In this essay, I will be discussingthe intrinsic links between religion and politics for the two religiousexpressions: Pentecostalism and Islamism. Pentecostalism is a restorationmovement within protestant Christianity and it focuses on a personal level ofinteraction with God through Baptism with the Holy Spirit (1). Islamism is aset of beliefs that are implemented in accordance to the concept of Islam inthe religion and the political system where the government is revolved aroundthe basic teachings of Islamism (2). The believers of Islamism are calledMuslims.
As mentioned by Kim & Kim (2008),“Christianity is spread across the globe and is not just the religion of oneregion” (3). Around one-third of the world population consists of Christiansand they are spread all over the world. Out of the four Christian traditions:Orthodox, Pentecostal, Protestant and Catholic, Pentecostalism is progressingat the fastest rate since the Azusa Street Revival which played a pivotal rolein the birth of modern Pentecostalism (4).
Pentecostals are also gettingincreasingly interested in getting involved in politics. According to a survey,more than half of the Pentecostals would like America to move towards being aChristian country while only a quarter of American Christians have the sameviews (5). Similar to Christian ideologies, Pentecostals are also absolutelyagainst moral issues such as abortion, alcohol, homosexuality and euthanasia.This sparked off interests in Pentecostals to see the United States as an“ideological constituency for conservative politicians” (5). Pentecostals havealso been increasingly involved in Guatemala, Zambia and Brazil.
On the other hand, there has been asteady decline of Islamism. The disappearance of the Ottoman Empire and theabolishment of the Islamic Caliphate as an institution played a pivotal role inthe downturn of Muslim powers (6). Other reasons would include the risingdomination of Western powers and the failure of Muslims to adhere strictly tothe path of Shariah, Islam’s revealed divine law. Some speculate that ifMuslims were to follow the true Shariah, the glory of Islamism would bebestowed (7).
Strong followers of Islamism envision to use the Islamic State asan avenue to instil the Shariah back in Muslims and restore Islamism as areligion among the people. There are several political parties in the Islamicsphere that is attempting to restore Islam as a global force and one of themore involved political party is the AKP conservative political party inTurkey. In terms of approach to the State,Pentecostalism uses democratic means, one of its distinct characteristic. Forexample, when a Pentecostal president proclaims Zambia to be a Christiannation, they do not indoctrinate dogmas into people (8). They also do notestablish churches that fervently aim to achieve the goal of being a Christiancountry and neither do they frown upon other non-Christian religions.Pentecostals were not supportive of the war in Iraq. On the other hand,Islamism is seen to be more radical. During the Arab Spring in 2010, there werea series of violent protests and demonstrations before political Islam finallystarted coming to power in 2012 (9).
Next, both Pentecostalism andIslamism paid increasing attention to the education sector. Several Pentecostalchurches focused on creating model school environments by reducing class sizesthat were previously at 100 children per classroom (8). They also had programslaid out that engaged young children in pre-school education.
Most of thePentecostal churches also conducted drug treatment programs which were based onsupernatural powers that seek help from the holy spirit to get rid of drugaddictions. Similarly, Islamism also attempts to influence thereligious-political sector through educational reforms, secular legal educationand the religious inculcation of ‘ulama’ that was administered by the state (10). In primary schools, children were similarlyoffered small class sizes for more effective teaching and they were alsoindoctrinated with Islamic religious values and beliefs. The fact that bothPentecostalism and Islamism focused on early education among the children showsthat they feel that childhood is an important time to instil theircorresponding values and beliefs into these kids. This is also very similar tothe film “Jesus Camp” that we have watched during lecture where young childrenwere made to go to bible camps and indoctrinated with Christian values andbeliefs since young. Next, both Pentecostalism andIslamism are moving towards the social aspects to gain increasing popularityamongst the civil society.
Since Pentecostalism has its roots with mostly thepoor and middle class, several churches have started establishing their ownhealth clinics which is made accessible and affordable for the poor (11). Some Pentecostalismchurches have even started partnering with non-governmental organizationprojects that encourages people to kick off their own business. By doing so, theyare able to help the poor in society gain back their confidence. Pentecostalismwere also socially beneficial for woman.
