Church and State in Islam
Posted by Sen on November 21, 2008
In a discussion, I was asked: “You state that separation of church and state is principle in Islam. Could you explain that a bit more?”
My starting point has been some verses of Baha’u’llah which will be familiar to Bahais, but I would like to look at them again, to see what they show about Baha’ullah’s thinking about the teachings of previous religions.
(1) In The Lawh-e Ashraf, in Gleanings, CII 206-7:
The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. From the beginning that hath no beginning the ensign proclaiming the words “He doeth whatsoever He willeth” hath been unfurled in all its splendor before His Manifestation.
(2) In the Surah-ye Bayan, in Gleanings CXXVIII 279:
Out of the whole world He hath chosen for Himself the hearts of men – hearts which the hosts of revelation and of utterance can subdue. Thus hath it been ordained by the Fingers of Baha, upon the Tablet of God’s irrevocable decree, by the behest of Him Who is the Supreme Ordainer, the All-Knowing.
(3) And in the Kitab-e Aqdas :
82: Ye are but vassals, O kings of the earth! … Arise, and serve Him Who is the Desire of all nations, Who hath created you through a word from Him, and ordained you to be, for all time, the emblems of His sovereignty.
83: By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men. Upon them the eyes of Baha are fastened. To this testifieth the Kingdom of Names, could ye but comprehend it.
And (4) in the Kitab-e Iqan paragraph 133 / page 125:
Were sovereignty to mean earthly sovereignty and worldly dominion, were it to imply the subjection and external allegiance of all the peoples and kindreds of the earth – whereby His loved ones should be exalted and be made to live in peace, and His enemies be abased and tormented – such form of sovereignty would not be true of God Himself, the Source of all dominion,
There are many more such examples, but this is sufficient to make the first point: Baha’u’llah thought that
– the essential principle of the division of sovereignty into worldly and heavenly types, and the allocation of worldly sovereignty to worldly rulers and not to religious leaders, has been God’s ruling from the beginning of time (quote 1);
– that God reserves the hearts for Godself alone (ie freedom of conscience; religion is to be taught, not imposed by the sword)(2);
– that the civil rulers have a religious mandate “for all time” to embody God’s sovereignty (3), so this is not something to be changed in the future; and
– that this division of powers, which means that religion can never exercise coercive authority, is “true of God Himself” (4) – it reflects something in the “kingdom of names.”
Baha’u’llah could not have said these things if he thought that the true message of Muhammad was the opposite, and since he knew the Quran rather well we would expect to find this teaching supported in the Quran, and in the prophetology of the Quran in relation to previous prophets. If we cannot make this at least plausible from the Quran text, we have a big problem in teaching the Bahai Faith to Muslims: it would appear then that Baha’u’llah introduced a religious innovation by separating church and state, while claiming it had always been a divine teaching. So we need to find the Quranic texts that support the separation of the worldly and religious sovereignties.
Five groups of Quranic verses are most striking,
– the verses of prophetology which we may call the warner verses,
– those relating to Muhammad’s arbitration, which I will call judgment verses,
– those referring to worldly leadership,
– the ‘authorities’ verses, and
– ‘freedom’ verses.
Call to remembrance, for you are only one who calls to remembrance (mudhakkirun). You are not (set) over them as a ruler (musaytirin). If anyone turns away to unbelief, God will punish him with a mighty punishment. (88:21-24)
All authorities agree in placing this in the Meccan period: Watt’s Companion to the Quran glosses it “that is, Muhammad only conveys a message and has no authority.” Sayuti, in the Tafsir al-Jalalayn only comments that this verse was revealed before the command of jihad, implying that the latter abrogates the verse above. He is presumably thinking of Surah 22 (eg verse 78), which does indeed postdate Surah 88. However the sentiment of Surah 88:21 (quoted above) is repeated in Surah 9, which is quite possibly the last Surah to be revealed, and which concludes (vv 128- 9):
There had come to you an apostle from among yourselves … but if they turn away, say ‘God is sufficient unto me, no god is there but him…’
This surah also contains extensive references to fighting, and about those who seek to evade their duty to fight. Clearly the regulations of jihad is not incompatible with the principle that Muhammad was not a ruler, for they were taught at the same time. Surah 5, which according to the traditional dating is the second-to-last Surah to be revealed, says (v. 102) “Nothing is incumbent on the apostle except preaching (al-balaagh) … ”
Muhammad Abduh‘s attempt at reconciling the problem of “You are not (set) over them as a ruler” is interesting: he says that it is only religious authority that is denied to Muhammad by such verses! (Cited in Sjadzali, Islam and Governmental System, 91) If this were true, the whole treasury of Islamic traditions that reveal Muhammad’s understanding of the Quran and his rulings on particular cases would be irrelevant, but this is not in fact Abduh’s position, nor that of any Muslim. What is happening here is that the Sunni tradition, teaching as it does the legitimacy of the first three Caliphs’ combined civil and religious authority, has had to provide explanations of the Quranic teachings, so as to emphasise Muhammad’s civil authority – even to the extent of reading “You are not (set) over them as a ruler” as a divine denial of Muhammad’s religious leadership. The plain meaning of the text is, that Muhammad is not a worldly ruler – which means that those who later claimed to exercise worldly rule as Muhammad’s successors were whistling in the wind.
