by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 4, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1430)
Muslim scholars, Islamic movement activists and even ordinary Muslims agree that the only natural habitat for Muslims is the Islamic State. Those Muslims not living in the Islamic State are like “fish out of water”, in the words of the late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui. If that is the case, why is it that with the exception of the Islamic Republic of Iran, there is no other Islamic state in the world today? True, a number of them claim to be Islamic and even carry titles to this effect such as the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan.” The Saudi regime is fronting as an Islamic society governed by the Qur’an and Sunnah, but the fact is that a monarchy cannot be Islamic. The noble Messenger of Allah (s) never considered himself king; he insisted on being called the servant and messenger of Allah (SWT). When referred to as “Prince of the Arabs” once, he admonished the person for saying so. Clearly, there is more to being Islamic than merely the title one attaches to a polity or state.
Muslim activists often feel nostalgic about the 1980s and express disappointment that Islamic revolutions similar to that in Iran have not occurred in other parts of the Muslim world. Immediately after the success of the Islamic Revolution, there were great hopes for dramatic changes in other Muslim countries, notably Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Algeria and Pakistan but no revolution occurred anywhere. Instead, Islamic movements in almost all these countries were brutally suppressed. In Algeria, especially, the Islamic movement led by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won a resounding victory in the December 1991 elections but was denied power by the Algerian elite whose Western-backed, Zionist-supported army visited a mass slaughter of nearly 350,000 on the Algerian people, not sparing women, children or even babies. At a time when the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo was in high gear, this genocide of the Algerian people went remarkably unnoticed by a partisan, insolent and hypocritical West, which habitually makes such a fuss about free elections and representative democracy.
The Egyptian regime, resuscitating its “never again” crusade against the Ikhwan of the 50s and 60s, was the first to launch a campaign of terror against its people soon after the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran. After Anwar Sadat’s assassination at a military parade on October 6, 1981, the Gama‘a al-Islamiyyah staged an uprising in parts of southern Egypt hoping that people will rally to its call. This was a strategic blunder. A movement needs careful planning; it cannot assume that people will automatically respond in a way desired by the movement. The response of the regime, backed and financed by the US and Israel, was brutal. Not only was the uprising ruthlessly suppressed, kangaroo military courts were set up to accuse regime resisters as well as their relatives and even defense lawyers. Thousands were rounded up, attacked, beaten up, and charged with sedition and other spurious offences. Thousands more, who just happened to be sporting beards and be in the wrong place at the wrong time, were randomly picked up as scapegoats so that the Egyptian government could window dress for America and Israel, showing that it was being tough on Islamic “seditionists” and revolutionaries in an already volatile region of the world.
Hundreds of people were hanged or executed by firing squad after farcical trials based on “confessions” extracted through torture. Operatives of the Mubarak regime, like other regimes in the Middle East, also threatened to rape the wives, daughters, sisters or mothers of the defendants, in order to force them to confess to crimes they had not committed. Aware that Muslims would rather prefer death than allow the honor of their women to be violated, the regime used such confessions to send hundreds of men to the gallows and consigned tens of thousands of others to the dungeons. Many are still languishing in prison nearly 30 years after the uprising. Thanks to American and Zionist intelligence activity and covert arms sales, the Egyptian regime was able to crush the Islamic movement.
Circumstances for Islamic movements elsewhere have been little better. Violent and unspeakable oppression has been the rule in Chechnya, Tunisia and Uzbekistan. In Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, the Islamic parties have been co-opted into accommodating and then becoming members of secular representative structures. Islamic scholars in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates and Kuwait, who should be leading the charge against imperial and Zionist fundamentalism, have been neutralized by million-dollar homes, multiple wives, luxury automobiles, chauffeurs, and manufactured halaqas that prepare attendees more for jidal than for jihad. And as for the rudderless Muslims in Western countries, who are either grappling with a European Islamic identity or assimilating into the American ethos, the less said the better.
Algeria’s case is typical where a reign of terror was unleashed by the secular elites working in tandem with the military. Perhaps Muslims should not have been surprised; was it realistic to expect the established order in Algeria to hand over power to the Islamic movement peacefully? Further, Muslims must ask whether it is appropriate to resort to armed uprising to overthrow the imposed order in society. What other options are available if Muslims are dissatisfied with the existing order and no other avenues are left to bring about change by peaceful means? These and similar questions must be addressed to achieve a better understanding of what has gone wrong and how not to repeat such mistakes in the future.
