The Separation of Religion and State

By Dr. Naguib al-Kilani May 23, 2024 3320

I am sorry to say that some Muslims have succumbed to the intellectual onslaught propagated by Zionism and atheist Crusaders, responding to this onslaught with nothing but despair and hysterical uprisings. If they had made some effort to delve into their intellectual heritage, they could have turned these confusions into a positive movement that stands as a formidable barrier against that historical hatred and deviant ideology. This would have made it impossible for any intruder to destroy our entity and tear apart the Islamic “consciousness” that has stood firm and spotless.



In Islamic thought, there are axioms that need no discussion or evidence. However, in our era, these axioms have been subjected to continuous attempts aimed at distorting and erasing their features. Crusader, Zionist, and atheistic forces have realized that the greatness of Islamic thought and its civilizational heritage pose an obstacle to achieving their common goals. Thus, they have attacked with all their might, using the most heinous and devious means to weaken the bonds of Islamic resilience and undermine its credibility.

The Muslim intellect must not stand idly by in the face of this long historical conspiracy. Instead, from time to time, they must briefly and concisely, and in a clear scientific manner, present the foundations and building blocks of Islamic thought, even if they are axioms acknowledged by the early scholars and by those working in the field of Islamic advocacy today.

The place of Islamic thought in the media is narrow, limited, and sometimes even nonexistent. In the face of this challenge and fanaticism, Islamic thought must break through the crowd, confront the challenge, and reach our bewildered generations. This is a duty imposed by religion on everyone with power over the written and spoken word.

Our generations are engaged in a fateful struggle and are in dire need of support, authentic guidance, and assistance in escaping the temptations of falsehood and deviation disguised under the banners of progress and social justice.

I am sorry to say that some Muslims—or the vast majority—have succumbed to the intellectual onslaught propagated by Zionism and atheist Crusaders, responding to this onslaught with nothing but despair and hysterical uprisings. If they had made some effort to delve into their intellectual heritage, they could have turned these confusions into a positive movement that stands as a formidable barrier against that historical hatred and deviant ideology. This would have made it impossible for any intruder to destroy our entity and tear apart the Islamic “consciousness” that has stood firm and capable across different eras and times.

In brief words, we will discuss one of the strange issues: the issue of religion and state, if it can be called an issue. I hope that Muslim writers will hasten to address what needs to be discussed in social, ethical, economic, artistic, or political matters within the framework of noble Islamic theology without hesitation or fear.


Religion with the State, Governance, and Politics

Religion and state, religion and governance, religion and politics—these terms did not exist at all in the early days of Islam. I mean, there was no concept of separating religion from the state. If a Muslim or non-Muslim had thought to raise this issue during the days of the Prophet (peace be upon him) or in the era of the Caliphs and their successors, he would have been met with ridicule and shock, and people would have dismissed him as insane or foolish.

The early Muslims understood religion in a comprehensive and integrated manner. They saw them as principles and rulings revealed to the Messenger of Allah. They viewed it as a single fabric encompassing both private and public morals, addressing the life of the individual and the life of the nation. It coordinated the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, established the foundations of individual and collective behavior in war and peace, and managed matters of marriage and divorce, crime and punishment, and even human etiquette concerning food and drink, sleep and wakefulness, and truth and falsehood. It had its own theory regarding public wealth and the state's budget, private wealth owned by individuals, the treatment of wives, children, and servants, and the relationship of the Islamic state with its neighboring states, regardless of their systems, customs, languages, and races.

There were several methods for choosing a ruler, all based on the principles of Shura (consultation), justice, competence, and free and direct selection in one form or another. The ruler was bound by a specific policy defined by the principles of Islam and nourished by its Sharia. Anyone who deviated from this policy was subject to punishment, removal of trust, and correction, even by force if necessary. Under Islamic values, the public had the right and was capable of bringing the ruler back to the right path if they erred. The ruler was a human being who has errors and traits, and he had no sacredness or divine aura protecting them from being held accountable by the public and corrected if they strayed.

