Souls Sacrificed for Religion

By: Āyatullah Muḥammad Taqī Miṣbāḥ Yazdī

Translated by: Muhammad Reza Dorudgar & Zaid Alsalami

Secularism and its consequences in the society

The restriction that the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs had put for the Imāms (a.s.) was that they not involve themselves in any political or social matters anyhow related to their government. Another way to put this was that the caliphs aimed at dividing Islamic affairs into two parts: one is personal and individual, and the second is social and governmental. In the realm of personal and individual affairs, the Imāms (a.s.) we

re relatively free to engage in what they, and they could also express their scholarly views and opinions. Within this realm, they were able to discuss matters like purities, impurities, ablution, prayer, fasting, and so on, as the caliphs did not see these issues to be serious.

However, they did not let the Imāms (a.s.) involve themselves in matters that were somehow related to the government, to caliphate or to the caliph’s indulging in worldly desires and ambitions. In reality, this was exactly the same issue of what we know as the “theory of separation between religion and politics”.

Contrary to what many people think, the theory of separation between religion and state is not something new. Rather, it has an old past, dating back to the first years of the advent of Islam. In fact, the origin of this topic goes back to the first days of passing of the holy Prophet (ṣ.a.w.).

We all know about the event of Ghadīr Khumm, and the declaration of caliphate and wilāyah of Imām ʿAlī (a.s.), happening just about two months before the sad departure of the Messenger of God (ṣ.a.w.). The gap between the event of Ghadīr Khumm (18th Dhil-ḥijjah, 10 AH) and the passing of the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) (28th Ṣafar, 11 AH) was just seventy days. Even though the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) on the day of Ghadīr Khumm explicitly appointed Imām ʿAlī (a.s.) as his successor and caliph, but it only took seventy days for all of this to be forgotten. In that very event, ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb, who later on became the second caliph, was among the first of people to congratulate the Commander of the faithful (a.s.) and pledge allegiance to him on the day of Ghadīr. ʿUmar said to him:

بَخْ بَخْ لَكَ يَا عَلِيُّ، أَصْبَحْتَ مَوْلاَيَ وَمَوْلَى كُلِّ مُؤْمِنٍ وَ مُؤْمِنَةٍ

Congratulations to you, O ʿAlī. You have become my master, and the master of all the believing men and women.[1]

But once the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) passed, ʿUmar and others acted in such as way as if Ghadīr did not even occur. They came together to decide who is going to become the caliph after the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.). In other words, they were insinuating that the topic of succession of the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) is a matter of dunyawī leadership, and people themselves must give their opinion, vote, agree and decide.

Therefore, the reality is that separating religion from politics in the Islamic world originated and was established from the event of Saqīfah. Of course, during that time these terms did not exist, for them to call it “secularism”, but what did occur in the Saqīfah became the foundation and first seeds of this matter, which we now call “secularism”.

Separation of religion and state originated in Saqīfah, and then gradually matured, until it reached a stage where the caliphs who gained power under the title of being the “caliph of the Messenger of God (ṣ.a.w.)” would openly drink wine! The intoxicants that they drank were not diluted, or small amounts. They would consume so much that they became drunk, losing control and having no idea what they said or did.

The situation got so bad, it got beyond measuring with cups, as they would make a pool of wine and throw themselves in it.[2]

It is said that one of the caliphs [al-Walīd ibn Yazīd] was so drunk, he hung a Quran, and shot at it with arrows. Indeed, the result of secularism and separating between religion and politics led to a “caliph of the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) aiming at the Quran and hitting it with arrows for joy and amusement.

Another of these caliphs and so-called successors of the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) was so drunk one morning that instead of praying fajr prayer two rakʿahs, he prayed it four rakʿahs. When people informed him of his miskate, he said: “today I am very joyous, and if you want, I can make it more [than four rakʿahs]. The interesting, or rather strange matter is that these incidents were not hidden at all, and people knew of them. People saw these things with their own eyes and witnessed their caliphs as drunkards, praying four rakʿahs instead of two, but yet the next day they would return back to him and pray congregation behind him.

In this kind of a government, if someone wants to, for example, speak about the topic of doubts in prayer, and what should be done when doubting between the third and fourth four rakʿah, this would affect the government. It would not create any friction or threat for the caliphate and their position. However, if there is an objection, and something is said, like a publicly intoxicated Muslim or one who engages in immoral conduct must be punished, in this situation, the first that should be punished is the caliph himself. It was not just caliphs, but their family members and associates as well, with their corrupt parties and dancers would also need to be punished.

What we aim at explaining here is that the foundation of secularism in the Islamic world started from the event of the Saqīfah, and within a century it grounded itself in the Islamic society, and in the highest position as well, being the position of “successor of the Messenger of God (ṣ.a.w.)”. Of course, there were many people who more or less did not care what the caliphs did. They did not really hate the idea of both being a Muslim, praying and fasting, but also sometimes drinking and partying.

 This was even more visible among the younger generation who had not experienced the early era of Islam. They did not have that deep faith or strong belief in the fundamentals, and then having such caliphs allowing them to pursue and satisfy their desires and lusts.

In all of this, there was also the prevailing and widespread financial corruption of the caliphs and their circles. Forty years had not yet passed from the sad demise of the Messenger of God (ṣ.a.w.), and some of the companions of the Prophet (ṣ.a.w.) and important and influential people had accumulated so much wealth that when they died and others wanted to share their wealth, they would break gold bars with axes. Yes, it was not weighed with scales, or grams, because they had hoarded so much gold that they broke them with axes and divide them between the inheritors.

It was not for no reason that when Imām ʿAlī (a.s.) became the caliph, he encountered so many problems. These people who became so rich just thirty years after the Prophet’s death would naturally not compromise or agreew with Imām ʿAlī’s justice.

This is why they began to oppose Imām ʿAlī (a.s.), creating all kinds of problems in front of him and his government. During the reign of previous caliphs, for years they had absolute control over the Muslim Treasury, without any accountability, resulting in having that much gold they had to break with an axe.

Now, all of a sudden, they are facing the just and fair caliphate of Imām ʿAlī (a.s.). We know that Imām ʿAlī (a.s.) as the caliph conducted himself in a way that if someone was to visit him for personal matters, he would turn off the candle that was from the Muslim Treasury, and light up his own personal candle, if he had one.

Let’s open our eyes and see how different these two paths are. One pillaged and violated the Muslim Treasury, breaking gold between them with axes, and the other was meticulously careful about which candle to use, and just for an hour or less.

We can also see this kind of corruption and financial negligence in current Islamic countries. Some have accumulated so much wealth that they can even start up their own private banks. This is at a time where even government bodies do not have that much revenue to establish a bank, due to lack of funds. Where does this wealth come from? How did they acquire such astronomic and limitless wealth? By their own effort, with sweat and blood, or inheritance from their father?


[1] Ibn Ḥanbal, Musnad Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, vol. 4, p. 281. Al-Mufīd, Kitāb al-Irshād, p. 94. Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 21, p. 387.

[2] There are more than one case of this being recorded in the history of Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs, in particular al-Walīd ibn Yazīd and also al-Amīn. For details about caliphs and indulging in wine pools, see: Steven Judd, Reinterpreting al-Walīd b. Yazīd, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, (Jul. – Sep., 2008), pp. 439-458.


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