The nature of civilizational struggle and the task facing the Islamic movement

Developing Just Leadership

Kalim Siddiqui

Muharram 22, 1422 2001-04-16

Islamic Movement

by Kalim Siddiqui (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 30, No. 4, Muharram, 1422)

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Dr Kalim Siddiqui, one of the foremost intellectuals of the contemporary Islamic movement. His work ranged from history to political philosophy to community activism, but he is best known for his analysis of the contemporary historical situation and the nature and task of the global Islamic movement. In this extract from a paper he wrote in 1992, he discusses the civilizational challenge facing the Ummah in the modern world.

The political power of Islam that is now a major factor in world politics is fundamentally different from the earlier manifestations of Islamic power. For nearly 1,300 years, from the beginning of Banu Umaiyyah’s rule in 661CE to the abolition of the Uthmaniyyah khilafah (Ottoman Empire) in 1924, the political power of Islam was gradually corrupted and exercised by dynastic rulers. Two of the essential characteristics of political legitimacy were missing throughout this period, with the exception of the brief rule of Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (717-721CE). These essential features are taqwa (piety) of the ruler and the voluntary bai’ah (allegiance) of the people. Throughout this period allegiance was imposed upon or extracted from the people, and hereditary succession took little or no account of the ruler’s fitness to rule. Nevertheless the initial momentum generated by the power of Islam was so great that, despite subsequent deviation, the domain of Islam expanded and remained dominant over a large part of the world. This dominance also gave rise to a worldwide Islamic civilization. All earlier civilizations, such as those of China, India, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, had been limited both geographically and in the shadow they cast over subsequent history. The Islamic civilization was unique in that it was the civilization to become global.

In the last 200 years a new secular civilization has been developed and imposed on the world through western political and economic domination, and scientific and technological advancement. The west claims that the secular civilization represents the primordial nature of man. The civilization of Islam is also based on an equally emphatic view of the primordial nature of man. To the west, Islam’s claim to represent the ‘nature of man’ is little more than unscientific dogma and superstition. To Islam the world and the universe are a deliberately created system. To the west there is no single source of moral values beyond man’s own rationality. Islam asserts that Allah, the sole Creator of the universe and all that is in it, is also the sole source of moral values of good and evil. To the west, good and evil are relative terms forever changing according to the moods, fancies and requirements of man, as determined by his own reason and self-interest in the pursuit of happiness. In Islam happiness is attained through the worship of Allah and commitment to eternal moral positions laid down by the Creator.

In short, two global civilizations, both claiming to be in accordance with the primordial state of nature, are now engaged in a titanic struggle. Until recently the secular civilization believed that it had already secured unchallenged and unchallengeable supremacy. The west’s political domination, economic growth and scientific and technological advances gave the secular civilization the appearance of permanence and invincibility. This was reflected in the arrogance of western historians, philosophers, scientists and statesmen. They assumed that the defeat of the political power of Muslim rulers would in turn lead to the total disappearance of the Islamic civilization as well. They began to deal with Islam and Muslims as a subservient culture and civilization; they began to hold patronizing ‘festivals of Islam’ and exhibitions of ‘Islamic art.’ They reduced Islam to a place of honour in their museums. If they acknowledged the greatness of the Islamic civilization at all, it was only to assert how much greater were the achievements of their own secular civilization.

In the matter of political power there is a fundamental difference between the Islamic civilization and the secular civilization. It is true, of course, that the primacy of political power in Islam is central and unquestionable. The first Islamic State was set up by the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) himself and he was also the head of that State; therefore the State is an integral part of the revealed paradigm of Islam. It can be argued that Islam is incomplete without the Islamic State. Political power, therefore, is an essential component of the Islamic civilization. The quality and quantity of political power exert a great influence on the Islamic civilization. During the 1,300 years from the beginning of the Umaiyyad period to the end of the Uthmaniyyah khilafah, the political power of Islam expanded greatly and brought ever larger areas of the world under its control. However, during the same period the moral stature and Islamic legitimacy of political power declined continuously. Eventually the process of moral decline inaugurated by Banu Umaiyyah reached a stage where the political power exercised by Muslim rulers was little different from the political power of non-Muslim rulers. The greatly weakened and corrupted political power of Muslim rulers was no match for the newly-emergent political power of the secular civilization that had sprung up in Europe. In a short time the political power of the secular civilization had defeated or otherwise overcome the deviant and corrupt Muslim rulers and their States and empires.

