Through an examination of the different types of relationships between religion and the state, this article argues that the two extremes of this relationship – namely, the case whereby the state exploits religion and the one where it tries to banish it – ultimately lead to the emergence of political Islam as a reaction. Political Islam can be seen as employing religion to gain political power, hence reinforcing the worldly aspects and self-interest of a certain group at the expense of intellectual, ethical and doctrinal considerations. Practically speaking, political Islam has pushed the idea of an Islamic state to suicidal theocratic ends. The main factor behind the ascent of Islamists to political power is the political vacuum resulting from the retreat of the left, added to absolute obstructionism in the political domain. In an attempt to redeem religion and the state in contemporary Arab society and end the struggle between Islamists and secularists, four suggestions are presented: (1) recognition of the right of any political movement to derive its basic ethos from religion, or religious heritage, on condition that this is considered a personal endeavour rather than a religious issue; (2) stressing the civil nature of all parties, whether secular or religious; (3) respecting the civil nature of the state; and (4) abiding by the democratic circulation of power. In sum, a revitalization of the modern state system is inevitable.

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