Don't Separate Mosque and State

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Iraq Views: 3642

The United States should cease promoting a secular civil society as the only alternative to a Taliban-like theocracy in Iraq. We cannot quell the religious yearnings of millions of Iraqis merely by fostering democracy and capitalism.

The most effective way to counter a theocracy is to promote moderate, liberal religious institutions.

The 1st Amendment's separation of church and state is not a foreign policy tool; it's a peculiar American conception. Just because the American government is banned from promoting religion within the U.S. does not mean that it cannot promote it as part of a civil society in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I know a bit about how receptive Shiites (and arguably also Sunnis) are to moderate Islam because they laid out their position during a three-day meeting in Iran that I attended a year ago. It was organized by reformers, but hard-liners also participated. The main point, repeatedly stressed during the meeting, was that both camps want to live in an Islamic society. The hard-liners are committed to enforcing the religious code by the use of moral squads, secret police and jails, while the reformers favor encouraging people to be devout. "If you do not force people to come, they will want to come," they said.

Liberal Islam is spiritual and social rather than political. Indeed, it differs from the rigid authoritarian version much as liberal Protestants differ from Southern Baptists, and Reform Jews differ from ultra-Orthodox ones, although by a higher order of magnitude.

What would a pro-Islam policy look like in Iraq?

Instead of demanding that the current madrasas be replaced by wholly secular schools, as Sen. Joseph Biden has suggested, we might favor the inclusion of religious electives in public schools (as long as the teachers are qualified, which entails tolerance for a diversity of viewpoints). We could allow the funding of social services through religious organizations, as long as the funds are used for social and not political or religious purposes (call them faith-based institutions). And we could allow the state to pay the salaries of clergy and for the maintenance of places of worship, as do most democracies (other than the U.S. and France).

One may ask, "What about Christians and those who do not wish to adhere to any religion?" A religious society, as opposed to a religious state, can tolerate nonbelievers. It is the difference between enforcing adherence to a religious code and merely supporting it as one alternative. If this sounds abstract, consider that in the U.S. you can be legally married by religious authorities or government authorities, despite our insistence on the separation of church and state.

Favoring liberal Islam as an antidote to fundamentalist Islam is not to be confused with a related but different issue, whether Islam is compatible with democracy. I take it for granted that Iraq can and should have a democratic form of government. However, it should not treat religion as a threat but, potentially, as one mainstay. The current U.S. position ignores that potential.

The 13 points released by U.S. Central Command - that the rule of law be paramount, for instance, or that the role of women be respected - are fine, but they all speak only to secular issues. Whether deliberately or unwittingly, they reflect the concept of the "end of history" - that all ideologies are on their last legs as the world embraces the American version of democracy, human rights and the free market.

This idea, in turn, is an extension of the Enlightenment conceit that modernity is based on rational thinking. Irrational religion, then, belongs to history, and secularism - reason and science - will govern the future.

However, as we are learning all over the world, people have spiritual needs that cannot be addressed, let alone satisfied, by Enlightenment ideas. We see the explosive growth of Christianity in East Asia and Africa, a resurgence of religion in Russia and other former communist nations in Eastern Europe and a rise in Islam even in countries that had extensive secular, modern periods - most tellingly, in Turkey. People ask: Why are we cast into this world? Why are we born to die? What do we owe our children, our elderly parents and our friends and community?

Neither democracy nor capitalism speaks to these issues. Hence for the many millions of people there is religion, hard-line or moderate. Which one we should favor is clear, as long as we can get off our Enlightenment horse.

Amitai Etzioni, a sociologist and professor at George Washington University, is the author of "My Brother's Keeper: A Memoir" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Iraq
Views: 3642

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Older Comments:
HAMMER said:
I think the author is unaware of the disservice to the Iraqi people if we don't seperate mosque and state.

Islam is a complete way of life as Muslims are fond of saying. Therefore if, right from the start, we don't seperate mosque and state, Islam will intrude into the politics, economics and social aspects of Iraqi life.

For example, can Iraq pass a law allowing Iraqis to choose any religion they wish? In Islam, the penalty of apostasy is death. This is against human rights in a secular state.