The verse above (88:21) has parallels in Surah 6, also from the late Meccan period:
Say, I am not over you as a guardian (wakiilin) (66).
I [Muhammad] am not over you as a warder (hafiizan) ….(104)
We have not set you [Muhammad] over them as a warder, and you are not over them as a guardian. (107)
Similarly in Surah 4, from the early Medinan period:
We have sent you to the people as a messenger (rasulan) … whoever obeys the messenger has obeyed God, and as for those who turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them. (79-80)
We know what they say: you do not have the power of enforcement (be-jabbaarin) over them. Cause them to remember, through the Quran … (50:45)
In Surah 25, from the Meccan period, God tells Muhammad:
We have only sent you as one who gives glad tidings (mubashiirun), and as a warner. Say, I do not ask your for any recompense for it, except that every person shall make a path to his Lord. (56-57)
Finally, in a Surah that must date from relatively late in the Medinan period, Muhammad is told:
O Prophet, truly we have sent you as a witness (shaahidan) and one who gives glad tidings and as a warner, and as one who calls the people (daa`iyan) to God, by His leave, and a lamp giving light. (33:45-6, see also 48:8)
The denials of authority cited above might mean only that Muhammad had no authority over those who rejected him, but in Surah 15, Muhammad is told he has been granted the verses and the Quran, and should not envy what has been granted to others (87-88). That is, others within the Muslim community might have more wealth and more authority in the tribal or city structures than the Messenger, and Muhammad must accept this situation – as Baha’u’llah accepted the authority of the Shah and Sultan, and certainly did not envy them their wealth.
Muhammad’s lack of temporal authority is underlined by God’s instruction that he should consult his companions “in the affair” (3:159). The word is al-amr, which can refer ambiguously to a command, authority, a business matter or simply to any fact or situation, so the scope of the verse is not immediately apparent. It is a Medinan verse, and refers to the battle of Uhud in which Muhammad was also the military commander. In the codex of Ibn Abbaas, representing the early Quranic text used in Medina, the verse reads “consult them in part of the affair.” It seems most likely that it refers to consulting the leaders of the various elements of the Medinan federation, in relation to military command. This is in accordance with the customary limitation of authority of the chosen military leader, the sayyid, who had to lead by persuasion.
Once we know what to look for in the Quran, ‘warner’ verses strike us on almost every page:
7:184 “He is only a clear warner (mundhiirun).”
7:188 “I am nothing but a warning, and one who brings glad tidings.”
10:108 “I am not over you as a guardian.”
11:12 “… You are only a warner, and God has all things in his charge.”
13:7 “You are only a warner.”
15:89 “And say: I am the clear warner.”
16:82 “Nothing is incumbent on you except clear preaching.”
17:54 “We have not sent you to them as a guardian.”
22:49 “Say: O men! I am only a clear warner to you.”
27:92 “And if any stray, say “Truly I am only one of the warners.”
34:28 “We have not sent you except as that which is sufficient for the people, by way of glad tidings and a warning.”
39:41 “You are not over them as a guardian.”
42:48 “If they turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them.”
50:2 “They are astonished that a warner has come to them, from among themselves.”
79:45 “You are only a warner for those who fear it [i.e., the Hour].”
Anyone with an Arabic concordance can multiply these examples, by following the Arabic terms indicated above for the words messenger, warner, preacher, witness, summoner, one who calls to remembrance and one who brings good news, and also the terms for the roles Muhammad does not have: warder, guardian, ruler and similar. Without pretending to be exhaustive, see the verses 2:119, 11:2, 13:40, 14:52, 28:46, 29:50, 32:3, 34:46, 35:23, 37 and 42, 38:65 and 70, 41:4, 42:6, 44:12, 46:9, 51:50-1; 67:8-9 and 26.
