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Last Updated: 2011/11/21
Summary of question
Why should religion interfere in politics?
I wanted to know why religion should interfere in politics.
Concise answer

The theory of the separation of religion from politics is a viewpoint that supports marginalizing religion from different fields of human life. According to this viewpoint, man is able to discover the true rules to culture, politics, judgment, economy, commerce, manners, social relationships, etc., and legislate them with the help of science and knowledge, and does not need religion to intervene in his life.

Roots of the prevalence of this viewpoint during the Middle Ages can be traced back to the deficiency of distorted and altered Christianity, the ruling of despotism, the lack of freedom of expression because of the church and the contradiction between science and the teachings of the Bible.

In the Islamic world, the theory has been posed by three different groups: 1- Ruling oppressors that intended to change the caliphate into a type of monarchy 2- Foreign colonizers 3- The movement of corrupt thinkers.

As to refute the viewpoint of the separation of religion and politics, many solid and convincing arguments have been mentioned, two of which we will mention below: 1- Referring to Islamic teachings, texts and sources 2- The Sirah (lifestyle and acts) of the Holy Prophet and his household. Examining the mentioned material clearly shows that the separation of religion and politics does not apply to Islam, because a great portion of Islamic teachings and knowledge cover political and social issues.

Also, in order to understand how to argue in opposition to the advocates of this viewpoint, we will examine and refute one of the important reasons that supports their standpoint in the detailed answer .

Detailed Answer

In order to answer the abovementioned question we will explain the fundamentals of this theory and then we will explain the strong bond between Islam and politics:

The theory of the separation of religion from politics (Secularism) is a viewpoint that advocates and promotes marginalizing religion from the different fields of human life including politics, government, science, moral principles, etc. According to this theory, man is able to understand the true rules to culture, politics, judgment, economy, commerce, manners and social relationships and whatever has to do with ones emotional, mental and physical life with the help of knowledge and intellect, the same way man was successful in revealing the secrets of nature with the help of thought and science. Therefore, man is no longer in need of religion to intervene in his life. The Oxford dictionary defines the term Secularism as follows: “The belief that religion should not be involved in the organization of society, education, etc”. The origin of this theory can be found in the West.

During the Middle Ages and after that era, many factors came together and led to the prevalence of this viewpoint in the Western culture. On one hand was the altered Christianity that promoted vague and unreasonable teachings along with the tyranny and oppression and the lack of freedom of expression because of the church and on the other hand there was the contradiction between the teachings of the Bible and intellect and logic. All of this led to the expulsion of religion from all fields in which science could play a role.

In the Islamic world, the theory has been posed by three different groups: First: Ruling oppressors that intended to change the caliphate into a monarchy. For example, when Mu’awiyah rose to power in the year 40 AH, he traveled to Iraq and stated: “I was not fighting you over praying and fasting, but rather I did so to rule over you and (now) I have reached my goal.”[1] After him, the Islamic government began to lack its religious and sacred aspect and went on to change into a monarchy. Throughout history oppressing rulers have always proposed politics as a separate issue from religion and promoted the thought that the station of religious scholars is higher than that to interfere in politics.[2]

The second group was the foreign colonizers. The greatest and most devastating opposition oppressors have encountered from Islamic countries were led by religious scholars and their teachings. Therefore, the theory of religion’s separation from politics was always the viewpoint oppressors would promote and advocate.[3]

