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What We Mean When We Say Politicizing Islam is Bad

Reducing Islam to identity politics is doing more damage than good; it subverts the salvific message of the Qur’an and breeds extremist groups like ISIS.

By Rayhan al-Safawi

I’ve been very disturbed by how Islam has been politicized in the world. By politicization of Islam I don’t mean that Islam is secular in nature, that would be anachronistic. Islam like other religions is a constitutive activity in the world, meaning that its moral and salvific frameworks encompass all aspects of life, including the modern construct of the political. The problem of politicizing Islam is the reduction of Islam to a battle of political and social issues which end up distracting many from the principle message of Islam: we are all in need of salvation through the purification of the heart. This only happens through the redemption of human hearts, one at a time and not as a group as Soren Kierkegaard once put it.

By reducing the concept of the Ummah (Muslim community) into a political and social category, the primary message of the Qur’an is dismissed in favor of a modern political construct of morality that is intricately tied to – and informed by – modern identity politics. It is this form of politicization and identity politics that has created the grounds that make movements like ISIS possible. If identity politics is an uncontested norm, then an Islamic State becomes a rational solution. But that is not a rationale that many would be happy with.

Although some may find such an approach to Islam appealing, most people find it irrelevant or unimportant because there are better social justice alternatives out there, or simply because its outcomes are horrifying. To force religion (especially in its political form) on people only creates resentment and this is exactly what identity politics does.

Today’s Muslims youth are leaving Islam in droves. The only reason why our Mosques are full is due to immigration and not organic growth. The number of Muslims who are giving birth out of wedlock or even having abortions is staggering. The support for sexual activities that are clearly forbidden in Islam is rampant and growing.

Change does not begin with society. It begins with the individual. We cannot go out and change the world when the same evil that is outside runs through our own hearts. We cannot expect nations to reform and become just when we ourselves are anything but just to our own spouses and children. The Sharia (Islamic law) can only become an integral part of the Ummah when we revivify God as the primary axiom through which we act in the world.

Rayhan al-Safawi is a blogger at the World Shia Forum. He lives with his family in the West Coast, United States.

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