Men pray at at the Imam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab Mosque in Doha, Qatar. Omar Chatriwala photo via Flickr

A Reformation Won’t Remove Politics From Islam

Podcast — democratic Islamic countries all pay some respect to Sharia law


The separation of church and state is a fundamental value of the modern Western world, but that doesn’t mean the East will ever separate religion and politics.

The roots of the West’s secularism date back to the birth of the Christianity in Europe. The Roman state fast asserted its opposition to Christian teachings and the church structure soon became a parallel to the state.

As the Roman civil government faded away, churches took over more and more of the key roles in civil society while emperors — allied with popes and patriarchs — weighed in on religious disputes. But even during the medieval era, ecclesiastical law and civil law were never quite one.

At the same time, Islam spread through the Arab world and advanced itself as a solution to political and religious problems. Mohammed was a prophet but he was also a statesman. In the Islamic world, the two are not so easily separated … and they may never be.

This week on War College, we talk to Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution and author of the new book Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World.

Hamid describes a different modern path for Islam. He says the state and Sharia aren’t easily divisible in the Islamic world and that attempts to do so sound nonsensical to many Muslims.

He also walks us through why the West is afraid of Sharia law and why some of the most peaceful countries in the Islamic world mix religion and politics.

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