Political Islam

Islam is the second worldwide and meanwhile the most rapidly growing religion. Nowadays the number of Muslims reaches approximately 1.1-1.5 billion, which means about 1/5 of the Earth population extended in more than 70 countries. In geographical terms the Islam influence is focused in Asia and Africa. In the book “Global Politics”, the famous international expert Andrew Heywood indicates that Islam is not just a religion and  has never even been so. The author writes: ”Foremost it is a lifestyle followed by the given instructions about individuals’, nations’ and states’ moral, political and economic behavior.” So especially this idea is descended in the ambition bases of some Muslim groups to politicize Islam.

Islam proposes a separate system for the state and legal formation, which is reflected in Quran and Sunnah – which includes the whole maxim, traditionally followed by the prophet Muhammad. Extra progressive Muslims accept some new preachers’ explanations-the so called Ijtihad about the Muslim maxim. Although extra conservative Muslims claim that “The Ijtihad gates” were closed about 1000 years ago.

Political Islam or Islamism has been shown up since Islam was founded. The appearance of Islam both as a religion and a viewpoint mainly has had political prospects. The purpose was to unit tribes in Arabian Peninsula and to create an Arab State. It should certainly be mentioned that Quran indirectly rejects the existence of state separate from the religion, that is why the first Muslim countries were considered religious institutions, where caliphs, sultans and  imams were more like sacred characters, than secular or political. Not only in Quran or Sunnah, but in other Muslim explorers’ works as well the term “State” did not exist. Islam philosopher Geydar Dzhemal notes: “State is a ward (in front of which one bows, except for Allah), exploitation mechanism created in pagan civilizations by the exploiter layer, which is not allowed to adapt for Islam. In Quran, Allah said nothing about state. Only once the word ”Daula” is mentioned with meaning of public wealth, not a state. Qurah speaks only about Ummah, and by the way Ummah and state are irreconcilable enemies ”.

As a religion, Islam is divided into 2 main directions, which are  Sunni and Shia. Sunni makes up about 85-90% of all the Muslims, while Shia makes up only 10-12%. These two directions differ in the terms of philosophical ideas. However, the division of these 2 directions had very  political reasons. The principal reason was the problem of following caliph,the religious and political leader for all Muslims.

The main stages and directions for the development of Political Islam 

Political Islam has had several development stages and has had  manifestation in different forms. However, we are more interested in its modern manifestations and branches.

Political Islam with its present meaning has emerged since 18th century and was developed during 20th-21st centuries. Generally political Islam can be divided into 5 directions:  Homenism, Wahhabism, Salafi, Moderate Islam and Euroislam.

Homenism  

Homenism belongs to the Shia branch and  has accrued since 1979, after the Islam Revolution in Iran. It is considered to be an ultra-direction, but at the same time not as aggressive as political radical directions of Sunni. Homenism is the main religious, ideological base for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Based on geopolitical prospects Iran tries to extend it among the Near East population, especially in Lebanon (Hezbollah), Iraq (Mahdi army), Yemen (Husits and Ansar allah). It is based on Anti-sionism, Anti-Semitism, Anti-Imperialism. The founder Ayatollah Robollah Khomeini was considered to be an opponent and critic against the West, and especially against the USA. As for Homenism under the bases of Islamic State Constitution should be Sharia, while the sacred authority should be in higher level than the political one. We can witness all this in Iran. However, Homenism does not fundamentally reject democratic control and is quite flexible in its politics.

The main political streams: Wahhabism, Salafi and Moderate Islam are much more important for our research.

Wahhabism

The most radical direction of Political Islam is considered to be Wahhabism. It originated in Arabian Peninsula and the founder was the preacher Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab. The basic idea was so called “Pure Islam”. According to Wahhab, during the period  of time muslims have gone away from the primary,accurate principles, and the result of that is the whole injustice we have in the world nowadays. With the help of his doctrine al-Wahhab invoked Muslims to get up and defend for recreating Islam’s primary state. He took into account the abrogation of all Muslim denominations (as for him the biggest one was Shia), as well as the sacred war against non-muslims (especially he invoked killing “non-book”ones, while making “book- nations(christians,jews),” convert their religion). Al-Wahhabi’s ideas got a lot of feedback. It is a distinctive feature,that al-Wahhab  was the ideological supporter of Muhhamad ibn Mecrin, the founder of the Saudi Arabia royal dynasty and in the very bases of Wahhabism Arabian Peninsula’s population united and after 200 years of struggle declared their independence from the Ottoman Empire by creating Saudi Arabia. Currently Wahhabism is the governmental ideology of Saudi Arabia.That country is the most important financing and supporting body for Wahhabism. It is worth mentioning that some theorists compare wahhabists to puritans, English Protestants in the 17-18 centuries. The latter acted quite radically as well and invoked to admit the pure form of christianity. Nowadays the main Islam terrorist groups have Wahhabism ideology.Al Qaeda and Islam State should be marked (the previous  Iraq and Asoria Islam State). Wahhabists announce,their aim is to create one and only united caliphate in the whole Muslim world, which should be guided by the Sharia rules. Especially they consider a significant part of Europe, Iberian and Balkan Peninsulas to be Islamic areas.

