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Religion and politics, the two interconnected aspects of an individual’s life, are the two key elements that mold the lives of the nations. The genealogy of religion can be traced back to the dawn of human existence on this planet. Religion arises from the consensus of the people and for thousands of years it enjoyed the loyalty of its followers who were ready to lay down their lives for the preservation and protection of their religion. The message of religion is unique in the sense that it cuts across transnational boundaries, races, ethnicities, nations and in many cases calls for equality.  Thus one can broadly claim that religion played an important role in uniting people although at certain times it was misused for arising conflicts. Religion derives its legitimacy from myths, super natural phenomena and Holy Scriptures which are believed to be the ultimate source of truth and a way to connect to the divine. Thus legitimacy of a religion is rarely challenged. Politics on the other hand arises from the cleavages, conflicts and disagreement that prevail between people. The underlying concepts and theories of Political science are largely based around issues that discuss the nature of differences that arise between people. Thus the objective of Politics was to act as a negotiating tool in conflicts. However, similar to religion it was corrupted for the purpose of gaining political power and authority. Politics derives its legitimacy from consensual legal code called the constitution and mass mandate. However, since the legal code and mass mandate are based on people’s opinion thus there is a great possibility of it being challenged by the opposition. Due to the presence of corruption in this world, humans have used unfair means to make their goals meet. Similarly, in order to achieve their targets (gaining wealth, fame, power etc) people have intermingled the two domains of human social life (religion and politics). The historical experience of contact between religion and politics can be categorized into two processes that are politics into religion and religion into politics, which are the two different sides of the same coin. Examples of politics into religion would be the emergence of extremist organizations such as TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), Sippa-e-Sahaba and the Islamist regime of President Zia-ul-Haq. Similarly examples of religion into politics would be Islamic revolution in Iran and Jummat-i-Islami. Although, the diverse origins of religion and politics, force secularists to claim that religion and politics being two separate subjects, cannot be used together for personal motives (gaining power, maintaining high status etc) but they still are considered as the two most important interconnected social factors which are used together for personal interests  because the philosopher’s thought, analysis of the history and the background of the current political situation of the world shows that people have politicized religion to derive legitimacy for their actions.

The concept of religion as viewed by philosophers has its roots embedded in politics which indicates that the politicization of religion is a common phenomenon. The renowned German philosopher Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-83) had the idea that every society has a group of power hungry people (rulers) who enforce harsh policies on the public in order to maintain their power and status. Now, in order to deviate the public from the miseries and distress (that the oppressors have enforced upon them by imposing cruel laws), the oppressors use religion as a tool to give illusionary happiness to the people. As Karl Marx said “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the masses”. So, according to Marx religion being “the opium of the masses” helps the oppressors (rulers) in suppressing the people by providing excuses and reasons for their cruel laws which keeps the society functioning. Moreover, Marx argues that religion is hypocritical, though it teaches highly pure principles (in the righteous name of God), it sides with the oppressors. As Jesus was the advocate for the poor, but the Christian churches merged with Roman oppressors, enforcing miseries on the people.
Similarly, the analysis of history reveals that religion has been politicized to a large extent by power hungry leaders to gain power and maintain their high status. Such as, in the ancient medieval times, the Catholic Church played a far greater role to gain power and remain on the top than the church does today. First, it embedded the firm religious belief in the hearts of the people. The church was successful to such a large extent in accomplishing this objective that the people at that time had even the belief that they will not be allowed to enter Heaven, if the head of the church, Pope does not recommend them. As a consequence, the people obeyed each single rule and regulation of the church. Once, the church took control of the people’s firm belief, it started to take advantage of it by enforcing such laws and regulation which made the church the supreme power at that time. As a result, the church imposed different types of taxes on the public which they paid within due time. For example, it was mandatory for every person at that time to pay ten percent of his/her income to the church; this tax was known as Tithes. If a person does not earn money he/she was supposed to pay the tax by giving specific amount of goods or services to the church such as poor peasants who were not able to pay the tax in terms of money had to work for free on the church territories. Moreover, people at that time were also supposed to pay for baptism (ceremony by which one is purified). The church first used to declare people guilty for their acts and then used to indirectly force them to purify themselves that those who do not baptize themselves with not be allowed to enter Heaven. As a result, the church generated a lot of revenue from the people. In addition, the church itself was exempted from taxes which saved a large amount of its revenue and made it wealthier. Furthermore, the church at that time was even superior to the Kings because of the procession of the power of excommunication. For example, in the early thirteen century, King John of England and the church had a conflict over the election of the new Archbishop. The head of the church at that time was Pope Innocent III who wanted Stephen Langton to be the new Archbishop (the Bishop of Norwich). On the other hand, King John appointed John de Grey for that position by denying Pope’s decision. As a consequence, the church excommunicated him which caused a revolt against him by his own people, leading him to a traumatic situation. So, in the end, King John surrendered to the church and accepted their decision by giving the post of the new Archbishop to Stephen Langton instead of John de Grey. This shows that the church had supreme power at that time even the Kings had to obey its orders. Whichever way one looks the Pope, who is the head of the church used religion as a tool for gaining power and suppressing the poor.
