‘God does not change the condition of a people unless they first change what is in themselves’ – Quran 13:11

The above verse demonstrates that change in a population, according to the Quran, is a bottom-up process, through human negotiation and consensus and not a top-down process where divine authority supersedes and takes the place of human authority.

There has always been a distinction between religious and human authority in Islam. The concept of a theocracy, whereby the religious authority superimposes itself onto the state is contradictory to Islam, and goes against its logic. Secularism is not against Islam; it seeks to keep distinct, religious and state authority, and Islam supports this. Religious authority deals with the order of faith and worship and by its very nature requires an individual’s personal pledge of allegiance, and is therefore the domain of the private, personal sphere.

The authority of the state deals with matters in the political and social arena, and these, by their very nature, are inferred via a collective consensus of the citizens that are going to be run by these policies, and therefore fall under the public sphere.

Given that adherence to a religion is a personal choice this renders it the domain of the private. With the affairs of the state, a collective public process, thus remaining in the domain of the public sphere. It is hence ridiculous and nonsensical to claim any type of conflict between Islam and secularism.

The whole concept of leadership decided by lineage, monarchies and kingship is portrayed in a negative light in the Quran:

27:34 – She said: ‘When the kings enter a town they destroy it and make its most noble people humiliated. It is such that they do’.

No, instead, a democratic consensus by the people, whereby each party is heard, and the best of them is selected and adhered to is upheld:

39:18 – ‘The ones who listen to what is being said, and then follow the best of it. These are the ones whom God has guided, and these are the ones who possess intelligence’.

There is absolutely no contradiction between secularism and Islam. Where the perceived conflict between the two does come into play is when secularism is pitted against the concept of an ‘Islamic state’, which is a specific reaction to a specific set of historical circumstances. When the Muslim lands were being colonised by the ‘West’ (for lack of a better term) the Muslims sought to differentiate themselves from this ‘imperialist secularised’ onslaught which they naturally viewed as the enemy. And so, in response, all authority was superseded by religious authority, to give literally everything an Islamic covering and identity, so the Muslims could separate themselves from the enemy in all ways possible. We cannot then take a context specific historical reaction and apply it universally to Islam.

But this is what extremist groups in the Middle East do. They see an organic link between secularism and the West, and so perceive the total package as the enemy, rather than be nuanced and make a distinction.

What underlies all this is an equal, fair and ethical approach. Without an ethical foundation underlying the authority of the state, the vested interests of powerful financial lobbies will take precedent over the interests of the people. And religious rule without ethics leaves it as a tool in the hands of the powerful, those who have a dogmatic claim to heaven,  and are ready to exploit people’s emotions in the name of God.

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