Dr. Ammar Ali Hassan
Although politicized Islamic groups, organizations, groups and movements only emerged in the fifth decade of Islamic history, these events still affect what is happening today. It remains a monumental challenge in the Arab and Muslim world because these groups are still struggling to restore the organizational, administrative and political structures of Muslims that existed during the days of the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman caliphates. These groups reject the modern state and dismiss its symbols, icons and governing framework against Islamic law.
I believe that the Encyclopedia of Islamic Movements in the Arab World, Iran and Turkey is rich in information, ideas, practices and paths, which can help readers understand “political Islam” during the 19th and 20th centuries. Dr. Ahmed Al-Musalli’s book covers four key areas which intertwine to illustrate the intellectual and behavioral patterns of these movements.
Doctrines of Islamic Fundamentalists
In the first area, the author provides an analytical presentation of the doctrines and beliefs of Islamic fundamentalist groups. He presents their views through the concepts of jihad, shura, sharia and the other and subsequently their reinterpretation of general political concepts and values such as freedom, justice and revolution.
Here he points to the differences in ideology between leading fundamentalist figures such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and his concept of ‘Islamic Reform’ and Muhammad Abdo’s concept of “Islamic Fundamentalism” as expressed in the writing of Hassan al-Banna, al-A’la al-Maududi and Sayyid Qutb.
While reformers accept the principle of establishing truth through mental proof and believe that the mind is itself capable of comprehending many ethical and metaphysical issues, fundamentalists view Islam as a comprehensive, integrated and reasoned system with which one does not require any logical evidence, believing that the mind is unable to uncover the truth without the help of divine revelation.
In the epistemological principles, fundamentalists believe in the unity of knowledge, attributing it to religion, and that happiness, truth and existence are absolute matters in the framework of Islam. In more detail, their cognitive principles are encompassed in the following points:
- They believe that there is no point in philosophy and that the philosopher has put himself in the wrong place where there is no way out of it except with what Allah has given to man: the mind. The mind does not have to philosophize and reason with divine revelation but it should be used in practical matters. They also reject the concept that man is the owner of the truth and that there is no certain truth at all.
- They believe that the concept of God cannot be grasped by the human mind because it falls short of understanding the realities of things. If there are many, even among Islamist reformers, who agree with the fundamentalists in this perception, which is that Allah’s knowledge is absolute and universal, they disagree with them in using this to jump to the wrong conclusion that Allah has defined for us, definitely and forever (across time and space), social, political and economic systems. Hence, we must not rely on a human source in devising and developing such system.
- Fundamentalists believe that Islam is a doctrine that is harmonious with nature and human nature, and therefore it goes beyond being an abstract religion but an expression of the laws of the universe, and hence understanding it should not be limited to believing in it, worshipping and dealing with people, but believing in its ultimate ability to organize life affairs and address current and future problems.
- Fundamentalists offer religion as an alternative to everything, and they have the final framework and reference to which every perception and behavior must consult and hence they are keen to Islamize any human knowledge — modern or contemporary.
As for political principles, they are based on several elements such as:
- The universality of Islam, where fundamentalists view Islam as the final divine message, addressing all human beings with mercy and monotheism, leading them to adopt a political vision that does not believe in existing geographical boundaries, and that the world, indeed the universe, is the homeland of the Muslim. Therefore, fundamentalists encourage preaching Islam (da’wa). They also believe in al-Hakimiyyah (the doctrine of absolute sovereignty of Allah) which dictates that Islam should not be combined with others in a single political system.
- Al-Jahiliyyah (ignorance and foolishness). Islamic fundamentalists believe that the world lives in “ignorance” and that Western civilization is “atheist”. They believe Muslims have sunk into this ignorance, have lost their faith and are too concerned with the material life. They reject any man-made political, social and economic system which they view as heavily influenced by Western values and beliefs. In their view, Muslims should not assimilate into Western societies but revert back to Islamic Shariah.
- Fundamentalists believe in jihad al-Dafa’ (defensive jihad) which is based on the concept that war is not legal, acceptable or morally justified unless it is ‘defensive’ and ‘fair’. However, they also believe in jihad al-Talab (offensive jihad) which means the continuation of the “conquests” and “invasions” to confront and eliminate “ignorance” and clear the way to belief in Islam without imposing this by force on non-Muslims.
- Fundamentalists believe peace is conditional on the freedom to embrace the Word of Allah and whether or not Muslims are being persecuted. Furthermore, they believe that no authority should stand in the way of Da’wa and establishing justice. If these conditions are absent, Muslims must resort to jihad.
In analyzing this point, the book concludes with an important inference: “For fundamentalists, the basis of peace, namely, that everyone submits to the Islamic world order, without blackmail or coercion, that is in fact a recipe that can only be applied by conquering the world and subjecting it to the political concepts of Muslims. And therefore, if in today’s times, Muslims have already been able to take over the world, which is why fundamentalists say that Islam is not aimed at bringing all people into Islam, but at subjugating everyone to its system. Therefore, religious freedom is a reserved right for all, and fundamentalists do not deny it in principle, but everyone must submit to sharia, either by establishing the rites and pillars of Islam, or by paying jizya. Political Islam must dominate public life, even though converting to Islam is an individual and voluntary act without coercion, submission to the law of Islam is an individual and collective act that comes willingly or unwillingly”.
