Is Islam a Religion or a State: Most Muslims Do Not Know?

The Saudi flag is the best symbol for the Muslim conflict

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The flag of Saudi Arabia has the creed of Islam on the top, I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God, which is the central tenet of the religion of Islam and the sword, at least to me, represents the coercion and force in the matters of state.

On the surface, the question I pose in the title of this article is very simple, and it will seem that 21 years after September 11, 2001 every human on the planet earth or at least every Muslim will know the answer. But, not so fast. I asked in all my Whatsapp groups, either friends ignored the question or no body knew the answer. It only triggered some debates.

Many Muslim readers may not be at ease with the title of my article, let me put their minds at ease that I am a devout practicing Muslim. I think many of them would smile at me if I ask four additional questions:

Is Christianity a religion or a state?

Is Judaism a religion or a state?

Is Hinduism a religion or a state?

Is Buddhism a religion or a state?

The last verse a religion or a state?

Is Christianity a religion or a state? It is a religion but it becomes a state when you meet Ex President Trump or the High Priest of Russia or read the following:

Is This Christian Shariah Law for USA?

95 Years After the Monkey Trial, Tennessee Trying to Make the Bible the Official State Book

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Delivers Sharp Dissent In Supreme Court Cross Case

Judaism is a religion but Zionism is a state. Israel is a state and the more closely it bonds with Judaism, the latter begin to change into a state, to keep my description short, lest I am accused of anti-Semitism.

Is Hinduism a religion or a state? Hinduism is a religion, but when India starts talking about beef, Hinduism becomes a religion: The Sacred Cows: Indian state uses draconian law to detain those accused of killing cows and Eating Beef in India; Another Reason Why World Needs Secularism in Our Global Village.

Is Buddhism a religion or a state? It is a religion but it becomes a state when the genocide of Rohingya Muslims starts.

The second part of my title is ‘Most Muslims do not know.’ This should not be alarming to the Muslim reader as they may have deeply held ideas on the subject. I did not say you as a singular reader do not know. The Muslims as a group do not know and for that I have plenty of evidence. The diversity in the picture below from Pew Research Center is a self evident proof of their being a total lack of consensus:

Support for making sharia the official law of the land varies significantly across the six major regions included in the study. In countries across South Asia, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East-North Africa region most favor making sharia their country’s official legal code. By contrast, only a minority of Muslims across Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe want sharia to be the official law of the land.

It was a great service that in 2012 Pew Research Center surveyed 38,000 Muslims in all these Muslim majority countries regarding Sharia and other issues.

In South Asia, high percentages in all the countries surveyed support making sharia the official law, including nearly universal support among Muslims in Afghanistan (99%). More than eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (84%) and Bangladesh (82%) also hold this view. The percentage of Muslims who say they favor making Islamic law the official law in their country is nearly as high across the Southeast Asian countries surveyed (86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand and 72% in Indonesia).15

In sub-Saharan Africa, at least half of Muslims in most countries surveyed say they favor making sharia the official law of the land, including more than seven-in-ten in Niger (86%), Djibouti (82%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (74%) and Nigeria (71%).

Support for sharia as the official law of the land also is widespread among Muslims in the Middle East-North Africa region – especially in Iraq (91%) and the Palestinian territories (89%). Only in Lebanon does opinion lean in the opposite direction: 29% of Lebanese Muslims favor making sharia the law of the land, while 66% oppose it.

Support for making sharia the official legal code of the country is relatively weak across Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe. Fewer than half of Muslims in all the countries surveyed in these regions favor making sharia their country’s official law. Support for sharia as the law of the land is greatest in Russia (42%); respondents in Russia were asked if sharia should be made the official law in the country’s ethnic-Muslim republics. Elsewhere in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe, about one-in-three or fewer say sharia should be made the law of the land, including just 10% in Kazakhstan and 8% in Azerbaijan.


Again, level of religious commitment makes a big difference in attitudes about the implementation of sharia. Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less frequently to favor Islamic law as the official law of the land. The difference is particularly large in Russia (+37 percentage points), Lebanon (+28), the Palestinian territories (+27), Tunisia (+25) and Kyrgyzstan (+24).

Across the countries surveyed, support for making sharia the official law of the land generally varies little by age, gender or education. However, in the Middle East-North Africa region, Muslims ages 35 and older are more likely than those 18-34 to back sharia in Lebanon (+22 percentage points), Jordan (+12), Tunisia (+12) and the Palestinian territories (+10).

Should Sharia Apply to All Citizens?


Among Muslims who support making sharia the law of the land, most do not believe that it should be applied to non-Muslims. Only in five of 21 countries where this follow-up question was asked do at least half say all citizens should be subject to Islamic law.

The belief that sharia should extend to non-Muslims is most widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, where at least four-in-ten Muslims in all countries except Iraq (38%) and Morocco (29%) hold this opinion. Egyptian Muslims (74%) are the most likely to say it should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, while 58% in Jordan hold this view.

By contrast, Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe who favor making sharia the official law of the land are among the least likely to say it should apply to all citizens in their country. Across the nations surveyed in the region, fewer than a third take this view. This includes 22% of Russian Muslims (who were asked about the applying sharia in their country’s ethnic Muslim republics).

