Failure of the political party approach evident from experience of the Muslim world

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Safar 27, 1397 1977-06-16


by Zafar Bangash

Muslims everywhere are impatient for change. Impatience itself is not bad. It shows that Muslims are alert and anxious to see change in their societies. This springs from the fact that they are dissatisfied with the status quo. This is also a positive sign.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo is, in fact, a necessary pre-requisite to motivate people to change their situation. After all, if people were content with their present circumstances, there would be no need to change things. Throughout the Muslim world, there is deep dissatisfaction with the way their societies are governed (or misgoverned).

While the present systems serve the interests of the tiny ruling minority in each society, the vast majority are forced to make endless sacrifices. Over the last 50 years of what has been categorised as the period of ‘independence’, the lot of the common man has worsened. In some cases, vast amounts of resources have been squandered without showing any appreciable benefit to the masses. The examples of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq etc. stand out clearly.

In not one Muslim society has the condition of the people been improved materially, spiritually or culturally. The sole exception is Iran since the Islamic Revolution where the dominant western-imposed system was overthrown completely. Gradually the Islamic system has been introduced to cleanse the society of social and cultural ills.

Despite claims to independence, Muslim countries have become more subservient to the west than they were during the era of direct colonialism. This alone should disqualify the ruling elites from further control in Muslim societies. But who should bring about this change and how?

This is where the Islamic Movement comes in. The concept of the Islamic Movement was first introduced by Imam Hasan al-Banna in the Arabic-speaking world and by maulana Abul A’ala Maudoodi in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. In Iran, Imam Khomeini’s thoughts and ideas had a profound impact resulting in the victory of the Islamic Revolution.

The thoughts and ideas of Imam al-Banna and maulana Maudoodi were taken up by others in various parts of the Muslim world. Most parts of the Islamic Movement owe their understanding to their pioneering thoughts as well as to Syed Qutb (from Egypt) and Malek Bennabi in Algeria.

The globalisation of the idea of the Islamic Movement owes to the intellectual works of the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui. In fact, it was Dr Kalim who took this thought much further. He was also able to see the unworkability of the political party approach and constantly pointed this out in his writings. While he did not disown them, he called the Ikhwan and the Jama’at as ‘partial’ Islamic Movements.

It was also for this reason that Dr Kalim was such an ardent supporter and admirer of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and of Imam Khomeini. He saw in it the realisation of his own ideas articulated 10 years prior to the advent of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The euphoria generated in the wake of the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, however, has not translated into similar revolutions in other parts of the Muslim world. The most obvious disappointments have been Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. Algeria, too, does not appear close to any meaningful change in the immediate future.

Does this mean that the Islamic Movement has failed in its mission? Detractors of the Islamic Movement (Olivier Roy: Failure of Political Islam, 1994, and others) would have us believe so, but the reality is different. It is important to remember that while Muslims struggle for change, the time it requires to bring about change is not in their control. This is for God to decide. Who would have thought 10 or 15 years ago that the Red Army would be so thoroughly humiliated in Afghanistan and that the Soviet Union itself would disintegrate? Who could have imagined that there would be an uprising in Ichkeria (Chechenya) - yes that tiny Republic of barely one million people - and defeat the mighty Russian Army?

Muslims cannot preclude surprises but they should not live only in hopes of surprises. In fact, surprises occur not because there was nothing happening. They are often the result of people’s unawareness of the true situation. Nothing happens in a vacuum. The only vacuum is in the understanding or knowledge of individuals or groups.

Ten years ago, most Muslims would have expected major changes in Egypt or Tunisia, for instance. These did not happen. Instead, Algeria surprised most Muslims. Today, members of the Global Islamic Movement may feel despondent that changes have not occurred in Algeria as they had hoped. There is disappointment that Afghanistan has not gone the way they had hoped.

These situations need to be evaluated against our past experiences. One of the guiding principles of the Islamic Movement is that it must constantly review its methods and understanding of the issues. This will help refine, reform and reformulate ideas that have proved unworkable over a period of time. Critical re-evaluation is essential.

Neither Algeria nor Egypt, however, should lead to despondency. In both theatres, the regimes are under immense pressure from the respective wings of the Islamic Movement. In fact, it is clear that external powers - France and the US - are also intimately involved in shoring up these tyrannical regimes.

In Algeria, the entire leadership of the FIS is in jail. Its leaders in exile are hounded and persecuted by the western powers. The US has incarcerated Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman on trumped-up charges because America’s client regime in Egypt cannot meet the challenge from the Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

The Mubarak regime needs external support, both financial and military, to barely contain the situation. What the Gama’a has done is to transcend party politics. It has radically transformed the ground rules in Egypt and at a stroke, made the party politics approach of the Ikhwan redundant.

The experiences in Algeria, Jordan and Turkey should wisen Muslims to the unworkability of the political party approach. In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front appears to have absorbed these lessons well.

When and where change will occur is difficult to predict. What is clear is that the secular ruling elites have completely failed to solve the problems confronting their societies. In all cases, they have made things worse.

Pakistan offers a classic example of the failure of the ruling elites. Secularism, feudalism and other isms have been tried and found wanting. What is required now is a genuine Islamic Movement headed by muttaqi (God-fearing) leadership, transcending party politics to bury the corpse of secularism for good.

Muslimedia: June 16-30, 1997

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