Political Islam is any interpretation of Islam as a source of political identity and action. It can refer to a wide range of individuals and/or groups who advocate the formation of state and society according to their understanding of Islamic principles. It may also refer to the use of Islam as a source of political positions and concepts. Political Islam represents one aspect of the Islamic revival that began in the 20th century, and not all forms of political activity by Muslims are discussed under the rubric of political Islam. Most academic authors use the term Islamism to describe the same phenomenon or use the two terms interchangeably. There are new attempts to distinguish between Islamism as a religiously based political movement and political Islam as a national modern understanding of Islam shared by secular and Islamist actors.
Development of the term
The terminology which is used for the phenomenon of political Islam differs among experts. Martin Kramer was one of the first experts who started using the term “political Islam” in 1980. In 2003, he stated that political Islam can also be seen as tautology because nowhere in the Muslim world is a religion separated from politics. Some experts use terms like Islamism, pointing out the same set of occurrences or they confuse both terms. Dekmejian was amongst the first of the experts who made remarks on politicisation of Islam in the context of the failure of secular Islamic governments while he uses both Islamism and Fundamentalism at the same time (rather than political Islam).
The term political Islam has been used in connection with foreign communities, referring to the movements or groups which have invested in a broad fundamentalist revival that is connected to a certain political agenda. M. A. Muqtedar Khan incorporates into political Islam all the Islamic movements promoting a political system based solely on Islam which must be followed by every Muslim. Some of the experts also use other descriptive terms in order to distinguish various ideological courses within political Islam: conservative, progressive, militant, radical, jihadist, etc.
Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs in Saudi Arabia Dr. Tawfiq al-Sudairi has expressed his disapproval of the “political interpretation of Islam” slogan, arguing that it is a “self-serving interpretation” of religion which resulted in a bloodbath of the impeccable.
Reaction to European colonialism
In the 19th century, European colonization of the Muslim world coincided with the retreat of the Ottoman Empire, the French conquest of Algeria (1830), the disappearance of the Moghul Empire in India (1857), the Russian incursions into the Caucasus (1828) and Central Asia.
The first Muslim reaction to European colonization 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 replace 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.”
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, a state in which Islamic law is preeminent. 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 democratic Islamist movements, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and Muslim Brotherhood have used the democratic process and focus on votes and coalition-building with other political parties. Radical movements such as Taliban and al-Qaeda embrace militant Islamic ideology. Al-Quada was prominent for being part of the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Both of the aforementioned groups had a role to play with the September 11 attacks in 2001, presenting both “near” and “far” enemies asregional governments and the United States respectively. They also took part in the bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. The recruits often came from the ranks of jihadis, from Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco.
Compatibility with democracy
General Muslim views
Esposito and DeLong-Bas distinguish four attitudes toward sharia and democracy prominent among Muslims today:
- Advocacy of democratic ideas, often accompanied by a belief that they are compatible with Islam, which can play a public role within a democratic system, as exemplified by many protestors who took part in the Arab Spring uprisings;
- Support for democratic procedures such as elections, combined with religious or moral objections toward some aspects of Western democracy seen as incompatible with sharia, as exemplified by Islamic scholars like Yusuf al-Qaradawi;
- Rejection of democracy as a Western import and advocacy of traditional Islamic institutions, such as shura (consultation) and ijma (consensus), as exemplified by supporters of absolute monarchy and radical Islamist movements;
- Belief that democracy requires restricting religion to private life, held by a minority in the Muslim world.
Polls conducted by Gallup and PEW in Muslim-majority countries indicate that most Muslims see no contradiction between democratic values and religious principles, desiring neither a theocracy, nor a secular democracy, but rather a political model where democratic institutions and values can coexist with the values and principles of sharia.
Islamic political theories
Muslih and Browers identify three major perspectives on democracy among prominent Muslims thinkers who have sought to develop modern, distinctly Islamic theories of socio-political organization conforming to Islamic values and law:
- The rejectionist Islamic view, elaborated by Sayyid Qutb and Abul A’la Maududi, condemns imitation of foreign ideas, drawing a distinction between Western democracy and the Islamic doctrine of shura (consultation between ruler and ruled). This perspective, which stresses comprehensive implementation of sharia, was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s among various movements seeking to establish an Islamic state, but its popularity has diminished in recent years.
- The moderate Islamic view stresses the concepts of maslaha (public interest), ʿadl (justice), and shura. Islamic leaders are considered to uphold justice if they promote public interest, as defined through shura. In this view, shura provides the basis for representative government institutions that are similar to Western democracy, but reflect Islamic rather than Western liberal values. Hasan al-Turabi, Rashid al-Ghannushi, and Yusuf al-Qaradawi have advocated different forms of this view.
- The liberal Islamic view is influenced by Muhammad Abduh’s emphasis on the role of reason in understanding religion. It stresses democratic principles based on pluralism and freedom of thought. Authors like Fahmi Huwaidi and Tariq al-Bishri have constructed Islamic justifications for full citizenship of non-Muslims in an Islamic state by drawing on early Islamic texts. Others, like Mohammed Arkoun and Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, have justified pluralism and freedom through non-literalist approaches to textual interpretation. Abdolkarim Soroush has argued for a “religious democracy” based on religious thought that is democratic, tolerant, and just. Islamic liberals argue for the necessity of constant reexamination of religious understanding, which can only be done in a democratic context.
20th and 21st century
Following World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent abolition 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. The Muslim Brotherhood was created in Egypt as a movement to resist and harry the British.
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.
Some common political currents in Islam include
- Traditionalism, 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 four legal schools or Madh’hab (Shaf’i, Maliki, Hanafi, Hanbali) and, may include Sufism. An example of Sufi traditionalism is the Barelvi school in Pakistan.
- Fundamentalist reformism, 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 Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab (who founded Wahhabism) in the Arabian Peninsula. Salafism is a modern example.
- Islamism or political Islam, embracing a return to the sharia or Islamic principles, but adopting Western terminology such as revolution, ideology, politics and democracy and taking a more liberal attitude towards issues like Jihad and women’s rights. Contemporary examples include the Jamaat-e-Islami, Muslim Brotherhood, Iranian Islamic Revolution, Masyumi party, United Malays National Organisation, Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party and Justice and Development Party (Turkey).
- Liberal movements within Islam generally define themselves in opposition to Islamic political movements, but often embrace many of its anti-imperialist and Islam inspired liberal reformist elements.
Sunni and Shia differences
According to scholar Vali Nasr, political tendencies of Sunni and Shia Islamic ideology differ, with Sunni Islamic revivalism “in Pakistan and much of the Arab world” being “far from politically revolutionary”, while Shia political Islam is strongly influenced by Ruhollah Khomeini and his talk of the oppression of the poor and class war. Sunni revivalism “is rooted in conservative religious impulses and the bazaars, mixing mercantile interests with religious values.” … Khomeini’s version of Islamism engaged the poor and spoke of class war.
This Cleavage between fundamentalism as revivalism and fundamentalism as revolution was deep and for a long while coincided closely with the sectarian divide between the Sunnis – the Muslim world’s traditional `haves`, concerned more with conservative religiosity – and the Shia – the longtime outsiders,` more drawn to radical dreaming and scheming.”
Graham Fuller has also noted that he found “no mainstream Islamist organization (with the exception of [shia] Iran) with radical social views or a revolutionary approach to the social order apart from the imposition of legal justice.”
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia