First Published:- The Independent BD
Written By: Khan Sarifuzzaman
Islamism is a controversial concept not just because it conceives a political role for Islam but also because its supporters believe their views merely reflect Islam
Political Islam is an Islamic revival movement. Often it is distinguished by moral conservatism, literalism, and the attempt “to implement Islamic values in all spheres of life.” It is also known as Islamism. The different Islamist movement has been described as “oscillating between two poles”: at one end is a strategy of Islamisation of society through state power seized by revolution or invasion. At the other hand “reformist” or moderate “pole” Islamists work to re-Islamise society “from the bottom up”. The movements have “arguably altered the Middle East more than any trend since the modern states gained independence”, redefining “politics and even borders” according to journalist Robin Wright. Islamists may give emphasis to the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law) of pan-Islamic political unity, including an Islamic state; and of the selective removal of non-Muslim, particularly Western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world that they believe to be incompatible with Islam.
Observer Graham Fuller suggests Islamism’s doctrine is less strict, and can be defined as a form of identity politics or “support for [Muslim] identity, authenticity, broader regionalism, revivalism, [and] revitalization of the community”. Following the Arab Spring, political Islam developed into heavily involved with political democracy but also generates “the most aggressive and ambitious Islamist militia”. Islamists or political Islamists generally oppose the use of the term, claiming that their political beliefs and goals are simply an expression of Islamic religious belief. Similarly, some experts (Bernard Lewis) favour the term “activist Islam” or “political Islam”, and Robin Wright equates the term “militant Islam” with Islamism.
Prominent figures of modern Islamism include Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Maududi, Taqiuddin un-Nabahni and Ruhollah Khomeini. Some of these promoters emphasize peaceful political processes, whereas Sayyid Qutb in particular called for armed revolution and those followers are generally considered as Islamic extremists.
Islamism is a controversial concept not just because it conceives a political role for Islam but also because its supporters believe their views merely reflect Islam. While the contrary idea that Islam is, or can be, apolitical is an error. Scholars who do not believe that Islam is merely a political ideology include Fred Halliday, John Esposito and Muslim intellectuals like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi. Hayri Abaza argues the failure to differentiate between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics.
Islamists have asked the question, “If Islam is a way of life, how can we say that those who want to live by its principles in legal, social, political, economic, and political spheres of life are not Muslims, but Islamists and believe in Islamism, not [just] Islam?” . Likewise, a writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that “the idea of ‘political Islam'” is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and apolitical Islam was a historical coincidence of the “short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970”.
According to historian Bernard Lewis (Islamic Revolution), ‘Islamism’ along with “quietism,” form two “particular … political traditions” in Islam.
The argument in favour of both is based, as is the earliest Islamic arguments, on the Holy Book and on the actions and sayings of the Prophet (SM). The quietist tradition obviously rests on the Prophet (SM) as sovereign, as judge and statesman. But before the Prophet (SM) became a head of state, he was a rebel. Before he traveled from Mecca to Medina, where he became sovereign, he was a challenger of the existing order. He directed an opposition against the pagan oligarchy of Mecca and at a certain point went into exile and formed what in modern language might be called a “government in exile”. By which finally he was able to return in triumph to his birthplace and establish the Islamic state in Mecca.
The Prophet (SM) as rebel has shown an Islamic method of revolution—opposition and rejection, withdrawal and departure, exile and return. Time and time again movements of opposition in Islamic history tried to repeat this pattern, a few of them successfully.
Control and power of political Islam in Muslim world
1. Few observers challenge the influence of Islamism in the Muslim world. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, political movements based on the liberal ideology of free expression and democratic rule have led the opposition in other parts of the world such as Latin America, Eastern Europe and many parts of Asia. However, the simple fact is that political Islam presently reigns as the most powerful ideological force across the Muslim world today.
2. The strength of Islamism draws from the strength of religiosity in general in the Muslim world. Compared to Western societies, “what is striking about the Islamic world is that … it seems to have been the least penetrated by irreligion”.
Where other peoples may look to the physical or social sciences for answers in areas which their ancestors regarded as best left to scripture, in the Muslim world religion has become more encompassing, not less, as in the last few decades. It has been the fundamentalists who have increasingly represented the cutting edge of Muslim culture. In Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world “the word secular, a label proudly worn 30 years ago, is rejected and “used to slander” political opponent. The small secular opposition parties “cannot compare” with Islamists in terms of determination, courage, risk-taking or organizational skills.
In the Middle East and Pakistan, religious discourse dominates societies, the airwaves, and thinking about the world. Radical mosques have proliferated throughout Egypt. Book stores are dominated by works with religious themes … The demand for sharia, the belief that their governments are disloyal to Islam and that Islam is the answer to all problems, and the certainty that the West has declared war on Islam. These are the arguments that dominate public discussion. Islamists may not control parliaments or government palaces, but they have occupied the popular imagination.
3. Moderate strains of Islamism have been described as “competing in the democratic public square in places like Turkey, Tunisia, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In Morocco, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) supported King Muhammad VI’s “Mudawana”, a startlingly progressive family law. It grants women the right to a divorce, raises the minimum age for marriage to 18, and, in the event of separation, stipulates equal distribution of
Even prior to the Arab Spring, Islamists in Egypt and other Muslim countries had been described as “extremely influential. … They determine how one dresses, what one eats. In these areas, they are incredibly successful. … Even if the Islamists never come to power, they have changed their countries.” Democratic, peaceful and political Islamists are now dominating the spectrum of Islamist ideology as well as the political system of the Muslim world.
Two trends of political Islam is observed throughout the history in scholarly writing and movement. First one was to protect and preserve the Islamic traditional state that is Caliphate the symbol of Islamic civilization. Second one is at the end of Ottoman Caliphate (1924) scholars and political and social activists who tried to return the Caliphate system which was the main actor of the Muslins unity and security.
Shah Waliullah of India and Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab of Arabia were contemporaries who met each other while studying in Mecca. Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab advocated doing away with the later accumulations like grave worship and getting back to the letter and the spirit of Islam as preached and practiced by Muhammad. He went on to establish Wahhabism. Shah Waliullah was a precursor of reformist Islamists like Muhammad Abduh, Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Asad. Waliullah believed that there was “a constant need for new ijtihad as the Muslim community progressed and expanded and new generations had to cope with new problems” and in his interest in the social and economic problems of the poor.
The end of the 19th century saw the cut into pieces of most of the Muslim Ottoman Empire by non-Muslim European colonial powers. The empire spent enormous sums on Western civilian and military technology to try to modernize and compete with the encroaching European powers, and in the process went deep into debt to these powers.
In this context, the writings of Jamal ad-din al-Afghani (1837–97), Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) and Rashid Rida (1865–1935) advocate Islamic alternatives to the political, economic, and cultural decline of the empire.
Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida formed the beginning of the Islamist movement, as well as the reformist Islamist movement.
Their thoughts included the creation of a truly Islamic society under sharia law, and the denial of taqlid, the blind imitation of earlier authorities, which they believed deviated from the true messages of Islam. Unlike some later Islamists, early Salafiyya strongly emphasized the restoration of the Caliphate.