Learn more about Islamism
- This article is about political Islamism. For the religion of Islam, see Islam
Islamism is a set of political ideologies that hold that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system that governs the legal, economic and social imperatives of the state according to its interpretation of Islamic Law. For Islamists, the sharia has absolute priority over democracy and universal human rights: "The Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this [Cairo] Declaration [on Human Rights in Islam]." <ref>[Art. 25 of 'The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam', 5 August 1990]</ref>
This usage is controversial. Islamists themselves may oppose the term because it suggests their philosophy to be a political extrapolation from Islam rather than a straightforward expression of Islam as a way of life. Some Muslims find it troublesome that a word derived from “Islam” is applied to organizations they consider radical and extreme. The terms "Islamist" and "Islamism" are used often in several publications within some Muslim countries to describe domestic and trans-national organizations seeking to implement Islamic law. The English website for Al Jazeera, for example, uses these terms frequently.
 Islam and Islamism
There is intense debate about the differences between Islam and Islamism. The controversy is rooted in differing answers to questions about how Muslims should live, the sort of governments they should support, and the proper role of Islamic symbols, ideas, and tenets in the modern world. Those who are called Islamists argue that Islam is inherently a political religion, and that the rules and laws laid out in Quran and Hadiths mandate Islamic government.
While many experts on Islam reject this notion, some, including Robert Spencer, Bat Ye'or, and Andrew Bostom, concur, arguing that political stances characterized as Islamist are actually central to Islam as a faith. They also question the validity of the terms "Islamist" and "Islamism" themselves. Some Muslims also deny that there is a difference between Islamism and Islam, saying "If Islam is a way of life, how can we say that those who want to live by its principles in legal, social, political, economic, and political spheres of life are not Muslims, but Islamists and believe in Islamism, not Islam"? <ref>Wikipedia: Good Intentions, Horrible Consequences</ref>
Like other religions, Islam promotes a vision of society and provides guidelines for social life. The Quran and the hadith provide guidelines for Islamic government, including criminal law, family law, the prohibition of usury, and other economic regulations. A number of these topics are highly contentious in the Arab Muslim world.
 Contemporary issues
The complex relationship between Islam and Islamism has intensified in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Since that time, Islamist movements, along with other political movements inspired by Islam, have gained increased attention in the Western media. Some Islamist groups have been implicated in terrorism and have become targets in the War on Terrorism. However, given the instability caused by the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it seems that in order to bring that region under control again, there will be some sort of cooperation between the West and Islamist groups.<ref>Converging Interests</ref> In Iraq, that has already happened since the government and the parliament are dominated by members and supporters of Islamist parties and organizations.
The term “Islamism” first appeared in eighteenth-century France as a synonym for Islam. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was being displaced by the latter, and by 1938, when Orientalist scholars completed the Encyclopaedia of Islam, had virtually disappeared from the English language.<ref name="kramer">Martin Kramer: Coming to Terms -Fundamentalists or Islamists?</ref>
It attained its modern connotation in late 1970s French academia, thence to be loaned into English again, where it has largely displaced “Islamic fundamentalism.”<ref name="kramer" />
Although Islamic states based on Shari'a law have existed since the earliest days of Islam, Islamism refers to modern movements that developed during the twentieth century in reaction to several forces. Following World War I, the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and the subsequent dissolution of the Caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (founder of Turkey), some Muslims perceived that Islam was in retreat, and felt that Western ideas were spreading throughout Muslim society, along with the influence of Western nations. During the 1960s, the predominant ideology within the Arab world was pan-Arabism which deemphasized religion and emphasized the creation of a socialist, secular state based on Arab nationalism rather than Islam.
 The Deobandi Movement
In India, the Deobandi movement developed as a reaction to British actions against Muslims and the influence of Sayed Ahmad Khan, who advocated the Westernization of Islam. Named after the town of Deoband, where it originated, the movement expanded under the guidance of Maulana Qasim Nanotwi on the traditional methods of Fiqh (jurisprudence), Aqidah (theology). Now the foremost movement of traditional Islamic thought in the subcontinent, it lead to the establishment of many Madrasahs throughout India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. Deobandi thought is defined foremost by its adherence to the Hanafi Fiqh (and to a lesser extent by many scholars, the Shafi'i Fiqh) and by its DE-emphasis on Tasawwuf.