Moreover, political leaders have repeatedly involved religion into politics in different manners and at different intervals in time to achieve their respective political interests. For example, the political leaders of the Muslims of the subcontinent used religious ideology for the creation of a separate state for the Muslims. In 1857, when the British gained control over the subcontinent, by suppressing the revolt against them which was mainly lead by Muslims of the subcontinent. After becoming the rulers of the subcontinent, the British preferred Hindus to Muslims in every field of life. As, Hindus and Muslims were always in conflict which each other, the British preference of Hindus gave Hindus the opportunity to load the lives of the Muslims of the subcontinent with pains and misers. However, in early twentieth century, when British were thinking of leaving the subcontinent to the Hindus and Muslims, the Muslims leaders started to struggle for the creation of a separate state for the Muslims of the sub continent. Whereas, the Hindus opposed the separation of the subcontinent because they wanted to rule the Muslims once, the British leave the subcontinent. So, in order to demand a separate state for the Muslims of the subcontinent the Muslim leader’s used religious ideology by introducing the “Two Nation Theory” which laid the basis of the separation of the United-India into India and Pakistan. Two Nation theory states that Hindus and Muslims are two different Nations, both have different religions, cultures and traditions which are in conflict which each other so, as a consequence they cannot live together in the same country. It is mandatory for both (Muslims and Hindus) to live in separate states if they want to preserve their religious ideology, culture and traditions. The Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah statement on the Two Nation Theory was “India is a continent of human beings belonging to different languages and professing different religions … I, therefore, demand the formation of consolidated Muslim state in the best interests of the Muslims of India and Islam.”. Similarly, Allama Muhammad Iqbal also commented on the Two Nation Theory in the same manner “I am convinced now that Hindus and Muslims could never become one nation as their religion and way of life was quite distinct from each other.". This shows that the political leaders of the Muslims used religion as a tool, in order to achieve their aim that was the creation of a separate state for the Muslims of the subcontinent.
Similarly, the study of the Iranian revolution reveals that the religious scholars of Iran brought the Iranian people on a religious platform and then revolted against the oppressor (Shah) which caused the government to overturn. In between 1953 and 1963, the people of Iran were in the abyss of misers. Due to the inefficiency of the government, poverty was a major factor and the gap between the rich and poor was increasing day by day. The Shah (king), Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, was one of the great landlords of Iran. Some Shia religious scholars also owned large lands. But the Pahlavi dynasty increased secularism by making an alliance with the United States which undermined the influence of the Shia scholars. Ayatollah Khomeini, a very famous Shia religious leader of a popular religious party gathered the Iranian people on a single platform against the modernism of the Shah (King). As a consequence, of the religious influence, the middle class and lower class of the country strictly opposed the shift of the government to modernity and secularism. However, the Shah (King) continued to modernize the country with the help of the United States. He became lenient in the subjects such as gambling, alcohol, foreign dresses etc which caused these matters in his era to increase significantly. As, people were against modernization they rebelled against the Shah (King). At first, Shah (King) tried to suppress the revolt by using his military power but when he realized the huge magnitude of the revolt, he surrendered to the religious cum political leaders.  Finally, in 1973, Ayatollah Khomeini took over his position by stepping into power. Similarly, due to the same reason, Islamic religious parties were banned in Bangladesh by the government in 1973. Bangladeshi government aimed to modernize the country which was supposed to increase the economic growth of the country. Therefore, the government banned the religious parties in order to have a smooth path towards modernization. The law minister of Bangladesh, Shafique Ahmad favored the banning of the Islamic religious parties by saying “Islamic parties cannot use religion in politics anymore,” and that "Carrying out activities of any political party based on religion is now a punishable offence under the special powers act,”. This shows that the government feared that the religious parties will use religion for fulfilling their demands. Hence, it is evident that common observation will regard religion and politics as two different phenomenons but the closer one looks at it, one will reach the conclusion that religion and politics are merged in each other and people have brought religion into politics continuously throughout the history, for attaining their objectives.
