Is Political interpretation of Islam integral to Islamic faith?
Islamists argue that the political interpretation of Islam was integral to the Islamic faith. Islamists like Syed Abul Ala Maududi and Syed Qutub argued that those who did not throw themselves into the struggle to establish an Islamic state – the demand of Islam itself- would be held accountable to God. They maintained that their argument is founded on the Quran and Hadith. As a practicing Muslim and a scholar in Islamic studies, I find the arguments of Islamists hallow and baseless. I would stress the Islamist stand is founded on the misinterpretation of the sacred scriptures.
Maulana Maududi has written a number of books to support the political interpretation of Islam. Like Maududi, Syed Qutub also sought to read politics into the Quran. But his arguments are based on a misinterpretation of the Quranic verses. Here I would like to cite one example to substantiate this point. The following verse of the Quran exhorts Muslims to follow the divine religion without any deviation: “Remain steadfast in religion.”(42:13)
This verse clearly means that one should strive one’s utmost to lead one’s life in accordance with God’s commandments and guidance. But Maududi takes this verse to mean that Muslims must enforce the commands of religion on others, principally through the dictates of the Islamic state. This is a totally far-fetched and baseless argument: Indeed all his arguments are based on such fallacious interpretations of Quranic tenets.
This notion of an Islamic system or State is underpinned by an erroneous political interpretation of Islam. However in neither the Quran nor in the Hadith is there any support for such a notion. Indeed, what Islam aims at is creating true and spiritually-oriented individuals. It seeks to mould human minds and hearts, who are worthy of being lodged in Paradise.
It is true, of course, that if a sufficient number of people become truly God-oriented and a God-oriented society, eventually, a God-oriented system and State could very well come into being. Yet, such a system or State apparatus is not the immediate focus of Islam. Besides, political power is given by God to whoever He wills. It is not something to be hankered after or fought for.
According to Islam, the ideal political State can never be realized on earth. This is because God, as a means of testing the worth of human beings, has given them the freedom to choose between good and evil. Moreover, Islam’s concept of politics, according to the Quran is described in this verse: ‘God has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely grant them power in the land.’ (24:55)
This divine pledge of granting power to the true believers notwithstanding, the policy and system through which this power is exercised can never be ideal. Although the importance of a good political system must not be underrated, it is not the major focus of Islam. It is the reform of individuals rather than of systems and politics, that is the real target of Islam. The reform of the system or polity can be said to be secondary or relative, for it can only happen if individuals are first suitably reformed. Only then can a government that is based on Islamic values of justice and goodness come into being.
The political interpretation of Islam or of any religion – is bound to generate conflict and, ultimately, violence. If the seizing of power is the target, even in the name of religion, there has to be a confrontation with existing systems, the rulers of which are bound to be unwilling. Inevitably, violence and bloodshed will ensue on a massive scale. Many Muslim countries, such as Egypt today, have been witness to such carnage, where self-styled Islamist groups fired by zeal to establish what they call the ‘Islamic state’ or ‘Islamic system’, have come into conflict with existing rulers. Their credo is a sure-fire formula for unending warfare.
If almost all Muslim countries are dictatorships, it is because the rising tide of political extremism in the name of Islam – where rulers are regarded as un-Islamic or not sufficiently Islamic – has caused rulers to crush opposition, dismantle democratic structures and deny their subjects even basic freedom. Hence the apparently endless violence in many Muslim lands.
All things considered, the political interpretation of Islam has proved to be a tragic blunder, even for Muslims themselves. It has caused them to forget that it is love and compassion for others and a profound concern for the welfare of all that must guide the true Muslims, especially in as they invite others to tread the path of God. Political Islamists, on the contrary, regard others as rivals to be fought against, defeated and, if not destroyed, at least subjugated. While Islamic dawah calls upon Muslims to work for peace, love, dialogue and good relationships, the political version of Islam preaches hatred, violence and perpetual confrontation.
The political interpretation of Islam spells doom for the nurture of true spirituality, which is based on love for God and all His creatures and benevolence towards not only Muslims but also to people of other faiths. The erroneous interpretation of Islam, a wholly unacceptable and illegitimate political innovation, has, in recent years, gained cheap popularity because it blames others for all the problems besetting Muslims, and in the process absolves Muslims themselves of the need for introspection. Obviously, this attitude cannot, in any way, be conducive to self-reform, humility and genuine spiritual consciousness.
In short, the political interpretation of Islam has no sanction in Islam itself. It has brought nothing but ruin upon the Muslims themselves. And I would go so far as to assert that it has brought about the worst strife that Muslims have witnessed in the last 1400 years.