The 'Deobandi' identity was initially thought important as a way of representing traditional Islamic jurisprudence and the purity of Aqidah from the increasing number of movements in India at the time that either aimed to Westernize Islam or introduce unorthodox beliefs such as grave-worshipping. In modern and more global times, use of this differentiation is given less and less importance with the view that with most differences of opinion with other schools of thought being arguing semantics, unity among Muslims is paramount.Though Deobandi thought has traditionally and continues to focus on purity of the heart, knowledge of Islamic tenets and jurisprudence and social cohesion and harmony,it doesn't in any way renounce resistance against occupation or oppression. Darul Uloom Deoband was in fact the strongest voice of opposition in India to British-backed movements that attempted to renounce the struggle against British occupation, with its leaders and students actively engaged in the military resistance to the occupation.
 Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi was an important early twentieth-century figure in the Islamic revival in India, and then after independence from Britain, in Pakistan. Trained as a lawyer he chose the profession of journalism, and wrote about contemporary issues. Most of his writings addressed topics of Islamic law,<ref>Mawdudi on Law of War In Islam</ref> governance, and human rights.<ref>Mawdudi on Human Rights</ref> He was an inspirational figure for modern Islamist groups in Pakistan and India, and Muslims elsewhere.
Maududi advocated the creation of an Islamic state governed by sharia, Islamic law, as interpreted by Shura councils. Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1941 and remained at its head until 1972. His extremely influential book, "Towards Understanding Islam" (Risalat Diniyat in Arabic), placed Islam in modern context and enabled not only conservative ulema but liberal modernizers such as al-Faruqi, whose "Islamization of Knowledge" carried forward some of Maududi's key principles. Chief among these was the basic compatibility of Islam with an ethical scientific view. Quoting from Maududi's own work:
- Everything in the universe is 'Muslim' for it obeys God by submission to His laws... For his entire life, from the embryonic stage to the body's dissolution into dust after death, every tissue of his muscles and every limb of his body follows the course prescribed by God's law. His very tongue which, on account of his ignorance advocates the denial of God or professes multiple deities, is in its very nature 'Muslim'... The man who denies God is called Kafir (concealer) because he conceals by his disbelief what is inherent in his nature and embalmed in his own soul. His whole body functions in obedience to that instinct… Reality becomes estranged from him and he gropes in the dark.
Maududi was both less revolutionary and less politically/economically populist than later Islamists like Qutb. <ref>Maududi on social justice: "a man who owns a car can drive it; and those who do not won should walk; and those who are crippled cannot but hop along" (Nizam al-Hayat fi al-Islam, 1st ed., n.d. (Bayrut: Musassast al-Risalah, 1983), p.54)See also Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: the Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Qutb by Ahmad S. Moussalli American University of Beirut, 1992</ref>
 The Muslim Brotherhood
Maududi's political ideas were a strong influence on Sayyid Qutb in Egypt, who also believed pagan ignorance (or jahiliyya) had reasserted itself in the Muslim world and must be vanquished. Qutb was one of the key philosophers in the Muslim Brotherhood movement, the first, largest and probably most influential modern Islamic political/religious organization. The Brotherhood was established by Hasan al-Banna in Ismailiyah, Egypt in 1928 who was assassinated in 1949 in retaliation for the assassination of Egypt's premier Mahmud Fami Naqrashi three months earlier.  It was banned in 1948 and again following confrontations with Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, who jailed Qutb and thousands of others for several years, but still exists  with a status sometimes described as a "semi-legal."  The Muslim Brotherhood advocated a return to Shari'ah and used the motto "The Qur'an is our constitution."  Since only divine guidance could lead humans to peace, justice, and prosperity, it followed that Muslims should eschew Western values and man-made systems of governance and live according to the divine law of the Shari'ah. This, they believed, could be done by using as a model laws followed by the early Caliphates known for their harmony, stability, prosperity and protection of Muslim lives, interests and global influence. The Brotherhood also advocated Jihad against the European colonial powers, particularly the British and the French, and their allies, who ruled over virtually all of the Muslim world during al-Banna's lifetime.
 1979 events
1979 was a pivotal year for Islamic fundamentalism, with three huge events in the Muslim world:
- On January 16, 1979 the Iranian Revolution began with the forced exile of the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which then brought about the world's first modern Muslim theocracy under the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
- The November 20, 1979 Grand Mosque Seizure at Mecca, in western Saudi Arabia, occurred at the holiest site in Islam. The hostage-taking, two week siege, and bloody ending shocked the Muslim world, as hundreds were killed in the ensuing battles and executions. The event was explained as a fundamentalist dissident revolt against the Saudi regime. The Iran hostage crisis had begun only weeks earlier, on November 4, 1979 when a mob of students stormed and seized the U.S. embassy. Immediately following the Mecca event, Iran blamed the U.S., and angry Islamic mobs then burned two more U.S. embassies to the ground, in Islamabad, Pakistan, and at Tripoli, Libya.
