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Political Islam and Its Proponents
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

A terrorist is not created in his mother's womb. It takes an environment of hatred - a whole jungle of hatred - to bring him into existence. The present-day community of Muslims has unfortunately provided such an environment. How did this jungle of hatred grow? For one, it has been cultivated by the extensive proliferation of a particular ideology among Muslims- a political interpretation of Islam, which offered Muslims the status of God's vicegerents on earth, with the right to rule the entire world on His behalf.

Islam was the leading civilization of the world in the period between the decline of ancient civilizations and the ascent of modern European ones. But ultimately, Western colonial powers established their dominance over the Muslim world; it was in reaction to this domination that political movements began to be launched in the name of Islam. The objective of these movements was to free Muslim countries from Western rule and to re-establish Muslim rule.

It was Syed Jamaluddin Afghani, born in Iran in 1838, who probably developed the concept of Islamic nationalism for the first time. During his lifetime, the colonial expansion of the West was at its peak and almost the entire Muslim world had, directly or indirectly, come under its rule. Jamaluddin Afghani made it his mission to bring down the colonial system and restore the political power of Muslim nations. Towards this end, he launched the movement known as pan-Islamism. It aimed at bringing together the Muslims of the entire world to form a united international power, which would defeat Western nations and set the Muslim world free from their slutches.

Jamaluddin Afghani failed to achieve his political target, but what he did successfully was to sow the seeds of hatred for Western nations in Muslim minds all over the world. As a result, Muslims in general came to regard Western nations as their enemies. Almost all the Muslim leaders of his time began to think in negative and political terms. The more prominent of these were Sayyid Qutb and Amir Shakib Arsalan in the Arab world, Muhammad Iqbal and Sayyed Abul Ala Maududi in the Indian subcontinent, and later Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.

Initially, the movement focused on the expulsion of Western forces from the Muslim world. More appropriately, it was an initiative to gain political freedom. Thus, in the times of Afghani, this movement was more political than religious in nature, with its slogan being 'The East for Easterners'.

After Afghan, this revolutionary movement entered another phase. Now it was given an ideological form. The movement, which had been described in communal terms with reference to the global Muslim community, was now given an Islamic hue. An attempt was made to Islamize their communal thinking by developing a complete ideology based on the political interpretation of Islam. If earlier the thinking had been the at the Western nations were usurpers and that a restitution of Muslims' political rights must be demanded from them, in the next phase ideologists developed the theory that Islam had a system covering the whole of human life and that this included politics. The Muslims were, therefore, duty-bound to capture political power by force so that Islam might be implemented as a total system. The promoters of this movement held that so long as Islam was not adopted by the believers in total, as a complete system, their faith would not be acceptable to God. It followed that bringing about a political revolution became a binding obligation, like prayers and fasting.

In this second phase, two Muslim leaders figured most prominently; the Egyptian intellectual Sayyid Qutb (d.1966) and Sayyed Abul Ala Maududi (d. 1979), a Muslim ideologue from the Indian subcontinent. Both these leaders found themselves in a very favourable environment- an environment that now made it possible for their books to be translated into many languages and thus for their ideas to spread over almost the entire Muslim world. As a consequence. Muslims in almost all parts of the globe were directly influenced by their political ideology. Some became actively involved, while the thinking of others, shaped by this ideology, centered on political Islam. All dreamed of the political glory of Islam.

This movement, designed to establish political Islam, gave rise to various other movements. Two of these movements grew into prominence; Al Ikhwan al-Muslimun, or the Muslim Brotherhood, established in 1928 in the Arab world, and the Jamat-e-Islami established in 1941 on the subcontinent. Both were highly organized movements and subsequently launched campaigns to establish Islamic rule in Muslim countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Tunisia and Malaysia. At first, these movements sought to establish Muslim rule by spreading their ideology of political Islam. When they failed on this score, they started taking part in the national elections in the countries where they were active. When they failed on this front too, they resorted to militancy.

