that he was not a Christian, because he did not support the doctrine of the trinity and therefore was an “atheist.”  In fact, he was perhaps the most spiritually profound president America ever had, other than George Washington, who was a mystic and nowadays might be condemned by the Wahhabi sect as a Sufi. 

Since the time of the American Civil War a century and a half ago, there have been secular humanists who assert the primacy or even the sole authority of irreligion in public life.  They have sought to preclude from public life the wisdom of divine revelation through prophets (of whatever religion) and of divine guidance through natural law.  The equivalent of such secular humanists has existed throughout Muslim history in the form of tyrants who assert that their secular rule precludes freedom of religion in public life.  For William Buckley to base his understanding of Islam on these renegades against it verges on the oxymoronic.

The Islamic Jihad Against Extremism

The issue in Islam has concerned not merely the authority of individual governments but of the Caliphate (Khilafa) or “head” of the Muslim world.  Extremist Muslims since the time of the second Ummayed ruler, Yazid, have claimed that the head of the empire automatically is the head of Islam and therefore the ruler of all Muslims and even of the entire world.  The Hizb al-Tahrir say the same thing today in their call for a common jihad against all infidels and in their demand that Muslims oppose all governments, especially the American government, until the institution of the global Caliphate again governs a new world order. 

A couple of years ago, I hosted a two-hour question and answer session on the world-wide al-Jazira TV with an audience of 70 million. When I promised to answer all questions, both in English and Arabic, I was peppered with questions about the Khilafa by professional ideologues in this world-wide Hizb al-Tahrir movement.  They are less frightening than Osama bin Laden only because they have not yet endorsed violence.  No doubt, they have not yet been targeted by the religious right in America because they oppose the Wahhabis, even though the Khilafa movement is made to order for Osama bin Laden and is moving in his direction.

It is sheer ignorance for Buckley or anyone else to use the “separation of church and state” argument against Islam by contending that the authority to issue declarations of right and wrong, and to condemn suicide and terrorism rests with the heads of state, not with the religious scholars.  One of the most basic principles of the maqasid al shari’ah is the maqsud known as the duty to respect freedom for self-determination, especially in the sense of political freedom.  One of the four sub-principles or hajjiyat is the required independence of the judiciary as the sole authority responsible for interpreting Islamic law and declaring what is right and what is wrong. 

In my view, even Imam Khomeini’s waliyat al-faqih, contrary to most interpretations, did not violate the dual principles that the religious authorities must be independent of the government and that the government has no authority in religious matters.  The practice of government, as in most Muslim countries, often reflects the teachings of Islam in the breech, but this does not change the basic principles of Islamic law spelled out consistently over the centuries by the universally recognized Islamic scholars.

This issue of authority in Islam is addressed in my essay, “Religious Extremism: Muslim Challenge and Islamic Response,” as well as in my monograph, Projecting a Common Vision for America, both of which are on the web-site of the Center for Understanding Islam, www.cuii.org  A second edition of my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, which gives much more detail, is scheduled to be published and put on this web-site soon.  This essay, which was the first item to be put on the CUI web-site shortly after it was organized in response to 9/11, states the following:

Extremism comes especially when people substitute a political institution for themselves as the highest instrument and agent of God in the world, when they call for the return of the Caliphate in its imperial form embodied in the Ottoman dispensation.  It comes when they call for what Shah Wali Allah of India in the 18th century called the khilafat dhahira or external and exoteric caliphate in place of the khilafat batina or esoteric caliphate formed by the spiritual heirs of the prophets, who are the sages, saints, and righteous scholars.

In the late Abbasid period of classical Islam, the political scientists of the day, in the words of the brilliant modern scholar, Naveed Sheikh in his new book, The New Politics of Islam, “delegitimized both institutional exclusivism and, critically, centralization of political power by disallowing the theophanic descent of celestial sovereignty into any human institution.”  The Abbasid scholars, faced with a gradual process of creeping despotism, denied the divine right not only of kings, but of every human institution, and they condemned the worship of power and privilege that had brought corruption upon the earth.

The Hanbali scholar, Ibn Taymiya, completed the process of deconstructing the ontological fatalism of caliphatic thought by restricting the role of the caliphate to what Abu Hamid al-Ghazali had called 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 on any symbolism represented by the Caliph, much less on any caliphal political authority, but on the “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.  By contending that the monopoly of coercion that resides in political governance is not philosophically constituted, Ibn Taymiya rendered political unification and the caliphate redundant.


The Islamic Martyrs for Freedom of Religion

The surest proof that political governance has no role in religious life other than to guarantee freedom of worship, and that the head of state has no authority to speak on behalf of Islam or any religion, is the fact that the great scholars of Islam were imprisoned for teaching this.  The long history of political oppression against religious scholars in Muslim history speaks not only to the admitted corruption in many Muslim societies, but to the importance and permanence of religious and judicial independence. 

When William F. Buckley asserts that “the high priests of the Islamic world are its secular leaders,” he is supporting the sycophants and political prostitutes who deigned to give fatwas to this effect, and he is committing sacrilege against the martyrs of every century who suffered and died in the unending battle to combat this heresy. 

The best account of the battle by the great scholars against the political presumption of religious authority is in Professor Khalid Muhammad Abou el Fadl’s new book, The Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam, University Press, 20021, 419 pages, beginning on page 327.  He writes:

Our civilization was built on the suffering of the martyrs of the word. Ņ I see the footsteps of the scholar of hadith, al Bukhari (d. 256/870), who was accused of being a Rationalist and was expelled and exiled until he died a ward of his relatives without a home or money.  I see the footsteps of the great Maliki jurist and judge, Ibn al ‘Arabi (d. 543/1148), who was dismissed, imprisoned, and exiled, and who withstood his torment with remarkable bravery.  I walk in the footsteps of Ibn al Qayyum (d. 751/1350), and his teacher Ibn Taymiya (d. 728/1328), who were both tortured and imprisoned for their insistence on honoring the integrity of the word.  Ibn Taymiya, in particular, lived and died a martyr of the word.  He was imprisoned and exiled from Egypt and Syria because of his writings, and, after issuing a fatwa that offended those in power, he was left to die in prison.

Professor Abou el Fadl continues for several pages detailing the sufferings of all the famous scholars, including Ibn Rushd, al-Harrasi, al-Nisa’i, al-Tabari, al-Suyuti, al-Nawawi, Ibn Kathir, al-Subki, Ibn ‘Aqil, and some with whom most Muslims are not familiar any more, for defending the integrity of truth and justice. These two core principles are the two major teachings of divine revelation and the two major pillars of Islam. This truism is reflected in the Qur’anic ayah:

Wa tamaat kalimatu Rabbika sidqan wa ‘adlan.

And the Word of your Lord is perfected in truth and in justice.

The battle of the jihad al-kabir, the intellectual jihad, which is the only jihad mentioned in the Qur’an, should be the focus of the fard al-kifayaor collective responsibility of the Muslim umma in the current century, along with the jihad al-akbar or greatest jihad by which everyone should seek to perfect oneself.  This is the only way to reduce or eliminate the need for the jihad al-saghrir or lesser jihad calling for the use of force to defend human rights wherever they are violated, because it is the only way to transform societies so that they can be led by persons who are led by God. 

This balance among the three jihads and among the guiding principles of order, justice, and liberty was the essence of both classical Islamic and classical American thought, and should provide the basis for American leadership during the centuries ahead.

The American Muslim does not claim primary copyright on the source material.  Printed in The American Muslim with permission of the author.  If you wish to reprint the entire article, you must obtain permission of the copyright holder.


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