Understanding the nature of the enemy within Muslim societies

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Awwal 27, 1418 1997-08-01


by Zafar Bangash (Features, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1418)

Most Muslims mistakenly believe that the rulers or regimes in the Muslim world are their greatest enemies. This is not to suggest that they are friends of the Muslims but one must look at the issues more deeply.

The rulers and their regimes are neither powerful nor capable of achieving much. But they represent something. The most debilitating problem confronting Muslims in their societies is nationalism. This poison has seeped so deep into the psyche of Muslims that even large parts of the Islamic Movement have been contaminated by it.

From the Islamic point of view, nationalism is little more than glorified tribalism. Islam categorically rejects both nationalism and tribalism because the Qur’an gives the all-encompassing concept of the Ummah (Al-Qur’an 21: 92). Any person who utters the shahadah becomes a member of this Ummah. There is no distinction of class, blood or race in Islam. Nationalism is not only alien to Islam but it is also categorically rejected by it.

Europe has given birth to many satanic ideas over the years, none more destructive than nationalism. Ironically, today while Europe is fast abandoning the concepts of nationalism and the nation-State structure, most parts of the Muslim world still cling to them.

Despite experiencing hiccups, Europe is moving towards economic and political integration. This has manifested itself in the idea of the European Union. Many border restrictions between member-States have been abolished. Within EU, member-States treat each other’s citizens like their own.

Muslims, on the other hand, have to acquire a visa even to go for Hajj, one of the fundamental pillars of deen. Over the last 65 years, Saudi Arabia has replaced Arabian Peninsula, the name given to that blessed land by the noble Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace.

What the House of Saud is telling Muslims is that the land belongs to their family and nobody else has any right over it. People who throughout their lives had robbed pilgrims’ caravans have appointed themselves custodians of Islam’s holiest sites. And they have nationalised the land in the process.

Equally disconcerting is the impact of nationalism on the thought process of the Islamic Movement itself. The two major movements that emerged this century - the Ikhwan in Egypt and Jama’at-e Islami in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent - have tended to operate within the nation-State framework.

The Ikhwan have not transcended the Arab barrier while the Jama’at has remained confined to Urdu-speaking Muslims. True, neither group set out to do this deliberately but the fact that circumstances forced them into such a situation points to the clear influence of nationalism.

Another institution that has had an extremely negative influence in the Muslim world is the military. One of the ironies is that militaries in Muslim societies have few if any victories to their credit. In contemporary history, not one military establishment has achieved any victory against an external enemy. Their only conquer their own hapless people.

Despite this poor record, the militaries lord over their civilian counterparts in almost every Muslim country. Turkey and Indonesia are prime examples. They behave like gangsters and demand whatever change they desire. The military consumes the largest share of resources without being accountable for anything.

Turkey and Indonesia, though extreme examples, are not the only ones. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the men in uniform decide how much of the economic pie they must have and which civilian group is to rule. In other countries - Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya etc - military men have simply donned civilian dress and continue to rule.

The military is the greatest custodian of the status quo as well as purveyor of secularism and westernisation in Muslim societies. In every society, meaningful change is subverted by the military establishment. This has happened in Algeria and will happen in other Muslim societies that wish to bring about Iran-style change.

The imposition of western values has led to the alienation of the masses from the prevalent system. With their alienation, major dislocations set in. The rulers are forced to impose harsh laws to secure compliance. The internal strength of a society is dissipated in fighting the people rather than directing their energies towards constructive activity.

This also explains why there are so many dictatorships in the Muslim world. With the exception of Iran, Sudan, Malaysia and to a lesser extent perhaps Pakistan and Bangladesh, others in the Muslim world do not have elected governments. And with the exception of the first two, the others are not representative governments. People are naturally coerced to secure their compliance.

The result is internal conflict.

When Muslims consider changing their rulers or regimes, they must consider not only changing the face at the top but the system as well. Repeated changes at the top have shown that these have simply restored the status quo in the Muslim world. If change is to be meaningful, it must be comprehensive, not merely cosmetic.

Iran offer the best example today of how to bring about change in a Muslim society. There can be no compromise on this fundamental point.

Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1997

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