Definitions

political program

Political aspects of Islam

Political aspects of Islam are derived from the Quran, the Sunna, Muslim history and sometimes elements of political movements outside Islam.

Traditional political concepts in Islam include leadership by 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 but not encouraging rebellion against them. A sea change in the Islamic world was the abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924, which some believed meant an end to the Islamic state both in "symbolic and practice terms".

In the 19th and 20th century a common theme has been resistance to Western imperialism, particularly the British Empire, and sometimes the racist policies that discriminated against some Muslims. The defeat of Arab armies in the Six Day War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of communism as a viable alternative with the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War has increased the appeal of Islamism and Islamic fundamentalist movements, especially in the context of undemocratic and corrupt regimes all across the Muslim world.

The political character of Islam

Islam is a religion which has existed for over fourteen centuries in many different countries. As such, diverse political movements in many different contexts have used the banner of Islam to lend legitimacy to their causes. Not surprisingly, practically every aspect of Islamic politics is subject to much disagreement and contention between conservative Islamists and liberal movements within Islam.

Islamist or Islamic parties exist in almost every democracy with a Muslim majority. This term has many different meanings which this article will explore, along with links to other political trends.

The provocative term Islamofascism has also been coined by some non-Muslims to describe the political and religious philosophies of some militant Islamic groups. Both terms lump together a large variety of groups with varying histories and contexts. The articles on militant Islamic groups, Islamic parties and modern Islamic philosophy explain some of their actual views in detail.

Muhammad, the Medinan state and Islamic political ideals

Islamists claim that the origins of Islam as a political movement are to be found in the life and times of Islam's prophet, Muhammad and his successors, the Caliphs (for Sunnis), or the Imams (for Shia). In 622 CE, in recognition of his claims to prophethood, Muhammad was invited to rule the city of Medina. At the time the local Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj dominated the city, and were in constant conflict. Medinans saw in Muhammad an impartial outsider who could resolve the conflict. Muhammad and his followers thus moved to Medina, where Muhammad drafted the Medina Charter. This document made Muhammad the ruler, and recognized him as the Prophet of Allah. During his rule, Muhammad instituted the laws of the Qur'an, considered by Muslims to be divine revelation. Medina thus became a state based on Islamic law, which is still a basic demand of most Islamic movements. Muhammad gained a widespread following and an army, and his rule expanded first to the city of Mecca and then spread through the Arabian peninsula through a combination of diplomacy and military conquest. This approach and thinking continued with the policies of succeeding Caliphs and by the jurists generally, until the advent of European colonialism and the demise of the Ottoman Caliphate.

The early Caliphate and Islamic political ideals

After death of Muhammad, his community needed to appoint a new leader, giving rise to the title Caliph, meaning "successor". Thus the subsequent Islamic empires were known as Caliphates. Alongside the growth of the Umayyad empire, the major political development within Islam in this period was the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims; this had its roots in a dispute over the succession of the Caliphate. Sunni Muslims believed the caliphate was elective, and any member of the Prophet's tribe, Quraysh, might serve as one. Shi'ites, on the other hand, believed the caliphate should be hereditary in the line of the Prophet, and thus all the caliphs, with the exception of only Ali and of his son Hasan, were usurpers. However, the Sunni sect emerged as triumphant in most of the Muslim world, and thus most modern Islamic political movements (with the exception of Iran) are founded in Sunni thought.

Muhammad's closest companions, the four "rightly guided" Caliphs who succeeded him, continued to expand the state to encompass Jerusalem, Ctesiphon, and Damascus, and sending armies as far as the Sindh The Islamic empire stretched from Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) to Persia under the reign of the Umayyad dynasty. The conquering Arab armies took the system of Sharia laws and courts to their new military camps and cities, and built mosques for Friday jam'at (community prayers) as well as Madrasahs to educate local Muslim youth. These institutions resulted in the development of a class of ulema (classical Islamic scholars) who could serve as qadis (Sharia-court judges), imams of mosques and madrasah teachers. These classical scholars and jurists all owed their livelihood to the expansionary Islamic empire. Not surprisingly, these ulema gave legal and religious sanction to militarist interpretations of jihad. The political terminology of the Islamic state was all the product of this period. Thus, medieval legal terms such as khalifa, sharia, fiqh, maddhab, jizya, and dhimmi all remain part of modern Islamic vocabulary.

