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The relationship between religion and politics

Date: 12/04/2014 A.D 12/06/1435 H

By: Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

Translated by Manal Samhat

Despite the popular slogan "Our religion is politics and politics is our religion", many of our youth take a negative attitude towards politics. What is our view on this? Actually, youth do not run away from politics per se, but rather from politics of a specific nature, or from difficult political situations, or from a political leadership which has none of the lofty ideals by which the greater political goals may be realized. The activities of many political parties and movements, along with their inner complexities, may be factors that alienate youth from involvement in this environment. We may find that a youth refuses to participate in the political discourse because of his negative conception of the subject, based on what he has perceived in his environment, on his readings or on a negative conclusion such as politics is chicanery, prevarication, hypocrisy, that one should distance himself from it.

It is possible, too, that the issue may stem from a lack of self-confidence or fear of political complexities. We feel that the negative attitude may be the result of one or another of these elements. It is incumbent on those who work in the political arena, on the one hand, to extend the horizons of youths to greater political issues that concern the nation (umma); and, on the other hand, to enhance their outlook on the positive implications of struggle, sacrifice and of drawing closer to Allah, the Most Exalted, such that politics is no longer intimidating or problematic.

The problem of the negative attitude is probably occasioned by trickery, cheating, and deception that are part-and-parcel of real politics, and which appear as the very antithesis of morality. In this scenario, politics is reduced to wrangling without any moral guidelines. On the other hand is the concept of religion, structured on the value of high spirituality which carries at its core, the acceptance of God, and behavior in life according to spiritual, moral, and social values. These values are based on the guidance of God and His ordained Laws. This makes for a great difference in the understanding of the outlines of political function and the guidelines of religion.

The relationship of politics to religion, however, does not correspond to this prevalent understanding of politics. Nor does it correspond to the prevalent understanding of religion, which sees the latter as being restricted to a narrow sphere of worship. This sphere is completely closed to the realities of life connected to the internal dimensions of human existence; they are contradictory to the external dimensions in individual and social conduct, without entering the arena of life struggles in dealing with any challenges. Certainly the function of religion is the function of justice, for even the word "justice" summarizes the entire concept of religion. We must, therefore, coexist in a state of justice with ourselves; we should not wrong ourselves through things that bring on self-destruction, whether in this world or in the Hereafter.

Therefore, the person who believes in the Lord and obeys Him, harmonizing his knowledge with his daily life, is just with himself because he has focused his being on attaining the bliss in this life and the Hereafter. In this way, the relationship between a human being and the Lord is one of justice. If the person believes that God is His Lord and Creator, Who sends down His bounty, brings into being all that surrounds him, looks after him, gives him life, is the protector of everything, one will do justice to God, as he regards Him as the sole deity and attributes no partners to Him. He obeys Allah rather than disobeying Him; he acts in accordance with His wishes, rather than attempts to go against them; and he seeks ever more to please God, rather than do the opposite. This is because the right of God over the servant is for the latter to serve Him in every sense of the word servitude [I'bada], relative to the truth about Lordship elucidated in the following verse: "It is not for any believing man or believing woman, when God and His prophet have decided a matter, that they should have any option about their decision." (33:36). The right of God over the servant, then, is that the latter must subject himself to God in everything. And if he should distance himself from this subjugation, be it by rejecting God or by associating partners with Him, then he wrongs his Lord. This is what we understand from Luqman's counsel to his son: "O my son! Do not associate partners with God; verily, association is the worst transgression." (31:13).

By the same token, the relationship between one person to another must be one of justice, because God has decreed that each person has rights over humankind. Life is a state of mutual rights among human beings, and none has absolute rights, even the prophets. The prophets' rights over the rest of humankind are that people should believe in them, accept their message, and assist them. The rights of humankind over the prophets are that the latter should call them to righteousness, guidance, direction, attestation, instruction, and the like. Therefore, God asks the Prophet (p.) that he observes the right of the umma in propagation. This is derived from the words: "O Messenger, proclaim that which has been revealed to you from your Lord; for if you do not do, then you have not delivered His message." (05:67). This means that the call to God's way and the responsibility thereof constitute the rights of humankind over the Prophet (p.) in respect of guidance, instruction, and attestation. This is equally true of the Imams, saints, and scholars. We may even go to the highest limit, for God, Who has the absolute rights over humankind and none has rights over Him, has honored His servants by giving them a right over Him, according to His words: "Observe My covenant, and I will observe yours." (02:40).

