Friday, February 24, 2006

The Price of Politicizing Religion

Over the past three or four decades, Islamic “vanguards” have successfully propagated their notion of political Islam. According to these radicals, Islam offers solutions to such wide-ranging problems as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the very practical matter of putting bread on the table. Unfortunately they have successfully convinced considerable portions of Muslim populations all around the world to buy into their rhetoric. These societies have offered such organizations as Hizballah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood legitimacy and authority that any secular leader or party would salivate over. What the average Muslim did not expect was the price their religion would have to pay for this process of politicization.... Thus far, that price has been extremely high, despite the fact that political Islam has only picked up steam in recent years.

Politics is universally referred to as a "dirty game." It is referred to as such for a good reason too. Politics is usually a no-holds-barred slugfest between the powerful, where almost no position or principle is too sacred to compromise or be trampled over. That is the nature of the political game. It has been as such since time-immemorial and will remain as such until the time of men on earth has come to an end.

Through politicizing Islam, Islamic radicals have subjected the religion they purportedly love so much to the nature and whims of politics. The prophet Mohammed no longer remains a religious figure who inspires reverence among believers and a mysterious curiosity among nonbelievers. Rather, the prophet becomes a political figure who is revered by his followers but despised by those who stand to loose from the agenda they perceive him to espouse.

Another contentious issue becomes who decides what is politically "holy" and what is not? A very good example of such a "conflict of holiness" manifested itself in the February 14 demonstration when Walid Jumblatt proclaimed that "their holy causes are illusions...." Of course, Hizballah’s leadership thought that by covering "the resistance" with a shroud of divine legitimacy, they would protect themselves politically. But alas, they miscalculated, and the nature of politics overruled their religious assumptions. The question to ask today is who do you blame: Hizballah for using Islam to legitimize its political position, or Jumblatt for doing what politicians do and openly disagreeing with Hizballah's "divine" position?

As the disturbing events in Iraq over the past few days have proven, even religious sites are not immune. The al Askariya mosque was targeted because of its political value. Had religion been irrelevant in Iraqi politics, why would mosques be targeted in the first place? Furthermore, if the al Askariya mosque was targeted, what is to stop Mecca from being targeted in the future? The politicization of Islam politicizes Islamic holy sites as well. Consequently, today (politically speaking), Mecca has become the equivalent of White Hall in London, the Bundestag in Germany and Congress in the United States.

There is a very famous cliché that most of us have heard: "nothing is for free!" The price of politicizing Islam will be extremely high on the religion itself. The insults will continue, the destruction of mosques will not abate, and the whole notion of “holiness” will lose its meaning since so many people will attribute it to so many different contradicting political causes. I doubt this is what most Muslims want for their religion. In fact, I doubt this is what any faithful person wants for his or her religion. I was raised to believe that religion is above politics. Maybe I am different; but considering the costs of the politicization of Islam, I believe that faithful Muslims should reconsider their support for Islamic radicals who seek political prominence by raising the banner of Islam.


Anonymous said...

ummmm...lahoud sucks!


hussein said...

Yes, I agree. Lahoud sucks :)

No, seriously, this is interesting Raja, but are you arguing for a secular society then? I thought you were having doubts about the benefits of a secular society a few posts back.

mohamad said...

Agree, That's why I hate mini-hariri exploiting salafis of the north and the corrupt royal (not so much) saudi family channeling ismlamic torrorism.

yaman said...


I agree with your assessment of the danger of corrupting religion with politics.

ghassan said...

No argument, as well intentioned as it might be, can be taken seriously when it is based on weak or even faulty assumptions.

I for one question the validity of your assertion that "Politics is recognised universally as a dirty game". Is that what attracted such minds as Aristotle, Plato, Locke, Machiavelli , Marx,etc... to the field?

It is difficult to argue that Islam is being politicised since Islam was from its origin involved in the architecture of society. That is the reason many find it difficuklt to argue against the fundamentalists interpretation of Islam. Islam was created to be a "deen wa Dawlat", a state and a religion. Its an integral concept that does not recognize the divisions between the civil and the sacred. The sacred and the secular are one and that is the difficulty of having a Moslem democracy or an Islam that is not ruled by Sharia'a. Eventually Islam will need its own revolution , its own reformation. But until then it will not be helpful to claim that the two can be separated. They cannot. If the political, the civil is separated from Islam then Islam will become just another religion concerned about the spiritual. Maybe that is what is needed but obviously that is not what Islam has been about for 1400 years.

