The definition of separating religion from politics means separating religion from the state, meaning that the dilemma between the two groups – the fundamentalist and the secular – focuses on a question of terminology and its practical implications. This is because the state, in its technical sense, is something completely different from a religion, since it is a geographically or mentally defined entity, while religion is a behaviour intended to resolve problems.


SOMEONE MIGHT ASK: is there any legal evidence in the Islamic religion supporting secularism? In my opinion there are ten evidences for this.

I – Al-Maṣāliḥ al-mursala, ‘unconstrained interests’- these refer to the interests not stipulated in the religious texts, that is, an idea that is inferred by the mind as achieving the rationale of the Sharīʻa, which is the maṣlaḥa (‘interest’)[1] of the individual or the community. Secularism works to the benefit of people by protecting them from the clerics with their metaphysical conflicts and their oppressive, superstitious ideas. [2]

II – Dalīl al-muwāfaqa (‘evidence of approval’) – that is the equality between expressed and unexpressed proofs.   If the legislator says a word or obligates a ruling, it becomes equal to its unexpressed value, as the Almighty says, and your Lord does not deal unjustly with anyone.[3] This utterance equates to ‘the absolute justice of God’ which is unstated. Secularism seeks absolute justice by religion returning to its origin as an educative behaviour based on the freedom of choice. As for the mundane rulings, these are something separate from any belief of an eschatological nature.

This evidence makes a distinction between the concept of the word and its utterance, and it has at times an apparent and a hidden ‘illa (‘cause’),[4] which jurists use as a warning sign of a legal ruling that is fully one for ijtihād (independent legal reasoning).[5]

It is permissible to say that secularism is a human ijtihād to interpret the faith, much like the ijtihād of the caliphs when they interpreted their authority in religious terms

III – Ḍarūra (‘necessity’) under which any choice on the issue is removed if answering to this specific necessity will preserve a person’s life, property and mentality. Secularism has now become this ‘necessity’ as a result of the failure of all the Islamist’s experiences in religious rule that have made a hell of people’s lives. The Qur’ānic evidence on this is the Almighty’s saying: but whoever is driven to necessity, not desiring, nor exceeding the limit, no sin shall be upon him.[6]  Some opined that the verse refers to foods and the ‘necessity’ here for preserving life in a situation where death looms. The answer to that is that al-‘ibra bi-‘umūm al-lafẓ lā bi-khuṣūṣ al-sabab  (‘consideration is granted to the generality of the language, not to the specificity of the reason for the verse’s Revelation) because it does not express any exclusive reference to foods, but rather is a generic affirmation.

And still on this same evidence of ‘necessity’, secularism is inferred by the category of sadd al-dharā’iʽ (‘blocking the means’)[7] as a stronghold against societies being harmed by terrorists or the domination of the clerics and their pronouncing takfīr for trivial reasons.

IV – Secularism is subject to the rule of naṣb al-dalīl ‘alā al-mas’ala – the establishment of the evidence on the basis of the issue to be discussed’ – meaning that it is not a form of legislation in itself – for God did not pronounce on secularism – but it is a evidence for a legislation justifying a debate on the matter. Moreover, it is permissible to say that secularism is a human ijtihād to interpret the faith, much like the ijtihād of the caliphs when they interpreted their authority in religious terms. Here secularism has become a worldly affair that respects the fundamentals of religion and follows its rules of reasoning by devising rationally-based methods of governance in the interest of society. One should bear in mind that the difference between Sharīʻa, and the evidence for Sharīʻa, is the difference between Islam and reasoning.

V – The inferential method, which differs from the explicit intellect that unites all human beings. The inferential method is one which works towards understanding religion, life and the universe in its own specific way, while secularism adopts this inferential method albeit in a different, specific way via a long reflection.  So it is legitimate.

VI – Lawmaking from ourselves. It is well-established that all the prophets prior to the message of Islam preached a non-priestly call, one in which there was no authority granted to distinguished human beings, and that the purpose of all of these messages was to fix the defects of society and release it from social and intellectual chaos. The consensus now is that Arab and Muslim societies suffer from such a state of chaos, decline and major deficiency. It is therefore in need of a clear-cut message, one which is not required to be a religious one.

VII – Dalīl al-mubāḥ  ‘Evidence of neutrality’ – an evidence which does not carry any specific command or prohibition, where people are given the choice of what to do or refrain from doing, and given that the faith does not explicitly – and with a decisively established Textual evidence – prohibit secularism, then secularism is permissible. If its opponents make multifarious demonstrations of the corruption inherent in secularism, this is itself an ijtihād that is subject to rebuttal and debate. This is particularly so since the definition of secularism is not related in essence to any position on religion, but rather to a neutral behaviour based on citizenship and equality.

Given that the faith does not explicitly – and with a decisively established Textual evidence – prohibit secularism, then secularism is permissible

VIII – Secularism is a necessary condition for civilization. According to Will Durant’s definition of civilization,[8] it is a ‘productive culture’, meaning that not all cultures are productive and civilized. The authoritative evidence that secularism is a pre-condition for civilisation, comes from its being a dalīl al-sharṭ (‘conditioning evidence’) in the uṣūl al-fiqh, a matter that necessitates the existence of a ruling in place where there is none.  So if we say that civilization is a ruling, then secularism is a condition for this ruling. A reading of history proves that all civilizations that have arisen came about through knowledge production, while religious government prohibits this production on the pretext of it conflicting with religion. This evidence has a human foundation in freedoms, because secularism is essentially associated with freedom of religion through its three features of freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and the freedom to perform one’s religious practices.

