Aug 25 2016

Separating politics from religion

Published by at 10:41 am under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

Colourful posters of smiling candidates are not new among election-related paraphernalia. But a certain orange-colour poster caught people’s attention because of the slogans it contained.

One slogan read: “No to the exploitation of religion.”

Another affirmed support “for a civilian state”. A third showed two arrows going to opposite direction with the words “politics” and “religion”.

As religious extremism grows in the region, a strong movement that believes in the separation of politics from religion is starting to grow.

A popular Facebook group called “towards a civilian state in Jordan” has attracted over 2,000 members and includes some serious discussions and debates.

This attempt at secularisation is being replicated in many Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, despite the strong push back by religious groups and individuals who feel that talk of separating religion from politics is heresy and an imported ideology.

What is important is that election discussions have legitimised the topic.

When a respected group of Jordanians publicly declares its position on the issue, that means that this is no longer a foreign concept, no matter what the opponents say.

Naturally, the distance is long between publicly declaring the need to separate politics from religion and accomplishing that goal.

A study announced by Mohammad Husseini of the Nazaha coalition concluded that 55 per cent of the candidates running for the 18th Parliament in Jordan are centrists, 35 per cent leftists and 10 per cent nationalists.

The issue of separation of politics from religion also runs into a constitutional conflict.

While Article 6 of the Constitution says that all Jordanians are equal, irrespective of their religion, Article 2 states that Islam is the state religion.

There is no clarity as to what is the practical meaning of a state religion, but in arguments online and in discussions about a civilian state, opponents often refer to Article 2 that mentions Jordan’s state religion.

Reference to the state religion is often made at an end of an argument when the other side runs out of ideas.

For the coming months, debates and discussions, especially with the people on the list displaying the orange posters, will be important and historic.

If they are able to muster enough votes to get into Parliament, the next challenge will be how to create a coalition with like-minded MPs.

Civil society and intellectuals in Jordan are also being challenged to come up with ideas and writings that support this progressive stand. Such ideas must become natural issues of discussion in homes, schools and universities.

While calls for a civilian state are important, the key to the success of this issue is sustainability and longevity.

The issue will not be resolved in the month-long election campaign but in months and years of open discussions on radio, at universities and among serious individuals who can see long past some of the superficial arguments being presented by this or that opposing group.

For the time being, the introduction of concepts such as the separation of religion from state have been legitimised thanks to the forward thinking of a courageous group of Jordanians. 

The burden now is on those who support this thinking and this direction to do more than just give lip service. 

It is not enough to talk the talk, it is time to walk the walk, regardless of the obstacles and sacrifices on the path of this important effort.

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