Since the scholarly and legal traditions of the ulema were well-established by the time of the Abbasids, the later Middle Eastern empires and kingdoms (including the Ayyubid, Seljuk, Fatimid, Mamluk and Mongol) had little impact on modern Islamist political ideals.

One Islamic concept concerning the structure of ruling is shura, or consultation, which is the duty of rulers mentioned in two verses in the Quran, 3:153, and 42:36, and contrasted by Muslims with arbitrary personal rule. It is mentioned by Islamic traditionalists, commentators, and contemporary writers but is not commanded by Islamic law only recommended.

One type of ruler not part of the Islamic ideal was the king, which was disparaged in Quran's mentions of the Pharaoh, "the prototye of the unjust and tyrannical ruler" (18:70, 79) and elsewhere. (28:34)Electing or appointing a Caliph

Fred Donner, in his book The Early Islamic Conquests (1981), argues that the standard Arabian practice during the early Caliphates was for the prominent men of a kinship group, or tribe, to gather after a leader's death and elect a leader from amongst themselves, although there was no specified procedure for this shura, or consultative assembly. Candidates were usually from the same lineage as the deceased leader, but they were not necessarily his sons. Capable men who would lead well were preferred over an ineffectual direct heir, as there was no basis in the majority Sunni view that the head of state or governor should be chosen based on lineage alone. Al-Mawardi has written that the caliph should be Qurayshi. Abu Bakr Al-Baqillani has said that the leader of the Muslims simply should be from the majority. Abu Hanifa an-Nu‘man also wrote that the leader must come from the majority.Majlis ash-Shura

Traditional Sunni Islamic lawyers agree that shura, loosely translated as 'consultation of the people', is a function of the caliphate. The Majlis ash-Shura advise the caliph. The importance of this is premised by the following verses of the Qur'an:

The majlis is also the means to elect a new caliph. Al-Mawardi has written that members of the majlis should satisfy three conditions: they must be just, they must have enough knowledge to distinguish a good caliph from a bad one, and must have sufficient wisdom and judgment to select the best caliph. Al-Mawardi also said in emergencies when there is no caliphate and no majlis, the people themselves should create a majlis, select a list of candidates for caliph, then the majlis should select from the list of candidates. Some modern interpretations of the role of the Majlis ash-Shura include those by Islamist author Sayyid Qutb and by Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the founder of a transnational political movement devoted to the revival of the Caliphate. In an analysis of the shura chapter of the Qur'an, Qutb argued Islam requires only that the ruler consult with at least some of the ruled (usually the elite), within the general context of God-made laws that the ruler must execute. Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, writes that Shura is important and part of the "the ruling structure" of the Islamic caliphate, "but not one of its pillars," and may be neglected without the Caliphate's rule becoming unIslamic. Non-Muslims may serve in the majlis, though they may not vote or serve as an official.

Rulers, ulama and the traditional Islamic state

One scholar argues that for hundreds of years until the twentieth century, Islamic states followed a system of government based on the coexistence of sultan and ulama following the rules of the sharia law. This system resembled to some extent some Western governments in possessing an unwritten constitution (like the United Kingdom), and possessing separate branches of government - two not three, the sultan and ulama - which provided Separation of powers in governance. A symbol of the success of this system is the current popularity of the Islamist movement which seeks to restore the Islamist state. Accountability of rulers