When we put these verses together, it becomes clear that the very meaning of Muhammad’s most common title, rasuul or messenger, is “the one who warns, preaches summons and bears witness, but who does not have the function of warder, guardian or ruler, nor any power to compel.” And when we see how numerous such verses are, it begins to appear as if the distinction between prophetic and temporal authority is in fact one of the central themes of the Quran.
Similar declarations about demarcated religious authority are made concerning the Quran or Furqan, which is a warning (25:1), about all the prophets collectively (6:48, 34:34,44, 35:24, 18:56, 29:18, 36:17) who are all sent only to preach (16:35), and also about individual prophets such as Noah (71:1-2), Moses (17:105, 5:21, 5:28), Hud (46:21), Lot (54:33-36), and Jesus (5:49). The Prophet Shu’aib says ‘I am not set over you as a warder’ (11:86).
Muhammad is called “one of the warners of old” (53:56), placing him in the same line as all of these figures, whose warnings have been rejected, along with the prophets who brought them. Like Baha’u’llah after him, it appears that Muhammad too understood the demarcation of religious and temporal authority as the basic pattern of God’s dealing with humanity, and not as something particular to his own person or the exigencies of the time.
If we look at the contexts of all of these ‘warner’ passages, we can generalise about the point that is being made. The limitation of the authority of the prophets has two aspects: on the one hand, the prophets do not have any right to worldly authority over people, the power to compel them (for the people must be free to hear the warning or not), or the right to judge and punish. Nor are the prophets responsible if the people reject the message (2:272). On the other hand, God, and not the prophets, has the power to judge and punish people for their free choices, and God and not the prophet has the knowledge of the Hour of judgement. The power of the prophet is limited on two sides, in relation to the worldly powers, and in relation to God.
It might be objected that Muhammad is excluded only from the executive function of government, but still has the legislative and judicial functions. The distinction would be anachronistic and it would be wrong as an account of Muhammad’s actions. Although Muhammad did in fact serve as an arbiter in some disputes, this was a function that existed under the customs of the time, and which could be filled by any honourable man acceptable to both parties. Where Muhammad did act as arbiter, it was not by virtue of his station as a Prophet, but by the free consent of the parties, given either at the time of the dispute, or pledged in advance under the treaty of Medina. Even in the presence of Muhammad, the parties to a dispute could and did choose some other honourable man to be the arbiter (as in the case of the Banu Qurayza), and Muhammad was obliged to obey the adjudicator in the matter like everyone else. Moreover, Muhammad could decline to serve as arbiter when he was asked:
Either you judge between them or you turn away from them down, and if you turn away from them, they cannot harm you in any way. (5:45)
It appears in fact that Muhammad is counselled not to intervene in matters between the Jews in Medina, for God then asks: “Why do they come to you for judgement, when the Torah is among them, containing the judgement of God?” (5:46)
Another verse that appears to show that Muhammad had a judicial function, at least between the believers, is 4:65:
They will not believe until they turn to you for adjudication in whatever arises among them. Then they will not find any resistance within themselves to what you have done, and they will submit entirely.
The verse is from the early Medinan period, and refers to those who say that they believe, as the context shows:
Have you not seen those who pretend to believe … they wish to go for judgement to at-Taghut, although they have been ordered to reject him, and the Satan wishes to lead them astray. (4:60)
Some have said that at-Taghut is a derogatory name for a particular arbiter, and that Satan has inspired the nominal believers to turn to this man for arbitration. But as Watt has said, the various stories about the supposed incident and arbiter differ and some are frankly fantastic. It appears to me rather that at-Taghut is used as the personal name of the devil (it can also mean ‘evil’, ‘oppression’ or an idol), and ‘the Satan’ is used as a characterisation of the same devil. That is, the nominal believers turn to the devil, not Muhammad, for judgment, and since the devil does not literally provide legal rulings or arbitration, the meaning must be that these nominal adherents still govern their own daily conduct according to precepts taught by the devil, while they should govern them according precepts taught by Muhammad, accepting his teachings wholeheartedly. In that case, the verse does not imply that Muhammad should literally adjudicate each case specifically, or that the believers were required to turn to him and no-one else when seeking arbitration. Muhammad provides the rules, the customs and methods for daily life that replace those of at-Taghut. He may also adjudicate particular cases, but is not required to do so. This should be borne in mind when reading the previous verse (4:59), which does direct the believers to refer disputes among themselves to Muhammad (but as a good deed rather than a command).
