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Religion and state in Arab Spring

February 21, 2013 - 2:23:12 am


Khalid Al Sayed



Islamists have taken power in most Arab Spring countries following the revolutions that toppled autocrats. Islamists now rule in Egypt and Tunisia, where previous regimes had banned them. 

People are divided over Islamist rule. While some are sceptical, saying Islamists are against democracy, others welcome their rise as ‘a shield’ from the chaos that has followed the uprisings, and some others think that Islamists are God-fearing people. To put it briefly, Arab Spring countries are going through a political transition, and an intense debate is raging about secularisation and implementation of Shariah law. 

The truth is that what is happening in Arab countries is a struggle or conflict for power, and has nothing to do with ideological or philosophical differences. These conflicts are deepening every day and solving them has become the main concern in these countries, instead of seeking solutions to other more pressing problems and having a vision for the future. 

What is worrying is that more Islamist groups are getting involved in political disputes, instead of focusing on social changes and improving societies. Their excessive involvement in politics for propagating their brand of Islam is dangerous and the fighting among themselves could ultimately lead to the elimination of some of these groups. Moreover, this will damage Islam, making it the subject of narrow political interests and can undermine various components of society. 

In fact, this continuing debate about religious and civil states is pointless. The state in Islam is civil, as in all other countries, and what distinguishes the state in Islam is the Shariah component, as Sheikh Yousuf Al Qaradawi has explained in his book Religion and Politics. The biggest proof for this is the Madinah Covenant, which was agreed at the time of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). 

This covenant gave equal rights to all segments of people in Madinah, irrespective of religion.

  A civil state strengthens peace, tolerance and equality. It safeguards the rights of all citizens according to the law. Also, it does not antagonise religion. Religion remains a positive factor in the propagation of ethics and in driving progress. 

However, the civil state rejects using religion to achieve political objectives. The exploitation of religion contradicts pluralism, which is a pillar in a civil state and is supported by Islam. Islam is a divine faith that cannot be dragged into politics. 

  Some groups are calling for a religious state to manipulate people in the name of God. They brand opposition to their view as infidelity, bringing back memories of Europe in the middle ages. This will lead to another revolution, and in that revolution, secularists will be the winners.

The Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties and other early Arab governments in the history of Islam were not clerical regimes. By all means, these were the golden ages of Muslim and Arab civilisation, where science, arts and architecture boomed.

In fact, extremists are revealing their ignorance and wrong understanding of both politics and religion. They have become Machiavellian in their attitudes and are even killing people. Islam is a religion and culture for the whole Arab nation. For Muslims, Islam is a faith. For non-Muslims, it is a culture. Our faith as Muslims does not order us to erase other cultures in the name of Islam.

The Peninsula