CH-04 - 4 The Historical Bases of Traditional Muslim and...

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Most Muslims and most Christians have for centuries lived as majority communities ruled by governments that are at least nominally of the same faith. Even the religio-political struggles within Christendom and Islamdom have usually been intrafaith, such as Protestant versus Catholic or Sunni versus Shi‘i. Not so for the Jews. Throughout most of their history Jews have lived as tiny vulnerable minorities. Under such circumstances there was little prac- tical need for a specifically Jewish political theory. Questions concerning the extent to which government, or the political community, should be guided by Jewish religious teachings simply had little relevance to the worldly sit- uation of Jews. Indeed, only with Zionism and the creation of Israel did the need arise for defining the interaction of religious and political life in a state with a Jewish majority. What, however, should the believer render unto Caesar when the partic- ular caesar in question is of the same religious faith? Even more, what if this caesar presumes to be the defender of the faith, to seek religious legitima- tion for his rule? Such has been the lot of most Christians and most Muslims throughout the centuries, and it follows that Christian and Muslim thinkers have been obliged to address the questions of religion and the state in a way that Jewish thinkers have not. From the historical perspective Jesus’s instruction to “render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22 : 21 ) represented the political wisdom of a tiny minori- ty seeking protection against government and the larger society by pru- 4. The Historical Bases of Traditional Muslim and Christian Political Theory
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dently refusing to get involved in politics. Jesus’s reply to the question of whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar was not an answer but a pru- dent evasion. Any clear answer would have harmed Jesus’s mission. If he had replied yes, he would lose favor with the many antigovernment and antiestablish- ment forces. If he had advised against paying taxes, he would likely have faced harsh governmental action. The evasive answer Jesus gave was rele- vant to the political situation he and his small band of followers confronted, just as this kind of political withdrawal remained relevant for most of sub- sequent Jewish history. 1 The maxim “render to Caesar” does not, in short, really answer the ques- tion that later majority Christian communities faced, and it represents only an early phase of the Christian community’s development in this world. It is also clear why no equivalent of “render to Caesar” figures in the Qur’an or in the hadith literature. Islam grew up in political success. The question of accommodating to non-Muslim worldly authority did not arise.
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