Mosque and State in Early Islam

Mosque and state should say three times: “I divorce you.” But they won’t. They love each other and are difficult to separate.

This article is Part 3 in the sharia series.

This series of articles about Islamic sharia law is written for educators, journalists, legislators, city council members, judges, lawyers, government bureaucrats, think tank fellows, TV and radio talk show hosts, and everyone else who occupies the “check points” in society. They initiate the national dialogue and shape the flow of the conversation. They are the policy and decision makers.

They have heard the critics of sharia and conclude they exaggerate and may therefore be “Islamophobic.” Islam is a world religion, after all. It deserves respect.

On the other hand, these same decision and policy makers may also privately sense something is wrong with sharia as it relates to the modern world. Can the critics be all wrong, all the time? But the elites are afraid of voicing their feelings publicly.

Yet, overcoming or suppressing their doubts, they may be tempted to incorporate or refer to sharia laws in their policies, laws, school curricula, and decisions.

In this article, we explore the subject of mosque and the state. In this case mosque not only means the physical building, but also the entire religion, in some contexts.

In early Islam, the mosque and state were merged.

Merging the mosque and state leads to most of the issues laid out in the entire series of articles.

Here is the Table of Contents:


Growth of His Military

Growth of His Prophethood

Religious Laws Multiply






Oath of Allegiance to Abu Bakr in the Mosque

Umar Requires Obedience at His Inauguration in the Mosque

Ratification of Uthman’s Caliphate in the Mosque

Ali Accepts His Caliphate in the Mosque

Absolute Obedience






Reformist Views

Traditional Views



His military power, prophethood, and religious laws all roll into one. It is no coincidence that his military power is the basis of his calling and religion. This sets the institutional genetic code for Islam.

Growth of His Military

Muhammad grew in his calling, as his ministry began in 610 A.D. (so says tradition). At first he considered himself a messenger, and in fact he kept that title for the rest of his life. The title “messenger” or “apostle” is related to the word “send” and appears in its various forms about 360 times in the Quran, but only twenty times it is applied to Muhammad in Mecca, and 167 times to him in Medina.[1]

This two-city division of his ministry is important for many reasons, but for our purposes it is because he had no military or even a small band of warriors to protect him from persecution while he lived in his hometown Mecca. So he was peaceful and the chapters of the Quran that were given then and there are also peaceful.

However, when he migrated to Medina in 622, he developed a band of raiders that grew into a large army. There he became warlike, and the chapters revealed there also endorsed war. In any case, why was there such a dramatic increase in the title of messenger? The possible answer is that the increase corresponds to his sense of mission.

As he grew in his power, his confidence increased proportionately, and so did the sense of his own calling. Muhammad was sent or commissioned to the inhabitants of Medina and then to the whole world.

Certain verses in Chapter 2 (a Medinan chapter) say to wage war on the unbelievers.

190 Fight [q-t-l] in God’s cause against those who fight [q-t-l] you, but do not overstep the limits: God does not love those who overstep the limits. 191 Kill [q-t-l] them wherever you encounter them, and drive them out from where they drove you out, for persecution is more serious than killing [q-t-l]. Do not fight [q-t-l] them at the Sacred Mosque unless they fight [q-t-l] you there. If they do fight [q-t-l] you, kill [q-t-l] them – this is what such disbelievers deserve – 192 but if they stop, then God is most forgiving and merciful. 193 Fight [q-t-l] them until there is no more persecution, and worship is devoted to God. If they cease hostilities, there can be no [further] hostility, except towards aggressors.[2] (Quran 2:190-193)

The word for fighting in those verses is not jihad, but the more restricted word qital or qatala which can only mean slaying, fighting, warring, killing and slaughtering. Further, at first glance the verses talk about self-defense, and that is partially true because Muhammad claimed that he had the right to go back to the sacred shrine in Mecca (“the Sacred Mosque” in v. 191) and worship there, but the Meccans were preventing him. For their side of the issue they claimed it was their shrine to begin with and only they had rightful ownership of it, and Muhammad was conducting aggressive raids on their caravans to weaken Meccan trade.

See the article The Mission of Muhammad and the Sword for more discussion of his goal to get back the Kabah shrine in Mecca.

What is interesting is the clause in v. 193, “fight them until… worship is devoted to God.” This means that Muslims can fight the polytheists – those who worship many gods – until they worship the one God of Islam. The Meccan shrine must come under Islam. So the cause of war is not strictly self-defense, for Muhammad has a higher goal, to take over the shrine. Or he could have left it alone.

Muhammad collected the tribute he won after his successful wars. In one section of the hadith called One-Fifth of the War Booty, he is reported to have received money from Bahrain. He told the envoy to spread the money out in the mosque. “Narrated Anas: Money from Bahrain was brought to the Prophet. He said, ‘Spread it in the Mosque.’ It was the biggest amount that had ever been brought to Allah’s Apostle.” The rest of the hadith shows him and his followers scooping it up and giving it away.[3]

See the next article in the series for more discussion about jihad and taxes.

Growth of His Prophethood

The word “prophet” appears in its various forms about eighty times in the Quran.[4] In Islamic theology, a nabi is one who receives revelations from Allah, and Muhammad is the one and only prophet in Islam. This formal title of him increases dramatically in the later Medinan chapters (about forty times), much more than in the earlier Meccan chapters (two times).

But this must be emphasized: it is not necessarily the quantity or number of times that a title appears that is important, but its quality or content in context that matters most. On the other hand, the number of times that the title “prophet” is applied to Muhammad at Mecca is shockingly low, and this cannot be ignored, either.

For more on the topic of nabi as contrasted with messenger, see my study, References to Muhammad’s Roles.

So why does his use of the title “prophet” increase so dramatically after he moves to Medina? This is likely due to two factors.

First, he grows in his sense of prophethood as he defines it. In Mecca, he reserves this honor mostly for Biblical prophets (twenty-two times) and only twice explicitly for non-Biblical prophets.

Second, in Medina, his contact with Jews increases exponentially, who thrived in that city before he got there. He uses that title for Biblical prophets about twenty-three times in Medina. Maybe this indicates that he wants the Jews to see him as a continuation of the Biblical prophets. After all, the educated Medinan Jews knew the Hebrew and Arabic word for “prophet” (nabi). However, the Jews rebuffed him mainly because he was a gentile, and he did not know the Hebrew Bible adequately. Thus, he fell outside of the Biblical tradition.

For more information about his relations with the Jews, see the article The Sword and the Jews.

Religious Laws Multiply

Muhammad preached many religious laws while in Mecca. However, his growing military power and his sense of prophethood also coincides with the multiplication of religious laws. The following topics are representative examples of many of them.


Since time immemorial pagans had taken pilgrimages to a black stone housed in the Kabah shrine (“the Ancient House”) in Mecca. In this passage he tells them to honor this ancient ritual.

27 Proclaim the Pilgrimage to all people. They will come to you on foot and on every kind of lean camel, emerging from every deep mountain pass 28 to attain benefits and mention God’s name, on specified days, over the livestock He has provided for them. Feed yourselves and the desperately poor from them. 29 Then let the pilgrims perform their acts of cleansing, fulfill their vows, and circle around the Ancient House. 30 All this [is ordained by God]: anyone who honors the sacred ordinances of God will have good rewards from his Lord.[5] (Quran 22:27-29)

Food Laws

In the next one verse – remarkably long – Muhammad informs his follower which foods are clean and unclean. He has perfected and chosen for his Muslims the religion of Islam: submission.

3 You are forbidden to eat carrion; blood; pig’s meat; any animal over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; any animal strangled, or victim of a violent blow or a fall, or gored or savaged by a beast of prey, unless you still slaughter it [in the correct manner]; or anything sacrificed on idolatrous altars. You are also forbidden to allot shares [of meat] by drawing marked arrows – a heinous practice! Today the disbelievers have lost all hope that you will give up your religion. Do not fear them: fear Me. Today I have perfected your religion for you, completed My blessing upon you, and chosen as your religion islam: [total devotion to God] but if any of you is forced by hunger to eat such forbidden food, with no intention of doing wrong, then God is most forgiving and merciful.[6] (Quran 5:3)

Hygiene and Sexual Contact

Then he tells his followers how to wash before they pray and after they have relieved themselves or had contact with a woman.

6 You who believe, when you are about to pray, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, wipe your heads, wash your feet up to the ankles and, if required, wash your whole body. If any of you is sick or on a journey, or has just relieved himself, or had intimate contact with a woman, and can find no water, then take some clean sand and wipe your face and hands with it. God does not wish to place any burden on you: He only wishes to cleanse you and perfect His blessing on you, so that you may be thankful. (Quran 5:6)

The Sacred Book

In the passage that follows, the Quran is the source of law, guidelines, exhortations, and inspiration for Islam. It was brought down by the archangel Gabriel, over time. For devout Muslims it is eternally, universally (cross-culturally) valid. It applies everywhere and for all times. If anyone opposes it, Allah will oppose him. Allah tells his prophet to “say.”

