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Stands >2004 Stands >The Stand of Shawwal 10 1425H / November 23, 2004 A.D.


Religion and politics: A misunderstood relationship

Sayyed Fadlullah:The problem of religion is that it has become torn between those who want to hold it as hostage to impose terrorism on it from the inside and those who want to impose terrorism on it from the outside. Thus, religious men should act on all political and cultural levels to save religion from the hands of extremists in the East and in the West before those who still believe that it provides a path for salvation could be misled.

Asked in his weekly seminar the following question: What is the Islamic position towards politics? Could a believer, especially a cleric, interfere in politics without compromising his religious commitment?

The Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, said:

Many people tend to reiterate that politics has nothing to do with religion, and that "clerics have no right to interfere in politics" as it will lead them to deviate… Such presumptions are based on two elements: the first is the Western common notion that considers religion as a personal relationship between man and his God that is restricted to worship and not to worldly affairs which are the focus of politics.

The second stems from the negative view of politics that considers it to be involving lying, deceit and cheating… Politics, especially real politics, involves Machiavellian tactics that Islam denounces resorting to, especially by clerics who should be honest and truthful.

But the Islamic concept of politics is a different matter.

As for the Western concept, Islam rejects its underpinnings, since religion is based in all its history on justice in all affairs of life. This justice obviously involves issues of government, and governing as well as all political relations, both domestic and foreign.

Moreover, justice cannot be achieved except through politics, that means that the nation should be active in political participation, supervision, electing rulers, trying them and impeaching them if need be, as well as rejecting others.

In this respect, internal and foreign relations are crucial factors that affect the future of the nation. All this could make the participation in politics a religious obligation, being the means of ensuring that justice is upheld.

As for the common nation that politics is not ethical as it could involve confronting a lie with another lie, and an unethical practice by a similar one, thus deviating from ethical idealism and the spiritual values of religion… This notion might be refuted by the fact that Islamic ethics is based on the supreme interest of man. If an ethical value contradicts with this interest, then the supreme interest has the priority. For example: lying in Islam is a negative value that is prohibited, but if reform on reconciliation or doing good in general depends on lying, then it becomes a positive value. Similarly, if saying the truth means unveiling the nation's vital secrets, then lying is an obligatory duty.

Thus, religious commitment does not mean that one could not be realistic in politics, for he would continue to be idealistic in the goals he is serving... Ethics was meant to serve man and not the other way round.

As for the interference of a cleric in politics that could be used for personal benefit, and the inability to stand against him as one would be standing against the holy, we say that Islam does not make a cleric a holy man whose ideas cannot be discussed.

He is but a man who could be either right or wrong in understanding religion, and, as such, he could be criticized like anybody else. He and the others have to accept this.

Religion has it values, ethics and laws that are based on protecting man from himself and from others to establish universal justice… Therefore, it has a right to interfere in politics to establish this justice. Nonetheless, every man has the right to discuss any personal religious judgment and criticize those who have issued it.

There is no body who is too holy so as to be above criticism, suspicion or above the law.

Thus religion will not turn into a barrier that hinders political life, but part of the solution, as it provides solutions to the worldly problems based on spiritual values.

But, the problem religion faces nowadays lies on those who imposed themselves on it, and were falsely presented as its spokesmen to distort its image and realize what its enemies have sought: to fight it in the name of fighting terrorism. The problem of religion is that it has become torn between those who want to hold it as hostage to impose terrorism on it from the inside and those who want to impose terrorism on it from the outside. Thus, religious men should act on all political and cultural levels to save religion from the hands of extremists in the East and in the West before those who still believe that it provides a path for salvation could be misled.