By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam
18 March, 2015
My article “Who is a Muslim in the Quran?” established the secular benchmark applicable to all mankind for being considered not a `Kafir’. It left the question of “Who is a Muslim” almost unanswered beyond establishing the most basic requirement for all of mankind to be even considered a good human being as distinct from a “Kafir”. If a Muslim does not satisfy the secular benchmark, then he is a Kafir for the Whole world. What faith he then professes with his mouth and what he practices as part of his faith, is then mere hypocrisy.
The General Unchanging Universal Principles in the Quran are easily identifiable as these are not modified or constrained by any stated conditions. These principles are not constrained by implied conditions either, since no verse in the Quran contradicts these Principles. Any minor issue in understanding any verse can be resolved with reference to the General Principles.
The Quranic verses provide the necessary context wherever context is important. Once we follow this approach, every verse becomes easy to understand without resorting to secondary sources and it then becomes impossible to "interpret" departing from the clear meaning.
In my 4 part article “Who is a Kafir in the Quran?” I have brought out that the Quran deals with:
1. The secular, the worldly or the temporal dimension and
2. The Spiritual dimension
What is purely the Spiritual Dimension is outside the pail of both punishment in this world and coercive interference. The Quran prescribes no punishment for the “Rejecters of Faith” as long as they are peaceful. No punishment in this world is prescribed in the Quran for blasphemy unless accompanied by inciting violence, enmity, strife or causing public disorder. The punishment then is not for blasphemy but for the crimes in the temporal dimension. Apostasy is also not punishable in this world unless accompanied by treason. It is treason that is punishable and not apostasy. This rule has however been perverted to equate apostasy with treason where apostasy itself implies treason. This is a clear perversion of the message of the Quran.
(5:33) The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter; (34) Except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Waging war against Allah and his messenger is not simple blasphemy or apostasy but a deliberate, concerted and obviously hostile attempt to create mischief through the land. The punishment varies from exile to execution depending upon the seriousness of the crime and the person can be even let off if he recants.
The Secular dimension is common to the "believer" as well as the "non-believer" and applies without making any distinction on the basis of faith.
The separation of the State and the “Clergy” is both possible and desirable following the Quran. It was but natural that the last Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was leader in both the spheres. However, the Quran does not in any way require that these remain merged. On the contrary, since the Quran demands that the believer deal justly even with those against whom there was once enmity and even if such justice is against oneself, and is also clearly against any compulsion in religious or spiritual matters and for allowing the peaceful “rejecter of faith” to live unhindered and in peace, such justice is possible only by separating the spiritual or the religious from the secular.
Once the verses of the Quran are understood in terms of the two separate and distinct dimensions, the domain of the clergy then gets clearly demarcated and the only instrument open to him to achieve his objectives is persuasion. The temporal dimension belongs to the State and the responsibilities of the State clearly require an exclusive focus on temporal matters alone.
It is when a separation is not maintained that both the ruler and the clergy corrupt the message of the Quran to exercise illegitimate coercive power over the people. The charge of either apostasy or blasphemy, with the obvious religious overtones, can arouse irrational frenzy and have been found most convenient for misuse by both the groups. This would not have happened, if the early Muslims had clearly segregated the secular part of the Quran from the spiritual. The result is that today, a Muslim is spiritually weak and in worldly or material terms, at the bottom of the heap. A Muslim having become a Kafir can never prosper in this World or the next.
All the four imams of Sunni Islam suffered persecution as well as imprisonment for their views at the hands of the ruler. The arms of the scholar/clergy were twisted for political ends. The quid pro was giving temporal powers to the clergy without responsibility using which he could become a nuisance for those who did not pay him obeisance. It is in such an environment that the Islamic theology was corrupted by both the groups and the religious minorities suffered at the hands of both the State and the Clergy and justice suffered.
The Quran clearly stands for justice for all irrespective of faith and is explicitly against any coercion in matters of faith. Neither does it believe in using instruments of state power to advance faith. It believes in using instruments of power only to defend the faith and fight oppression against its own people or against other people. The oppression need not necessarily be religious persecution or oppression.
In the temporal dimension, the Quran prescribes only the Hudood punishments or punishments for transgressing the limits set by Allah such as:
1. A hundred lashes for a proven case of adultery with four reliable simultaneous witnesses and eighty lashes for the false witness. Even this law has been corrupted in its implementation
2. Cutting of hand for theft. The Quran does not specify the requirements for evidence and the severity of the crime for this punishment. It is upto the state depending upon the conditions, to make it applicable to the rarest of rare case or even make it inapplicable in times of drought etc or when there is extreme poverty and deprivation.
3. Death for murder where the closest kin of the deceased can pardon the convict with or without receiving compensation.
There is no other Shariat law of the Quran applicable to all. Only adultery is not a punishable crime in other societies/cultures but the requirement for proof for this crime in Islam is so stringent that only those who flaunt their licentious behaviour can get into trouble. Beheadings for death is not prescribed nor is public flogging. These are merely carried over as practices from the seventh century.
In personal matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, the Shariat laws are applicable only to the Muslims. Marriage is only a social contract and like any other contract, the terms can be negotiated and mutually agreed between the parties. In the absence of specific terms the default terms are as per the Quran. The laws of inheritance also provide the manner of distribution of inheritance to the heirs of a Muslim who dies intestate. Otherwise a Muslim can leave a will covering all of his wealth or only a part of it or distribute his property as per his wish during his lifetime. The part of his wealth for which a Muslim does not leave behind a will is distributed as per the law of inheritance in the Quran.
There is no provision in the Quran for moral policing or even for coercing one’s own child in matters of religion. The Quran says that Noah’s son was a disbeliever, Lut’s wife was a disbeliever, Abraham’s father was a disbeliever but there is no verse which even hints that the Prophets used any form of coercion on these people to make them conform. On the other hand, Lut did not divorce his wife, Noah and Abraham found it difficult even to distance themselves from their son/father and continued to pray for them even when their “Kufr” was confirmed and the Prophets were informed that they would not “believe”.
The separation of the State and the “Clergy” is both possible and desirable and failure to do so corrupts both the spiritual and the temporal worlds of the Muslims leaving them in the condition that they find themselves in today – feeble spiritually and at the bottom of the heap in worldly matters.
Now to answer the question “Is Islam Secular?” well Islam is very much a religion but it recognizes the rights of all and stands firmly and unequivocally for complete and absolute justice in temporal matters between the people irrespective of the faith they profess. It places a duty to defend the faith only if someone is engaged in a “war” against the faith. Complete and absolute justice in matters pertaining to this world can only be achieved by segregating the affairs of the State from that of the “clergy”.
Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to NewAgeIslam.com. The author initially used a pseudonym "Observer" for this article.