IX – The Sharīʻa of Islam developed with the developing function of the preacher. Both the advice he gave and the call he made reflect the behaviour of prophets and reformers. Secularism similarly believes in the role of the preacher in reforming society, but here the preacher’s dominance is prevented on the grounds of the relativity of his opinions and attitudes, which can at times be based on the desire and lust for material possessions. The preacher in the secular system exercises a moral, supervisory role, no less than the role played by political parties in monitoring the government. Nevertheless, believing in a role for the preacher in secularism does not mean dispensing with those who might oppose his views. Everyone has a role, and everyone is but a part of the whole. A belief in the universality of justice (as mentioned in Proof II above) alongside the particularities of the ambulant preacher, proves that secularism does not contradict Sharīʻa in any way.  Rather, it has created an admirable system in which the role of the preacher becomes one that is focused solely on justice and nothing else.

X – The indication that secularism safeguards the pursuit of knowledge. This is consistent with the commands expressed in the Qur’ān in dozens of verses that indicate that the acquisition of knowledge is obligatory, and there are some who insist that this applies to worldly knowledge. This indication implies interest in the affairs of the world as the arena of work – that is, that secularisation actually encourages both knowledge and action jointly. The argument is made on the grounds of this evidence or the well-known jurisprudential tool dalālat al-taḍammun – the ‘implied evidence’. The same goes for the dalālat al-iqtiḍā’, the indication of a divinely mandated requirement. Thus if Islam urges knowledge and action together, then secularism is requiring the same thing.

The dilemma between the fundamentalist and the secular  is a matter of terminology and the way that this terminology is projected practically

The problem with distorting secularism and making out that it conflicts with religious faiths is that the definitions of secularism sharply differ, with some of these definitions evincing a negative impression. Among the things defining secularism are: the separation of religion from politics, the separation of religion from the state, the separation of the sacred from the worldly, the separation of matters concerning the Hereafter from practical matters, and the separation of the exalted from the debased. In all these definitions the understanding is that administrational affairs are human issues that are subject to one’s personal priorities and capabilities, whereas linking these desires and capabilities to a religion automatically means the deification of human beings.

The definition of secularism as ‘something that separates religion from politics’ is the one that has created the problem, because the word siyāsa (‘politics’) denotes a conduct whose purpose is to solve problems intellectually. Governance and administration are problems, so politics means solving these problems. This has created a dilemma due to the similarity of this definition with the meaning of dīn (‘religion’) which also is itself a conduct whose purpose is to solve problems – such as polytheism, social injustice, tyranny and class antagonisms. These are problems that religion came to solve according to a behavioral perspective. Thus, from this aspect, in the minds of Islamists an impression of similarity was imprinted between the terms ‘religion’ and ‘politics’.

Whereas, in the writings of secularists, the definition of ‘separating religion from politics’ means the separation of religion from the state. So the dilemma between the two groups – the fundamentalist and the secular – is a matter of terminology and the way that this terminology is projected practically. For the state, as a term, is something completely differentiated from religion; the one is a geographically or mentally defined entity, while the other is a behaviour intended to resolve problems. Hence the need to resolve the overlapping moral issues through dialogue.

In short, all of these definitions of secularism tend in the one direction – the best one in my view – that is towards the separation of the executive powers of the clergy from society. For the goal of secularization is not to eliminate the clergy, nor to diminish their rights nor oppress them in any way, but rather to strip them of their potential for forming parallel rulers, or exclusive rulers. Experience has proven that religiosity under secularism is superior to religiosity under religious rule. The former becomes a free religiosity rooted in reason and choice, while the latter is based upon force and coercion, even though religions are founded upon the first, not the second.

[1] The ‘benefit’ is assumed, of course, in the Text itself, but if there is an open indication in the text of the benefit intended, this type of maṣlaḥa is termed maṣlaḥa muʽtabara (‘validated maṣlaḥa’) and therefore of first rank. Where there is no indication at all, it is maṣlaḥa mursala, which occupies a subordinate rank.(Ed.)

[2] In my lecture on the mursal interests on YouTube there is an explanation of this, how secularism preserves the five purposes of the Sharīʻa, and via istiṣlāh (‘consideration of the public interest’) it preserves the best of all previous experience, and most of all by istiṣḥāb (‘presumption of continuity’) because of its evident success in promoting the renaissance of other peoples.

[3] Qur’ān XVIII (al-Kahf), 49.

[4] That is, a cause of a legal provision or an analogy, a ratio legis.(Ed.)

[5] Literally ‘exertion’, the term ijtihād refers technically to the effort a jurist makes in order to deduce the law, which is not self-evident, from its sources. It is therefore the exercise of legal reasoning independent of what is literally prescribed by scripture. (Ed.)

[6] Qur’ān II (al-Baqara), 173.

[7] The category of sadd al-dharā’iʽ or ‘blocking the means [to evil]’ is part of the maṣlaḥa mursala category of Islamic law, and was employed as a useful method for resolving conflicting source-texts when a new circumstance had arisen, or a qualifying detail that would lead a legal principle into conflicting with other principles or maxims (such as: الضرر يزال ‘harm is to be removed’ or المشقة تجلب التيسير ‘difficulty demands easing’) or producing an unlawful result. (Ed.)

[8] William Durant (1885-1981) was an American historian and philosopher, best known for his 11-volume work The Story of Civilization which contains and details the history of Eastern and Western civilizations. It was written in collaboration with his wife Ariel Durant and published between 1935 and 1975. (Ed.)