Islamic parties

Turning Islam into an ideology

The 20th Century was the heyday for ideology. Marxism, Socialism, Communism, Nazism, Fascism, on and on.  The 20th Century also sent the Muslim world into a tailspin with the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
In some ways, you can kind of see a parallel between what happened intellectually in the Muslim world with what happened in Europe in terms of the shift away from traditional religious structures of thought and understanding to rationalistic ideology, because they basically lost their moral footing when they turned away from religon.  Something Fredich Nietzche predicted well before it happened, when he said “God is dead…we have killed Him…who will wipe the blood off us?”  What he meant, of course, was that men had killed their belief in God, renounced religious structures, and in so doing, had ventured into chaos.

For Europe, the turn away from religion made them turn to ideologies for something to believe in.  For the Muslims, the end of the Ottoman Empire left them scrambling for a way to re-energize themselves around a concept that could restore their power and sense of identity.  Extremism emerged both in the West and in the Muslim world in the form of radical belief in ideologies.  For Europe, these were rationalistic, while for the Muslim world, it was still religiously based, with the concept of Islamism or Political Islam.

Since Islam is a religion and not an ideology, turning it into an ideology was not an easy thing to do.  So what they did was to basically borrow elements of other ideologies.  While there were a variety of trends, generally aligning with one or another European ideological trend, Islamism was essentially focused on building an ideology that was state-centric.  This isn’t surprising, since the whole movement developed as a response to the collapse of the Ottoman state.

As Islamism was developing, in the Arab world, there was also the emergence of another ideology, that of Pan-Arabism, or Arab nationalism; which, in fact, was already brewing prior to the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, and played a role in its collapse.  This then saw the Baathist ideology form, and spread in the Arab world.  It was a kind of mix between Fascist and Socialist, Totalitarian dogmas, and Islamism was quite influenced by this.  In fact, it is more or less the same, politically, but with the religious element blended in.

So what sort of religious element would work here?  Well, it makes sense that it would be an interpretation that emphasizes a strict view on the rules and regulations of the religion, I think.  It should be an interpretation that creates a necessity of enforcement of those rules by the state.  And this is predictably going to mean exaggerating the status of what may just be recommendations into the status of obligatory legislation, and it is going to mean denying the existence of divergent opinions on a single issue.  It should also be an interpretation that emphasizes a divisive group identity and a method of proving group identity through superficial, observable adherence to the rules being mandated.

This is the only viable religious interpretation that can be used to support a state-centric ideology, and to a certain extent, that is exactly what happened with Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia when the modern state was founded.

Now, I should say, of course, that this is not to in any way lessen the centrality and importance of the Shari’ah in Islam.  But the fact of the matter is that the Qur’an, as explained by some of the most eminent scholars of Islam, only contains about 500 verses that provide explicit legislation, explicit meaning, they are not open to interpretation, they are clear-cut rulings; and most of these pertain to acts of worship, not to governance or the penal system and so forth.  That is out of a total number of verses over 6000. So the actual explicit rulings in the Qur’an are relatively few.  The same sort of ratio exists in the Hadiths; the overwhelming majority of Hadiths do not contain explicit legislation.  What has happened is that the line between what is an explicit ruling and what is an interpreted ruling derived from non-explicit verses and Hadiths has become blurred.  That is, the line between the Law itself and jurisprudence, or Fiqh, has been blurred.  And this means the line between what is Revelation and what is opinion has become obscured.

Furthermore, the methodologies for deducing jurisprudential rulings have decreased.  We have started to take a very cut-and-dried approach to jurisprudence, we over-simplify, we discard nuances, we fail to consider circumstantial factors, environmental and historical factors, and so on.  And it is necessary to do that when you are creating an ideology.  You have to over-simplify.  You have to reduce complexity.  You have to create a black and white perspective and eject as many alternate views as possible.

So we have this idea today that because the early generations of Islam are the best generations, we have to do what they did, we have to imitate their actions; rather than saying that we should engage in the same intellectual processes that they did to determine what our actions should be; because those processes are complicated, and because those processes may very well result in a multiplicity of opinions about what we should do.  That approach does not lend itself to the uniformity and cohesion required by an ideology.

An ideology must be able to manifest itself into a system; you have to be able to tick the boxes, with the belief that once all the boxes are ticked, you will have established a Utopia.

