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Separation of Religion and State in the Muslim World PDF Print E-mail
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By Elias Aoun
Exclusive for Al WAref
What does “the separation of religion and state” mean? To avoid any misunderstanding about what a person is suggesting, proposing, or opposing, it would be wise to define the terms being used..  What does “the separation of religion and state” mean?

The term “religion” can be defined under two broad categories: one being a relationship between the individual and the Creator; another being the religious institutions and their system of faith and worship. 

The term “state” can be defined as a sovereign people occupying a certain defined territory; another definition is the organized government that was set-up by the people. 

When we speak of “the separation of religion and state,” we are speaking in terms of separating the religious institutions from exercising undue influence over the government, and vice versa.  We are not speaking in terms of separating the people or individuals from their relationship with God.  The believer’s relationship with God, the Creator, is a fundamental component of a person’s life that transcends all organized systems, being governmental or religious. 

The basic elements of separating governmental affairs from a system of faith and worship can be found in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

There is no mention in the Constitution of the term “separation of Church and state,” and there is no explicit prohibition of religious institutions from playing a role in politics. 

In addressing that issue, we must be willing to acknowledge the truth.

Firstly, certain religious institutions do not necessarily represent the true teachings of the holy texts which they proclaim to represent.  If they did, the Middle East would certainly be in a better position than where it is now.

Secondly, not all religious ideologies or institutions are equal.  For example, the Anglo-Saxon Protestant Reformation played a major role in championing freedoms that were opposed or denied by the Vatican.

Thirdly, we cannot deny that some religious institutions have been involved in politics for hundreds of years and continue to do so until today.

We can either attack such an involvement or we can dedicate our effort toward a constructive approach. Such an approach necessitates a reconciliation, rather than separation, between certain religious principles (not institutions) and the state.

This leads us into the question: How can such reconciliation take place in the form of a civil state and from which Middle Eastern nations could learn from?  The answer is not found by pursuing untested theories.  The answer is found in discovering the principles that make civilization possible and apply them within each Middle Eastern nation.

These principles are found in models that have been proven historically to yield desirable results.  One of these models is the republic form of government instituted by the founding fathers of the United States – a model which is not being properly pursued today as it was originally envisioned.

The nations of the Middle East can benefit tremendously from learning the foundational elements espoused by the founding fathers of the American Republic.  Some of these elements include a belief in a Higher Law, individual rights, and a republican form of government.

Many Middle Easterners look at the West and presume that if they adopt secularism, democracy, and/or federalism, they can then achieve the advancement attained by the West.  In my opinion, they are mistaken.  The answer lies in the principles, not in the form.

The belief in a Higher Law that transcends any government’s law
The highly advanced, prosperous American civilization was the direct result of the founding fathers’ enforcement of Higher Law.  As quoted in a book by author Richard J. Maybury, the second president of the United States John Adams said:

“What do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced.  The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.”

The key words are “religious sentiments.”  The people are required to obey government’s law only when it is in agreement with Higher Law.  If the government violates Higher Law, then the people have to resist and abandon their allegiance to that government.

“Higher Law” is the ancient common law which most colonists understood and obeyed faithfully while they ignored the laws and taxes enacted by the politicians. 

Common law evolved from two basic principles:
(1) Do all you have agreed to do – which is the basis of contract law;
(2) Do not encroach on other persons and their property – which is the basis of criminal and tort law.

[Source: “What would Thomas Jefferson Think About This?” By Richard J. Maybury, pages 114-119]

Advancement, prosperity, and stability can be achieved by adopting and enforcing these two principles – which all major religions and philosophies agree upon.   Even those who do not believe in a God would still believe in abiding by these two laws.

The first step for any Middle Eastern country seeking to establish a modern and prosperous civil state, on solid foundations, would be to inject its legal system with common law principles.

Unfortunately, the degenerative concept being pursued today is that there is no law higher than the government’s law.  The faulty assumption is that the government should do whatever appears necessary to serve its “interests.” 

Under the pretext of serving “interests,” both Middle Eastern and Western governments justify questionable domestic and foreign policies – and then encroach on individual liberties, people’s properties, and justify wars.

Where there is no common law, the outcome is eventually tyranny or chaos.  And that is what we have in parts of the Middle East – dictatorships, monarchies, or chaos.

If Middle Eastern nations are serious about moving forward, then they should be serious about common law.

The protection of individual rights
The second step toward a viable civil state is the adoption of a Declaration of Rights enumerating equal rights and responsibilities for each of the country’s citizens – be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, or any other.  It is logical that the belief in Higher Authority and Higher Law leads to the belief in Natural Rights or God-given rights.

The Declaration of Rights does not grant a person rights, but simply enumerates them.  Your freedom of speech was not granted to you by a Bill of Rights or a Constitution.  That freedom, like many others, belongs to you and was given to you by the Creator.  It is up to you to choose when to exercise it, without any prior permission from any government.

There is no doubt that religious minorities and women are not treated fairly in the Middle East.  The manner to rectify the unacceptable mistreatment is through the pursuit of individual rights, and not through enacting quotas and pursuing campaigns targeting specifically the religious minorities and women.  Doing so would tend to divide the nation into groups, each competing for a piece of the pie, rather than viewing the issue in its broader unifying perspective.

