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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

God in Politics

My speech at the God in politics event held at NSW Parliament House in March 06. Other speakers included Mr. David Clarke MLC and Dr. Peter Slezak.
The program was organised by The Round Table Forum.

God in politics
Round Table Forum
Parliament House
Macquarie St.

Who is God and what are politics?

God with a “G” from a monotheistic perspective is the Creator, the Sustainor, the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, the Most Merciful, Most Sublime, Most Holy, The Forgiving, the Gracious, Compassionate, the Loving, Closer to us than the jugular, separated from us without separation, neither male nor female, God is God, the author of this universe or multi-verse and everything within. We do not attribute a particular shape or appearance to God because human imagination has limitations that do not apply to God. God is the author of order and the laws of science, the Creator of the cycles and the Gracious One Who saw fit to give His creatures advice as to the best course to take in life.

God separated living beings into those with and those without free will, both have innate programming for an ordered and structured life, however, those with a free will can be tempted to overlook their programming and become lost between the end and the means, something that I can explain during question time if you wish. The human being came with innate programming, and because of the free will, the human being was graced with Divine guidance articulated through chosen prophets and messengers of God. This Guidance was regularly updated to cater for every complication that we brought unto ourselves, until we were left with a final set of instructions for a good, pleasant, peaceful, intellectually and spiritually enriching life journey. God sent more than 124,000 guides to this world, some with books such as the scrolls of Abraham, the Taura, the Gospel of Christ and the final revelations known as the Qur`an. After the final guide, Muhammad peace and blessings upon him, God had undertaken to inspire good people to revive the religious tradition through their good example so that humanity does not go astray.

Politics is about managing society, society is a combination of people of different skills and talents, different levels of understanding, aptitude and acumen, different strengths, different expectations, different gender, different state of physical and mental well-being, different trait balances and different outlooks and beliefs. Politics is the art of serving these and creating the required level of harmony to allow them to work together for the well being and progress of the society in which they live.

Whilst politics looks at the interests of its immediate society, God encourages us to take the issue a step further and look out for the interests of the human family across the board.

Religion does not live without politics, as humanity grew in number, God gave it political acumen and statesmanship. In like manner, politics will not be able to govern any society for any prolonged period of time without religion, in this sense, without God.

To have God in politics is not only about legislating under a strong system of ethics, it also means that the legislators would have to apply these ethics in their lives, they will be permitted indiscretions and human failings and accorded the right to private contrition where these failings were manifest in private. To have God in politics means that we as a populace would not only expect, but rather, demand honesty and integrity in our politicians. The first Muslim Caliph (ruler) Abu Bakr used to say: If you find me right, then obey me, if you find me wrong, then correct me.

Umar the second Caliph used to say: Maintain your obedience to me as your ruler as long as I am doing the right thing, if I do not, then set me straight.

Umar the second, who is regarded as the fifth rightly guided Caliph used to say to his advisor: If you ever find me straying from the ethical code of Islam, grab me by my shoulders and shake me and remind me of my error and tell me to fear God.

God in politics brings God into daily life, this instills in the citizenry a sense of God’s presence in their lives.

When speaking about God in politics, we have to be clear about a number of points.

1 – God is not just represented by the traditional concept of God, neither in Christianity nor Islam, but rather, in the metaphysical or spiritual being to Whom people from time to time meditate or resort or from whom they feel inspired. That is, a belief in any form of non-sensate inspiration is to believe that a god (with a small “g”) has stepped into your life. You may see Him in the fortune teller, astrologer, your dead ancestor, your priest, karma, a psychic or a supernatural being, if these influence your thoughts or decisions, then you have made them your “god”. This means that any appeal to an unseen source for support is an appeal to your own god, this is contrasted with the Islamic testimony that there is no true god except God.

2 – God in politics is not a theocracy, neither a Christian nor an Islamic state, but a state where the politician acknowledges that God can inspire or colour or shape his or her views. It is not about a government that proselytizes by deception.

3 – From a Muslim perspective, when I refer to God in politics, I am not referring to those politicians who when cornered, say: I am on a mission from God, yet their lives are anything but devout. For example, when president Bush said that God told him to invade Iraq, this is not God in politics, this is a convenient excuse to blame his decision on God because all other reasons that were presented for the invasion or occupation could not be sustained.

4 – Talking about God in politics is also distinct from tragic massacres such as the crusades, even though they were sanctioned by the pope, who for Catholics is infallible on dogma, such actions have nothing to do with God but the abuse of God for political ends when all rational argument fails or when the astute politician feels that emotion will be more convincing than rational argument to achieve his purpose.

5 – Talking about God in politics is not about whether or not Health Minister Tony Abbott can make a better decision on the RU486 than the Therapeutic Goods Administration Authority. The whole issue with RU486 is totally unrelated to God, it is about politics, when to create a debate and when to kill it for sheer populism, it has nothing to do with the minister for Health, it is more a government policy, this is painfully evident in the fact that Tony Abbott was defeated by his own politicians whom some may argue are more conservative than he.