Another early Medinan verse refers to those who say they believe in God and the Messenger:
When they are summoned to God and the His messenger, that he may judge between them (li-yahkuma baynahum), one sect among them protests. But if the right was on their side they would come to him obediently (24:48-9)
Like 4:59, this points to a duty of the believers to refer matters for arbitration to Muhammad, but only “when summoned.” This is a world removed from the judiciary as an arm of the state, ruling compulsorily over people of all religions. That verse leads on to a famous ‘authority verse’ (24:54):
Say: Obey God, and obey the messenger, but if they turn away, the only thing incumbent on him is the duty he has been charged with, and the duty you have been charged with is incumbent on you. If you obey him, you will be rightly guided. Nothing is incumbent on the messenger except clear preaching.
We can see that this duty is a moral obligation only, and that it applies to the believers in the time of Muhammad. It does indeed reveal an authority that Muhammad had in the religious community, and a duty of obedience, but it would be a considerable stretch to make this the foundation for a theory of the state.
Not only does the Quran say clearly that the prophets are only warners, and that Muhammad is not appointed as a ruler over men, it also speaks clearly if infrequently about temporal rulers, sometimes in the same breath as the prophets:
They [the chiefs of Israel] said to a Prophet among them, “Appoint for us a King …” Their Prophet said to them, “God has appointed Talut (Taalut) as a king for you… God grants His authority to whomever he pleases.” (2:246-247)
The reference here is to the story of the Prophet Samuel and the appointment of King Saul (Talut), which begins the institution of monarchy in Israel’s history.
Joseph (who is a prophet according to Islamic criteria) is another example of a prophet and king who are mentioned together. He served the Pharaoh, and if he sought and held authority as a ‘warder’ (hafiizun, 12:55) over the grain stocks, it was by virtue of his ability and virtue, and royal appointment: not because of his station as a Prophet. Despite Joseph’s religious status, his temporal authority is limited by the king’s laws (12:76). Joseph and the Pharoah, and Samuel and Saul, represent the ideal relationship between religion and power.
While Moses is said to have had clear authority (sultaanin mubiinin), this is at the same time as the Pharaoh had command (amr), and the people were ruled by Pharaoh (11:96-7). The use of two different terms here shows that the authority of the prophet is not the same as that of the king, and is an authority that does not compel. Sultaan is often translated as ‘warrant,’ for in the Quran it means an endorsement from God, not an actual authority over men (12:40; 7:71; 10:68).
The position of Moses as leader of the exile tribes is anomalous (and a magnified version of the position of Muhammad as leader of an exile group), because Moses like Adam functions as a leader in the absence of a state. The further history of Israel as presented in the Quran, including the verse just cited, tells us that God’s plan was fulfilled by the establishment of a state and a king. The period of wandering in which the Prophet was also the temporal leader is a suspension of that plan, prolonged by the disobedience of the Israelites which rendered them unfit to do the work of developing a civilization. Although the Quran contains these instances in which the figure of religious authority is at the same time the temporal authority, this is the product of circumstances and not a picture of the ideal society that Islam intends. David is another example combining religious and temporal authority.
David is not directly called a messenger (rasul) in the Quran, but is called ‘our servant’ (38:17), and he is included in a list of those who are rightly guided (6:84), and who have been given the Book, authority (hukm) and prophethood (nubuwat) (6:89). His ‘book,’ the psalms, is part of the Hebrew and Christian canon. So there are good reasons why he is considered a prophet in the Islamic theological tradition. In the Quran, David is granted both ‘divine gifts’ (min afzulan, 34:10) and ‘a station of successor on earth’ (khaliifatan fii al-ard, 38:26). When he did not have the latter, because Saul was king, his relationship to power resembles the ideal relationship of Joseph and the Pharaoh.
Solomon, is among the rightly guided who are granted the station of prophethood (6:84-89), and he is also granted a kingdom (mulkan, 38:35). But he appears in the Quran primarily as a figure of fable, rather than as a prophet and king. He does not seem to have been called a prophet by Baha’u’llah.
