Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A view from the Muslim World: For us Din (faith) and Dawla (politics) are the same!

Jean Comaroff and Tawana Kupe

Prof Jean Comaroff’s discussion on Politics of Faith was both inspiring and informative. Here, I would like reflect on the lecture with examples from my own research with examples from the Muslim world. An interesting observation can be drawn between the Pentecostal movements and trends in contemporary reformist and revivalist movements in Muslim world. The similarities concern such aspects as the reverence and return to foundational texts and traditions, the emphasis of the family institution, criticism of the economic crisis as a sign of failure of secularism, inseparability of the sacred and the secular, provision of social welfare for members, reliance on modern technologies for propagation to redefinition of the role of religious institutions as place of multiple functions. The separation of religion and politics as expounded in current thought presents a dilemma in the case of Islam where religion is viewed as a totality of all ways of life by the followers. The question of whether there is a line between din and dawla, between the sacred and profane, though it always generate debates, has not been very controversial.

The example of the Medinan state has always been used to argue for the need to infuse the political and the religious into one by some reformist movements. The medieval Islamic philosophers grappled with such issues. Leadership that infuses some aspects of temporal and religious power has been vast in the history of Islam, from the early caliphates, to jihads of Uthman Dan Fodio, Mahdist movement in Sudan to the contemporary governments like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan. The question of the inseparability of the mundane and the spiritual in Islam and other religion as presented in the talk raises two crucial questions. Should religion be used as political ideology? Who is entitled to such expositions? While the second question concerns the perennial contestations and negotiations in the public sphere, the first question still needs discussion. The separation between secular and religious is artificial in the real life of the devout masses. Jurgen Habermas argues this way

‘…many religious citizens do not have good reasons to undertake an artificial division between secular and religious within their own minds, since they couldn’t do so without destabilizing their mode of existence as pious persons. The objection appeals to the integral role that religion plays in the life of a person of faith, in other words to religion’s “seat” in everyday life. A devout person pursues her daily rounds by drawing on her belief…[1]

I would like to think aloud here: Are there religious organizations for whom the secular and sacred remain separate? Put differently, are there exceptional cases of transnational religious movements that tend to ignore the political as envisioned on discourse surrounding the state and statecraft? Here I have Tablighi Jamaat in mind. A movement that originated in early 20th Century India and today considered as one of the most widespread Islamic transnational movement in world. How does one position a movement that is explicitly apolitical, that empowers the lay into what Yoginder Sikand calls the priesthood of all believers through democratization of religious authority? By focusing on individual salvation and going beyond the limits of sovereign state and mundane temporal issues, the Tablighi defy some generalizing definitions of adherents engaged with the political. Of course, it all depends on what being political and participating means: Is being apolitical a political statement? Maybe this example shadows another dynamic of the politics of faith. The case of Tablighi Jamaat, described by Barbara Metcalf as apolitical, quietest movement for internal grassroot missionary reform, has redefined concepts of politics, religious authority, transnationalism, travels and the universal confessional community of believers. I will end the reflections on politics of faith with a quotation from Peter Mandaville on the Tablighis.

In terms of politics, the Tablighis dwell in a translocality that challenges the spatial confines of political community. Theirs is, in essence, an averse normative model in which the good not emanates not from an ethical institution (i.e. the state) but rather from an emphasis on the collective power of the ethical ‘self.’[2]

Halkano A. Wario

[1] Religion in the public sphereby Holberg Prize Laureate 2005 Professor Jürgen Habermas Lecture presented at the Holberg Prize Seminar 29 November 2005 p. 7

[2] Peter Mandaville, Trans National Muslim Politics: Reimagining the Umma. London and New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 146

No comments:

Post a Comment