- On December 25, 1979 the Soviet Union, attempting to suppress an Islamic rebellion, deployed the 40th Army into Afghanistan, in support of advisers it already had in place there.
 General Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization of Pakistan
Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization of Pakistan was a socio-political process that was implemented in the country by the ruling military regime, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing throughout the 1980s. On December 2, 1978, the then-President of Pakistan General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq officially called for an Islamic system to be imposed in its totality.
 Iranian Islamic Revolution/Khomeinism
The first Islamist state (with the possible exception of Pakistan) was established not among Sunni but among the Shia of Iran. In what was nothing short of a major shock to the rest of the world, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led an Islamic Revolution of 1979 to overthrow the oil rich, rapidly Westernizing and pro-American secular monarchy ruled by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi.
Khomeini's beliefs were similar to those of Sunni Islamists like Mawdudi and Qutb:
- He thought restoration of Sharia law and imitation of the first Muslim generation was essential to Islam, that secular, Westernizing Muslims were actually agents of Western interests, and that "plundering" of Muslim lands was part of a long-term conspiracy against Islam by the Christian West. <ref>Khomeini (1981), p.54</ref>
But they also differed:
- as a Shiite, Khomeini had no interest in restoring the Caliphate but wanted the leading role in government to be taken by the ulama (clergy). His concept of velayat-e-faqih ("guardianship of the jurist"), held that the leading Shia Muslim cleric in society -- which Khomeini and his followers believed to be himself -- should serve as head of state to protect or "guard" Islam and Sharia law from “innovation" and "anti-Islamic laws" passed "by sham parliaments.” <ref>Khomeini (1981), p.54</ref>
Initial enthusiasm in Muslim world for the revolution waned -- particularly during the course of the Iran-Iraq War, Khomeini's 8-year-long, enormously bloody and ultimately unsuccessful campaign to replace neighboring Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with an Islamic Republic. <ref>While Iraq's regime started the war by invading Iran, it was all but expelled from Iran after less than two years. "Most of the fighting for the rest of the war occurred on Iraqi territory." Iran-Iraq War "Expansion of the Islamic Revolution and the War with Iraq"</ref> The Islamic Republic has also not yet achieved many of its goals: raising standards of living; ridding Iran of corruption, poverty, political oppression and Westernization, or even protecting Sharia from innovation (), but it has been successful in maintaining its hold on power in Iran and creating like-minded Shia Islamist groups in Iraq (SCIRI) and Lebanon (Hezbollah,) (two Muslim countries that also have large Shiite populations). Currently, the Iranian government has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity amongst the predominantly Sunni "Arab street," due to its support for Hezbollah during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vehement opposition to the United States and call for the annihilation of Israel.
 Islamic Jihad movements
While Qutb's ideas became increasingly radical during his imprisonment prior to his execution in 1966, the leadership of the Brotherhood, led by Hasan al-Hudaybi, remained moderate and interested in political negotiation and activism. Fringe or splinter movements, however, did develop and pursued a more radical direction, perhaps inspired by final writings of Qutb in the mid-1960s (e.g. "Milestones," aka Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq). By the 1970s, the Brotherhood renounced violence as a means to their goals. The path of violence and military struggle was however taken up by such movements as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organisation, responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Unlike earlier anti-colonial movements, Egyptian Islamic Jihad focused its efforts on "apostate" leaders of Muslim states, or those leaders who held secular leanings or introduced or promoted Western/foreign ideas and practices into Islamic societies. Their views were outlined in a pamphlet written by Muhammad Abd al-Salaam Farag, in which he states: "…there is no doubt that the first battlefield for jihad is the extermination of these infidel leaders and to replace them by a complete Islamic Order…" Another Islamic Jihad group emerged in Palestine as an offshoot of the Egyptian group, and began militant activity against the state of Israel, and consistently opposed itself to the policies of the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yasser Arafat.
An influential strain of Muslim thought came from the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabists, who emerged in the 18th century led by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, also believed that it was necessary to live according to the strict dictates of Islam, which they interpreted to mean living in the manner that the prophet Muhammad and his followers had lived in during the seventh century in Medina. Consequently they were opposed to many religious innovations such as grave worshipping. They were also opposed to the many superstitons that were beginning to spread in Arabia such as the wearing of talismans e.t.c. When King Abdul Aziz al-Saud founded Saudi Arabia, he brought the Wahhabists into power with him. With Saud's rise to prominence, Wahhabism spread, especially following the 1973 oil embargo and the glut of oil wealth that resulted for Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabists were proselytizers and made use of their wealth to spread their interpretation of Islam. Some Salafis are against modern political Islamism, and many have sharply criticized Islamist figures such as Sayed Qutb  , Abu A`la Maududi   and Usamah bin Laden . They have also been critical of Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood , and the methods they use, such as the political party system , and terrorism   even though Osama Bin Laden and many Jihadis are Salafis.
