At present, some people tend to see Muslims as religious fanatics and terrorists. This concept has arisen due to activities of certain groups. Politicization of Islam in some regions has also led to such miscomprehension of the Muslim world. Ironically, politicization of Islam is also based on miscomprehension.
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Of course, people should understand the difference between religious tradition and political Islam to have the correct idea about the Muslim world. The major difference between the two notions is that Islam as a religious tradition is based on the sacred writings whereas political Islam is based on a very specific interpretation of the sacred texts.
In the first place, it is necessary to note that Islam has evolved throughout centuries like any other religious tradition. El Fadl notes that Islam as a religious tradition has been “a dynamic and active faith” (109). The author also notes that Islamic religious tradition is not based on ideas of confrontation as Islam accepts that there can be other religions and beliefs.
Islam is based on principles of rightfulness. The religious tradition is based on principles revealed in the sacred book for any Muslim, Qur’an. This book contains guidance for Muslims. This guidance can be helpful in any situation as this book includes wisdom of centuries.
However, the book is often interpreted differently. Some groups (e.g. Wahhabi) have often misinterpreted the sacred texts which led to creation of a variety of movements. The so-called puritan movements are based on the principles of “purity of faith”. Certain groups reconsidered the holy texts to purify them from any influences from outside (society, other nations, etc.). Ironically, these groups reshaped Islam to fit certain societal changes.
Thus, El Fadl notes that Abd al-Wahhab wanted Muslims “to return to a presumed pristine, simple, and straightforward Islam” (47). He created a ‘new’ Muslim tradition which was to help Muslims return to the pure faith. Nonetheless, Wahhab (like many others) created practices based on misinterpreted principles of Islam.
It is possible to state that instead of turning back to the roots, Wahhab reshaped the religious tradition to fit certain ideas that had ruled at that time. Wahhabi tradition promotes complete isolation of Muslims. It also promotes ideas of struggle against infidel.
Noteworthy, such ideas have often become popular in many societies. There can be no surprise that governments in Muslim countries have supported puritan movements (El Fadl 87). Ideas promoted by such movements fitted societal changes which took place due to a number of economic and political factors.
It is necessary to add that political Islam can be regarded as a certain system that helps a certain group control the society. Propagating such ideas as confrontation, segregation, hatred, etc., certain groups can easily control the society.
On balance, it is possible to note that the major difference between Islam as a religious tradition and political Islam is that the former is based on the sacred writings whereas the latter is based on the interpretation which is convenient for certain groups. Though certain groups claim they want to purify the faith, they simply adjust it to specific movements in the society.
Political Islam can be regarded as a way to control the society, whereas Islam as a religious tradition is guidance that leads rightful people. Political Islam often fits only a specific group of people, while religious tradition is a universal system of values.
El Fadl, Khaled M. Abou. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. New York, NY: HarperOne, 2005. Print.