Religion and State Are Twin Brothers: Classical Muslim Political Theory

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Muhammad Khalid Masud


The current reluctance for democratic transition in Muslim societies is mostly attributed to Islamic political theories that do not allow a separation between religion and politics. Extremist views often reject democracy because it is perceived to be ‘anti-religion’. This paper examines the thread of classical Islamic political theory that considers religion and state to be inseparable ‘twin brothers’. Exploring the origins of this thread in Sassanid and tenthcentury Islamic thought, analysis of the doctrine reveals that Muslim political thought more generally has traditionally been more pragmatic on political issues (siyasah), with Muslim jurists continuously marking boundaries between religion and culture in their fatawa, particularly concerning bid'ah (innovation) and tashabbuh bi'l kuffar (imitation of the infidels). Indeed, all definitions of religion that make it inseparable from the state are seen to be a modern phenomenon, in which religion is defined in terms of the ideology of political power, with secularism perceived as its rival. Analysing diverse interpretations of the doctrine from the Abbasid period to the twenty-first century, the paper finds that, like twin brothers, religion and politics are separate in Islam albeit united in their origin. This perspective becomes more meaningful in modern times if we recognise the role of social consensus (ijma'), besides the political and the religious spheres.

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