Can women have equal rights with men? If so, does that mean that women can have 4 husbands? If women do not have equal rights, the need to educate them is less for parents. This means that half the workforce is not fully tapped making the country economically less competitive. Women would be foced to depend on their sons for their old age, encouraging a high birth rate. A high birth rate makes poverty eradication difficult. This is one reason why so many Muslim countries are poor.

On a related subject, can Iraq pass a law banning marriages below say 18 years? Some Muslims object to this because Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) married 9 year old Aisha. Early marriages of course interferes with education which is important for progress.

What about banking and credit? All modern economies need credit to operate. This hinders progress.

What about application of hudud laws? Stoning is applied to adulterers wheras muderers have a chance to escape if the victim's family agrees to blood money. I think murder is a more serious crime than adultery. Also stoning is a painful way to die which is also against human rights.

I could go on. But you get the idea. It is better to use human reason to make modern laws than to rely on a long dead prophet (pbuh). Things have changed. Otherwise Muslim societies will fall further behind.

The true essence of the creation of man is to worship the one and only God (Allah). Even the Jewish and Christian faiths support this doctrine. Separation of state from active worship of God is the main cause of so much trouble in the world today.

I dont understand why America is after the muslim world on the pretext of terrorism.You see what Israel is doing is all against humanity, democracy,modernism etc.why the same norms or actiosn are not being taken against it.To forster any type of Goverment or encouraging the life style which they prefer is against democratic thinking.An educated society can not compel others to think the way they think or to live the way they live.Behind all these things, it looks as if they want annihiliate the aspirations and enthusiasm of muslims all accross the world.They want to rule every where and dictate their terms, want to possess the resources of muslim nations.As it appears, they are ruling indirectly the muslim world.we have to take measures and make our policies as such that no more countries fall in their hands.

if one was to understand the true meaning of islam and what is expected of muslims then the question of weather we should separate islam from state would not arise. islam is not confined just to the places of worship but it is way of life. it is not optional to implement the laws of Allah in a country rather a duty upon all those who claim to be true believers of islam. where islam has given us guidelines on how to carry out certain acts of worship similary it has given us guidelines to how a country should be governed. to reject these teachings and favour man made law over or that which have been brought about by the creation it is our duty to adopt the laws set out by Allah in the Quraan which can be practically understood from the pure life of the Prophet. Muslims who favour Democracy which is man-made over Shariah which is devine and full of wisodm will have to answer to Allah on the day of judgement. Shariah is for the benefit of the creation designed and instrumented by the Creator. Democracy however is designed by the creation so it may allow the fulfillment of ones own desires , leading a life of disgrace and immodesty .

So Charles Jacks, when you compare the Jewish Mishnah with the Islamic Hadith, there is no comparison, simply because the HADITH is not the interpretation of many different people writing a book for THEMSELVES, this is where you are mistaken...the HADITH are the examples adn teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAAW), the BELOVED OF ALLAH (SWT), and his life was so holy and so pure that 1.5 billion Muslims in hte world follow his actions and speech in many facets of their lives even today, as we perform prayer 5 times a day, weigh out the amount of charity we must give, and how we perform hajj, and we fast, all in the manner and attitude of Prophet Muhammad (SAAW). The hadith is the most extensive and most authentic library of hte actions of one human being ever. As the hadith are from the same era as the Qur'an, there is no doubting that they should be listened to, and observed and performed, alongside the teachings set out by Allah (SWT), in Qur'an Al-Majeed. Thanks for hte opportunity.

Well Charles Jacks that's an interesting piece of Analysis. However, where you state that when Muslims follow the Sunnah (teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) outlined in the hadith), you are making a mistake. Yet if you knew the validity of many books of Hadith, you'd know that Prophet Muhammad (SAAW), in all his actions and all his words, was speaking and doing exactly what Allah (SWT) wanted him to do. There are also LEVELS of Hadith. Thre are some that are Qudsi (Divine directly from Allah (SWT)), Marfu (Elevated), Mauquf (Stopped), and Maqtu (Severed), based on a number of factors, such as who transmitted as one component of its authenticity. For the most part there are famous transmitters whose authenticity is excellent. Also, Allah (SWT) has stated in the Qur'an to follow the actions of Prophet Muhammad (SAAW), because it would be best for us. Therefore, when you try to convey that Muslims should not follow the hadith, then you are very wrong. In fact, if Muslims did not have the hadith, we wouldn't know the details of how to perform Salaat (Prayer), details of Zakat (Charity,alms giving), details of Sawm (fasting), or the details of how to perform hajj, such as the method of tawaaf (encircling the kaaba), or how many times we are supposed to do it! Additionally, if Muslims did not have the teachings of Rasoolasallam (SAAW), we would be at a great loss in our daily actions, speech, and understanding of the world around us. As there are different CATEGORIES OF HADITH...these are

