WASHINGTON DC // The politicisation of religion is deeply damaging to our societies, a meeting of leading analysts and policymakers heard last week.
Organised by Trends Research & Advisory and the Stimson Centre in the US capital, the meeting — which looked at the theme Politicising Islam: Exploring Means and Objectives — was one of a series of events addressing key concerns for the Middle East.
It focused on the importance of understanding the objectives of groups that seek to exploit religion for political ends.
“I firmly believe that the politicisation of religion, any religion, is deeply damaging to our societies and preventing us from living in peace and security,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Hamli, founder and president of Trends Research & Advisory, an Abu Dhabi-based research centre whose goal is to help improve policies and decision-making.
Dr Al Hamli said that while religion is central to individual and social identities, it cannot be the foundation of government authority.
He said that “religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God,” and that “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions”.
In the context of political Islam today, movements are striving to bring about a state or event global government based on religious belief.
Dr Al-Hamli said the purpose of the gathering was to look beyond the means of political participation. It had to ask serious questions about the objectives of organisations that want to politicise religion in ways that threaten security in society.
He said: “We cannot impose one particular religion or a particular understanding of one religion upon all. We cannot use the doctrines and beliefs of a religion system to discriminate against others, or justify violence.”
Dr Hillel Fradkin, director of the Centre on Islam, Democracy, and the Future of the Muslim World at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, said all political Islam movements have the same objective — the implementation of Islamic law as the foundation for society and government.
According to Dr Fradkin, global security is threatened by the effect of Shiite political Islam as embodied by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The experts spoke of the sectarian tensions, and outright conflict being caused by Iran’s politicisation of religion, which is a dangerous and dominant fact in the Middle East today.
Mokhtar Awad, research fellow in the programme on extremism at George Washington University, said political Islam is a critical issue in today’s world as it is a battle on how society and the world should be governed.
According to Mr Awad, violent jihadi movements or groups do not occur in a vacuum, and yet, violence is “fundamentally a question of methodology, not necessarily ideology”.
As long as Muslim youth idolise medieval Islamic conquerors, believe in the virtue of a caliphate, the implementation of Sharia, and taught to reject the West’s political and economic advancements, extremist groups will continue to find a context to exist, he said.
In her concluding remarks, Ellen Laipson, distinguished fellow and president emeritus of Stimson, referred to violent Muslim extremists and how they represent less than one per cent of the population; yet cause an immediate threat to the region and the world.
She also emphasised that religion is based on respect, stating that religion is a source of morality and a source of social justice, and represents ideas of public policy without being doctrinal and imposing specific principles on all citizens.