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A message to the Islamic world
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 06 - 2013

The Islamic world is the subject of research and study in much western academia, and the strained relations between religion and politics is still a major issue that can lead to a rise in underdevelopment indicators and the blinking of various progress signals depending on the nature of the different mechanisms being either positive or negative.
Sharia, or Islamic law, has and will continue to have major sacred status in the Islamic world. However, there has been confusion, duplicity and sharp disagreement about how best to deal with its implementation in such a way as to ensure congruity between its civil and sublime moral values and the impact of these on re-establishing progress.
The living reality in many Islamic countries might be thought to indicate a stark incoherence between the ideals of religious law and that reality, making the latter into a subject for condemnation over the supposed lack of performance of the Islamic mind to develop methods that will guarantee the flow and penetration of the Sharia's goals in individuals and in society as a whole. This concern, perhaps rooted in the past and extending to the present, has been seen as being part of the Arab and Islamic character and circumstances.
All this has caused the West to call into question the validity of the Sharia when it does not have another example or a direct embodiment to show the living reality of this legal system. The issue, which is the core of the matter and which has been missing for a long time, is the necessity of congruence and symmetry in the human mind and spirit, both outwardly and inwardly. Faith has its obligations, as faith is something that requires individuals to be models of it.
This issue was dealt with in theoretical and empirical terms in the recent US Pew Report on Religion and Public Life. This report surveyed approximately 39 countries including Egypt, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Nigeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia and others. It included about 38,000 people, who were asked their views regarding politics, religion and society, and it found that most Muslims around the world support the implementation of Islamic law as the official law in their countries.
However, these same Muslims are living with the risk of division, partisanship and disagreement when it comes to how they want to see it applied, and this has been manifested in the nature of the relationship between politics and Islam within many different countries.
Religious laws always have an absolute level of stability, while politics is necessarily changing and does so according to different interests and desires. To dress these laws in the costumes of politics only serves to deface them and to give them a conflictual character that is incompatible with the sublime values they call for. Furthermore, to do this is a decisive factor in employing religious laws in a narrow way that serves the worldly desires of individuals.
Religious laws for long periods embraced various sects, schools, insights and perspectives, and this did not lead to their fragmentation due to their innate stability and coherence in minds and souls. The religious law kept its celestial character and prestige. Such differences when they did exist provided cognitive and intellectual wealth, assuming that they avoided flights of fancy and did not deviate from the religious law's core messages. However, when these differences were exploited and reached an extreme level, with everyone speaking on the behalf of the religious law according to his or her own consciousness and cultural and intellectual background, the modalities of implementing the Sharia multiplied to such an extent that there has been deviation from its ultimate purposes to varying degrees.
The Arab and Muslim world cherishes the Islamic faith, seeing it as a source of pride, but it does so theoretically, methodologically and ideologically, and not on the level of action. As a result, when we investigate the models of value, disciplined behavioural patterns and solid relationships that actually take place we find but pale shadows of the Sharia.
The Pew Report pointed to its finding that Muslims are the most concerned group in the international community about the dangers of extremism from the so-called Islamists, worrying about the prevalence of various forms of religious violence. It needs to be seen as a warning to the Islamic world about the need to narrow the gap between the Islamic Sharia as it really is and the way it is sometimes understood in the contemporary world. And it needs to help Muslims replace it with a more coherent and more representative version of the Sharia, which carries within it the solution to the contemporary crises suffered by western countries.
The Sharia may be the answer to the civilisational ills that man-made laws have brought us, freeing man from the historic impasse represented on the one hand by the emergence of a worldwide civilisation and on the other by the social, political, and cultural ills that threaten it.
The Pew Report may also contain an analysis of the status of faith in modern Egypt. The Egyptians have been eager to implement Islamic law in affirmation of the necessity of truth, freedom and equality, as well as of other missing values. Such implementation would constitute the recovery and revival of the Islamic spirit of a nation that is known to have an overwhelming attachment to religion. But this implementation will not come about except in the presence of knowledgeable religious references, political competence and cultural and intellectual stewardship.
The writer is a political commentator.

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