Those who advocate for separating religion from the state are essentially saying:

“Religion is a relationship between the individual and his Lord.” This statement, although true in essence, is being misused for false purposes, intended to confine religion to a set of rituals such as Salah (prayer), Sawm (fasting), and Zakah (charity). This limitation or restriction is a falsehood unsupported by the actual practice and experience of religion in the early ages. It is not backed by any Quranic text, Sunnah, or opinion of jurists, whether ancient or modern. Who can deny that a ruler’s justice and abstention from wickedness, oppression, and deviation are fundamental religious virtues and a positive reflection or practical application of Allah's rituals and obligations, like Salah and fasting? The relationship between the individual and his Lord fosters a sense of religious duty, a living conscience, and self-monitoring. Without these, there can be no moral conduct or values, justice cannot prevail, and virtue cannot spread.

Now, let’s pose an important question at the heart of this topic. Often, investigating the causes and circumstances of a problem can lead to effective and decisive remedies.

The question is: If this was the condition of religion and the state in the beginning, how did this problem arise? How did some people, including some Muslims themselves, come to call for the separation of religion from the state?

There are several circumstances that have contributed to the emergence of this problem, which is foreign to Islam, its principles, and its people.


Reasons for Calling for Separating Religion from the State

Firstly, the church-state conflict:

In Europe, there was a long and terrible struggle between the church and its authority’s challengers. The Christian religion has its nature and principles, and the clergymen have their own rigid behaviors and concepts. Who isn’t aware of the sectarian conflicts between the Eastern and Western churches, or between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox, and the bloody wars they led emperors and rulers into, exemplifying brutality, fanaticism, and destruction? Who does not know about the churchmen’s stance on freedom of thought and the freedom of rising thinking in Europe, especially regarding the universe and its laws, the discovery of various natural laws concerning the rotation of the Earth, gravity, the movement of stars, human physiology, etc.?

The church took a stubborn stance against these scientific discoveries, having its own interpretations and rigid theories that had no divine basis. Renaissance scholars, with their experiments, observations, and studies, were able to refute the church’s theories and arbitrary interpretations. Thus, the conflict arose between the rising free thought supported by evidence and proof and the rigid church thought created anciently and mainly by the clergy, who clung to it, believing that abandoning it would mean the loss of the church’s prestige, the erosion of religion’s authority, and the destabilization of its beliefs. The battle became one of life or death. Consequently, there were severe trials with a religious nature for intellectuals and scientists, resulting in death sentences by burning or execution and imprisonment to stifle human faculties and the fruits of free human thought liberated from the shackles of violence, oppression, and false interpretations unsupported by strong logic or definite evidence.

With the passage of time, the dazzling truths triumphed, and falsehood and oppression faded away. However, the essential nature of religion and its decisive role in life led a group of thinkers to call for the separation of religion from the state, from science, and from material life, reducing it to a limited relationship involving certain rituals between the individual and his Lord.

Therefore, in Europe, given the ecclesiastical concepts and historical circumstances, there were justifications for this call to separate religion from the state.


Ibn al-Nafis Excels Harvey

In contrast, the Islamic world, guided by its conscious and genuine values, did not fall into such predicaments. Scholars in fields like medicine, astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences, chemistry, and agriculture thought freely and expressed their ideas without restrictions or persecution. For example, Ibn al-Haytham presented his theories on optics, which were met with appreciation and admiration. Al-Razi and Ibn Sina discussed measles, chickenpox, kidney diseases, and malaria and produced massive works that are still in our possession today without being accused of heresy or apostasy. Ibn al-Nafis presented his discovery of the blood circulation centuries before Harvey without being accused of impiety. The poet Omar Khayyam recorded his discoveries in solar timing and his theories in astronomy, receiving financial and material support from rulers. Translators translated many works of Greek, Roman, and Persian thought, receiving rewards from authorities and appreciation from religious scholars. Ibn Khaldun spoke about society and the movement of history, opening new horizons for human thought while becoming honored.

There were only minor theological disputes in the Islamic world, such as whether the Quran was created or not and the attributes of Allah, etc. These disputes were limited and simple, enriching and stimulating thought without becoming obstacles. There were also some political disagreements that sometimes took the form of theories, with each party deriving their evidence and arguments, whether rightly or falsely, from religious principles and scholarly interpretations. These too, despite causing some strife, contributed significantly to intellectual openness and human effort.