This political movement of the Muslims intensified in the latter half of the twentieth century. It was during these days that the Jews established their rule in Palestine in the name of Israel. Now Muslims believe that the Jews are rejected by God, while the Muslims themselves are the chosen people. So, finding the dominance of the Jews over the Muslims intolerable, they made a frantic bid to obliterate the Jews from the face of the earth. The pro-Islam movement of the first half of the twentieth century ultimately turned into an anti-Jewish movement in the second half of the century.

Events have demonstrated that, in spite of making every conceivable effort, Muslims have failed in their campaign against the Jews. On every front, right from the United Nations to the Aqsa Mosque of Jerusalem, they have had total defeat inflicted upon them. It is the ensuing build-up of a defeatist mentality which has culminated perforce in the phenomenon of 'Islamic terrorism'.

Though ostensibly aimed at re-establishing Islamic rule, the political Islam movement actually grew as a political reaction to the circumstances in which Muslims found themselves at that particular point in time. Its inspiration and its impact were totally negative. The movement was the result of anti-Western rather than pro-Islam feelings, and for precisely this reason it rapidly turned violent.

According to Islam, a truly Islamic movement arises out of feelings of benevolence for all of humanity. Its target being neither land nor power, it is always carried out through peaceful means. It never adopts violence. If Muslim movements of the modern age opted for the way of extremism, it was because they were not genuinely Islamic in nature. The truth is that these Muslim social movements, which had only the community agenda in mind, adopted the name of Islam purely as a means of self-justification.

If you read the Quran, nowhere in it will you find any mention of 'political Islam'. The Quran contains neither information nor injunctions which could lead to the setting up of a political system. The eighteenth-century French thinker Rousseau, who was greatly concerned with the human condition, wrote a treatise called The Social Contract (1762). He opened his book with this arresting statement; 'Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains'. This is the language of a political book, a book which was to contribute to the ideas and policies of the leaders of the French Revolution and which ultimately gained worldwide currency. But if you read the Quran, you will

See that it begins not with a diatribe against human inequality with its implied criticism of wrong governance, but simply with praises of God. And it ends with the necessity to seek refuge in God against Satan. In the Quran and the Hadith, there is no mention of the system of state. Nor is there any mention of revolt against any existing system. Neither is there any indication as to how a political ruler or khalifah is to be appointed or selected. No such principles are set forth in Islam, neither from an ideological nor from a practical point of view. In short, it is clear that no aspect of political Islam is dealt with anywhere in the Quran and the Hadith. At more than one place in the Quran we are told what the Prophet's tasks were in accordance with the divine plan. These were recitation of the verses of the Quran; purification of man teaching of the scriptures: and teaching of wisdom. In none of the verses are we told that the task of the Prophet was to establish Islamic rule in the world. Such verses of the Quran as presented by the champions of political Islam in support of their cause were distorted to serve their own ends. The truth is that giving a political interpretation to Islam is a despicable act and in no way serves the higher aims of the religion.

The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood (A) Ikhwan al-Muslimun; more than any other individual or organization, must be held responsible for the development of anti-Western thinking, in the Arab world in the twentieth century, which has culminated in the culture of hatred, violence and suicide bombing. This organization was ostensibly formed in the name of religion but, in its present reality, it is a political movement given to violent actions. It is the spread of its ideology that is responsible for the negative mentality of the entire present-day generation of Arabs; it is no exaggeration to say that the majority of the Arabs of this generation directly or indirectly have become supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brother hood was founded in 1928 in the Egyptian city of Ismailia, where Hassan al Banna, the founder of this organization, was a schoolteacher. Ismailia was, and is, an administration centre of the Suez Canal. Al Banna was appalled by the many conspicuous signs of foreign military and economic domination in Ismailia; the British military camps, the public utilities owned by foreign firms and the luxurious residences of the employees of the Suez Canal Company, next to the squalid dwellings of the Egyptian workers. It was this that impelled Hassan al Banna to found the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928.

