Political Islamic and Jihadi Movements

By Chafiq JaredahConflicts Forum

As far as Islamic resistance movements are concerned, the objective framework is social activism, not power.

It is appropriate to adopt caution, and to beware making hasty analysis, when it comes to passing judgment on problematic issues, whose dimensions, meanings and significance are unclear: One such issue that falls into this zone requiring caution and patience is the discourse centred around what is known as Political Islam.

Hence, what do we mean by Political Islam? Is the term exclusively linked to the knowledge derived from Islam as a faith – as distinguished, in its reading and interpretation, from the Islam of worship and Da’wa (Islamic ‘Call’) and another component that is political, and which largely is based on the game of conflicting and common interests? Or, is it a historiography of the era that followed the fall of the Ottoman State, and the outbreak of conflicts in the region between the ruling authorities, and certain ideological and religious trends that led to the broader Islamic rising, represented by the emergence of Islamic movements?

Is Political Islam an expression of severance between the Islamic movements and the traditional religious institutions – be they the scientific universities, or the statutory councils affiliated with the ruling regimes in the region? What is clear is that each explanation and descriptive label has its own distinguishing characteristics; and consequently, carries in its wake, its own special conception that gives definition to its particularity. But in distinguishing between Islam as source of worship and its political orientation is mere superficiality, given that Islam is essentially based on a comprehensive system that incorporates both the personal, as well as the political affairs, of the individual human being and the community of which he is a part. The establishment community and political administration in the Mohammedan Prophetic Message were given a similar status to prayer when The Prophet said: “Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship… (Sura Hajj, verse 41).

This is a key concept grasped in the Islamic interpretations of the Holy Qur’an to the extent that the so-called traditional Islamists have dealt with the political dimensions as an Islamic whole, even though they differentiated, at the practical level, between the originality of the theoretical interest in politics in Islam; and on questions of political practice, such as: how should the Muslim deal with the ruler – be he just or unjust? Is the criteria the ruler’s competence at Tashreeh (law making); or the ruler’s quality of justice and his traits? What is the required system? Khilafat? Imamite? Emirate? Sultanate? Or other types?

This debate coincided with a discussion between ‘ends’, which may be described as Islamic, and the ‘means’ that lead to achieving that ‘end’, such as establishing the state, the party or the movement – which constitute temporal issues, rather than religious matters. This distinction, as such, however, does not mean that such temporal issues are unimportant, or do not constitute obligations, for what is meant by the ‘temporal’ here is that which is subject to changes and is adaptable – according to interests, realities and circumstance.

This apart, politics stands as a norm expressing Islamic principles within current historical ‘time’: any flaw in this norm will deeply affect the other doctrinal, ethical, and legal aspects – for it is not possible, according to Islam, for the individual to become ‘perfect’ outside of the framework of the community and the administrative, political and ethical order. More than that, the Sharia cannot be complete; nor can worship be ‘perfect’ unless they march in step with the system of political governance. Aspects of financial giving, such as zakat (almsgiving) and khoms (fifth), should be seen as a political system whose intent is the fulfilling of both society’s civil and humanitarian needs. In addition, the verdicts of the judiciary are legal rulings that cannot be appropriately implemented unless there is an administrative procedure that possesses authority and therefore has a political existence.

Thus, the followers of traditional or official Islam would not deny the role of politics and worldly affairs as being of an interest to Islam; they may, nevertheless, argue that in the manner and timing of political activity, Islamic movements have tended to pursue their interest in politics firstly; and, only later, and secondly, have focussed on actualising the political work, action and commitment within their own movements. This has extended even – in their charting their course – to believing that worshipping Allah cannot be perfect, until and unless, these movements establish a state of divine justice on earth.
This latter notion underlies the theory of divine governance, which was based on several concepts:

A. Authority rests with Allah alone; Allah is the source of law-making, and He, be He exalted, is the only source of legitimacy.
B. Any ruling made – other than which Allah has revealed – has no legitimacy.
C. Acquiescence to any ruling – whether or not it is just – coming from outside of the religious legitimacy amounts to tacit acceptance of despotism.
D. Accordingly, any link to corrupt society or an illegitimate system must be rejected: It demands that we should rebel against such a society and system.
E. The only possible solution is to exert efforts to establish an Islamic state – even if by force. Any political or Da’wa (Proselytising) activity, other than for this objective, is a waste of time. Silence in the face of injustice, is tantamount to acquiescence of a corrupted and corrupting system.

This theory has influenced the Sunni Islamic movements such as Muslim Brotherhood, Hizbu-Tahrir (Liberation Party), Al-Jamaa al-Islamia (Islamic Group), along with their offshoots in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkey, or Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It has, furthermore, influenced Shi’a Islamic movements such as Hizbu Dawa al-Islami (the Islamic Call Party), Monazamat al-Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action Organization) and other groups in Gulf and Arab countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and others.

