Part III: Is Islam an apolitical religion?
Does religion encompass all segments of life? What is the true definition of religion? In the previous articles we discussed the historical development of the alienation of religion from social affairs. In this article, we start exploring the union between religion and society, presenting arguments of some of the most elucidated Muslim scholars who have worked diligently to present the real Islam as the most comprehensive code of individual and social life.
As can be gathered from our earlier discussions, the idea of exclusion of politics and other important social matters from the scope of religion was not something axiomatic or natural in human thought; rather, it was an idea that went through a series of chronological evolutions and a number of disagreements throughout the history of civilisation. It is also noticeable that alongside the intellectuals who have disregarded religion as devoid of social responsibilities, there have always existed a number of proponents for a holistic definition of religion, expanding it to all areas of collective life, while adeptly critiquing secularism.
The recent centuries have seen certain personalities who have reached the core of this issue and have demonstrated the greatest intellectual and ideological heights in discussing and solving many philosophical and sociological issues that a modern person may face. Part of their works includes a firm-grounded opposition to the problematic of secularism, especially in light of the recent post-Enlightenment acceleration of the development of this notion.
For Mutahhari, the causal chain of the issue of materialistic secularism can be traced back to the inadequacy of the theosophical basis of the church and its inhumane treatment of the public, scholars and intellectuals, sowing seeds for a resistance against religion, thereby paving way for materialism, detachment from metaphysics and adoption of secularism. Other than this, the loosely tied political and sociological ideologies of the West that held the spirit of totalitarianism all along, subverting the masses into tools that the elites may derive benefit and service from, had also caused such a welcoming of a version of secularism that was anti-religion, at least in its early days. Mutahhari comments that enforced fear of the Church into the hearts of the people made them accept the Western Renaissance ideals with ease.
Since recent times, what the East had learnt from this experience of the West, whether or not having had gone through even remotely similar circumstances, eased the import of such ideals into the Eastern socio-political atmosphere. Khomeini has proven how most of these secularistic ideals held by the Eastern and especially the Muslim societies, had been planted by the Eurocentrists themselves, estranging the very essential teachings of Islam from the Muslims:
“The preachers—they planted in the religious teaching institution, the agents they employed in the universities, government educational institutions, and publishing houses, and the orientalists who work in the service of the imperialistic states—all these people have pooled their energies in an effort to distort the principles of Islam. As a result, many persons, particularly the educated, have formed misguided and incorrect notions of Islam.” 2
After the clutter of misinformation and misrepresentation is cleared, one may hope to question what we had mistaken for Islam all the time, and to seek out the real definition of religion. The first step towards understanding the relationship between religion and politics is to fathom the correct definitions of the two. As Yazdi points out, religion is definable as the “set of laws, beliefs and values decreed by God for the guidance of mankind and to ensure man’s felicity in this world and the hereafter.” 3 As far as politics is concerned, Yazdi maintains that, contrary to the popular negative attitude towards the word “politics” meaning lying and cheating to attain one’s own benefit, it simply means “a method of managing the affairs of the society in which both political and spiritual interests of the society are taken into account.” 3
If the above holistic definitions of religion and politics are considered and combined, we may automatically see the complementary relation between the two concepts. Certainly, a religion that is concerned with both man’s world and the hereafter must not ignore the social matters, which are part of the life on earth. Similarly, since politics deals with the affairs of society, considering both political as well as spiritual interests, religion cannot be forsaken, especially as far as the spiritual and moral matters of the society is concerned. A complete code of guidance is needed for all the mentioned human perfections. So, according to these all-encompassing and broad definitions of religion and politics, both of these concepts are proven to be inherently inseparable.
The philosophical basis of the role of religion in politics has been presented by Tabatabai who proves how Islam is not silent on the issue of government. Tabatabai raises the question that with Islam being so intricately involved in all the matters of human life, how is it possible that it may be quiet on the vital issue of government and the natural need for an administrator?
“Is it possible that he [the Holy Prophet (S)] explicates obvious life issues such as eating and drinking and insignificant matters that occur naturally such as excretion, giving hundreds of instructions regarding them, but turns a blind eye to the issue of leadership—which is the soul that keeps the society alive? … The fact that various aspects of humanity’s social life require an administrator is a general truth understood through human nature.” 4
If one goes to the core of the Islam, one may very conveniently find out that political and social instructions not only exist but have been strongly emphasized. According to Khomeini:
“The ratio of Qur’anic verses concerned with the affairs of society to those concerned with ritual worship is greater than a hundred to one … All the voluminous books that have been compiled from the earliest times on different areas of law, such as judicial procedure, social transactions, penal law, retribution, international relations, regulations pertaining to peace and war, private and public law—taken together, these contain a mere sample of the laws and injunctions of Islam. There is not a single topic in human life for which Islam has not provided instructions and established a norm.” 2
After a careful examination of the Quran and the life and instructions of the Holy Prophet (S), it becomes clear that the true Islam, or any true religion for that matter, in its essence is not only involved in political affairs but has the most important position of instructing and guiding in all the socio-political areas of life.
It has been discussed that the thought of secularism, or disengagement of religion with politics and vice-versa, has Western roots, in which both inadequate religious teachings and corrupt intellectual resistance played a key role in its own social corruption, in addition to its export of secularistic ideals to the East. The definition of religion, especially Islam, and politics is commonly mistaken by the analysts and if we consider the true definition of both of them, we may see the close inter-relation between religion and politics. Considering the religion of Islam, whether from a philosophical or a theological point of view, it has been proven to encompass all areas of political and social issues of human beings.