Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Several paradoxes co-exist in Iraqi Vice President Dr. Adel Abdel-Mahdi, a prominent member of the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council, chaired by Abdulaziz al-Hakim. He is Islamic, yet culturally and politically secular. He is a city man but socially more of a country man. He is a politician, yet more of an academic. In him, eastern Iraqi culture meets western French culture. He has a doctorate in economics from Paris and is known as a realist politician who translates his theoretical propositions, formulated over a period of half a century, into working propositions dealing with Iraq's thorny political and economic problems, quietly, without the noise of political slogans and away from media limelight. As a communicator, he makes you feel he has appropriate answers to all of Iraq's difficult problems. He is well connected and studies in depth the files of all the political, economic, and social issues with which he deals. As a politician, he is close to the people. Every Tuesday, he holds an open reception he calls 'diwan' where he meets with Iraqis from all political, religious, and national groups; listens attentively to their personal and public concerns; and then directs his aides to deal with the concerns and proposals raised at the meeting. In his first long interview with Asharq Al-Awsat at his office in Baghdad, Iraqi Vice President Dr. Adel Abdel-Mahdi answered all our questions clearly and frankly.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have been nicknamed the secular Islamist. What is that supposed to mean?
[Abdel-Mahdi] Islamists have confused Islam as religion with Islamist as a description, and there are many deviations from Islam made in its name. 'Islamism' as a term was introduced in the 1960s and 70s and was derived from 'Islamist,' but it did not exist in Arabic literature before that. When 'Islamist' movements started to appear, the West described them as 'Islamists' and we translated this into 'Islami' or Islamic, and accordingly these movements appeared as though they were protectors and guardians of Muslims rights. But there is a difference between 'Islamist' and Islam. Of course a party has a right to call itself 'Islamic' or 'Islami' provided it does not appropriate Muslims rights to itself and does not speak of a second 'pre-Islamic phase' [Jahiliyyah] and does not monopolize Islam. This way, Islam remains a religion and belief or faith. I am against the classification of people as 'secular' or 'Islamist.' When you are a realist, they call you 'secular,' yet Islam is realistic, and realism has a creed. There is no realism without a creed, as there is no creed without realism. The most positivist or secular theory has some aspect of religion, belief, or principle. There is no doubt that socialist and Marxist thought has some aspect of creed to it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are those who call for separating religion from politics. What do you think of this?
[Abdel-Mahdi] This is arbitrary. Religion has apolitical aspect; all religions do. Judaism established a state and so did Christianity. This is all part of a political thought conflict into which we were drawn. The correct question should be this: Should religion be used as a means for excluding others, calling them apostates, nullifying them, and monopolizing the state? This is the more important question. What is wrong with a religious person working as a civil servant in a democratic state where the ruler is elected by the people in a general election -- which is an idea close to the old Islamic idea of declaring allegiance to the ruler? If this Islamic idea were developed, we would have reached the ideal of democratic rule. There is a lot of research in this regard. Islamic thought is a 'contractual thought' with God and with others. Religion is how you deal with others, and the contractual aspect looms large in religion, particularly in Islam. Half a century ago, before the appearance of 'Islamist movements' and 'Islamist' states, some people saw such ideas as provocative. Before that, Islam was described as being the religion of realism and inclusivity. This was how westerners described Islam five decades ago. The important thing is how religious people behave. President Bush says he is a religious man. Many statesmen in the West go to church and practice their rituals and beliefs.
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