Sunni Islamic lawyers have commented on when it is permissible to disobey, impeach or remove rulers in the Caliphate. This is usually when the rulers are not meeting public responsibilities obliged upon them under Islam. Al-Mawardi said that if the rulers meet their Islamic responsibilities to the public, the people must obey their laws, but if they become either unjust or severely ineffective then the Caliph or ruler must be impeached via the Majlis ash-Shura. Similarly Al-Baghdadi believed that if the rulers do not uphold justice, the ummah via the majlis should give warning to them, and if unheeded then the Caliph can be impeached. Al-Juwayni argued that Islam is the goal of the ummah, so any ruler that deviates from this goal must be impeached. Al-Ghazali believed that oppression by a caliph is enough for impeachment. Rather than just relying on impeachment, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani obliged rebellion upon the people if the caliph began to act with no regard for Islamic law. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani said that to ignore such a situation is haraam, and those who cannot revolt inside the caliphate should launch a struggle from outside. Al-Asqalani used two ayahs from the Qur'an to justify this:

Islamic lawyers commented that when the rulers refuse to step down via successful impeachment through the Majlis, becoming dictators through the support of a corrupt army, if the majority agree they have the option to launch a revolution against them. Many noted that this option is only exercised after factoring in the potential cost of life.Rule of law

The following hadith establishes the principle of rule of law in relation to nepotism and accountability

Various Islamic lawyers do however place multiple conditions, and stipulations e.g. the poor cannot be penalised for stealing out of poverty, before executing such a law, making it very difficult to reach such a stage. It is well known during a time of drought in the Rashidun caliphate period, capital punishments were suspended until the effects of the drought passed.

Islamic jurists later formulated the concept of the rule of law, the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary law of the land, where no person is above the law and where officials and private citizens are under a duty to obey the same law. A Qadi (Islamic judge) was also not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of religion, race, colour, kinship or prejudice. There were also a number of cases where Caliphs had to appear before judges as they prepared to take their verdict.

According to Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University, the legal scholars and jurists who once upheld the rule of law were replaced by a law governed by the state due to the codification of Sharia by the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century:

Reaction to European colonialism

In the 19th century European encroachment on the Muslim world came with the retreat of the Ottoman Empire, the arrival of the French in Algeria (1830), the disappearance of the Moghul Empire in India (1857), the Russian incursions into the Caucasus (1857) and Central Asia.

The first Muslim reaction to European encroachment was of "peasant and religious", not urban origin. "Charismatic leaders", generally members of the ulama or leaders of religious orders, launched the call for jihad and formed tribal coalitions. Sharia in defiance of local common law was imposed to unify tribes. Examples include Abd al-Qadir in Algeria, the Mahdi in Sudan, Shamil in the Caucasus, the Senussi in Libya and in Chad, Mullah-i Lang in Afghanistan, the Akhund of Swat in India, and later, Abd al-Karim in Morocco. All these movements eventually failed "despite spectacular victories such as the destruction of the British army in Afghanistan in 1842 and the taking of Kharoum in 1885."

The second Muslim reaction to European encroachment later in the century and early 20th century was not violent resistance but the adoption of some Western political, social, cultural and technological ways. Members of the urban elite, particularly in Egypt, Iran, and Turkey advocated and practiced "Westernization".

The failure of the attempts at political westernization, according to some, was exemplified by the Tanzimat reorganization of the Ottoman rulers. Sharia was codified into law (which was called the Mecelle) and an elected legislature was established to make law. These steps took away the Ulama's role of "discovering" the law and the formerly powerful scholar class weakened and withered into religious functionaries, while the legislature was suspended less than a year after its inauguration and never recovered to replaced the Ulama as a separate "branch" of government providing Separation of powers. The "paradigm of the executive as a force unchecked by either the sharia of the scholars or the popular authority of an elected legislature became the dominant paradigm in most of the Sunni Muslim world in the twentieth century."

