Good question. Religion is quickly defined as being a system of faith and worship, whereas Politics is usually defined as the art of government. Looking at both definitions, we wouldn't need to write any further since the answer seems to be clear: Islam is a mix of both. However, this is not so evident as religion cannot be so quickly explained and it is debatable whether political Islam is an art form at all. So, is Islam a Religion or a Political Machine?
Islam as a Religion
Any religion requires a Manual of Conduct; a book setting the principles of the belief system; a guideline that differentiates the several diverse systems; words of wisdom that point out the proper path to follow.
A religion focuses on the betterment of the Self - Jonathan W. Penn
Holy Books usually focus on the elevation of the Being to a superior level of existence – thus shunning primitive behaviour from our daily life. Their attention is directed to within and not without. But this doesn't always hold true when it comes to Islam. The Islamic main Book is the Al-Quran, which can't truly be called a religious book – not when we compare its structure to the ones of most religious books – because it focuses too much on its rival religions, that is, Judaism and Christianity. Al-Quran begins by stating that Jews and Christians are the People of the Book and therefore to be respected; but then as we proceed it turns into a rant against them, reaching the climax when it calls for their murder if they do not submit to Allah – i.e. if they do not submit to the five tenets of Islam.
Five Pillars of Islam: Shahadah (recitation of the Islamic creed), Salat (five daily prayers), Zakat (charity), Sawm (fast on the month of Ramadan) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).
Had the Quran focused mainly on the Islamic path and on how to elevate the soul of the submitter, then we could indubitably call it a religious book. But since it practically declares war on two main religions (after having flirted with them), it its filled with political considerations and it exudes expansionism; shouldn't we assume Al-Quran is a Political Manifesto instead?
So, should Islam be viewed as a religion? Yes, if we consider that it entreats the submitters to worship one G-d; and No, when we conclude it has no religious book as a pillar; it places a man, Muhammad, on the same level as G-d Himself (i.e. he cannot be depicted nor criticised) and the many shades of political expedience are evident when we read it.
There is much more to religion than prostrating yourself to your G-d - idem
Islam as a Political Machine
Islam seems to be primarily based on a Political Manifesto (Quran) from which its political aspect stems from.
Traditional political concepts in Islam include leadership by elected or selected successors to the Prophet known as Caliphs, (Imamate for Shia); the importance of following Islamic law or Sharia; the duty of rulers to seek Shura or consultation from their subjects; and the importance of rebuking unjust rulers – Abu Hamid al-Ghazali
When we hear news that Iran is following the same MO as ISIS' (i.e. sending operatives to infiltrate Europe and the US) and other Islamic terror groups; we are compelled to see the pattern that has been forming for quite some time: Islamic expansionism.
The Islamic policy of territorial expansion started in the 7th century (called the first phase of expansion) and ended in 1924 (dubbed the fourth phase of the expansion); but in the past three decades or so we have seen the rise of the fifth phase of the Islamic expansion (whose deadline ends in 2020, according to Al-Qaeda's 7 Step Plan to conquer the world). In the past, the expansion was done through Conquests; today, the expansion is planned to be done through Terrorism and psychological war.
When the facts are properly analysed, we realise that Islam is more of a Political Structure with religious contours. And it's not certain that it can be compared to the Catholic political interferences in European Kingdoms because the modus operandi is different, and - as far as International Relations go - the armies sponsored by the Catholic Church never engaged in offensive activities, only defensive actions of all things related to the Faith (e.g. defence of the path to Jerusalem and defence against the Islamic Turks).
“Unlike the student protests in the 1960s, by using religion and multiculturalism as a cover, we brought an entirely foreign lexicon to the table. We knowingly presented political demands disguised as religion and multiculturalism, and deliberately labelled any objection to our demands as racism and bigotry. Even worse, we did this to the very generation who had been socialist sympathisers in their youth, people sympathetic to charges of racism, who were now in middle-career management posts; people like Dave Gomer. It is no wonder then that the authorities were unprepared to deal with politicised religion as ideological agitation, and felt racist if they tried to stop us.” ― Maajid Nawaz
(Image: Mosque of Sultan Hassan from the Great Square - David Roberts)