Based on the above, every person who observes the rights of the other person is being just with him; and every person who does not observe the rights of the other is a wrongdoer. It follows that the issue of rights applies to every aspect of determining justice and wrongdoing. When we direct the relationship of the human being to life, the environment and the earth, we find that people are sometimes good and sometimes evil. This is because there is a responsibility to advance life as God wants life to advance. This means that life has as much right over humankind, as humankind has over life, in the aspect of creation. This is what we understand from the Quranic verse: "We have sent our messengers with clear proofs, and revealed unto them the Book, and the Balance so that humankind may persevere in justice," (57:25), as we find that all the religions, scriptures, and the messengers operate within the guidelines of justice.

We know, then, that justice attracts the politically-minded person, for politics represents the administration of the human relationship with life, by virtue of the discipline which this connection calls for. This holds regardless of whether a well-structured system is represented in the legislation stipulating the rights of every person over his brother, or a changing system is taken into account by the judge and the citizenry in daily affairs, implying that religion permeates every concept of the Shari'ah (Islamic law and jurisprudence). When we realize this, the political connection with justice becomes a religious issue. This implies that religion is present in every concept, legislation, and function. It stands for the deepest justice; indeed, represents all justice. On this, we must define justice for the relationship between the magistrate, the governed; we need rules for the people in their relationship with the earth, the environment, and the animals. Therefore, there will be no room for justice without politics, since the latter regulates its movements, circumstances, struggles, and challenges.

There is another issue, which is that the finer workings of politics may require some positions which are incompatible with the highest morals. For example, when someone challenges you for a situation to which you were unable to respond in an ethical fashion; if you do not meet his challenge, he will use the values you believe in to defeat you and constrain you during the process.

Islam has a means of dealing with emergencies and unforeseen conditions of this kind, since the circumstances of pressure may force you to depart from the guidelines of truth to those of falsehood, if the better good of Islam demands it or the better good of the people in their affairs dictates that you do not tell the truth. This is because, in some situations, telling the truth allows your opponent to use your weak points to pressure you; and if you disclose the truth, it would place you at the mercy of the opponents. You may have to resort to lying under certain conditions, if the situation requires so as not to reveal one’s points of weakness. You may have to resort to spying, if advancing Islam requires agents to provide intelligence to the Muslims and if, in the absence of espionage activities, the Muslims themselves would be spied upon and their affairs be known to the other side, leaving Muslims without any information about the other side. In such a situation, the Muslims could undergo such a strife that they begin to slay each other, as when the enemy, in his desire to gain victory over the Muslims, uses Muslim prisoners-of-war as a shield in his war against them.

The ends in these critical situations justify the means; in civil and normal personal matters, however, the ends do not justify the means. The means in critical situations may transform the unlawful into the lawful and the legally permissible to that which is obligatory.

As such, we believe it is fundamental to Islamic politics to go the full length and to be ethically upright. But if a critical situation dictates that benefits for Islam can be achieved by departing from these lines, then the ethics of political maneuvering must be determined according to these new developments.

In Islamic legislation, there are some primary and secondary titles [considerations] for setting the laws. A particular thing may be allowable in the first consideration and unlawful in the second. Therefore, we affirm Islam covers politics, and when this politics requires some amount of license in things forbidden in Islam, then let the thinker study the particulars of the situation in the struggle to decide if the solution lies in one model or the other.

Politics in Islam is realistic but it does not depart from ethical guidelines. Consequently, we say that our religion is politics insofar as religion functions to draw up guidelines in their entirety for human beings. Likewise, we say that politics is religion, because it implies human activity in the field and, as in religion, certain things are permitted in politics.

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