The third group was the movement of corrupted theorists that was initiated by those educated in the West who strived to apply the western theory of religion’s separation from politics to Islam, not knowing that firstly: Islam is different from Christianity, and secondly: What was known to be Christianity during the Middle Ages was not true Christianity. Thirdly: Not only Islamic scholars have never oppressed or pressured the society and have never been against knowledge and science, but also any era in which power has been in their hands has been recognized as a golden period of scientific growth, development and flourishing.  Many solid and detailed arguments have been mentioned in opposition to the theory of the separation of religion from politics that cannot all be mentioned in this article, therefore, we will only employ two of the most prominent methods to oppose the advocates of this viewpoint which are: 1- Referring to the Islamic teachings, texts and sources 2- The Sirah (lifestyle and acts) of the Holy Prophet and his household. Knowing that a great amount of social and political rulings and tenets are mentioned in Islam, one can easily recognize the true aims of this religion. The late Imam Khomeini says in this regard: “Islam is a religion of politics and all issues related to it. This point is evident to anyone who has done the least examination of Islam’s governmental, political, social and economic rulings. Therefore, whoever assumes that religion is separate from politics has neither understood religion nor politics.”[4]

With a very slight examination of Islamic rulings and Quranic verses it becomes clear that Islam is a comprehensive and exhaustive religion that factors in all aspects of human life (individual, social, worldly, heavenly, physical and spiritual aspects). The same way Islam has called people to worshiping one God and consists of moral instructions pertaining to individual self-building, it also has rulings and instructions in regard to governmental, political, economic, social, judicial, management, international relationships and legal issues. It also consists of judicial, legal, social relationships, economic, moral instructions and rulings. Obviously, carrying out and practicing these rulings and commands is not possible without governmental authority and power and a religious government, in its correct term, is a government that presides and rules over a society according to divine law and gets the grounds ready for the development of people’s potentials, helps them reach perfection and create an ideal society and opposes moral and social corruption.

When describing the true believers, the Quran says: “الَّذینَ إِنْ مَکَّنَّاهُمْ فِی الْأَرْضِ أَقامُوا الصَّلاةَ وَ آتَوُا الزَّکاةَ وَ أَمَرُوا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَ نَهَوْا عَنِ الْمُنْکَرِ وَ لِلَّهِ عاقِبَةُ الْأُمُور[5] which means: “Those who, if We granted them power in the land, maintain the prayer, give the Zakat, and bid what is right and forbid what is wrong. And with Allah rests the outcome of all matters.”

Moreover, the lifestyle and acts of the prophet show that religion is not separate from politics; because while establishing a government, the prophet also carried out the role of judging and implementing the law in it. Imam Ali also established a government based on justice and the execution of divine law. The short lived government of Imam Hassan, the bloody movement of Imam Hussein, and the next Imams considering different governments at that time as illegitimate ones, all indicate that establishing a government is an indisputable principle of Islam. There are many Quranic verses pertaining to this issue: 1- “لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنا رُسُلَنا بِالْبَیِّناتِ وَ أَنْزَلْنا مَعَهُمُ الْکِتابَ وَ الْمیزانَ لِیَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ وَ أَنْزَلْنَا الْحَدیدَ فیهِ بَأْسٌ شَدیدٌ وَ مَنافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ...[6] which means: “Certainly We sent Our apostles with manifest proofs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may maintain justice; and We sent down iron, in which there is great might and uses for mankind...”. 2- “یا أَیُّهَا الَّذینَ آمَنُوا کُونُوا قَوَّامینَ لِلَّهِ شُهَداءَ بِالْقِسْطِ...[7] which means: “O you who have faith! Be maintainers, as witnesses for the sake of Allah, of justice...”. 3- “...وَ لَقَدْ بَعَثْنا فی‏ کُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولاً أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَ اجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ[8] which means: “Certainly We raised an apostle in every nation [to preach:]" Worship Allah, and keep away from the Rebels...”. 4- “وَ ما لَکُمْ لا تُقاتِلُونَ فی‏ سَبیلِ اللَّهِ وَ الْمُسْتَضْعَفینَ مِنَ الرِّجالِ وَ النِّساءِ وَ الْوِلْدانِ الَّذینَ یَقُولُونَ رَبَّنا أَخْرِجْنا مِنْ هذِهِ الْقَرْیَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُها وَ اجْعَلْ لَنا مِنْ لَدُنْکَ وَلِیًّا وَ اجْعَلْ لَنا مِنْ لَدُنْکَ نَصیراً[9] which means: “Why should you not fight in the way of Allah and the abased men, women, and children, who say," Our Lord, bring us out of this town whose people are wrongdoers, and appoint for us a guardian from You, and appoint for us a helper from You"?” 5- “یا أَیُّهَا الَّذینَ آمَنُوا أَطیعُوا اللَّهَ وَ أَطیعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَ أُولِی الْأَمْرِ مِنْکُمْ...[10]” which means: “O you who have faith! Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those vested with authority among you...” There are also many other verses in which issues like the Book, Mizan (Scale), iron and its benefits, bearing witness to justice, abandoning Tāghut (Those who rebel against Allah’s authority), fighting in the path of Allah and the weak, saving the oppressed, migrating in the path of Allah, etc., are mentioned, and it is obvious that these are all social commands that have been asserted in the Holy Book of Allah. However, the explanation and interpretation of each of the mentioned verses and proving the necessity of establishing a government by the prophets and religious scholars, requires lengthy arguments and material that cannot be mentioned in this one article. Instead, we will only point out the most fundamental principals of those political ideologies that have spoken in regard to the establishment of government and the bond between religion and politics:

