Islamic Iran’s global responsibilities and how to discharge them

Developing Just Leadership

Crescent International

Safar 03, 1423 2002-04-16

Islamic Movement

by Crescent International (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 31, No. 4, Safar, 1423)

Note: This article was first published in Crescent International, February 1-15, 1984.

Let us be grateful to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala that the Islamic Revolution is five years old this month. Five years ago who could have imagined the events that have actually occurred since? The victories of the new Islamic State of Iran are already legends at home and abroad. Never before in a thousand years have the enemies of Islam been so totally lost for plans and strategies against an Islamic State. They are now busy preparing to try again and again in the forlorn hope that something might succeed. Their scientific minds have reached the end of their rational capacities. The enormous American war-machine and its think-tanks of strategic planning that work so well against the Soviet Union do not work against Islamic Iran. The ‘superpowers’ have never before looked more helpless and vulnerable. For once, all the goals of the Islamic State, the Islamic movement and, indeed, the entire Ummah appear within our reach.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran is the first victory of Islam over the combined forces of kufr represented by the globally organized enemy that is the west. The Islamic Revolution has given us much, but what it has given us most is hope for the future. The leaders and people of Iran have restored self-confidence to the ordinary Muslim everywhere. Their heroic struggle has also filled the hearts and minds of our enemies with fear. Gone are the days when ‘superpowers’ managed and imposed defeats disguised as ceasefires and ‘peace’. Islamic Iran has proved that wars for Islam are not a hardship; they are a blessing. In future the wars imposed upon Islam, the Islamic State or any part of the Ummah will last for just as long as it is necessary to defeat the enemies of Allah.

However, the Islamic State of Iran has in a sense yet to emerge from its Iranian and Shi’i shell. A year ago in Tehran, at a conference on Islamic Thought held during the fourth anniversary celebrations, I made myself more than a little unpopular in some quarters by saying that the influence of the Islamic Revolution would not make Sunnis into Shi’is. I also said that Iran was only a small part of the Ummah – 40 million out of 1,000 million. Never before in history has a situation existed in which only a small minority of Muslims lives in an Islamic State. I understand instinctively that as a Muslim I do not have a choice in my relationship with the Islamic State – I must give it my allegiance; the failure to do so is a sin. Equally, the converse is also true: the Islamic State must identify itself with the entire Ummah and accept responsibility for all Muslims everywhere. An Islamic State cannot suffer from diplomatic blindness when Muslims anywhere are killed or otherwise harmed.

At the same conference in Tehran I was asked two questions: was Imam Khomeini acceptable as leader of the entire Ummah? And did I accept the leadership of the Iranian ulama? My answers to these questions were published in some Iranian papers at the time. I think I should repeat them now.

There is no doubt in my mind that Imam Khomeini is the best manifestation of Islamic leadership. He has played a prophetic role in the history of Islam, though of course he neither is a prophet nor can be, because prophethood ended with Muhammad bin Abdullah, upon whom be peace, the last of all prophets. We have to remember, however, that even the Prophet of Islam, who came for all mankind, was accepted in his lifetime by only a very small number of people in a remote area of the world. In his lifetime Imam Khomeini, too, will probably not be accepted by more than a minority of the Ummah. This in no way diminishes the role or place of Imam Khomeini in history. Indeed, his influence is almost certain to increase with the passage of time far into the future.

As for the leadership of the ulama, it depends on their own response to the opportunity that history has offered them. If the revolutionary ulama choose to remain purely Shi’i and Iranian in outlook, their influence outside Iran can only be general and diffuse. If, however, they choose to emerge as a body of ulama of Islam, capable of guiding all Muslims, according to the fiqh of each, then they are potentially the most powerful body of ulama ever to emerge in the entire history of Islam. They do not have to give up their own Shi’i school of thought or their Ja’afri fiqh. All they have to do is to make a more conscious use of their knowledge of the other schools of thought in Islam and the four Sunni fiqhs. The syllabus they are taught in Qum and other Shi’i seminaries already includes the four Sunni fiqhs and all the classified sources of Islam. Unless the ulama of Iran emerge in the role of ulama of Islam their influence outside Iran will remain marginal.

The leadership in Iran has to realize that the influence of the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic State in the world of Islam cannot be purely political. If the Revolution is ‘Islamic’ and not just ‘Shi’i’, then the ulama of Iran have to emerge on the broad platform of Islam as a whole. They cannot claim to lead an ‘Islamic Revolution’ and then confine themselves to the Shi’i part of the Ummah. The Revolution, the State and the leadership must all be Islamic in the full sense of the word across the entire world of Islam. I realize that this is more easily said than done. But I also realize that the present Revolutionary momentum is essential to complete the process of ijtihad. The ulama of Iran under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Imam Khomeini are ideally placed to remove the remaining obstacles in the path of the wahdah of the Ummah.