This is to be contrasted by those politicians who use God, for example, we have politicians who were disingenuous about GST, Medicare, non-existent Iraqi WMDs, AWB kickbacks and yet the man at the helm was referred to as Honest Johnny. The same man ran the last election on “Trust”. God does not exist in Australian politics, rather, He is regularly abused for political expediency.

6 – God in politics from a Muslim perspective means that politicians will not divert us, distract us, deceive us, betray us, ignore us, the people whom the politician is sworn to serve. God in politics means that politicians are first and foremost accountable to God, then their own conscience as well as the laws and conventions that they swear to uphold.

7 – Quite often, we hear the argument against God in politics because religion is accused, falsely I might add, of being behind wars and conflicts. I will repeat something I quite often say: One just has to compare and contrast the secular wars with the so called religious wars to find which have been more deadly and more devastating. The current ongoing war against Iraq that has lasted for 15 years, interrupted by more murderous sanctions is a glaring example. It is not a war for God, neither are the Palestinian Israeli or Afghan conflicts, they are wars for territory, for control of precious resources and prime real estate and for demographic change to ensure that the resources or prime real estate remain in the hands of friendly governments.

This is not to say that there is no appeal to religious sentiments or emotive commonalities to polarize views, however, such appeals are no different to the scourge of patriotism or primal tribalism whose fervour is as intoxicating as any other as we saw in the case of the recent Cronulla Riots.

8 – I will not even accept the case of the Afghan convert as an issue of God in politics, this was purely a legal issue, a man breached a law that the majority of the population had endorsed at some point in time. Islam is practical with the strongest emphasis on compassion. On this issue, the overriding interpretation and application of Islam in most countries and throughout history is that such people are free to believe what they wish (a number of treatises by various Muslim commentators have been presented in recent days to this effect), this is evident in the fact that a number of branches and sub-branches have sprung up within Islam itself. This includes groups that have been excommunicated by the majority. If Islam genuinely required their execution, they simply would not have continued to exist. If God genuinely wanted us to kill them, He would not have said: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” And the prophet would not have signed the treaty of Hudaybia which guaranteed people the right to apostasy. Therefore, this issue is not about God in politics, it is about politicizing God and there is a vast difference. Just like when a politician convinces or deceives a popular personality to stand by his side in order to gain more popularity, in this case, where constituents believe in God, the politician will claim to be devout or acting in accordance with God’s wishes.

9 – It is a fact that God has an overwhelming presence in the lives of the majority of people. Every religion, every supernatural belief system, even every superstition is a belief in the unknown and therefore, a belief in a form of god, even if this god may go by a different name. It is not an issue whether these “believers” practice the tenets of their faith or not, the mere fact that they identify with a supernatural belief, regardless of how serious or how spurious, is an indication that they make an appeal to a god. What this means is that in a democratic system, the fact that “god” exists in the minds of the majority of the population is an indication that “god” will be exploited as a means to political ends. However, unless this God is spelt with a capital “G”, His Nature will be distorted and His Will will be abused and exploited for the benefit of political aspirants, we cannot stop the appeal to God by politicians unless we are able to transform people into purely sensate beings or educate them better about the Will of God, or as Christ said, to educate them as to how to: seek the will of the Father. The history of our world has shown that transforming the entirety of society into atheists is an unrealistic expectation as various events present triggers that cause many people to appeal again and again to a supernatural notion or belief.

10 – One cannot say that the faith in God disappears with education, secular Academia does also feel the presence of God, there are theologians who have studied the sciences and work in these fields whilst moonlighting as Christian missionaries in the Muslim world or they are Christian missionaries moonlighting as scientists. Their Academic achievement has not stopped them from believing in the Trinity which is totally unrelated to science. There are Buddhist, Hindu and Jewish academics who are as devout as any person can be. Whilst Europe was persecuting scientists and demonizing science in its dark ages, devout practicing Muslims were able to use knowledge of their faith to revive and progress the science of the Greeks, they did not shun it nor turn their back on it, they invested in it and championed the cause of science for over 1000 years.

11 – The issue of belief in God is neither science nor ignorance, it is part of a person’s individual journey towards self-understanding. It is a meditative discovery that there is a Greater Power out there that does reach out to you, in this sense, we can draw inspiration from this Great Power.

12 – In reality, we cannot say that God in politics means the total application of what some believe as a revealed word of God, whether this is Vedas, Taura, Gospel or Qur`an. This is because these laws cannot be imposed top down in their totality, these laws by their very nature install the conscience as a permanent observer and as such, the majority of laws in such books are adhered to voluntarily because they cannot be policed. Some Muslim countries have what is referred to as religious police, this is not a self imposed reference, this is an imported reference, to some extent a slur.

13 – The alternative to acknowledging the wisdom of God in political decision making is to deny all forms of inspiration, in such a situation, you would need to tread very carefully, people can develop the theories of their predecessors such as Darwin, Marx, and others and draw inspiration from the theory, but not from these individuals other than what they have written. This is like those of old who say: We did it because we found our fathers and forefathers doing it. They are cited regularly in the Qur`an. In essence, you can be inspired by the example of the dead, you can learn from their teachings or legacy, but you cannot be inspired by the person after he or she dies, if you claim that they talk to you and inspire you whilst they are dead, they become your god.