a) Verbal Hadith (What Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) spoke)
b) What Rasool-Allah (SAAW) showed by actions
c) The actions of the Sahabas (Companions of the Prophet) in the presence of the Holy Prophet (SAAW), or what was not done in his presence, but was brought to his attention, and did not criticize it or refute it, but remained silent about it, where the Holy Prophet(SAAW) authenticated it.

The more oppressed a people are the more Puritan, Puritanical they can become. Americans will recognize these words as they come from the name of the religious group that fled to the new world on the Mayflower to escape religious persecution in Europe As Muslims across the Middle East have been oppressed for several centuries by Europeans it can be considered the same pattern with a different people. Whether you call it pure-itan or fundamental it is the same sociological effect. An oppressed people retreating into "purity" and distancing themselves from the "corrupt" other. Their dislike of the oppression gets reflected in a passionate fight against both the other and their ideas. This fight is difficult to control when the oppressed gets the upper hand as there is no practice in either moderating the fight or swapping into a benevolent stance when the upper hand has been won.

Beside the Islamic injunction to drop your weapons once your enemy has dropped theirs. Something that is difficult. There is a second danger in this fundamentalism. The Jews of Jesus time had created a "Mishna" a second set of religious commandments for themselves. These put a great burden on the people and shifted their attention from the worship of God to the enactment of ritual. The first error in this is the arrogance of raising human created commandments to the level of Divine commandments. The second error is misplacing one's attention away from God. The third is making worship into a burden. Jesus was sent to rebuke the Jews for doing this. In a way Islam has already created a Mishna in the hadith. If Muslims misplace their worship of God with the rituals and even oppressions of human interpretations of the hadith then they have fallen into the same trap as the Jews of Jesus' time. Fundamentalism may easily cross into this form of innovation. Happy is the man that learns from another's mistakes.


We have seen what Democracy and Secularism have achieved and done for countries where the majority are Muslims such as Algeria, Turkey and Egypt - Nothing. Amusingly even in the great bastion of Democracy and Secularism, the US, democratic vote did little to reflect the voice of the people, in fact the real events shattered claims of those who championed secularism, in that that it would bring about fairness and order - Bush was elected magically. In Algeria and Turkey the people made their choice and in each case election results were overturned, political leaders imprisoned and the army took over - installing their version of democracy - Might is Right. So what did the West, the great champions of Democracy do then ? did they protest, censure, impose embargoes on these countries for violating the principals they were croaking about all along ? No. In fact not many people know what happened in Algeria or Turkey and the Western media ensures that they remain ignorant and also do not care. In my opinion Democracy and Secularism are valid but to the exclusion of Islam and Muslims or their concerns and needs. As long as it is a means to lull anxious Muslims crowds -just long enough to steal their oil and then the natives can right well kill themselves for all they care. I say leave Muslims and their resources alone. Leave our countries alone. Leave our systems alone. Let us decide which path to take. Islam has never ever been given a chance. The much touted Taliban Islam was just a rouse to embarrass and demonize Muslims and Islam by the West. Islam is not that, It is so much more. If only they would abandon their prejudices for once and read and understand Islam for what it is.

Democracy, liberalism, socialism and any other governmental system whether it be dictatorship, military coup, communist power, or fascist...doesn't matter what you call it...all of these new creations of the 20th century were based and developed from the teaching of what? It is called RELIGION. If it were not for the moral code, ethics, and ways of life, family values, and proper conduct outlined in RELIGION, the people who have inhabited this Earth would never have been able to acquire such moral behaviour on their own. Therefore, if all these new forms of government which have separated the religious institution from the state did not take moral values and codes of ethics from religion, there would be no such thing as order in this world. Do not those who believe in being "liberated" think that it is incredibly unfortunate if religion is discarded? For the truth is that democratic institutions/governments that equate themselves with these so called "equal rights" are the product of religious commandments. It would be a great loss and shame if governments abondoned religion completely and whole heartedly in the attempt to claim that democracy is somehow superior to the rules outlined in, for example, the Qur'an by Allah (SWA), adn Shari'ah altogether. How arrogant of mankind to shun the commandments of Allah (SWA), and replace them with man-made ones.