1- Proving dominant and thorough Wilayah (Authority) that covers all physical and spiritual, worldly and heavenly aspects of life for Allah, his prophet and the special friends/servants of Allah (Ma’idah, verse 55/Yusuf, verse 40/ Ma’edah, verse 42 and 43).

2- Proving Imamate and political-social leadership for the prophet, an Imam and those appointed by them. (Nisa’, verse 58 and 59/ Ma’idah, verse 67).

3- Proving the government and caliphate of some previous prophets like Prophet Dawud and Suleiman. (Sad, verse 20 and 26/Naml, verse 26 and 27/Nisa’, verse 54).

4- The Quran stipulates that judging between people and resolving people’s legal issues is the duty of Allah’s prophets. (Nisa’, verse 58 and 65/Ma’edah, verse 42/Anbiya’, verse 78/An’am, verse 89).

5- Calling to consultation and group activities (Shura’, verse 38/Ale Emran, verse 159).

6- Opposing corruption, oppression and spreading justice is one of the main duties of believers. (Baqarah, verse 279/Hud, verse 113/Nisa’, verse 58/Nahl, verse 90/Sad, verse 28/Hajj, verse 41).

7- Respecting human rights and honoring humans is one of the fundamental principles of holy religions. (Isra’, verse 70/Ale Emran, verse 19/Nisa’, verse 32).

8- Commanding Jihad and opposing the Taghut, the arrogant and the oppressors and also possessing defensive military resources. (Baqarah, verse 218/Tahrim, verse 9/Nisa’, verse 75/Anfal, verse 60/A’raf, verse 56).

9- Majesty is exclusively for Allah and the believers and the denial of all types of submission and subservience (Munafiqun, verse 8/Muhammad, verse 35/Hud, verse 113/Ale Emran, verse 146 and 149).

10- The stipulation of the mutual rights of people and rulers (Nahjul Balaghah, Sermon 216, pages 335 and 336).

11- Proving governmental authority for some just rulers like Talut and Dhu al-Gharnain (Baqarah, verse 246 and 247/Kahf, verse 83 and 98).

12- Allocating important and mass financial sources to the Waliyye Amr (ruler) of the Muslims and the Islamic government to be consumed in the best interest of the society (Usul al-Kafi, Chapters of Ṣilat al-Imam and al-Fey’ and al-Anfāl and Tafsīr al-Khums).

From what was mentioned above, it becomes clear that the separation of religion from politics does not apply to Islam and a great portion of Islamic teachings encompass political and social issues.

As Imam Khomeini puts it, from among the 57 or 58 sections of Fiqh, only 7 or 8 of them are about exclusively spiritual issues and the rest are related to political, judicial and social issues.

