Written by Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin
Translation by Umm Hajar (ummhajar@gmail.com)

I often call for Muslims to Islamize their politics and not politicize Islam. One may ask, what is the difference between the two? The difference is, when we strive to Islamize our politics we will ensure that our actions and our political missions do not contradict the teachings of Islam. Also, we will attempt to Islamize any un-Islamic political custom. In other words, we will use Islam as the guiding principle of our actions.

On the other hand, Islam is politicized when used as a political capital to secure power. In doing that, Islam is used not as a guiding principle but as a mere justification or ‘halal certificate’ to persuade the society or their followers to accept their actions.

Consequently, one will execute his political mission without referring it first to the teachings of Islam but when his action is questioned, he will manipulate the view or religious texts of Islam to defend himself. In short, Islamizing politics is done by designating Islam as the guiding principle whereas politicizing Islam is done by manipulating Islam in one’s favor using it as a tool or justification.

Therefore, when one assigns Islam as the foundation or guiding principle, he will willingly retract his opinion or apologize for his action if he discovers that it contradicts the teachings of Islam. As for the one who uses Islam as a justification or tool, he will make use of Islam to legalize his political action even though it is undoubtedly sinful.

He is not keen to listen to the concrete evidence or contention provided by syarak for him to apply but instead, he looks for a back-up from the religious authority that is willing to legalize his action even though he realizes that the opinion given to support him is weak and groundless. This is similar to the fanatical clusters and mazhab (school of thoughts) followers who hold on the views of their faction with no concern on strong reasoning and justifications.

Al-Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah (deceased in 751H) criticized the extremists in mazhab saying:

“Even more peculiar is your attitude o blind followers! When you find a Quranic verse that suits the opinion of your mazhab, you will accept its obvious meaning and hold on to it. Your basis in that sense is the opinion of your mazhab and not the Quranic verse itself. If you find another equivalent verse that contradicts the opinion of your mazhab, you will not accept it. You will try to make various interpretations of it and take it out of its clear context because it does not suit your mazhab. You are also treating the religious texts of al-Sunnah the same way. If you find a sahih (sound) hadith that suits the opinion of your mazhab, you will accept it. You will say, “We have the words from the Prophet s.a.w saying this and that.” However, if you find one hundred sahih hadith that differ from the view of your mazhab, you will not even give it a glance.” (Ibn Qayyim al-Jauziyyah, I’lam al-Muwaqqi’in, 2/195, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr).

More often than not, the endeavor or the inclination to either Islamize politics or politicize Islam is not necessarily tied to the code of a political party or a faction but it is more of a personal attitude. However, if the attitude develops into a mainstream practice in a political party or faction, it represents their actual inclination. These days, it is not easy to hold on to and persevere with the principles of Islam in tackling politics.

Nevertheless, this is a fact that each one of us needs to be conscious of. In the history of Prophet Musa a.s versus the Pharaoh, the Pharaoh even had brought up the misconduct done by Prophet Musa a.s specifically when Musa a.s beat an Egyptian man before fleeing to Madyan. Allah narrated this story in the Quran by saying (translated as):

“So go forth, both of you, to Pharaoh, and say: ‘We have been sent by the Lord and Cherisher of the worlds; “‘Send thou with us the Children of Israel.’” (Pharaoh) said: “Did we not cherish thee as a child among us, and didst thou not stay in our midst many years of thy life? And thou didst a deed of thine which (thou knowest) thou didst, and thou art an ungrateful (wretch)!” Moses said: “I did it then, when I was in error. So I fled from you (all) when I feared you; but my Lord has (since) invested me with judgment (and wisdom) and appointed me as one of the Apostles. “And this is the favor with which thou dost reproach me,- that thou hast enslaved the Children of Israel!” (Surah al-Syu’ara: 16-22)

This is one of the main reasons Allah sent to us His Apostles, to educate us on the matter of principle. Even when he was in the middle of a critical situation, Prophet Musa a.s still admitted that it was wrong for him to hit the Egyptian and that his action was uncalled-for. Prophet Musa a.s did not try to legalize his deed to safeguard his interest, never! Two wrongs do not make a right.

Prophet Musa a.s had to deal with the leading political power in his time and even in the history of human civilization. His struggle was much greater than any struggle that is ever attempted in our time. Be that as it may, he still persevered with his principles. His action reflected the need for humankind to adhere to the divine revelation instead of manipulating the divine revelation to meet the human desire.

In our political environment, it is rare to see an individual admitting the mistake that he or his party has done. Instead, he will look for various justifications to defend himself or his faction even though he is fully aware that the action is wrong. Some are willing to forfeit their principle to avoid having their seat or position forfeited. The outcome of that is as what we’re witnessing now. We are seeing the birth of a culture, mostly involving blasphemy and derision, that sometimes transgresses the boundary of sanity and does not measure up to a civilized discourse.

Islam does not put too much restriction on politics since it is a vast subject that involves the wellbeing of the ummah and the nation. Politics is not a thing of a pastime like playing golf or football. To engage in politics means to stake the wellbeing of humankind. Therefore, all political actions must be executed to bring forth benefits to the ummah and the people, not for the benefit of oneself or one’s party.

Subsequently, we have to bear in mind that not everyone who participates in the holy battlefield will enter Paradise. Though at times the deed is beneficial to the Muslim society, the individual performing the deed may not receive any reward from Allah if his intention or his approach, or both, is wrong even if his struggle is proclaimed to be under the banner of Islam. Moreover, there is a hadith that relates the story of an individual who seemed to have fought bravely in the battle but would become the dweller of Hell.

Abu Huraira r.a narrated:

“We were in the company of Allah’s Apostle in a Ghazwa (battle), and he remarked about a man who claimed to be a Muslim, saying, “This (man) is from the people of the (Hell) Fire.” When the battle started, the man fought violently till he got wounded. Somebody said, “O Allah’s Apostle! The man whom you described as being from the people of the (Hell) Fire fought violently today and died.” The Prophet said, “He will go to the (Hell) Fire.” Some people were on the point of doubting (the truth of what the Prophet had said) and while they were in this state, suddenly someone said that he was still alive but severely wounded. When night fell, he lost patience and committed suicide. The Prophet was informed of that, and he said, “Allah is Greater! I testify that I am Allah’s Slave and His Apostle.” Then he ordered Bilal to announce amongst the people: ‘None will enter Paradise but a Muslim, and Allah may support this religion (i.e. Islam) even with a disobedient man.’”

In our community, religion truly is the pull factor for many people. Therefore, every person who wishes to struggle for the religion or wishes to focus his talks and actions on the religion has to ask himself whether he really yearns for the religion or yearns for power. After he straighten out his intention, he must then ensure that his actions are aligned with Islam’s requirement and not interpret Islam in such a way that it gives the impression as if Islam’s requirement is aligned with his actions. Thus, Islamize our politics and do not politicize our Islam.