As the concept of secularism varies among secularists in the Muslim world, reactions of Muslim intellectuals to the pressure of secularization also varies. On the one hand, secularism is condemned by some Muslim intellectuals who do not feel that religious influence should be removed from the public sphere. On the other hand, secularism is claimed by others to be compatible with Islam. For example, the quest for secularism has inspired some Muslim scholars who argue that secular government is the best way to observe sharia; "enforcing through coercive power of the state negates its religious nature, because Muslims would be observing the law of the state and not freely performing their religious obligation as Muslims" says Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im, a professor of law at Emory University and author of Islam and the secular state : negotiating the future of Shariʻa. Moreover, secular states have existed in the Muslim world since the Middle Ages.
Nevertheless, many Muslim-majority countries define themselves as or are regarded as secular, and many of them have a dual system in which Muslims can bring familial and financial disputes to sharia courts. The exact jurisdiction of these courts varies from country to country, but usually includes marriage, divorce, inheritance, and guardianship.
The etymology of the Arabic word for secularism can be controversial in itself. Some scholars pointed out that originally there was no Arabic term to describe the secular and secularism and therefore some neologisms were spawned. Secularism was translated into Arabic either as "‘alamaniyah", which is derived from "‘alam (world or universe)", or as "‘ilmaniyah", which is derived from "‘ilm (science or knowledge)". The term "‘alamaniyah" first appeared at the end of the nineteenth century in the dictionary Muhit al-Muhit written by the Christian Lebanese scholar Butrus al-Bustani. It has been suggested that the use of other translations, such as "la diniyah (non-religious)", that implied the exclusion or marginalisation of religion, would have met with outright rejection by Muslims, for whom (according to the principle al-Islam din wa-dawlah, Islam is religion and state) the division between the temporal and the spiritual is literally unthinkable.
Moreover, some refer to "‘almaniyyah" which is derived from the word "‘alam", and others prefer "dunyawiyyah", which is derived from "dunya (temporal)", in contrast to "dini (religious)".
The concept of secularism was imported along with many of the ideas of post-enlightenment modernity from Europe into the Muslim world, namely Middle East and North Africa. Among Muslim intellectuals, the early debate on secularism centered mainly on the relationship between religion and state, and how this relationship was related to European successes in science, technology and governance. In the debate on the relationship between religion and state, (in)separability of religious and political authorities in the Islamic world, or status of the Caliph, was one of the biggest issues.