Political Religion

by Maulana Aftab-ud-Din Ahmad

The Light (UK), June 2007 Issue (p. 4)

Editor’s Note: The article below appeared in The Islamic Review, April 1954, as the leading article on page 2. It is quite astounding how it gave such early warning of the rise of the politically-ambitious Islamic religious leaders and the great dangers their move­ments would pose to the Muslim world, if unchecked. Those dangers have been realised in the past quarter of a century.

Of all kinds of exploitation known to history, that of religion is the most pathetic. In fact, religion may be regarded as a standing martyr. No other name or cause has been so ruthlessly exploi­ted, misused and outraged as religion. Men with rank unbelief in their hearts are so frequently found to pass for religious men, and even religious leaders. It is this unfortunate aspect of human history that acts as a fruitful source of cynicism, scepticism, and even unbelief, in the teeming millions of common men and women.

From the earliest times our outspoken thinkers and philosophers have been crying themselves hoarse over this outrage on religion. And yet the growth of false leaders of religion is as unchecked today as at any time in our history. The highly developed critical faculty of modern man finds itself unable to swallow this camel of monstrosity in religious affairs. This is the reason why there is a general spirit of revolt against traditional religion in our youth. We, however, must not misjudge this revolt. It is very different from the revolt of youth in other forms of religion. Our youths, even when they despise official religion, have yet a lingering love for the message of the Quran and the personality of its prophet [Muhammad (pbuh)]. They are, no doubt, somewhat disturbed and shaken in their faith about the bona fides of religious tradition. But even in the midst of their doubts they are greatly reassured in their faith by the majestic message of Divine Unity and of human fellowship in the Quran and the irresistible human appeal of the Prophet’s personality. This is a foundation on which a magnificent edifice of faith and religious life can assuredly be built, but the work of building it is a task by itself and cannot be performed by any magic or the mere talk of it. It needs a firm resolve, wholehearted devotion, and a perseverance of the highest type. It needs pledged leadership and an enormous amount of sacrifice. As it is, exploitation of religious sentiments in Islam on the one hand and a wide-spread scepticism as a result on the other, has become a regular feature of our national life in these days.

The worst and the latest form of religious exploitation in our day, however, is that done by men with political ambitions. Political-minded people masquerading as religious reformers have taken the field to compete with avowed politicians. This kind of religious leadership is most dangerous in its immediate role as well as its ultimate results. It places the genuine politicians at a great handicap, inasmuch as these lack the halo of sanctity around them which is the privilege of the pseudo-politicians that pass for religious leaders, but who nevertheless hide their political ambitions behind their apparent religious appeals.

The real designs of these false leaders of reli­gion manifest themselves undeniably in their actual lives, which, as is to be expected, do not show much of the spirit of religion in their human relationship. Their conduct in private or public is invariably riddled with unscrupulousness and opportunism. And as the lives of these people are more exposed to public gaze than those of pure theologians and leaders of religion, their conduct is more damaging to the religious faith of the rising generation, whose idealistic fervour gets shocked when they find such an unmitigated divergence between the professed principles and their observance in practice.

These pseudo-politicians are therefore to be regarded as constituting the most dangerous of all reactionary forces that progressive Islam has to face in this age. They are subtle in their working and most destructive in their resultant mischief. They not only rob people in general of their correct vision of things but also our rising generation of their faith in the role and destiny of Islam in the world. As such it should be the duty of Muslim statesmen and the intelligentsia of Muslim nations to take proper note of this new form of religious exploitation, not only in the interests of the material welfare of the nation but also to safeguard its spiritual and cultural interests.