by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1433)
No change occurs in a vacuum. If change appears to occur suddenly this is largely the result of lack of awareness of underlying developments that lead to an explosion in society. In the physical world, this can best be explained by volcanic eruption.
No change occurs in a vacuum. If change appears to occur suddenly this is largely the result of lack of awareness of underlying developments that lead to an explosion in society. In the physical world, this can best be explained by volcanic eruption. There is prolonged and extremely violent activity under the surface that builds immense pressure until it explodes in fury spewing lava and ash. Scientists are usually able to study such phenomena and make fairly accurate predictions about the timing of volcanic eruptions.
In the political arena such predictions are more difficult because of various factors and forces involved. Unlike a volcanic eruption, political activity, especially one geared toward changing the status quo, also faces suppression from the established order. This may lead to a false sense of security among the ruling elites believing that they have everything under control until a revolution explodes in their midst. This is what happened in Iran in 1978–79. The established order in society had the backing of imperialist powers leading to the mistaken belief that no power or a combination of powers inside the country had the capacity to successfully challenge, much less overthrow the imposed order. Unknown to the elites, revolutionary fervor was building up in Iran until it broke through the surface exploding in the form of the Islamic Revolution.
An Islamic revolution is that point in history when all forces converge to build such pressure that its power overthrows the corrupt established order in society. Based on this, how should we evaluate the Islamic Awakening sweeping the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) that has driven four dictators from power? And can the change brought about in these societies be called revolutionary? If not, what should be the response of the global Islamic movement toward what they have or have not achieved so far? In order to understand their position, we need to have a better understanding of the fundamental principles that must guide Muslim behavior in society.
Given the opportunity, the vast majority of Muslims, indeed all human beings, would find certain changes as highly desirable; for instance, changes designed to achieve certain preset goals. The Muslims’ quest to return their societies to Islamic values from the present Western-imposed systems would be one such change. This is what the Muslims of Egypt and indeed other societies in the Muslim East are trying to achieve but the processes they follow are equally important.
While they have successfully gotten rid of a long-entrenched dictator, the Ikhwan in Egypt have also opted for the party politics approach for future course of action. Islam recognizes only two parties: Hizbullah and Hizb al-Shaytan (58:19). But under the influence of Western political thought imposed through decades of colonialism, Muslims have adopted Western political discourse as their own. The nation state structure itself is a Western construct and party politics, like democracy, are parts of this system. Dr. Kalim Siddiqui in his seminal work, Stages of Islamic Revolution, published only days before his departure from this world (4-18-1996) had called Islamic political parties as “interim movements” (pp. 47–67). Of necessity, these only led to “partial revolutions.” He was charitable in calling their experience as adding to the body of knowledge in the Muslims’ quest for total change in society. But he also urged that in order achieve success Muslims must undergo an intellectual revolution to cleanse Muslim political thought of all alien values and ideologies.
Among all the movements, Egypt’s al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun is the oldest and arguably the best organized party. In the first-ever free and fair elections to the Egyptian parliament in recent months, it won the largest number of seats. Many Muslims in Egypt and indeed in the rest of the Muslim world consider this to be a singular achievement. Perhaps it is, although it is more accurate to say that the Ikhwan’s electoral success is simply a function of the decades of social work among the masses that has brought them such popularity.
From the time of its founding, the Ikhwan provided social services to the masses that integrated the movement tightly into the fabric of its important social and ultimately political constituencies. In the face of the receding colonialism, it provided an integrated vision of a vibrant Islamic society, putting into motion Islamic welfare, representation, and foreign aid models. True to form, just like today, these activities squarely confronted entrenched ruling and special interests and resulted in wholesale suppression and slaughter of its top leadership. From its early days, it has been targeted in the most brutal manner including mass arrests, kangaroo trials and executions of its leaders and cadres. Of all the movements, the Ikhwan in Egypt have offered the greatest number of sacrifices yet they have persevered. Today they are on the verge of a breakthrough but they seem to be operating with extreme caution bordering on timidity. Instead of confronting the alien Western-imposed system in their society, they have opted to work within it.
We are reminded of an episode in our Prophetic history when the power elite of Makkah approached Abu Talib, the Prophet’s (pbuh) uncle, as he lay on his deathbed. They came with an offer to the Prophet (pbuh) although their previous offers had been rejected. They feared that if Abu Talib passed away without the Makkan power elite striking a deal with the noble Messenger (pbuh), this would create huge problems for them. The offer said that the mushriks would conform to Allah (swt) alone for one year and then the Prophet (pbuh) should conform to their false representations of God (idols) the next year. Before the Prophet (pbuh) could respond to their “offer”, the answer came from on high in the form of revelation of Surah al-Kafirun,
“Say, ‘O you who deny Allah’s power presence: I do not yield to those which you conform to, nor do you yield to (He) who I conform to. And I shall not yield to what you conform to, nor will you yield to what I conform to. Therefore, unto you your social convention [din] and unto me, mine’” (109:1–6).