The European powers persuaded themselves to believe that they had overcome the political power of Islam itself; that Islam in its political manifestation had been eliminated for all time to come. The reality was very different. Although the victory of the European powers left Islam without a State, the civilization of Islam had not been destroyed. Because Islam is the state of nature, every part of it is capable of regenerating all other parts. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before the residual Islamic civilization re-generated the political power of Islam.

The processes by which a civilization, or parts of a civilization, are regenerated are little understood in any system of thought. In the social sciences of the west there is a good deal of concern with change and conflict. Most social sciences are a study of the processes of change and resistance to change on the margin of an established order. Equilibrium and stability are achieved through adjustment and accommodation between forces for and against change. If change takes place in a legal-rational framework of consensus politics, the society is said to be stable. In this secular ‘scientific’ framework no judgement is made about whether any particular change is good or bad, desirable or undesirable. All that is required is that the law should not be broken (the law can be changed to avoid its being broken), and that ‘public opinion’ is suitably prepared to accept or adjust to change without resort to violence. Such a society claims to be ‘progressive’ and developed if equilibrium and stability are also achieved at a time of economic growth and rising material standards of living. Should this also be accompanied by diplomatic and military successes in foreign relations, the society is likely to be counted among the ‘advanced’ and ‘powerful’ nations of the world. All those nations that are ‘advanced’ and ‘powerful’ in this sense make up the modern secular civilization.

Political systems that are part of the same civilization often fight each other. Some are defeated, others are victorious. After each war the victorious help to rebuild the vanquished, such as Germany and Japan after the 1939-1945 war. The US also helped to rebuild all of western Europe through the Marshall Plan. In this case it is also important to note that not all centres of political power in the secular civilization had been destroyed by the war. Having crushed the sources of ‘evil’ in Germany, Japan and Italy, the surviving centres of political power cooperated to rebuild all parts of the secular civilization. The Soviet Union played a similar role in rebuilding Eastern Europe. Whatever their differences, the fact is that the Soviet Union and the US, and their respective allies and client States, are parts of the same modern secular civilization.

The secular civilization has never faced the crisis of the destruction of all centres of its political power. Only the Islamic civilization has suffered the total destruction of all centres of political power. The process did not stop there; it went further. The secular (western) civilization imposed itself on all Muslim areas of the world. The lands and peoples of Islam were divided into new centres of subservient political power. The colonial powers imposed the secular civilization on Muslim areas and divided them into new nation-States under their control. These new nation-States that emerged in the Muslim world became instruments of the secular civilization. In this way the centres of the political power of Islam were not only destroyed but also replaced by numerous other centres of secular and subservient political power. This made the regeneration of Islam’s political power doubly difficult.

Other factors added to these difficulties. The most crucial of them was the absence of descriptive and analytical political thought from the massive intellectual industry of the Muslims in such other fields as mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, geography and general philosophy. Some explanation for their blind following of the khilafah, even when in substance the khilafah had deviated beyond recognition from its origin among the first four khulafa, the khulafa al-rashidoon, must be offered. This blind spot in the otherwise extensive and profound Muslim intellectual tradition becomes even more incomprehensible when the example set by Imam Husain in challenging the legitimacy of Yazid, the second ruler of the Umaiyyad dynasty, and paying the supreme price at Karbala, is taken into account. Many explanations can be and indeed have been offered. The Muslim problem remains that, without a paradigm of political thought that describes and explains the present political situation, we cannot even begin to work towards the regeneration of Islamic political power.