In other regions, opinion varies widely by country. For example, in Southeast Asia, half of Indonesian Muslims who favor sharia as the official law say it should apply to all citizens, compared with about a quarter (24%) of those in Thailand. (Thai Muslims were asked if sharia should be made the official law in the predominantly Muslim areas of the country.) Similarly, in Central Asia, a majority of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan (62%) who support making sharia the official law say it should apply to non-Muslims in their country, but far fewer in Kazakhstan (19%) agree. Meanwhile, in South Asia, Muslims who are in favor of making sharia the law of the land in Afghanistan are 27 percentage points more likely to say all citizens should be subject to Islamic law than are those in Pakistan (61% in Afghanistan vs. 34% in Pakistan).

Yes in the matters of state there is a coercion, when police car comes with the sirens and rotating lights, one got to stop, there is no freedom. But according to the Quran there is no coercion in the matters of religion. (Al Quran 2:256)

So, in the details when Islam is a religion there can be no coercion. However, when it becomes state, law will be applied forcibly if needed. But, then law will need to be applied with an even hand no one will be above the law or beneath it, regardless of race, color, nationality, social or religious status.

Kaaba in Mecca where more than two million visit every year to perform Hajj

Let us now go back in time to seventh century Arabia, when the holy Quran or Sharia was being revealed.

The year is 8th year after migration to Medina, Muhammad, may peace be on him, was now in Mecca, performing his last Hajj, surrounded by an ocean of faithful, devoted hearts, all proclaiming the glory of Allah, celebrating His praise, affirming His Unity, supplicating Him for forgiveness, mercy, compassion, invoking His blessings upon Muhammad. Arrived at the Mount, the Holy Prophet stood on the back of Qaswa and made his address:

‘I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship save Allah, the One, without associate, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.

‘I do not think, O people, that we shall be gathered together here again. Your belongings, your honor, and your lives are sanctified and made inviolate like the sanctity of this day, this month and this city. You will soon appear before your Lord and He will call you to account for all your doings. Take heed that you do not go astray, after I am gone, and start slaying one another.

As soon as he concluded, the revelation came: ‘This day have I completed My commandments -for you, and have brought to its fullness the favor that I have bestowed upon you, and have chosen Islam as your religion.’ (Al Quran 5:3).

The religion was complete, the wisdom of the ages had been revealed, the Quran and the religion of Islam had been completed, it had presented all the central ideas that humanity would need. BIOS of the human computers if you will had been finalized.

Humanity was to continue, history was not stopped, the Prophet was still alive, he was also the head of the state.

Ever since Islam has continued to be both religion and state with varying and oscillating emphasis all the time. Today, you can witness how Iran is a complete theocracy and Saudi Arabia is in the process of transition if you have been following the Crown Prince.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The subject matter here is on the one hand childish, but on the other hand very complex as we live all our lives in constant gaslighting from all fronts on this subject. It has taken me decades to demystify the issue for myself. So, bear with me as I take you from example to example, from one period to the next.

Is Islam a religion or a state?

It is important to distinguish. As there is freedom in matters of religion but use of force or coercion in matters of state, so unless we define clear boundaries human affairs become chaotic.

It is easy to understand anything in others rather than ourselves, where even the most enlightened among us have blind spots or areas that we cannot see and confuse. So, I am going to weave my story with at least some poignant examples from Christianity.

This interesting drama series has almost 40 episodes, trust me you will not be bored and your investment of time will be well rewarded with expansion of your horizons, fast forward the brief parts of nudity.

If you do not find time take my words, the Catholic Church had been and continues to be both religion and state. Its statehood now has been castrated and limited to the Vatican city only. But, in the time of king Henry VIII it extended all over Europe and the Christendom, excluding of course the areas ruled by the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Ottoman Empire. King Henry VIII was only a king or in other words managed a state, until given the struggle of divorcing his first wife and the Catholic Church’s opposition, he created the Church of England and from then on he was both master of the state and master of the religion of his people. In this part of the European history lies a very clear example of what is religion and what is state and their constant interplay.

Is Islam a religion or a state?

Going back to examination of Islam and the Muslims, the case of Shiite Islam is short and very straight forward.

Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan

Let us examine the case of Ismaili community in Shiite Islam. According to their website:

The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, generally known as the Ismailis, belong to the Shia branch of Islam. The Shia form one of the two major interpretations of Islam, the Sunni being the other. The Ismailis live in over 25 different countries, mainly in Central and South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America and Australia, and number approximately 12 to 15 million. The Ismailis are thus a transnational community who are responsible citizens of the countries where they live.

Throughout their 1,400 year history, the Ismailis have been led by a living, hereditary Imam. They trace the line of Imamat in hereditary succession from Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). The followers of Ali, or Shia, already in existence during the lifetime of the Prophet, maintained that while the revelation ceased at the Prophet’s death, the need for spiritual and moral guidance of the community continued.

They firmly believed that the legacy of Prophet Muhammad could only be entrusted to a member of his own family, in whom the Prophet had invested his authority through designation before his death. That person was Ali, Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, the husband of his daughter and only surviving child, Fatima. The institution of Imamat was to continue thereafter on a hereditary basis, succession being based on designation by the Imam of the Time.

I have downloaded and saved the constitution of the community. A cursory read will clearly show that according to them Islam is unequivocally, both a religion and a state. Let me quote a few paragraphs to illustrate:



(A) The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims affirm the Shahadah ‘La- ilaha illallih, Muhammadur Rasulu-llah’. the Tawhid therein and that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Salla-llahu alayhi wa-sallam) is the last and final Prophet of Allah. Islam, as revealed in the Holy Quran, is the final message of Allah to mankind, and is universal and eternal. The Holy Prophet (S.A.S.) through the divine revelation from Allah prescribed rules governing spiritual and temporal matters.