97 Say [Prophet], “If anyone is an enemy of Gabriel – who by God’s leave brought down the Qur’an to your heart, confirming previous scriptures as a guide and good news for the faithful – 98 if anyone is an enemy of God, His angels and His messengers, of Gabriel and Michael, then God is certainly the enemy of such disbelievers.” 99 For We [Allah] have sent down clear messages to you and only those who defy [God] would refuse to believe them… 101 When God sent them a messenger [Muhammad] confirming the Scriptures they already had, some of those who had received the Scripture before threw the Book of God over their shoulders as if they had no knowledge.[7] (Quran 2:97-99, 101)


The final passage that illustrates Muhammad’s leadership in the sphere of religion tells him which direction to face when he prays – towards the “Sacred Mosque” in Mecca. To this day mosques around the world point towards Mecca, so Muslims can pray in the right direction.

149 [Prophet], wherever you may have started out, turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque – this is the truth from your Lord: He is not unaware of what you do –  150 wherever you may have started out, turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque; wherever any of you may be, turn your faces towards it, so that people may have no argument against you except for the wrongdoers among them: do not fear them; fear Me – and so that I may perfect My favour on you and you may be guided, 151 just as We have sent among you a Messenger of your own to recite Our revelations to you, purify you and teach you the Scripture, wisdom, and [other] things you did not know. 152 So remember Me; I will remember you. Be thankful to Me, and never ungrateful. (Quran 2:149-152).

To sum up this section, any founder of a religion has the right to tell his followers about his religion. He can put demands on them about prayer, pilgrimages, foods, and obedience to a holy book. In the religious realm, the prophet of Islam was influential, charismatic, powerful, and persuasive. But things did not remain in that realm alone.

Muhammad saw himself as more than a religious leader. He came to believe he should build a state over which he presided.

With the background of merging the military, prophethood, and religious laws, the three areas we now examine is the executive, legislative and judicial.


Dividing the Spoils of War

Often Muhammad said that to obey Allah is to obey his messenger or to defy Muhammad is to defy Allah. To be true to Allah is to be true to Muhammad.[8] For example, in Quran 8:1 he discusses how to divide the spoils of war after his very important victory at the Battle of Badr in 624. “They ask you [Prophet] about [distributing] the battle gains. Say, ‘That is a matter for God and His Messenger, so be mindful of God and make things right between you. Obey God and His Messenger, if you are true believers.’”

See the next article in the series for more discussion about jihad and the spoils of war.

Warfare and Obedience

Next, some Muslims did not go out on a military campaign late in his life, in 630. So he tells his more faithful followers, “Do not hold prayers for any of them if they die, and do not stand by their graves: they disbelieved in God and His Messenger and died rebellious” (9:84).

It is one thing for a religious founder to order his disciples to obey him in spiritual and moral matters, but combining war and religion and obedience is another thing entirely.

Jesus commanded obedience to him and his cause, but he separated the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Caesar, unlike Muhammad.

For more on how Jesus kept the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Caesar, see my article The Mission of Jesus and the Sword.


Muhammad sent out or went out on seventy-four expeditions, ranging from pilgrimages to full-scale wars.[9] They also include assassinations. An apostate – someone who leaves Islam – named Abdullah bin Khatal enjoyed the company of two singing-girls in Mecca. One was murdered after Muhammad’s conquest of the city in 630 because she had sung satirical verses about him, which Khatal had composed. He was also killed, though he clung to the curtains of the Kabah shrine. The other singing girl was not killed because of her repentance.[10] “Allah’s Apostle entered Mecca in the year of its conquest wearing an Arabian helmet on his head and when the prophet took it off, a person came and said, ‘Ibn Khatal is holding the covering of the Kabah (taking refuge in the Kabah).’ The prophet said, ‘Kill him.’”[11]

For more information about assassinations, see the article on free speech, in this series.

Threatening Jews with Exile

Muhammad did not reserve the mosque only for spiritual use. In one case he used the mosque to rally a band of men to threaten the Jews with exile and the confiscation of their property in Medina.

Narrated Abu Huraira: While we were in the mosque, Allah’s Apostle came out and said, “Let us proceed to the Jews.” So we went out with him till we came to Bait-al-Midras. The Prophet stood up there and called them, saying, “O assembly of Jews! Surrender to Allah (embrace Islam) and you will be safe!”…  and he repeated his words for the third time and added, “Know that the earth is for Allah and I want to exile you from this land, so whoever among you has property he should sell it; otherwise, know that the land is for Allah and His Apostle.”[12]

Muhammad exiled two tribes of Jews in Medina: the Nadir and Qaynuqa and confiscated their property. Either tribe could be referenced here.

For more information about his relations with the Jews, see the article The Sword and the Jews.

Letter to an Emperor

As Muhammad’s military might increased, he saw himself as the head of state. He sent a letter to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius inviting him to embrace Islam. In this hadith, some background to the letter is given.

Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas: Allah’s Apostle wrote to Caesar and invited him to Islam and sent him his letter with Dihya Al-Kalbi whom Allah’s Apostle ordered to hand it over to the governor of Busra who would forward it to Caesar. Caesar as a sign of gratitude to Allah, had walked from Hims [in Syria] to Ilya (i.e. Jerusalem) when Allah had granted Him victory over the Persian forces. So, when the letter of Allah’s Apostle reached Caesar, he said after reading it, ‘Seek for me any one of his people! (Arabs of Quraish tribe) if present here, in order to ask him about Allah’s apostle’[13] ….

The long hadith continues. The letter was recorded as follows:

. . . In the name of Allah, the most beneficent, the most merciful (This letter is) from Muhammad, the slave of Allah, and his apostle, to Heraclius, the ruler of the Byzantine. Peace be upon the followers of guidance. Now then, I invite you to Islam (i.e. surrender to Allah), embrace Islam and you will be safe; embrace Islam and Allah will bestow on you a double reward. But if you reject this invitation of Islam, you shall be responsible for misguiding the peasants (i.e. your nation). O people of the Scriptures! Come to a word common to you and us and you, that we worship. None but Allah, and that we associate nothing in worship with Him; and that none of us shall take others as Lords besides Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are (they who have surrendered unto Him) ([Quran] 3.64).[14]

However, underestimating the rapid spread and growing military might of Islam, the Byzantine Caesar rejected the letter with much contempt.


Muhammad took on the role of legislator or lawmaker. The rest of this series of articles is about his laws, so we do not need to go into detail about it here.

These two verses prove the point.

In this verse he says he has come to make some things lawful.

I have come to confirm the truth of the Torah which preceded me, and to make some things lawful to you which used to be forbidden. I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. Be mindful of God, obey me (Quran 3:50).

And in this verse he establishes inheritance laws.

They ask you [Prophet] for a ruling. Say, ‘God gives you a ruling about inheritance’” . . . (Quran 4:176).

He then goes on to discuss new inheritance laws.

Muhammad legislated against alcohol and preached jihad from the mosque.

Narrated Aisha: When the last verses of [Chapter 2 of the Quran] were revealed, Allah’s Apostle went out and recited them in the mosque and prohibited the trade of alcoholic liquors.”[15]

The verse that prohibits alcohol is Quran 2:219. It is not clear how many of the verses were the last ones, because Chapter 2 is a hodgepodge. But he did preach jihad in that chapter (see Quran 2:190-193, quoted in the section Growth of Military, above).

Whenever the second chapter was composed, we should have no doubt that it was read in its entirety at various times in the mosque, as were the other chapters in the Quran.

Thus the Quran is, among other things, a law book. Devout Muslims believe these laws can apply – must be applied – everywhere and at all times, even today.


Whether new laws are given or old ones maintained, disputes arise. Muhammad saw his role as judge. He often heard and adjudicated cases.

Stoning Adulterers to Death

In the mosque Muhammad ruled as judge, telling his companions – those closest to him from early in his ministry – to stone a man to death who had committed adultery. This passage from the hadith says:

Narrated Abu Huraira: A man came to Allah’s Apostle while he was in the mosque, and called him, saying, “O Allah’s Apostle! I have committed illegal sexual intercourse.” The Prophet turned his face to the other side, but when the man gave four witnesses against himself, the Prophet said to him, “Are you mad?” The man said, “No.” So the Prophet said (to his companions), “Take him away and stone him to death.”[16]

See the article in the series about fornication and adultery.

