Why Religion and Politics Don't Mix


One of the stated missions of the Moral Majority, an evangelical political lobbying group founded by the late Jerry Falwell, was to "reverse the politicization of immorality in our society." To achieve this, Falwell allied himself with the Republican Party, wedding conservative political agendas with evangelical Christian ideals. In his efforts to reverse the politicization of immorality, Falwell politicized religion and in doing so, did more to diminish the dignity of belief than he achieved in limiting the sinfulness of modern life.

During the '70s, after a series of left-leaning Supreme Court decisions and an increasingly liberal subculture took root in the country, Falwell determined that mixing religion and politics was necessary to realize a more Christian society. He leveraged his booming voice, charismatic on-screen persona and his influence as a preacher in the realm of electoral politics. Fallwell rewrote the history of American politics when he allied the Moral Majority with Ronald Reagan, playing an important role in Reagan's landslide victory in 1980 over Jimmy Carter. The irony of this relationship, and one that serves to illustrate the inevitable hypocrisy that all preacher-turned-politicians must embrace, was that of the two presidential candidates, it was Carter who was more so the believing evangelical Christian. Reagan had little to do with the religious ethos of Southern Christianity. However, once Reagan guaranteed Falwell his full support against abortion, the future president rediscovered his religious roots and Falwell tasted the spoils of his first major political victory. Politics is never a one-way street, so if Falwell gained on abortion, he would have to give somewhere else. It is within this process, the one where politicians trade morality for power, that Falwell did the most damage to his faith and to public discourse in America. Religion can be a powerful voice for social change and is inherently capable of speaking truth to corruption and abuse of power. But all this ability is greatly diminished when the religious become guilty of similar excess.

The ramifications of this process become apparent in a poignant scene from the recent documentary, "Jesus Camp." In it, an enthusiastic 12-year-old boy, steeped in evangelical ideology, rejects global warming as liberal nonsense. There is no reason for Christianity to take an ideological stand against protecting the environment. However, there is every reason for politicized Christianity, allied with Republican interests, to reject global warming on behalf of large oil companies. Religion is never more meaningless than when it becomes the pawn of political or economic ambition.

Muslims would benefit from realizing that they are as susceptible to these machinations as any other religious group. Falwell was by no means a pioneer in the field of manipulating religious sentiment for political gain. Many Muslim groups and organizations, most notably the Saudi and Iranian governments, have used Islam to achieve political goals that transgress any sense of morality. When politicians and governments are vested with religious authority, they will in almost every case abuse that authority to the detriment of the faith. Politics is necessarily a dirty game, religion is not. But when the two interact, religion does not clean up politics, it usually gets infected by it.

This is not to say that there is no place for religion in the public square. Islamic civilization is instructive in this regard. Although religion has always played a vital and important role in society, the greatest Islamic scholars were the ones who refused to have their ethical and moral dispositions determined by the needs of power. Instead, they served as a sort of check and balance to the policies of government. Muslims need to recapture this tradition of the role of religious authority in the political affairs of society. If Muslims learn anything from Falwell, it should be that religion, reduced to political ideology, does little for one's faith and even less for society.

FIRAS AHMAD is deputy editor of Islamica Magazine

 


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  20 Comments   Comment

  1. Psalm from UK

    To: RAIHAN

    You wrote: "your claims are false...so everyday all these people who are accepting Islam all over the world must be doing so under compulsion"

    ANSWER: Prove it.

    Also, what "accepting" are you talking about? islam makes a fascist claim on the unwilling- insisting that all are born "muslim". Do you claim this is free will???

    You wrote: "Show me another one that any other man has produced like Islam."

    ANSWER: Simple- FASCISM and NAZISM. Might as well add the Mafia. You see, the Mafia says "leave us and you die". Saudi Arabia (the heartland of islam) says "leave islam and you die".

    If islam is from god, then so is Nazism, Fascism, the Mafia and any thuggish ideology. I mean, you guys beat the Chinese Mafia who cut off fingers. muslims cut off hands, etc in the name of "justice".

    Also, as your prophet is allegedly the real practitioner of islam- his conduct of slaughtering Jews, having sex slaves, looting, etc is the "ideal" islamic peace, prosperity and justice of islam... Let us not forget his child-bride Aisha...

    You claim that islam is a "covenant"- please provide quranic proof. Only the Judeo-Christian scriptures provide for COVENANTS btwn God and man.