 Recent history
Islamism went through its major political and philosophical developments in the early part of the twentieth century, but it was not until the 1980s that it became active in an international arena and rose to great prominence in the 1990s.
The reasons for the rise of Islamism during this period are still disputed. The ideologies that had dominated the Middle East since decolonization such as Ba'athism, Arab Socialism, and Arab Nationalism had, by 1980, failed to attain the economic and political goals expected of them. By the late 1980s the distinct Shi'ite version of political Islam had been drained of its vigour in the Iran-Iraq War. During the conflict against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, many Islamists came together to fight what they saw as an atheist invading force and were heavily funded by the United States. In Pakistan, military dictators brought into power through coups (especially Zia-ul-Haq) exploited Islamist sentiments to consolidate their power, bringing Islamist political parties into prominence and all but destroying the traditional secularism that stemmed from the secular stance of the Muslim League and its leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan.
In his book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam Gilles Kepel argues that the central importance of Islamism in the 1990s was a product of the Gulf War. Prior to 1990 organized political Islam had been mostly associated with Saudi Arabia, a nation founded on Wahhabism and an ally of Islamist groups in Egypt and in Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia, as a close ally of the West and with a strong interest in regional stability, played an important restraining role on Islamist groups.
The Shi'ite clerics in Iran had long argued that Saudi Arabia was an apostate state, a puppet of the West that espoused a corrupted Islam.<ref>Saudi Arabia: Relations with Iran</ref> During the 1980s these accusations had little effect, largely because of their Shi'ite origin. However, Kepel argues that when Saddam Hussein turned on his former allies, he embraced this rhetoric, arguing that Saudi Arabia had betrayed its duty to protect the holiest sites of Islam. Kepel states that Saddam Hussein embraced Islamic rhetoric and trappings and tried to draw leading scholars and activists to his camp. Some of the main Islamist groups remained loyal to Saudi Arabia, but a number such as parts of the Muslim Brotherhood and Afghani mujahideen aligned themselves with Saddam. Far more groups declared themselves neutral in the struggle.
According to Kepel the rapid defeat of Saddam did not end this rift. As Saddam had likely predicted Saudi Arabia had found itself in a severe dilemma, the only way to counter the Iraqi threat was to seek help from the west, which would immediately confirm the Iraqi allegations of Saudi Arabia being a friend to the west. To ensure the regime's survival Saudi Arabia accepted a massive western presence in the country and de facto cooperation with Israel causing great offence to many in Islamist circles.
After the war Saudi Arabia launched a two-pronged strategy to restore its security and leadership in Islamist circles. Those Islamist groups who refused to return under the Saudi umbrella were persecuted and any Islamists who had criticized Saudi regime were arrested or forced into exile, with most going to London. At the same time Saudi oil money began to flow freely to those Islamist groups who continued to work with the kingdom. Islamist madrassas around the world saw their funding greatly increased. More covertly Saudi money began to fund more violent Islamist groups in areas such as Bosnia and the former Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia's western allies mostly looked the other way seeing the survival of their crucial ally as more important than the problem of more money and resources flowing to Islamist groups.
In the 1990s Islamist conflicts erupted around the world in areas such as Algeria, the Palestinian territories, Sudan, and Nigeria. In 1995 a series of terrorist attacks were launched against France. The most important development was the rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 1996. In the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan a number of anti-Saudi and anti-Western Islamist groups found refuge. Significantly, Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi influenced by Wahhabism and the writings of Sayed Qutb, joined forces with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad under Ayman al-Zawahiri to form what is now called al-Qaeda.
A considerable effort has been made to fight Western targets, especially the United States. The United States in particular was made a subject of Islamist fire because of its support for Israel, its presence on Saudi Arabian soil, what Islamists regard as its aggression against Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its support of the regimes Islamists oppose. In addition some Islamists have concentrated their activity against Israel, and nearly all Islamists view Israel with hostility. Osama bin Laden, at least, believes that this is of necessity due to historical conflict between Muslims and Jews, and considers there to be a Jewish/American alliance against Islam.