The traditional outlook of the age that gave birth to the movement no doubt accounts for it having adopted a religious framework, tough its actual motive was political. Its principle objective was to purify Egypt and the entire Arab world of the political infiltration of the West, and it initially arose in the spirit of serving the Muslim cause. But when its promoters found that they could not achieve their objective through peaceful means, they opted for violence against their supposed enemies. When even violent activities failed to achieve their ends, they finally resorted to suicide bombing, as if now their slogans had become 'If we cannot put an end to you, we will put an end to ourselves'.

A number of Muslim extremists met with such leaders like Abdul Wahhab Azzam and Sayyed Qutb, who were the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood. This extremist organization exerted such a powerful influence that the thinking of large numbers of people was entirely shaped by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their literature and ideals. All those who are associated with this movement are either violent in theory (that is, they believe in the violent ideology, but are not practically involved) or violent in practice. Osama bin Laden is an extreme case of the latter phenomenon. It is common practice among the members of the Muslim Brotherhood to concoct false interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith to justify their extremist political views.

In their formative years, many young Muslims are not in a position to separate the wrong from the right. They do not appreciate the difference between fiery speeches and logical statements. They do not know the difference between an emotional move and a realistic one. That is why their thinking often runs on the same lines as the Brotherhood's philosophy until their minds become fully conditioned in the extremist mould.

A number of incidents which took place subsequently contributed to a consolidation of the extremists' viewpoints, for instance, Israel's attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria in 1967 and the consequent expansion of its territory; the Russian army's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979; America's attack on Afghanistan; and America's continuing patronage of Israel. All these incidents helped assert the Muslims' negative stereotyping of the West. All through this period, there was no one who could de-condition their minds and enable the Muslims to think objectively. As a result, they threw themselves into a violent jihad against the West.

If you visit the Arab world today and talk to the Arabs, you will find that most of them regard not only the Jews but also the Americans as their enemies: indeed, they regard America as the number one enemy of Islam. This negative thinking has been fostered among Arabs entirely by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Palestinian issue and the Palestinian youths have also played a role in the emergence of such thinking, for the Palestinian youths joined the Muslim Brotherhood in large numbers and converted it into a militant organization. Those conversant with Arab history know that for the Last thousand years Palestine has served as the centre of the Arab political and national movement. For the Arabs, Palestine is such an emotional issue that the mere mention of it sends them into a kind of frenzy. There are few Arabs who can think dispassionately on this subject. Palestine assumed importance for the Arabs during the life of the Prophet himself while he was still in Makkah, following his spiritual journey (isra), which has been recorded in the Quran: 'Holy is He who took His servant by night from the sacred place of worship [at Makkah] to the remote house of worship [at Jerusalem]-the precincts of which We have blessed.'(17:1)

The Muslim interpretation of the mystical journey of the Prophet from Makkah to Jerusalem led them to believe that it was their right to rule over Palestine, though there is no statement made to this effect either in the Quran or in the Hadith. On the contrary, it is clearly laid down in the Quran that God said to the Jews through Prophet Moses: 'O my people! enter the Holy Land which God has assigned for you.' (5:21)

Palestine came under Muslim rule during the time of Caliph Umar, the second caliph. The possession of this land by Muslims was acceptable neither to the Christians nor to the Jews, for Palestine was a sacred place for both these religious groups. Therefore, anger against the Muslims continued to simmer. This culminated in the protracted war known as the Crusades. Throughout this long-drawn-out war, which was waged intermittently from 1095 to 1291, the Christian rulers of Europe united themselves in the fight against the Muslims, but they were ultimately defeated by Salahuddin Ayyubi or Saladin (d.1193), who demonstrated extraordinary military prowess. Consequently Salahuddin Ayyubi became the greatest hero of all the Arabs. In the following centuries, Palestine underwent many vicissitudes and, finally, in 1948, its history took a turn for the worse, with large parts of its territory being restored to the Jews with the support of the Christians. The Jews are still Palestine's rulers.

Today, the entire Arab world is dreaming of the return of the era of Salahuddin Ayyubi, about whom Arabic literature is full of stories of epic dimensions. The following couplet by an Arab poet, Az Zarkali, is the watch word of all Arab; 'Let us bring Salahuddin back and revive the historic day of Hitteen.'

This was the psychological environment that gave rise to bin Laden. Therefore, it was but natural that he soon began to be seen as another Salahuddin. All the lofty perceptions people had of Salahuddin came to be associated with bin Laden. If it was the Muslim Brotherhood, which formed his violent mentality. It was the historical traditions of Salahuddin which accorded to him the status of much admired Muslim hero.

Political Extremism and Islam

The Quran teaches us not be extremist in our religion. Its exact words are: 'People of the Book! Do not go to extremes in your religion.'(4:171) We also learn from a saying of Prophet Muhammad that extremist tendencies have always been the chief reason for religious groups going astray. That is why the Prophet once observed. Sedulously refrain from extremism, for previous communities were destroyed only because of their extremist tendencies in religious matters.

Ghulu, meaning extremism, is engendered in a religious community when it goes into a state of decline, and is, in fact, a sign of its degeneration. There is a tradition of Prophet Muhammad which forewarns his followers of the not that can set in. He said that all those evils which had Arisen in previous communities would also arise, but on a greater scale, in his own community. To make his meaning clear, he said: 'Where previous communities were divided into 72 sects, Muslims will be divided into 73 sects.'

There are innumerable cases of ideological extremism in Islamic history. But we also find among Muslims another kind of extremism which probably never existed in previous communities. When the Prophet said that while the Israelites were divided into seventy-three sects, he was giving an example of this other kind of ghulu (extremism) which can be described as political extremism. No previous community had ever been crowned by such political glory as was enjoyed by the Muslims for almost a thousand years after the emergence of Islam. Political glory was not, however, a part of the Islamic creed, but a part of history. But Muslims stressed this fact of political glory to such an extent that, for all intents and purposes. It became incorporated in their religious creed. The result of this political extremism is the violent jihad we experience in the Muslim world of today. Ultimately, extremist concepts such as Muslims are God's vicegerents on earth and, as such they have the right to rule over other communities were developed Religion came to be regarded as synonymous with a complete state. Does the Quran Support Terrorism? 'I am going to place a khalifah on the earth.' (2:30)

Referring to this verse, they maintain that Khalifah means vicegerent. In other words, God has created man so that he may establish a system of justice on earth as God's vicegerent. Furthermore, they point out that God imposed His 'command' or hukm on the material world, but not on the human world. In the human world, God wants man to enforce divine commands on His behalf. This divine vicegerency or khalifah will be conferred on those who have complete faith in God. Man may be a successor to some creature of God but never the successor to the Creator Himself. Before creating the man, God had given earth into the possession of other creatures. These predecessors of man had caused bloodshed on earth, so God removed them and settled man in their place. We learn, moreover, from other verses of the Quran, that man has been sent to the world in order to be tested. 'He created death. He created life to test you.' (67:2)

That is, only after this test will it be clear who is worthy of Paradise and who is to be consigned to hellfire. It is obvious that while a successor to a creature can be put to the test, the test of a vicegerent of God is inconceivable. This means that this projection of man as one who will enforce God's commands must be rejected outright. So it is entirely unscientific to build up the theory of political Islam out of this verse 'I am creating a successor on earth.' (2:30)

Also, if the verse had actually meant man to be the successor to God, it would amount to admitting that God's plan had never been fulfilled, even though He had sent 1.24,000 prophets to earth: it would mean that no prophet had succeeded in establishing God's desired system on earth in the capacity of being His vicegerent. Even the first man and a prophet, Adam, failed to establish this system. In his own lifetime, one of his sons killed his own brother (5:30).

