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date: 26 November 2022

Religious Traditions in Politics: Islam, Sunni, and Shi'alocked

Religious Traditions in Politics: Islam, Sunni, and Shi'alocked

  • Halil Ibrahim YenigunHalil Ibrahim YenigunDepartment of Islamic Studies, Standford University

Summary

How Islam and politics get entangled with each other is a remarkable topic of interest. Islam’s relationship with politics is a highly remarkable topic of interest. Islam’s inception as a religion in the 7th century was a historical event that signified the emergence of a powerful, Arab-Muslim empire on the world scene. The trajectory of the relationship between Islam—as a normative ideal that is constantly interpreted by its followers—and politics—in the form of authority structures, public policies, international relations, or everyday political relations with the government, communities, or society—is complex. The convoluted relationship between Islam and politics can be studied on multiple layers. First, by looking at the normative sources, chiefly the verses in the Qur’an and the earliest narratives about the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions (Sahaba; i.e., the hadith) and major historical events that set precedents, such as the first caliphate controversy and the Karbala Massacre (680). Together, these sources form the foundation of Islamic political vocabulary and set the parameters of the ongoing discourse on legitimate Muslim modes of behavior in politics. Second, the historical trajectory of the relationship between religion and politics manifested itself in premodern Muslim-dominant contexts. These manifestations are sought within the complex web of relations among the followers of sects, schools of thought, and among different religious classes, nobility, and governments, who contested the religious and political space.

When a sense of political, cultural, and intellectual siege by the people of European descent, dubbed collectively as the “West,” dominated Muslim-majority societies and cultures, earlier patterns and constellations underwent serious transformations. Revivalist and reformist trends are crucial elements of these changing patterns. Corollary to these trends are Muslims’ indigenization of European ideologies such as liberalism, socialism, and nationalism in addition to their own formulation of Islamism as a political ideology. Finally, the relationship between religion and politics as conceived in Muslim thought from the classical age onward is found in scholars’ and thinkers’ political articulations of Islam in the mirror of the princes literature, theological works, philosophical treatises, political jurisprudence literature, also known as fiqh al-siyasah or al-siyasah al-shar’iyyah, and ethical treatises.

Apart from the foundational texts and interpretive communities of the past, whether motivated by Islam or not, social and political actors in Muslim-majority societies, whether democratic masses or political elite, have reconceived the relationship between Islam and politics and redefined what Islam means politically. Ultimately, this relationship is constantly renegotiated by all those involved within this nexus of theory and praxis.

Subjects

  • Groups and Identities
  • History and Politics
  • Political Values, Beliefs, and Ideologies

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