There are at least twenty other prophets mentioned by name in the Quran, and others unnamed. Their common characteristic is that they were rejected and even killed by the people, and by the rulers of the people. David (and Moses as an example of exceptional circumstances) provide us with two possible objections to the thesis that the Quran recognises the differentiation of religious and temporal authority. But if we consider the many other prophets who never had any temporal authority, there are ten times as many objections to the thesis that the Quran presents the union of religious authority and temporal power as an ideal. Considered as a whole, it is clear that the Quranic norm is the separation of religious authority and temporal power, and that the Quranic ideal is harmony between them.
The Quran also shows less ideal examples of the relationship of religion to authority, most notably in the relationships between Muhammad and the rulers of Mecca, and Moses before Pharaoh (7:103- 137). In the latter story (revealed in the late Meccan period), Moses does not seek to displace the temporal power, yet the assumption that this must be his ‘real’ aim leads to distrust in the Egyptian court, and ultimately to conflict (7:110). Similarly, at the time of the incident that caused Moses to flee to Madyan, the accusation made against him was that he sought to become a man of power (jabbaaran) in the world (28:19). It can hardly be an accident that Muhammad tells the story of Moses and Pharaoh in these terms: despite Muhammad’s own repeated statements that he is only a warner and seeks nothing from them, the leaders of Mecca treat him as a rival to power, and Muhammad suffered because of these suspicions. For Bahais, the story also reads as a type of the tragedy of the Bab and the exile and imprisonment of Baha’u’llah, and the imprisonment of Abdu’l-Baha for the same reason: those in power feared that they would use religious authority to claim worldly power. When Pharaoh decided to continue a policy of killing the male children of the Israelites, Moses said to his people, “Pray to God for help, and be patient. Truly, the earth is God’s, that he may will it to whomever He wills among His servants” (7:128). The implication of telling this story, for the oppressed believers in Mecca, was that the powers that be in the city, however unjust they might be, were not to be opposed or deposed.
An even stronger expression of this is found in Surah 3:26, from the early Medinan period: “Say, O God, Lord of Power, you grant power to whomever you will, and you take power from whomever you will.” This is traditionally said to have been revealed in reference to the pending fate of the Persian and Byzantine empires. This is not the same as the theory of the Divine right of kings. That theory gives an indefinite divine endorsement that promises the continuity of the throne: it has been applied to both the Persian throne and European royal houses (particularly the French). But in Islamic thinking the belief that God has appointed those who presently rule is coupled with an awareness that this appointment is for a time, and that God will depose one dynasty and appoint another, will remove one people from centre stage in history and raise another to succeed them. (16:133; 11:57.) As such, the concept is closer to the ‘wheel of fortune’ than ‘the divine right of kings.’
The power that passes from one to another may be used by them for good or evil, but the Quran is distinctly pessimistic about the usual pattern of history:
Thus we have created great men in every town, the wicked men of the place, that they may connive there … and when a sign comes to the them, they say, we shall not believe until we receive the like of what the messengers received … (6:122-4)
We have seen that the Quran says that God appoints prophets, and that they have a book and an authority (6:89), and in the case of Muhammad this includes the authority to call believers to submit to his arbitration of their disputes, and also that the Quran says that it is God who awards temporal power, but not (with a few exceptions) to the prophets, and not necessarily to the good. The inescapable conclusion is that the Quran contains the concept of at least two distinct sorts of authority.
Within this framework, we can turn to the verses that deal with authority per se, the various individuals to whom it is granted, and its corollary of obedience. The most famous of these is known simply as ‘the authority verse,’ Surah 4 verse 59:
God commands you [believers] to return your trusts to the people to whom they are due, and when you arbitrate (hakam) between people, do so with justice …. O you who believe, obey God, and obey the messenger, and those entrusted with command (amr) among you. If you differ in anything, refer it to God and to the messenger, … (4:58-60)
We have not sent any messenger except to be obeyed, according to the will of God … (4:64)
They will not believe until they turn to you for adjudication in whatever arises among them….(4.65).
We have sent you to the people as a messenger (rasulan) … whoever obeys the messenger has obeyed God, and as for those who turn away, we have not sent you as a warder over them. (79-80)
When a matter of security or danger came to them, they concealed it. If only they had referred it to the messenger and those entrusted with command (amr) among them, so that the discerning among them might know it.