However, political thought always reflects the existing political reality. This point is well illustrated by the nature of the political thought that emerged among Muslims during the colonial period. Under the influence of colonialism, Muslim thinkers adopted western political ideas and dressed them up as the political thought of Islam. Powerful political systems invariably have a considerable influence over intellectual activity and climates of opinion in their areas of control. The British model of parliamentary government exercised almost universal popularity during the heyday of the British empire. More recently the US presidential model has been in vogue. In areas under Soviet ‘communist’ domination the Russian model was until recently preferred. This is true not only in the matter of government and constitutional structures; in the matter of political organization the same relationship has been in evidence. The Muslim political elites of the colonial period were in any case bound to pursue the nationalist/secularist path of their European mentors through political organizations with roots in the European political systems. Thus the political party model of organization came to hold such sway that even those who tried to organize an Islamic challenge to secular orthodoxy ended up forming European-style political parties. Muslim political thought and behaviour became trapped in a bog-like patch of history in which the only firm ground under Muslim feet was western in origin. The solid political ground of Islam had slipped out of reach. The regeneration of Islamic political power seemed improbable, if not impossible. The secular civilization and its major centres of political power in North America, Europe, the Soviet Union, Japan. Israel and India had taken all necessary steps to ensure that the political power of Islam would not raise its head again.

For Islam this was a grave crisis. The total absence of political power was not only a ‘political’ question. It was not a question of choosing a form of government, or choosing between democracy and dictatorship, capitalism and communism. Every available option was part of the new global secular civilization based on kufr. As Islam is Allah’s own choice for mankind, and the model has been completed with the prophethood of Muhammad, upon whom be peace, Islam must regenerate its political power. If Islam is the embodiment of Divine Wisdom that transcends all stages of history – past, present and future – then it must also provide for the regeneration of its lost and destroyed political power. Indeed, if political power exercised by the Islamic State is essential for the fulfilment of the Divine Purpose, then Islam must also have the resilience necessary to recapture its original condition in vastly different historical situations. In short, to be valid, like a scientific experiment, Islam must repeat itself. However, unlike a scientific experiment, in the process of repeating itself it must also be able to deal with and take into account new factors and situations vastly different from those of the original model.

One such difference can be noted immediately. The first model was completed by a movement under the leadership of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, who was guided by Divine Revelation. To repeat the model 1,400 years later would involve doing so without prophethood and revelation. Their obvious replacements are muttaqi leadership and ijtihad. To replace prophethood and revelation, the leadership’s taqwa, competence and capacity to engage in extensive ijtihad must be of the highest order. The new leadership will have to have a deep sense of commitment to the step-by-step regeneration of the political power of Islam. The leadership, through its taqwa, sense of history and ability to engage in ijtihad, should also be able to unite the Ummah. The regeneration of Islam’s political power can make no sense without a comprehensive approach to the unity of the Ummah. A divided Ummah cannot regenerate the political power of Islam. A partial regeneration of political power, based on a geographically limited area, will not meet the minimum requirement of repeating the original model. Any failure to take into account the fact that the Ummah today is global, comprised of 1,000 million Muslims, and that the power of kufr that has to be defeated now is also global, will seriously compromise the validity of the model.

The original model at Madinah had to defeat the power of kufr, which was then local, or at best regional, and there were no vast disparities in levels of technology and economic performance. In the contemporary situation the secular civilization, or kufr, is globally organized in a world economy and inter-linking political systems. Islam, therefore, has to repeat itself in a vastly more complex world than existed 1,400 years ago. This difference between the two historical situations has to be bridged by muttaqi leadership and ijtihad in place of prophethood and Divine Revelation in the original model. It has always been my position that the Islamic Revolution in Iran represents a major step in this direction. In Iran the leadership of the ulama, especially of Imam Khomeini, and a continuous ijtihad, have produced results that, if repeated in other parts of the world of Islam, would lead to a global Islamic Revolution. For the new model in Iran to achieve and command full historic validity, it must also have the capacity to lead the Ummah and to generate, by force of example and leadership, similar Islamic Revolutions in all parts of the world. Islam has no frontiers and Islam in one country makes no sense. A programme of Islamic Revolutions in one Muslim country after another offers the only way forward.

[This is an abridged extract from ‘The global Islamic movement: outline of a grand strategy’, first published in ‘In Pursuit of the Power of Islam: major writings of Kalim Siddiqui’ edited by Zafar Bangash (1996).]

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