There is some debate as to how influential Islamist movements remain. Some scholars assert that Islamism is a fringe movement that is dying, following the clear failures of Islamist regimes like the regime in Sudan, the Wahhabist Saudi regime and the Deobandi Taliban to improve the lot of Muslims. However, others (e.g. Ahmed Rashid) feel that the Islamists still command considerable support and cite the fact that Islamists in Pakistan and Egypt regularly poll 10 to 30 percent in electoral polls despite the fact they are prosecuted and that many believe the polls are rigged against them.
An alternative direction has been taken by many Islamists in Turkey, where the Islamist movement split into reformist and traditionalist wings in 2001. The reformists formed the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (Ak Party), which gained an overall majority in the Turkish parliament in 2002, and has sought to balance Islamic values with the requirements of a secular and democratic political system. Some in the Justice and Development Party see the Christian Democrat parties of Western Europe as a model, which has led some to question whether it is a genuinely Islamist movement.
 Intellectual sources of Islamism
The foundation of modern Islamist thought is highly debated. Islamists, where they can be clearly identified, have many different positions. These perspectives can be defined in terms of their selection of sources from Islamic history and thought. Typically, an Islamist perspective will criticize certain periods of history and intellectualism, while expounding upon others. However, many Islamists combine two or more of these perspectives and formulate their own, unique reading of history and Islam.
 Islamic History
Some perspectives, often considered radical, cite the source of their message as the early Islamic community founded by the Prophet. Proponents of this view hold only the central texts of Islam as important and tend to criticise centuries of scholarship and commentary. Thus, they identify themselves in opposition to a large body of history and theory (including the Fitna and Ottoman periods).
Other groups may seek a return to classical Islam, where religion played a dominant role in civil society and state affairs. These groups tend to cite sources and periods of history where Islam was the established social system. While this is historically typified in the Caliphate of the Ottoman Empire, Islamists who proport this view may speak of doing away with an empire and reforming the Caliphate according to new principles of governance (such as democracy).
Common among virtually all Islamists is their reliance on contemporary, authors (such as Qutb), to articulate their views and direct their activities.
 Islamism and modern political theory
The development of modern Islamism was also both a reaction to and influenced by the other ideologies of the modern world. Modern Islamism began in the colonial period, and it was overtly anti-imperialist. It was also opposed to the local elites who wanted independence, but who also supported adopting western liberal ideals. Writers like the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb and the Pakistani Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi saw western style individualism as counter to centuries of tradition, and also as inevitably leading to a debauched and licentious society.
In the years after independence the most important ideological current in the Muslim world was socialism and communism. This influenced Islamism in two ways. Much Islamist thought and writing during this era was directly addressed to countering Marxism. For instance Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr's main works are detailed critiques of Marxism, paying much less attention to capitalism and liberalism. Another option was to try and integrate socialism and Islamism. This was most notably done by Ali Shariati. At several points Islamist and leftist groups found common cause, such as during the early stages of the Iranian Revolution, and several organizations, such as the Islamic Socialist Front in Syria, were both overtly Marxist and overtly Islamist. While most Islamists reject Marxism, the influence of socialist ideologies during the formative period of modern Islamism means that Islamist works continue to be infused with Marxist language and concepts. For instance Qutb's view of an elite vanguard to lead an Islamic revolution is borrowed directly from Lenin's Vanguard of the Proletariat.
During the 1930s a number of fascistic groups arose in the Middle East. Some such as the SSNP and the Kataeb Party were mostly supported by Christians and other minority groups, others like the Egyptian Misr al-Fatat were mainly Sunni Arab. The fascist method of seizing power did inspire Islamist Hassan al-Banna, who founded organizations directly based on the Brownshirts and Blackshirts to try and seize power<ref>Marc Erikson: Islamism, fascism and terrorism (Part 2)</ref>. This method proved ineffective, and since then most Islamists have used the cell based structure commonly used by leftist groups. Ideologically there is little evidence that fascism had much influence on the development of Islamism.
 See also / Islamist organizations
 Further reading
- The Truth About Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion by Robert Spencer
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades) by Robert Spencer
- Onward Muslim Soldiers by Robert Spencer
- The Legacy of Jihad by Andrew G. Bostom
- Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide by Bat Ye'or
- Decline of Eastern Christianity: From Jihad to Dhimmitude by Bat Ye'or
- The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime, And the Coming Apocalypse by Paul L. Williams
- An Autumn of War: What America Learned from September 11 and the War on Terrorism by Victor Davis Hanson
- Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel
- The War for Muslim Minds by Gilles Kepel
- Esposito, John L. (2003). Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-516886-0.
- Khomeini, Ruhollah (1981). Algar, Hamid (translator and editor). Islam and Revolution : Writing and Declarations of Imam Khomeini. Berkeley: Mizan Press.
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