We have an interesting example in Saint Paul who had his transformation after his stated sighting of Christ in a vision on the road to Damascus. Christian belief for him and his followers changed immediately and Christianity was divided from practicing Jews who believed in Christ and were called Judao-Christians and the new group converted by Paul who deified Jesus and thereby became known as Pauline Christians. The geopolitics of Emperor Constantine 300 hundred years later tried to lump all together as Christian, whilst he won some converts, the Eastern Church remains separate from Roman Catholicism to this day. Saint Paul was in a world that believed in one form of religion or another, two thousand years later, Paul’s vision of Christianity is followed by over two billion people, whilst the Jewish beliefs that Jesus said he came to uphold are only practiced by a small fraction of that number.

Today, someone may be a die-hard Marxist, quite devoid of religion, even though Marx is long dead and his ideas have been found wanting after much human suffering. Because Marx tried to challenge God, his godlessness transformed him into a god for himself first and subsequently for his proponents. An adapted form of his ideology is still enforced in the most populated nation on earth. As these ideologies emerge, the argument is that secularism makes one’s own ideas, as changing as they may be, one’s own god. They may say: I do it because it feels right or it feels good, or I cannot see an immediate harm from it. The Qur`an refers to these people as taking their own desires, or their own thoughts as god. 25:43 and 45:23

Having acknowledged the above, if we are going to have God in politics, let us make sure that this God represents the highest of ethics and values that are shared across the board. We are not referring to morals, but ethics and values which can take society forward. Along with this, we would consider minimalist laws that are necessary across the board rather than constrictive, invasive and intrusive debilitating laws.

Islam as a faith code accommodates this notion quite well as it recognises the rights of minorities to choose not to become Muslim and to live by their own laws. The common ethics or values are policed by the central authority, those other laws that are peculiar to Muslims are certainly not enforced on those who are not Muslim. This in essence means that even though Islam is the final progression of all Divine teachings or revelations and it sees itself as the faith of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Christ and it presents the mission of Muhammad as the conclusion of prophetic missions, it has protected the rights of those who wish to hold on to their own version of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, secularism or atheism to remain within their own ideology. It even welcomed qualified people of other faiths to high positions in its own government. Being a naturally progressive faith, Islam during the reign of the first Caliph started to create a separation between church and state by taking the Fatwah out of the hand of the Caliph, taking the Judiciary out of the hand of the Caliph and telling the Caliph to focus on governance and statesmanship. He was no longer a businessman who issued religious rulings, presided over trials and ran the state as well. Each of these functions had to have their own levels of independence, a process started immediately after the death of the prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him.

What is the difference or alternative to God in politics?

Is it enforced atheism where no law can be referred back to a religious value? Is it that we must explore all laws on the books and decide whether they are religious or secular and remove the religious and maintain the secular? Is it excluding any person with even a remote belief in God from holding office or even be an advisor to someone in office and ensuring that only atheists can enter politics? If we are going to revise our laws to take God out and ensure that our politicians will be honest about their godlessness, because few if any of them actually permit God to shape their decisions on proposed bills, whose views, values and ideas will we reflect?

Will they be the democratic views of the populace? Including the lowest common denominator who does not really have informed views, but whose views are rather manufactured through dog-whistling and other means and factors.

Or will they be the imposed views of those who are able to enter politics?

If they are the views of a populace that has a majority of believers in God, then God cannot be taken out of politics, regardless of the level of education of the constituents, regardless of the fact that religion is increasingly becoming more ceremonial and less practical and regardless of whether these views are a distortion of the Will of God or a true representation.

If it is an educated atheistic society, will it frame its laws on what we have learned from the combined intellectual contribution of previous societies or communities? If so, then inevitably, we are bringing God into politics because God was invoked in the fashioning of our laws over the ages.

From an Islamic perspective God in politics is a model where laws are put to a Scriptural test before they are introduced, whether these laws are to criminalize, decriminalize, promote, sanction, or discourage certain behaviours, they would need to be put to an ethical test to see where they fit within the Divine guidance, are they fair, equitable and constructive, or do they favour one section of society over another? Despite the regular reference to God by some of our politicians, this does not exist collectively, these references by the politicians serve to merely represent views of a section of society, the democratic society we live in, and as such, God in secular politics in effect is championed by a minority in parliament. Yes, our laws are founded on parallels in religious dos and don’ts, however, the majority of politicians, reflecting the increasingly secular states in many countries, have shut God out of their decision making processes, as a result, many if not most have lost their conscience and their societies have adopted a survival of the fittest ideology. To reclaim this conscience and reinstate egalitarianism, fairness and the public interest rather than pander to public opinion, we desperately need to ensure God in politics, in doing so, we ensure that God in politics makes politicians aspire to the highest ideals.

Keysar Trad
Islamic Friendship Association of Australia

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