Absolute Obedience to His Rulings

This next verse from the Quran says that people must totally accept his verdicts, “By your Lord, they will not be true believers until they let you decide between them in all matters of dispute, and find no resistance in their souls to your decisions, accepting them totally” (Quran 4:65).

However, Muhammad admitted that sometimes his verdicts could be erroneous. If the winner of the trial accepts the erroneous verdict, he is playing with fire, so to speak.

Narrated Um Salama: The Prophet heard the voices of some people quarreling near his gate, so he went to them and said, “I am only a human being and litigants with cases of disputes come to me, and maybe one of them presents his case eloquently in a more convincing and impressive way than the other, and I give my verdict in his favor thinking he is truthful. So if I give a Muslim’s right to another (by mistake), then that (property) is a piece of fire, which is up to him to take it or leave it.”[17]

As noted, Jesus commanded obedience, but he did not mix the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar.

Judging Jews

In context, our next verse discusses his relations with the Jewish community in Medina:

42 … If they come to you [Prophet] for judgment, you can either judge between them or decline – if you decline, they will not harm you in anyway, but if you do judge between them, judge justly: God loves the just. (Quran 5:42; cf. vv. 43-45)

Whether Muhammad heard their case or not, he was still a judge.

Judging Muslims

Three verses illustrate his role as judge. Muslims were summoned to him for a judgment.

48 And when they are summoned to God and His Messenger in order for him to judge between them, some of them go away… 51 When the true believers are summoned to God and His Messenger in order for him to judge between them, they say, “We hear and we obey.” These are the ones who prosper. 52 Whoever obeys God and His Messenger stands in awe of God…. (Quran 24:48, 51-52)

Those verses spell things out clearly. Standing before Muhammad the judge is to stand before Allah. Obedience to Muhammad is obedience to Allah.

Appointing Judges

But Muhammad believed that judges could be employed in lieu of himself. “You who believe, obey God and His Messenger and those in authority among you” (Quran 4:59). This hadith says: “Narrated Abdur Rahman bin Abi Bakra: Abu Bakra [not the first caliph] wrote to his son who was in Sijistan: ‘Do not judge between two persons when you are angry, for I heard the Prophet saying, “A judge should not judge between two persons while he is in an angry mood.”’”[18]

The next hadith also says that Muhammad has the final say if a case is decided by another judge.

Narrated ‘Amr bin Al-As: That he heard Allah’s Apostle saying, “If a judge gives a verdict according to the best of his knowledge and his verdict is correct (i.e. agrees with Allah and His Apostle’s verdict) he will receive a double reward, and if he gives a verdict according to the best of his knowledge and his verdict is wrong, (i.e. against that of Allah and His Apostle) even then he will get a reward.”[19]


Muhammad grew in his mission and sense of prophethood. In Mecca he saw himself as a messenger, and this title stayed with him in Medina too. But he refers to himself as prophet very few times in Mecca, whereas this title increases dramatically in Medina. His migration to Medina in 622 made all the difference.

Along with this move, he also developed a military and kept the religious part of Islam. This is when he also included the political in his new religion. He came to believe he was building an entire state, and his military successes confirmed his growing belief.

It turned out that Muhammad was not only the religious leader, telling his followers how to pray, recite the Quran, go on pilgrimages, and eat clean foods. He also saw himself as embodying all three parts of the state, along with his religion. He had final say in all matters. He did not maintain the separation of the three areas of state, and religion permeated all of them. In effect he built a theocracy of divine laws.

In Medina, where Muhammad grew in military strength, he ties obedience to him with obedience to God, in the context of a courtroom where he presides as judge. His rulings came from Allah, and the source of his justice was the Quran. This hadith says: “Narrated Abu Huraira and Zaid bin Khalid: We were with the Prophet when he said (to two men), ‘I shall judge between you according to Allah’s Book.’”[20]

Muhammad’s life did not end well. Specifically, reliable Islamic traditions report that he was assassinated by Jews who poisoned his food.[21]

These hadith by Bukhari say that the Khaybar Jews poisoned Muhammad. Aisha was his favorite wife. “Narrated Aisha: ‘The Prophet in his ailment in which he died, used to say, “O Aisha! I still feel the pain caused by the food I ate at Khaybar, and at this time, I feel as if my aorta is being cut from that poison.”’”

What was the Jewish community’s motive? In this hadith, Muhammad is interrogating the Jews of Khaybar. After a verbal sparring match with them, he comes to the point.  . . . “[Muhammad] asked, ‘Have you poisoned this sheep?’ They [some Jews] said, ‘Yes.’ He asked, ‘What made you do so?’ They said, ‘We wanted to know if you were a liar in which case we would get rid of you, and if you are a prophet then the poison would not harm you’”

The next hadith says that the effects of poison lasted a long time. “Narrated Anas bin Malik: ‘A Jewess brought a poisoned (cooked) sheep for the prophet who ate from it. She was brought to the prophet and he was asked, “Shall we kill her?” He said, “No.” I continued to see the effect of the poison on the palate of the mouth of Allah’s Apostle.’”

Any leader can be tragically assassinated for any number of reasons, but one cannot escape the impression that Muhammad’s politics and wars were contributing factors to his own assassination. Mixing religion and all areas of state in one leader can lead to disasters.

For jihad and the taxes collected after jihad was waged, see the next article in the series.


Muhammad died in A.D. 632. The four so-called rightly guided caliphs[22] and their reigns that took place immediately and sequentially after his death are as follows:  Abu Bakr (ruled 632-634), Umar (ruled 634-644), Uthman (ruled 644-656), and Ali (ruled 656-661). All of them were Muhammad’s close companions and admired him greatly.

Though the caliphs did not write Scripture, they very eagerly and devoutly looked through the Quran and remembered Muhammad’s words and deeds and verdicts that did not make it into the Quran (the traditions, later written in the hadith collections). They applied his sacred text and traditions and verdicts to their lives and the Muslim community.

They continued the authoritarian way of Muhammad’s Islam and blurred the distinction between the mosque and state.

The mosque was used mainly for prayers and spiritual or sermons.[23] The caliphs also led pilgrimages to Mecca, where a mosque housed the Kabah, which contained the sacred black stone.[24]

Often, however, the caliphs stood on the mosque pulpit (a raised dais or platform) in Medina and announced political decisions and other worldly matters.

Oath of Allegiance to Abu Bakr in the Mosque

Should Abu Bakr be the first caliph? Ali said that Abu Bakr did not consult some companions (close followers of Muhammad). So Ali and Abu Bakr were on bad terms, until finally they reconciled. Ali decided to swear the oath of allegiance supporting Abu Bakr’s caliphate, and Abu Bakr announces Ali’s decision from the mosque pulpit in Medina, as follows.

Narrated Aisha… On that [promise to dispose of the property justly] Ali said to Abu Bakr, “I promise to give you the oath of allegiance in this afternoon.” So when Abu Bakr had offered the Zuhr [noon] prayer, he ascended the pulpit and uttered the Tashah-hud [prayer while kneeling during required prayer] and then mentioned the story of ‘Ali and his failure to give the oath of allegiance, and excused him, accepting what excuses he had offered; Then Ali (got up) and praying (to Allah) for forgiveness, he uttered Tashah-hud, praised Abu Bakr’s right, and said that he had not done what he had done because of jealousy of Abu Bakr or as a protest of that Allah had favored him with. Ali added, “But we used to consider that we too had some right in this affair (of rulership) and that he (i.e. Abu Bakr) did not consult us in this matter, and therefore caused us to feel sorry.” On that all the Muslims became happy and said, “You have done the right thing.” The Muslims then became friendly with Ali as he returned to what the people had done (i.e. giving the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr).[25]

In the next hadith, the public also swore the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr at the pulpit in the mosque.

Narrated Anas bin Malik: That he heard Umar’s [the future second caliph] second speech he delivered when he sat on the pulpit on the day following the death of the Prophet. Umar recited the Tashahhud [prayer while kneeling during required] while Abu Bakr was silent. Umar said, “I wish that Allah’s Apostle had outlived all of us, i.e., had been the last (to die). But if Muhammad is dead, Allah nevertheless has kept the light amongst you from which you can receive the same guidance as Allah guided Muhammad with that. And Abu Bakr is the companion of Allah’s Apostle… He is the most entitled person among the Muslims to manage your affairs. Therefore get up and swear allegiance to him.” Some people had already taken the oath of allegiance to him in the shed of Bani [tribe] Saida but the oath of allegiance taken by the public was taken at the pulpit. I heard Umar saying to Abu Bakr on that day. “Please ascend the pulpit,” and kept on urging him till he ascended the pulpit whereupon, all the people swore allegiance to him.[26]

Umar Requires Obedience at His Inauguration in the Mosque

He ascends the platform in the mosque in Medina and requires Muslims to follow where he leads.