While it is natural to be impatient for change given the sorry state of the Muslim world, it is important to do the proper homework before launching a campaign. This is not merely a question of theory. First, there must be clarity of thought and purpose; second, there must be a critical mass of people willing to challenge the imposed order and sacrifice their lives in the struggle to overthrow it. If Iran-style revolutions are to occur elsewhere, it is imperative that similar efforts be made — both intellectually and physically. In fact, overcoming the almost anti-political inertia in Shi‘i theology made the Imam Khomeini-led revolution even more remarkable. He not only had to motivate the people but also, first, had to convince the Shi‘i ulama that their theological positions against political involvement needed modification. Through his ijtihad, summarized in his seminal work Vilayati-Faqih, the Imam transformed 1,300 years of Shi‘i political thought into a movement and state imperative that coincided with important Islamic liberation ideas and thrusts in the Sunni world. The Imam’s ijtihad opened the door for Shi‘is to directly participate in political self-representation and to uniquely shape Islamic self-determination in the 20th century. Muslims in the Sunni world have faced no such theological inhibitions throughout their Islamic movement history; they only have to mobilize the masses to overthrow the corrupt socio-political order in their societies; however, even mobilizing the people has proved an almost impossible task.
We, therefore, need to ask: why have Muslims elsewhere not managed even a fraction of what Imam Khomeini achieved in Iran? There are several reasons for this. For the Islamic movement to succeed there must first be clarity of thought, clearly established goals and the proper method to pursue them. Acquiring power is not the primary goal; it is a means to an end: the establishment of Allah’s (SWT) laws on earth. The movement must be led by muttaqi leadership, not by those pursuing narrow parochial, class or personal interests. Taqwa also has to be defined more broadly than simply being pious. There are millions of Muslims in the world that project an image of piety; some are no doubt pious, but only in a narrow, ritualistic sense. We need to rediscover the Qur’anic definition of taqwa that is rooted in firm commitment to Allah (SWT), and the understanding that there is a Day of Reckoning when everyone must account for their deeds on earth.
How does taqwa manifest itself in Islamic leadership? Leaders must have and display clarity; a key characteristic of successful leadership is clarity — clarity in knowing what to do, clarity is knowing who is going to do it, and clarity in holding accountable the doers for their deeds. Great leadership demonstrates this clarity by choosing a directional course in confusing times, unsettled circumstances and uncertain futures. Clarity is a characteristic of those who know that the future is shaped by the decisions that we, as human beings, make now. Clarity is a feature of those who choose a directional course that establishes a sense of urgency, paints a just social and economic vision of the future, and satisfies the security and livelihood needs of all important constituencies through the application of Allah’s (SWT) divine law.
In this vein, Allah (SWT) says about the muttaqis,
“…and as for he who protected himself [against Allah’s corrective justice], He will show him a [new] direction, and He will provide [directions] for him from places he would [otherwise] not have seen; and for everyone who places his trust in Allah, He [alone] is enough” (65:2-3).
What is often lost in the translation is that Islamic direction-setting manifests as a byproduct of the mixing of Allah’s (SWT) Will and the muttaqis’ will. What is also evident in these ayaat is that for an activity as important as this, Muslims need to look to none other than Allah (SWT). Thus Muslims who merge their consciousness with Allah (SWT) can emerge from the interaction as powerful leaders. In a nutshell effective leadership furnishes for its flock a strong, unambiguous directional course; direction-setting requires clarity; and Allah (SWT) shows the way (i.e. provides clarity by removing uncertainty). Stated another way, if a leadership claims to be Islamic and the direction it has chosen is not clear, especially to those who have core knowledge, then such leadership cannot be said to have taqwa, and therefore disqualifies from leading Muslims to a more secure and peaceful future. The modern-day incarnation of the Ikhwan dis (?)qualifies as an “Islamic” leadership because it has chosen to establish a directional course by amalgamating Qur’anic principles with secular westoxicated platitudes.
Through a continual line of Prophets from Allah (SWT) and their evidence laden revelations, muttaqi leadership of every era was given an example of how to align a critical mass of committed followers to Allah (SWT) and His law. These messengers of Allah (SWT) came to remind mankind of their duty to Allah (SWT) and His creation so that there would be harmony and balance on earth. But Allah (SWT) did not leave it there; He has commanded His servants to spend of what He has bestowed upon them to help near and distant relatives, the needy, the poor and destitute, and to take concrete corrective action to free people from debt, bondage and oppression of every kind; in short Muslims must be socially responsible human beings (2:177). If we believe — as we must — that Allah (SWT) created everything, then His sunan must be implemented in society, not those “falling-short” ideas which we, as human beings with our limited knowledge, perceive to be the right framework for solving the problems of the world.
