Clerics, priests and saints in some countries have tended to change the course of politics with pronouncements and exhortations to their constituents and voters at large. This happens around election time quite often in India and Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are not immune from it. In many countries, religious leaders are not averse to themselves contesting elections and entering Parliament.
In our times, with the virus of sectarianism and divisions along religious lines being rampant, this situation has worsened the political discourse. Bahrain has suffered from this menace. But now the government has amended an 11-year-old political societies law. It means that those playing religious roles in the community will no longer be allowed to take membership in such societies.
Of course this will have major consequences for political groups – both sunni and shia – in the kingdom since quite a few are Islamist and have clerics on board. According to a report in local daily GDN, “the amendments ban those with religious roles from being members of political societies, promoting political ideologies or supporting political groups, seeking personal gain through their position and undermining unity, stability or the interests of Bahrain.”
Separating Politics and Religion
The concern in recent years has been that clergymen often use places of worship to propagate political views and, in the process, fuel sectarianism. Bahrain’s justice minister was quite forthright last week in Parliament when he said “We don’t want politics to be Islamified or Islam to be politicized … Everyone knows that mixing politics and religion has had huge negatives on society with fatwas [religious edicts] being issued to serve particular purposes or whenever certain individuals join the elections.”
The message was that no cleric could ride two boats at the same time. He had to make a choice of either taking on the role of a clergyman or joining politics and becoming a politician. Which means political leaders can no longer preach in mosques since politics has to represent the democratic nature of the country and not follow or guide any sectarian or religious belief’s religion-based agenda.
As it is, there have been instances of maverick preachers spewing venom against the current political dispensation, virulently attacking the followers of a particular sect and exhorting their followers to activities which can at best be described as treasonable. The current change in the law should curb this tendency and bring peace and harmony in a country still trying to put behind the memories of the anti-state troubles of 2011.