We have already mentioned the time of Abu Bakr’s appointment of Umar b. al-Khattab [as his successor] in the caliphate, as well as the time of Abu Bakr’s death, and [said] that Umar led the prayer over him, and that he was buried on the night of his death before the people arose. When Umar arose on the morning after that night, the first thing he did and said was [as follows]… When Umar was made caliph, he climbed the pulpit to say, “I am going to say words to which you must say ‘Amen.'”… “The likeness of the Arabs is only to a camel led by the nose following its leader; therefore, let its leader look where he leads. As for me, by the Lord of the Kabah, I will indeed bring them along on the road.”[27]

Ratification of Uthman’s Caliphate in the Mosque

The mosque is the scene of the ratification of Uthman’s caliphate.[28]

A council of Islamic leaders agreed on the decision about Uthman, and so did the emigrants (those who early in Islam’s history went from Mecca to Medina), the helpers (those who helped the immigrants arriving in Medina), the chief of the army staff, and other Muslims.

The group of people whom Umar had selected as candidates for the caliphate gathered and consulted each other. Abdur-Rahman said to them, “I am not going to compete with you in this matter, but if you wish, I would select for you a caliph from among you.” So all of them agreed to let Abdur-Rahman decide the case… Abdur-Rahman then said to me [Al-Miswar bin Makhrama, who narrates the hadith], “Call Uthman for me.” … When the people finished their morning prayer and that (six men) group gathered near the pulpit, Abdur-Rahman sent for all the Muhajirin (emigrants) and the Ansar present there and sent for the army chief who had performed the Hajj pilgrimage with Umar that year. When all of them had gathered, Abdur-Rahman said, “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah,” and added, “Now then, O Ali [the future fourth caliph], I have looked at the people’s tendencies and noticed that they do not consider anybody equal to Uthman, so you should not incur blame (by disagreeing).” Then Abdur-Rahman said (to Uthman), “I gave the oath of allegiance to you on condition that you will follow Allah’s Laws and the traditions of Allah’s Apostle and the traditions of the two caliphs after him.” So Abdur-Rahman gave the oath of allegiance to him, and so did the people including the Muhajirin (emigrants) and the Ansar and the chiefs of the army staff and all the Muslims.[29]

At first glance, this approaches a democracy (see the last sentence). However, the elites decided the matter, and the people went along with it. Nonetheless, this selection process does leave the door open for interpreters to argue for democracy. Yet, as we shall see, Uthman governed as anyone but a democrat.

Ali Accepts His Caliphate in the Mosque

In the mosque Ali reluctantly accepts his appointment to the caliphate by the companions of Muhammad and received the oath of allegiance in the mosque in Medina. But he was not so shy to refuse the keys to the treasury.

So he mounted the minbar (pulpit), and the people crowded around, and he said, “I was unwilling to take command of you, but you insisted that I should. You must be aware, however, that I ask for no authority from which you are excluded, other than to hold the keys to your treasury. Know also that I would never take a dirham from it without your permission. Is this acceptable?” They agreed.[30]

Shortly after Ali’s acceptance of the caliphate, he is seen in the treasury distributing money to his favorites and the people.[31] This too appears democratic, and maybe interpreters can argue that it is. However, the tribal elders controlled things, And the rest of this section on the early caliphs will show that Ali did not govern as a democrat.

Absolute Obedience

It is true that the caliphs sometimes consulted leaders, usually tribal, before deciding an issue.[32] And it is true that they appointed governors and administrators who had a lot of power.[33] So they delegated some of their power.

However, the dominant image that comes through in the early Islamic sources is that in the executive, legislative, and judicial aspects of governing the Muslim community, the caliphs followed Muhammad’s institutional genetic code and assumed a lot of power, all three aspects embodied in one caliph.

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever obeys me, obeys Allah, and whoever disobeys me, disobeys Allah, and whoever obeys the ruler I appoint, obeys me, and whoever disobeys him, disobeys me.”[34]

Leaders of a religion can command obedience; the apostles in Christianity did. However, the apostles separated the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Caesar, unlike the caliphs.

For more discussion on how the apostles kept the kingdom of God separate from the kingdom of Caesar, see my article The Early Church and the Sword.

This order to absolutely obey the Islamic caliphs serves as the background to the executive, legislative and judicial powers of the caliphs.


Islamic Jihad and Muslim Superiority

One of the primary ways that the chief executive displays his power is in declaring war. Muhammad did it, and so did the caliphs.

The next hadith described Abu Bakr’s decision to wage war on the pagan inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula, who were either forced to join Islam or did so freely. Sensing Islam was weak after Muhammad’s passing, many Arab tribes left the new religion. Abu Baker was determined to prove how strong Islam was and force them back into it.

When Allah’s Apostle [Muhammad] died and Abu Bakr became the caliph some Arabs renegade [reverted to disbelief] [Abu Bakr decided to declare war against them], Umar, said to Abu Bakr, “How can you fight with these people although Allah’s Apostle said, ‘I have been ordered [by Allah] to fight the people till they say: “None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and whoever said it then he will save his life and property from me except on trespassing the law …  and his accounts will be with Allah.”’ Abu Bakr said, “By Allah! I will fight those who differentiate between the prayer and the zakat, as zakat is the compulsory right to be taken from the property [according to Allah’s orders], by Allah! If they refuse to pay me even a she-kid which they used to pay at the time of Allah’s Apostle, I would fight with them for withholding it.”[35]

That entire hadith echoes Quran 8:39-41, 9:29, 9:33, and especially 9:5. All of them speak of fighting until Islam prevails, but 9:5 discusses battling specific pagans in the Arabian peninsula until they pay the zakat or charity tax. Imposing taxes on a newly conquered region is still another way to show a centralized and powerful executive office.

Umar preached Muslim superiority and jihad against the unbelievers, from the mosque pulpit.

Allah fills the hearts of non-Muslim peoples with terror, as the armies of Islam attacked them. He is to be praised for the great conquests across the land.

You [Muslims] are appointed successors on earth and conquerors of its people. God has given your faith victory. No other community who differs from you in faith is left except two: one rendered submissive to Islam and to those who follow it, they paying you tribute, while (the Muslims) take the best of their livelihood, what they have earned and [produced with] the sweat of their brow; they must work hard, while you have the benefit [from the Persians in the east]; and a [second] community waiting for God’s battles and attacks every day and night. God has filled their hearts with terror. They have no refuge to which they can flee or an escape by means of which they can guard against attack. God’s armies came upon them suddenly and right into their own territory [Byzantines in the west]. [All this you have been granted] along with an abundance of food, a pouring out of wealth, the repeated dispatch of [victorious] troops and the [successful] defense of the frontier areas with God’s permission, together excellent general security better than which this community had not experienced since Islam came into existence – God be praised! – along with the great conquests in every land.[36]

This long speech – a sermon, really – about the cultural, religious, and military superiority and triumph of Islam is rooted in the Quran. “You [Muslims] are the best community singled out for peoples” (3:110).[37] Then the verse in context goes on to discuss law-breaking Jews as a contrast to the best people, the Muslims.

Two more verses in the Quran may have inspired Umar’s speech. In the context of war, Muhammad tells his jihadists not to cry out for peace. “So [believers] do not lose heart or cry out for peace. It is you who have the upper hand” (47:35). Finally, in the context of yet another war, this time on Jews and Christians, the Quran says, “It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, to show that it is above all other religions” (9:33).

For more discussion about the caliphs waging war and collecting taxes, see the article The Early Muslim Community and the Sword.

Letters to Non-Islamic Governors and Emperors

Like Muhammad, the four caliphs sent letters to non-Islamic governors – and even emperors – telling them to embrace Islam. If they do, all will be well. If they remain in their religion, they must submit to a tax. If they do not pay, but fight instead of submitting, they will lose and die, and their women and children will be enslaved.

Specifically, before attacking the apostates or rebels in the Arabian peninsula, Abu Bakr sent letters to them. After he explains Islam’s theology (not included here), which all religions have a right to do – preach – he then informs the tribes what will happen in practical terms.

I [Abu Bakr] ordered [Khalid, a general] not to fight anyone or to kill anyone until he has called him to the cause of God [Islam]; so that those who renounce [unbelief] and do good works [my envoy] shall accept him and help him to [do right], but I have ordered him to fight those who deny [Him, i.e. God] for that reason. So he will not spare any one of them he can gain mastery over, [but may] burn them with fire, slaughter them by any means, and take women and children captive; nor shall he accept from anyone anything except Islam.[38]

Sometimes a letter could be replaced with a face-to-face meeting. During the long campaign in 635-636 against Qadisiyyah, a Persian city a little to the west of the Euphrates, in central Iraq, Umar told his Muslim commanders to meet with the Persian king and invite him to accept Islam. They first told the king that Islam is wonderful (not included here). Then they spelled out the practical choices.