This theory has come to distinguish between what we can call the Islamic revival era and its reformist thought which was inaugurated by Jamal-Deen al-Afghani, Mohammed Abdo, Rasheed Rida and their disciples, in addition to the era of the Islamic movements or what some like to call the Haraki (Activist) Islam which was initiated in 1929 with martyr Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, whose though was extended by two key intellectual figures:

The first of which was Sayed Qutb, who was hanged following an order from Jamal Abdel Nasser. It was his book Maalem fi Tariq (‘Milestones’), in which Qutb underlined the need to establish an Islamic society and governance combined with his rejection of all un-Islamic models that was extensively quoted at his trial. As usual, such ideas have deep impact when coupled with sacrifice, blood and martyrdom: They turn from ideas into schools of thinking that become the models for later generations. Later, Qutb’s ideas were extended by Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi of Pakistan, al-Mustalahat al-Arbaa fil-Quran el-Karim (the Four Terms in the Holy Quran) in which he dealt with the meaning of the Divine governance in a way that intersected with Ma’lem fi Tariq.

This established the idea of Islamic governance stimulating fierce debate, until events intervened:

1. The 1967 war, and the spread of frustration in the Arab street – coupled with the concern over the nationalist and leftist influence in the region. These two elements fuelled scepticism of the nationalist and leftist currents, which increasingly were seen to be either conspiracies; or the ‘games’ of nations.
2. The loss of prestige of nationalism in Arab states after the war and a return to the Za’im (traditional leader) model of despotism directed against one’s own people. This led people to look for genuine choice in their lives: one of the most important of these choices was to turn to Islam.
3. The impact of the Palestinian cause on the Arab and Islamic conscience which led to a greater awareness of the conflict as a cause for the entire Arab World – especially after Israel’s invasion of Lebanese territories and its occupation of the capital Beirut.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 prompted some Islamic movements or groups to engage in serious armed resistance, which demanded real sacrifice, and which did not hesitate to spare the Occupation Forces. Later – 1987 – the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, emerged in Palestine. Although the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon was Shi’i; whereas, the Islamic Resistance in Palestine was Sunni, the unity of cause, the closeness of the geography, the common history and a shared enemy, created the catalyst towards a trans-sectarian experience. It launched a new consciousness based on this shared resistance experience, rather than on prior conceptions and prejudices.

It is remarkable to note when considering these two movements that:

A. They have not become involved in conflict with their own communities; but rather have remained focussed on Israel. This suggests that their cause is not one of confronting injustice – as is the case with most movements – but to resist occupation. This has given them the characteristic of national liberation movements.
B. They have sought, through resistance, to couple Islam to a nationalist project. The experience of the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has enjoyed an additional factor – its adaptation to the pluralist reality that distinguishes Lebanon as a country.
C. The two movements have been able to present a unity of cause, whilst maintaining organizational diversity and whilst exercising a national role.
D. The movements have become windows into the Islamic world – including countries such as Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan. In order to do this, they have disregarded the confessional [Sunni-Shi’i] divide; indeed, one can even say that they have managed to step past regimes and establish relationships with the peoples in the region.
E. They represent the rare example of movements that have ignored confessional and sectarian differences,
F. And which have achievements in battles, liberation of land in 2000, and victories over the Israeli invasions of 2006 and 2008, to their credit. These successes have spread a positive culture of achievement, self-confidence and a rehabilitation of the history of resistance such that the Arab and Islamic street has recovered much of its self-confidence and therefore its readiness to place trust in these movements.

4. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran: It is widely-known that Iran adopts Shi’i Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), a fiqh that has for a long time been absent, due to pressures and crises, from the work of constructing a state and a society – until, that is, Imam Khomeini (may Allah sanctify his soul) came with the Wilayatul-Faqih (the Jurist’s Guardianship) doctrine, which proposed:

First: Although the Sharia is the source of governance – legitimacy of that governance cannot be assured unless the people’s consent also is obtained. This is so, because the will of people is the religious and natural doorway to the establishment of Islamic governance. In this aspect, there is a deliberate coupling of the sacred and the temporal in the principles underpinning an Islamic state.

Second: The notion of the Ummah (Community of Believers) as the frame-work in which the political structures are built, does not invalidate commitment to national borders; rather, effective law-making is seen to be one that respects the national characteristics and aspirations – provided that this nationalist particularity does not begin to mould the religious interest. This is because the apostolic vision in Islam extends to the human being in his or her capacity as a human, rather than as a representative of any one nation.

Third: The criterion by which society, life and states is viewed, is founded on the basis of seeing the ‘good’ in them. It is not to label them as Jahilia (pre-Islamic society) or Takfir (to label as infidel); rather it affirms that true infidelity, at the political level, is injustice and aggression. Therefore, there can be no objection to openness to international relations – provided these relations are based on the interests of nations and peoples. This contrasts with the principles on which many Islamic movements and parties were founded.

5. A few months after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, an incident occurred in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, when Juhaiman al-Utaibi led a revolt against the king and against the regime of Saudi Arabia. This act of defiance opened a window – for general Sunni Islamic movements, as well as some Salafi movements, to act outside of the legal framework of order in consequence to the introduction of the US army into Saudi Arabia, and the regime’s subsequent silence on this event. For certain of these movements, matters came to a head when the US occupied the state of Iraq.

