The Place of Politics in Religion
It has become well-known of Christians that they distinguish between religion and politics by their well-known dictum “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. It is thus as though religion has no relationship with politics and politics has no connection with religion. This concept has slowly advanced to its ugliest form in recent times in the name of “secularism” (al-’almaniyah) or “secularisation” which expelled religion from all matters of life until it did away with it completely.
Truly this concept in reality is one category from the categories of polytheism whereby religion’s authority in the material world is not recognised and the authority of religion is restricted only to rituals and worship which one practices in his private [life] or in his place of worship. It is thus as if God is not god except in [matters of] worship and ritual, and as far as worldly matters are concerned, they have another god. And refuge is [sought] from Allah.
For this [reason] Muslims firmly rooted [in their religion] will continue to reject this deviant concept in every age and place because there is no scope for it in Islam which safeguards the creed of monotheism in its most accurate expression and its most perfect form, and which assigned divine rules in all affairs of life along with all that they contain of politics and economics. Therefore, it is incumbent on the people of knowledge to reject this concept and refute it knowledgeably and satisfactorily. And indeed they have undertaken this task, and all praise is due to Allah.
However some Muslims in our time who undertook [the task] of refuting secularism have gone too far in this until they fell into a subtle mistake, that changed the focus and caused many errors in this field; that is, they made politics and the establishment of an Islamic government the primary objective and highest aim of all the rules of religion, and it is as though the rules of worship etc. are not aimed at [anything] besides one goal which is the establishment of an Islamic government, and it is as though worship and religiosity (diyanah) are all means in the attainment of this primary objective; to [the extent] that they diminished the importance of worship and made it an exercise and training for the fundamental target, which is the establishment of a theocratic government (al-hukumat al-ilahiyyah).
Due to this cogitation, two dangerous causes of corruption emerged:
First: since worship became a means in the establishment of a theocratic government, it is not regarded as an objective in itself, and by its [performance] is intended a gradual progression to the fundamental target. Thus, if the conditions demanded that these means be sacrificed by choosing other means to [attain] that important objective then indeed from the results of this cogitation is that there is nothing preventing sacrificing them because they are not the objective.
Second: one does not have a relationship with means besides a basic ordinary relationship [which falls] within the domain of necessity, and naturally he will regard it as a transitory passing stage, and will not regard it as his life target and the goal of his efforts, and will not progress in it and excel therein with the sensations of [spiritual] experience, delight and tranquillity within him.
In the words of the esteemed scholar and great preacher Mawlana Shaykh Sayyid Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali al-Nadwi (Allah Most High protect him) in his refutation of some of the writings of the deceased teacher, Sayyid Abu ‘l-A’la Mawdudi, “Indeed those who obtain their religious information from the source of this interpretation of Islam alone, and limit their study of Islam to these books alone, their relationship with Allah will be rendered restricted and limited, and [will congeal] into dry, rigid formalism (jamidatun rasmiyyah), empty of internal states which the believer is required to adjust [himself] to. This is particularly when the emphasis that the root goal of sending Prophets and the end target of their teachings and the utmost of their actions is the production of change in this limited worldly life, and bringing about change for the better, and establishing human civilisation on proper foundations, appears [many] times repeatedly [in these books]; and when the focus on this aspect appears with ferocity and irascibility, enthusiasm and passion, and in a manner that makes conceptions of divine love, lordly pleasure and otherworldly success, meagre; it is natural and something that concurs with reason and is consistent with [logical] analogy that he departs the vehicle of effort and work from the road of faith in the unseen, yearning for the Afterlife, seeking Allah’s pleasure and devotion to His love, that road which the Prophets instituted, to the path of seeking rule, glory, dominance, and achieving rule and subsequently the materialist galaxy.” (Al-Tafsir al-Siyasi li ‘l-Islam, p. 107, published by Nadwat al-’Ulama Lucknow, 1399 AH/1979 AD)
In sum, these authors in their eagerness to refute secularism, and their focus on the political aspect of the Shari’ah, made all of Islam a political ideology, instead of making politics religious. The truth is that politics is a branch of the branches of religion, just as business and economics is a branch thereof, and indeed the rules of religion pertain to politics, just as they pertain to business. However nothing of politics and business is the root goal of the message of Islam, nor a fundamental objective of its rules and teachings. Thus, just as the connection of the rules of the Shari’ah to business do not entail that business becomes the objective of religion, similarly the rules of the Shari’ah pertaining to politics do not imply that politics be made the fundamental objective of Islam.
Hakim al-Ummah Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi (Allah Most High have mercy on him) drew attention to this point in a brief [but] firm statement, all of which is insightful, so we will quote it here, translating it from Urdu to Arabic. He says (Allah Most High have mercy on him):
“Allah Most High said: ‘those who, if We establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong: with Allah rests the end and decision of all affairs.’ (Qur’an 22:41). It is clear from this verse that the essential objective is religiosity (diyanah) and nothing of politics and jihad is the fundamental objective — it is only a means to establish religiosity. And for this reason, spirituality and the rules [regulating] religiostiy were given to every one of the Prophets (upon them be peace) without exception, while politics and jihad were not given to all of them. Jihad and politics were given to some of them when the need and interest [of their communities] demanded [them], and indeed that is the condition of means, since they are not given except for a necessity.
“It is possible that a doubt will arise here in the minds of some, which is that another verse of the Noble Qur’an indicates the opposite of this, that religiosity is a means, and establishment (tamkin) in the earth and politics are the objectives, and this is His statement (Most High): “Allah has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance [of power], as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religion — the one which He has chosen for them” (24:55). Since this verse makes belief and good deeds preconditions to the establishment [of Islam] on earth from what is apparent thereof of establishment and politics being the objective.
“The response is that Allah Most High promised in this verse establishment and power, and conditioned them on faith and good deeds, whereby establishment is qualified upon them, so politics and power are promised [to the believers conditional upon] faith and good deeds. It does not follow [however] from it being promised that it becomes the objective, for otherwise Allah Most High said in another place: “If they had observed the Torah and the Evangel and that which was revealed unto them from their Lord, they would surely have been nourished from above them and from beneath their feet” (Qur’an 5:66). So He promised expansion in provision [conditional] upon the observance of the Torah, Evangel and the Qur’an. Can then one say that expansion in provision is the objective of religion? No, rather it is promised. Thus, it is established that a promise does not entail that it becomes the objective. Similarly in the verse of establishment [i.e. 24:55], establishment is promised [conditional] upon faith and good deeds, so they are a consequence of them by the decision of it being qualified upon them, but that is not the objective of religion, nor a target of it.
“Thereby it becomes clear that politics is a means from the means and the objective is spirituality. The implication of this is not that politics is not sought after altogether. I only intend thereby to specify the place of politics in religion in that it is not the objective, as opposed to spirituality, for indeed this is the essential objective.” (Ashraf al-Sawanih 4:28-9, published in Multan)
Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, vol. 3, pp. 224-7
- This was written in the year 1987