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What is the reasoning of secularists in separating religion from politics?

By responding to the arguments of people who claim that politics is separate from religion, it will be proven that this cannot be the case and that religion is part and parcel of politics. To those who say that the essence of politics and the essence of religion are at odds and for this reason they cannot be combined, the following can be said: Religious politics means the management of a society based upon the values and criterion of religion, in order that the society reaches wholeness and true balance; there does not exist any logical contradictions in the issue of religious politics.
In response to the argument that religious laws are matters that are “on occasion”, it must be stated that this is not only applicable to religion or the precepts of religion in the political arena, but it applies to every body of laws which is in existence (all of these are based on circumstances and the situation at hand).
Also, in response to the argument that religion is an unchangeable matter and the world and its politics are always changing, and therefore, an unchangeable body is unable to manage something which is always in a state of change, it is said that: religion and this world both possess changeable and non-changeable aspects, and each part of religion has to do with its corresponding part of worldly matters. In relation to those who say that Islamic jurisprudential management is inefficient or incompetent, it must be said that Islam takes into consideration all changing and non-changing aspects of individual and social life and guides people to a correct way of life with all of these aspects factored in. The existence of the jurisprudential method, which is the standard way of understanding religion, provides and ensures the correct understanding to this religion. In addition, it opens the possibility of answering new questions which come about.

Secularists, who deny that religion and politics have always been joined together (throughout history) and make the claim of its separation, have held on to certain arguments which can easily be refuted, and the inseparable nature of religion and politics can be proven. Below we will delve into certain arguments of the secularists and we will also provide the counter arguments as well:

1- The differences in the essential natures of religion and politics.
2- The ‘on occasion’ nature of religious precepts
3- Fixed religious values and norms and a changing world.
4- The lack of efficiency in jurisprudential management.

Below we will summarily explain these issues:

1 -The differences in the essential natures of religion and politics

A group from amongst the secularists, by emphasizing essentialism, 1 have mentioned: Everything has a nature and essence which is particular to itself, and the essence and nature of religion is intrinsically different than the essence of politics. Therefore, religious politics can be compared to a wooden piece of iron, which is an impossible and contradictory matter. In response to this statement, we say: the essence of politics is the management of the affairs of society, and the essence of religion is the guidance of human beings towards God (towards true felicity). Through this description, we can say that religious politics means the management of society based on the principles and values of religion, in order that man reaches true felicity. Therefore, there are no logical contradictions in the statement ‘religious politics’.

2- The interpretations of religion and newly arising circumstances

Some have said that religious interpretations have themselves arisen from circumstances and therefore it is not possible to find guidance in religion from other newly arising circumstances. This is while the management of a society is in need of such specific guidance in newly arising circumstances, and therefore religion is not able to be a guiding force for politics. 2
In order to explain this claim, we must first explain clearly what rulings based on circumstance mean. Religious precepts and rulings in every domain (just like in religion), can be divided into three sections:

1- Causative precepts and rulings: These are rulings which remain fixed and unchanged in all situations, times, and circumstances. Amongst such rulings is that of oppression; oppression is unlawful and a sin in all circumstances, situations, and times. Likewise, the concept of justice is obligatory and it cannot be changed under any circumstance.

2- Circumstantial (or situational) precepts and rulings: This is defined as religious rulings (which are fixed) when they meet the obstacle of specific situations. Overall, telling the truth is obligatory, but when it meets with an obstacle, it can no longer be obligatory. For example, if telling the truth (which is obligatory) causes the death of somebody, then it is no longer considered obligatory.

3- Rulings which are dependent on the prevailing situation: These are defined as rulings which are formed based on the specific situation at hand. For example, physical punishment without any reason is unlawful, but when it is used to prevent moral deviation, then it can become lawful.

At the same time it should be kept in mind that this matter is not particular to religion or religious precepts only. Every body of law behaves in this same way; the majority of circumstantial matters have laws which are circumstantial. We cannot enact general laws which define every single possible individual matter, which can be performed or not performed. It is simply not possible to imagine every single potential action, with all of its divergent possibilities and potentials.

The most important and prevalent of these matters is when the enactment of a ruling becomes a preventative for the enactment of another ruling. This matter is called ‘Tazahome Ahkam’ in jurisprudential lexicon and in jurisprudence a method exists for selecting one of these two rulings. Generally, the more important ruling predominates over the less important ruling, and it is thus selected. From another angle, there exist principles in Islamic laws which show what is more important than others. For example, human life is considered more important than wealth.
In short, a circumstantial nature is particular to the majority of laws and it does not pertain particularly to religion; what Islam has done is it has clarified the criterion of deciding the correct course of action for the particularities of life. Therefore, in this regard as well, there is nothing to prevent religion from being a guiding principle and part of politics. 3

3- Religion is a fixed affair and the world a changing one

The most important reason which Secularists bring against the involvement of religion in political matters is the fixed nature of religion and the changing nature of this world. 4 Their arguments can be expressed in the following words: Religion is a sacred affair and things of a sacred nature are fixed and unchangeable. This is while the world is always in a continuous state of change and flux; therefore religion cannot manage the affairs of this world and involve itself in politics. If we pay detailed attention to what was mentioned previously, it is manifestly clear that, two contradictory issues appear in this argument, and that the argument is a fallacious one.