Finally, in order to become familiar with the way to argue in opposition of the advocates of this theory, we will briefly refute one of their important arguments:

Ali Abdul Razagh which is one the advocates of this theory argues, referring to some verses of the Quran like: “قُلْ لَسْتُ عَلَیْکُمْ بِوَکیل[11]إِنْ عَلَیْکَ إِلاَّ الْبَلاغ[12], that the Quran has not assigned the prophet to any task that goes further than communicating and conveying the teachings of Islam.[13] Mehdi Bazargan has a similar understanding of the verses.[14]

As an answer to this argument, one must say that such an understanding stems from a unscholarly observation of this holy book. These verses do not truly limit the prophet’s responsibilities to conveying Islam and warning people so that these verses would contradict any other task of the prophet. This claim is clearly proven by other verses that have placed the burden of judgment and governance on his shoulders. There are many verses that have directly mentioned these issues. Due to briefness of this article, we will only mention one verse: “... النَّبِیُّ أَوْلى‏ بِالْمُؤْمِنینَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَ[15]. This verse has given a higher authority to the prophet in regard to the believers’ affairs than themselves. Surely, this higher authority is something more than his prophetic station. It is narrated that when interpreting this verse, Imam Baqir said: “This verse is revealed in regard to government and ruling.”[16]

In some verses of the Quran, the prophet has been commanded to uphold and maintain justice within the society: “لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنا رُسُلَنا بِالْبَیِّناتِ وَ أَنْزَلْنا مَعَهُمُ الْکِتابَ وَ الْمیزانَ لِیَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ وَ أَنْزَلْنَا الْحَدیدَ فیهِ بَأْسٌ شَدیدٌ وَ مَنافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ...[17]. The question that remains is whether or not it is possible to uphold justice within the society while lacking governmental authority and power?

Also, in a verse of the Quran, Allah has explained the reason behind sending the prophets as follows: “کانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً واحِدَةً فَبَعَثَ اللَّهُ النَّبِیِّینَ مُبَشِّرینَ وَ مُنْذِرینَ وَ أَنْزَلَ مَعَهُمُ الْکِتابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِیَحْکُمَ بَیْنَ النَّاسِ فیمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فیهِ وَ...[18] In this verse the issue of resolving conflicts and disputes between people has been mentioned as the purpose behind sending the prophets. If the conflicts and disputes and contentions are natural and inevitable things within a society, and resolving these conflicts is also necessary to cause order in the society and keep it away from chaos, the sole act of admonition, advising and promoting Islamic rulings would not be adequate to solve such social problems. Therefore, any prophet that came with a new message and law, not only conveyed his message and warned people of Allah, but also brought up the issue of governance. In the abovementioned verse Allah does not say that prophets resolve conflicts and disputes among people through simply warning them of Allah, giving them glad-tidings of heaven and conveying Islamic teachings, but rather through “حکم” (Judgment), because such a thing is not possible without judgment and governmental authority that guarantees the execution of the law. Therefore, any religion that has brought along guidelines and instructions for humanity surely consists of both social and personal rulings, and these rulings will only benefit man when they are carried out and practiced. At the same time, carrying out these rulings would necessarily require governmental authority and power that would guarantee their execution. Otherwise, either the rulings will not be carried out or if carried out by everyone, they will only lead to chaos and disorder. Rulings will only have any effect on the society when a powerful individual that is in connection with the Gheib (the invisible world) is responsible for teaching, maintaining and executing them.

Question: If political leadership and establishing a government is one of prophets’ duties, then why is it that some prophets did not have a government?