A lie travels half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get it's shoes on.

In Surah 5:48-49, Allah,ta`ala, commands the Muslimus to judge by the light that He sent down. He further asks how could you not want to judge by what He has revealed.
To ask the question,'Is Islam compatible with democracy',is like saying that there can be another doctrine or way of life that is better than what Allah revealed. If the Muslims of Iraq, or any other Muslim, choose to folow The Shari`ah in all of their dealings,Al-Hamdu Lillahi for them,that is their choice.If one wants to think about what American-style democracy is based on, consider these words: A government of the People, for the People, and by the People. Allah, The Creator of the People,is no where mentioned. As Muslims who believe in the truth of the Quran, we should come into a mutual agreement about how The Mu'minuun should live and die: As Muslims submiting completely to Allah's Will. So in closing I leave with Allah's words," Do they then seek after a judgment of (the days of) ignorance? But who, for a people whose faith is assured, can give better judgment than Allah. Surah 5,Ayah 50


Sadieq Ibn Ahmad
What is being muslim?
Isn't it saying there
is no god but the god
and mohamad
is his prophet?

Is it praying 5 times a day on time according to the Hadeeth?

Fasting according to the hadeeth?

Trying to attend Hajj if possible?

Giving to the poor in excess of 2.5 percent?

Telling others of your beliefs?

Dressing modestly?

Not using intoxicants or eating pork?

And defending the faith if someone is explicitly trying to destroy it?
Do not slay your children?
Other than this what is Islam?
How can you say lberal or conservative Islam
and where does "secularism" not fit into this picture?
Where is the inherent conflict of these basic things with a religiously naive government, after all these things are on the people to do for themselves and not on the government to make them do...

Do (try to) separate them.
As it has developed, Islam has become a very efficient power machine with very little control mechanisms. Using it, people hungry of power can relatively easily come to power, without having acquired the necessary maturity. People looking for power are always potentially dangerous, because everyone makes mistakes, and powerful people make big ones. That is why the structure of power within the state ought to screen out such people striving for power who are not capable of profoundly respecting others. Here, experience undeniably shows that democracy makes a much better job than any theocracy, and that Islam probably has the worst modern track record of all theocracies in respecting people's freedom. That won't change just because of the promises of some moderate Muslims.

Lets start with two commandments from Allah "let there be no compulsion in religion" and "govern yourselves through mutual consultation". No government with religious police, moral squads or other forms of compulsion or coercion or fatwas handed down by unresponsive mullahs or ayatollahs could be considered fully in line with the Islamic principles demanded by Allah. It is not a religion of vigilante external threat but individual internal submission. Islam is a religion of peace and as such cannot be one of extremes but of moderation and balance. History records people of other religions living within Islamic countries with autonomy and protection from the state. How much more so should the people of Islam expect the same respect?
The backlash of "fundamentalism" is understandable but regrettable and unacceptable. It is a standard practice among detractors to push people into rash action and then declare them irrational and socially unacceptable. Consider the American solders technique of breaking an Iraqi defenders cover. They would insult the Iraqi's family and when the Iraqi would inevitably stand up to return the insult they would shoot him in the head. This in miniature is what has been happening nation wide in the Middle East.
Consider that the way of polytheism is hierarchal domination/control while the way of monotheism is universal service/empowerment. A nation with distributed infrastructure and universal cooperation cannot be dominated by force of arms. A society of cosmopolitan service and all-embracing empowerment cannot be coerced. Alternatively, the monarchies and dictators the West embraces are single points of leverage over the whole of a nation. The wish for a messiah, kalifa, madhi ayatollah or mullah to solve your problems and take away your responsibility may be strong but it is an abdication of every individuals responsibility toward every other and in effect their own.
Allah is concerned with each and every soul.