(In the last translation, 4:83; “concealed” is the opposite to the translations of Watt, Sale and Yusuf Ali, but see 84:23. )
Surah 4 is from Medina, about the years 625-7. As we have seen above in relation to 3:159, amr may relate specifically to the military command exercised by the leaders of the various elements of the Medinan federation, including Muhammad. This seems the most likely reading of 4:83 as well, but in 4:59 it might refer to the tribal leadership in general, bearing in mind that most of the Muslims in Medina and elsewhere who had not accompanied Muhammad from Mecca were living in their tribal structures which would impose certain obligations on them. In the authority verse itself (4:59), the dual structure of authority quite naturally creates dual duties of obedience for the believers, whereas in the specifically military situation envisioned in 4:83, no distinction need be made because Muhammad was the chief of security for the whole city, and the duty to pass on information to someone discerning applies to all the Medinans, not just to the believers. The commandment to refer differences to Muhammad in 4:59 cannot be a reference to his role as adjudicator in inter-tribal disputes under the Treaty of Medina, since the verse is addressed to believers. Thus it refers to Muhammad’s other role, as the head of a religious community.
Baha’u’llah offers a Shiah interpretation of 4:59 in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 89-90:
“By ‘those invested with authority’ is meant primarily and more especially the Imams … Secondarily these words refer to the kings and rulers — those through the brightness of whose justice the horizons of the world are resplendent and luminous.”
The two authorities cannot be conceived sequentially, since there were kings and rulers in the days of the Imams, and there is no indication that Baha’u’llah considered them to be illegitimate.
The corollary of rightful authority is the duty of obedience:
64:12 Obey God, and obey the messenger, and if you turn back, nothing is incumbent on our messenger except clear preaching.
Similar words are repeated in several places, in the sense of a moral duty of obedience, enforced by an awareness of God’s ultimate judgement:
5:95 Obey God, and obey the messenger, and beware. If you turn back, know that what is incumbent on our messenger is clear preaching.
58.14 … stand up in the obligatory prayer, give tithes, and obey God and His messenger. God knows what you do.
64:16 Fear God, as much as you are able, and hear and obey, and give in charity for the sake of your souls …
Similar verses in relation to Muhammad are found at 3:32, 3:132, 4:64, 8:20, 8:46, 24:51, 25:56 and 27:33, and in relation to Aaron at 20:90.
The same duty of obedience is due to Jesus, who says: “… I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me” (3:50), (See also 43:63). Ibn Mascud’s codex expanded on 3:50, reading: Obey God in what has come to you of it [the Law], through the verses, and obey me in what the sign calls you to.”
There is a similar verse in relation to Noah (26:108, 110; 71:3), who adds, “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” and “I am only one who warns clearly.” (26:109, 115). The prophet Hud says, “Fear God and obey me” and adds “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” (26:126-7, and 131). Thamud says, “Fear God and obey me” and adds “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” (26:144-5, and 150). Lot says, “Fear God and obey me” and adds “I do not ask anything from you by way of recompense for this…” (26:163). None of these prophets exerted any worldly leadership over their people. One would have to singularly obtuse not to get the point here: Muhammad is saying over and over and over again, that his authority, and that of all the prophets, is a moral authority not a worldly one. However we should also consider one exception:
8:1 They ask you about the spoils of war. Say: the spoils belong to God and the messenger. … Obey God and his messenger if you are believers.
The verse is from the early Medina period, following the battle of Badr and a battlefield dispute among the Muslims concerning the division of the spoils. Although the verse would seem to imply that all the spoils revert to the messenger, Muhammad actually ordered all those who had taken spoils away to return them to one pile, and then shared them out again. The authority of the prophet here is that already noted above (for instance in relation to 24:48): the authority to adjudicate between the believers in matters of dispute among them. It is not the judicial authority of a state.
Finally, we should note that the authority in religion that is granted to the prophets is one that requires a voluntary submission:
2:256 There is no compulsion in religion: truth has been clearly distinguished from error …
10:99 If you Lord had willed it, everyone on earth would believe. Would you then compel the people to believe despite themselves?
11:30 I have an explanation from my Lord … do we compel you to it when you are averse to it?
Just as transcendent religion implies a project that is in this world but not of it, ethical religion is necessarily free, or it is not ethical. The state, in contrast, exists to provide society with the service of coercion, thus containing the free-loader problem and making extended societies possible. The project of the state, and the project of ethical religion, function according to fundamentally different logics, and complement each other:
He has set free the twin seas, that they meet one another. Between them is a barrier, and they pass it not. Which of the bounties of your Lord would you deny?