Answer: There are different possibilities in regard to this question:

First: Establishing a government may not be possible for a prophet in certain circumstances; like the prophet of Islam that was not able to employ governmental authority during the first years of his prophetic mission. Second: Its possible that during certain eras some prophets were preaching under the authority of greater ones –who had the responsibility of leading the society- and therefore, they only had the duty of conveying religious teachings and could not establish a dependant government on their own, such as Prophet Lut who’s prophethood was under that of Prophet Ibrahim as the Quran says: “فَآمَنَ لَهُ لُوطٌ و...[19]. This does not contradict his prophethood, because the prophethood of individuals like prophet Lut are a manifestation of the general prophethood of the greater prophet that is responsible for the people of his region. The Quran clearly asserts that Prophet Ibrahim was assigned by Allah to lead and oversee the society: “قالَ إِنِّی جاعِلُکَ لِلنَّاسِ إِماما...[20].

Therefore, there is no prophethood unless it comes with governmental authority, whether the prophethood is dependant or a manifestation of another one, because in the abovementioned example, Prophet Lut led the social and political life of people in a certain region under the reign of prophet Ibrahim. This is why taking role in politics and leading the society has been partially attributed to the prophets in the Quran: “...وَ کَأَیِّنْ مِنْ نَبِیٍّ قاتَلَ مَعَهُ رِبِّیُّونَ کَثیرٌ[21] which means: “How many a prophet there has been with whom a multitude of godly men fought.” If the Quran does not mention anything in regard to the governmental and political leadership of prophet Nuh and Isa and some other prophets, it does not mean they did not play such a role, but rather their case is an example of the verse: “...وَ رُسُلاً لَمْ نَقْصُصْهُمْ عَلَیْکَ وَ...[22], meaning that the same way not all prophets that existed were mentioned in the Quran, not all the features of those named in the Quran are mentioned either. Therefore, it is necessary for prophets to establish a government and they have strived to do so when their situation and circumstances allowed them. In addition to the many Quranic verses, the prophet’s sirah (how he lived) in regard to establishing a government can be solid proof that such an understanding from the Quranic verses is not correct.[23]

For more information you can refer to: Question 7883, Criticism of Secularism’s reasoning and also the following books:

1- Imam Khomeini and Islamic Government, No. 1, Theological fundamentals, Imam Khomeini and the Islamic Government Thought Seminar

2- Kazem Ghazizadeh, The Political-Jurisprudential Thoughts of Imam Khomeini

3- Imam Khomeini, Wilayate Faqih

4- Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli, Wilayate Faqih

5- Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi, Tafsir Nemooneh, vol. 2

6- Muhammad Jawad Noruzi, The Political System of Islam

7- Nabiyyollah Ibrahimzadeh Amuli, Religious Governance

8- Ali Zu Elm, The Quranic Fundamentals of Wilayate Faqih

9- Abdullah Nasri, Man’s Expectations of Religion, pg. 307

10- Hasan Ghadrdan Maleki, Secularism in Islam and Christianity

[1] Ibn Abi al-Hadid, Sharh Nahjul-Balagha, vol. 4, pg. 160

[2] Sahifeye Nur, vol. 83, pg. 217: regarding King Reza’s words about Ayatullah Kashani.

[3] Soroush, Muhammad, Din va Dolat dar Andisheye Eslami, pp. 120-126.

[4] Sahifeye Nur, vol. 1, pg. 6.

[5] Hajj:41.

[6] Hadid:25.

[7] Ma’idah:8.

[8] Nahl:36.

[9] Nisa’:75.

[10] Nisa’:59.

[11] An’ām:66.

[12] Shura:48.

[13] Ali Abdul Razzaq, Al-Islam wa Usul al-Hukm, pg. 171.

[14] Kiyan Magazine, no. 28, pg. 51.

[15] Ahzab:6.

[16] Majma’ al-Bahrain, vol. 1, pg. 457, under the root of “ولی”.

[17] Hadid:25.

[18] Baqarah:213.

[19] Ankabut:26.

[20] Baqarah:124.

[21] Āl Imran:146.

[22] Nisa:164.

[23] Adopted from the article Religion and Politics

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