My Thoughts on a Muslim Response to ‘Secularism’ and the Role of Islamic State in the Faith and Creed of the ‘Ummah.

My Thoughts on a Muslim Response to ‘Secularism’ and the Role of Islamic State in the Faith and Creed of the ‘Ummah.


 (Hamid Mahmood)

(Note: I wrote the following at university some years ago)

In giving the Muslim response to ‘secularism’, I will focus my attention on the traditional trend in Islamic ideology.  I will begin by illustrating the traditional Muslim view regarding the harmony and necessity between ‘Church and State’, I will do so by examining the ‘creed’ of Muslims taught by Abu Hafs Umar al-Nasafi in his ‘aqeedah al-Nasafiyyah’.  I will try to elaborate the significance of Islamic governance and how this impacts the belief of a Muslim.  I will then explore Muhammad Iqbal’s understanding of‘spiritual’ governance, and that the Muslim himself is responsible for the struggle, hence resulting in Iqbal’s rejection of any ideology which further stagnates or comes in the way of this struggle.  I will then examine Iqbal’s comparison of Lat and Manat to modern secularism and how the notion of shirk comes in through these comparisons.  I will look at metaphors of ‘ishq and faith used by Iqbal for Ataturk prior to his secular reform and how Iqbal transfers his notion of ‘ishq versus ‘ilm into governance.  I will conclude by briefly looking at the three trends that have developed over the past sixty years of the creation of Pakistan, an ideological state based on the revival of Islamic governance.

In defining secularism for the specific purpose of this essay I tend to focus my attention on the actual translation of the word into Urdu, as it was the language used by Iqbal and now the national language of Pakistan.  Maulana Abu Tahir Muhammad Siddiq in his ‘mazahib-e-‘alam ka jami’ encyclopaedia’ translates secularism as ‘la deeniyyat’, this is a composition of two words ‘la’ (No) and ‘deeniyyat’ (Religiousness), and this is usually taken in reference to government. However, why is secularism so problematic for the Muslim mind?  I believe governance according to the spiritual and moral teachings of the Qur’an is part of the collective Muslim faith.  In understanding the significance of a non-Secular / religious / Islamic state from traditional Islamic sources illustrates it to be part of the ‘faith’ or specifically ‘creed’[1] of a Muslim and collectively the ‘ummah – [The Arabic term used for ‘creed’ is ‘aqeedah’.  Sa’id Foudah defines and illustrates its significance, “Aqidah comes from the word `aqd, which means that which binds or knots. In this sense, `aqidah is sought in and of itself and sticks with the person completely. `Aqidah is sought after for itself, not only because it is a condition for the validity of actions. Even if an action is not obligatory, `aqidah is still necessary for it is the foundation of everything.” Translated from ‘Four Points from al-`Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah’. [Accessed online 09.12.2010]:].  Abu Hafs Umar al-Nasafi in his ‘aqeedah al-Nasafiyyah’ exclaims,

“The Muslims, for them a leader (imam) is indispensable, who stands for the enforcement of their commands, maintaining their borders, guarding their ports, equipping their armies, receiving their donation… the maintaining of the Friday services and the festivals, the elimination of disputes between creatures, the admittance of evidences produced for [legal] rights, the marrying off of minors – and minors are those who have no [legal] guardians – and the distribution of spoils.

It is not stipulated that he be infallible and nor that he be the most excellent of those of his time, but it is stipulated that he be of those with complete unrestricted authority, a statesman with the ability to the enforcement of decrees, the safeguarding of the boundaries of the Muslim state (Dar al-Islam) and execute justice of the oppressed against the oppressor.”[2]

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However, there is a disagreement between the ulema as to the implementation of the Islamic state.  Is it to be a divine intervention or a struggle that the collective Muslim body (ummah) must undertake?  Already, here I believe there is an extremely important divide, as Iqbal I believe would favour the ummah’s struggle for the establishment of an Islamic state as being part of their faith in contrast to the divine intervention notion. Iqbal’s understanding of the separation of Church and State is expressed in a famous Urdu poem, which is quite often quoted in political discussions, ‘جدا ہو دیں سیاست سے تو رہ جاتی ہے چنگیزی’ ,which literally means, ‘separate religion from politics, what then remains is mere ‘genghisism’, he terms that form of secularist governance  ‘genghisism’ after the person and tyranny of Genghis Khan.  The main reason for Iqbal’s rejection of divine intervention, I believe is the notion of rejecting any idea which further stagnates the unified Muslim body (ummah).  It would hence keep the ummah in a state of stagnation whilst they wait for divine intervention.  Hence, due to this I believe Iqbal was not fond of the ideas of mujaddidiyyat and mahdiyyat – which is opposed to ‘mainstream’ Muslim opinion – he further believes it to be a Magian ideology, he explains, “the hope of a Messiah, very clear in Isaiah, but also bursting out everywhere during the next centuries, under pressure of an inner necessity. It is the basic idea of Magian religion, for it contains implicitly the conception of the world-historical struggle between Good and Evil, with the power of Evil prevailing in the middle period, and the Good finally triumphant on the Day of Judgement.’ If this view of the prophetic teaching is meant to apply to Islam it is obviously a misrepresentation”.[3]       However, on the contrary the following verse exclaims,