But here is the thing:  there is no such thing as an Islamic System.  This term does not appear in the entirety of the Qur’an or Hadith literature.  But, you know, Marxists have a system, Communists have a system, Fascists have a system, Baathists have a system, so we have to have a system…if we are going to have an ideology.

What the Qur’an is, and what the Sunnah is, and what they say they are, is Guidance; not a system.  That is because Islam is a religion, not an ideology; and when you reduce it to an ideology, you make it dysfunctional.  You turn it into a man-made construct, and not Divine Guidance.  We always like to say that Islam provides a prescription for an ideal society; as the Islamist slogan says “Islam is the solution”.  But that is not what the Book says, that is not what the Prophet said.  And if Islam really did claim to provide a panacea for each and every human problem that has ever and will ever occur, and if it claimed that it lays out the blueprint for a Utopian society; that would be proof positive that it did not come from the Creator.

I know for Muslims, this sounds strange.  We are fond of likening the Qur’an to an instruction manual for life.  We say that Allah has provided us with a rule book for how to live our lives, how to deal with any and every difficulty and challenge; and that it is the very comprehensiveness of Islam that proves it has a Divine Origin; because who else could have come up with such a system other than God?  But the truth is that our Creator Knows better than we do how complex we are, how complicated our nature is, how much our circumstances and situations change, and that any sort of comprehensive set of instructions are inevitably going to become obsolete in a very short span of time.  That is why what we get from the Qur’an and Sunnah is Guidance that can be adapted as we and our circumstances change.  That is why Islam does NOT provide a list of boxes to tick to create a Utopian society, because our Creator Knows that the nature of the Creation He produced and the nature of the creatures in it are such that there is no such thing as an earthly Utopia.

The proof of the Divine Origin of Islam is that it does NOT present a formula, a plan, a system for creating an idyllic society, because only a human being would imagine that such a society could be created.  Islam provides Guidance and Wisdom that can adapt to circumstances and that can inform us about our nature to help us navigate through life in ways that will hopefully make our lives more successful and our selves more virtuous, and most importantly (as it IS a religion) improve our relationship with the Creator and make us successful in the Afterlife.

Even though Islamism is awash with religious rhetoric and references to Allah, really, it functions as a secular neo-fascist ideology, almost exclusively concerned with material issues and explanations of worldly matters, and it has very little to do with worship or spirituality.  Allah has become the rhetorical figurehead of a conceptual state in the Islamists’ minds almost like the mythologized image of Joseph Stalin in Soviet Russia, whom everyone wants to please and associate themselves with through their strictness and expertise in the ideology.  Islamists have kind of become the clergy Islam never had, and isn’t supposed to have; the priest class who are the arbiters and enforcers of an ideology that is primarily interested in power and control.  And again, that is one of the things that happns when you turn religion into ideology; you create a class of experts and authorities who have no real qualification outside of the niche they have created for themselves. That is what happens with any ideology I suppose; you have a group of intellectual interpreters of the ideology, and they become authorities; and they are people who could never attain authority in any other scenario.


Towards a new Islamism             نحو إسلام سياسي جديد

لقراءة المقال مترجم إلى العربية انتقل إلى الأسفل

Any political system, and any platform for a political party or movement, of course, is going to be a product of a belief system; and usually that is going to be a religious belief system.  The secularism of the West (and indeed, in Turkey), should not be construed as being “unreligious” at its foundation.  It is a secularism that emerged as a reaction to the tyranny of the church, or of the religious scholars; but religion permeates their political philosophies.  How could it not?

Angela Merkel, after all, heads the Christian Democratic Party of Germany.  In America, it is possible to elect a Black president, a woman president, a Jewish president, and so on; but an atheist does not stand a chance.

I consider myself an Islamist; I believe in Political Islam; but I find myself at odds with what can be called “mainstream Islamism”, because, frankly, I think it is a scam. As a Muslim, it makes sense that my religion would shape my political views, my vision of how governments should behave; just as anyone else forms their political views based on their overall belief system.  I don’t see why that should be controversial, or why it should feel threatening to anyone, or why my political views should be dismissed out of hand simply because I have reached them through a belief system different from non-Muslims.

