Separation of Mosque and State

Article Summary
The concept of separation between the religious and political communities has deep roots in Islamic tradition, says Mohammad Jaber al Ansari. If the Islamists in Egypt or Tunisia wish to create a state that harmonizes society, Ansari argues that this separation, along with the Islamic traditions of Shura and B’yaa, are neccessary.

Tunisia's Islamists appear more willing to live in harmony with others than the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Tunisian Ennahda movement, has accepted a constitutional text making Islam the official religion of Tunisia. However, he refrained from insisting that Islamic law be an essential source of legislation. This is only the beginning. Who knows what lies in store, or if the Constitution will outlive the current parliament?

In contrast, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood appears more extreme than its Tunisian counterpart, whose moderation stems from western influence as well as the size and  structure of the country.

Tunisia's Islamists experienced intellectual suppression, but cases of reported torture were rare. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, however, was terribly suppressed both intellectually and physically. During the time of both the monarchy and republic, the Egyptian authorities tortured the Brothers, a group not so peaceful in their own right. In fact, they rose against those authorities, resorting to bombings and assassinations. A serious struggle ensued between the two parties.

Hassan al-Banna, the leader and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, was assassinated during the monarchy after his group was accused of assassinating a number of eminent personalities. During the era of the "revolution," Salah Nasr, head of the intelligence agency, set traps for his comrades as they battled the same revolutionary authorities they helped bring to power.

The Islamists were on good terms with General Muhammad Naguib, a transitory figure in revolutionary Egypt. They were also on good terms with Sadat, who wanted to use them against the left and the Nasserites. However, when he reconciled with Israel and shifted Egypt’s position in the Arab world, a few among them turned against him and assassinated him. This served as a lesson to his successor, former President Hosni Mubarak, whose security apparati handled the Islamists with extreme caution.

According to those who investigate the underlying developments in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is currently blinded by a "lust for revenge." They should have followed the example of their prophet, who told his opponents on the day of the conquest of Mecca: "Go, you are free."

However, the contrasting stance they have displayed has cost them the support of some of the Egyptians who helped vote them into Parliament. It is interesting that Al-Azhar and Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church have decided to withdraw from the constitutional committee, as they claim that the parliamentary majority is temporary and therefore has no right to draft the constitution, which will be permanent. This argument is being made in opposition to the Brotherhood.

The importance of national and civil traditions in Egypt should not be undermined. Field Marshal Tantawi stated that the issue of social rights had been settled in favor of different national groups like the Copts.  These kinds of statements express the view of a broad movement in the Egyptian arena, as well as the position of the Egyptian military — it is famous for the historical stance that it has taken on the issue of the rights of the various components of Egyptian society.

By and large, the Brotherhood’s record across the Arab world does not differ much from that of the Brotherhood in Egypt. It is known that at one point in time, Saudi Arabia gave them some freedom and the writings of Sayyid Qutb were being printed and distributed there. However there was a misunderstanding between them and Riyadh, which became apparent at the time by Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, current crown prince and minister of the interior, and a number of representatives from the Brotherhood were sent to a neighboring Gulf country. It turned out that the country’s founder, King Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, did well to ignore Hassan al-Banna’s demands for a Muslim Brotherhood office in Saudi Arabia.

The situation is similar in most Gulf countries. In fact, the Brotherhood and other Islamists can use religion to correct this, and such Islamic sources as the Qur'an and the Sunnah can be of great help. Although Islam has five pillars which do not include the state, and the Qur’an does not mention it either, it is a practical necessity.

When the Prophet migrated to Medina and established the Charter of Medina, he made a distinction between "the religious community," which consisted of the believers of Islam, and "the political community," which consisted of the Judaic and pagan elements. The Prophet, peace be upon him, never abolished the distinction between the "religious community" and "the political community." If the Jews have breached this contract, this is their problem.

The previous discussion refers to domestic politics in an Islamic state. On the external political level, a look at the will of the first caliph, Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him), illuminates the picture: He asked his soldiers not to cut any green plants and to leave the monks alone.

The Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (may Allah honor him) was lying in wait for those competing with him over his famous ideology, and when he heard the cry of Kharijites that "the verdict is only that of Allah," he said: "The sentence is right but what you think it means is wrong. It is true that the verdict lies but with Allah, but these people say that the function of governance is only for Allah. The fact is there is no escape for men from rulers, good or bad. The faithful persons perform good acts in his rule while the unfaithful enjoys worldly benefits in it. During the rule, Allah would carry everything to the end. Through the ruler tax is collected, the enemy is fought, roadways are protected and the right of the weak is taken from the strong till the virtuous enjoys peace and is protected  from the oppression of the wicked ("Nahj al-Balagha," tafsir of Sheikh Mohamed Abdou 1-4, Dar al-Balagha , Beirut, p. 145).

This text highlights the importance of the state from the Islamic perspective, whether it be virtuous or wicked.

Those who are working to erase and dismantle it through religious slogans are riddled with fallacy, as proved by Imam Ali.

Where there’s a will there’s a way. He who wants to establish an Islamic state has plenty of sources to determine its jurisprudence. However, the issue is whether to follow moderation or extremism.

Those who support harmonization between secularism and Islam in Turkey should take a look at modern Turkish history and observe the painstaking efforts made by the secular Turks to "secularize" the society and confront its Islamist roots. Compatibility between secularism and Islam did not emerge in one fell swoop.

In conclusion, if Islamists want to rule, they should concert their efforts to achieve such harmony. According to their historical experience, they lack the necessary requirements to do this. In fact, the terms of B’yaa (Islamic tradition of allegiance) have been disrespected and insitution of Shura (Islamic consultation) was not established normally. The emphasis of the two principles of B’yaa and Shura should be revived — in addition to the political principles that we have been discussing in this article — so that a political Islamic theory of power can be devised.

The struggle for power is a feature of old historical experiences which should not be repeated.

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