Religion and Politics Term Paper

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Religion and Politics

All religions aim to provide a code of life for mankind. Apart from other tenets, this code establishes laws that govern all areas of man's life. Thus the laws established by the religion Islam are termed as Shariah. The term Shariah means all of the Islamic Laws and is derived from four basic sources. These sources are The Holy Quran, Sunnah, Ij'ma (consensus) of the Companions (Sahabah) and Qiyas or analogical deduction. These laws are not just limited to areas such as marriage or divorce; rather, the Islamic laws cover every action performed by an individual or a society. The term Shariah is also synonymous with Fiqh. However the term Fiqh means knowledge of all the Islamic Laws (Shariah). It can also be taken to mean the Knowledge of the sources from where the Islamic Laws (Shariah) have been extracted.

Shariah or Islamic Laws are divine ways to preserve societies and individuals. However their application to the modern societies has always given birth to criticism from all quarters. This is primarily because those not in favor of their application in essence can always condemn them on religious grounds. Therefore, if we look closely, it will be seen that it is not the Islamic nature of the Shariah that a person would be in disagreement but the fact that the he does not approve of the Law itself. For instance, according to Shariah murder is punishable by a death sentence. However a similar law is practiced in the Western societies such as the United States without any link to the Shariah although the proponents of capital punishment cannot argue against them targeting religion as a ground. This shows that the application of Shariah itself is not so much a problem but the essence of the Laws, which can also be found in societies that have no connection to Shariah whatsoever. Other than this, application of Islamic Laws has also become a problem because of the political lobbies, which have interests that might clash with the Islamic interests.

It is important to note here that the Islamic Laws are only applicable to Muslims. However modern-day Muslims, are sometimes not in favor of the application of Shariah because they are not inclined towards following all the given tenets of Islam. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult to apply Shariah.

In this paper, we focus on the Malaysian society, which is composed of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities in order to support our argument. Furthermore we will take the example of Nigerian society which is again not a singular element society but is composed of Muslim and Christian communities. However both the societies are Muslim majority areas and the governments have separate Shariah courts where cases, pertaining to Islamic Laws are tried.

This paper therefore seeks to understand the problems that are encountered while applying Shariah in any given society partly because of the individual opposition to the practice of religion and partly because of the role, politics play. Adding to this is also weakness and insufficiency of certain factions to be able to apply Islamic Laws in totality, which results in either haphazard application of Shariah or no application at all.

It is important to study this area for the simple reason that the modern societies are experiencing religious revivalism and with this experience, comes the application of religion on all aspects of a society such as Laws. Religion has, once again come to the fore to push forward its own religio-political agendas on societies all over the world. In many parts of the world today, religion is therefore the strongest factor in national politics. This phenomena is not only limited to just Islam but can also be witnessed in the form of Christian evangelicalism in the United States of America, in the emergence of a number of cults and alternative movements in Japan and the revival of the Orthodox Church in Russia.

In all of these cases, the challenge is similar. How do modern societies cope with the application of religion? For instance the application of Islam and its laws in a modern, moderate and multiracial society of Malaysia. For this purpose, we have to first study the concept of Islamism.

Islamism' is a concept so vague and encompassing that it can be interpreted in a variety of ways. In a country such as Malaysia, it refers to the concept of collective groupings, political parties and social movements made up of politically active followers of Islam (Fatimi, 1963). This concept would include everything from Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), research institutions, collectives or social movements etc. The other angle to this provides a more restrictive definition where Islamism is any sort of political or social activity undertaken by leaders of the Muslim world. Rejecting neither of these and accepting both, we can say that 'Islamism' in its most basic form refers to any and every kind of social, economic, cultural or political project that is connected with Islamic tenets in some way or the other. In short, Islamism is a platform for all those who share the same Islamic discourse and moral vocabulary.

The application of Shariah also is a rather revivalist concept, staying dormant for a long period. With the alleged return of Islam, the application of Shariah has also become an issue. This is because Islamism is a wave that is currently being witnessed in numerous and large pockets. It will not be wrong to say that Islamism has returned to the world today. Though Islam has never left the scene for the plain fact that as long as its followers are alive and increasing, Islam and Islamism will always remain visible, it has definitely begun to be more visible. This is because of the successive Islamist revolutions the world over such as the Islamisation of Pakistan under Zia'ul Haq and the Iranian revolution since when Islamism has made an explosive comeback on the global political scene.

The return of Islam should be understood within the context of moral and political degeneration. It was earlier believed that Religion would be left at the side in the rush towards economic and material development. It was also argued that with the fall of communism and the consequent consolidation of the capitalist development, the world would witness a new era of growth and free trade. This was to be accompanied by the creation of a new class who would be able to detach itself from blood, ethnicity and race. It was hoped that with economic development, such attachments would simply be given up and instead a new awareness of the need for Human Rights and Civil Society would surface. However, mass genocide and sectarian conflicts, for instance in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosova, Chechnya, Rwanda, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia and Timor have left room for something more than just material development and success. Free markets and the free flow of capital and human resources have not managed to cut the strings of attachment to roots. Moreover despite the apparent influence of western humanism, western liberalism and western democratic values has not actually established itself beyond the Western world. Hence there remain large pockets of communities that still hold onto traditional values and ideas. In fact there is outright resistance to Western thoughts and ideals. It is for these reasons that the revival of Religion, in particular Islam has taken.

However though there is a vacuum that a religion can fill, it becomes increasingly difficult when it comes to applying the laws of a religion. This is because though general populations might be in favor of religion and its tenets but the accused on which the law is being applied, would take every stand to appeal against it in order to go free. This process attracts all those groups whose interests either get hurt by application of Islamic Laws or who fear that Islam might gain supremacy as a religion and also as a religio-political order if practiced. They, as a result, combine to oppose application of Shariah. Taking for example, Malaysia, the 1999 elected Islamic party always faces hindrances from all quarters when it comes to application of Shariah.

During the elections of 1999, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party won victory at the polls (Joceline, 2000). PAS won a total of 27 parliamentary seats, which allowed them control of two states in the northeastern region of the Malay Peninsula. These states were Kelantan and Trengganu. Needless to say, PAS has heavy Islamic agenda, which includes application of Shariah or Islamic Laws in all areas of life. Therefore as soon as the PAS took over the state of Trengganu the new Chief Minister Ustaz Abdul Hadi Awang put forward a number of new Islamic laws and regulations that were designed to islamize the two states (Joceline, 2000). These laws included the kharaj tax on non-Muslims and a new one regarding dress codes that would make it compulsory for all Malay-Muslim females to follow the state government's Islamic dress code. It is important to…[continue]

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