Salafi

The next Political Islam ultra-direction is Salafi,  political body of which is “Muslim brotherhood” party. The latter was created in 1928, in Egypt. Its aim is to create Islamic States in all the countries that have Islamic population.The main theorist of “Muslim brotherhood” is Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949). He reposes on Tauhid in his analysis. He considered Islam to be unique and universal public body, which clarifies all main aspects of human life. The main  slogan of “Muslim Brotherhood” was “Allah is our God. The prophet is our leader. The Quran is our law. Jihah is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope”. Al-Banna claimed, Islamic Community should live with Sharia.It is marked in Quran about the absence of the unity of people from different nations and races, about brotherhood and equality, economic equality, equal chances, about the impossibility of human exploitation,illiteracy and poverty. He thought it happened during ‘caliphs’ governing years. So the caliphate should have been restored. Surprisingly, we see some  elements of socialism.The principle thesis of this direction is anti-sionism.

In order to get the power “Muslim Brotherhood” battled in Egypt, Syria and Arabian social States, but failed. They got a new chance after 2010’s revolutions in Arabian countries.They took power in Libya and Tunisia, Egypt(here only for a while),while in Syria they battled to overthrow Bashat al-Assad’s secular regime.

Generally, the specialists identify “Political Islam” and “Islamism” terms, while John Esposito, a specialist in the field of “islamic policy and political islam” even identifies “Political Islam” and “Islamic radicalism” terms. Describing the manifestation and rise of the political islam in the modern world, Esposito concludes:”Political Islam rose, when many secular  ideologies like nationalism,capitalism and socialism failed”.So,Islam acts as a legitimacy source in the field of realizing political actions. It can be claimed,especially in the case of “Muslim Brotherhood’, that it is up-to-date.

Moderate Islam

The next direction of Political Islam is Moderate Islam. Theoretically,the followers agree with the commixture and harmonious allegation of current liberal democracy and Islam. Especially, they agree with the use of some Sharia’s thesis in the legislative body of state,as well as agree with the restriction of some liberal  values. There can be noticed some similarities between Moderate Islam and Conservative Party existing in the current Western Democracies. Nowadays the only real model of Moderate Islam exists in Turkey .Definitely,it is not clear,what it will turn out to be in the future,however the Turkish model of Moderate Islam is successfully maneuvering between European liberal values and Political Islam.Other Moderate Islam forces,having been created in The Near East after the Arab Spring revolutions in the Arab World,are quite weak and are quickly absorbed by the ultra-Islamic forces.

Jihad

A characteristic feature for all branches of radical Islam is the concept of “Jihad”(Sacred War).Generally,non-Muslims accept that concept  in a severely negative meaning .Actually,it can be explained in several ways.Bernard Lewis in his work, “The political language of Islam”,emphasizes that Jihad can be perceived as a military operation with pure protective purposes. In Arabian, “Jihad” means “struggle”. Lewis also marks that the majority of Shia theorists explain Jihad within the scopes of sacred perceptions and he emphasizes, that Jihad’s essence is to clean a person. The author reminds Muhammed’s words: “Any Emir can oblige you into Jihad,being god-feared or not,and even having many sins”.Therefore,one should accept Jihad’s military concept as well.

Sharia

Focusing on radical Islam, it can be concluded that one of the most important ideological pillars for all is to be guided by Sharia’s rules (translated from Arabic it means path,way), which are basic legal frame, on which only a fair and perfect society can be built. Sharia is not a usual rule but a group of natural rules. For the realization of Sharia, Islamic doctrine does not intend the creation of any particular institution. This is a major problem, because in this case, the issue of Sharia’s interpretation turns to be important for Muslims. This is also true for the Quran and Sunnah, where there are many controversial and questionable issues. In this case, Muslims accept several clergy-scholars’ interpretations. Of course, some deliberate or accidental subjective interpretations can not be avoided.

Political Islam in Western Political Discourse

Western scholars have quite interesting approaches to the formation and development of Political Islam. In particular, Graham Fuller writes that in this rapidly changing world Political Islam helps to shape one’s identity. That is to say, Islam is a symbol of unity, solidarity and pride. In this meaning, Political Islam is also used as a platform of criticism for secular or even religious regimes in the majority of Muslim countries. The author’s second most important field in which Political islam is used, is the foreign policy. In this context, it is used to criticize Western civilization in general. If the West’s colonial and imperialist aspirations and actions were the target of political Islam in the past,  neo-imperialism and interventionism led by the USA have become its target now. The third manifestation of Political Islam pointed out by Fuller is its function as a moral orientation. It is precisely political Islam in Muslim societies that answers questions of what is happening in the rapidly changing world, how to resist these changes or how to accept them. Nowadays, there is no any other ideological basis in the Islamic World that may even compete with Political Islam. History has shown that neither Arabic nationalism nor left-leaning socialist ideologists, and even no liberal democratic conceptions, can carry out this function. Therefore we can surely say that Political Islam remains the ideological basis, upon which most Muslims in the world want to build their own societies and states.