The first fallacy is that it is assumed that in religion (in Islam) no changeable aspects exist; in our previous discussions, we mentioned how changeable aspects do exist in Islam. The fixed aspects of religion are based upon certain fixed human attributes and characteristics, while the changeable aspects are designed for those very same issues which are found to change with the passage of time, circumstance, and social conditions. In our following investigation, we will explain how universal elements and situational ones came about in Islam, along with how these two are related in different fields of man’s life; all of this under the title of “The Theory of Codified Thought”.

The second fallacy is that the proponents of this argument have claimed that this world is a changing world and that there are no fixed characteristics to be found within it. This is while the world has both fixed and changing attributes and characteristics; it is only through the combination of both of these aspects that the world is made whole. Through this description, it is made clear that the world possesses both fixed and alterable characteristics and every part of religion (Islam) takes into consideration both of these issues.

4- The lack of efficiency in the method of religious jurisprudence

Some individuals have considered religious jurisprudence to be an ancient and extinct method, and have considered the modern era to be one whereby the world can only be managed through modern scientific methods. The foundation of this manner of thought is in the belief that religious jurisprudence is at odds with science and vice versa. It is as if religion was founded upon superstition and ignorance, and it can never be made harmonious with the empirical scientific method.

Due to this viewpoint, they say the following: ‘The organization, problem solving, and differentiation of jurisprudence belongs to a very basic society and it helps to solve that society’s simple problems and the small issues that people would have in that low level society… The implementation of law in the life of society, the marketplace, family, and government was not yet established, and the rule of jurisprudence and the king took the place of the rule of science; due to this, whenever a problem would arise, religious jurisprudence was required (indeed it was the only solution to be found). Religious jurisprudence was required to put a stop to marketplace speculators and hoarders, in order to root out their illegal marketplace practices and save society from their harmful actions and collective dangers. The scientific method was still yet undeveloped and unknown to the society. The known source of solving the society’s problems and managing it was the religious jurisprudential method. Can the industrial and economic revolution of today really be denied? The modern political system will not accept the halter of the religious jurisprudential method any longer! 5

This type of thought is the result of comparing Islam with Christianity from one angle, and not fully estimating the powers of religious jurisprudence from another angle. This type of thought is also the result of forgetting the contributions and harmony of Islam with various sciences; indeed the religion of Islam was and is instrumental in the creation and furtherance of many sciences and branches of knowledge.

Islamic jurisprudence, keeping in mind the existence of universal elements and situations which are either fixed or changing in terms of their relation to individual and societal life, can serve as a guide and reference. The existence of the jurisprudential method (Ijtihad) opens the way of ascertaining religious law and guidelines in both fixed and changing situations; it leaves the door open for answering newly arisen questions which come about naturally with the passage of time. From another angle, the enactment of religious jurisprudence and the utility of jurisprudents does not entail the rejection of science and other forms of knowledge and learning. In fact, whenever necessary, Islamic jurisprudence entails the utilization of necessary sciences and fields of knowledge. In matters which are constantly changing, this is considered necessary in the proper enactment of these religious rulings. 6

Therefore referring to religious jurisprudence is not a barrier to science and other branches of knowledge; in reality, religious jurisprudence is a guiding force for better fulfillment of human knowledge and science and in reaching human goals and ideals.7

[1] Essentialism
[2] See: Aadel Zaher, Al-Asaas al-Falsafiyyah li al-Ilmaaniyyah, p. 178, Ahmad Wa’ezi, Hukumate Dini, p. 70.
[3] Adopted from the book Velayate va Diyanat “Jastarhayi dar Andisheye Siyasiye Islam”, Ayatullah Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, pp. 42-45.
[4] Ibid, the chapter on the “Stability of religion and mutability of the world”.
[5] Abdul Karim Soroush, Qesseye Arbaabe Ma’rifat, pp. 54-55.
[6] Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Mabaniye Kalamiye Ijtihad, pp. 403-404 and Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, Velayate Faqih, pp. 61-64.
[7] Adopted from the book Velayate va Diyanat “Jastarhayi dar Andisheye Siyasiye Islam”, Ayatullah Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, pp. 45-47.


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