    You wrote that "islam is a wordly political system"

    ANSWER: you are 100% right, which disqualifies it as spiritual, eternal Truth. ALL political systems are man-made. So, by your own admission, islam is man-made- like communism.

    You wrote: "After all, we live in this world, not on Mars! And if we implement God's laws only in personal life, not at the collective level, then we will have serious conflict"

    ANSWER: that's islam's problem- it is worldly. Christ calls Christians OUT of the world. Christains are NOT citizens of the world, but citizens of the Kingdom which has no end- the Kingdom of God.

    The God of the Bible is the KEEPER and COMMANDER of the Covenant. He does not need anyone implementing His law.

    Take care.

  2. As-sabur from Nigeria

    The situation described in this write-up can not be compared to what is obatinable during the rule of Islam from the first caliph to the last. Islam has its own sstem of governance and it is not similar to wester politics.

  3. Musa from USA

    I am originally from Bangladesh and I know how ugly it can be, i.e., mixing of politics and religion. In 1971 war between Pakistan and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), all the big Islamic political parties (Jamaate Islami, Nejame Islami, Muslim League etc.) gave full support to the Pak army's murderous and wholesale rape campaigns. Some of their top leaders even justified rapes of all women by Pak army as Muta marriage.

    Under the guidance of their top leaders, the student wings of these Islamic parties even formed para military forces (they named their forces as Al Badr, As Shams etc.) who then raped women and girls, murdered innocent civilians, and towards the end of the war when their defeat became inevitable, they started slaughtering intellectuals of Bangladesh in most gruesome ways. Not only that with full support from the oil rich gulf countries, the government of Bangladesh could prosecute a single war criminal. These leaders are not only very unrepentant of their shameful criminal acts, they still sometimes claim what they did then were perfectly right.

    So I urge all Muslims to think about this ugly fascism: religion + politics. Politics in religion can leave the religion with no spirituality. Does anybody want that?

  4. raihan from US

    Psalm,

    All your claims are false - you proved your lack of knowledge about/your prejudice against Islam all in one comment.

    Islam does not have the staying power without the "pseudo-political system"? So, everyday all these people who are accepting Islam all over the world must be doing so under compulsion!!?? Even you, with all your prejudice can't prove that. People are accepting Islam willfully and happily!

    Islam is like a man-made system? Show me another one that any other man has produced like Islam. You can't. Islam is from God, the Creator - not from any humans. And show me how it has been a disaster! When Muslims followed Islam truly, justice and peace was established throughout Islamic territory. Study history, please!

    Islam is definitely a worldly political system as well as a religion. It not only emphasizes a personal covenant with God, the Creator, but also a collective one to prevail social and political justice. After all, we live in this world, not on Mars! And if we implement God's laws only in personal life, not at the collective level, then we will have serious conflict since our communal life is the sum of all personal lives within it. True justice and peace can only come from implementation of God's laws.

    If you truly believed in the sovereignty of the Creator and surrendered yourself to Him instead of claiming Jesus as your Lord, which goes against the teachings of the very Bible that you used as reference, then you could have realized it. Ultimately, God, The Creator is the owner and ruler.

    I hope that you will come to see the light some day.

    Take care.

  5. raihan from US

    Salam,

    There is a trend these days to redefine Islam to fit our personal lifestyle or thought processes. This is sad and dangerous. People claiming to be scholars of Islam are trying to propagate ideologies that goes against the core teachings of Islam. These Muslims either don't know what Islam truly stands for, or they are trying willfully to shape Islam according to their own desires. This article is a glaring example of it.

    I myself don't know much - but I do know this - Islam is the most balanced complete system (religious, political, social, and personal) for mankind. To claim otherwise is to deny the Quran and the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet (pbuh). Trying to bring up History to prove this is a blatant lie. The author needs to realize this.

    Anything that goes against the Quran and Sunnah is harmful, not beneficial, for Muslims and people in general

    May Allah guide us all.

    Allah knows best.

  6. Dr.AbdelSalam from USA

    Asa,I am not the kind of person to comment on articles generally, but I disagree with the premise and body of this article;however, it is important to hear differing opinions to keep the mind open. Masalama

  7. Khan from US

    Whether it is Religion(Islam) & Politics OR Religion(Islam) & State, Islam matches perfect with both & go together well.

    Islam has everything(law, rules & guidelines) for everyone. The concepts of rights, social, legal, economical, elections/political and spiritual are in Islam. You may not find in other major religions.

    Muslims are accountable and resposible for the actions & are judged & treated accordingly in Islamic countries in this world and hereafter on Judgement day.

