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Four views on Islam and the state

Can Islam support a secular, democratic government?

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I need a secular state

By Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na`im

ALTANTA – To be a Muslim by conviction and free choice – which is the only way one can be a Muslim – I need to live in a secular state. By a secular state, I mean one that is neutral regarding religious doctrine to facilitate genuine piety. The state should not enforce sharia (the religious law of Islam) because compliance should never be coerced by fear or faked to appease state officials. When observed voluntarily, sharia-based values can help shape laws and public policy through the democratic process. But if sharia principles are enacted as state law, the outcome will simply be the political will of the state.

Many Muslims equate secularism with antireligious attitudes. Yet I believe that a secular state can promote genuine religious experience among believers and affirm the role of Islam in public life.

The so-called Islamic state is conceptually incoherent and historically unprecedented. There simply is no scriptural basis for an "Islamic state" to enforce .

The leadership of the prophet Muhammad in Medina is an inspiring model of the values Muslims should strive for in self-governance, transparency, and accountability. But since Muslims believe that there is no prophet after Muhammad, the Medina model cannot be replicated.

There's no precedent for an Islamic state in practice. Historically, rulers sought the support of Islamic scholars and religious leaders to legitimize their authority, but religious authorities needed to maintain their autonomy. This was always a negotiated relationship, not a marriage.

The experience of the vast majority of Muslims across the world today is about struggles for constitutionalism and human rights, economic development and social justice – not about the quest for Islamic states to enforce sharia. The world community must support Muslims in these struggles instead of punishing them for the sins of the extremist fringe of political Islamists.


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