We could clearly see this in the reign of one of the well known Umayyad caliphs; Al- Walid II. At that time, the concept of the Caliph was evident and given great political and religious importance, which even increased with the introduction of the concept “Khalifat Allah” on earth. Although extremely broad and vague, this concept was used by the Umayyad caliph in gaining more and more power in the Muslim community and in justifying his power and position as a ruler; whether democratic or authoritative.
Through the letter of Walid II, we could really see his view and position towards the function, authority, and importance of the Caliph, which he later uses in his own benefit instead of benefiting the people of the Ummah and the Muslim religion. First he starts out by explaining that mainly after the death of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), God is the one that chooses the Caliphs and mystically puts them into position of power in order to administer his law and order on earth.
This he explicitly puts in the following words:
“Then God deputes His Caliphs over the path of His Prophethood… for the implementation of his decree, the establishment of his normative practices and restrictive statutes, and for the observance of his ordancies and his rights,… keeping people away from his forbidden things,… doing all these things, through them (Caliphs). ” (Crone) After laying the argument that the Caliphs are mainly the heirs to the early Prophets and the rightful representatives of God on earth, Al-Walid II continues to argue the issue concerning the importance of obedience to the Caliphs.
One can imply that he argues this on the basis that the Caliphs, when having the status of representative of God, are considered “‘Ulu ‘l ‘amr”, a phrase in the Quran which means those in command, and once the prophet is not present then the Caliphs have to be obeyed. This is an extremely strong argument that legitimizes the position of the Caliphs at this point simply because it is a direct command from the Quran that says: “Obey God, obey the Prophet, and those in command. “( Verse 4:59 & 63 in the Quran.
) Although this argument wasn’t explicitly stated as before by Al-Walid II, yet his words that do lead us to this interpretation and understanding are as follows: “… in charge of what God had caused them to inherit from His Prophets and over which He had deputed them. Nobody can dispute their right without God casting them down, and nobody can separate from their polity without God destroying him, nor can anyone hold their government in contempt or query the decree of God concerning them. “(Crone)
Al-Walid later started to make some remarks about the position of the Caliph that he extracted from the arguments we saw earlier. He argues that the result of obeying those in command will be the existence of order and harmony on earth, which will be given to the people by God and through the Caliph. All this was an attempt to justify his position as a caliph and his choice of an heir in the near future. He argues in the letter that when a caliph chooses an heir, then this should be accepted by the people just because he was elected by the previous Caliph and therefore placed there by God.
The position of the Caliph started to gain more and more power and seemed to the people as divine, which again gave more rights to the Caliph that he didn’t easily enjoy before like the universal obedience by the people, because they believed that the obedience to the Caliph was equivalent to the obedience to God and would later lead to heaven. The divinity of the Caliph’s position, given to him through religious beliefs, marked the beginning of the abuse and undermining of religion by the rulers.
Both in the letter of Al-Yazid III to the people of Iraq and in Abu Hamza’s comments on the Caliphs, we could see phrases that show the corruption of the Umayyad leaders and their misuse of religion to coerce the power in the Ummah and reach their self interests and goals. Al-Yazid III said: “Then the office passed to the enemy of God, Al-Walid, the violator of sacred things on a scale not perpetrated by whether a Muslim or a non-believer. ” (Crone) This phrase proves to us the misuse of religious terms and government position in order by an Umayyad Caliph in order to accumulate wealth and power.
Abu Hamza also believes that this has taken place and expresses it in his own words while saying comments on many Umayyad Caliphs as follows: “Then there took charge Mu’aweya b. Abi Sufyan, who had been cursed by the messenger of God… He made the servants of God slaves, the property of God something to be taken by turns. And His religion a cause of corruption. ” (Crone) “Then there took charge his son Yazid… a sinner in respect of his belly and his private parts. ” (Crone) There were also many others who used religion as a tool to reach their goals.
They include Marwan, Banu Marwan, and Yazid b. ‘Abd al-Malik. Through these letters and comments we can easily see the undermining of religion by the caliphs and legal rulers, who were supposed to rule according to the Sunna and the Islamic Shari’a, and how they used the divinity and authority of religion and its concepts to coerce the strength of the government and the minds of the whole Ummah. Since then, history has evolved and the Muslim Ummah has greatly expanded with numerous victories, while having corrupt Caliphs and leaders that have taken this Ummah to a stage that it has never dreamt of.