The modern political ideal of the Islamic state

In addition to the legitimacy given by medieval scholarly opinion, nostalgia for the days of successful Islamic empire simmered under later Western colonialism. This nostalgia played a major role in the Islamist political ideal of Islamic state, which primarily means a state which enforces traditional Islamic laws. The Islamist political program is generally to be accomplished by re-shaping the governments of existing Muslim nation-states; but the means of doing this varies greatly across movements and circumstances. Many Islamist movements, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, have found that they can use the democratic process to their advantage, and so focus on votes and coalition-building with other political parties. Other more radical movements such as Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh embrace militant Islamic ideology.

In the face of the tremendous poverty, corruption and disillusionment with conventional politics, the political ideal of the Islamic state has been criticized by many espousing liberal movements within Islam and for example by Ziauddin Sardar, as being utopian and not offering real solutions.

Islam as a political movement in the 20th century

Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent dissolution of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (founder of Turkey), many Muslims perceived that the political power of their religion was in retreat. There was also concern that Western ideas and influence were spreading throughout Muslim societies. This led to considerable resentment of the influence of the European powers. Resentment of all foreign forces in Arab lands was exacerbated when Hitler indirectly gained control of Syria via Vichy France in 1940. The Baath Party was created in Syria and in Iraq as a movement to resist and harry the British, using some elements of Nazi, Islamic, socialist doctrines, and anti-Semitic propaganda.

After the Second World War

After the war, this party shifted to the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. Stalin had by then become an opponent of Zionism, having like the Arabs initially found it compatible, and then rejected it as bourgeois, racist, and colonial.

Any Arab tendency to anti-Semitism was drastically magnified after World War II when Israel was created, at literally the crossroads of all traditional Arab lands. The fact that the promise made to Arabs had been broken, while that to Jews had been kept, was often ascribed to racism. A religious focus for rhetoric became more common, and more mullahs became involved in politics. The Palestinian Diaspora stressed social structures in Arab states, which expelled many Jews. Zionism was identified as the opponent, and some argued a coherent Islamism was required as a response.

However, Islam was still not the dominant trend in resisting colonialism or even Zionism. During the 1960s, the predominant ideology within the Arab world was pan-Arabism which deemphasized religion and emphasized the creation of socialist, secular states based on Arab nationalism rather than Islam. However, governments based on Arab nationalism have found themselves facing economic stagnation and disorder. Increasingly, the borders of these states were seen as artificial colonial creations - which they were, having literally been drawn on a map by European colonial powers.

Now

from Cairo to Tehran, the crowds that in the 1950s demonstrated under the red or national flag now march beneath the green banner. The targets are the same: foreign banks, nightclubs, local governments accused of complacency toward the West. The continuity is apparent not only in these targets but also the participants: the same individuals who followed Nasser or Marx in the 1960s are Islamists today.

Contemporary movements

Some common political currents in Islam include

  • Traditionalist fundamentalism, which accepts traditional commentaries on the Quran and Sunna and "takes as its basic principle imitation (taqlid), that is, refusal to innovate", and follows one of the five maddhah legal schools or Madh'hab (Shafiism, Malikism, Hanafism, Hanbalism) and, may include Sufism. An example of Sufi traditionalism is the Barelvi school in Pakistan.
  • Reformist fundamentalism, which "criticizes the tradition, the commentaries, popular religious practices (maraboutism, the cult of saints)", deviations, and superstitions; it aims to return to the founding texts. This reformism generally developed in response to an external threat (the influence of Hinduism on Islam, for example. 18th-century examples are Shah Wali Allah in India and Abd al-Wahhab (who founded Wahhabism) in the Arabian Peninsula. A modern example may be Salafism (Salafiyya).
  • Islamism or political Islam, both follows and departs from reformist fundamentalism, embracing a return to the sharia, but adopting Western terminology such as revolution and ideology and taking a more liberal attitude towards women's rights. Contemporary examples include the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian Islamic Revolution.
  • Liberal movements within Islam generally define themselves in opposition to Islamic political movements, but often embrace many of its anti-imperialist elements.