Then he [Muhammad] ordered us to start with the nations adjacent to us and invite them to justice. We are therefore inviting you to embrace our religion…  If you refuse our invitation, you must pay the poll tax. This is a bad thing, but not as bad as the alternative if you refuse [to pay,] it will be war. If you respond and embrace our religion, we shall leave you with the Book of God [the Quran]… we shall leave your country and let you deal with its affairs as you please. If you protect yourself against us by paying the poll tax, we shall accept it from you and ensure your safety. Otherwise we shall fight you![39]

The first sentence says that Muhammad, while he was alive, ordered his community to call people to justice. In this case Islam is justice. Anyone who embraces the religion submits to justice. If they do not embrace Islam, they are unjust, and injustice must be fought everywhere. That is reason enough to wage war.

The Whip: Sign of Authority

Umar instituted the policy of carrying a whip.[40]  With it he threatened a Christian bishop. Umar asked him if the caliph himself is found in the Book, that is, the Bible. The bishop said that metaphorically Umar is like a castle. Umar then held up the whip, as if to coerce the bishop to give a good interpretation of the image. He does. He then predicts that the next caliph (Uthman) will be pious, but will favor his family too much, and will be assassinated. That indeed is what happened to Uthman.

Narrated Umar ibn al-Khattab [the second caliph]: Al-Aqra… the announcer of Umar ibn al-Khattab said: Umar sent me to a bishop and I called him. Umar said to him: Do you find me in the Book? He said: Yes. He asked: How do you find me? He said: I find you (like a) castle. Then he raised a whip to him, saying: What do you mean by castle? He replied: An iron castle and severely trustworthy. He asked: How do you find the one who will come after me? He said: I find him a pious caliph, except that he will prefer his relatives. Umar said: May Allah have mercy on Uthman: He said it three times. He then asked: How do you find the one who will come after him? He replied: I find him like rusty iron. Umar then put his hand on his head, and said: O filthy! O filthy! He said: Commander of the Faithful! He is a pious caliph, but when he is made caliph, the sword will be unsheathed and blood will be shed.[41]

Umar actually used a whip against a Jew. Umar decided a case in the Jew’s favor and against a Muslim. Surprised at the verdict, the Jew praised the caliph for deciding justly. For that response, Umar struck him, asking him how he could be sure.

… Umar ibn al-Khattab had a dispute brought to him between a Muslim and a Jew. Umar saw that the right belonged to the Jew and decided in his favor. The Jew said to him, “By Allah! You have judged correctly.” So Umar ibn al-Khattab struck him with a whip and said, “How can you be sure.” The Jew said to him, “We find that there is no judge who judges correctly but that there is an angel on his right side and an angel on his left side who guide him and give him success in the truth as long as he is with the truth. When he leaves the truth, they rise and leave him.”[42]

For more discussion about the caliphs’ executive powers, like appointing and whipping governors, see the article The Early Muslim Community and the Sword.


The four caliphs did not so much invent new laws out of thin air as they did to interpret and implement the Quran and the deeds and words of Muhammad. Yet sometimes they stood on the pulpit and decreed how the community would carry out the laws of the Quran and Muhammad.

Two examples suffice for our purposes.

Stoning Adulterers to Death

The next hadith says that the messenger stoned adulterers to death, so Umar said from the pulpit that he would do the same. Oddly, though, Umar also claims the command to stone adulterers was once in the Quran, but now the verse is missing.

… Umar sat on the pulpit and when the call-makers for the prayer had finished their call, Umar stood up, and having glorified and praised Allah as He deserved, he said, “Now then, I am going to tell you something which (Allah) has written for me to say. I do not know; perhaps it portends my death, so whoever understands and remembers it, must narrate it to the others wherever his mount takes him, but if somebody is afraid that he does not understand it, then it is unlawful for him to tell lies about me. Allah sent Muhammad with the Truth and revealed the Holy Book to him, and among what Allah revealed, was the verse of the rajam (the stoning of married person [male & female]) who commits illegal sexual intercourse, and we did recite this verse and understood and memorized it. Allah’s Apostle did carry out the punishment of stoning and so did we after him.[43]

Prohibiting Alcohol

One other example of the legislative use of the mosque is when Umar told the assembly about the law prohibiting alcohol, just as we saw Muhammad do.

Narrated Ibn Umar: I heard ‘Umar while he was on the pulpit of the Prophet saying, “Now then O people! The revelation about the prohibition of alcoholic drinks was revealed; and alcoholic drinks are extracted from five things: Grapes, dates, honey, wheat and barley. And the alcoholic drink is that which confuses and stupefies the mind.”[44]

In mentioning this subject, the idea is not to debate whether prohibiting alcohol is wise or unwise, as a national policy (note our prohibition against drugs today). Rather, the passage shows Umar the caliph reinforcing the Quranic law on this issue from the mosque pulpit, thus blurring mosque and state.


Throughout this series we will watch the caliphs’ rulings in action, so we do not need to spend too much time on them here. But we can mention a few examples of their outlook on jurisprudence.

The caliphs decided many court cases or appointed judges to help them.[45] Umar concedes that Ali is the best judge. “Narrated Ibn Abbas: … Umar said, ‘Our best judge is Ali.’”[46]

The caliphs were not divinely inspired, as Muhammad was. So they had to rely on good and bad deeds of the people, while the caliphs judged them. The second caliph says:

Narrated Umar bin Al-Khattab: People were (sometimes) judged by the revealing of a divine inspiration during the lifetime of Allah’s Apostle but now there is no longer any more (new revelation). Now we judge you by the deeds you practice publicly, so we will trust and favor the one who does good deeds in front of us, and we will not call him to account about what he is really doing in secret, for Allah will judge him for that; but we will not trust or believe the one who presents to us with an evil deed even if he claims that his intentions were good.[47]

Further, Umar sometimes adjudicated cases out on the street. “Umar used to wander around the markets, reciting the Quran and making judgments among the people wherever the litigants caught up with him.”[48]

But Umar and Ali used to pass judgment inside the mosque as well, but the punishment was administered outside.

Umar passed judgment of Li’an [a husband and wife mutual curse if she is accused of adultery] near the pulpit of the prophet” and “Umar said (to two men, ‘Take him (the criminal) out of the mosque.’ Then he beat him. It is said that Ali said the same.”[49]


The four so-called rightly guided caliphs reigned almost thirty years (r. 632-661). They were involved in leading prayers in the mosque, leading pilgrimages to Mecca, and delivering sermons in the mosque. They were the spiritual heads of Islam, though they did not write Scripture.

However, like Muhammad whose example and Quran they emulated, they too saw themselves as executives, legislators and judges, enacting Quranic laws and Muhammad’s example and life, as if his example and life were living laws.

He declared war, and so did they. He imposed taxes, and so did they. He presided over the courts, and so did they. He came up with laws, and the caliphs made sure the laws were enacted in their days. He appointed judges and governors, and so did they, but Muhammad and the caliphs had final say in all matters.

Nothing more clearly demonstrated the breakdown of separating mosque and state than when the mosque was used as the place where the close companions to Muhammad were appointed or elected or acclaimed to the caliphate. The caliphs maintained Muhammad’s theocracy and expanded it as they sent out armies to conquer vast territories.

How did the lives of the four caliphs end?

The first caliph, Abu Bakr, died of natural causes, though one tradition says he was poisoned by Jews. The latter three caliphs were assassinated. As we said about Muhammad, any leader can be tragically assassinated for a variety of reasons, but it is clear from early Islamic history that the caliphs were murdered by angry subjects.[50]

Mixing religion and the state – embodying all areas in one religious leader – can lead to disasters.

For more about how the caliphs died, see the article Martyrdom and the Sword.

For more about the growth of the caliphs’ military, bureaucracy, and tax collecting, see the article The Early Muslim Community and the Sword.


A reformist calls for the reform of Islam, while a traditionalist believes Islam, revealed in the Quran and presented in the authentic hadith, is fine the way it and defends it. Usually, religious leaders are selected in this section, but sometimes a Muslim, like a journalist or medical doctor, who is in the public eye is included too. In one example, the results of a survey are included.

It is very difficult to find a moderate who seeks to reform early Islam on the mosque and state.