You can argue that Islamic texts do not support ideals like equality, freedom, leniency, and so on; just as I could argue the same about Christian texts.  But what is the point?  Those ideals are what I take from my texts, and they are what you take from yours.  I don’t really care how you reached these ideals, nor should you care how I reached them; they are shared ideals.

Political Islam, for me, means government that manifests the values and principles of my religion and cares about promoting those values in the society I live in through the practical implementation of laws, policies, and regulations; which, if we are honest, is exactly what non-Muslims want from their governments. What Political Islam does NOT mean for me, is an archaic system of government that replicates the model implemented 1,400 years ago, nor the model of the Muslim imperial era.  As I have stated innumerable times, there is no mandated governmental system in Islam; there are a handful of rules that apply to societal matters, and any government that implements them, or is even committed to pursuing the aims of those rules, is acceptable.

We have a history from which we can draw tremendous guidance for understanding how the state should behave, how government should be conducted and structured, and how the economy should be managed for the overall benefit of the society.  Of course, in our history, there are also plentiful examples of tyranny and oppression.  When we make reference to our history we learn from what we did right and from what we did wrong; and I don’t think that is peculiar to the Muslims.

The mainstream Islamists, however, are in my opinion, political hacks using religion to carve out a niche for themselves in the political landscape which they could never otherwise attain because of their profound ignorance and incompetence.  They spout empty and divisive rhetoric that alienates Muslim intellectuals, and non-Muslims alike, and they inadvertently present the best possible argument in favor of secularism, because, well, may Allah save us from these people ever wielding power.

Genuine Political Islam has every right to have a place in the political spectrum, and there is no reason why it should not garner the support of non-Muslims as well as Muslims; but it falls upon us to define and articulate it, and indeed, to develop it conceptually, in a way that makes it more than slogans and reactionary identity politics.

أي نظام سياسي، وأي برنامج لأي حزب أو حركة سياسية، سيكون بطبيعة الحال نتاج مجموعة من المعتقدات، التي عادة تكون دينية. ولا ينبغي أن نفسر علمانية الغرب (وبكل تأكيد علمانية تركيا) على أنها “غير دينية” في أساسها، فهي علمانية برزت كرد فعل على طغيان الكنيسة، أو علماء الدين، وبالتالي فإن الدين يتخلل فلسفاتهم السياسية. ولكن كيف يكون هذا؟

فكما نرى، أنجيلا ميركل ترأس الحزب الديمقراطي المسيحي في ألمانيا. وفي أمريكا، من الممكن انتخاب رئيس أسود، أو امرأة، أو رئيس يهودي، وهلم جرا؛ ولكن الملحد لن تكون له أية فرصة.

أنا أعتبر نفسي إسلاميًا، وأعتقد في الإسلام السياسي، إلا أنني أجد نفسي على خلاف مع ما يمكن أن نطلق عليه “التيار الإسلامي الرئيسي”، لأنني بصراحة، أجد فيه الكثير من الاحتيال. كمسلم، من المنطقي أن يشكل ديني وجهات نظري السياسية، ورؤيتي لكيفية إدارة الحكومات، تماما كما يشكل أي شخص آخر آراءه السياسية على أساس مجموعة معتقداته العقدية العامة. ولا أرى سببًا يجعل هذا الأمر مثيرًا للجدل، أو سببًا يجعله يمثل أي تهديد لأي أحد، أو سببًا يجعل وجهات نظري السياسية يتم استبعادها لمجرد أنني توصلت إليها من خلال نظام عقائدي يختلف عن نظام غير المسلمين.

قد تقول أن النصوص الإسلامية لا تدعم مثل عليا مثل المساواة، والحرية، والتسامح، وما إلى ذلك؛ كما يمكنني أن أقول الشيء نفسه عن النصوص المسيحية، ولكن ما هو الهدف من كل هذا؟ هذه المثل العليا هي ما أتخذه من نصوصي، وهي ما تتخذه أنت من نصوصك، ولا يهمني حقًا كيف وصلت إلى هذه المثل العليا، ولا يجب أن تهتم أنت كيف وصلت إنا إليها؛ فهي مُثُل مشتركة.

