Religion and Politics
Duraid Adnan of the New York Times reported that Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist Shiite party in the Iraqi Parliament, is withdrawing from politics entirely. In a statement made on February 15, Sadr said, “I announce that I will not intervene in politics. No party represents us from now on in Parliament or in any position inside or outside the government” Sadr’s statement adds uncertainty to Iraq’s political situation. Iraq is holding national parliamentary elections in April, and Sadr’s party holds 40 of the 325 seats in the Iraqi Parliament.
Shi’ism (which Muqtada al-Sadr’s Sadrist political movement is based upon) is one of the two major divisions within Islam. The Shi’a, “or followers of Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali, … believe that the spiritual and temporal head of Islam should reside with the descendants of the Prophet”. While the Sunni branch of Islam rejects the claims of Ali, and claim to be the orthodox group.
Muqtada al-Sadr is the descendant of revered Iraqi Shi’a clerical figures: Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, and Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq al-Sadr.
Both of these men played an immense role in shaping Iraq’s political and religious landscape, and both of their ideologies inspired a following that culminated in the Sadrist movement. The Sadrist movement, which was revived in 2003, completely rejected western coalition occupation in the region, and even resorted to violence against the coalition. Muqtada al-Sadr presented himself as the sole protector of Shi’a inhabitants in Iraq. There was a political void after the fall of Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath regime, and Sadr seized the opportunity.
The reason as to why Muqtada al-Sadr is resigning is not completely certain. Duraid Adnan interviewed a Shiite Iraqi, who viewed the announcement as a positive sign towards a civil state, where religion and politics are separate and distinct. Karl Vick reported that Sadr may have resigned to, “dissociate his movement from some unnamed, unapproved actions taken in its name” in order to protect his family’s reputation. This second reason is probably the closest to the truth. As already mentioned, he is a descendant of Sadiq and Baqir al-Sadr, who both were politically and religiously influential in Iraqi history. Thus, in order to preserve his family’s reputation, he wants to disassociate his movement from whatever actions were taken in his name.
This being said, Muqtada al-Sadr will probably return to politics in the future at some point. He has made a similar announcement before, only to reverse his decision not long after. Furthermore, based upon his lineage and his past, it seems rather odd that he would arbitrarily decide to permanently resign from politics for no substantive reason. What is of interest is that, in Iraq there exists a belief that religion and state should be separate. If such secular notions will ever be realized in Iraq is yet to be seen. Many of the prominent political coalitions in the Iraqi parliament are based upon Islamic sects. However, Adeed Dawisha argues that the 2010 election results show that most Iraqi voters prefer a broader national agenda, over narrow sectarian appeals. This shows that Iraqis may be shifting their focus upon national progress, which may perhaps evolve towards a broad appeal for the separation of religion and the state, in order to achieve such progress. This does not mean that the integration of religion and politics cannot result in political and societal improvement.
What is being said is that if there is a large enough secular voice present in Iraq, then it must be listened too. The current situation lacks equality and political stability, and if integration of religion and politics is the reason behind these deficiencies, then another course of action must be undertaken to remedy such.