Also, many well-meaning individuals use the term “rule of law.”  However, dictatorships do also have laws laid down by the state and reflecting the will of the tyrant – contrary to common law and in violation of individual rights.  We must, therefore, emphasize legitimate rights – not simply the mere implementation of laws.

In the absence of defined principles, in the absence of a moral compass, the law becomes a destroyer.

In the absence of defined and respected individual rights, all peace negotiations are futile. 

The establishment of a Republic, and not a democracy
The subject of rights leads us into the distinction between a democracy and a republic. 

For the last several years, the Middle East had witnessed various campaigns aimed at promoting democracy in the region.  Many well-meaning individuals and organizations rallied behind the banner of democracy.

The word “democracy” does not exist in the U.S. Constitution and many founding fathers were against the concept of a majority rule.  They established a republic, not a democracy.

To briefly distinguish between the two, a democracy is based on whatever the majority wants, while a republic has defined principles that cannot be violated regardless of the size of the majority. 

Preeminent among these rights are the rights to life, liberty, property, and to protect them in the best manner possible.

Who among us here would want his or her right to life to be decided by a majority vote, or to be left to the whims of the legislature, courts, or bureaucrats?

Although this panel discussion was intended for Middle Eastern purposes, it can also be an opportunity to point out certain issues in need of attention here in the United States – to show that allowing the encroachment on one right ultimately facilitates the encroachment on another.

For many decades now, hundreds of thousands of American people’s properties were taken away from them by the Internal Revenue Service, banks, and corporations simply by the issuance of a piece paper, called a lien or a levy, without any due process or a court order. 

The encroachment on property progressed into an encroachment on liberty, where any American could now be arrested or imprisoned under the Patriot Act without any due process or a court order. 

If the encroachment on property and liberty is not rectified, then the trend could progress into an encroachment on life itself and any American’s life could face the risk of being taken away by some bureaucrat issuing an “order,” and without any due process.

In his book “Whatever Happened to Justice?” author Richard Maybury wrote:
Originally, in Germany, the killing of any innocent human was held to be murder. Then political leaders acquired the power to change the law, and judges went along.  Exceptions crept in.  First, it was persons held to be mentally incompetent. Then others became exceptions, until finally millions were killed. Legally.          [Source: “Whatever Happened to Justice?” By Richard J. Maybury, page 122]

This is an example of how political law without a moral compass, as we have today, can become a barbaric system.

I have seen a Dept. of the Treasury document specifically stating that the IRS Appeals Office does not consider arguments that are “moral, religious, political, constitutional, conscientious, or similar grounds.”  We all know in what direction the country is heading when decisions are being made without moral or even constitutional considerations.

President Abraham Lincoln said that danger “cannot come from abroad.  If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

I believe that one of the best contributions that an individual or an institute could make would be to promote the principles of common law and individual rights to reverse the downhill path being pursued.  By restoring America as a true republic under common law, we can safeguard it as a model of freedom for the rest of the world.

The religious institutions do not exercise political influence as a measure of advancing the teachings of the holy texts. They exercise such an influence as a measure to advance their own power.

The simplest individual response would be to submit to God directly, not the institutions, and begin reading our own Bible, Koran, or Torah.  By encouraging individual religious studies, we create another religious Reformation which will eventually lead us into another Renaissance on many levels – political and otherwise.

A person cannot be in favor of separation of religious institutions and politics, and then go to a Catholic church on Sunday and make a donation to the Vatican which seeks to merge both religion and politics unto itself.

Giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s (Luke 20:25) does not mean that both Caesar and God should be merged in the Vatican or any other institution; and it does not mean that Caesar should be ungodly or is not under the authority of God.  Even Christ told Pontius Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” (John 19:11)

We may de-associate ourselves from religious institutions, but we must not throw out religion because.  In many respects, religion is the origin of common law and natural laws.  The fact that institutions have mis-applied or violated certain rights and principles does not justify denying the true authority behind those rights and principles.  We must return to that same authority and principles to correct the path for ourselves and our nations. 

If we separate all aspects of religious teachings from all aspects of government, there might not be a government left.  If one is left, it would not be a government separate from religion but one that is merged with a new type of religion called atheism.

Someone once said that “human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

The first step in that education is the awareness that the Bible or the Koran did not ask of us to be Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, Sunnis, Shiites, or any other denomination.  They asked us to be righteous, just, and pursue the truth. 

Christ said: “The truth shall make you free.”  He did not say: “Religion shall make you free” or “the state shall make you free.” 

Regardless of how one perceives the issue of separation of religion and state, we should not separate ourselves from the truth and the application of correct moral principles without which no genuine reform or advancement can be achieved or sustained.

In my presentation, I shared a portion of the truth as I understand it.

Let us become disciples for truth, freedom, and individual rights.  Let us advance that which we agree upon, and leave the rest behind – or at least until we accomplish that which we agree upon.

By protecting other people’s property, liberty, and life, we accomplish nothing less than protecting our own.  Each of us can play a role in directing the future by our course of action in the present.

A Panel Discussion sponsored by  and
May 26, 2009

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