    I do not know whether other major religions have similar things as in Islam. What I heard about the other major religions are very different.

    In Christianity:-Jesus took all the sins of the people(Christians) and allowed to be crucified in a brutal way. Therefore Christains are not accountable for their actions-good/bad. As long as one believes in Jesus as a SAVIOR/GOD, his/her sins are forgiven(no need to be punished in this world too). Then there is no need for court/criminal justice system for the so called forgiven people of God as all christians are innocent whatever they do.

    That is why in many counties they have seperated the Religion and State. Islam do not allow the concept of separation of State and Religion. You can read the Islam & Hadith(Islamic history.)

    One of my good christian friends even told me that as long as one believe in Jesus as a SAVIOR/GOD they are forgiven & protected by Jesus, otherwise they go to Hell( pre-Jesus prophets, Prophet Muhammad pbuh & their people.)

    Christians are forgiven & innocent people of God, Jews are the choosen people of God, what about the others? when all prophets came from same God-Allah.

  8. Faiz from Germany

    Sr. Nafisa, you are mistaken on two fronts. First, Imam Abu Hanifa was the advocate of political/religious authority and that is why he always was in odds with Khalifa Mansur. It is said that he even supported the rebellion against Mansur by providing funds. He had to pay the price with his life in this connection.

    About Maududi, there is an error in your part. Maududi was incorrect in participating elections, but he was absolutely right in participating in politics since politics is part of Islam, not out of Islam. Islam is deen, not a religion like Christianity.

    Had Maududi worked in the same way like khomeini, Pakistan would have seen Islamic revolution already, wallahualam. The difference though is that Pakistan is trageically divided between Barelvei, Tabliqui and other groups who have foolish ideas of Islamic system.

    Sincerely,

    Faiz

  9. Shehab from Canada

    Islam rejects the concept of separation of Church and Religion. There is no such thing as political Islam as propagated by Sr. Nafisa. Please do not talk the language of Zionists. The concepts of social, economical, political and spiritual are part of Islam. If allowed, they will be independent of Allah (sbt) and will destroy the world in their respective fields. Muslims have miserably failed and performed very poor by separating Church and State for the past 150 years or so. Imam Mahdi will be a religious and political leader. Like it or no.

    Shehab

  10. Nafisa from canada

    We have seen this phenomenon in Pakistan when the great Islamic scholar Maududi decided to get his religious group involved in politics. Politics attracted people who were less pious and were just political workers. They abused religion for their political gains. Scholars left Jamat -e Islami. People became disgusted from the politics of the religious people and got away from Islam as well. This caused more harm than good for Islam, Pakistanis and for Pakistan.

    The same was seen in Nigeria. I agree with the author of this article. We need to discuss this issue right now and learn from our own and others mistakes. Following the footsteps of our great Scholars like Imam Abu Hanifa is the right approach for our societies and the Humanity. The ideology of Political Islam is a relatively new phenomenon that came into existance after the colonization of muslim countries ended. I think we should realize the failure of this ideology.

  11. Syed Khalid Hafiz from USA

    This article attempts to superimpose the failures of secular religions and "democratic"/capitalist ruling systems onto Islam, which shows a poverty on Islamic understanding as well as an understanding of secularism itself.

    Specifically:

    "Politics is necessarily a dirty game, religion is not. But when the two interact, religion does not clean up politics, it usually gets infected by it."

    1. Religion can and is abused (apart from politics) by corrupt and dirty preachers, rabbis, and "sheikhs" most often for using their deluded followers to enrich themselves and build up a cult. Chrisitian evangelists on TV or "sheikhs" asking their followers for money in order to intervene for their salvation is but one cause.

    this was most acutely documented in the NY Times here:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/12/world/middleeast/12fatwa.html?pagewanted=print

    2. By this logic, the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) must have been the most corrupt person, especially when he was intertwining the deen with politics by ruling Medina and implementing the shar'iah there.

    "If Muslims learn anything from Falwell, it should be that religion, reduced to political ideology, does little for one's faith and even less for society."

    Islam is not a dead set of rituals or a spiritual philosophy divorced from political reality i.e. Hinduism or "spiritual" forms of Buddhism or Christianity -- but DOES have a say in how a govt. is to be set up, what structure it is supposed to have, how a ruler is to be appointed and held accountable, and how wealth and natural resources are to be appropriated and utilized. This can and does clash with the interests of modern corporations, most acutely in relation to oil & the Middle East. To ignore this or to claim that Islam should stay silent on this is to perpetuate injustice.