Reformist Views

One exception is Turkish journalist Mustafa Aykols. Morning Edition co-host Steve Innskeep of National Public Radio interviews him:

INSKEEP: Let me present you with another argument that is made against Islam as a religion. It is pointed out that in Christianity, from the very beginning, there is a principle of separation of church and state – you have Jesus Christ saying, render unto Caesar what is his – and that in Islam, you simply have a different history. You begin with the Prophet Muhammad, who effectively was both the king and the pope; he was the leader of everything. The government and the religion were intertwined. Is that a serious problem if you want to think about a more pluralistic society now?

Mr. AKYOL: I don’t think that is a problem. It’s the practice of the prophet. But I think the key point there is that yes, Prophet Muhammad was a prophet and a head of state, but he died. And the moment he died, that special authority from God ended. And the caliphs who represent Prophet Mohammed were actually were not claiming to be representing God. They were actually easily questioned by the people if they did something wrong. I think the idea that you can separate religion from the state makes more sense to the Muslim societies.[51]

Though Aykol’s views are a welcome relief to all of the above material from original Islam, does he carry any weight in the religious hierarchy of the Islamic world today? Can he convince religious scholars, like Dr. Salah al Sawy, (see his fatwa, below), to put aside original Islam on politics and sharia law? It is one thing to write to Westerners that Islam is okay, when they know it is not; it is quite another to persuade traditional Muslim religious leaders.

Another exception to the many online articles that fuse mosque and state is found at the organization called American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), run by Dr. Zuhdi Jasser.

He writes:

AIFD’s ideas will be promoted through this think tank and foundation as we take every opportunity to directly engage advocates of political Islam on the folly of their ideas. Our ideas are based in the American ideas of liberty and the separation of mosque and state without compromising the centrality of God in our life as devout Muslims.[52]

One shortcoming of the organization is that Jasser (a medical doctor) appears to be working alone, for he is the only one named in the “Our Leadership” page. Where are the religious scholars? Does he write any articles in languages where Islam dominates, so he can persuade his more conservative fellow Muslims? Or does he seek only to assuage the (justifiable) concerns of American and other Westerners, by his saying over and over again that “Islam is okay” and just “misinterpreted” or “misunderstood,” when they accurately see huge problems with it, at its core?

Muslims for Progressive Values adds this claim:

Separation of Religious and State Authorities: We believe that freedom of conscience is not only essential to all human societies but integral to the Quranic view of humanity. We believe that secular government is the only way to achieve the Islamic ideal of freedom from compulsion in matters of faith.[53]

Finally, another example of a reformist is Ahmed Mansour, who was a professor of Muslim history at Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt. Now he resides in the USA and works hard at explaining a benign, harmless Islam. Interestingly, the website he runs as president rejects the hadith and says Allah spoke only through the Quran (Al-Azhar University is Sunni, which values the authentic hadith).  For Mansour, according to his article about free speech, the hadith were manipulated to be the political tools of the Umayyads (A.D. 660-750) and the Abassids (A.D. 750-1258), two authoritarian dynasties.

Yet this freedom [of speech] has been forbidden by force of sword during the Umayyad’s Califate (state). Then the Abbassids came with a theocratic concept of governing the state. That concept was settled by religious texts opposed [by the] Quran, but was connected to Muhammad . . . through hadith. The Abbassid’s theocratic concept transferred into abiding reality, and settled more through the long time of Abbassid’s sovereignty and recording the heritage of Muslims’ thoughts and beliefs. That heritage is considered to be against Islam. It became the legislative framework of people who call for the application of Abbassid’s religious and political system to establish a religious state, as those people for establishing a religious state. Those officials use current legal regulations to achieve their goal of dominating mass media, publishing facilities, and intellectual life in order to be able to suppress any thought on grounds it attacks Islam. However, they represent the biggest danger on Islam[54] ….

Though Mansour’s views are refreshingly moderate, and he is right to point out the authoritarian regimes of the Umayyads and the Abbasids, he fails to realize that authoritarianism goes right back to earliest Islam, instituted by Muhammad.

Maybe other Sunni Muslims can follow his lead about rejecting the hadith. But do they dare go through this intellectual upheaval, this extreme paradigm shift? No, for he was dismissed from Al-Azhar University for his liberal views.[55]

Traditional Views

A much more typical view of the mosque and state is seen in a 2007 survey done by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START), Muslims for religious (77%) or nationalistic (67%) reasons support a worldwide caliphate.

… Survey respondents indicated whether their primary identification was religious or nationalistic, and whether they support an Islamic world unified under a Caliph. Support among Muslim and national identifiers is substantial (77% and 67% respectively). While differences between identifier groups was [sic] significant for Pakistan and Egypt – with Muslim identifiers significantly more likely to support a Caliphate – no differences were found between religious and nationalists in Indonesia and Morocco. These findings demonstrate that the longing for the return of the caliph transcends ideological orientations and reflects what scholars posit as a “collective identity” issue[56] ….

Next, Andrew Bostom reports that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Presidential candidate, Dr. Khairat Al-Shater, Deputy Chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood, says that Islam is “religion and state.” Al-Azhar University in Egypt is the preeminent school in Sunni Islam. It has issued numerous authoritative fatwas (religious rulings and opinions) on a variety of topics.

Shater writes:

We believe Al-Azhar has a key role to play; and we are happy for it to take its natural place on the religious level primarily, as a beacon of moderate mainstream Islamic thought. So, a major global role awaits Al-Azhar, both in Egypt and abroad. Indeed, Al-Azhar’s role is required strongly in Africa and Asia as well as former Soviet Union countries. We hope it will focus on its primary role, but by all means it should express its views on political issues, because indeed Islam is religion and state.[57]

 Another example of modern Islam reacting traditionally to all the data in the Quran and hadith about political Islam and sharia is found in the Muslim Students Association (MSA) of the University of Southern California. The MSA was initiated by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian political party, nowadays bent on establishing sharia in Egypt.[58]

The MSA tells us plainly that a pure democracy and sharia are incompatible. The Islamic state must be ruled by the Quran, and presumably in nations where Islam eventually prevails, if only by degrees, law by law. The MSA writes:

As stated earlier, Islam is a complete way of life. Given this, it is not surprising that the Creator is concerned with the method which we choose to govern ourselves. The pre-eminent rule which the Islamic state must observe is stated in the Qur’an (translation follows):

[4:59] O you who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day; That is best, and most suitable for final determination.

From this verse, it is clear that the state’s obligation of obedience to the Creator is as important as the obedience of the individual. Hence, the Islamic state must derive its law from the Qur’an and Sunnah. This principle excludes certain choices from the Islamic state’s options for political and economic systems, such as a pure democracy, unrestricted capitalism, communism, socialism, etc. For example, a pure democracy places the people above the Qur’an and Sunnah, and this is disobedience to the Creator. However, the best alternative to a pure democracy is a democracy that implements and enforces the Sharia (Islamic Law).[59]

The Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA) is made up of religious scholars, most of whom have their doctorates in Islam law or other Islamic subjects; they are qualified to write fatwas (religious rulings or opinions).

In the write-in Q & A format, a reader asks whether humans today should be governed by sharia. Is Allah’s law (sharia) too difficult to apply? Can we believe in it and be ruled by laws that humans invent? Was Allah’s law written just for a certain time back then and should not be implemented today? Should we work to apply sharia in the country we live in?

An AMJA scholar named Salah al-Sawy replies that Muslim society, and presumably all societies, eventually, should be ruled by sharia. If Muslims believe Islamic laws are harsh and barbaric and not for today and should not be implemented in various societies, then Satan (Iblis) has deceived these Muslims:

… Not ruling by Shari`ah is the reason for all that the Ummah [Muslim community] is afflicted with, of misfortune, neediness, adversity and disaster. If only they would uphold the Book of Allah and apply His Divine Law, they would eat from above them and from below their feet… Nevertheless, it has already come in the Book of your Lord that among His slaves are those who are damned and those who are saved, and that Heaven has its multitudes as the Hellfire has its horde. As for why they do not apply Shari`ah, it is because Iblis (the Devil) has already proved his expectation of them true, and they have closely followed him [see: 34:20]. He has made the misconceptions, which have taken them away from the path, seem appealing to them, and he has deceived them into believing that the Shari`ah is not appropriate for every time and place and that applying it is a means to factional conflict. Likewise, he has made it seem to them that applying the hudud, or felony penal code, is harsh and barbarous, that riba (usury, interest) is an economic necessity and that the world around them will not accept them if they do it [implement Shari`ah rule], along with a host of other misconceptions[60] ….

Though this Q & A is not directly about the mosque and state per se, it does reveal that religious law and the state should be mixed, in his opinion.

Finally, at the website Caliphate Online, which promotes “an alternative vision for the Muslim world,” the proprietors of the site say that their version of the caliphate is not a theocracy, since their House of Representatives and caliph will legislate on other matters besides religion. However, sharia is the guide.