إن الإسلام السياسي بالنسبة لي يعني الحكومة التي تجسد قيمي ومبادئي الدينية وتهتم بتعزيز هذه القيم في المجتمع الذي أعيش فيه من خلال التطبيق العملي للقوانين والسياسات والأنظمة؛ والتي، إن كنا صادقين، هي نفس ما يريده غير المسلمين من حكوماتهم. وما لا يعنيه الإسلام السياسي بالنسبة لي، هو أن يكون نظام قديم من الحكم يحاول أن يقلد نموذجًا انتهى قبل 1400 سنة، ولا هو يمثل نموذج العصر الإمبراطوري الإسلامي. وكما ذكرت مرات لا حصر لها، لا يوجد نظام حكومي منصوص عليه في الإسلام؛ هناك عدد من الأسس والتشريعات المتعلقة بالمسائل المجتمعية، وأي حكومة تنفذها، أو حتى تلتزم بالسعي إلى تحقيق هذه الأسس، ستكون مقبولة.

يوجد لدينا تاريخ عريق يمدنا بتوجيهات هائلة تعيننا على فهم كيفية إدارة الدول، وكيفية إدارة الحكومات وتنظيمها، وكيفية إدارة الاقتصاد لتحقيق المنفعة العامة للمجتمع، وبالطبع، في تاريخنا، هناك أيضا أمثلة وفيرة من الطغيان والاضطهاد. فعندما نشير إلى تاريخنا يجب أن نتعلم مما أصبنا ومما أخطأنا فيه؛ وأنا لا أعتقد أن هذا شيء غريب على المسلمين.

أما الإسلاميين في التيار الرئيسي اليوم فهم، في رأيي، محتالون يستخدمون الدين لرسم مكانة لأنفسهم في المشهد السياسي الذي لم يتمكنوا من تحقيقه بسبب جهلهم العميق وعدم كفاءتهم. فهم يبثون الخطاب الفارغ والخلاف الذي ينفر المثقفين المسلمين وغير المسلمين على حد سواء، ويقدمون عن غير قصد أفضل حجة ممكنة للعلمانية، وليحفظنا الله من مثل هؤلاء لو حازوا على السلطة في أي وقت.

إن الإسلام السياسي الحقيقي له كل الحق في أن يكون له مكان في الطيف السياسي، ولا يوجد سبب يمنعه من كسب دعم غير المسلمين والمسلمين، ولكن علينا أن نحدده ونوضحه، بل ونطوره من الناحية النظرية، بطريقة تجعله أكثر من مجرد شعارات وردود أفعال متعلقة بالهوية.

The deterioration of Islamism

(to be published in Arabic for Arabi21)

The election of Donald Trump to the American presidency takes place within the context of a global trend towards Right-wing nationalism.  This trend takes place within the context of global discontent with a status quo that has been managed for decades by center-Left political parties.

In France, which will hold elections next year, Francois Hollande has a lower approval rating than George W. Bush at the nadir of his popularity.  The National Front (the anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, overtly racist far-Right party) is the most popular political party in France; it is expected to win at least 40% of the votes in the upcoming election, which will see Neo-Fascists take the government.

In Italy, there is to be a constitutional referendum on December 4th which most Italians view as a vote for or against the authority of Brussels.  Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said that he will resign if the referendum’s proposal is rejected, and it will be rejected; thus Italy will be forced to hold elections. In all likelihood, this will result in a Right-wing coalition taking power.

The administration of Angela Merkel in Germany is also vulnerable, and will most likely fall next year, again, being replaced by a far-Right, nationalist government.

Left-wing parties are less able to harvest the fruits of popular discontent primarily because they are relentlessly attacked by the center-Left.  Bernie Sanders in the US was sabotaged by his own party, and the major European Left parties have been the prime opponents of Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, and so on.

How will this shift to the Right impact the Musllims?

The obvious answer to this question is that it will make life considerably more difficult.  And, frankly, I expect that we are beginning a new era within our Ummah of, for lack of a better term, secularization.  Advocating Political Islam is going to become entirely too dangerous, and more and more people will feel it is wiser to compromise and capitulate with a power structure that will be increasingly vicious.

But the real blame for this, in my opinion, cannot be laid at the feet of the ultra-Right, but rather Islamists themselves are responsible.  Whether we are talking about the Muslim Brotherhood at one end of the spectrum, or Da’esh at the other end; the voices of Political Islam have miserably failed to offer a clear, constructive, and responsive program.  In the absence of any articulate policies and comprehensive plans, it is not realistic to expect people to stand up and face the very real risks involved with advocating Political Islam.

