Friday, August 20, 2010

Relation between religion and politics: Difference between Islam and Christianity

"[Jesus] envisages a transnational and transcultural community that is not identified with any one state, he anticipates the obligation to give to the Caesar that is in power whatever is his due.

[...] Certainly this utterance of the Lord Jesus has been one of the roots, though not the only one, of long-standing and constantly evolving tensions between the church and the state across the centuries. Moreover, this way of looking at things is one of the most important features that differentiates Christianity and Islam. Islam has no body of tradition that enables it to distinguish between church and state. [...] the state's role, finally, is to bow to the law of Allah."
(D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited [UK: Apollos, 2008]. p.57)
This observation on Islam by the Research Professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School coheres well with that of Dominique Colas, a Professor of Political Science at Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris:
"Whereas Christianity developed on the periphery of the Roman Empire and little by little conquered the center--this initial exteriority followed by a fusion with Caesar was continually repeated in the Christian West, where the distance between church and state came first, and the state would take its revenge on the Caesaro-papist arrangement by enabling the secular autonomy of civil society--the political construction of the state in the Middle East and North Africa followed a model of conquest involving the importation of a faith, a language--Arabic--and organization into caliphates. "This state," affirmed Bernard Lewis, "was defined by Islam, and full membership belonged, alone, to those professed the dominant faith." It is not then Islam itself but the conditions of its expansion that explain the absence of differentiation between civil society and the state."
(Dominique Colas, Civil Society and Fanaticism: Conjoined Histories [USA: Stanford University Press, 1997], p.97-98)
Carson locates Islam's heritage widely as "tradition". Colas locates it to Islam's history of "propagation" (p.97). This explains why Muslims generally are still advocating to place the authority of Syariah on the same par as civil law, and so creating problems to various multicultural societies. A case in point is of course Malaysia.

While Christianity has a more variegated and hence balanced approach to the relation between politics and religion, Islam is still struggling to articulate its own approach in the face of contemporary socio-political milieu due to its narrower heritage.

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