While looking at the Middle East and the so-called Islamic states today, one would have to ask whether or not their governments are in fact compatible with the Islamic religion, and whether or not they would be better off being secular like many European states. In order to reach a reasonable conclusion concerning this issue one has first to briefly tackle the issue of whether or not Islam is compatible with secularism. Can there be a Muslim country with a secular state? First of all we have to look at the status of some of the Muslim countries world-wide where we would find out that:
“Algeria, for example, is a modern westernized state and hence it is undergoing a great religious turmoil as a section of citizens want it to be an ‘Islamic state’ of their vision. Then there are countries like Malaysia and Indonesia with mixed populations though with Muslim majority and they too have secular states. ” (Engineer) “Turkey is overwhelmingly a Muslim country and yet it chose to be a secular country since Kamal Pasha’s revolution in 1924 and it has stayed secular ever since… Among Arab countries, Tunisia and Morocco also have brought about considerable modern reforms though technically they are not secular states.
” (James Pg. 134-135) All information stated above proves that there are states to this present day that are secular and some that are not, yet both of them consider themselves Islamic. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a Kingdom where the official religion is Islam and where all citizens have to be Muslims. The Government does not allow the practice of other religions in a public sense. Although, according to statements issued by senior Saudi officials, private worship by non-Muslims is permitted.
The ideas and thoughts towards Islam is embedded in the Constitution which declares Saudi Arabia to be an Islamic state that depends on the Koran for its definition of law, which means that laws and regulations in Saudi society are as close as the ones of the first Muslim Ummah in the time of the prophet. All these laws and ideas are evident and taught in Saudi society through education, media, and other means of expression. According to Article 13: “Education aims at the implantation of the Islamic creed in new generations… ” (Constitution of Saudi Arabia) And Article 40 of the constitution which states:
“prohibits interference with communications and protects human rights in accordance with Islamic Sharia. ” (Constitution of Saudi Arabia) We can also see the views of Saudi Arabian officials and religious scholars on the issue of Islam being the only openly and freely practiced religion in the country in an article revealing to us their views which stated: “Anyone in Saudi Arabia is entitled to his own beliefs and practices. But Saudi Arabia cannot allow the public practice of any religion which contradicts Islam. Saudi Arabia is a special place; it is the cradle of Islam and the Prophet Mohamed declared it a preserve of Islam.
A lot of so-called dissidents want all non-Muslims thrown out of Saudi Arabia. But the government takes a far more moderate stance. ” (Christian Solidarity Worldwide 2002) This quote or segment of the article reveals to us the view of the state on this issue of toleration of practiced religions other than the accepted school of thought in Islam, which in Saudi is the Hanbali School; being an extremely strict one aiming towards the implementation of the Shari’a and its laws in the sense that they were implemented in the glorious age of the Islamic Ummah and the Prophet.
The rules and laws of the state say that both atheism and apostasy, which means the conversion to another religion, are punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, and also the possession of non-Islamic religious objects, including Bibles, rosary beads and crosses is strictly prohibited.
The extent of punishment that the Saudi authorities have carried out under the banner and shade of the Islamic Law and Shari’a in order to suppress opposition groups and racialists that try to overthrow the government and the harsh religious system, was alarming to the Amnesty International organization, an organization set up by the help of the United Nations in order to monitor and end human rights violations and human suffering.
This organization in its last and most recent reports revealed to us the fact that human rights violations directed towards opposition groups and individuals that do not abide by the rules, laws, and practices of the government’s interpretation of the Qur’an and says: “Anyone living in Saudi Arabia who criticizes this Islamic and ‘rightly guided system’ is harshly punished. After arrest, political and religious opponents of the government are detained indefinitely without trial or are imprisoned after grossly unfair trials.
Torture is endemic. Executions, flogging and amputations are imposed and carried out with disregard for the most basic international fair trial standards. The system perpetuates a wide range of human rights violations – arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention, the incarceration of prisoners of conscience, torture, secret and summary trials, cruel judicial punishments and executions – all of which are facilitated by the state’s policy of secrecy and the denial of the right to express conscientiously held beliefs.
Detainees also find themselves at the mercy of a system that offers little respect for human dignity and virtually no hope of redress. “(Amnesty International Report) After mentioning the tolerance of Saudi Arabia to topics concerning the obedience of Islam, following the interpretations of the Shari’a, which the constitution clearly sets out and clarifies to be the essence and make-up of the laws and ideas of the state, Saudi Arabia has a view towards this which mainly revolves around that the idea that secularism is “haram” and that all secular nations are enemies of Islam.
At this stage we can reach a conclusion that states can somehow be seen as Islamic yet they do not implement the Islamic Shari’s to the fullest, just like the government of Egypt has done for the past years. The Arab Republic of Egypt since the restructuring of the constitution that ended with the inclusion of a clause that clearly states that the laws and government of Egypt will work according to the Islamic Shari’a, Egypt still has various laws that do not work according to the Shari’a.
