The allegation is made that Shariah law is supreme and Islam demands that it be the only law of the land and that it be established everywhere in the world forcibly if necessary and that is Islam’s ultimate goal.
As far as the question of whether Islamic law, or any other religious law, can be imposed perforce, the answer, on the basis of the Holy Quran is a definite no. The Holy Qur’an says [2:257]: There should be no compulsion in religion.
This is a statement of the Holy Qur’an of course; but it is a universal statement which can never be changed. It is an example of how laws can become permanent and universal. It says there is NO coercion in faith or in matters of faith. No coercion is possible and NO coercion is permitted. So, here is the question: If one religion imposes its law on a society where people of other religions and denominations also live, how will this verse stand against your attempt to coerce? Not only vis-à-vis the people from other religions, but vis-à-vis people from the same religion who are not willing.
So, this is the fundamental question. Therefore the conclusion is that coercion is not an instrument in religion, not a valid instrument in religion.
The only authority in Islam, which was genuinely capable of being given the right to coerce, was the Founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Why? Because he was a living model of Islam and because when enquired about his character, his holy wife, Hazrat Ayesha, said, he was the living Qur’an.
So, the only person who could be genuinely entrusted with the faith of others, and be permitted to use coercion also where he felt that rectification was to be made by force, was the Holy Prophet.
Yet, addressing him, Allah says in the Qur’an, (88:22-23): thou art but an admonisher; Thou hast no authority to compel them.
You are just an admonisher. No more. You are given NO authority to coerce. You are not a superintendent of police. Mosaitir is exactly the superintendent of police.
So, that is why neither coercion is possible, nor permitted by God. Moreover, what prevents a Muslim from following the Muslim law? Why should he wait for the whole legislation to be changed?
Most of Islam and most of Christianity and most of Hinduism can be practiced without their being the law of the country. The more so since the general principle accepted by the modern political thinkers is that religion should not be permitted to interfere with politics and politics should not be permitted to interfere with religion.
This is where it is important to answer the question as to what form of government Islam proposes.
If Islam proposes a government which is representative of God, then the issue is to be looked at from a different angle altogether.
If, on the other hand, Islam proposes a system of government which is common to various denominations of religions and different people, then an entirely different outlook would appear.
The fact is that Islam pleads for the secular type of government more than any religion and more than any political system.
The very essence of secularism is that absolute justice must be practiced regardless of the differences of faith and religion and color and creed and group.
This, in essence, is the true definition of secularism. And this is exactly what the Holy Qur’an admonishes us to do in matters of state, how things should be done and how the state should be run. The Holy Qur’an says: Allah orders you to always practice justice (16:91). And then it develops the theme by saying: let not a people’s enmity incite you to act otherwise than with justice (5:9).
No amount of enmity between you and any other people, should permit you to deviate from absolute justice. Be always just that is nearer to righteousness,
When you dispense your responsibility as a government, you must dispense those responsibilities with absolute justice in mind. Now, when absolute justice is established as the central theme of a government, how could Islamic law be imposed upon non Muslim? Because It would be against justice. And so many contradictions would arise.
This is the interpretation proved from the practice of the Holy Founder of Islam, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
In Medina, when he moved there after Hijra, he came into contact with the Jewish and other communities who accepted him not as their religious leader, but a political leader. They agreed, and this is called the Charter of Medina, to refer to him all disputes and trust his superior judgment to resolve all the contentions between various parties.
Islamic law had already been revealed at that time. Jews came to him for guidance or for decisions. Without fail, every time he enquired from them: ‘Would you like your dispute to be settled according to the Jewish law or according to the Islamic law or according to the arbitration?’
Without fail he never imposed Islamic law on a non agreeing party, which did not belong to the faith.
This is absolute justice. So, absolute justice has to be employed by a truly Islamic government, if it ever dreams of calling itself ‘Islamic government’. And this is in other terms, a secular government.
The point is made clear in another verse [4:59] where we are told to elect officials based on competence and nothing else, and once they are given their office they are admonished to administer, to govern, with justice:
Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice. And surely excellent is that with which Allah admonishes you! Allah is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. [4:59]
Commentary: Authority or power to rule has been described as a “trust” of the people in order to point out that it belongs to the people and is not the birthright of any individual or dynasty. The Qur’an disapproves of dynastic or hereditary rule and institutes instead a representative form of government. The Chief is to be elected; and in electing him the people are bidden to vote for one best fitted for the office.
A fuller discussion of this topic by Hadrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ra) can be found in Shariah Relationship Between Religion and Politics in Islam.