Just as the 600+ people being detained at Guantanamo Bay are referred to by the US Government as "UNLAWFUL COMBATANTS" even though they are PRISONERS OF WAR, and as these 600+ people are on an Island that is not part of America, the US can easily say that International Law, and US Constitution do not apply on these people. This means that the United States has already for the past 2 years been in gross violation of human rights, and used torture treatment on these people, without being accountable to International Law set out byt the United Nations, or by the the US Justice system!! These people, who are no more than a bunch of accused people, supposedly based on undisclosed US intelligence reports, are living in 6x8 cubic cells, shackled at their hands and feet, blindfolded for who knows how long! And we are sitting here talking about rudiculous concepts to counter fundamentalist movements? Even if the author is not promoting it, he should say more clearly that the combination of Western ideologies cannot modify Islamic Principles! Where is this garbage talk of Liberal Islam coming from? Why are people so desperately trying to justify democratic values, in trying to meld them with Islamic practices? Is it not clear enough that these same values influence US government departments to be in violation of the norms and principles set out by throughout the entire world?

This Liberal talk is a big is going to be the lie fed to the people in Iran, and it will take them away from Islam altogether

The bottom line is, if you have any understanding of Islam and where it comes from, how it is supreme over all systems for all times, then you will understand that the kafiroon cannot institute, and would never want to install an Islamic authority into Iraq. Even if the American government said they would help implement an "Islamic authority" would it be Islamic, are we allowed to have non-Muslims tell us what is Islamic and what is not? Ask urselves

My thanks to the author for his thoughts and ideas. Given the different mind-sets which do exist between the United States' culture and that of the Middle East in general, there is no doubt that a clash is simmering beneath the surface. I am not necessarily referring to a violent outbreak between the two worlds. It could turn out to be an ideological clash of no end in sight for decades if not centuries. I know one thing for sure and that is if you oppress a religion, what you wind up having is a surge in the number of people who want and desire to embrace it. Adolf Hitler yearned to exterminate the Jews altogether with their religion and whatever has a Jewish flavor to it. The Jews in their own right have come around and asserted their existence like never before. I believe, as a Muslim, that if the US offers the Iraqis their freedom of worship without undermining their religion and assist them in upholding the rule of law, all parties will win on the long run. Remember that the extremists and the so called "fundamentalists" are a direct outcome of the rulers who are despotic by nature. Islam is a religion of peace; how many times do we have to clarify that it is as such. If the US supports a dictatorship, one could surely bet that extremism will arise and wreak havoc within and without the immediate vicinity of that particular dictator. Democratic principles and despotism are two antipodal ideologies.

I totally disagree with the article as it says that people of other religions can not live under a religious state however history proves that under the Islamic state people of other religions have lived happily.

First and foremost, i don't believe in such thing as liberal Islam. There was only one Islam in the time of Muhammad(saw) and there should remain only one Islam. Secularism and Islam is two things that cannot be mixed in the hope of satisfying everyone. its either islam or secularism. seperation of Al-masjid and the state is a foreign idea which can't be followed.

And Allah Knows best...

FROM USA said:
Interesting - is Israel not considered a moderate theocracy? All Jews, whether Orthodox, Reform, or Liberal are treated somewhat equally, and even Christians are tolerated. Muslims, however...
As a Christian in a country with a nominal separation of religion and state, I have seen an undue tolerance of overtly Protestant features in the legal codes. I fear that this will open the door to hard-line southern evangelicals. Even a little religion in the State can allow unwanted people into the gov't, and a fundamentalist state results.
Even if mid-east gov'ts maintain an Islamic feel to the laws and customs, people's freedom of religious choice - a basic right - will be seriously undermined if there is a state religion. The existence of a state religion itself implies the exclusion of others.

I fervently believe in the Separation of the Mosque and the State. But can US/UK impose this kind of dicatates on a muslim society? I have serious doubts about it. By trying to impose their kind of structure, it is quite likely that US/UK are going to make a big mess in Iraq. It is quite likely that at least some of the moderate Iraqi muslims are going to become Taliban style fanatics and that will be very dangerous for US/UK . Yes, Shiites can be as good fanatics as Taliban Sunnis can be; just look at Iranian Mullacracy.