Da’esh as a territorial project is essentially over. They will continue to struggle through small scale terrorist attacks and setting up franchises around the world, no doubt, but this will only push more people away from the concepts they champion; quite simply because 1.) people will have to distance themselves from such ideas for their own safety, and 2.) because, at the end of the day, not only do terrorist attacks do nothing useful to advance the ideas advocated by the perpetrators, but they also do nothing helpful in terms of the real issues affecting people’s lives.

We are entering an era in which people will no longer tolerate empty slogans, but it is also an era in which people are entirely open to radical change.  This should be a marvelous opportunity for Islamism, but unfortunately, Islamism’s proponents have failed to do the serious intellectual work that would make it a viable alternative to either the status quo or to the ultra-Right wing.  Therefore, I expect, the relevance of the Islamist project will be diminished year after year, and our people will turn elsewhere for solutions.  We have no one to blame for this but ourselves.


رفض الإسلاميين، وليس الإسلام             Rejecting Islamists, not Islam


يقال لنا أن المسلمين في ضلال، وأنهم بعيدون كل البعد عن الدين وليس لديهم أي حس بالولاء والبراء، وهذا هو السبب في أننا نعاني مما نحن فيه.

انظروا معي… الأغلبية الساحقة من المسلمين في جميع أنحاء العالم الإسلامي يُعَرِّفون أنفسهم بأنهم متدينون، وأن أخلاقهم وسلوكهم وفقًا للإسلام، وأن الدين جزءًا لا يتجزأ من حياتهم اليومية، والأغلبية الساحقة في جميع أنحاء العالم الإسلامي يريدون الشريعة صراحة، وكذلك نفس الأغلبية الساحقة في جميع أنحاء العالم الإسلامي ترى الغرب كقوة قمعية واستغلالية تتحكم في بلدانهم.

هل ترون؟ هذا هو الواقع، شعوبنا تحب الإسلام وتريد الإسلام، وكذلك تحب وتريد الشريعة … ولكن بصراحة، وهذا رأيي، هم يكادوا يموتون خوفًا من الإسلاميين … الإسلاميين الذين ليس لديهم خطة واضحة وواقعية لتحقيق ما نحبه ونريده كلنا.

نحن لا نعاني مما نحن فيه لأننا في ضلال أو بعيدون عن الدين، نحن نعاني لأننا نتعرض للهجوم، وشعارات قادتنا ليست أقوى من الرصاص، وخطابهم ليست أقوى من القوى السياسية والعسكرية والاقتصادية التي سحقت مجتمعاتنا.

الأمر ليس لأننا لا نفهم ما هو إلزامي بالنسبة لنا فيم يتعلق بالدين، ولكن لأننا لا نفهم ما هو إلزامي بالنسبة لنا فيم يتعلق بالاقتصاد، وبالاستراتيجية السياسية، وبتكتيكات الصراع غير المتكافئ.

والله لكأن الأغلبية الساحقة من المسلمين قد تجاوزت الإسلاميين في كل القضايا، وحان الوقت للإسلاميين للحاق بهم.

We are told that the Muslims are astray, and far from the Deen, and have no sense of al-Wala’ wal-Baraa, and this is why we are suffering what we are suffering.

Look, overwhelming majorities throughout the Muslim world identify themselves as religious; their morals and ethics are determined by Islam, the Deen is integral to their daily lives. Overwhelming majorities throughout the Muslim world explicitly want Shari’ah. Overwhelming majorities throughout the Muslim world identify the West as an oppressive, exploitative force in their countries;

OK? That is the reality. Our people love Islam, want Islam; love and want the Shari’ah…but, frankly, in my opinion, they are sick to death of Islamists…Islamists who have no clear, realistic plan for achieving what we all love and want.

We are not suffering what we are suffering because we are astray and far from the Deen. We are suffering because we are under attack, and the slogans of our leaders are not stronger than bullets, and their rhetoric is not stronger than the political, military, and economic powers that are crushing our societies.

It is not because we do not understand what it is mandatory for us to understand about the religion, it is because we do not understand what it is mandatory for us to understand about economics, about political strategy, about tactics of asymmetric conflict.

Wallahi, the Muslim majorities have surpassed the Islamists in all issues, and it is time for the Islamists to catch up.