Hence, we see that there is anincreased support for social programs. Similarly, the Islamic movement alsodirected efforts towards support for social services. However, these socialservices are more than often revolved around Islamic norms. One instance of sucha social service would be the gender-segregated health care in Iran. The separationof genders stemmed from the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and created massiveproblems for the female majority (11).
There is already a lack of resources fortackling prevalent health issues such as AIDS and breast cancer among some areasin Iran. Thus, segregation of healthcare services for the genders put a furtherstrain on the limited resources available. The grassroots has also tried to learnthe way of life of the locals to understand their needs and struggles in orderto implement programs that is in line with what the civilians need (10). Theminister of youth and sport in the Mubarak government has claimed that theseIslamic groups are “seeking to gain the support of the average Egyptian one byone, inch by inch through the provision of welfare facilities, Islamic schools,economics institutions for profit, social insurance, monthly payments for the poor”.By being so involved and active in the social sector, Islamic groups were ableto highlight the failure of the current government’s ability to provide thebasic services to their people. Hence, through actualising their goals throughsuch social initiatives as an alternative to what the current governmentoffers, Islamists were able to boost their position in Egypt and gainedpopularity amongst those who felt like they were left out by the current Egyptiangovernment. The scattered and localized nature of these Islamic groups makes ithard for the Egyptian government to keep track of their activities. The successof these social programs also undermines the ability of the local government andhence they often refrain from criticizing the Islamic groups.
As mentioned by DrAmani Kandil, the executive director of the Arab network for NGOs, “Thegovernment could not curtail Islamic charity organizations because they are themost dynamic organizations in civil society and they reach people and regionsthat the state cannot.” (10) . Hence, the success of these social programs was usedby both Pentecostalists and Muslims to further highlight the failure of thecurrent political system. Next, I will be discussing about the differentapproaches towards modernity and secularism for Pentecostalism and Islamism. Accordingto Madeley, modernity is the process where traditional societies evolves intomodern ones (13). Pentecostal churches do not see ‘religion’ and ‘development’as separate entities (14). They are more democratic and believes in influencingpeople’s beliefs, values and morals in a way that leads them in the directionof development as opposed to indoctrination of ideas.
Pentecostals usually comefrom the poor or middle-class people (15) and Pentecostalism has different churchesaccording to their socio-economic background. Many poor people in Africa oftencome to Pentecostal churches feeling hopeless as they struggle to survive thenew urban environment. Pentecostal churches encourage these people to start theirown business.
As mentioned by Paul Freston, a Pentecostal pastor, he preached that“It’s not enough just to give the ‘sacrifice’ and cross your arms. You have toleave your job and open a business, even if it’s just selling popcorn on thestreet. As an employee you’ll never get rich.”(16) Hence, many of these Pentecostalchurches catch on to the global wave of entrepreneurship and encourages peopleto start their own business to get out of the financial state that most of the Pentecostalswere in. This forward-looking behaviour plays a pivotal role in shapingbusiness behaviour in today’s world.
For Islamism, they are on a constantstruggle with modernity as the effects of modernity often contradicts with whatthe Shariah preaches. However, in recent times, there has been efforts made byIslamic states who wishes to evolve into more outward-looking society withoutcompromising on their religion. One example would be Qatar which allowed alcoholto be served in international hotels (17). This allows the state to beprogressive while at the same time not losing any of its religious roots andbeliefs. It is also believed that Pentecostalismis secular to some extent. Research on a Pentecostal church, His People inJohannesburg concluded that the church is using secular symbols and practicesas they seek for improvements in the social and economic sectors (18). Hence, Pentecostalismhas taken a leap of faith away from traditional values to more modern oneswhich are more real.
On the other hand, Islamism is no longer secular after the1979 Islamic Revolution (19). After Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a ShiiteMuslim Cleric, overthrew Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi and overthrew the seculargovernment and preach the theocracy that is still in existence today. It is also important to note that modernPentecostalism flourished because of native initiatives and is far from beingtraditional. Since Pentecostalism is mostly within the poorer areas, it is alsodistant from power and wealth and the Western Academia.
It is also a looselyheld organization and thus it is pointless trying to understand Pentecostalismthrough fundamentalism as it does not follow global trends. On the other hand, Islamismis stems from the Shariah and thus it plays an instrumental role in fundamentalism. In conclusion, it seems that whilePentecostalism and Islamism have completely different theological ideas, theystill share some similarities when it comes to dealing with political issues.