    Islam is NOT the same as a secular religion.

  12. Khan from U.K.

    Br. Firas, are you challenging the authority of the Prophet (saw), who trained the religious personalities like four Caliphs, who were on the political power. Last 100 years, we have got only two religious personalities that took over political power, Khomeini and King Faisal, and both have brought respect and honour to their nations. All the other thugs were secular, and they have destroyed the Muslim world. Br. Firas should go back and research it futher. Due to Khomeini's revolution, today, Iran is the most respected and fearsome Muslim country in the world. There may be some bad elements in the current Iranian rulers, bad apples are every where. But separating religion from politics is totally against the teachings of the Prophet (saw) and his tradition. He (saw) was a prophet, ruler, leader, mufti, prosecutor, peacemaker, peacekeeper on and on. And we have to copy him and only him (saw). Who is Falwell by the way? Since when the people like Falwel has become the yardstick of analysing Muslim standard of politics? pleeeease.

    Khan

  13. Shuja Syed from Canada

    Br. Firas Ahmed said "Although religion has always played a vital and important role in society, the greatest Islamic scholars were the ones who refused to have their ethical and moral dispositions determined by the needs of power."

    So, the greatest Islamic scholars does not include the names like "Abu Bakr, Omar, Othman and Ali", all were given glad tidings of Jannah, who have used the political power with remarkable majesty. If the four are not included in the greatest Islamic scholars list, then who the hell others are to be included? Imam Abu Haneefah have repeatedly challenged the Abbasi Khilafat. What about King Faisal then? This is an article written with utter foolishness and lack of thorough research. Taking out the political power from the religious authorities have devasted the Muslim lands. Who have guided the secular thugs of the current and last centuries who have collectively murdered more than 200 million people. Our offsprings will not face the challenge of Christianity, Hinduism or Buddhism, but secular mandated consumersim, materialism.

    Sincerely,

    Shuja

  14. Shuja Syed from Canada

    Let us analyse the article. I wanted to ask Mr. Firas Ahmed how much the following personalities are ingranined into religion who have tarnished,looted and destroyed the Muslim lands by their corruption without any religious guidance: Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto, Mushrraf, Sadat, Nasser, Asads, Saddam, Khaddafi, Suharto and the list goes on and on. They never guided themselves under any religion and looted the Muslims left and right. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Churchill have played huge rule in massacaring millions for the political ends. They were eiher seculars or aethists. What religion the Saudi rulers have followed? They defied the ulemas and scholars. As far as Ayatollahs are concerned, how can you compare them with Shah who have imposed CIA and Mossad Agents upon Iranins, who have looted the country until the last morsel. Murder, loot and chaos is the day to day affair of Secular Shah of Iran. In constrast, when Khomeni died, his total worth was only 12 dollars. I don't know what made him write this foolish and stupid article. I have no doubt some individuals have misused the religion to their ends, so are the doctors, engineers and other professionals have misused their professions to disgrace their profession. It does no mean we should ban the profession from practise. When the stalwarts like Omar and Abu Bakr were on the political power, the world has seen the justice, honour and respect. What about Omar bin Abdulazeez. The brother needs to research more. Again, the ulema were under Saudi government, not vice verse. When ulema becomes the political bosses, we will see the difference. Why to blame somebody when we have not tried the system for centuries?

    Sincerely,

    Shuja

  15. Psalm from UK

    pressumptuous claim, namely that "Carter who was more so the believing evangelical Christian. Reagan had little to do with the religious ethos of Southern Christianity..."

    What silly claim is this? Does Ahmad not know that Evangelical Christianity is NOT defined by this imaginary "Southern" Christianity. Pray tell, how did Ahmad determine that Reagan was less a believer than Carter???

    As for the point that religion does not mix with politics...well let the religious tell us. Christianty, ironically, is not a "religion"- it is a COVENANT and RELATIONSHIP- we use the word "religion" for the benefit of the masses.

    But I digress. The Christian principle is clearly given by the LORD Jesus Christ: "Render unto Caesar the things of Caesar, and unto God the things of God". There must be no confusion in this.

    The Vatican confused this a lot. In some cases, the Vatican became Caesar- while claiming to speak for Christ! Yet, Christ has never appointed a Caesar as spokesperson for the Kingdom! Such confusion left heads spinning, and some headless (literally). It's written: "God is not the author of confusion".