This is the story of the separation of religion from the state in Europe, with the church's stance against thinkers, its exploitation of religion to extort money, and its manipulation of people and governments to serve its interests and whims. The Islamic world, by the grace of Allah, was spared from falling into this dark abyss. Calling for the separation of religion from the state is a European slogan; that’s not needed in our lands.

This is the first point, and probably the most crucial.


Secondly, the ancient Crusader grudge:

The second reason for this call to separate religion from the state stems from ancient Crusader animosity, fueled by bigotry and fear. The Crusader mentality has persisted in the hearts of Westerners in general, particularly among missionaries and some deviant orientalists.

The rapid rise and spread of Islam within a short period, its confrontation with the two major empires of the time—the Persians and Romans—its expansion to regions as far as China and the eastern coast till France and England in the west, the conquest of Andalusia, the Ottoman Empire's advance into Eastern Europe, and the establishment of a progressive civilization that excelled in ideology, science, and material advancements, controlling the world’s resources for centuries—all of this deeply unsettled the Church, which filled its subjects with hatred and bigotry. The Crusades, which lasted for centuries, were a result of this animosity and instigation. The failure of the Crusader armies and the demise of the Church's dreams fostered deep animosity, gathering all of Europe to eradicate the Ottoman Caliphate in Turkey. Lord Allenby's occupation of Jerusalem during World War I, where he stood at Salah al-Din's tomb, declaring, “Only now the Crusades are over,” was only evidence of this lingering animosity.

The Crusades never stopped; they have only taken different forms. When military conquests and weapons failed to eradicate Islam from the hearts, minds, and heritage of its people, those cowards resorted to intellectual crusades. Exploiting Western civilization's superiority and admiration for its advancement, they lured the naive and ignorant, who hadn't delved into their own heritage and intellect, into their traps. They deluded them into believing that religion obstructs civilizational progress and human advancement, arguing that religion is a simple relationship between the individual and their Lord, devoid of any connection to state affairs, economics, or politics. The deceived parroted the Crusader rhetoric with a zeal rivaling that of the missionaries. Thus, Europe's ideology found its way to us, aided by the poverty, ignorance, backwardness, and deviation from the true religion that afflicted Muslims, along with the tyranny of their unjust rulers who hid their mistakes, flaws, and injustices under the guise of religion.


Thirdly, isolating Islamic scholars from life:

The third reason is the isolation of Islamic scholars from life. These scholars became fixated on hollow texts, caring for the nullifiers of Wudu, rather than concerning themselves with the boundaries of rulers, their adherence to the right path, or obedience to Allah’s commands. They neglect to focus on economic issues, the financial system, the proper upbringing of the youth, and expanding the horizons of Islamic humanistic and scientific thought for progress. Oppressive rulers and malicious colonial powers managed to isolate religious scholars from the public, turning them into mere tools of authority. They showered them with money and positions at times and resorted to threats and intimidation at others, causing them to crumble and seek safety. They stripped them of their dignity and respect, which were once the symbols of scholars. They eroded the trust they once held and stifled their voices of truth. The separation of religion from the state became a reality, not through the words and writings of scholars but through their behavior and detachment from contemporary issues and the questioning masses.

For these reasons and more, religious scholars fell behind, relinquishing leadership to a faction of intellectuals and politicians who were nurtured by Western ideologies. They succumbed to its influence and conspiracies, allowing imported slogans to adorn newspaper headlines, fill books, and echo in lecture halls. Their purpose was to smother the Islamic spirit, tear apart Islamic unity, and confine religion to the confines of history museums and accusations.


Modern Islamic Movements

We have previously mentioned that some political sects in Islamic history have been marked by excess and extremism and have led Muslims into various wars. Some of these sects have undoubtedly provided significant contributions to religious and political thought, while others have caused severe harm to the religion. Much of this can be read in specialized books such as “Al-Milal wa al-Nihal” by Al-Shahrastani, as well as in the books by the Kharijites in their different factions, the Abbasids, the Alawites, the Fatimids, the Qarmatians, the Assassins, the Batiniyya, the Qadiania, and others. These conflicts have been used by slanderers, Western missionaries, and biased orientalists as a basis for their attacks.

