Skip to comments.The Islamists Have it Wrong
Posted on 01/19/2004 8:38:30 AM PST by Voice in your head
Western observers, both among the general public and the media, commonly make the mistake of thinking that Islamism1 is the same as traditional Islam. Even Western researchers describe Islamism as a resurgence of traditional Islam. One researcher describes Islamists as people of the "anthropological tradition";2 in contrast, moderate Sunni Muslims are characterized as those whose faith is mitigated, influenced by syncretism, or diluted by a certain amount of secularization and Westernization.3
But this turns reality upside-down. In fact, Islamists depart in important ways from the Islamic tradition. This is especially apparent in what concerns divine attributes, Islamic law, and Sufism. Indeed, some outstanding traditional Muslim scholars, such as Sheikh Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri4 and Sheikh Ahmad al-Alawi,5 see Islamism as a symptom of secularization and as a reshaping of their religion into a modern, ideological totalitarianism.6 It is this view that I myself share, and shall present here.
Subordinating Religion to Politics
The distinction between traditional Islam and Islamism can be seen in many specifics. Tradition says that Islamic jurisprudence can today be practiced according to four legal schools, all of which are legitimate and authoritative; Islamists, by contrast, see the existence of these schools as an obstacle to their concept of Islamic unity. Tradition attributes to the ruler the right to appoint competent scholars as authorized interpreters of the Islamic law; Islamists do not recognize any authority apart from the leaders of their own groups. Tradition makes the authority of a scholar dependent on the possession of written documents of appointment (ijaza) signed by his predecessor;7 Islamists regularly install people bereft of any theological or legal education into positions of Islamic authority. In most cases, then, Islamist leaders are lay persons with little background in Islamic studies.
Another point: Sunnis do not conceive of Islam as an organization dependent on a centralized leadership, Islamists, on the contrary, see their leading militants as the Islamic leadership; thereby cutting out the need to refer to traditional scholars for guidance. Sunni schools arise spontaneously from voluntary contributions and answer local needs; when organizations are created it happens only for practical reasons, without any implication that the leaders of the organizations are ipso facto Islamic authorities. In contrast, Islamist schools result from funding from a centralized administration that pays activists in every part of the world.
Perhaps most important of all is the Islamists' subordination of religion to politics, our main topic here. Khalid Durán notes the distinction between traditional Islam and its political counterfeit by underlining their different understandings of the relationship between religion and politics:
Whether Islamists like the term fundamentalist or not, their understanding of religion resembles that of fundamentalists in other religions. This is not to say that Islamists are more religious or more genuinely Islamic than other Muslims . . . Islamism is a late 20th century totalitarianism. It follows in the wake of fascism and communism, picking up from those and seeking to refine their methods of domination . . .
Few Muslims would deny that political commitment is part of Islamic ethics, but most disagree with the Islamist insistence that there exists a clearly defined "Islamic system," different from all other political systems.8 Islamists draw on modern European models that posit a scientific revolutionary movement, an elitist scheme of ruling society by means of secret cults that act behind the scenes, and a manufacture of consensus by means of propaganda. They reject those aspects of the Islamic tradition that do not fit with this political outlook.
Theirs is, in fact, an extremist ideology; they consider their organizations and militants as custodians of the projects for Islamizing the world, and whoever criticizes them (be he a Muslim or a non-Muslim) is immediately accused of being anti-Islamic, "Islamophobic," and so forth. Unwilling to be ruled by non-Islamist Muslims, Islamists adopt an approach characterized by political supremacism. Their pious rhetoric does not hide the fact that they exploit the religious feelings of their followers to acquire mundane power and enhance their finances. They claim to be vanguard Muslims, integrating faith and politics, but their cardinal concern is holding power themselves and excluding others. Thus, the goal of these radicals is not genuinely religious but political and even totalitarian.
Like other totalitarian ideologies, contemporary Islamism is blindly utopian. It implies a wholesale denial of history; the Islamists model of an ideal society is inspired by the idealized image of seventh-century Arabia and an ahistorical view of religion and human development. It is based on anachronistic thinking that rejects modern concepts of pluralism and tolerance. And it ignores a history of Islam that is rich in models of heterogeneous social organization and adaptation to the times.