- The majority of fundamentalists do not believe in democracy. They regard it as a “secular and infidel system” which recognizes that sovereignty is for the people and not for Allah and allows human beings to legislate and decide their affairs without going back to their creator. At their most conceived conception of human participation in legislation and decision-making, they adopt shura, which has been specified by sharia, but is highly subjective. The moderates in this movement view democracy as a mere means of wielding power, and therefore accept it procedurally, confining it to the ballot box, and rejecting it as a value and a cultural aspect.
Leaders, Founders, and Intellectuals
The second area focuses on the leaders, founders and intellectuals of Islamic fundamentalism. The author points out the difficulty in providing accurate information about some of these figures who expected absolute compliance and obedience from their followers. As a result, these leaders were often sanctified. The leaders played a substantial role in the militarization of some political-religious organizations.
In the third part of the book, the author analyzes the structure of these groups, whether they were operating publically or secretively or whether they focused on advocacy and educational work or had a political agenda. The information available on these groups reveal that their structure changes according to the purpose they aspire to achieve and the means they pursue. If they believe that the shortest way to take over power is violence or at least believe that bearing arms establishes the “jihad duty”, they tend to organize themselves in “clusters” or at least combine two structures: one is public that develops and disseminates the discourse and interacts with other groups and with the state and the second is a secret one where its thinking, objectives and modus operandi are largely secret.
How Historical Events Influenced Islamic Political Groups
In the fourth area, the author monitors crucial historical events that have influenced or created Islamic political groups. These events begin with the founding of The Sokoto Islamic State in central Sudan in 1804 by Usman dan Fodio and concludes with a big explosion on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2001 in which 190 people were killed and hundreds injured. Between these two dates there are important facts and events directly related to the course of “political Islam” which the author lists and explains in short, including 33 events in the 19th century, 100 in the 20th century and 42 in the first two years of the 21st century.
In the author’s view, some of the most important events are the following: The takeover of Ad-Diriyah in the Arabian Peninsula by Egyptian forces in 1818, the occupation of Algeria in 1830, the arrival of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani in Egypt in 1869, the end of British occupation in Egypt in 1882, the collapse of the Mahdi State in 1899, the Moroccan crisis in 1905 (which nearly started the First World War a decade early) and the subsequent imposition of a French protectorate, the start of the Islamic Reform Movement in Indonesia (Muhammadiyah) in 1912, the Arab Revolt against the Turks in 1916, the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, the establishment of Israel in 1948, the establishment of the Islamic Dawa Party in Iraq in 1968, the establishment of the National Islamic Front in Sudan in 1977, the Islamic Movement of Algeria in 1982, the formal creation of Hezbollah in 1985, the creation of Islamic Salvation Front in 1988, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, the army’s crack down on Islamic organizations and groups in Algeria in 1991, and the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001.
It should be noted that events accelerated in the third millennium, when Islamist movements seeking political power had presented themselves as an alternative to existing regimes in some countries and when the violent jihadist movement went global after the establishment of the “Global Islamic Front to Fight Jews and Crusaders” in 1998, known as al-Qaeda, announcing that it would fight the “distant enemy”, i.e. the major powers, especially the United States of America, abandoning the “near enemy”, i.e. the governments of the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Of course, the book was published before the Arab Spring where the Muslim Brotherhood seized power in Egypt and Tunisia. However, in Egypt, it was overthrown on July 3, 2013. In Tunisia, it adopted a different path of adjustment, expansion and control through the Ennahda movement. The Muslim Brotherhood also engaged in excessive violence that broke out in Syria, Yemen and Libya. In Sudan, it was a different case where a wing of the politicized religious movement shared power with the army and this wing was brought down by the revolution, and the army repositioned itself with the revolution. At the same time, the religious movement in Algeria has so far demonstrated a commitment to peace, and it has not led the uprising of the people to another bloodbath, as was the case in the black decade of the last decade of the twentieth century.
Although the book examines these movements and organizations in all Arab countries, as well as Turkey and Iran, it did not neglect what affected these movements either with ideas coming from outside this geographical and human space that their interests are focused on, or by intellectual figures from outside the politicized religious current, but they advocated a line of argument that cannot be ignored by any scholar seeking to understand this Islamic movement.
The glaring example of the first influence is that of abu-A’la al-Mawdudi. Although he is a Pakistani, he has had a significant influence on political Islamic groups in the Arab world — particularly the radical and extremist ones. His ideas had a profound impact on the perceptions presented by Sayyid Qutb, especially in his book Milestones on the Road which is one of the most important pieces of literature that influenced and shaped jihadist organizations. Another hugely important influence that the author could not ignore was Ibn Taymiyyah. Extremists groups took his jurisprudent writings out of context and used it to justify armed violence.
The second influence comes from intellectuals and writers from outside the Islamic political current. At the forefront of this group is Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid whose interpretation of Islamic texts sparked controversy. Another intellectual was Ali Shariati, the most important non-participating thinker behind the Iranian Revolution. Later his ideology was hijacked by the Mullahs who later got rid of Shariati. The author pointed out how one writer, Salman Rushdie — a British writer of Indian origin — garnered the ire of the Islamic movement with his book the Satanic Verses. Rushdie was and is despised by the religious current and many Muslims, and in 1989 the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa that permitted Muslims to kill him, which is extant.
While the book addresses modern and contemporary times, it also shows how past events, thinking and behavior has impacted present-day Islamic organizations. Islamic fundamentalists view their past as a golden age and wish to restore the glory of the ‘Muslim ummah’.