وَعَدَ اللّٰهُ الَّذِيْنَ اٰمَنُوْا مِنْكُمْ وَ عَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ لَـيَسْتَخْلِفَـنَّهُمْ فِىْ الْاَرْضِ

‘God has made a promise to those among you who believe / have faith and do good deeds: He will make them successors to the land’ (Quran 24:55).  From a literal reading of this text it confirms the notion of divine intervention.  This debate is relevant till this day for many Islamic countries and is also the main topic for movements such as the ‘Hizb al-Tahrir’ and their offshoots, and the very sect/s within Muslim minorities who classify ‘voting’ in a democracy an act of shirk. However, in the above verse ‘making a promise’ and ‘those who believe’ we move onto another notion, which is also felt in Sayyid Qutb’s understanding of this verse.  Qutb explains, “God’s promise was fulfilled once, and remained effective for as long as the Muslims continued to meet His conditions: “They will thus worship Me alone and associate with Me no partners whatsoever.” (Verse 55) This includes any partners, whether in the form of deities to which worship is addressed or desires and ambitions”.[4]  It is generally assumed that ‘shirk’ (associating partners with God / Polytheism) is the worship of ‘other’ external physical entities alongside the Supreme One God.  However, this is not the case with the understanding of Qutb and also other verses of the Qur’an, ‘Think [Prophet] of the man who has taken his own passion/desire as a god’ Q. 25:43.  From here Iqbal moves into the concept of painting ‘secularism’ as an ideological ‘deity’ if one accepts ‘surely’ could diminish his ‘faith’.

Iqbal elaborates how secularism within the governance model is unacceptable and explains using powerful metaphor, which includes the ka’bah (Muslim Temple) and Lat and Manat (Major significant idols in the jahiliyyah period),

‘Mustafa Kemal, who sang of a great renewal,

Said the old images must be cleaned and polished;

Yet the vitality of the kaba cannot be made new

If a new Lat and Manat from Europe enter its shrine’.[5]

[For full text of poem and context see below:]

Picture iqbal attaturk

Lat and Manat were the most significant pre-Islamic pagan idols that were kept in the sanctuary of the ka’bah, they were revered throughout the Arabian Peninsula.  However, they were physical entities, which Prophet Muhammad (saw)  rejected and similarly Prophet Ibrahim  too ridiculed and destroyed the idols of the Temple.  Here, Iqbal transforms the notion of Lat and Manat to mean ‘secularism’ and ‘non-spiritual’ democracy.

However, prior to Mustapha Kemal Ataturk’s secular reform of Turkey, Iqbal revered him for his ‘ishq and compared it similar to that of Muhammad (saw) and his struggle in Makkah.  It is also here that Iqbal shifts his idea of ‘ishq into governance due to it being a vital part of the ‘ummah’s faith.  Fazlur Rahman  here explains,

‘To use a metaphor Iqbal often used in his poetry, while the Sultan behaved like a fox or a pigeon, Kemal conducted himself like a tiger or a falcon, and thus we see the contrast between reason and all-absorbing love. Actually, Ishq, according to Iqbal, is a force which generates its own reason, which subserves it. Borrowed rationality cannot subserve the purposes of ‘Ishq, but, rather, destroys it. Thus while ‘Ishq perfects self-hood, borrowed rationality negates it and becomes suitable only to the slave mentality. The rise and decline of Islam further illustrates this concept. It was an unlettered prophet who had taught Muslims ‘Ishq, transforming a primitive, unsophisticated Arab people into a world power which at once conquered, ruled, and civilized. But later, falling into the crafty artfulness of reason, the Muslims lost hold of initiative and creativity and the “Shaikh of the Haram” himself, i.e., the Shaikh al-Islam, lost ‘Ishq. With ‘Ishq, Muslims conquered the world for Islam with a minimum of military force. When they lost ‘Ishq and fell into the trivialities of reason, they lost everything; above all, they lost selfhood. It was men like Mustafa Kemal who once again blazed the trail for Muslims that they might regain their selfhood through a re-cultivation of ‘Ishq’.[6]

[to read full article please refer to:]

Here it is significant to understand how Iqbal’s notion of ‘ishq (love / spirituality / feelings) versus ‘ilm (pure rationality) has been transferred to governance of the Islamic state.  As it is equally significant to learn from Iqbal’s two famous works ‘asrar-e-khudi’ and ‘rumuz-e-bekhudi’ , from the former the role of the individual and latter the role of that individual amongst other ideal individuals to form the basis of the Islamic concept of ‘ummah.  Iqbal, however had these thoughts regarding Kemal prior to his reforms, which Iqbal would explain as ‘borrowed rationality’ in contrast to ‘ishq, which creates it’s own rationality.  This is seen beautifully expressed in Iqbal’s poem,

ہے ابن الکتاب، عشق ہے ام الکتاب علم

Literally, ‘ilm as ibn al-kitab (son of the book) and ‘ishq as umm al-kitab (mother of the book), in which he emphasises the creative function of ‘ishq and is later transferred into his ijtihadi model of governance in contrast to the secular model.