Equally important, there must be a much clearer understanding of the nature of the dominant systems in Muslim majority societies. There is a general lack of appreciation of this point among many Muslims, including many leading figures in the Islamic movement who mistakenly harbor the notion that there is nothing inherently wrong with existing systems in their societies. They feel that honest people in power positions is all that is required to make these systems work more efficiently and in the general interest of the people. They do not understand that injustice, inequity and polarity are all threads interwoven into the very fabric of Western secular formulations. They do not understand that justice cannot be manufactured by simply tinkering with injustice. This simplistic approach has caused much confusion among Muslims and has led many Islamic movements into a blind alley. Participation in elections organized by the secular establishment is a clear example of this kind of faulty thinking.
By hijacking the worldwide discourse on representation, the Western propaganda machinery insinuates that free elections are only possible in democratic societies, and that also only in the God-rejecting, irreverent, Western-style democracies. One of the greatest follies in the global exchange of ideas is that this self-serving and heretofore unchallenged Western culture admits to many different paths to God (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc.) while admitting only one avenue to free elections: social (secular) democracy! This is a power distinction: they are saying that God has no power while we, who manage this camouflage democracy-cum-authoritarianism, do. And any human being who admits to it has no choice but to be an automaton in a world where non-thinking is a plus and thinking is a crime. The Islamic Republic has had free elections for over 25 years, but it is not a democracy that favors the emergence and institutionalization of special interest power scavengers and parasites.
While elections per se are not the issue, in what context and framework they are held, who organizes them, and how they are conducted are serious issues that most Muslims choose not to tackle. A secular system holds elections to reinforce the values of greedy power barons and benefits only those who control it; such a system will not allow an “Islamic” political party to come to power, much less the Islamic movement to take over. This has been witnessed in Algeria and elsewhere with tragic consequences. In the unlikely event that a pseudo-Islamic party is allowed to come to power — Turkey offers a good example — it is forced into such painful compromises that there is little to distinguish it from secular parties serving the financial interests of world power brokers. It is this mixing of the secular and the Islamic, especially in ethics, morals and politics that has created so much havoc in Muslim societies.
So if Muslims are not to participate in elections organized by the secular establishment, how can they come to power? The answer can be found in the Sirah of the noble Messenger (s) and also in the more recent example of the Islamic movement led by Imam Khomeini in Iran. In Makkah, the noble Messenger of Allah (s) did not participate in the meetings held at Dar an-Nadwa (the People’s Assembly); nor did he accept their offer of leadership. This the Prophet (s) rejected outright. It was at this time that Surah al-Kafirun was revealed. All of us claim to know this short surah since we were young, but do we really know it?
“Say, ‘O you who deny the truth! I do not conform to that which you conform, and neither do you conform to that which I conform! And I will not conform to that which you have [ever] conformed, and neither will you [ever] conform to that which I conform. Unto you, your deen, and unto me, mine!’ ” (109:1-6).
How can we claim to know this surah unless we are aware of its power and representation context? This surah was revealed in response to a deal offered to the Prophet (s) by the Makkan mushriks. The offer consisted of them ruling for a year according to their own laws, institutions and norms; and then the Prophet (s) could rule according to Allah’s (SWT) law for a year. Their offer was rejected by Allah (SWT) from on High, and thereby it should be rejected by Muslims for all times to come,
“Now whenever Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter, it is not for a securely committed man or a securely committed woman to claim freedom of choice insofar as they themselves are concerned; for he who [thus] rebels against Allah and His Apostle has already, most obviously, gone astray” (33:36).
There is to be no cooperation, compromise or accommodation with taghuti power structures; and further they should not be allowed to linger in decision-making positions, and their representation of the common interest is to be labeled as both false and self-serving. No one can challenge or be a rival to Allah’s (SWT) power; the Prophet (s) realized he would be committing the greatest shirk on earth if were to accept the mushriks’ offer. Thus he did not jump at the offer, as so many leaders of Islamic parties do and begin to salivate at the first opportunity to become ministers, justifying their sell-out by the claim of wanting to initiate change “from within.” The result has been disastrous for every “Islamic” party that has accepted such an offer. Far from bringing Islam from the top, they have been forced into compromises with the dominant jahili system, often validating its excesses, simply for participating, and losing their own credibility in the process. The Prophet (s) preferred to endure suffering and persecution rather than accept an offer that involved compromise with the unjust dominant order.
