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Compared with support for democracy and religious freedom, sharper regional differences emerge over the question of the role of religious leaders in politics. The prevailing view among Muslims in Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region is that religious leaders should have at least some influence in political matters.

By contrast, this is the minority view in most of the countries surveyed in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe. With the notable exception of Afghanistan, fewer than half of Muslims in any country surveyed say religious leaders should have a large influence in politics. Support for religious leaders having a say in political matters is particularly high in Southeast Asia.

In the Middle East-North Africa region, a majority of Muslims in most countries surveyed say religious leaders should play a role in politics. Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia tend to be less supportive of a role for religious leaders in political matters. In the other countries surveyed in these two regions, fewer than four-in-ten Muslims believe religious leaders should have a role in politics.

The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society

In some countries, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less often to say religious leaders should influence political matters. In most countries where the question was asked at least half of Muslims rate Islamic parties as better than, or about the same, as other political parties. Elsewhere, at least one-in-five rate Islamic and other political parties the same. Relatively few Muslims consider Islamic parties to be worse than other political parties. In many countries, favorable assessments of Islamic political parties track with support for religious leaders having an influence on politics.

In 15 of the other countries surveyed, similar double-digit gaps emerge over the question of Islamic parties, with those who support a role for religious leaders in politics consistently more favorable toward Islamic political parties. Views on the role of religion in politics may not be the only factor affecting attitudes toward Islamic parties. Local political circumstances may also influence opinions on this question. Both Tunisia and Egypt, for example, experienced major political upheavals in , with Islamic parties emerging as the dominant political blocs.

At least half of Muslims in 22 of the 36 countries where the question was asked say they are at least somewhat concerned about religious extremist groups in their country. In most countries, Muslims are much more worried about Islamic extremists than Christian extremists. Substantial proportions in some countries, including countries surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa, express concern about both Muslim and Christian extremist groups.

In nearly every country surveyed in these regions, at least half of Muslims say they are very concerned or somewhat concerned about extremist groups. In the Middle East-North Africa region, on balance, Muslims are more concerned about Islamic than Christian extremist groups, but more than one-in-five in most countries surveyed in the region are worried about both Islamic and Christian groups.

At least half in nine of the 16 countries surveyed in sub-Saharan Africa also say they are concerned about religious extremism.

Islam and Politics in the New Egypt - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

And in most countries, Islamic extremism rather than Christian extremism is the principal worry. In most of the countries surveyed in the region, worries about Islamic extremists are more common than are concerns about Christian extremists, although one-in-five in Kyrgyzstan are concerned about extremists of both faiths. In most of the 21 countries where the question was asked few Muslims endorse suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets as a means of defending Islam against its enemies.

But in a few countries, substantial minorities believe suicide bombing can be often justified or sometimes justified. Muslims in some countries surveyed in South Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region are more likely than Muslims elsewhere to consider suicide bombing justified. Elsewhere in these two regions, even fewer say this tactic can be justified. Parliamentary elections were held in November through January , and the Islamist Freedom and Justice Party was declared the winner of a plurality of seats in January The survey in Tunisia was conducted Nov.

The Islamist party Ennahda won a plurality of seats in the Constituent Assembly elections in October , and the Constituent Assembly met for the first time in November So the comparison is conceptually flawed. It might be better to compare it with Indonesia and Turkey and Morocco, countries that have lay movements rather than movements led by clerics. How different is Egypt-based Islam compared to other countries in the region? What defines Islam in Egyptian daily life? There are different groups in Egyptian society that have different interpretations of Islam.

You have Sufi groups who see it more as an emblematic set of practices. You have the Muslim Brotherhood who sees Islam more as a social and political system.

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And you have Salafi movements who see it as a very strict set of practices that Egyptians must follow closely. You have secular Egyptians. Some of them are religious and see Islam as a form of private practice and faith. And some who are not religious at all.

Islam and Politics in the New Egypt

They are secular both in their private lives and in their political orientation. Political Movements.


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People talk about Islam as though it was one thing to everyone. The difference here is that you have some movements that represent a significant group of people who also want the political system to be more heavily informed by Islam. Already the Egyptian political system is not fully secular, where family law is based on the sharia and many of our laws are already [derived] from the sharia. The Egyptian constitution already states that sharia [underpins] the force of legislation. What the Brotherhood typically says when they talk about their agenda is that they want to actualize or operationalize Article 2 of the constitution , which says that the sharia is the principle source of legislation.


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  6. There have been some polls in the last couple of years looking at different countries and how they feel about democracy, secularism, and sharia. And there is significant support for sharia law. Are there countries that Egyptians point to where sharia has created a less corrupt, more just system? There are Muslim countries that continue to follow their tradition as Muslims in their political system that have prospered, like Malaysia and Indonesia. It reflects the majority of the population who are both Muslim and modern. In Egypt, sharia is already an integral part of our legal system and it is already an integral part of our constitution.

    There are many Muslim countries that have prospered by modernizing while maintaining their identity as Muslim countries. The only area where there might be stricter application would be alcohol sales and consumption. But otherwise, the Islamists are not against women participating in public life. For 99 percent of Egyptians, nothing would change.

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    So they might be affected in their lifestyle. Right before the protests, there was unrest regarding Coptic Christians. If Egypt were to establish a more democratic political system, a more viable economic system, a more just social system, all Egyptians would be better off. If this was a better educated country, if it was a more democratic country, there would be less tension between Egyptians of all kinds.

    What most Egyptians are concerned about right now is not whether we build a secular or a religious state, but how to create a democratic state, a sound economy, a just order. Most Egyptians are happy with the current formula, that is, we have the sharia, we have the civil code, and there is kind of a balance between these two.

    If not, then there will continue to be tension. Because these have to do with the existing political system and the existing economic system that creates a lot of grievances and discontent and social tension among communities of different kinds. The previous regime reinforced these divisions in order to stay in power. Everyone is focused on the Muslim Brotherhood, but outside of the Brotherhood, who do you expect the major political players in Egypt to be?

    In Egypt, [there are] the Islamist bloc, the liberal bloc, and the leftist bloc. So far, only the Brotherhood is organized as one single organization that has previous experience with winning elections and representation in Parliament and so forth. The left [which is more for labor rights, economic redistribution and welfare, and social justice], given the recent wave of labor activism, has a real chance of coming back to life as a viable political bloc.

    Already many leftists are working on creating a new political party. Of course this will take time before it builds up.