(B) In accordance with Shia doctrine, tradition, and interpretation of history, the Holy Prophet (S.A.S.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Mawlana Ali Amiru-l-Mu’minin (Alayhi-s-salam), to be the first Imam to continue the Ta’wil and Ta’lim of Allah’s final message and to guide the murids, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (A.S.) and his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, Khatun-i-Jannat Alayha-s-salam).

(C) Succession to Imamat is by way of Nass,it being the absolute prerogative of the Imam of the time to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendants whether they be sons or remoter issue.

(D) The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by Bay’ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode,

(E) From the time of the Imamat of Hazrat Mawlana Ali (A.S.), the Imams of the Ismaili Muslims have ruled over territories and peoples in various areas of the world at different periods of history and, in accordance with the needs of the time, have given rules of conduct and constitutions in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.

(F) Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam of the time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The Imam’s Ta’lim lights the murids’ path to spiritual enlightenment and vision. In temporal matters, the Imam guides the murids, and motivates them to develop their potential.

(G) Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (S.A.S.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (A.S.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (A.S.), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

1.2 Mawlana Hazar Imam has the sole authority to:

(a) determine all questions that may arise as regards the meaning and interpretation of any religious or jamati tradition or custom of the Ismailis and amend or discontinue it at any time;

(b) confer a constitution on the Jamat and amend or discontinue any such constitution or any provision thereof;

(c) determine all questions that may arise as regards the meaning and interpretation of any such constitution and grant dispensation therefrom;

It is also apparent that Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan has complete autocratic authority over religious, spiritual and state issues of the 15 million Ismaili Muslims. His state is not defined geographically, but exists in the hearts and minds of the 15 million spread in different countries of the world.

Is Islam a religion or a state?

Next, let us move to Shiite Muslims in Iran and quickly try to understand their leader. He does own a geographical state.

The Lifetime Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

The Supreme Leader of Iran (Persian: رهبر معظم ایران, romanizedrahbar-e mo’azzam-e irān (listen)), also referred to as Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution[2] (رهبر معظم انقلاب اسلامی, rahbar-e mo’azzam-e enqelāb-e eslāmi), but officially called the Supreme Leadership Authority (مقام معظم رهبری, maqām mo’azzam rahbari), is the head of state and the highest political and religious authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The armed forcesjudiciarystate television, and other key government organisations such as Guardian Council and Expediency Discernment Council are subject to the Supreme Leader. The current lifetime officeholder, Ali Khamenei, has issued decrees and made the final decisions on the economy, the environment, foreign policyeducation, national planning, and other aspects of governance in Iran.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10] Khamenei also makes the final decisions on the amount of transparency in elections,[11] and has dismissed and reinstated presidential cabinet appointees.[12]

The Supreme Leader directly chooses the ministers of Defense, Interior, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs, as well as certain other ministers, such as the Education, Culture and Science Minister.[13] Iran’s regional policy is directly controlled by the office of the Supreme Leader with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs‘ task limited to protocol and ceremonial occasions. All of Iran’s ambassadors to Arab countries, for example, are chosen by the Quds Force, which directly reports to the Supreme Leader.[10]

The office was established by the Constitution of Iran in 1979, pursuant to the concept of the Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist.[14] According to the Constitution, the powers of government in the Islamic Republic of Iran are vested in the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive powers, functioning under the supervision of the Supreme Leader.[15] The style “Supreme Leader” (Persian: رهبر معظم, romanizedrahbar-e mo’azzam) is commonly used as a sign of respect – although the Constitution simply designates them as “Leader” (رهبر, rahbar).

The Supreme Leader ranks above the President of Iran and personally appoints the heads of the military, the government, and the judiciary.[16] Originally the constitution required the Supreme Leader to be Marja’-e taqlid, the highest-ranking cleric in the religious laws of Usuli Twelver Shia Islam. In 1989, however, the constitution was amended and simply asked for Islamic “scholarship”, thus the Supreme Leader could be a lower-ranking cleric.[17][18]

In its history, the Islamic Republic of Iran only has had two Supreme Leaders: Ruhollah Khomeini, who held the position from 1979 until his death in 1989 and Ali Khamenei, who has held the position since Khomeini’s death.

The biography of the Supreme leader should convince everyone that Shiite Islam is both a religion and state. The Iranian leader is ultimate authority in both religious matters as well as secular.

Having reasonably concluded that different and all branches of Shiite Islam are both religion as well as state, let us move to Sunni Islam.

Is Sunni Islam a religion or a state?

With the benefit of fourteen centuries of history let us go back to early Islam. The first four Caliphs after the Prophet are called the Righteous Caliphs, by the Sunni Muslims, because they showed high level of integrity and honesty that was not so apparent in those who followed.

These four Caliphs were the head of the state. As regards the understanding of religion of Islam, it was more democratic and there were several teachers of the religion depending on their scholarship. The memory of what had been taught by the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be on him, was fresh in the minds of all his companions and no single one could monopolize the understanding or interpretation of the religion of Islam. Encyclopedia Britannica says about Hazrat Aisha (ra), wife of the Prophet:

Traditional sources describe ʿĀʾishah as learned in religion, issuing legal opinions and engaging in consultation with the older male Companions of the Prophet. About a sixth of the hadiths recorded by al-Bukhari in his famed work Al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaḥīḥ are cited on her authority. Modern Muslim feminists regard ʿĀʾishah as personifying an early Islamic idealization of women as the social and legal equal of men, valorized for their contributions in both the private and public spheres.

