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The Relationship between Religion and Politics

A group of girls dance to celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed in Citadeel, Amman, Jordan.  (hazy_jenius/flickr)

A group of girls dance to celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed in Citadeel, Amman, Jordan. (hazy_jenius/flickr)

The Relationship between Religion and Politics

Muslims and the Post-September 11 World
What has happened since Sept 11th, this crisis of authority has been building for 100 years has become salient. Now people throughout the Muslim world are trying to persuade others what Islam should be, but no one can go back to 200 years ago and defer to the tradition of the ulama,' read that tradition and know what the right answer is--that has been taken apart over last 150 years. Where Islam will go from here no one knows, but you can't go back to put together what is no longer there.

However, the worst thing to do in the Western world would be to first portray this process of fragmentation as something utterly alien from Western experience. We have had periods of fragmentation in religious communities in the past as well, and those communities have survived.

Second, to portray Islam as the cause of the problem, as opposed to being something that is embedded in a system, and the system itself has collapsed or been destroyed-largely at the hands of the state, not at the hands of the Muslims. That puts an enormous burden on those people who try to speak for Islam, to solve the problem. In other words, to collect a bunch of statements by Muslim authorities and to file through them, categorizing them according to what is good and bad, without looking at the role of the state system, which has produced a series of really vile tyrannies, and see that these two things are related to one another, and that the solution has to be part of that relationship. It can't simply be a solution in which the Muslims change their ways in ways that Americans like, and in the same process, let the tyrants rule us forever. So it is a very difficult situation that will require patience, and it will also require loving sympathy for a community that is going through that time. We are not going to solve it by in effect saying that dictators are good and Muslims are bad.

Authors: Richard Bulliet and Susan Douglass.