Islam and Politics

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” Antonio says to Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Religion is often used and misused by politicians to gain power. To understand the intricate relationship between Islam and politics, Brandon Kendhammer, a PhD candidate in political science at UW-Madison, went to Northern Nigeria and studied the implementation of sharia law in the region since the country’s democratic transition in 1999. He sat down with Inside Islam recently to share his experience and research findings. You can watch the whole interview by clicking on the video below.

Kendhammer grew up in Wisconsin, but became interested in Islam and Africa when he studied abroad in Cameroon and lived in a Muslim community, the city of Ngaoundéré. “I remember waking up in the morning and hearing the call to prayer.” It left a lasting impression on the then 20-year-old.

From September 2007 to July 2008, Kendhammer returned to Africa for his doctoral research, this time in Nigeria (1:20). After Nigeria’s democratic elections in 1999, politicians who took office in northern Nigeria, where a majority of the country’s Muslims live, sought to implement sharia law. After observing how people talk about Islamic law, debate its implementation, and think about democracy, Kendhammer concluded that ordinary citizens often are not sure what stand they should take on a new political issue based on their faith. Thus, politicians and other social and media elites have a disproportionate role in shaping what religion and politics mean to each other. “Politics, not theology, tends to explain the ways in which Islamic values and beliefs are translated into calls for political action, and ultimately into public opinion.”

Unfortunately, many Americans, including some academics, have a very simplistic notion of how Islam impacts politics, blaming the religion for many violent actions and brutal regimes in the Muslim world (3:40). “To assume that whatever theological or doctrinal reading you are making of Islam is how everybody thinks about Islam is just patently ridiculous,” said Kendhammer. “It’s not about what Islam says, it’s about what Muslims do with what’s available.” Religions don’t have monolithic effects on their adherents. That’s why he can’t use any word other than “diversity” to describe Islam.

French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” But maybe we are too quick to assume that religion motivates politics and not the other way around or in some more complicated relationship. How do you see the interaction between Islam and politics? If elites play such a substantial role in “framing” the relationship between religion and democracy, what does that have to say about the role of ordinary citizens? We welcome your comments.

2 thoughts on “Islam and Politics

  1. “Did you think that We had created you in play, and that you would not be returned unto Us?” The noble Qur’an, Al-Muminoon(23):115.

    What Does “Islam” Mean?
    The word “Islam” itself means “Submission to Allah.” The religion of Islam is not named after a person as in the case of “Christianity” which was named after Jesus Christ, “Buddhism” after Gutama Buddha , “Marxism” after Karl Marx, and “Confucianism” after Confucius.
    Similarly, Islam is not named after a tribe like “Judaism” after the tribe of Judah and “Hinduism” after the Hindus. The Arabic word “Islam” means the submission or surrender of one’s will to the will of the only true god worthy of worship, “Allah” (known as God “the Father” in Christianity).
    Anyone who does indeed submit to the will of Allah as required by Islam is termed a “Muslim,” which means one who has submitted to the will of Allah. Many people in the West have developed the sad misinformed trend of calling Islam “Muhammadenism” and it’s followers “Muhammadins.” This is a totally foreign word to Muslims and unrecognized by them. No Muslim has ever called his religion “Muhammadenism” or called himself a “Muhammadin.”
    What Is The Basic Concept of Islam?
    Islam teaches us that this life is a life of worship. We are placed on this earth in order to worship Allah and obey His command. During this earthly life we are subjected to a series of trials. We have the option of enduring these trials and conforming to certain laws, and our reward will be great in the next life, or we may decline to endure these trials and choose to not conform to the law, then we will be made to regret it in the next life.
    Each person will be solely and completely responsible for their own final reward. We are also told that God has designed these laws to make this life a better, safer, and more tolerable one for us. If we elect to conform to them then we will see the result in this life even before moving on to the next.
    We are told that the earthly life is a life of faith and work, and the next life is one of reward and no work. We have been placed on this earth to worship God, fast, pray, be industrious, good, kind, respectful, and a source of uprightness and morality. We are told that God has no need of our worship. Our worship can not increase the kingdom of God nor add to His power, however, it is in our best interests both in this life and the next that we do.
    Unlike some other religions which claim that God entered in a covenant with a certain group of people and that this group is genetically better than all other human beings, or closer to God, Islam on the other hand teaches that no color, race, tribe, or lineage is better than any other. Islam teaches that all humans are equal in the sight of Allah and that the only thing that can distinguish them in His sight is their piety and worship.
    “O humankind! Verily! We have created you from a male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Verily! the noblest among you in the sight of Allah is the most God-fearing. Verily! Allah is The Knower, The Aware.” The noble Qur’an, Al-Hujrat(49):13.

  2. Unfortunately some of this are true, some politicians used religion for there own selfish agenda, very sad to know.