They write:

Caliphate is not a theocracy

The Caliph has been likened to a Pope, who is the Spiritual Head of all Muslims, infallible and appointed by God. This is not the case as the Caliph is not a priest. His post is an executive post within the Islamic government. He is not infallible and can make mistakes, which is why many checks and balances exist to ensure he and his government remain accountable.

The Caliph is not appointed by God; rather he is elected by the people and assumes authority through the bayah [pledge] contract. The Caliphate is not a theocracy since its legislation is not restricted to religious and moral codes that neglect the problems of society. Rather shari’ah is a comprehensive system that legislates on ruling, social, economic and judicial matters to name but a few.[61]

To sum up this section on modern Islam, in a few years these examples will appear old and outdated. But they still illustrate the struggle Islam is going through, though the traditionalists far outnumber and outweigh the reformists. And with good reason: the traditionalists have 1,400 years of the Quran, hadith, law, and history behind them. Islam is an extremely conservative religion that is loathe to reform.

Can the reformists persuade the 77% who believe in a caliphate, and traditionalists like Dr. al-Sawy, Shater, the MSA, and Caliphate Online to drop their views on the mosque and state, governed by sharia?


We decided to analyze the political and the religious in Islam by using the concepts of mosque and state, and by further dividing the state into three well-known parts: the executive, legislative, and judicial.

However, it may be objected that the executive, legislative and judicial independent branches and the absence of any religious test to occupy positions of power and the wall of separation between religion and the state are anachronistic and culturally incompatible, so they should not be used as a guide to evaluate original Islam. That’s arrogant.

Further, among some Muslim apologists today, the “West” is often used as a self-evidently bad term; they decry western political values of freedom, as if the Islamic world can learn nothing from the West.

However, failure to learn from the West is also a sign of arrogance.

In original political Islam the separation of powers by checks and balances on the executive, legislative, and judicial was minimal or nonexistent. It is safe to say that Muhammad and the first four caliphs became authoritarian – the concentration of power in the hands of the elite or an individual, not answerable to the people constitutionally. Meaningful democracy was nonexistent in early Islam. The vote of the people was rare, and when it did seem to occur, it was usually merely to confirm the caliph whom the tribal elders had selected.

Nevertheless, fundamentalist Muslims today, who believe that Islam must rule the entire world politically, socially, and religiously, work very hard to establish the caliphate for the greater good of society – its righteousness before Allah (as they define righteousness).

However, this lack in original Islam of a modern constitution and democracy apart from sharia does not accord at all with modern societies that distinguish between religion and the three branches of the state. America certainly separates the areas. Many modern states have a constitution that has last word, without religious law.

Were the caliphate to emerge and gain power and spread around the globe, this would severely restrict religious and political and social freedom. Modern states should not be theocratic, but democratic and constitutional.

Islam needs to bend towards us, not we towards it.

Therefore it is important that educators, bureaucrats, politicians, and judges today should not incorporate any part of Islamic sharia into their laws, deliberations, rulings, and policies. Modern societies and their elites should reject sharia.

Sharia is culture-bound and archaic; it is too restrictive and regressive; it does not promote political or social justice, as the rest of the articles in this series will demonstrate.

And Islamic societies today do not need to follow early Islam’s authoritarianism or theocracy, blurring mosque and state. Modern Muslim states should move past their archaic origins, despite Dr. Al-Sawy’s claim that Satan would be deceiving them if they left sharia behind in the past.[62]

This article first appeared at Jihad Watch on July 25, 2012 and has been updated here.

Articles in the Series

More Punishments (offsite):

[1] Generally, rasul in Arabic means someone who is sent, even on a mission. It is used so many times in the Quran we do not have the space to list all of the references. See my study References to Muhammad’s Roles.

[2] The three-letter root (q-t-l) in brackets is my addition.

[3] Bukhari, Khumus, 004.053.390. The book version of this hadith (4.3137) has only Abu Bakr scooping up and distributing the money from Bahrain.

[4] The Arabic nabi or “prophet” is related to Hebrew nabi, and its basic meaning is someone who proclaims or tells a story, the news, tidings, or a tale.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of the Quran in this article are from M.A.S. Abdel Haleem’s translation: The Quran, rev. ed. (Oxford UP, 2010). For Quran 5:15-16, my insertions are in brackets. Usually, the comments in brackets or parentheses are his, unless noted otherwise. He uses the word “God” for “Allah.” In Arabic “Allah” means “God,” and this is what Arab Christians call him in their native Arabic – Allah. If readers would like to see various translation of the Quran, they may go to the website and type in the references.

[6] Abdel Haleem adds the interpretation of “Islam” in brackets: “total devotion to God.” Another Muslim scholar says that “Islam” means both “surrender” and “reconciliation” coming “from the word salam, [s-l-m] ‘peace’ or ‘salvation’” (Glassé, Encyclopedia, 332).However, these Western scholars say it means “submission” or “surrender”: Hughes, Dictionary, 220; Gibb and Kramers, Encyclopedia, 176. The way to break the deadlock is to take the words in its context in the Quran. When the root s-l-m is used in its active participle form (“muslim”), it means “one who submits or surrenders” (cf. Quran 2:128, 132, 133, 136; 3:52, 64, 67, 80, 84, 102; 5:111; 12:101; 16:89 , 102; 22:78; 33:35; 46:15). And when s-l-m is used as a verbal noun (“islam”), it means “submission” or “surrender” (cf. Quran 3:19, 85; 5:3; 6:125; 9:74; 39:22; 49:17; 61:7) (Kassis, Concordance, 1077-81). The bottom line: “Islam” in the right Quranic context means “submission” or “surrender.”

[7] The first and third insertions are Abdel Haleem’s; the others are mine.

[8] On obeying Allah and Muhammad, see e.g. Quran 8:1, 13, 20, 24, 46; 9:54, 62-63, 71, 84, 91; 47:33; 48:10, 17. All four chapters (8, 9, 47, and 48) were given in Medina and in the context of war and power politics.

[9] Following early Islamic sources, W. Montgomery Watt, an Islamologist of the highest reputation, counts up to seventy-four expeditions, mainly military ones, in Muhammad at Medina, (New York: Oxford UP, 1956), 2 and 339-43. The latter pages are made up of a table that tracks the expeditions.

[10] Muhammd Ibn Ishaq, Life of Muhammad, trans. A. Guillaume (Oxford UP, 1955), 550-51, hereafter referenced as Ibn Ishaq.

[11] Bukhari, Military Expeditions, 005.059.582.

[12] Bukhari, Holding Fast to the Quran and Sunnah, 009.092.447. The hadith are searchable online at the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, under the aegis of the University of Southern California.

[13] Idem, Jihad, 004.052.191, with small mechanical changes. The words in brackets are mine. The parenthetical comments are the translator’s.

[14] Ibid. The parenthetical comments are original.

[15] Bukhari, Commentary on the Quran 006.060.065. The prohibition against alcohol is Quran 2:219. Abdulla Yusuf Ali (the Meaning of the Holy Quran, 11th ed., [Belleville, Maryland: Amana, 2004]) says in his notes that 2:190-93 was most likely revealed during the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, which took place in A.D. 628 (note 205). If so, then the vv. may indeed be part of the last ones to be revealed. Verses 216-17 are near v. 219, which also speak of war. In any case, there can be no doubt that Muhammad recited jihad verses in the mosque.

[16] Idem, Judgments, 009.089.280.

[17] Idem, Judgments, 009.089.295. A parallel hadith says: “Narrated Um Salama: Allah’s Apostle said, ‘I am only a human being, and you people (opponents) come to me with your cases; and it may be that one of you can present his case eloquently in a more convincing way than the other, and I give my verdict according to what I hear. So if ever I judge (by error) and give the right of a brother to his other (brother) then he (the latter) should not take it, for I am giving him only a piece of Fire’” (Judgments, 009.089.281).

[18] Idem, Judgments, 009.089.272. This hadith seems to assume that judges functioned in Islam.

[19] Idem, Holding Fast to Quran and Sunnah, 009.092.450.

[20] Idem, Holding Fast to Quran and Sunnah, 009.092.383.

[21] Respectively, here are the sources of the three hadith passages: Bukhari, Military Expeditions, 5.4428, with small mechanical edits. Idem, Khumus, 004.053.394; the words in brackets are added; the harcopy book version of Bukhari does not have that passage or I could not find it. And Bukhari, Gifts, 003.047.786; the word in parenthesis is the translator’s.

[22] “Caliph” (kh-l-f) means “successor,” “deputy,” or “representative.” For the relevant use of the word in the Quran, see, e.g., 2:30; 6:156; 7:69, 74, 142, 169; 10:14, 73; 19:59; 27:62; 35:39; and 38:26, among others. As noted, if readers would like to see various translation of the Quran, they may go to the website and type in the references.