So, it can be concluded that there is no clear interpretation of Political Islam in the classical Western political context. On the basis of the above-mentioned, it should be noted that political “religion” leads to the emergence of certain extremist manifestations that have nothing to do with Western political perceptions. To our deepest conviction, those three radical directions of the above-mentioned political Islamism have no opportunity for some dialogue, cooperation or coexistence with any type of Western political system of democratic coexistence. Actually, radical Islamism expresses the essence and nature of Islamic culture. Studying it, we understand that Islam is a completely different world, and there are completely different bases and mechanisms for regulating public relations. With is value system, the existence of Islam in the Western liberal society system in the peaceful and liberal way becomes incompatible. What concerns to Moderate Islam and Euro-Islam(which exists only theoretically), it can be marked that they are currently not viable and require radical changes in Western societies in connection with extreme perceptions of Islam and Liberalism.

[1]Heywood, A. “Global Politics”, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p.198.

[2] Westerlund, D. & Svanberg I., “Islam Outside the Arab world”, Palgrave Macmillan, N.Y., 1999, p.30.

[3]Джемаль Г. Исламский проект: борьба за историю // Исламская интеллектуальная инициатива XX века / Под общ ред. Г.Д. Джемаля – М.: UMMAH, 2005., с. 26

[4]Ira M. Lapidus, “A History of Islamic Societies”, Cambridge University Press 2014, p. 114-118

[5] Ятимов, Саймумин Сатторович, “Хомейнизм и внешнеполитическая идеология Исламской Республики Иран в новой системе международных отношений”, Душанбе 2002 http://www.dissercat.com/content/khomeinizm-i-vneshnepoliticheskaya-ideologiya-islamskoi-respubliki-iran-v-novoi-sisteme-mezh

[6] Александр Ханников, “Энциклопедия ислама”, ЛитРес, 2014

[7] Алексей М. Васильев, Николай Алексеевич Иванов, “Пуритане Ислама? Ваххабизм и первое государство Саудидов в Аравии 1744/45-1818”, Москва 1967

[8] ISIL, Ideology, and Islamic Militancy – Where is the Centre of Gravity? http://www.e-ir.info/2015/01/25/isil-ideology-and-islamic-militancy-where-is-the-centre-of-gravity/

[9] Политический ислам. Эволюция и основные концепции идеологов http://www.worldislamlaw.ru/?p=773

[10] Richard Paul Mitchell, “The Society of the Muslim Brothers”, Oxford University Press 1993

[11] Esposito, J., “Political Islam and the West”, Joint Force Quarterly 24, 2000, p.49.

[12] Ibidem, p.50.

[13]Lewis, B., “The Political Language of Islam”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991, p.74-75.

[14]Feoria Pub, “Современные вопросы исламской мысли”, с. 202-210

[15] Мехмет Энее Эргене, “Движение Гюлена: Зов к благоразумию”, Işık Yayıncılık Ticaret, 2014 г

[16]Lewis, B., “The Political Language of Islam”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991, p.15-17:

  1. Esposito, J., “Political Islam and the West”, Joint Force Quarterly 24, 2000,
  2. Feoria Pub, “Современные вопросы исламской мысли”
  3. Heywood, A. “Global Politics”, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011
  4. Ira M. Lapidus, “A History of Islamic Societies”, Cambridge University Press 2014
  5. ISIL, Ideology, and Islamic Militancy – Where is the Centre of Gravity? http://www.e-ir.info/2015/01/25/isil-ideology-and-islamic-militancy-where-is-the-centre-of-gravity/
  6. Lewis, B., “The Political Language of Islam”, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1991
  7. Richard Paul Mitchell, “The Society of the Muslim Brothers”, Oxford University Press 1993
  8. Westerlund, D. & Svanberg I., “Islam Outside the Arab world”, Palgrave Macmillan, N.Y., 1999
  9. Александр Ханников, “Энциклопедия ислама”, ЛитРес, 2014
  10. Алексей М. Васильев, Николай Алексеевич Иванов, “Пуритане Ислама? Ваххабизм и первое государство Саудидов в Аравии 1744/45-1818”, Москва 1967
  11. Джемаль Г. Исламский проект: борьба за историю // Исламская интеллектуальная инициатива XX века / Под общ ред. Г.Д. Джемаля – М.: UMMAH, 2005
  12. Мехмет Энее Эргене, “Движение Гюлена: Зов к благоразумию”, Işık Yayıncılık Ticaret, 2014 г
  13. Политический ислам. Эволюция и основные концепции идеологов http://www.worldislamlaw.ru/?p=773
  14. Ятимов, Саймумин Сатторович, “Хомейнизм и внешнеполитическая идеология Исламской Республики Иран в новой системе международных отношений”, Душанбе 2002
    http://www.dissercat.com/content/khomeinizm-i-vneshnepoliticheskaya-ideologiya-islamskoi-respubliki-iran-v-novoi-sisteme-mezh

Author: Andranik Hovhannisyan  © All rights are reserved.

Translator: Gohar Avoyan 

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