6. Then we have the events of September 11 2001, when al-Qaeda, which is led by Saudi Osama bin Laden and his right-hand man, the Egyptian Ayman A-Zawaheri launched the attack on the US. The Afghanistan-based organization was under the protection of Mulla Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement that observed the Hanafi Fiqh (jurisprudence) while adopting, as al-Qaeda, the Salafi vision that understood politics, as well as Jihad, within a specific and defined meaning, based on:

– The frustration arising from the experience of the Islamic Brotherhood movements: This has paved the way for movements, in Egypt and elsewhere, to adopt armed action – by movements such as al-Jamaa al-Islamiya in Egypt, Pakistan and Algeria; the Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement that executed Anwar a-Sadat; the Takfir and Hijra (immigration) movements and many others. Ayman a-Zawaheri has lived the experiences of these movements. He met bin Laden in Afghanistan. It is known that the latter was a student of the Salafi leader and theorist Abdallah Azzam, who led the Arab groups in the Afghanistan war against the Soviets and who was martyred in mysterious circumstances.

All this has paved the way for a compound vision emerging that has mixed Salafism with the revisionist thought of the movements emerging from the Brotherhood, which was already committed to the notion of Islamic governance.

– Salafism has also been defined by a deviation from the authority of the religious or legitimate establishment and by the emergence of individuals who embarked on fatwa (religious rulings) which issued in a arbitrary, and sometimes even whimsical, fashion – thus making some of these movements form what (it has been agreed amongst them to be called) ‘fatwa councils’. This has made it possible to create new religious marjaiat (religious authorities) outside the framework of the historic ones, thus allowing, some chaos which has been amply demonstrated in Iraq – through the correspondence between Abu Mus’ab a-Zarqawi, Samir al-Maqdisi and Ayman a-Zawaheri. The latter two – as may be recalled – condemned a-Zarqawi’s behavior for failing to submit his actions to a fatwa council. There were even cases in which a group had two authorities: the emir, and the Faqih (jurist). We might observe in a city or a village, or even a neighbourhood in Iraq more than one group having its own emir and faqih.

– Salafism has also been characterised by violent acts emanating from a severe confessional (Sunni-Shia) mentality, and the extreme whimsical attitudes that we observed earlier that recognised neither pact nor honour – so that the norm, as far as they are concerned, has become one that anyone who disagreed with them, is against them, – be he Muslim or non-Muslim; unjust or just; ruler or ruled. The entire social, civil and religious structure was targeted as the intention became manifest: the use force and slaughter against all infidels. And people were labelled as ‘infidels’ merely for disagreeing with the emir or his particular group.

– It has also been identified by its propensity to attract bands of immigrants from the west in order to benefit from their scientific expertise. These immigrants lived in isolation in the western societies from which they came. They have proved unable, due to their upbringing, to adapt to life in the west; or to be in reconciliation with it: therefore they have used their scientific and technical minds and skills to create terror in western countries. This is an outlook which they have brought with them to Arab and Islamic countries, and which was turned against western interests – until finally agreement emerged, amongst Salafists, that the conflict must be focused on:

– either confronting the west and its worldwide interests, for it represented the origin of the problem,
– establishing the khilafat state. If the concept had not succeed in Afghanistan, it was to be established in one of the Arab countries. This was justified on the grounds that the establishment of a khilafat in the Arab world would topple other Arab regimes in favour of the khilafat state. This state would then launch a conflict against the west. This is the reason behind the large-scale security and military shift of Salafi movements into Iraq.
– or; it should be focused on confronting the sectarian [Sunni-Shia] and religious obstacles to the achievement of a khilafat. Hence were the horrible acts carried out by a-Zarqawi and his followers against the Shia, certain Sunnis, and Christians.

Here we are, today, facing three different classifications of Islamic movements:

Type one: the traditional institutions, especially those affiliated with the authority and that regard that submission to the ruler as a necessary issue. These have become institutions with marginal influence their peoples, and on the conscience of Islamic movements.

Type Two: the political Islamist movement, which I believe, applies most to the Islamist Salafi and Dawa (call unto Islam) movements that consider seizing power as their ultimate norm and objective. These are movements that have turned, in a great deal of their activism, into violent movements that adopt the policy of force as their chosen methodology, and,

Type Three: the Islamic resistance: these are movements concerned with rejecting and resisting occupation. As far as they are concerned, the objective framework is social activism, not power. Consequently, they are more of liberation movements than revolutionary, or ones committed to the overthrow of established order.

The importance of recognising the characteristics of the three principal types is essential and necessary. In my opinion these three currents will see a great deal of friction and reconciliation efforts before they can settle on common convictions. Finally, I do believe that tyranny and occupation represent the ultimate justification for using, and resorting to violence, in order to resolve problems.


Posted on March 10, 2010, in Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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