The Role of Religion in Arab Politics
By: Yasmina Hage/Arab America Contributing Writer
Religion is prominent in Arab countries, and it constitutes politics. The role of religion is to unite both the Arab people and nations and sometimes to enforce the law as the sacred book says.
In the majority of the Arab world, almost all countries refer to Islam in their constitutions. These two groups can be distinguished as those who limit themselves to making Islam the state religion, and those who make Sharia one of the sources of law. With an exception of Lebanon, Syria is the only country in the Arab world whose constitution does not make Islam the state religion (however, Muslim law is a source of legislation, and the head of state must be Muslim).
The role that religion has played in the politics of Arab countries:
Firstly, attachment to God was absent in the revolutions. It later began to be present and grew into political Islam. For example, in the first demonstrations in Syria among the demonstrators, hardly anyone thought of God as an expression of the will to overthrow dictators. The only watchwords were: “dignity,” “freedom,” “down with corruption, down with tyranny.” Leaders of political Islam also admit that they were not present in the revolutionary movements because of the repression. However, they managed to reappear and make themselves heard. From the second half of the 19th century, Islam functioned as a normative system, as a religion, and also as an ideology to resist against western invasion and the value system conveyed by the west. As a result, Islam now has an identity and normative role in Arab countries.
The Muslim religion has been and remains one of the main factors of political unity among Arabs. In fact, the system of the personality of laws and jurisdictions laid down by the Koran ended after the creation of modern Turkey by abolishing the religious courts. However, Egypt continued to apply it and thus failed to unify the laws of its various religious communities. Thus, the Arab League and the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States attempted to unify Arab law but based it on Muslim law.
The Role of Religion in Today’s Politics
The purpose of religion today is to be able to guarantee religious practice in the country. In Lebanon there are several religions, so the government is poly-religious. The government ensures that each community can practice its religion while maintaining peace, order and equality between the different faiths. This avoids the oppression of one religion and allows everyone to be represented. At the same time, the government is the protector of churches and mockers. Moreover, the state also makes sure that religious holidays are respected. Religion in politics serves to keep the government’s good deeds in a balance between communities of different faiths. In Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, for example, there is no difference among the peoples; they are all Muslims. In this case, the role of religion is for the state to guarantee the practice and respect of faith. Therefore, the state punishes abuses and enforces the law according to the Muslim religion.
The role of religion in Arab politics is to ensure order, ensure respect for the days of worship, and guarantee the practice and observance of religion in the country.
The problem is that the sacred book can be interpreted in different ways. Each one appropriates it according to his or her understanding. As a result, it is difficult to get all states and individuals to agree. Everyone has their own vision and wants to propagate it. As the country is guided by religion, it leads people to suffer serious consequences such as discrimination against non-Muslims and a lack of freedom of thought. Moreover, adherence to faith in politics leads to discrimination against women who have fewer rights than men.
The Arab interpretation of the sacred text should be unique and not subject to debate. Unfortunately, this is not possible as long as these texts make use of each person’s particularity and understanding. As a result, there will be religious conflicts in the Arab-Muslim world. This is what we can see in Iraq, for example, where there is a civil war between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
In Lebanon the limit of religion in the state is that the different religions very often disagree. As a result, they always need a third party to make decisions (a third party being France and Great Britain, for example).
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