Last updated on: 5/16/2008 12:38:00 PM PST

Is Islam Compatible with the Concept of the Separation of Religion and State?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), in a 2004 program titled "Islam, Empire of Faith," contained the following:

"Given the large number of [Islamic] adherents, it is no surprise that Muslims incorporate a broad and diverse spectrum of positions in regard to liberalism and democracy. Some are secularists who want to disengage religion from politics. Others are reformers, who reinterpret Islamic traditions in support of elective forms of government. Still there are others who reject democracy entirely."

2004 - Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) 

PRO (yes)

Karen Armstrong, Instructor at Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism, in a Oct. 22, 2001 interview titled "Fundamental Problems," stated the following:

"Even though ideologically [in Islam] there can be no separation between church and state, both Sunnis and Shiites developed a separation very early on. In the Sunni world, the separation was de facto; Islamic law developed as kind of a counterculture to the aristocratic courts. In the Shiite world, there was a separation of church and state on principle. It was held that since every state was corrupt, clerics should take no part in them, that the religious should withdraw until the messiah came and established a proper Muslim state."

Oct. 22, 2001 - Karen Armstrong 

Alfred Stepan, PhD, Wallace Sayre Professor of Government at Columbia University, in a 2000 Journal of Democracy article titled "Religion, Democracy, and the 'Twin Tolerations,'" stated the following:

"Although Islamic fundamentalists are attempting to appropriate political Islam, there are also other voices--in the Koran, in scholarly interpretations of the Koran, and among some major contemporary Islamic political leaders. For example, Sura (verse) 256 of the Koran states that 'There shall be no compulsion in Religion.' This injunction provides a strong Koranic base for religious tolerance... moreover, political activists, journalists, and even professors sometimes misleadingly equate Islam with Arab culture. They then assert correctly that there are no democracies in the Islamic countries of the Arab world, leaving the false impression there are no Muslims living under democratic regimes. In fact, however, a case can be made that about half of all the world's Muslims, 435 million people (or over 600 million, if we include Indonesia), live in democracies, near-democracies, or intermittent democracies."

2000 - Alfred Stepan, PhD 

Nazih N. M. Ayubi, PhD, the late Professor of Political Science at University of California, Los Angeles, in a 1980 International Journal of Middle East Studies article titled "The political Revival of Islam: The Case of Egypt," stated the following:

"To start with, it should be remembered that Islam is an all-encompassing belief system that involves matters of man's relationship to God ('Ibadat) as well as his relationship to his fellow men (Mu'amalat). It follows from this that there is no dichotomy in Islam between religious and civil matters. It is inaccurate, however, to say that in Islam there is no separation between state and church, since Islam - at least Sunni (Orthodox) Islam - has no 'church' in the sence of a formal ecclesiastical hierarchy. Even in Shi'ite Islam, which has more of a clerical elite, no claim has ever been made by the Ulama (religious scholars) to assume government directly by themselves."

1980 - Nazih Ayubi, PhD 

CON (no)

Bernard Lewis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Near East Studies at Princeton University, in his 2003 book The Crisis of Islam, wrote:

"The dichotomy of regnum [state] and sacerdotium [church], so crucial in the history of Western Christendom, had no equivalent in Islam."

2003 - Bernard Lewis, PhD 

Jaafar Sheikh Idris, PhD, Chairman of the Founding Council at the American Open University, in a Mar. 3, 2004 essay titled "Separation Of Church And State," wrote:

"The basic belief in Islam is that the Qur'an is one hundred percent the word of God, and the Sunna was also as a result of the guidance of God to the Prophet peace be upon him. Islam cannot be separated from the state because it guides Muslims through every detail of running the state and their lives. Muslims have no choice but to reject secularism for it excludes the laws of God."

Mar. 3, 2004 - Jaafar Sheikh Idris, PhD 

Lamin Sanneh, PhD, Professor of History at Yale University, in a 1999 Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview with Toni Hassan, stated:

"By and large, Christians have accepted the principle of the separation of Church and State, and Bishop Tutu for example, in South Africa, was adamant that the new constitution which was being promulgated in South Africa, did not favour one religion. Whereas his Muslim counterparts, they would say they want a government, a State, that has the Sharia, the Islamic code, as part of public law."

1999 - Lamin Sanneh, PhD 

Jamil Hamami, a Hamas leader and lecturer at Al Quds University, in a May 29, 1999 seminar posted on the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) website titled "Political Islam in the Arab World," wrote:

"Some people think that talking about political Islam implies that there is a separation between religion and state. An in-depth look at the way and spirit of Islam would show that this is not true. Islam is state, religion and a way of life -- which includes all aspects of the daily life of the Muslim -- combined."

May 29, 1999 - Jamil Hamami