Modern debates

Once the common opposition to colonialism, corruption and racism was established as a focus, debates on political Islam became generally focused on several core questions through the 1970s:

  • The status of women and integration of priorities of feminism into a renewed fiqh
  • Islamic economics and the role of debt in oppression and stagnation of Muslim states
  • Zionism and the response to the formation of the state of Israel and the question ofstatehood
  • Self governance in Muslims nations or in nations with significant Muslim minorities
  • Control of oil revenues in the Middle East

United Nations cooperation was pivotal in this view - as was cooperation with secular forces and allies. The agenda of secular and Islamist movements during this period was all but indistinguishable. However, some rural movements were finding progress made here to be symbolic and unsatisfactory. In 1979 the political situation drastically changed, with Egypt making peace with Israel, the Iranian Revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - all three events had wide-ranging effects on how Islam was perceived as a political phenomenon.

To understand this, consider the variety of attitudes Muslims with a fervent belief in Islam as a universal solution to political problems, took to the events of the 1980s and the 1990s:

Perception of persecution

Some Muslims place the blame for all flaws in Muslim societies on the influx of "foreign" ideas including debt-based capitalism, communism, and even feminism; a return to the principles of Islam is seen as the natural cure. This is however interpreted in very many ways: socialism and Marxism as a guide to adapting Islam to the modern world was in decline by the 1980s as the USSR invaded Afghanistan and polarized attitudes against Communism and other secular variants of socialism. Capitalism was often discredited by plain corruption.

One persistent theme that both proponents and opponents of Islam as a political movement note is that Muslims are actively persecuted by the West and other foreigners. This view is of course not distinguishable from a critique of imperialism including oil imperialism, since many Muslim nations are sitting on relatively vast oil reserves. Colonialism is often identified as the force which is 'against Islam', and seems to neatly encompass British Empire experiences as well as those of modern times - the long Ottoman domination being more or less forgotten.

Reactive Islam

It was largely through reactive measures that the movement that is labeled Islamist came to be visible to the West, where it was labeled as being a distinct movement from Islam, pan-Arabism and resistance to colonization. The legitimacy of this kind of distinction is very much in doubt. Olivier Roy holds that the primary motive of all of this activity is resistance to colonialism and control of the Islamic World by outsiders. In this view, the movement called Islamist is wholly reactive and incidental, just a convenient rationale used to justify what is in fact resistance of a cultural and economic sort.

However, there are many overt similarities. Those militants who follow a version of sharia based on the classical fiqh ("jurisprudence") as interpreted by local ulema ("jurists"), were the most prominent of several competing trends in modern Islamic philosophy in the 1970s and 1980s. It was at this time that they became visible - and a concern - to the West, as they challenged the modernist dictators that the West had generally put trust in.

See militant Islam for a detailed review of some modern movements that are often labeled Islamist by their opponents. This article is only about the reactive definition of the West, leading to the label. Trends which led to this are summarized by Ziauddin Sardar.

Cold War exploitation

But such cross-cultural exchanges, polite activism and moderate views were very often suppressed by the funders of more militant strains who sought to exploit them against the Soviet Union. The United States, for instance, in the 1980s supplied university-authored textbooks to the mujahedeen of Afghanistan that encouraged militant attitudes and even taught arithmetic using examples involving hand grenades and "dead infidels".

There was also pressure against secular socialism in the Islamic World, and especially in Iraq, Syria and Iran, until the Iranian Revolution of 1979 proved it could well be counter-productive and lead to a backlash that put regimes in place that would be hostile to the Western, secular, world.

Role in terrorism

Some militant Islamist forces have been implicated in terrorism and have become targets in a series of military initiatives justified by the US rhetoric of "War on Terrorism", which has been adopted by Russia, Israel and other countries. This has led Muslims and the opponents of these initiatives (in the peace movement) to characterize it sometimes as actually a War on Islam.