However, despite Iqbal’s feelings regarding secularism and his struggle for an Islamic state (Pakistan), academics and intellectuals are divided on the governance Iqbal and Jinnah actually fought for.  Javed Iqbal, Muhammad Iqbal’s son, in a speech on Iqbal day highlighted the major differences of thought regarding governance ideologies in connection to ‘The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.  Javed Iqbal argues that there are three trends; (1) that Iqbal and Jinnah idealised a ‘completely’ secular state; (2) that Iqbal and Jinnah desired a ‘modern’ secular state, which encompassed the positive aspects of exemplary secular states.  Javed Iqbal terms these two as the modernist approaches.  The former he describes as a the approach which is totally in agreement with the Western notion of ‘secularism’ and the latter an ‘ijtihadi’ approach, which would encompass the positive aspects of Western secular democracies.  The third (3) approach to an Islamic state is that of the traditional conservative ulema’, who in contrast to the latter ‘ijtihadi’ approach succumb to a ‘taqlidi’[7] notion.  Iqbal, however sides with the ijtihadi model.  Javed Iqbal explains the ideal governance vision of Iqbal for an Islamic state as ‘ruhani jumhuriyyat’ a ‘spiritual’ democracy.  Javed Iqbal further states that at the time his father was expressing his views, he had in mind the constitution of Madinah, in which Muslim, Jew and Christian under the written constitution were regarded as ‘ummah wahidah’ One Nation.

I conclude here by providing a page from Iqbal’s ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’ and ask the reader to leave comments and their critiques below:



The Qur’an: A New Translation. By M. A. S. Abdel Haleem

Iqbal, M. (1934).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.  Accessed online [07/03/2010]:

Iqbal, M. [No date].   Kulliyyat-e-Iqbal: Zarb-i-Kalim.  Sheikh Muhammad Bashir & Sons: Lahore, Pakistan

Iqbal, M. [No date].  Javid Nama: Versified English Translation. Trans. by Arther J. Arberry.

[Accessed online: 07.12.2010]:

Qutb, S. [No date].  In the Shade of the Qur’an. Vol. XII, Surahs 21-25. [Pdf Version]

Rahman, F. (1984).  ‘Muhammad Iqbal and Ataturk’s Reforms’. Journal of Near Eastern Studies.  Volume 43, No. 2 (pp. 157-162). University of Chicago Press: USA

Siddiq, M. A. T. (2001).  Mazaahib-e-‘aalam ka jami’ encyclopaedia: mazaahib-e-aalam aur asr-e-haazir ki fikri jamaatein.  Idaratul Qur’an: Karachi, Pakistan

Siddiqui, A. R. (2008).  Man and Destiny: some reflections on Iqbal’s concept of khudi and the perfect man.  The Islamic Foundation: Leicestershire, UK

al-Nasafi. The Nasafi Creed. (p.5). Trans. Tahir Mahmood Kiani.  [Accessed online 09.12.2010]:  [Accessed on:  07.12.2010]  [Accessed on:  07.12.2010]





[1] The Arabic term used for ‘creed’ is ‘aqeedah’.  Sa’id Foudah defines and illustrates its significance, “Aqidah comes from the word `aqd, which means that which binds or knots. In this sense, `aqidah is sought in and of itself and sticks with the person completely. `Aqidah is sought after for itself, not only because it is a condition for the validity of actions. Even if an action is not obligatory, `aqidah is still necessary for it is the foundation of everything.” Translated from ‘Four Points from al-`Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah’. [Accessed online 09.12.2010]:

[2] Al-Nasafi. The Nasafi Creed. (p.5). Trans. Tahir Mahmood Kiani.  [Accessed online 09.12.2010]:

[3] Iqbal, M. (1934).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam.  Chapter: The Spirit of Muslim Culture, p.179

[4] Qutb, S.  In the Shade of the Qur’an. Vol. XII, Surahs 21-25. Surah Nur (24) V.55, (p. 278)

[5] Iqbal, M.  Javid Nama: Versified English Translation. Trans. by Arther J. Arberry. Chapter: East and West, Verse No. 1120

[6] Rahman, F. (1984).  ‘Muhammad Iqbal and Ataturk’s Reforms’. (p. 158)

[7] Taqlid in this case would mean the staunch ‘blind-following’ of previous Islamic modes of governance.