However, what concerns me in this context are the modern Islamic movements that have played significant roles in our contemporary history. The driving force behind these movements has been the revival of religious fervor, the restoration of Islamic glory and its laws, and the challenge to intellectual, military, and political crusader attacks. They have sought to guide Muslim rulers, either by persuasion or coercion, to the right path—following the Quran and Sunnah—while embracing modern advancements in technology, natural sciences, physics, and economics within the framework of authentic Islamic values. These values maintain the right to engage and interact without losing their unique identity and principles.


The Islamic Movements Face-to-Face with Colonialism

These Islamic groups or movements were operating under extremely harsh conditions, where they had to resist oppressive regimes to find freedom of speech and the will for change. They had to confront colonialism, the representative of Crusader tendencies, and face the most malicious tools of thought and media manipulation controlled by trained and expert minds. They had to resist a bitter and painful reality entrenched in various parts of the Islamic world, such as a European-regulated financial system, a Western-manufactured political approach, education rooted in Western thought, traditions that are neither European nor Islamic, and imported customs in food, drink, clothing, and forums, along with conflicting trends in art with its various branches and colors.

Indeed, the situation was charged with numerous sins, deviations, ideas, and customs from all directions.

So was it then an easy task?

These modern Islamic movements had to present their ideas in modern language. They had to offer an alternative built on the ruins of the structures intended for demolition. They had to gain the acceptance of those indulging in deviation and falsehood among the Muslim masses, dispelling their fears and terrors. They had to legislate and regulate, and they had to demolish the influence of opposing thought, which appeared as a formidable fortress resistant to invasion and destruction.

It wasn't strange, despite all this, for these modern Islamic movements to garner broad support among the masses of workers, peasants, students, and a considerable number of religious scholars. The main reasons for this popular support were likely that these masses, by nature, were not influenced by ideological deviation, nor were they torn apart by malicious philosophical currents. They naturally cherished their religion, its sanctity, its sacredness, and its values. Furthermore, their interests were not in conflict with religion; rather, they saw it as a promise of salvation from political and social oppression in this world and eternal bliss in the Hereafter.

These masses had not been lured by the charms of the West and its traditions. They had not imported new patterns of Western civilization into their lives and values. By nature, they detested colonial rule and its collaborators, and they never surrendered to the will of the infidel colonizers or their followers.

Despite this massive support, and despite my belief in the power of the masses and their decisive role in shaping historical events, these masses were lightweight when weighed against the colonial and local military power and the army of false ideologies representing atheism, utilitarianism, and social degradation... I don't want to dwell too much on this aspect, but what matters to me is that modern Islamic movements were struck by many forces at their core without hesitation. The opposing forces were unable to eliminate the Islamic movement or neutralize its influence except through extreme violence. This violence was accompanied by a malicious media campaign attempting to portray Islamic movements as backward, treacherous, ignorant, and enemies of human civilizational heritage. They sought to depict them as a threat to the arts and intellect and as deviating from the true purposes of religion. The opposing forces found among religious figures some envious and ambitious individuals whom they recruited to attack the Islamic movement using the same methods, claiming that religion is not the monopoly of anyone but rather arguing that they are the official guardians of religion, issuing vague fatwas and pompous articles in this regard.

The Crusader movement, materialistic philosophy, and deviant hidden ideologies did not stand idly by in the face of these events. Instead, they attempted to reconsider the religion altogether and echoed the slogan of separating religion from the state, exploiting the ongoing events. Some even boldly proclaimed Marxist slogans without hesitation. Thus, the words of Islamic thought were confiscated, imprisoned, or dispersed.

These are the reasons I see as converging and acting together to highlight this slogan, which had no place in the early ages of Islam: the slogan of separating religion from the state. Despite the fact that this problem, as I mentioned, did not exist in our Islamic history or in its political life, I find myself compelled to shed light on the early Islamic life, focusing on its political aspects more than others, to make the matter clearer and more comprehensive. This is to uncover the conspiracies plotted against your ideology and history and for you to realize the grave error, indeed the blatant disobedience, against the principles of your sound religion. Then you can raise your heads and your free pens to confront the enemies of the Islamic movement and those who plot against it.(1)



  • Published in issue no. 34, dated: 5 Ramadan, 1390 AH/3 November, 1970 CE.


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