Islam is a religion; now let’s move on

“…it’s not a religion as commonly defined by most civilizations. It is more a political organism, as was communism.” – Robert Binish

I don’t recall when I first started reading such sentiment, but now it seems to have exploded onto Conservative blogsophere. I doubt Mr. Binish has delved too deeply into the vast ocean that is Islam; I’m more inclined to believe he has taken his cue from Right Wing opinion leaders, who in turn appear to have taken their cues from the works of early Orientalists, composed during a time when Western powers were brutally colonizing Muslim lands.

But it begs the question, “Is Islam, in fact, pre-occupied with political ideology?”

First, it has long been established Islam is a religion, a religion that has a sacred law as does Judaism. Nobody questions the status of Judaism as a religion, but Islam seems to presently be exempt from such sanctity. Granted, unlike Judaism, Islam rapidly spread across the globe and established a vast empire in the wake of crumbling Rome. However, it is absurd to reclassify Islam as a political ideology.

Such attempts seem more geared toward attempts to deny American Muslim communities their First Amendment rights to build houses of worship, such as what is happening in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The accusations posed in court prompted the US Department of Justice to weigh in on the matter and assert Islam IS a recognized religion. Yet despite the obvious, individuals such as Mr. Binish continue to claim it isn’t.

It might help to examine the nature and place of Islam’s sacred “Law”, also known as shari`ah, within the religious context. The Orientalist Schacht described shari`ah as the core and kernel of Islam. Yet when we turn to the Qur’an, we do not find the word shari`ah used in the context of a legal code whatsoever. The literal meaning of the word is a “path to water”. An early reference to it in the Qur’an is when Allah says, “Thus We put you on the right way (shari`atan) of religion.” (45: 18) This Meccan verse was revealed during a time when the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was more occupied with calling people away from idolatry to monotheism. The meaning is clearly a path to correct religion.

In fact, the word shari`ah as a legal code doesn’t even seem to have been used by the Rightly-Guided Caliphs that succeeded the Prophet. It seems clear shari`ah came to be associated to a legal code much later as a body of codified jurisprudence came to be developed. There is no strong footing to consider it a legal code as the defining element of an Islamic society or in the early sources of Qur’an and prophetic hadiths.

We must certainly conclude Islam is a faith first and foremost, and its legal code is something peripheral to it. This does not deny the fact many Muslims today have fallen into rigid literalness and legalism. But there can be no denying Islam is a religion, not a political ideology.

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