Two Views of Politics in Islam
The traditional view understands the role of politics in terms of what the Quran teaches. It indicates that prophets were sent to humans to teach them truths about God, ethics, ways to achieve prosperity in this world, and beatitude in the hereafter, and to warn about the consequences of injustice and sinfulness.9 A prophet who is called to preach in a stateless milieu has to assume a role of political leadership; this mantle fell on Moses, as it did to Muhammad (peace be upon both of them). Islamic tradition teaches that when this happens, the two roles are combined by accident; political leadership is not a necessary element of the prophetic mission. By way of confirmation, note that the Quran uses different titles to describe the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) but none of them refers to his political function. Verses 33:45-46 say that he was sent as a witness (shahid), a bearer of glad tidings (mubashshir), a warner (nadhir), as someone who calls to God (dai ila Allah), and as a shining light (siraj munir). Nowhere does it say he was sent as a political leader or a head of state. That the Prophet Muhammad actually had a political role resulted from the social conditions that prevailed in his time, but this was not a necessary part of his prophetic mission.
Islamists, however, have a very different interpretation. For them, building an Islamic state is the central achievement of the prophetic mission.10 Conflating the role of the Muslim scholar with that of a political leader, they hold that the spread of Islam cannot be separated from the creation of what they call the Islamic state.
They argue that "Islam is both religion and government" (al-Islam din wa dawla);11 and this serves the basic description of their creed. They neglect to mention, however, that this expression is found in neither the Quran, the Hadith (sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad), or in any other of the authoritative Islamic sources. The slogan was in fact coined by Ibn Taymiya (12631328), an extremist scholar who became a staunch supporter of anthropomorphic theology and of extreme literalism in the understanding of the Quran, and was heartily criticized by most of the Sunni theologians and jurists of his time.12
Two Views of Jihad
In similar fashion, the Islamists deform the meaning of jihad. In traditional Islam, military jihad and all other forms of material jihad constitute only the external aspect of jihad, while the inner dimension of jihad is the struggle that a Muslim undertakes to purify his soul from mundane desires, defects, and egotism. Jihad is not limited to the military arena but denotes striving hard toward a worthy goal. According to some sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), "the best jihad for women is performing a valid pilgrimage,"13 while "the jihad for someone who has elderly parents is taking care of them."14 According to a well-known tradition, after coming back from a military expedition, the Prophet Muhammad said, "We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad" (rajana min jihad al-asghar ila jihad al-akbar). The Prophet was asked, "O, Messenger of Allah, what is the greater jihad?" He answered, "It is the jihad against one's soul."15 Sunni scholars have always quoted this narration as a means of explaining the inner dimension of jihad. Sufis, in particular, have quoted it as a corrective against a limited, physical understanding of the nature of jihad.
The traditional understanding also includes a military meaning but military jihad is strictly regulated by rules concerning its purpose, means, and resolution.
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Some people remember history, and specifically, The Crusades. They were battles against extremist Islam. This article is whitewash.
Thanks. I also read the entire article, and though I respect Islamic people who think their religion is peaceful, I can use history and my own perceptions to make a more accurate judgement.
According to the terms agreed to in Islam, they should both kill each other.
In fact, it is Osama Bin Laden's ambition (as an Islamist) to eliminate the House of Saud (the Wahabis).
The guy is too stupid to do the job, however, having thought the route to success ran through the World Trade Center.
The Wahabis ARE Islamists. They are just the oldest branch, and have been thoroughly "corrupted" by the power and money they have gotten from their alliance with the Saudi government.
Osama has no real doctrinal disagreements with the Wahabbi establishment in SA. He just thinks his group should replace theirs becauuse they have become corrupted by contact with the West.
I just get impatient with people who paint ALL things done in the name of Christianity as all good, and EVERYTHING Muslim as completly and totally evil.
I got fed up with religeon years ago because of that sort of attitude and pray on my own time and privately as a result!
They do not seeem to understand that IF they get their wish, and IF they get a "Crusade", it will likely result in Islam being wiped off the face of the planet save for a very few very small communities.
If it happens, a bunch of people on BOTH sides who do not need it will be slaughtered, because we really cannot afford to spend time sorting them out.
The Moderate Muslims had better get a clue fast and bring their errant "brothers" to heel!
I consider Wahabism to be a nihilistic death-cult and it may bring down the whole thing.