The events in Iraq are not as much religious as they are tribal. Iraq, like it or not, is being Lebanonized. The Sunnis have just not gotten used to the new political realities. They have to resolve their new status as a minority; they are in the same position that the Lebanese Christian tribe found itself in twenty five years ago. The Iraqis will eventually reconcile and adopt a new formula for power sharing but not before more mayhem and turmoil. The same transformation is likely to occur in Syria. I hope that they can avoid the war, the destruction and the enmity but that would be too much to ask. Lebanon , in a sense has already gone through the rings of fire and the others need to do the same. Once political maturity is established and modernity is accepted then religion in all its forms, including the tribal, will need to be parked outside the public square.

frencheagle said...

well it would be interesting to see the differences btw hezbollah, hamas and the muslim brotherhoods
i guess there are deep differences in their objectivs.
we re going back to the difference btw sunnits and shiits.

i guess as was saying malraux:
le 21 eme siecle sera religieux ou ne sera pas

the problem is with the exacerbation of the religion and how to deal to diminush it, i guess only dialogu can reach that result

the problem in lebanon is that constitutionally since taef, religion has entered into consideration, B4 taef, the deals were oral and not written.

lecentre said...

I agree with you. It seems many of these 'defenders' of Islam are just pulling stunts to get attention.
In addition, this unifying of politics and religion seems aimed at stifling debate. You can't disagree with Mohammed, so if some politics are 'Mohammed's-ized', as in Hezbollah's case, the idea would be to stifle dissension. It's a dangerous road.

On a related note, the first edition of the Carnival of Centrism is up. We've got yourself, Small Dead Animals on Sharia, and a number of other interesting things on (to Cabadians) foreign policy, canadian politics, and economics which might interest you. Centrist carnival. You're also in the blogroll.

Raja said...

lecentre, thank you for placing Lebanese Bloggers on your blogrole. For what it's worth, I have reciprocated.

Ghassan, your knowledge of Islam is commendable. However, allow me to suggest that you have permitted yourself to ignore the fifty or so years (early 20th century) where the majority of Muslims in the Arab world and beyond believed in a secular governing model. During that time, the most prominent political symbols and institutions were secular as opposed to religious. So we cannot ignore the fact that there is historical precedent of the popular legitimacy of secular governing models in the Middle East. The Arabs of those days remained Muslims (as they are today).... If you are aware of any mass conversions to Christianinty or any other faith in the Middle East, please inform me.

Secondly, with regards to my comment concerning politics. Yes, yes, I am very aware of the classical and more flattering descriptions of politics. I have read philosophers' words which described politics as the "noble profession", and I am aware of how it was every Athenian man's duty to participate in politics... but your interpretation of my words was too literal!

What I meant to say (and I believe that lecentre partially pointed that out) is that two characteristics of politics can be extremely taxing on religion. The first is compromise and the second is the fact that war is an extension of politics. So my message was simply the following: if your religion becomes a political entity, it puts inself in the extremely awkward situation of: "damned if you do, and damned if you don't."

If the religious person compromises, then he is damned because he is compromising on matters of faith; but if he does not compromise, then he will subject the religion and all of its symbols (be they abstract or real) to violence and war - i.e. the extension of politics.

What is the alternative? Well, people can emphasize different aspects of their religion. You said that for 1400 years, Islam has been "deen el dawlat." Well, in response, I say that history proves you wrong; and that even if you are right, so what? Christianity today is not what it was 2000 years ago, or even 300 years ago. The same applies to Judaism. Times change, so does the role of religion across all societies....

Raja said...


Lebanon's sectarian system is secular (in a sense). It accomodates religion, but the formal state institutions are secular. Moreover, until the emergence of Hizballah, Lebanese were not divided strictly in a religious sense, but rather a communal (familial) sense.

Now, ideally, I would definitely like a secular society (despite the difficulties that I have alluded to in previous posts), but it appears that Lebanese are going in the other direction! Communal divisions that were once strictly communal are being replaced by religious divisions! Again, Hizballah is the perfect example!

The Lebanese Shi'a community once hosted a plethora of political allegiances that roughly corresponded with communal fissures within the sect. Today, most of those fissures (which once lead to a healthy plurality within the community) have been overwhelmed by the monolithic ideology of a religious party!

Yaakov Kirschen said...

What a brilliant, clear, and important statement. Thank you. The politicizing of religion here in Israel has also resulted in rabbis being seen as political rather than as religious leaders.
Once again,
Dry Bones
Israel's Political Comic Strip Since 1973

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