Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Political Islam: Meaning, functions and fate | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- When America killed Osama Bin Laden there was a lot of talk about the “fate” of Al Qaeda and the “fate” of political Islam. There were some who linked the two together and some who differentiated between the two with regards to their principles and fate. The reality of the matter is that it is unacceptable to mistake one for the other in order not to confuse those looking at this issue, particularly during the current conditions of Arab revolution. Perhaps the confusion between the term “political Islam” and the term “jihadist Islam” came about as a result of the spread of the term “political Islam” after the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group [EIJ] assassinated the former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. This was because it was clear that the Islamists who killed President Sadat were not concerned with politics and did not have a specific political theory. Rather, the essence of their ideology was based upon proving that it is permissible to carry out jihad internally [in a Muslim country] if it would lead to the killing of an apostate or a traitor! As a result, it was only natural following this, and after such Islamists became organized through Al Qaeda, to name them as jihadists or followers of jihadist Islam because they truly believed it is their duty – according to their own ideology – to eliminate evil and not substitute what is good with what is permissible. However they did not have a political objective of establishing an Islamist regime, despite the rise of their ideology in the mid-1990s, but rather their activities developed into a “global jihad” to fight and destroy the infidels. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood (firstly in Egypt and later in other Arab countries), as well as the Jamaat-e-Islami group in Pakistan began to develop their operations in the public domain into a political theory known for its use of the theory of “hakimiyyah” [an Islamic concept that Allah alone is responsible for judging everybody, but that He can mandate others to establish His law] when facing “jahiliyah” [Islamic concept of a state of ignorance of divine guidance]. In the mid-1960s, the Muslim Brotherhood approved of a comprehensive Islamic regime falling under the theory of “hakimiyyah”, which is something that distinguished them from the jihadists of the 1970s in Egypt, who were said to have been responsible for the killing of former Egyptian president Sadat. It has never been confirmed whether the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt carried out violent operations following the July revolution [of 1952]. However, prior to the revolution (and before the Muslim Brotherhood developed their political and economic theories), the “Secret Apparatus” that was set up by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership did carry out a number of assassinations and violent operations. In any case, we now know that the Muslim Brotherhood members in prison discussed the issue of “hakimiyyah” (which is a concept that is akin to being mandated by God to establish His law on earth), and that the Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs accepted this. When they were released from prison in 1971 and 1972, they decided to renounce violence and to participate in the political process. This means that the Muslim Brotherhood – in contrast to the jihadists – approved of the legitimacy of the [political and social] situation [in Egypt], and they wanted to work towards implementing Islamic Shariaa law in accordance with the law [of the land]. With the exception of six or seven years, the Muslim Brotherhood remained on good terms with the Sadat and Mubarak regimes. Over the past 20 years, the security apparatus has maintained control over the Muslim Brotherhood without the organization turning its back on its renouncement of violence or its commitment to participating in the political process.

Let us return to the differences between these very important terms; “political Islam” and “jihadist Islam.” For over three decades or more a sense of dualism has emerged and intensified [in our societies]; on one hand we have the presidents of bequeathed republics, whilst on the other hand we have the Islamist jihadists and non-jihadists. Regardless of the complexity of language and terms, it is understood that the Islamist jihadists and others criticized these republics for increasingly moving away from Islam, for their corruption and for their incapability in confronting the “US-Zionist attacks.” The jihadists chose the path of the armed struggle and Afghanistan became their main battlefield, whilst other Islamists remained in Egypt and in other Arab countries, as well as Pakistan, peacefully seeking to participate [in the political process], and via participation correct [society] and implement Islamic Shariaa law. Political Islam calls for peaceful political work, with the long-term objective of this being the establishment of an Islamic state based upon Islamic Sharia law. However the regimes are using both of these kinds of Islam to ensure their own survival; professing one type of Islam in their dealings with the international community, and profession another type of Islam in their dealings with their own people. These regimes always say that should they collapse extremist Islamists will come to power and play havoc with the interests of the West, which would result in a state of chaos reigning in the region, and wars being launched against Israel. It is therefore not in the interest of government regimes to distinguish between “political Islam” and “jihadist Islam”, particularly as the slogans of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as “Islam is the solution” represent a greater threat to the regimes than the jihadists do. These jihadists rely upon violence to threaten regimes; they don’t call for democracy or reconciliation, which means that these jihadists do not enjoy any significant popularity, and therefore they can do nothing but carry out assassinations, although this by no means represents a small threat.