Another verse of the Quran which is quoted as the basis of this political theory of Islam reads: 'It is He who has sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of Truth, so that He may make it prevail [ideologically] over every other religion, however much the polytheists may hate this.' (9:33)

On a closer inspection of the wording of this verse, we find that what has been said here has nothing to do with politics. It describes a situation which is religious in nature, that is, the ascendancy of monotheism over polytheism. The word 'superiority' or izhaar occurs here in this verse. Izhaar does not imply extirpation or abolishment. It means proving superiority, or ascendancy, through arguments. In the time of the Prophet of Islam, polytheism dominated Arabia. The entire popular culture was polytheistic. But, as we know, there was no polytheistic rule at that time in Arabia in the political sense-no ruler was considered divine and worshipped. What existed was belief in polytheism or idol worship, in support of which people had devised certain arguments of their own. The mission of the Prophet was to refute these arguments and prove the superiority of monotheistic religion by means of counter-arguments. Another of the arguments given in support of the political theory of Islam relates to the following verse: 'Fight them until there is no more [religious] persecution and religion belongs wholly to God.' (8:39)

What is called persecution (fitna) is this verse refers to a state of affairs which was brought to an end during the lifetime of the Prophet and his companions. According to this verse, what was aimed at was not a simple matter of fighting (qital), but putting a stop to the persecution of the believers and ensuring the freedom to worship the one and only God. This being so, we shall have to determine what exactly has been called fitna in the Quran and furthermore now, during the early phase itself, it came to an end.

According to Abdullah ibn Umar, a senior companion of the Prophet, fitna here means religious persecution. In earlier times, all over the world, including Arabia, religious persecution was prevalent in all walks of life. Except for the state religion no other religion was tolerated. Religious tolerance and religious freedom were unknown. In view of this situation, the Prophet and his companions were commanded to put an end to this system of persecution with all the power at their disposal-they were to usher in an age of religious freedom throughout the world.

But, as the period when Prophet Muhammad began to spread the message of monotheism in Arabia was rampant with religious persecution, people put up stiff resistance to his call, though his methods were entirely peaceful. When their opposition failed to root out his movement, they took to violence to stop his efforts. The Prophet, choosing to avoid conflict, migrated from Makkah to Madinah. At a later stage, his opponents took the path of armed aggression: as a result, the Prophet had to wage four defensive battles which were more like skirmishes, each lasting only for half a day. Nonetheless, his movement went on spreading and his opponents ultimately suffered total defeat. Subsequently, the whole of Arabia abandoned all opposition and accepted monotheism.

Thus, in the Prophet's own lifetime, religious persecution was brought to an end in Arabia. However, the two great empires of that period, the Sassanid and the Byzantine, which, directly or indirectly, ruled over large parts of Asia and Africa, were not ready to accept any religion other than that of the state, and so continued to practice religious persecution. According to these verses, it is desirable in Islam to preserve the cultural heritage of the past in order that the coming generations may derive lessons from them. In the absence of such historical relics, the very purpose of travelling would be rendered meaningless. Every group or community has its own particular culture. And it possesses the absolute right to safeguard it. In matters relating to culture, the question of whether it is against or in favor of Islam should not arise. Indeed, any community that wants to protect its culture should be given the right to do so: just as this tenet has been endorsed by secularism, so has it been accepted by Islam.

There is an event in Islamic history which very aptly illustrates this point. Jerusalem was conquered during the caliphate of Umar, the second caliph of Islam. Caliph Umar went to Jerusalem from Makkah, and signed an agreement with the Christians. This agreement contained, among other thing, the guarantee that all the relics in the Christian churches---for instance, the statues of Mary and Jesus, and the Holy Cross, believed to be the one on which Christ was nailed---would be left intact. All these objects were part of the Christian culture, and it was specified in the agreement that the Christian community had the right to preserve and maintain them.

This act on the part of the second caliph of Islam shows that it is the right of every community to safeguard its culture, whether under Muslim rule or not. No government is vested with the right to interfere in the cultural affairs of a community. The issue of preservation of culture must remain independent of government intervention. One