Muslims and Politics

The book I am currently reading is one lent to me by a friend: A History of God, by Karen Armstrong. I wrote about her in an earlier blog ( ) and the book appeared to me after a my friend read the blog. It is a pretty scholarly piece, with big words and all. But it isn’t the vocabulary that I find difficult, it is the foreign words, Hebrew, Greek or Muslim words, for example, for various beliefs or sects. I am no sooner introduced to a term then forget what it means when I come across it again. If I were a student in college, I would be writing these down on index cards so I could refer back to them as needed.

In spite of my handicap, I am learning a lot. Of the three religions of the book, which is the focus of Armstrong’s book, I am least familiar with Islam. But Islam has become important to me because of our American attention on the Middle east in the last decade and also because of the fact that my granddaughter recently married a Muslim man. Understanding Islam is one way for me to get acquainted with my new grandson-in-law.

I’d like to share with you a few things I have learned thus far. Now, mind you, if I am going to proceed in my lazy manner not taking notes or cross-referencing, it is likely that some of my understanding is askew. In fact, I would expect that. But ignorance has never stopped me from flapping at the mouth before. In my defense, I am usually looking for common threads between my religious tradition and that of others and my intention is always toward peace and understanding. In other words, I rely on intuition and it usually serves me quite well.

I won’t try to do this in one blog. I will present one or two ideas at a time.

One idea that Armstrong presents has to do with Muslims and politics. As I watch the democracies forming in the Middle East, it seems to me that there are these fundamentalist Muslims trying to intertwine their religion with their politics, which is foreign to us in this country where we work so hard at keeping the two separate. But Armstrong suggests that for many, Islam offers a model and direction for a just society. She writes: “Politics is not extrinsic to a Muslim’s personal religious life, as in Christianity…Muslims regard themselves as committed to implementing a just society in accordance with God’s will…Its political health holds much the same place in a Muslim spirituality as a particular theological option in the life of a Christian. If Christians find the Muslims’ regard for politics strange, they should reflect that their passion for abstruse theological debate seems equally bizarre to Jews and Muslims.”

It never occurred to me that maybe Muslims who insist that Islam be an integral part of their newly forming governments are really wanting to be sure these are just societies according to God’s teaching, which is  spelled out in the Koran. It seems, as I read, that the Koran is as variously interpreted by Muslims as is the Bible by Christians. Maybe this is what their arguments are about…whose interpretation of the Koran are we to use in the forming of our new society?

I have been aware of the Biblical sense of social justice for years. I am one of those folks who thinks that we ought to do what the Bible actually says about justice instead of what we are actually doing in our country. I go a little crazy when I hear Christians who think we ought to be more Christian in our politics espouse practices that seem to me to be contrary to the teachings of Jesus.  This is when I cry for the separation of Church and state. Yet, I am just as guilty as my foes for quoting the Scriptures when talking about how I think the government should be run.

I am not sure what is the right thing to do. Teachings about justice are pretty common among all of the lasting religions of the world. They all have their version of the Golden Rule, for example. I am not sure we need to give any one religion credit as we formulate a just society. You might say that a real sense of justice is innate in our humanness and the written words of the various scriptures are reflections of what people know in their hearts to be true. When we give one religion over another credit, we are in danger of setting one above the others which is one of the seeds of unjust attitude and behavior.

In reading Armstrong, I have a deeper appreciation for the struggle that people of faith have as they try to create a democracy. We in America have to realize that the question of how faith plays a part in politics is one we ourselves have not been able to answer.