Without being unduly harsh on the Ikhwan’s cautious approach, one cannot help but conclude that they are ignoring certain Qur’anic principles that may lead to further difficulties in the future. The power brokers of the entrenched system and their foreign masters will not let go easily. By operating within the existing corrupt system, the Ikhwan will be blamed for its problems but will not be allowed to operate freely to formulate policies to address these problems.
This approach is a bigger misfortune than it appears on the surface. By not providing answers to the bigger predicaments of increasing opportunities for the young and jobless, and wealth and power redistribution from the landed elites — most of whom have invested their stolen wealth outside of the country — to the historically unemployed, the day-laborers, and the peasants, they are setting themselves up to fail, because Western financial and economic models do not have answers to these problems. All they need do is to look north of the Mediterranean at Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain. In fact, the solution to these problems exist in a post-national domain, or not within the domain of the nation-state model; the problems of resource management and equitable distribution will be solved once the borders dividing people come tumbling down and people assign ownership to Allah (swt), where it belongs, and then follow His law to achieve social and economic justice. Actualizing Allah’s (swt) socio-economic standards and principles in the form of social policy, going from ideas to institutions, all the while constantly resocializing the people against the vacuity of failed Western ideas will make the Ikhwan distinctive.
The US-Israeli-Saudi-backed Salafis are just waiting in the wings to blame the Ikhwan for the failure of neo-liberal social policy with an Islamic veneer — and fail they will if they accept facilitation from the devil (imperialism, Zionism, and Wahhabism) — so that the Yahudi-Wahhabi axis can come down with an authoritarian iron fist a la the Taliban in Afghanistan or Al Saud in Arabia. The US and its Zionist patron will approve of this arrangement (even though they will be forced to condemn the Salafis in public discourse so that they can bolster their symbolic image of supporting the rights of women and minorities) because the Salafis will be content with a few ministerial positions that allow them to retain control over issues of culture, individual morality, and religiosity; with having enforcement muscle and a security apparatus that is trained and socialized in Israel and America; and with providing shock troops against any anti-imperialist or anti-Western country or group like Libya, Syria, and Hizbullah. In this regard the Ikhwan would be better served by paying closer attention to the ayat they recite every day than to the empty but high sounding expressions of those who do not know anything but pretend to know everything,
And We ordained for him [Musa] in the tablets [of the Law] all manner of admonition, clearly spelling out everything. And [We said], “Take hold of them with power, and command your people to order themselves with their most goodly rules.” I will show you the way the iniquitous shall go. From My messages shall I cause to turn away all those who, without any right, behave haughtily on earth: for, though they may see every sign [of the truth], they do not commit to it, and though they may see the path of rectitude, they do not choose to follow it; whereas, if they see a path of error, they take it for their own: this, because they have rejected Our messages, and have remained heedless of them… (7:145–146).
Most Muslims feel helpless because of the overwhelming odds they face but they need not feel completely powerless. Power and powerlessness are first and foremost states of mind. In the Qur’an, Allah (swt) narrates the story of Daud’s (a) confrontation with Goliath (2:251). While the soldiers in Saul’s army refused to confront Goliath because they thought he was too big, Daud (a) saw his adversary’s size as an opportunity: he was too big to miss! In contemporary terms, the ruling elites in Muslim societies and their foreign masters such as America are too big to miss.
While imperialist powers and their local satraps attempt to impose conformity on target societies through aggression, it is possible to confront them using creative ways. They (the imperialists and their local agents) use force to thwart the type of actionable change that would challenge their plans: internally by brutal suppression and externally through sabotage and the massive infliction of casualties. How leaders of movements in victim societies react to such imposed change determines the nature and outcome of their struggle. If they are led by muttaqi leadership, they can neutralize the oppressors’ advantage.
The challenge facing the Ikhwan in Egypt is one of choice: do they want to operate within the existing oppressive imposed order or depart radically from it to establish a system that is responsive to the needs of the overwhelming majority? Whatever choice they make will have profound implications not only for Egypt but perhaps for much of the Muslim world. History waits for nobody; this is something the Ikhwan must keep in mind as they proceed through the minefield of the swamp called Egyptian politics.