Then there was Abdur-Rahman ibn Sakhr Al-Dawsri Al-Zahrani (Arabic: عبد الرحمن بن صخر الدوسري‎; c. 603 – 680), better known as Abu Hurayrah[1] (or Hurairah; Arabic: أبو هريرة, translates to the father of the kitten), was one of the companions of Islamic prophet Muhammad and, according to Sunni Islamthe most prolific narrator of hadith.

He was known by the kunyah Abu Hurayrah “Father of a Kitten”, in reference to his attachment to cats, and he was a member of Suffah. Later during caliphate era, Abu Hurairah served as Ulama teacher, governor, soldier, and Hadith auditor. Among his other epithets is ذو الوينسين or “Possessor of the Two Elbows”, as his own narrations claim Prophet Muhammad praised him for his sturdy elbows and righteous character.

Abu Hurairah acknowledged by Muslim scholars for his extraordinary photographic memory which allowed him to memorize massive numbers of over 5,000 hadiths which later produced more than 500,000 chain narrations, or Isnad which make Abu Hurairah an exemplar role model for Hadith studies scholars. It is said by Abu Hurairah himself the only one who surpassed him regarding hadith were Abd Allah ibn Amr ibn al-As, another companion who serve as writer assistant of Muhammad and author of “Al-Sahifah al-Sadiqah“, the first Hadith book in history.[2]

Abu Hurairah hadiths has been used by most, if not all scholars of Islam across the ages for Islamic learning about AqidahIslamic eschatologyTafsirFiqhBiographical evaluationProphetic biography, and Fatwa verdicts.

The Sunni / Shiite schism was brewing in a manner of speaking soon after the death of the Prophet and it is best to hear from a non-partisan a secular Jew, Lesley Hazleton, who has written a book on the subject, After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam.

We can have a quick snapshot of our focus in the Battle of the Camel or Jamel, is Islam a religion or a state? It is both, but at least the religious authority is not concentrated in one person, in early Islam.

Hazrat Ali (ra), later to be the fourth Caliph, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, had acted as the mediator between the rebels and Hazrat Uthman (ra), the third Caliph.[15] Though he condemned Uthman’s murder, Ali likely regarded the resistance movement as a front for the just demands of the poor and the disenfranchised.[16] His son, Hasan, was injured by the enraged mobs while standing guard at Uthman’s residence at the request of Ali.[17]

Shortly after Uthman’s assassination, the crowds in Medina turned to Ali for leadership and were turned down initially.[18] Aslan attributes Ali’s initial refusal to the polarization of the Muslim community after Uthman’s murder.[19] On the other hand, Durant suggests that, “[Ali] shrank from drama in which religion had been displaced by politics, and devotion by intrigue.”[20] Nevertheless, in the absence of any serious opposition and urged particularly by the Iraqi dissidents and the Ansar, Ali eventually assumed the role of caliph and Muslims filled the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and its courtyard to pledge their allegiance to him.[21] According to Shaban, the atmosphere of tumult after Uthman’s murder might have compelled Ali into accepting the caliphate to prevent further chaos.[22]

Among those who pledged their allegiance to Ali were likely Talha and Zubayr.[23] While there is no record of any violence according to Madelung, they both later broke their oaths, claiming that they had pledged their allegiance to Ali under public pressure.[24] Veccia Vaglieri considers this claim to be fabricated and other reports suggest that Talha and Zubayr jumped ship after they failed to secure for themselves the governorship of Basra and Kufa and when Ali began to reverse Uthman’s lavish entitlements for the ruling elite, including those of Talha and Zubayr.[25] A number of reports indicate that Ali had barred his supporters from pressing anyone to give their pledge.[26]

Under the pretext of pilgrimage, Talha and Zubayr left Medina for Mecca, where they found a powerful ally in Aisha, the leading Mother of the Faithful, whose enmity with Ali is well-documented.[27] Upon learning of Ali’s caliphate, Aisha, who had earlier incited revolt against Uthman, now publicly accused Ali of sheltering Uthman’s assassins and roused Meccans to avenge the death of Uthman, their fallen Meccan brother.[28] The three demanded Ali to be deposed and a council to appoint his successor, presumably either Talha or Zubayr.[29] These three were joined by the associates of Uthman, including Marwan, and other disgruntled former officials.[30] Mecca soon became a hotbed of rebellion against the caliph.[31]

The Battle of the Camel, also known as the Battle of Jamel or the Battle of Basra, took place outside of BasraIraq, in 36 AH/656 CE. The battle was fought between the army of the fourth caliphAli, on one side, and the rebel army led by AishaTalha and Zubayr, on the other side. Ali was the cousin and son-in-law of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad, whereas Aisha was a widow of Muhammad, and Talha and Zubayr were both prominent companions of Muhammad.

Aisha’s party had revolted against Ali ostensibly to avenge the assassination of the third caliph, Uthman. Both the efforts of Ali to save Uthman and the leading roles of Aisha and Talha in inciting Muslims against Uthman are well-cited. Ali emerged victorious from this battle in which Talha and Zubayr were both killed and Aisha was captured.

