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Unformatted text preview: Islamic political thought or, more precisely, Muslim attitudes toward politics and the state produced a paradox that can be expressed as follows: 1 . Islam emphasizes the religious importance of man’s deeds in this world. Islam decidedly does not turn its back on mundane matters. Islam, moreover, grew up in early political success. Thereafter, the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims usually lived free of political threat from non-Muslims—until modern times. Muslims cling to the ideal of the early umma , which, unlike the early Christian Church, was a this-worldly religio-political com- munity par excellence. 2 . Yet, this very Islam with such characteristics created a political cul- ture that nurtured a pessimistic attitude toward politics and, out of this political pessimism, a submissive attitude toward government. While never developing anything like the Christian separation of church and state, Islamic culture did foster a de facto separation of state and society. This separation of state and society was never explicitly recognized as legitimate. The idealized early umma as led by the Prophet and thereafter the four rightly guided caliphs (and the equivalent imamate of Shi‘ism) was the only legitimate model of Islamic government. If the early umma can hardly be overemphasized as the exemplar to be singled out in all later Muslim political thinking, it would be equally diffi- cult to exaggerate the extent to which actual Muslim history involved a 6. The Roots of Political Pessimism depoliticized society of Muslims who accepted government as a necessary evil but chose to have little to do with it. This important development in the historical experience of Muslim peo- ples can be highlighted by contrasting the resulting traditional Muslim attitude toward politics with that of modern America. A venerable American response upon hearing about something deemed unjust or absurd or simply not to one’s liking is, “There ought’a be a law.” This sim- ple statement contains an implicit political theory. It bespeaks an optimistic attitude toward politics, an affirmation that things can be corrected by group political activity. The response of the typical Muslim from the time the tight-knit early Muslim community became an intercontinental empire right down to the present day would not likely be “There ought’a be a law.” Much more in keeping with the political culture would be, “God forbid that the ruler learn of this.” The typical Muslim reaction to worldly shortcomings has been to suffer in silence rather than bring the matter to the attention of political authority, for fear that an activist government would only increase the sum total of human misery, largely in the form of exorbitant taxation....
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- Spring '08
- Islam, political pessimism