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Religion and Politics

Religious conflict has played an important part in shaping mortal history, particularly in the last many decades with the proliferation of ethno-religious violence. This examines the development of the relationship between religion and politics and also analyzes how leaders manipulate religion to gain political power. Styles of co-optation include using religious tradition and symbolism,  impacting religious institutions, restructuring the government, and changing state policy towards religion and religious sets. 

In Pakistan’s politics, whenever religion is mentioned, it is nothing more than a tool for manipulating and exploiting the religious sentiments of the common masses to gain political support. It is not wrong to say that religion is continuously used as a tool for political gains in Pakistan.

A recent example is the model of making Pakistan Riyasat I Madina, popularized by the former prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. He used his religio-political narrative in his political campaigns in the 2018 elections and became PM. 

According to the World Value Survey report, there is 98 percent Muslim domination in Pakistan. Religion has a significant role in the life of 90 percent of people. And 37 percent of the population favors a governing system without political parties or elections. The system should be based on religious laws, and almost 27 percent of the population approve it. In a country where a large population is in favor,  it is a democratic right that there should be religious representation in politics. The misuse of religion should be condemned, and its right use should be appreciated.

So, is Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s use of religion in politics the same as that of Imran Khan’s or other political leaders? Why do certain segments often criticize the use of religion in politics? Can religion only be represented through the bully pulpits of religious leaders? 

The question is not whether religion should be used as a political tool but how religion should be used in politics to benefit society.

Imran Khan was happy because he took initiatives that materialized his religio-political narratives. His speech in the UN general assembly against Islamophobia and his efforts to make the UN designate March 15 as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia in the Muslim world. To provide empirical solutions for the prevalent social issues in Pakistan, established the Rahmatul-lil-Alameen Authority with renowned Muslim scholars. 

He mainstreamed madrassas and reprioritized Islamic education through the Single National Curriculum.   Eventually, Khan’s marquee Ehsaas program, which has been lauded internationally, is the materialization of an Islamic weal state vision. These enterprises are important because they portray a political leader who uses religion for lesser social good than for particular political earnings.   The unstudied review of religion in politics is also not without grave social counter-accusations. What happens when a strong social sentiment isn’t given space for expression? It finds expression through further revolutionist outlets. Just like the barred Baloch finds solace in militant Baloch outfits, the unrepresented ordinary Muslim retreats in religiously inspired revolutionist outfits or generally in the Tehreek-I-Labbaik Pakistan. The gradual rise of TLP shouldn’t come as a surprise when Islam has been constantly misused by political( and ‘non-political’) actors, only for it to be put away when their ends have been met.  

 In a speech on diversity to the UK House of Commons 2017, the British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed reflected on the similarity between actors and politicians: “We’re then to represent. And when we fail to represent, people switch off. They switch off the  TV, switch off the ballot box, and retreat to other borderline narratives,  occasionally veritably dangerous.” Where does the TLP get its support if not from the same ordinary Pakistani Muslim who has lost the stop-gap of representation in traditional political parties? Against this background, Imran Khan’s PTI represents both the temporal and religious millions and is more inclusive than the utmost political parties in Pakistan at the moment.   The use of religion in politics isn’t wrong but depends on the ends for which it’s used. When religious-political rhetoric is backed by conduct that drives positive social change, it restores trust among the religious crowd, makes them feel represented, and prevents them from promoting the borderline narratives. Rejection of religion from mainstream politics will only advance further legality to the archconservative narratives propagated by certain religiously inspired groups. Allowing faith its due place in Pakistan’s political converse is critical for a progressive, popular, and cohesive society.

Muhammad Danish
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Muhammad Danish, a student of Bs Political Science at School.of Politics and International Relations Quaid I Azam University.