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Religion and the State - Middle East - The Shia-sunni Controversy, The Early Modern Islamic States, From Secularization To Islamic Revivalism

prophet message muslim authority

The relationship between religious and political domains in Islam is extraordinarily complex and is rooted in a rich conceptual and a long (although conflicting) institutional tradition. Koranic verses clearly endorse the prophet Muhammad's spiritual and temporal authority. Muslims agree that he was the sole transmitter of the divine message, the most qualified person to decide the meaning and application of that message, and the ultimate authority in applying that message. Several Koranic verses, for example 3:32, 3:132, 4:42, 4:80, and particularly 4:59, call Muslims to obey Muhammad and his appointees. The first Muslim commonwealth, the city-state of Yathrib, which was later called Madinat al-Nabi (the "City of the Prophet"), was established on the conceptual basis of this unified authority. The prophet led the Friday prayers, acted as a judge, was the supreme commander of the Muslim forces, and appointed governors and ambassadors. A sovereign exercising both temporal and spiritual authorities remained ideal to a number of Muslim medieval political theorists such as al-Farabi (d. 950), who at the same time recognized the difficulty of finding a legitimate contender for such a position.

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