Institute for Social Justice

Doctoral Students

Ali Mamouri

Ali Mamouri

Indigenous Shiite secularism: a traditional political identity in opposition to the Islamic state model

Western secularism emerged and developed in a particular socio-political context, which is inconsistent with the socio-political base of Muslim world. As a result of the incompatibility between the defining features of Western secularism’s model and the cultural and religious mosaic of non-western societies local variants of secularism have emerged, not just in the Muslim World and this can be described at the “localisation of secularism”.

Contrary to the current prevailing opinion there is more than one variant of the concept of an Islamic State and examples of them can in found in the history books of countries throughout the Islamic World. The concept of separation between religion and state is also found throughout the history of the Islamic World where has been successfully promoted in both theory and practice in a variety of forms. Islamic secular models exist within both major branches of Islam; Sunni and Shi’a with Sufism and traditional Shi’ism both containing basic elements of separation between religion and state, which can be regarded as Islamic secular models. In opposite to the three senses of western secularism which Charles Taylor identifies in his magnum opus book, A Secular Age, the notion of ‘separation between religion and state’ comes within religion and based on purely religious reasoning.

The traditional Shi’ite model of secularism can be traced from the foundation period of Shi’ite theology and jurisprudence in the school of Baghdad during the 10th and 11th century A.D. through to the present time. During this long period, the idea of separation of religion from state has evolved significantly; however the core idea that religious authorities cannot be involved in the state and the socio-political dimensions of Shari’a law cannot be implemented, has remained static. For that reason, the Najaf Shi’ite School that represents the traditional Shi’ite belief, did not show tendencies towards establishing an Islamic state or becoming direct involved with the state, even when the socio-political atmosphere was ready for such a demand.

The fall of Saddam in 2003 gave birth to a rival model of a Shi’ite polity in contrast with the Iranian Velayate Faqih. The traditional Shi’ite secularism has put in practice by Ayatollah Sistani in post-Saddam Iraq. Accordingly, Sistani not only did not call for the creation of a religious state, but he emphasised frequently the necessity of civil state for Iraq and other Shiite communities. furthermore he showed opposition to the model of Islamic state by standing against attempts to implement Shari’a law proposed by Islamic parties.