The second thing to note from the surah is that the kafirs did not emerge in their true colors and full make-up until the Muslims, under the resolute leadership of the Prophet (s), began to stick to their guns, so to speak. At the time the Prophet (s) was commissioned, there were no Muslims, and similarly, no kafirs. But as the justice-centered message of Islam began to pick up momentum, as it began to gather sincere and committed followers, and as it began to challenge the status quo monstrosity of the mushrik power structure, the bloc of people who would vehemently resist a general ambi-ance of societal justice, otherwise known as kufr, began to emerge. It’s the same today; as Muslims all over the world are determined to base their behavior upon a platform of Allah’s (SWT) book and nothing else, as they are lifting the spirits of the world’s oppressed, and as they are making lasting changes to the taghuti power imbalance, they are exposing the fangs and claws of this crusading, bloodthirsty leviathan that has been hiding behind a now collapsing rubric of freedom, liberty, equality, and prosperity. It was because of his strict adherence to the Prophetic Sunnah that Imam Khomeini succeeded in overthrowing the imposed order in Iran. He rejected the existing order in its entirety, denounced it as alien to the ethos of Islam, spoke fearlessly against it and mobilized the people to resist and overthrow it. In the last weeks and months before the complete victory of the Islamic revolution, there were offers of a compromise. Leaders with lesser taqwa would have jumped at the opportunity and would have ended up offering a new lease on life to a corrupt discredited system. The Imam rejected all such overtures insisting on total change. Events in Iran completely vindicated his stance.
Another important feature of Iran’s revolution was that the Imam did not ask the people to take up arms against the Shah’s regime. While the regime unleashed its immense firepower and indulged in an orgy of killings, there was no violent response to it. Instead, there was moral exhortation to the soldiers not to kill their own people. After killing more than 80,000 of their countrymen — many of them women and children — in less than nine months, the soldiers in the Shah’s army, so sickened by the senseless killings, of their own kith and kin in some cases, rebelled and turned their weapons against the officer class. Once this happened, the game was up and the Shah had to flee.
In Algeria, unfortunately, something very different transpired. Instead of bringing people out into the streets in non-violent protests, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was sucked into an armed conflict that the military was hoping for. In fairness to FIS, it did not have control over the unfolding events once the Algerian military intervened to prevent them from taking power. The military junta unleashed a reign of terror on Algeria’s civilian population, while blaming the Islamic movement for such atrocities. It quickly became clear that the military itself was responsible for most of these killings. By 1997 military operatives, sickened by the slaughter, fled the country and exposed the regime’s crimes in French and British newspapers (See Le Monde, Paris and The Independent, London November 8/9, 1997). But Western governments and human rights organizations simply ignored such revelations because highlighting the crimes of a pro-Western and West-coached regime did not serve their interests. Besides, they were not going to allow another Islamic government to assume power in a Muslim country. One Iran was enough, as far as they were concerned.
It would appear that regimes in the Muslim world as well as their Western masters have learnt far more from the Islamic revolution in Iran than have rank-and-file Muslims, including many leaders of the Islamic movement. Some Muslims have fallen into the sectarian trap, while others have become victims of their own limited understanding of what an Islamic revolution ought to mean. These setbacks notwithstanding, the situation is not totally bleak. Muslims must remember that the defeat of the Red Army in Afghanistan led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Similarly, the convincing defeat of the Zionists, with the third largest military in the world, at the hands of the Hizbullah in Lebanon, not once but twice, is not an insignificant achievement.
There are also other bright spots on the horizon. The intifada in Palestine draws directly from the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran and from Hizbullah’s victory in Lebanon. There is now a symbiotic relationship between them; Hizbullah showed not only that Israel can be defeated but routed in such a way as to make its military superiority irrelevant. The intifada is applying some of these lessons to great effect in Palestine. The odds the Palestinians face and the sacrifices they are making are immense, but the struggle was never meant to be easy. The forces of evil against them have immense firepower as well as resources at their disposal.
What the Muslims lack in material resources will have to be made up with iman. It is at this level that the Muslims have no equals, yet the struggle ahead will still be difficult. Many more sacrifices will have to be made before Muslims are able to secure their rights in a world that is ruled by the law of the jungle and the dictum that “might is right.” One of the fundamental lessons of history is that oppressors have never voluntarily given up power. They will have to be driven out. What the Islamic movement must ensure is that it does not become deceived by such fraudulent exercises as elections under a secular order or power-sharing with corrupt elites whose loyalties lie elsewhere.
The first priority for the Islamic movement is, therefore, clarity of thought; everything else follows from that. The financial turmoil gripping the West today offers great opportunities to take the initiative. Similarly, the West’s military defeats in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon clearly point to its impending demise. At the very least, the world situation has changed radically and shifted in favor of the oppressed. Muslims must not allow another opportunity to slip through their grasp.