In the Sunni world the obstacles to complementary progress are still too deeply entrenched. Such ulama as we have are still too beholden to the Saudi royal family. The ‘political’ Sunni ulama in such countries as Pakistan and Egypt are in effect politicians in secular political systems. The leaders of the Jama’at-e Islami and the Ikhwan have failed to respond to the Islamic Revolution as they might have done. Perhaps this is just as well, because the absence of the Jama’at and the Ikhwan from the field ensures that Islamic Revolutions in the Sunni world, when they come, will be truly Revolutionary, and not some democratic, liberal, compromising cosmetic arrangement with the post-colonial, corrupt, secular and nationalist order. The fact that there are few Sunni ulama to respond to the contribution of the Shi’i ulama is only a temporary phase. The Muslim Institute seminar on State and Politics in Islam in London (1983) showed that there is already a large and scholarly body of Sunni opinion prepared to follow the lead from Tehran and Qum.

The Islamic State of Iran and its institutions have their own part to play. The State policy-makers have to go out of their way to break the Shi’i shell that has traditionally surrounded Iranian embassies, cultural centres, bunyads and other missions abroad. Some progress in this direction has been made, but not nearly enough. There seems to be a body of opinion in Irshad-e Islami and the Foreign Ministry that Iran must set up Iranian centres to promote the Islamic Revolution.

I am not even sure whether many of our brothers in Iran consciously differentiate between the Islamic movement, the Islamic Revolution and the Islamic State. To me the Islamic movement is the entire history of revelation and prophethood from Adam (a.s.) to Muhammad (a.s.) and the struggle between haq and baatil to this day. The Islamic Revolution is that point in time when the Islamic movement overthrows an existing order. The outcome of the Islamic Revolution is the Islamic State.

It is time that the Islamic State embodied all the stages of the movement and the Revolution. But the State, when operating outside Iran, has to operate at the level of the movement. Purely State organs such as embassies, missions, bunyads and other cultural and publishing centres are unsuited to the needs of the ‘movement’ in the Ummah; State functionaries operating with guaranteed financial support and other privileges generally make poor representatives of Islam. They are also usually wasteful of the State’s resources.

Under the leadership of the Imam, Islamic Iran has made enormous strides towards promoting the wahdah of the Ummah. But wahdah has to be operational and goal-oriented, or it has no substance. It is the duty of the State and its institutions to find and develop a network of Islamic institutions throughout the Ummah. These institutions should be genuinely independent, though often financially and otherwise supported by the State. Any State can create its own controlled institutions and a network of loyal sycophantic servants all over the world. All States with global interests do this. The Americans, the British, the French and the Russians have done it on a global scale. This is the secret of their imperialism. With ‘aid’ and other mechanisms they control many countries and their regimes. In the world of Islam the Saudi regime has done it on a large scale. It has set up ‘Islamic Councils’, Islamic Cultural Centres, mosques, newspapers and magazines, all controlled by the Saudi regime. The Saudi purpose is to silence all sources of criticism and to reduce Islam to the level of Christianity as a mode of personal piety.

The Islamic State, on the other hand, has global responsibilities on behalf of Allah. It does not have to control the Islamic movement and its institutions physically. The controlling mechanism available to the Islamic State is that of Islam itself. In the present situation the Islamic State has to promote the Revolutionary wing of the global Islamic movement.

If it is going to be a genuine partnership between the Islamic State of Iran and the Islamic movement outside Iran, then the centres and institutions throughout the Ummah will be largely Sunni and non-Iranian. The vital question is whether the Islamic State of Iran has the vision and the confidence actively to seek such a partnership with the non-Iranian and non-Shi’i ulama, intellectuals, activists and masses.

The Imam has spoken repeatedly about ‘exporting the Revolution’. This cannot merely mean the shipment abroad of millions upon millions of books and pamphlets from Iran, or their publication from Iranian centres abroad. Exporting the Revolution cannot mean the sending of Iranian ‘importers’ abroad either; the Islamic Revolution is not a commodity made in Iran. The Islamic Revolution has got to be indigenous to every part of the Ummah. If the Islamic State fails to rise to this challenge of operational partnership with the largely Sunni and non-Iranian Islamic movement, it will have proved that the Saudi gibe of its being a ‘Shi’ite Revolution’ is not without some substance. Should this happen it will give a new lease of life to the westernizing elites and their ‘Islamic’ allies in the Jama’at and the Ikhwan. It will amount to the Islamic State opting out of its global Islamic responsibilities. The superpowers will take a deep sigh of relief and the genuine Islamic movement in the Ummah will be isolated and crushed. History will resume its former course away from Islam.

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