As part of this war, they claim, literally every political interpretation of Islam, from classical fiqh to Marxist to such moderate views as those of Dr. Shakir, are all being classified as part of one "enemy" movement.

Movements described as 'Islamist'

What these groups have in common tends to be opposition to the United States and Israel. They vary widely in terms of the form of Islamic Law they prefer: Hamas for instance is close to secular in tone. Some include Saudi Arabia's dominant ideology, Wahhabism, on this list, but, interestingly, not the nominally Islamic governments of Pakistan or Turkey. This appears to be largely motivated by geopolitics, and a purely Western idea of "who we can work with, and who not."

Another profound bias of such classifications is that it is quite rare to include nominally Christian or Jewish or Buddhist guerillas in any analysis of those faiths' views of politics, but quite common if it is Islam under discussion—and likely being criticized.

Globalization

Along with many other cultural phenomena, Islamic political thought has undergone its own globalization as adherents of many different strains have come together. Even in such strictly controlled, secretive groups as Al-Qaida, there were believing Muslims of drastically varying backgrounds coming together, some of whom accepted the tactics and priorities of the group, and some not. While violent fanatics deployed by cynical leaders make highly visible attacks on Western interests and even on 'homelands', this is thought by many to be no more than backlash for an entire 20th century full of cynical attempts by German, British, and American Empires to deploy Islamic idealists as a mere tactic.

When Russia joined the Council of the Islamic Conference in 2003, it emphasized that it had a long history of successful co-existence with Muslims, and a large integrated population of Muslims (few of which are in any sense Islamist). President Vladimir Putin, despite a long and bloody confrontation with rebels in Chechnya, offered to act as a bridge or neutral broker in dealings between Muslims and NATO, the EU and USA. This was a quite different rhetoric, a more pragmatic one likely reflecting the reality that the ex-Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan had substantial Islamic political movements - similar to those in Turkey and Pakistan, relatively modern in tone and willing to participate in the US War on Terrorism to some degree, although not as direct combatants.

Some analysts believe that the old Cold War battlelines have been redrawn, with Russia choosing new allies - those with a record of success in forcing US withdrawals from strategic territories (Beirut, Somalia and - depending on interpretation - Afghanistan and Iraq) with Muslim populations. In this view, the old Marxist alliance against colonialism is the dominant rhetoric.

Others accept the Russian pledge as sincere, and believe that Islamist movements of all stripes will eventually come to accommodation with domestic secular forces, and Islam as a global anti-corruption, anti-colonialism, and anti-racism movement, less focused on Zionism and Palestine. George W. Bush for instance has noted the real need as economic development in Muslim countries, to break the cycle of poverty that tends to feed into extremist movements. In Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and Iraq, the Bush administration has worked closely with nominally Islamic forces and ruling political parties in government. It denies intensely that it is involved in a War on Islam. However, polls of Muslim nations indicate these denials are not trusted. Any accommodation will not be quick in coming.

See also

References

Sources

The following sources generally prescribe to the theory that there is a distinct 20th century movement called Islamism that exists independently of Jewish/Christian observers and motivations:

  • "Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam for Jews" Khalid Duran with Abdelwahab Hechiche, The American Jewish Committee and Ktav, 2001
  • "The Islamism Debate" Martin Kramer, 1997, which includes the chapter The Mismeasure of Political Islam
  • "Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook" Charles Kurzman, Oxford University Press, 1998
  • "The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder" Bassam Tibi, Univ. of California Press, 1998

However, the following sources very strongly challenge that assertion:

These authors in general locate the issues of Islamic political intolerance and fanaticism not in Islam, but in the generally low level of awareness of Islam's own mechanisms for dealing with these, among modern believers, in part a result of Islam being suppressed prior to modern times.

Further reading

Democracy in the Middle East, the role of Islamist political parties, and the war on terrorism:

External links

Opposing viewpoints

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