Need to separate religion from state in Arab region
In fighting the scourge of radicalism and religious fundamentalism, one of the strategies proposed by some is to use religion.
Proponents of this approach vary from those who insist that Daesh and its ideology is simply built on a warped understanding of religion to those who say that the best way to fight religious fundamentalism is by promoting religious moderation as the effective way of combating dark and deadly ideology.
Both ideas have an inherent problem in them.
Playing the game of the radicals and terrorists is unlikely to solve anything.
The fact is that any religious text is easily amenable to interpretation, which means that anyone can find a text to support his/her position.
It is very easy to take a text out of context in order to support a particular point of view.
Yousef Rababaa, a Jordanian professor at Philadelphia University, north of Amman, argues forcefully against the efforts of Jordan TV to fight religious radicalism by using religion.
In an article recently published on AmmanNet, titled “Fighting radicalism with radicalism”, he argues that radical fundemantalists will always win if you argue with them, simply on the basis of religious text.
The potential of discrimination based on religion was also highlighted in a powerful investigation about how some Christian Jordanians use religion to circumvent personal responsibilities.
Nadine Nimri illustrated on 7iber.com how some Jordanian Christian men converted to Islam rather than face unfavorable divorce or custody decisions from church courts.
In Jordan, everyone is obliged to have a declared religion and all personal status issues are resolved by religious courts, whether Islamic or Christian.
Changing religion in Jordan, Nimri explains, is a one-way street, with Christians legally allowed to convert to Islam, but not the other way around.
Christian women are allowed to marry Muslims without the need to convert, but their children are considered Muslim and the Christian wife and mother does not have inheritance rights if she stays Christian.
In Jordan, Christian men are not allowed to keep their religion if they marry a Muslim woman.
There are no secular or civil marriages in Jordan.
Religious radicalisation and discrimination of citizens has led a Jordanian parliamentarian to suggest a constitutional amendment.
Senator Muhanad Azzeh called for removing Article 2 of the Constitution, which says that Islam is Jordan’s state religion.
He argues, in a long and historically sourced article published online, for the need to eliminate the concept of state religion.
Azzeh notes that Article 6 of the Constitution states clearly that Jordanians are equal, irrespective of their religion. Therefore, he argues, having a state religion actually institutionalises discrimination on the basis of faith.
Instead, he calls for scrapping this article and focusing on the issue of citizenship as the single and overriding right of all Jordanians.
The Monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad. There is no contradiction between this fact and the need for modern Jordan to shake off its attachment to concepts like state religion.
The civilised world has for centuries realised that in order to succeed, modern nations must separate issues of religion, which are sacred, non-negotiable and personal, from those of the state, which are negotiable and apply to all citizens.
The problems in the Arab region have a lot to do with the fact that Islam started in the Arabic Peninsula and the Koran is written in Arabic.
While many non-Arab majority Muslim countries are thriving, Arab countries are hampered by the need to somehow defend the tenets of Islam by insisting on a state religion and inserting religion in the lives of all citizens.
A much healthier, progressive and more democratic way would be to separate religion from the affairs of the state without in any way reducing its importance.
Faith is a relationship between humans and God. It is a very private relationship that should be kept sacred and protected.
But the idea of having a specific religion taught in school, present in one’s personal status and in the affairs of a country is simply not tenable.
Jordan has been blessed with a progressive leadership that looks at religion in a moderate manner, which has allowed the country to overcome waves of political upheavals and societal earthquakes.
The time has come for a new look at the role of religion in the governance of states.
Jordan would do well to be a leader in this important process as well. The Hashemites have all the qualifications, as well as a successful track record in governance, to be able to guide the country’s citizenry in this process.
If they do, they will provide a great service not only for Jordan but for the entire Arab region.