For example, adultery is not punished by Egyptian law like the Shari’a demands it should be, nor is a thief’s hand cut off in Egypt like the Shari’a states. The reason for Egypt not being able to be an extremist country in implementing the ideas and laws of the shari’a in a way like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as stated above, is mainly because approximately 15 percent of the total Egyptian population are Coptic Christians; meaning registered in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
For this reason, Egypt has been forced, although the constitution contains a clause that ensures that Egypt will abide by and rule according to the Islamic Shari’s, to rule between Muslim and Christian populations through Civil Law. This also means that two types of law have to be formulated when dealing with controversial issues within personal status laws of both Christian and Muslim sects. All these points have pushed the state of Egypt into becoming a lenient actor when dealing with the issue of religion, the Shari’a, and toleration of other sects and religions.
This clearly shows and reveals to us the tendency of Egypt to differentiate between the notion of state and religion and not combining them into one concrete and un-separable arbitrary structure Although the government has agreed to be lenient towards the issue of religion and not going strictly by the book when dealing with implementing laws of the Shari’a, Egypt has shown in numerous human rights reports, to be one of the countries that segregate and show ill-treatment to Christian sects in the country towards issues concerning conversion, marriage between sects, working opportunities in the work force, and many others that are needed by individuals for survival in society. According to the issue of conversion and marriage, Amnesty international says that: “Individuals who convert from Islam to Christianity face discrimination and violence from their family, Muslim neighbors, or the state police. Furthermore, a Muslim wife is required to divorce an apostate husband; converts from Islam lose all inheritance rights; they also loose custody of their children and they are unable to change their religious affiliation on state identity cards. No similar legal consequences befall converts from Christianity to Islam. “(Amnesty International Report)
As we notice from the information above that the government being a secular one, meaning that it does not fully implement the sayings of the Prophet (Sunna) and the Islamic Shari’a, tries to stabilize society and set equal grounds and opportunities for both Muslims and Christians, yet fails to do this because of the fact that Muslims clearly manage to represent the obvious majority of the population. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the government does not try to suppress strong Islamic movements and symbolic people that try to overthrow the existing secular-like system of rule and replace it with a strict religious one that goes back to the practices, rules, ideas, and thoughts of the Prophet. This was seen during the past decade which has seen a rise in violent attacks by Islamic extremists, followed by severe government crackdowns on their activity in an attempt to put an end to the violence and to regain control.
Unfortunately, violence against Christians still continues but state police and/or Muslim mobs are increasingly becoming the people responsible for these cruel actions. After looking at a conservative country like Saudi Arabia, being very strict when implementing the Shari’a and Islamic laws, and later looking at a moderate country like Egypt, being moderate in the sense that it tries to incorporate different sect, views, and tolerating abnormal behavior while still maintaining a high level of Islamic laws and practices, one would want to look at a third state where the aspect of religion is diminishing through time and the government being extremely relaxed when it comes to religious practices and laws.
Tunisia, a state where Islam is the state religion has a Constitution that provides for the free exercise of other religions that do not disturb the public order, and the Government generally observes and enforces this right, however it does not allow for religious freedom of radicals that defy the rules and laws of the existing regime in order to cause an uprising, revolt, or complete change in the system. The Government recognizes all Christian and Jewish religious organizations that were established before independence in 1956. Although the Government permits Christian churches to operate freely, only the Catholic Church has formal recognition from the Government.
This shows that Tunis as an Islamic state tends to deviate from the norms of Islamic practices while moving away from being a radical state like Saudi Arabia in trying to implement the rule s and laws of God on the people in order to guide them to the true and guided path. Tunis agrees and believes that the integration of ideas and interaction of cultures is the way to development, even if this will cost the loosening on sticking and grasping onto the religious tendencies and constructing a rightly guided Islamic State according to the previous Islamic Ummah. In conclusion, I would like to say that point of views all around the Islamic world differ on this issue.
It has been proven over the centuries that when related to the government, Islam can be both beneficial and harmful. Beneficial in terms of creating an organized, well-structured state, and harmful in the sense that corrupt leaders can use the name of Islam for their own self interests. Totally applying the Shari’a today might seem extremely hard especially in today’s modern world. It is very obvious that a lot of Muslim countries are stuck in the middle of nowhere; saying that they abide by the Shari’a, while their laws are not. All I can say is that it will perhaps take more politicians, philosophers, religious leaders and thinkers to finally make these countries be aware of where they truly stand.
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