The politics affecting Middle Eastern countries has a direct impact o world economies and politics. Yet, the political system of Muslim countries greatly differs from modern Western concepts, leading to misconceptions about the morality of such a system and doubts about its feasibility in the modern democratic world of politics. In this paper, I will be firstly be discussing how religion and politics in Islam cannot be separated. I will further discuss the rationality behind Islamic politics existing in the modern democratic scenario.
Unlike Christianity, Islam does not consider its clergy and its political rule to be different and to act independently of each other. More precisely expressed, the religious and political authority is traditionally mixed in one person, the caliph [ CITATION Lan09 \p 145 \l 1033 ]. At the same time, the religious leaders in Islam do not have the authority to change the law of Islam, the Sharia. In other words, a Muslim ruler is not a religious authority but is required to govern his subjects based on the Sharia and treat them as equals in religion.
Here, it is vital to highlight the importance of the Sharia in Islam and the effect it has on the politics in Islamic states. As mentioned earlier, Sharia is the Islamic law which has been handed down to Muslims through the Holy Koran as well as the Hadith. While the Koran is the bible of Islam, the Hadith are the teaching of Prophet Mohammed as documented by his immediate followers. While Muslims expect their ruler to follow and implement the laws of the Sharia, these laws say little to nothing about the running of the state. It is a judiciary system, not a political one. Hence, the ruler is free to run the country as per his own political ideas so long as he adheres to the tenets of Islam and the Shariah Law.
Although this statement might make it seem as though the political rule and the religion are two separate entities, the importance of religious tenets being followed goes a long way in dictating the policies of the state. For instance, the Koran states that ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion’ (Koran 2: 256). It also speaks against demolishing places of worship of other religions. Islam also forbids using violence to force people to convert to the religion. Basically, the morals of Islam encourage Muslims to preach Islam but strictly prohibit them from insulting another religion or to force anyone to accept Islam.
These are the tenets on which modern ‘secular’ Islam states are based. Countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain, have a moderate approach towards other religions and go to the extend of constructing places of worship such as churches and temples within their city. However, certain Islamic countries like Iran and Afghanistan take a more hard line approach towards the following of other religions within there countries. Iran, a country with a majority Shi’a population, has developed a clergy separate from the Sunni Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia. The clergy of Iran has claimed power to change or ‘update’ the laws of the Sharia to match changing demands of a modernized society.
Although the Koran touches the subject of secularism, there is no mention of democracy in it. The main focus of the Prophet Mohammed during his life was the preaching of Islam which is why no system of succession was formed or recorded. The fact that Islam had emerged in a ‘stateless tribal society’ led Prophet Mohammed to establish a politico-religious community which was based on faith as the main criterion for membership [ CITATION Ayu91 \p 4 \l 1033 ]. The Prophet named Abu Baker Siddique as his successor citing the goodness of his nature and his ability to lead a people in the uncertain times after the Prophet’s death. However, this nomination was the basic cause of Islam being split in to sects (Sunni and Shi’a) as believers argued that Abu Baker was not a member of the Prophet’s family and hence should not rule.
Abu Baker did rule however and the success of caliphs remained based on faith and ability and not lineage.
As Islam does not define any form of government as advisable to be followed, Islamic states are free to choose one of their own liking so long as the government adheres to Islamic tenets. Muslims over several centuries have, willingly or not, accepted life under various dynasties, tyrants, holy men and warlords, as long as they enforced Sharia [ CITATION Lan09 \p 146 \l 1033 ]. Western countries have been exposed to the concept of democracy much longer than Arabian countries. The people of the Arab world, even if they are aware of the boons of a democratic state, do not wish for their current form of government to be changed as they often believe that democracy will lead to slacking in the implementation of the Sharia. It can be noted that the people of such states prefer autocratic rule as was demonstrated in the election of the Taliban by the people of Afghanistan to lead their nation.
It should be noted that not all Islamic countries have a history of violence and exploitation. There are several Islamic countries that follow the tenets of Islam which require the government to function based on justice, equality, peace and tolerance. Nations such as the United Arab Emirates have shown great progress over the last 2 decades and are considered developed nations. They have a well etched system of justice and government that deals with Muslims based on the Sharia law and with non-Muslims based on a Westernized judiciary system. Its people enjoy high standards of living, crime and violence rates in its cities are very low and the country has highly cooperative relations with neighboring countries as well as western nations. Hence, it is safe to say that all Islamic governments cannot be painted with the same brush and each needs to be studied individually to understand its place in the modern world.
Islam, as a religion, preaches tolerance, equality and strictly prohibits exploitation. Yet, the fact that it does not prescribe any particular form of government to its followers gives far too much scope for rulers to exploit the populace. The tenets of Islam are based on good faith and purity of character. However, power is known to corrupt. Although the Islamic Sharia law calls for the ouster of a ruler not following its tenets, the implementation of the law often fails when it is dealing with the people in power. As such, it becomes difficult to control levels of corruption, human rights violations and aggression towards neighboring countries, when the hard line government leads the people to believe it is following the preaching of Islam. The western world is right to be cautious about Islamic countries. However, great effort needs to be made on their part to understand and identify Islamic nations that are not democratic but still adhere to Islamic tenets and rule the country in fairness.
Ayubi, Nazih. Political Islam. London: Routledge, 1991.
Lane, Jan-Erik and Hamadi Redissi. Relion & Politics - Islam and Muslim Civilization. Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2009.
The Holy Koran