    But I do not think that islam's doctrine can comprehend the above principle from the LORD Jesus Christ simply because islam is built on territoriality and the enforcement of sharia as the law of the territory. Hence, islam is a worldly political system of sorts.

    Add the concept of dar-al-islam and dar-al-harb (land of islam and land of war) and you get a worldly approach to territoriality- with religion determining foreign and political relations.

    In essence, islam is no different from man-made political ideologies, except it has added a god to the mix. The results have been a disaster- to say the least.

    Honestly, I do not think that islam has the staying power and substance to survive without this "pseudo-political" approach it has. It must force it laws and ideologies, or else it crumbles...

  16. Psalm from UK

    A crucial point of correction. Ahmad makes a pressumptuous claim, namely that "Carter who was more so the believing evangelical Christian. Reagan had little to do with the religious ethos of Southern Christianity..."

    What silly claim is this? Does Ahmad not know that Evangelical Christianity is NOT defined by this imaginary "Southern" Christianity. Pray tell, how did Ahmad determine that Reagan was less a believer than Carter???

    As for the point that religion does not mix with politics...well let the religious tell us. Christianty, ironically, is not a "religion"- it is a COVENANT and RELATIONSHIP- we use the word "religion" for the benefit of the masses.

    But I digress. The Christian principle is clearly given by the LORD Jesus Christ: "Render unto Caesar the things of Caesar, and unto God the things of God". There must be no confusion in this.

    The Vatican confused this a lot. In some cases, the Vatican became Caesar- while claiming to speak for Christ! Yet, Christ has never appointed a Caesar as spokesperson for the Kingdom! Such confusion left heads spinning, and some headless (literally). It's written: "God is not the author of confusion".

    But I do not think that islam's doctrine can comprehend the above principle from the LORD Jesus Christ simply because islam is built on territoriality and the enforcement of sharia as the law of the territory. Hence, islam is a worldly political system of sorts.

    Add the concept of dar-al-islam and dar-al-harb (land of islam and land of war) and you get a worldly approach to territoriality- with religion determining foreign and political relations.

    In essence, islam is no different from man-made political ideologies, except it has added a god to the mix. The results have been a disaster- to say the least.

    Honestly, I do not think that islam has the staying power and substance to survive without this "pseudo-political" approach it has. It must force it laws and ideologies, or else it crumbl

  17. scott from usa

    Nothing happens by its own, especially in usa you can see how much money has been spent to keep people disillusion. Mostly via introducing and maintaining new sect of Christianity, you can see Protestant churches on all the main streets of usa and canada. In all the small towns across this vast land alomst identical in structure. I guess most of 'em more than a century older. All without a cross on 'em. The key is too keep the truth out. No rude awakening ever to take place. But after internet all of this is not possible anymore, And people are getting the truth about their real history and about the real current politics. the politicians are confused what to do, they are doing what they have been doin for long, the art of deception. But in Europe and Latin America politicians have failed and people have won. Saudis and Iranis dont even come close to what have happened in USA and the west. To mention them is out of context. Is really deceving. Now the world waits and see what the good men of usa will do about all these great system of deception.

  18. Romesh Chander from USA

    The article is contrary to the position of muslims and their organizations. If religion and politics don't mix, then why are muslims always complaining that Obama does make a stop in muslim majority area like Dearborn (MI) or have still to visit a mosque, etc. Polls show that muslims are mad at Bush and Republicans and they will not vote for McCain? Is that not mixing politics and religion? And if Obama does not come and talk to muslims, they might just as well stay home at the elction time. Or why are they always emphasising the muslim religion of Keith Ellison?

    Make up your mind. You want state and religion to be separate or not? Moreover, Islam does not allow separation of mosque and the state.

    Personally, I am an athiest and believe in strict separation of church/mosque and the state. Is there strict separation in US? No. It will be strict when they tax all the properties of religious institutions and do not allow any tax deductions or preferences for religious activity (including charity) and religious schools.

  19. Imran from USA

    I respectfully disagree with the author concerning Islamic point of view on politics. One need only study the life of any of our Khalifas and the entire juxtaposition is revealed. Our impeccably just Khalifa 'Umar b. al-Khattab uttered the following penetrating words:

    Verily, God sets forth parables for you, and He directs admonition towards you in order that hearts will be quickened. Surely, the hearts are dead until God quickens them. Justice has signs and portents. As for its signs, they are shyness, generosity, humility, and gentleness. As for its portents, they are embodied in mercy.

    These men were God fearing and they established laws according to His will and not their own wants, needs or greed thus religion CANNOT be seperated from state.