This is a guest post by Ibn Khaldun
“In order to be a Muslim by conviction and free choice, which is the only way one can be a Muslim, I need a secular state.”
The above quote is taken from the book Islam and the Secular State by Sudanese academic and scholar Abdullahi an-Na’im. The argument is a very powerful one and very difficult to challenge from a Muslim point of view. If acts of worship (ibadat) are only valid when done out of free choice rather than coercion then surely an Islamist state would prevent Muslims from practicing their faith in the manner in which it should be practiced, i.e. voluntarily. On that basis we could argue that the Islamist idea of the “Islamic State” is anti-Islamic and anti-religious because it seeks to force its citizens to engage in acts of worship thus preventing them from achieving closeness with their creator which only voluntary worship can bring.
In fact Islamism is all about enforcement and coercion. Under the guise of protecting religion in society it seeks to undermine our free will and turn its citizens into walking talking clones who are obliged to follow one narrow interpretation of faith. Again this contradicts the very fundamental philosophy of religion. In Abrahamic faiths, human life is a test in which ones good deeds and bad deeds are to decide ones fate in the afterlife. But if the good deeds have been coerced and opportunities to commit bad deeds have not been made available then isn’t the state wrongly interfering in one’s personal relationship with the creator.
Islamism also fails to understand and fully appreciate Islam’s rich tradition of scriptural diversity. There are in fact very few things in Islam which all Muslim theologians would fully agree upon. The Quran is not a set of do’s and don’ts, schools of shari’a merely offer their very human view of what they think God wants of us. Therefore, for a state to adopt and enforce one view of one issue on its citizens again prevents Muslims from practicing their faith in the way that they want to. The killing of apostates and subjugation of all non-Muslims again undermines human free will and saps the human spirit.
So we are back to Professor an-Na’im’s original point that only a secular state can allow for Islam to be preserved and practiced in the way which it was always intended. That also explain why diverse Muslim organizations are able to thrive in places like Britain and North America whilst Sufi shrines are bombed in places like Afghanistan. Secularism, far from being anti-religion, is actually necessary for religion to thrive and only it can facilitate the possibility of religious piety out of honest conviction.