What now for “political Islam” and “jihadist Islam” following the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the Arab revolutions taking place in the region? We said that activists in the Arab world, whether they are jihadists or political Islamists or have no connection to Islam whatsoever, were working towards overcoming two things; the failure of the regimes to protect national and Islamic interests, as well as the regime’s failure or unwillingness to confront Zionism and the American invasions. However the Islamists, in both regards, were not able to achieve anything, whilst the jihadists only managed to harm the Islamic Ummah, states, and the reputation of Islam. The global war on terror, which was provoked by these jihadists, has forced Islam and Muslims into a confrontation with the world that is still not over and may continue for another decade or so. The Americans invaded and destroyed two Muslim countries, causing the death of around 1 million people, whilst displacing approximately 5 million others. It is evident that after being as patient as Job with regards to this “beautiful destruction” the Muslim world chose to act in other ways to curtail tyrannical rule, corruption, and the violence and ineffectiveness of jihadists. Therefore we expect these jihadists to weaken and fail, in the same manner as their opponents the government regimes have weakened and are now on the brink of disappearing.

Imam Malik Ibn Anas and Imam al Awzai were among the first who approved of using consensus as a reference in Islamic Fiqh and in the administration of public affairs. As for Abu Hanifa, he spoke about “the great majority.” It was this “great majority” that took to the streets [during the Arab revolutions], if not in the name of “Ahl al Sunnah wal Jamaa” [the people of the Sunnah who unite upon this; i.e. Muslims] then in the spirit of “Ahl al Sunnah wal Jamaa.” They did no bear malice or offense, they did not carry out violence or practice takfir [naming others as apostates], because all of these practices are the actions of those who do not possess any consciousness or understanding. Over the past four decades, our societies and our Ummah has experienced conditions that have produced rulers who exercise authoritarian rule, at the same time as producing violent and active Islamist jihadists. Our people and our causes were put under intense pressure and weakened by the [authoritarian] governments, as well as by their Islamist opposition. Therefore it is likely that in the same manner that these two sides produced and strengthened one another, they will also disappear together.

If jihadist Islam, or those that acts in the name of jihad, are on the path to extinction because this has become part of the former deadlocked stage, then this means that non-violent political Islam has a better chance. The political Islamists [in Egypt] joined the revolution after it took place and here they are trying to adopt its methods in order to be part of the political process and to maintain the identity of the society and state through elections and through the strong presence of institutions. The non-Islamic civil forces are fearful that the Muslim Brotherhood will gain a larger share [in parliament] than is their due. However this is not important, it is unlikely that they will gain more than they did five years ago when the state changed the election results in order to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from participating [in the political process] altogether. The Muslim Brotherhood are not calling for “hakimiyyah” today, but rather for a civil state that is legislated according to a constitution that proclaims that the state religion is Islam and Islamic Shariaa law is the main source of legislation. It seems that the Muslim Brotherhood’s confidence in itself, its popularity, and the army is based upon previous communications, and a list of conditions that they will not transgress. Therefore there are mutual obligations, and the situation will remain this way for years to come. In Egypt in particular, the influence of the Salafists is also emerging, and it appears that they are at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood; the Salafists also appear to be acting in a somewhat obtrusive manner with regards to their well-known priorities in correcting [methods of] worship and creed. However not all the issue that are being followed up by some Egyptian Salafists have a close relationship with religion or the future of Islam. Indeed, these Salafists actually have a chance to have a positive influence on the new stage [in Egypt] as they are considered the “backbone of Ahl al Sunnah” but with genuine priorities and without alienating [people] or getting engrossed in pointless details that do not benefit anybody.