Encyclopedia Britannica says about the battle or its aftermath:

When Muhammad died in 632, ʿĀʾishah was left a childless widow of about 18, although some sources suggest she was older. She remained politically inactive until the time of ʿUthmān (644–656; the third caliph, or leader of the Islamic community), during whose reign she played an important role in fomenting opposition that led to his murder in 656. She led an army against his successor, ʿAlī, when he refused to bring ʿUthmān’s murderers to justice, but she was defeated in the Battle of the Camel. The engagement derived its name from the fierce fighting that centred around the camel upon which ʿĀʾishah was mounted. Afterward she was allowed to return to Medina. She spent the rest of her days there in disbursing alms, transmitting Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet), and interpreting the Qurʾān.

At any rate it is apparently clear that Islam was both a religion and a state and has continued to be so. Its manifestations in Sunni Islam have been varied over time in different parts of the globe.

Is Sunni Islam a religion or state?

Please keep conceptualizing different snapshots as they come to your memory from my writing or otherwise, from different time frames and different parts of the globe, does Islam seem like a religion or a state?

During the time of the four leading Sunni Imams they were the religious leaders and the Caliphs were the leaders of the state.

If we study the four traditional Sunni Imams, Islam mostly appears as a religion as they have no insights into the matters of the state like Machiavelli will teach us a few centuries later.

Abū Ḥanīfa al-Nuʿmān ibn Thābit b. Zūṭā ibn Marzubān (Arabic: أبو حنيفة نعمان بن ثابت بن زوطا بن مرزبان; c. 699 – 767 CE), known as Abū Ḥanīfa for short, or reverently as Imam Abū Ḥanīfa by Sunni Muslims,[3] was an 8th-century Sunni Muslim theologian and jurist of Persian origin,[4] who became the eponymous founder of the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence, which has remained the most widely practiced law school in the Sunni tradition,[4] predominates in Central AsiaAfghanistanPersia (until the 16th century), BalkansRussiaChechnyaPakistanBangladesh, Muslims in IndiaTurkey, and some parts of the Arab world.[5][6]

Some followers call him al-Imām al-Aʿẓam (“The Greatest Imam”) and Sirāj al-aʾimma (“The Lamp of the Imams”) in Sunni Islam.[7][4]

Born to a Muslim family in Kufa,[4] Abu Hanifa is known to have travelled to the Hejaz region of Arabia in his youth, where he studied in Mecca and Medina.[4] As his career as a theologian and jurist progressed, Abu Hanifa became known for favoring the use of reason in his legal rulings (faqīh dhū raʾy) and even in his theology.[4] Abu Hanifa’s theological school is claimed to be what would later develop into the Maturidi school of Sunni theology.[4]

Malik ibn Anas (Arabic: مَالِك بن أَنَس, ‎ 711–795 CE / 93–179 AH), whose full name is Mālik bin Anas bin Mālik bin Abī ʿĀmir bin ʿAmr bin Al-Ḥārith bin Ghaymān bin Khuthayn bin ʿAmr bin Al-Ḥārith al-Aṣbaḥī al-Madanī (مَالِك بِن أَنَس بِن مَالِك بن أَبِي عَامِر بِن عَمْرو بِن ٱلْحَارِث بِن غَيْمَان بِن خُثَين بِن عَمْرو بِن ٱلْحَارِث ٱلْأَصْبَحِي ٱلْحُمَيْرِي ٱلْمَدَنِي), reverently known as al-Imām Mālik (ٱلْإِمَام مَالِك) by Sunni Muslims, was an Arab Muslim juristtheologian, and hadith traditionist.[2] Born in the city of Medina, Malik rose to become the premier scholar of prophetic traditions in his day,[2] which he sought to apply to “the whole legal life” in order to create a systematic method of Muslim jurisprudence which would only further expand with the passage of time.[2] Referred to as the “Imam of Medina” by his contemporaries, Malik’s views in matters of jurisprudence were highly cherished both in his own life and afterwards, and he became the founder of one of the four schools of Sunni law, the Maliki,[2] which became the normative rite for the Sunni practice of much of North AfricaAl-Andalus (until expulsion of Muslims), a vast portion of Egypt, and some parts of SyriaYemenSudanIraq, and Khorasan,[3] and the prominent Sufi orders, including the Shadiliyya and the Tijaniyyah.[4]

Perhaps Malik’s most famous accomplishment in the annals of Islamic history is, however, his compilation of the Muwatta, one of the oldest and most revered Sunni hadith collections and one of “the earliest surviving Muslim law-book[s],”[2] in which Malik attempted to “give a survey of law and justiceritual and practice of religion according to the consensus of Islam in Medina, according to the sunna usual in Medina; and to create a theoretical standard for matters which were not settled from the point of view of consensus and sunna.”[2] 

Abū ʿAbdillāh Muḥammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfiʿī (Arabic: أَبُو عَبْدِ ٱللهِ مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِدْرِيسَ ٱلشَّافِعِيُّ, 767–19 January 820 CE) was an Arab Muslim theologian, writer, and scholar, who was the first contributor of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (Uṣūl al-fiqh). Often referred to as ‘Shaykh al-Islām‘, al-Shāfi‘ī was one of the four great Sunni Imams, whose legacy on juridical matters and teaching eventually led to the formation of Shafi’i school of fiqh (or Madh’hab). He was the most prominent student of Imam Malik ibn Anas, and he also served as the Governor of Najar.[6] Born in Gaza in Palestine (Jund Filastin), he also lived in Mecca and Medina in the HejazYemenEgypt, and Baghdad in Iraq.

Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (Arabic: أَحْمَد ابْن حَنۢبَل), or Ibn Ḥanbal (ابْن حَنۢبَل)[6] (November 780 – 2 August 855 CE/164–241 AH), was an Arab Muslim juristtheologianascetichadithtraditionist, and founder of the Hanbalischool of Sunni jurisprudence — one of the four major orthodox legal schools of Sunni Islam.[7]

Let us fast forward and this time the landscape is the land of Turkey, later to be the Ottoman Empire. An internationally very popular, Turkish drama series that is also on Netflix, will give you a fictionalized account of Ertugrul, the father of the founder of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, I believe it should serve as a good account of the beneficence of Islamic religion as well as state, which my pen has failed to capture so far and only highlighted the bloodshed and discord as regards the statehood in Islam:

Fast forward another few centuries.

For the 200 million Indian Muslims, they try to participate in the secular governments of the Congress party, but in their communal lives they have employed Islam as well as they can. Its positive manifestations, I will focus on some other day, but today to document my central thesis let me just provide a few articles about triple Talaq: ‘Historic’ day as India outlaws ‘triple talaq’ Islamic instant divorce, India: Triple talaq or instant divorce now a criminal offence and India: 70,000 Muslim women protest against Triple Talaq Bill.

Let us look at how the matters of state and Islam play out in UK. An exclusive investigation by the Asian Network and Victoria Derbyshire Program has found online services charging divorced Muslim women thousands of pounds to take part in sham Islamic marriages. The controversial practice, known as halala, is believed by a small minority of Muslims to be the only way a divorced woman can get back with her husband after a triple talaq – an instant divorce where a man says ‘talaq’ three times to his wife. These marriages can leave women open to financial exploitation, blackmail and even sexual abuse:

The holy Quran states that there is no coercion in the matters of religion. But that is the ideal condition. That is never the case in reality as self serving politicians and religious leaders intermix matters of religion or conscience with the matters of state, where force and coercion is necessary to save the victims. Meet General Zia Ul Haq.

General Zia Ul Haq

Please do not be deceived by his civilian dress, he often wore army uniform and did not mind using all forms of carrots and sticks as needed to get the job done, ends justified the means, as was suggested a few centuries ago by the writer of the notorious short book, The Prince, Nicholas Machiavelli.

He successfully overthrew the elected government and ruled the country for more than a decade. The United States, notably the Reagan Administration, was an ardent supporter of Zia’s military regime and a close ally of Pakistan’s conservative-leaning ruling military establishment.[50] The Reagan administration declared Zia’s regime as the “front line” ally of the United States in the fight against the threat of Communism.[50][51]

He had a fertile mind and freely mixed Islam in new ways in the matters of state that the country had not seen in the preceding decades.

The “primary” policy or “centerpiece” of Zia’s government was “Sharization” or “Islamization”.[89]

In 1977, prior to the coup, the drinking and selling of wine by Muslims, along with nightclubs, and horse racing was banned by Prime Minister Bhutto in an effort to stem the tide of street Islamization.[90][91] Zia went much further, committing himself to enforce Nizam-e-Mustafa (“Rule of the prophet” or Islamic System, i.e. establishing an Islamic state and sharia law[91]), a significant turn from Pakistan’s predominantly secular law, inherited from the British.

In his first televised speech to the country as head of state Zia declared:

Pakistan which was created in the name of Islam will continue to survive only if it sticks to Islam. That is why I consider the introduction of [an] Islamic system as an essential prerequisite for the country.[92]

In the past he complained, “Many a ruler did what they pleased in the name of Islam.”[93][94]

Zia established “Sharia Benches” in each High Court (later the Federal Sharia Court)[94][95] to judge legal cases using the teachings of the Quran and the Sunna, and to bring Pakistan’s legal statutes into alignment with Islamic doctrine.[96] Zia bolstered the influence of the ulama (Islamic clergy) and the Islamic parties.[96] 10,000s of activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party were appointed to government posts to ensure the continuation of his agenda after his passing.[89][91][96] Conservative ulama (Islamic scholars) were added to the Council of Islamic Ideology.[95]

Islamization was a sharp change from Bhutto’s original philosophical rationale captured in the slogan, “Food, clothing, and shelter”. In Zia’s view, socialist economics and a secular-socialist orientation served only to upset Pakistan’s natural order and weaken its moral fiber.[97] General Zia defended his policies in an interview in 1979 given to British journalist Ian Stephens:

The basis of Pakistan was Islam. … Muslims of the subcontinent are a separate culture. It was on the Two-Nation Theory that this part was carved out of the Subcontinent as Pakistan…. Mr. Bhutto’s way of flourishing in this Society was by eroding its moral fiber. … by pitching students against teachers, children against their parents, landlord against tenants, workers against mill owners. [Pakistan has economic difficulties] because Pakistanis have been made to believe that one can earn without working. … We are going back to Islam not by choice but by the force of circumstances. It is not I or my government that is imposing Islam. It was what 99 percent of people wanted; the street violence against Bhutto reflected the people’s desire …

— General Zia-ul-Haq, [4]

How much of Zia’s motivation came from piety and how much from political calculation is disputed. One author points out that Zia was conspicuously silent on the dispute between the heterodox Zikri and the ‘Ulama in Balochistan where he needed stability.[98] Secular and leftist forces accused Zia of manipulating Islam for political ends.[94] According to Nusrat Bhutto, former First Lady of Pakistan:

The … horrors of 1971 war … are (still) alive and vivid in the hearts and the minds of people of [Pakistan]…Therefore, General Zia insanely … used Islam … to ensure the survival of his own regime…. — Nusrat Bhutto, [94]

How much success Zia had using state-sponsored Islamization to strengthen national cohesion is also disputed. Religious riots broke out in 1983 and 1984.[99] Sectarian divisions between Sunnis and Shia worsened over the issue of the 1979 Zakat ordinance, but differences in Fiqh jurisprudence also arose in marriage and divorce, inheritance and wills and imposition of hadd punishments.[100][101]

Among Sunni Muslims, Deobandis and Barelvis also had disputes. Zia favoured the Deobandi doctrine and so the Sufi pirs of Sindh (who were Barelvis) joined the anti-Zia Movement for the Restoration of Democracy.[102]

In one of his first and most controversial measures to Islamize Pakistani society was the replacement of parts of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) with the 1979 “Hudood Ordinance.”[103] (Hudood meaning limits or restrictions, as in limits of acceptable behavior in Islamic law.) The Ordinance added new criminal offences of adultery and fornication to Pakistani law, and new punishments of whippingamputation, and stoning to death.[104]

For theft or robbery, the PPC punishments of imprisonment or fine, or both, were replaced by amputation of the right hand of the offender for theft, and amputation of the right hand and left foot for robbery. For Zina (extramarital sex) the provisions relating to adultery were replaced by the Ordinance with punishments of flogged 100 lashes for those unmarried offenders, and stoning to death for married offenders.

All these punishments were dependent on proof required for hadd being met. In practice the Hudd requirement—four Muslim men of good repute testifying as witness to the crime—was seldom met. As of 2014, no offenders have been stoned or had limbs amputated by the Pakistani judicial system. To be found guilty of theft, zina, or drinking alcohol by less strict tazir standards—where the punishment was flogging and/or imprisonment—was common, and there have been many floggings.

More worrisome for human rights and women’s rights advocates, lawyers and politicians was the incarceration of thousands of rape victims on charges of zina.[90] The onus of providing proof in a rape case rests with the woman herself. Uncorroborated testimony by women was inadmissible in hudood crimes.[105] If the victim/accuser was unable to prove her allegation, bringing the case to court was considered equivalent to a confession of sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage. Despite this the ordinance remained in force until the Women’s Protection Bill was passed in 2006.[106]

Although the Sharia punishments were imposed, the due process, witnesses, law of evidence, and prosecution system remained Anglo-Saxon.[107]

The hybridization of Pakistan penal code with Islamic laws was difficult because of the difference in the underlying logic of the two legal systems.[90] PPC was kingly law, Haddood is a religious and community-based law.

He gave the country the notorious Blasphemy Laws that most have come to see as a curse now. To outlaw blasphemy, the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) were amended through ordinances in 1980, 1982 and 1986. The 1980 law prohibited derogatory remarks against Islamic personages, and carried a three-year prison sentence.[110] In 1982 the small Ahmadiyya religious minority were prohibited from saying or implying they were Muslims. In 1986 declaring anything implying disrespect to the Islamic prophet MuhammadAhl al-Bayt (family members of Muhammad), Sahabah (companions of Muhammad) or Sha’ar-i-Islam (Islamic symbols) was made a cognisable offence, punishable with imprisonment or fine, or both.[111]

There is one Sunni sect of Islam that in its leadership and matters of state, is somewhat more akin to Shiite Islam, especially Ismaili community.

The reader does not need to decide if the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is Muslim or not to benefit from what follows and has important bearing on the subject at hand. Is Sunni or Ahmadiyya Islam a religion or a state?

I present an address delivered by Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, on the occasion of the centenary of Darul Qadha, the House of Justice, at the International refresher course. Recorded on January 20, 2019.

I share the following long video to demonstrate clearly once for all for friends and foe, that the community’s understanding of Islam is both as the final Divine religion but also that it covers the matters of state.

Again the focus here is, ‘Is Islam a religion or state,’ nothing more and nothing less:

If there was any doubt left for what I believe to be a Sunni understanding of Islam, a recent Ahmadiyya publication suggests desire and plan to understand and enact Sharia punishments for adultery and rape, if and when possible: The Latest from the Review of Religions: The Punishment for Fornication, Rape and False Allegations in Light of Islamic Hadd and Ta’zir.


Statehood is a messy affair, if you have watched any number of historical movies, and Islam is a religion of peace and submission to the will of God.

It is important to distinguish between religion and state. As there is freedom in matters of religion and conscience, but use of force or coercion in matters of state, so unless we define clear boundaries human affairs become chaotic.

To me Islam is a religion for personal life but also gives ideals for the statehood and communal living. If in matters of state we take it as a source of inspiration and information, like any rational person or group borrows good ideas from any where, then it will leave the possibility of consensus among people coming from different faiths open. Not only other faiths, the Muslims themselves can seldom agree on any fixed interpretation of any of the teachings, so insistence on ‘my way or understanding,’ is the only Divine dictate, leads to an impasse and sometimes schisms and civil wars.

The Muslims do not have to constantly dream of toppling the governments and installing theocracies, when they are peacefully living with other religions and sects, as that is not only unwise, but unjust and unfair and completely against the very essence of Islam that is peace at all levels, personal, social and spiritual.

I read about Tunisia today: Is it a good thing: Tunisia expert drafting new constitution says no reference to Islam? Statehood requires constant negotiation, evolution and updates.

