We are often told as children to avoid discussing the sensitive topics of religion and politics with anyone other than those who think similarly to us. An even greater offense, however, is to associate the two together when discussing government. Since the beginning of modern history, the idea of a secular state has become a symbol of a progressive society, while bringing religion into politics is deemed archaic. This mode of thought has confined religion to places of worship and households, and forced religion to accept a new status, one that is, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “a matter which lies solely between man and his God.” It has transformed religious thought into something that is malleable within one’s own personal beliefs yet remains under the banner of a particular religion.
Perhaps no other religion illustrates this better than Christianity which has an estimated 200 denominations in the United States alone and an astounding 45,000 denominations globally, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. However, one religion, Islam, continues to push against this tide, insisting that more than a religion, it is a singular way of life for collective society as well as a matter of individual belief. Although this perspective has caused many to view Islam skeptically, particularly in the Western world, it has undoubtedly preserved the authenticity of Islam to a great extent—and if its ideals are kept intact, it will continue to do so.
An Entire System of Life
In order to understand why Islam resists being restricted to only a personal relationship with God, as many other religions have been, it is essential to understand that Islam is a religion in which the worship of God occurs not only in a mosque, but in all aspects of life. Although it does emphasize having a personal relationship with God with no intermediaries, Islam proposes to liberate man from injustice and to establish a decent, caring society; and these objectives cannot be completed within the walls of a mosque or a home. Therefore, Islam is as much of a political and economic system as it is a social and spiritual one. In fact, in his book, “100 Most Influential People in the World,” American author Michael H. Hart claimed that Muhammad (s) was the most influential figure of all time due to him being “supremely successful” in not only spreading a new theology but also as a political figure.
It is no coincidence that Islam spread over twice as much land as the Roman Empire did in a far shorter amount of time. While institutions such as the medieval Catholic Church were discredited for constant clashes with monarchs and governments, the Islamic Caliphate attracted new subjects due to a government that did not quarrel with religious institutions but did enforce the laws of the faith.
Islam makes it compulsory for all its adherents to struggle against injustice in every sphere of life, even if only in one’s heart. The Prophet (s) said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim). This is why politics, economics, culture, and faith are not separate conceptions for Muslims—they are all branches of the same tree of life.