Four views on Islam and the state
Can Islam support a secular, democratic government?
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On the Arab street, secularism is often seen as a foreign import, brought in by the colonialists as a way of limiting the power of the Islamic religious institutions that often provided the core of anticolonial resistance. Secular politics is also associated with the military dictatorships that survived in alliance with the opposing powers of the cold-war period.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, the only effective challenge to this inheritance comes from the Islamist movements, and people arguing for a secular perspective run the constant danger of being accused of collaboration with the West. It is this twin dynamic that makes it more likely for many to tilt away from modern, pluralistic secularism toward a religious political system.
• Jorgen S. Nielsen is director of the Danish Institute in Damascus. His essay is from the Common Ground News Service.
Political Islam's ethics
By Bill Warner
FRANKLIN, TENN. – Arguing about religion is fruitless, but we can and should talk about politics. Discussion about the relationship between Islam and secularism must be based on an understanding of political Islam and its dualism. What is Islam? Answers from Muslims and Westerners are contradictory and confusing. But the scientific method gives clarity.
Scientific analysis shows that there are two Korans, one written in Mecca (the early part) and the second written in Medina (the later part). The two Korans include contradictions. "You have your religion and I have mine" (109:6) is a far cry from "I shall cast terror in the hearts of the kafirs [non-Muslims]. Strike off their heads…" (8:12). The Koran gives an answer to these contradictions – the later verse is "better" than the earlier verse (2:106). The Koran defines an Islamic logic that is dualistic. In a unitary, scientific logic, if two things contradict each other, then one of them is false. Not so in dualistic logic – both can be true!
Islam divides humanity into two groups: Muslims and kafirs (unbelievers). The doctrine that applies to Muslims is cultural, legal, and religious. The doctrine that applies to kafirs is political. Sixty-seven percent of the Meccan Koran and 51 percent of the Medinan Koran is political. Even the concept of hell is political, not religious. Of the 146 parts of the Koran that refer to hell, only 4 percent deal with morality – such as murder or theft. But 96 percent refer to people who are hellbound if they do not agree with Islam's prophet Muhammad – an intellectual and political position.
Muhammad preached the religion of Islam for 13 years and garnered 150 followers. Then, in Medina, Islam became political, and through jihad, he became the first ruler of all Arabia. Islam succeeded in spreading across the globe largely because it became a form of politics.
The Koran says in 14 verses that a Muslim is not the friend of the kafir. This is pure dualism. The entire world is divided between Islam and the kafirs. The dualism of the Koran has no universal statements about humanity except that every person must submit to political Islam.
Ethics is the membrane between religion and politics. Islam has two sets of ethics. One set is for Muslims and the other set is for kafirs; this is dualistic ethics. A Muslim should not harm another Muslim, but the kafir can be robbed, killed, or cheated to advance Islam. Islamic political dualism is hidden by religion. The "good" verses of the Meccan Koran cover the verses of jihad in the Medinan Koran. Thus religious Islam shields political Islam from examination.
Some Muslims point to Turkey and claim that Islam can have a modern secular government. But authentic Islam and authentic secularism are contradictions. Secularism is made possible only on a foundation of a separation of religion and the state, freedom of conscience, and a universal ethical and legal system. But Muhammad integrated government and religion. Islam by definition means total submission to the will of Allah. And the dualistic logic of the Koran designates one set of ethics and laws for kafirs and another set for believers. Therefore, political Islam precludes secularism.
• Bill Warner is director of the Center for the Study of Political Islam.