Please allow me to say that we should not insist on our Islamic or Quranic understanding of statehood, as they will differ between a Sunni Muslim, a Shiite Muslim, an Ismaili Muslim, a Muslim with agnostic tendencies, a Muslim who does not want to be affiliated with any sect or an Ahmadi Muslim that many in Pakistan will want to insist are non-Muslims. Such insistence on our individual understanding only gives rise to conflict and discord and usually does not serve any useful purpose.

We can draw our inspirations about justice and compassion in the matters of state from the Quran but need to act on them through the civic process in the countries or states that we live in, interacting with our brethren and sisters from other faiths.

Please give up your ambition to get your country or your community or sect to Sharia Law and read the following. Remember Iran is still a theocracy but Saudi Arabia is trying to get away from that and that I believe should be self evident, if you have been up to speed with the current affairs:

The Taliban Rule: Do Muslims Prefer Camels Over Modern Cars?

Demystifying Prophethood, Theocracy, Democracy and Dictatorship

Prophet Muhammad recognized as a great law-giver by US Supreme court, since 1935

Video: Are Imran Khan’s Sympathizers Creating a Risk of Theocracy?

Avoiding Herd Mentality: Look Before You Leap Behind Trump

Islamism — the Political Islam: The Challenge for the 21st Century

Now the Muslim dilemma: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath

Video: Mohammad Tawhidi On Islamism

Reason or Orthodoxy: Which One Should Rule?

Prophet Muhammad recognized as a great law-giver by US Supreme court, since 1935

Bringing all Muslims to the 21st century: The Issue of Apostasy in Islam

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults in India say sons and daughters should have equal rights to inheritance from parents

Erdogan Talks of Making Hagia Sophia a Mosque Again, to International Dismay

‘Secularism in the constitution of B’desh never conflicts Islam’

‘Islamic Law’: A Myopic Reading of the Quran

Are Religions Pluralistic or Myopic and Parochial?

The Holy Quran and the Seventh Century Arabian Metaphors

I am a Jew, a Catholic, a Christian and a Muslim; I am Zia H Shah

In Defense of the Secular Narrative of the Holy Quran

Video: Martin Luther King on Just and Unjust Laws

Should President Macron Take PM Justin Trudeau, PM Jacinda Ardern and Me As Religious Coexistence Advisers?

Videos: Presidents, Kings, Many Religious leaders and Dictators are Infallible?

Our Collection: Shariah Law or the Secular Law, That is the Question?

Rape in Islamic law: Establishing the crime and upholding the rights of the innocent

Poll: Pakistan in dire need to learn from Turkey on matters of law and religion

Qasim Rashid’s Blog ‘Sacred Justice’ and Our Collection of Articles about Islam and Justice

Islam: A Totalitarian Philosophy or One Teaching at a Time?

Kripkean Dogmatism: The Best Metaphor to Understand Religious and Political Debates

The Holy Quran about dogmatism and black and white thinking

2 thoughts on “Is Islam a Religion or a State: Most Muslims Do Not Know?

  • Those who want or oppose Sharia do not know what Sharia law.

    Sharia is central to Islamic faith. It is the Divine Law of Guidance for personal and public behaviour of Muslims, and justice to humanity. Justice is one word in Islam that wraps balance, harmony, fairness, mercy and equity together for the society to function cohesively, where none has to live in fear of the other but God. In its absence, humanity will degenerate into a dysfunctional society. Most Muslims believe that the complete code of Sharia or Divine Law is primarily in the Qur’an and secondarily in the authentic reports of Prophet teachings as well as the practices (Hadiths). However, there are many Hadiths in the Sahih Bukhari, Muslim, etc., that defame Prophet (s), is irrational, unjust, contrary to common good, and contradict the Qur’an, and “Any rules that depart from justice to injustice, from kindness to harshness, from common good to harm, or rationality to absurdity cannot be part of Sharia.’ (13th century jurist Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya)
    Unfortunately, it is a common Muslims misconception that Divine Law equals Fiqh (understanding by jurists) or Muslim jurisprudence. Various forms of Muslim Jurisprudence are built on the idea that every human effort to articulate Sharia (Divine Law) in specific legal rules is human, and therefore unavoidably fallible process. This process is called Ijitihad, and rules it produces are called Fiqh (understanding) or Muslim jurisprudence. Thus, for Muslims there has always been one Law of God (Sharia), but many schools of Fiqh articulating Divine Law here on earth. Sunni schools are: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi, Hambali, Zahari, etc., and the schools of Shia are Jaf’ari, Zaydi, and Ibadi. Each of the schools of Islam are named by students of the classical jurist who taught them.  Fiqh rules can be criticized or rejected or reframed without questioning God’s infallibility, because Fiqh rules are merely the result of fallible human efforts to understand and elaborate Sharia.

    The logic of the Sharia is its minimal number of clear interdictions, and maximal scope for the interpretative extension of key precepts to particular situations. It means that any freezing of the Ulema’s (scholars’) ‘arbitrary’ decisions arises not so much from the essential characteristics of the Sharia, but merely from a fallible human decree of a particular legal tradition or method of exegesis. Only God knows who is right and no Muslim religious-legal scholar (Fuqaha) can insist that his or her conclusions are the correct articulation of Sharia (Divine Law) as against all others. In short, whereas Sharia is perfect, incontestable and is not in need of reform, Fiqh rules are always fallible, therefore can be wrong.
    I define: Contemporary Muslim fundamentalists are those who believe Fiqh (understandings by Fuqaha) is divine, perfect.


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