The clergy did not become so clearly embroiled in politics until the 1980s. Previously mosques were places of worship free of the obsession of politics. They took part in fighting imperialism, and sometimes they opposed existing conditions.
Some people may cite the various existing Islamic political parties, and here lies the confusion. The Muslim Brotherhood can be considered to be only a political movement – like the Nasserite, pan-Arab, nationalist, and communist movements – that is not for the clergy in particular, but whose members espouse political Islamic thought on national and regional issues. There is a difference between the thinker and the activist in a political Islamic party and between the imams and propagators [du’at] of mosques.
The embroilment of the clergy – in the sense of their engaging in politics — on the party, propagation, and military levels is an innovation which became attractive for some of those who frequent mosques and it expanded until it went out of control. Mosques dissented from society and the existing order and led rebellions from Finsbury Park in London to the Red Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. Scores of mosques in the Arab World, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Europe were targeted by those who espouse extremist thought and turned their imams into propagators of takfir [those who hold other Muslims to be unbelievers], and their propagators into leaders of recruitment, and their prayers into occasions for collecting funds to finance military and political action to promote their ideas.
The British police spent a whole year pondering outside Finsbury Park Mosque not knowing what to do with the mosque’s imam, Abu-Hamzahal-Misri, because his sermons were inciting and attracted extremist groups of Muslim adolescents, yet could not prevent him except under other legal pretexts. The police finally restored the mosque to its moderate congregation who actually represent a majority of worshippers.
The Red Mosque in Pakistan is also a wild case that represents a very extreme case of extremism which is growing in Pakistani society and in which for the past 10 years there has been a relentless onslaught by extremists on mosques and schools.
What makes the mosque an easy conduit for extremists, conspirators, and dissenters from the political order is that it is one of the places where adult men who are concerned about the affairs of their society tend to meet most. Many mosque preachers, on the other hand, have an elementary knowledge of politics and see matters as either black or white. They are easy to enlist and exploit in the name of supporting their weak brothers, with out their realizing the nature of the conflicts raging in the region, and who stands behind them.
Here mosque imams and activists differ from those who work in Islamic movements and who are distinguished by their political education, their political party experience, and their constant readiness to interact with developments – those who, even when they take extremist stands, their stands are founded on well-studied policies. Unlike them, the imams of mosques talk about politics but do not understand anything about geography or contemporary history. They call for confronting Iran and they also call for supporting pro-Iranian organizations.
In any society that believes in specialization, each person is supposed to confine himself to his area of specialization. Thus the doctor expresses his medical opinion in his clinic, the engineer expresses his opinion in a construction site, and the cleric expresses his opinion on a matter of worship. Politics is a science, just like the religious sciences of jurisprudence and Hadith [sayings of Muhammad], and the authority on the subject of politics are supposed to be the politicians.