A history of political Islam – II
by Come Carpentier de Gourdon on 22 Dec 2013 1 Comment

Unlike the organizations inspired by the message of Jamaluddin however, the League was not fundamentally anti-colonial and indeed was opposed to violent uprisings against the British rulers which it saw as preferable to an independent Hindu-dominated India. They advocated certain social reforms in keeping with the “original message” of the Quran, but were rather politically conservative and economically oligarchic, except perhaps Iqbal who often voiced his opposition to the upper classes of his community whom he accused of not being truly committed to Islamic values and practices.


Other leading Muslim figures of India such as Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad rejected the League’s political philosophy and agenda, arguing against the case for a separate Islamic state and upholding instead India’s unity as a multi-religious nation of equal citizens. Azad, who was half-Arab through his mother and was born in Mecca, had socialist convictions and had also been attracted to Afghani’s message. He had led the Indian movement to support the threatened Ottoman khalifate in its final years, but held that the religious allegiances of Muslims were compatible with loyalty to their respective countries as was the case for Roman Catholics worldwide.


Afghani’s disciple Muhammed Abduh and Near Eastern intellectual heirs, Rashid Rida, Said Qutb and Hassan al Banna, the Egyptian founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimun) in 1928, broadly adhered to the guidelines set by him, but paradoxically all were in some way associated with Salafism. Modernisation of society in technological terms was for them not incompatible with an atavistic return to the past in matters of political organization, social mores and culture since, for most of them, as for earlier reformers such as the Indian 18th century theologian Shah Waliullah of Delhi, a revival of the original institutions of the religion in the days of the Prophet was the best way to regenerate and strengthen Muslim polities. Reform to them meant going back to original forms.


Jamaluddin Afghani had not advocated separation of powers, parliamentary democracy or emancipation of women as they existed in Europe since he did not believe in the soundness of the political systems he found in the colonialist West and probably concluded that they would not be compatible with a dispensation based on Quranic injunctions and precepts. The common concern of those “neo-conservative” reformers was to unify the Islamic world under a strong, incorruptible and capable leadership that could adapt the scientific innovations of the current age to the timeless prescriptions inherited from the Prophet and his immediate successors. One of the rulers inspired by them was Amir Habibullah Khan of Afghanistan.


Rebuilding the Khalifate for the worldwide ummah was a part of the plan for regeneration and since a para-statal hierarchy had to be created to combat and replace the colonial regimes and the decadent and submissive indigenous governments, the pyramidal structure of Free Masonry, often combined with the traditional structures of Sufi orders (silsilas, tariqas) was adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood. That was the time when Fascist movements and parties were arising in Europe, the Americas and the Far East and it is unsurprising that the Ikhwan were influenced by the zeitgeist and are still often accused of operating as a fascist organization, an accusation which their secretive and clandestine “top down” methods do little to discredit.


As opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood which created an international federation of branches that extend even today from West Africa to Central Asia, each with its own guide (masul) and inspired like-minded parties in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey (the AKP: Adalet ve Kalikinma Partisi founded in 2001, in succession to a series of previously banned similar outfits and in power since 2003 is an ideological sibling of the Ikhwan), Pakistan (Jamaat e Islami), Palestine (Hamas) and even in Shi’ite Iran, the “unreconstructed” Salafis led by Abdul Wahhab in the 18th century made a pact with the ruling clan of Saud from the region of Nedjed and laid the basis for a theocratic monarchy founded on close cooperation between the religious authority of the descendents of Abdul Wahhab, the Ahl ash Sheykh, and the royal power of the scions of Ibn Saud. As a result there arose a specific “nationalistic”, tribal and nationalistic version of Salafism, that became gradually estranged from the pan-Islamic, “republican” Muslim Brothers whose own rival chain of command poses a threat to traditional aristocracies which it sought to replace.


The breakup became apparent when the Saudi Arabian government decisively backed the military coup in Egypt against President Mohammed Morsi and his MB led administration in 2011, paradoxically calling for a military, secular regime against an Islamic one, although as a result of Riyadh’s choice, the Egyptian Al Nour Salafist party, generously financed by the Saudi kingdom, opportunistically joined the uprising against the Brotherhood after leaving the government to  become part of the opposition and the subsequent transitional military-backed regime. The politically conservative Wahhabis are thus ranged, together with the majority of the Shafiite Egyptian ulema who defer to the clerical leadership of the Al Azhar University, against the “reformist” or arguably revolutionary Brotherhood, which is as conservative socially but has a different strategy and a divergent political agenda.


The Ikhwan’s doctrine seems to imply that sooner or later they will govern a one-party state wherever they reach power, whereas the Salafists shun the concept of political parties altogether as they prefer to operate through militant cells “for preaching and combat” to pave the way for a Salafist theocracy. They may not all be satisfied with the situation in Saudi Arabia and with the policies of the royal family there, but they don’t have a definite alternative model to propose, apart from making the Wahhabi system in force in the Saudi Kingdom more rigid and puritanical, on the lines laid out by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Lashkar e Taiba in South Asia, the Hizb ul Tahrir in Central Asia, the Al Shabab in Somalia, the Jabhat al Nusra and kindred groups in Syria, Al Qaida in Iraq and in the Arabian peninsula, the Ansar al Din in the Sahara region and Boko Haram in West Africa, among the many other fighting para-military outfits that have proliferated in the Islamosphere.


Hence the “mother” of the global Ikhwan nebula, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, is once again in the political wilderness and under the threat of a ban with confiscation of all its assets, although it runs a legal political party which officially renounced the use of violence in 1949 and yet was banned in 1952 in its homeland and in Syria in 1982 after the famous uprising it led in Hama under the iron rule of President Hafez Al Assad. In Egypt, it kept a low profile during the first stage of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution against Hosni Mubarak, who had allowed it to survive in a legal no-man’s land under close surveillance. But it should be noted that Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar al Sadat was killed by officers under Salafist influence and apparently unaffiliated with the Brotherhood.


Contrary to the grand vision of the Brotherhood for an intercontinental khalifate, Salafist movements, whether in Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen or Afghanistan, insofar as they have a clear political agenda beyond “defeating and expelling infidels and heretics”, seek to restore local emirates. Ayman al Zawahiri of Al Qaida fame, who is probably the foremost Salafi ideological leader nowadays, has condemned the Brotherhood for espousing democratic methods, making compromises with Islam’s enemies and not embracing the armed struggle against the West and “polytheist” countries such as India.


Conversely, the Ikhwan have repeatedly accused the militant Salafists of giving a bad name to the religion by their ruthlessly violent actions which have led to the deaths of large numbers of innocent Muslims and mobilized the western powers against the ummah while not really causing any major harm to the Zionist regime and rather, arguably, giving it a shot in the arm.


Both the Salafists and the Brothers want to lead Islamic lands to the fore of technological progress while bringing their people back to an idealized version of the early religious past. Yet they also reject many of the traditions and practices of the intermediate historical periods that elapsed between the end of the reign of the first four khalifs and the centuries of submission to western imperialism. They tend to frown upon the nostalgic perpetuation (taqlid) of those customs and institutions, including Sufism, syncretism and the veneration of saints, which they see as un-Islamic and possibly tainted with polytheism or superstition (shirk).


(To be continued…)

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