Religion and Politics, Useful Correlation, Impossible Separation
The relation between religion and politics took in the human reality and thought various- and mostly contradictory- forms. This was according to the culture, experience and historical developments of every society. I would like to offer here a closer and more correct view- according to me- to the relation between religion and politics. First of all, we should note that many of the differences and misunderstanding between various views in the relation between religion and politics are attributed to disagreement over definitions and consequently over understanding and implementation. This note is- I think- important and helps in bringing together closer viewpoints. This is because many disputes between human beings emanate from accurate or inaccurate descriptions and definitions.
The general meaning of the word “religion” in Islam includes the Muslim’s various activities in his/her life including his/her worldly and political affairs. Thus, every good deed the Muslim does in his life is a religion. The verse of the Quran “This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favor unto you, and have chosen for you as religion al-Islam” (Al-Maeda, from verse 3), states that religion is perfect and complete. The word religion means here religion with its comprehensive meaning, not only ideological and ritual religion and rules. This was reinforced by many Muslim scholars who said that it means constants of religion. All constants and rules upon which a right human life is based have been fully completed and perfected. Applying details of these constants and rules are left to mankind. This verse does not mean with perfection all details of life because details are limitless. Scholars have very clearly stated this. The perfection of religion includes allowing mankind to practice Ijtihad, creativity and research in his life affairs. Results of this research and creativity are actually arrangements and actions that organize lives of mankind as individuals and societies. Though all these arrangements are worldly, they pertain to religion also in the general meaning. They are carried out in line with instructions and moral values ordained by religion according to the sayings of Prophet Mohamed-peace be upon him- who said:” Verily, I was sent to perfect good morals”.
For this, scholars and intellectuals saw that rule and politics are kinds of worship; yes they are kinds of worship, not as rituals but as worldly actions carried out within the general framework of understanding religion. So, appointing a president, for example, is a kind of worldly Ijtihad that people carry out not out of religious worship- although it is religious in the aforementioned general meaning; that is to say, a work in which obedience to Allah should be observed before supervision of organizations and establishments… not cheating, no dishonesty and no irresponsibility. A scholar said:” Rule and politics are kinds of religion through which we obey Allah”. This doesn”t mean that rule and politics are sacred and that rulers aren”t held accountable. They are kinds of religion in the sense that they are under moral constraints of the manners reached by religion to protect them from any human deviation towards personal interests or whims.
It is important to know that religion in Western culture contains only the absolute and final unlike the Islamic understanding that contains both the absolute and relative. Both understandings pertain to religion. All political constants which are in line with the source of authority in the nation and constitutions are absolute. While political variables are within the relative space of religion and in this relative space there emerges the interaction with the human thought. This is in line with what scholars and intellectuals said; that religion can be revived in its relative and ijtihad sides.
Some see that the relation between religion and politics should be separated; that politics should be based on only civil bases which have no (sacred) source of authority and that religion should be fully excluded. They attribute this to what happened in the West when a fierce conflict emerged between the church and society or the church and the state (according to what big historian Durante reported in his Story of civilization) forgetting that religion in the West is absolute while politics is relative. They highlight their view confirming that religion is a spiritual relationship between the slave and his Lord and that religion is a belief whose place is the inner self. Some others see this relation between religion and politics as a complete and necessary merge consequently seeing the political action as a religious duty, and that Islam is an all-inclusive religion that can never be separated from politics.
Most disagreements between the two sides are due to inaccurate definitions. As I mentioned first, when some hear “the separation between religion and politics”, they think it means separating politics from values and manners and leaving it prey to whims, imposture kinds, media hypocrisy, separating it from values of justice, equality, sufficiency and dignity. While others who defend this “separation between religion and politics” want the political decision not to be considered holy or sacred.
I think that the most correct relation between both of them is not a decisive separation (which is impossible to attain) or the complete merging. The most correct relation is the (useful correlation). Prominent intellectual Dr. Abdul Wahab Al Meseiri said that the idea of separating between religion and politics in its full sense is absurd, as there can never be any complete separation between them in any society because religion can be traced in any individual, a Muslim or non Muslim, religious or irreligious, in his consciousness or subconsciousness. Religion is present in one’s culture, education, pledges, morals and dealings from his birth till his death. This is because all religions give a normative view to the higher objectives in people’s lives. These objectives should steer man’s life on earth and through which man can attain dignity ensured by his creator Glory be to Him. Thus, religion is present in politics regardless of what we want. It is present as a spirit in the conscience of society and as a strong link between its members.
In his book (Authority and the Individual), Bertrand Russell said that the most complicated problems in human life is the relation between authority and the individual and between the state and society. There comes the role of religion as a moral framework that rejects humiliation and submission for human beings and rejects tyranny and domination over the human being. We should definitely know that the political practice is totally independent from any authority in the name of God or in the name of religion. This is a very important point in understanding how Islamists seek the society and state to be.