[23] Bukhari, Friday Prayer, 002.013.035 and 002.013.036, which say that Uthman increased the number of calls for Friday services to three. See also Abu Jafar Muhammad b. Jarir Tabari (hereafter Tabari), The Battle of al-Qadisiyyah and the Conquest of Syria and Palestine, vol. 12, trans. Yohannan Friedmann, (Albany: SUNYP, 1992), 194-95; idem, The Crisis of the Early Caliphate, vol. 15, trans. R. Stephen Humphreys, (Albany, SUNYP, 1990), 3-4; );  idem, The Community Divided, vol. 16, trans. Adrian Brockett (Albany: SUNYP, 1997), 82-83. We may as well reference the other volumes in Tabari’s history used in this article and entire series: idem, the Conquest of Saudi Arabia, vol. 10, trans. Fred Donner, (Albany: SUNYP, 1993); idem,  the Challenge to the Empires, vol. 11, trans. Khalid Yahya Blankinship, (Albany: SUNYP, 1993); idem, The Conquest of Iraq, Southwestern Persia, and Egypt, vol. 13, trans. H.A. Juynboll (Albany: SUNYP, 1989); idem, The Conquest of Iran, vol. 14, trans. G. Rex Smith, (Albany: SUNYP, 1994; idem, The First Civil War, vol. 17, trans. G. R. Hawting (Albany: SUNYP, 1996). Tabari should be used with caution, but he is still an excellent source for the history of early Islam. As noted, the hadith are searchable online at the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, under the aegis of the University of Southern California.

[24] For examples of the caliphs leading pilgrimages, see Tabari, 11.71-73; 12.172, 204; 13.7, 59, 150, 159, 161, 178; 14.15, 63; 15.11, 13, 24, 32, 38-40, 70, 93.

[25] Bukhari, Military Expeditions, 005.059.546 and 005.059.367; notes in the brackets are mine, while the ones in parentheses are the translator’s. Bukhari reports that Muhammad, nearing his death, says the small doors of the mosque should be closed, except the one of Abu Bakr, thus tying the first caliph and the mosque (Prayer, 001.008.456).

[26] Idem, Judgments, 009.089.326, with slight mechanical changes; the notes in brackets are mine; the ones in parentheses are the translators.

[27] Tabari, 11.157-58, with slight mechanical adjustments. The bracketed comments are those of the translator..

[28] On Abu Bakr’s deathbed he appointed Umar without a lot of fanfare, and Umar too preached his first message in the mosque in Medina as soon as he assumed power (Tabari 11.157-59), so we do not need to discuss the transition any further, for the other three caliphs illustrate the point of the mosque and state blurring together.

[29] Idem, Judgments, 009.089.314, with small mechanical changes. The notes in brackets are mine; the ones in parentheses are the translator’s. Tabari’s long account says the meeting and oath of allegiance to Uthman happened in the mosque in Medina (14.143-64).

[30] Tabari 16.1-18. The parenthetical comment is the translator’s.

[31] Idem, 16.8.

[32] For examples of caliphs consulting people before making big decisions, see Tabari, 12.204; 13.195-200.

[33] For examples of governors and administrators appointed by the caliphs, see idem, 11.142-44; 14.164-65; 15.255-56; 16.175-91; 17.229-30.

[34] Bukhari, Judgments, (009.089.251. The hadith refers to the time when Muhammad was alive, but it could reasonably be applied to the four rightly guided caliphs after his death.

[35] Bukhari, Dealing with Apostates, 009.084.059; cf.  009.092.388. An apostate is someone who leaves a religion. The text in brackets is the translator’s; the excerpt has been edited a little, like the modifying punctuation and changing parentheses to brackets. My only comment in brackets is after the “Apostle of God”: “Muhammad.”

[36] Idem, 14.127; almost all of the bracketed comments are the translator’s; three are mine: “Muslims,” “from the Persians in the east” and “the Byzantines in the west.” These latter two comments come from the translator’s own (notes 629 and 630). The brief collection of Umar’s addresses in Tabari does not explicitly mention they were delivered in a mosque. But the collection is only a sample, and the mosque was the one public forum where the people could hear them. And Umar, representing the other caliphs, had to rally the people to war in public. Thus the entire context makes it clear that the mosque and its pulpit are intended.

[37] The word in brackets was added by me.

[38] Tabari 10.57. These words in brackets are mine: “Abu Bakr,” “Khalid,” “Islam,” and “i.e. God.” The other words in brackets are the translator’s.

[39] Idem, 12.35-36. The words in first and third brackets are added; the second one is the translator’s.

[40] Idem, 14.115 says Umar carried a whip, implying it was a matter of regular practice or policy. But G. Rex Smith, the translator of vol. 14 of Tabari’s history, says that Umar sometimes regretted hitting people and might compensate them in some way, though Smith cites no source (xviii).

[41] Sunan Abu Dawud, Caliphs, vol. 3, no. 4639 (040.4639) (Lahore, Pakistan: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 2004), with minor mechanical adjustments.

[42] Malik ibn Anas, Muwatta: the First Formulation of Islamic Law, rev. ed. trans. Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley, (Inverness, Scotland: Madina P, 1991), 36.1.2.

[43] Bukhari, Punishments, 008.082.817, with minor mechanical adjustments. The hadith was narrated by Ibn Abbas, who is considered a very reliable transmitter.

[44] Idem, Commentary on the Quran, 006.060.143.

[45] The caliphs appointed judges, e.g., in Tabari 12.142-45; 13.59, 150, 159, 161, 178; 14.16; 14.165.

[46] Bukhari, Commentary on the Quran, 006.060.008.

[47] Idem, Witnesses, 003.048.809, with small mechanical alterations. Umar may be talking about a general assessment of character outside of a court of law, but the courts cannot be excluded.

[48] Tabari 14.121.

[49] Bukhari, Judgments, vol. 9, ch. 18, 7164-67. The parenthetical comments are added by the translator, Muhammad Muhsin Khan. The matching online version is missing. The translator adds: “Whoever passed a judgment in the mosque and when the actual legal punishment was to be put to action, he ordered the guilty person to be taken outside the mosque so that the punishment might be carried out,” with slight mechanical modifications.

[50] See Tabari on Abu Baker’ death: 11.129-32; one account says that Abu Bakr was poisoned by Jews, but this is what is reported to have happened to Muhammad, so maybe the story emerged in imitation of the messenger; Tabari’s account about Umar’s death: 13.89-94; Uthman’s: 15.181-23; Ali’s: 17.213-27.

[51] National Public Radio, “A Writer Argues for an ‘Islam without Extremes,’” NPR, July 25, 2011.

[52]About Us,” American Islamic Forum for Democracy, no date.

[53] Muslims for Progressive Values, “Our Principles,”

[54] Ahmed Mansour, “Freedom of Speech in Islam,” with minor mechanical adjustments, The bracketed comment is mine; the parenthetical ones are his.

[55] Wikipedia, “Ahmed Subhy Mansour.”

[56] Douglas M. McLeod, “Support for the Caliphate and Radical Mobilization,” National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START), January 2008.

[57] Andrew Bostom, “Egyptian MB [Muslim Brotherhood] Presidential Candidate: ‘Indeed Islam is Religion and State,’”, April 1, 20112, emphasis added by Bostom. However, Shater has recently been disqualified from running, Rick Moran, “The Muslim Brotherhood’s ‘Reserve’ Presidential Candidate,” April 21, 2012, Things in Egypt are fluid, but Shater’s views on mosque and state still reveal confusion in political philosophy over there.

[58] Moshe Dann, “The Muslim Brotherhood: Global Islam’s Challenge to the West,”, October 17, 2010. On the Muslim Brotherhood seeking to establish sharia in Egypt, see Andrew Bostom, “MB Presidential Candidate Pledges to Implement Sharia in Egypt,”, April 4, 2012.

[59] Muslim Students Association, “Shattering Ten Misconceptions about Islam,” (see Misconception 2), Mission Islam, (no date).

[60] Salah al-Sawy, “Why Don’t We Rule by Sharia?, Question ID or fatwa no. 77962,, February 2, 2009, emphasis original, and so are the parenthetical and bracketed comments, except the first one, which is mine.

[61] Caliphate Online, “What Is the Caliphate?” October 8, 2007,

[62] This series on sharia law does not contrast Christianity and Islam. However, readers may be curious about it. If so, they may read the series Introduction to the Sword in Early Christianity and Islam The ones about Christianity show how Jesus and his disciples kept the church separate from the state, and the state from the church.

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