On the contrary, secularists claim that religion and politics belong to distant domains and cannot be fused together but still one cannot refuse the greater possibility of a clash existing between them. The secularists support their claim by arguing that religion and politics have two different origins and the analysis of the pages of history show that nations have elected leaders for their states who belonged to the minority group (of different religion). Now, if people used to involve religion into politics, then the opposition were supposed to use the same technique to force the leader (who belonged to different religious group) to step down and employ their own person for that post. As, no such response is seen in history from the opposition, it indicates that religion is not involved in politics. Such as, Dr. Avul Pakir Janinulabdeen Abdul Kalam, a Muslim who was born on 15th October 1931 at Rameswaran in Tamil Nadu (India), became the eleventh President of India on 25th July 2002 (India’s ruling National Democratic Alliance, NDA, appointed him for Presidential post). A Muslim became the president of the large Indian Nation and the opposition party showed no such response against him. The absence of response from the opposition party proves the claim that religion is not involved in politics because if people used religion for their political and personal motives then this was a golden opportunity for the opposition party to use religion as a tool for persuading the public to revolt against him and overthrow him from his post. This shows that religion has not been politicized.
However, the absence of the opposition party’s response creates confusion (if religion is politicized that why did not they use it?) but the dilemma can be solved with the help of some factual details.  Abdul Kalam had his specialization in Aeronautical Engineering from the Madaris Institute of technology; he made significant contributions to India in terms of technology, education, economy and other fields of life. He was a very highly intellectual and spiritual person. He had not only roots embedded in Islam but also had deep personal connections with Hinduism. His large contributions to India and his strong personal affiliation with the Hinduism were the main reasons, why the opposition (which also involved religious parties) was not able to respond against him. Moreover, the analyses of the Indian Constitution propose that the President has a more of ceremonial position having artificial powers while the real powers lie with the Prime Minister. This is also a reason why the opposition parties accepted him as their President. Furthermore, although he faced no opposition (from the opposition parties), the repeated use of the terms such as “200% Indian” and “Indianness” for him on his official website, suggests that there was some anxiety among the Indians by having a Muslim, as their leader. This demonstrates the fact that the opposition was not in a suitable position to react against him by using religion as their tool.
Religion which originated for the spiritual satisfaction and unity of the human beings is now being used by individuals (rulers) for the mental satisfaction of the class of people who are the affectees of their actions. Politics on the other hand, was initially designed to solve conflicts between different groups of people by reaching an impartial decision. Although, religion and politics have completely different origins however, due to their common feature of functioning (unity of the people), some individuals (rulers) got the opportunity to combine the two together and use them for their personal motives. History shows that whenever a group of people have got an opportunity to involve religion into politics for fulfilling their motive, they have utilized it. Such as, in 2002 the famous alliance of religious parties of Pakistan, more commonly known as MuttahidaMajlis-e-Amal (MMA), brought religion into politics for the sake of winning the provincial elections. They chose their emblem a book, telling the people that the book is the Holy Quran and that a vote for MMA is a vote for Islam. So, by bringing religion into politics MMA emerged as a powerful political force in the provincial elections of 2002, which the fact that religion is instrumentalized. In short, religion and politics are two important domains of an individual’s social life and their (religion and politics) amalgamation, religion into politics, have been often used to quench the thirst for power.
Author: Imran Tahir  (Bsc Student)

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