Should Islam and politics be separated?



Islam is fundamentally an ethical and behaviour-oriented doctrine which addresses people’s actions. Based on the assumption that Islam is both religion and State, the western conceptualization of the notion ‘politics’ has no relevance to politics as conceptualized in Islam. Politics will be meaningful if the essence of it is to strive for the good life that lives in worshiping and seeking the blessings of Allah.

As a complete way of life, Islam provides guidance on all issues of human concern including politics. In Islamic perspective politics should be based on five fundamental principles of Islam, namely; faith, prayer, fasting, alms-giving, and pilgrimage. These pillars are perfectly suited to the promotion of group unity and solidarity in the community. If well reflected and practiced, these pillars do not just concern issues of religious rituals, but rather include all aspect of life i.e. socio-economic, and political issues as well.

For instance, prayers; brings all Muslims of one community together five times a day in which they stand shoulder to shoulder behind one (imam) leader leading them. This signifies unity among the people and encourages obedience to the leader of the society. Pilgrimage gather millions of Muslims every year, again as a symbol of unity. Agreeably, all political institutions across the globe call for unity among citizens.

On other hand, when we talk about alms-giving we clearly understand that it is in its totality opposing the idea of ‘scarce resources ‘as claimed by western political thinkers. Islam encourages people to share what they have, Allah said “and those who believe in the unseen, establish prayer, and spend out of what We have provided for them” following this decree there will not be a question of scarce resources and this is the basis of equality and equity in a political system in which every citizen have necessities to sustain his/her life. All this, is culminating and wrapping up with the first principle of Islam ‘faith’ (Imaan) in Allah; because he who believes in Allah will create a better society worthy living by all people regardless of their social status.

In western standpoint, politics is a value free enterprise. This implies that Politics has nothing to do with morality. This is perhaps why in Malawi the term politics is defined in local language narrowly as Ndale; in deep Chichewa meaningkutcheranaor kugwetsana. Simply put cunning behaviour i.e. false promises, corruption, dishonest, castigating opponents and above all oppressing the poor etc. and/or bringing down the government (opposing what is not supposed to be opposed by opposition parties) by all means.

All in all, none of the aforesaid is giving the real meaning of what politics is all about. According to great political thinkers, politics is the art or science of government or governing, especially the governing of a political entity, such as a nation, and the administration and control of its internal and external affairs. But Plato and Aristotle view politics as primarily in terms of moral purposes that the decision-makers ought to pursue. Some political scientists hold it that politics is nothing but authoritative allocation of values in a society. Here they mean “scarce resources” The claim here is that nation’s resources are inadequate hence zero-sum game.

Contrary to these assertions, Islam as argued by Muslim scholars does not distinguish between religion and politics. This means that politics according to Islamic world view is embedded with values and morality. We should make it clear that Islam is a complete way of life. There is no time that a Muslim is allowed at any cost to live his life away from practicing what is obliged to him and ordained by Allah. Any action that is not in conformity with the teachings of Islam is thus unlawful to be practiced by a Muslim politician. It is noteworthy to buttress the point that what we are saying here is what politics is ought to be in Islam and not what Muslim politicians do.

In Islam politics is defined in a narrow sense as the art of government; meaning to say as stated by Ibn Qutaybah that the government and the people in in a political community are like the tent, the pole, the ropes and the pegs. The tent is Islam; the pole is the government, the ropes and pegs are the people. None of the aforementioned can do without the other. This means that politics according to Islam is to govern the nation with caution knowing that it’s an obligation given by Allah and hence accountable to Him.

To this end, both governors and the masses have responsibility of making the society worthy living and suitable for better life. Missing this point; definitely politics will not have any significant meaning to human society. We can best understand this argument by taking our memories back to the first Islamic state established by the prophet (saw) in Madina. The building block of that state was principles of Islam aforementioned above.

Thus, I conclude by calling upon all Muslims in this country not just to take part in politics but rather to play a significant role in creating a better Malawi. Taking into consideration that deserting politics is an act of evil because it means we are running away from our responsibility ordained by Allah upon us to ‘enjoin the righteousness and forbid the evil’ in our nation. Issues concerning politics and Islam cannot be exhausted in this piece of writing for it is a wide topic. Consequently, by the grace of Allah our next discussion will be on two important political concepts; Power and State in Islam.

Author of this article is a Malawian Muslim political scientist currently residing in Malaysia.