Understanding the scope and depth of the work of the Islamic movement

Developing Just Leadership

Iqbal Siddiqui

Jumada' al-Ula' 09, 1433 2012-04-01

Opinion

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 2, Jumada' al-Ula', 1433)

The key objectives of the Islamic movement is the reassertion of Islamic values in Muslim societies, and the establishment of Islamic states in place of the corrupt, self-serving regimes that currently predominate in the Muslim world.

The key objectives of the Islamic movement is the reassertion of Islamic values in Muslim societies, and the establishment of Islamic states in place of the corrupt, self-serving regimes that currently predominate in the Muslim world. Achieving these broad objectives of the Islamic movement depends on two key elements of the movement’s work. The first is external, to defeat the enemies of Islam whose aim is to prevent this from happening and to ensure that the Muslim world remains divided, weak and easily exploited. The second is internal, to understand what is involved in the reassertion of Islamic values and the establishment of Islamic states, and to make progress towards those objectives. The inability of many Muslims to appreciate the importance of both these elements, and to balance them, accounts for many of the issues that the movement currently faces.

Perhaps the greatest problems come when proponents of these different approaches become arrogant in asserting the primacy of their own approach, or disparaging or dismissive of the other approach, attitudes which of course reinforce one another and become sources of disunity.

One of these is discord or conflict between parts of the movement that choose to focus on different elements of the struggle. While some tend to concentrate purely on fighting external enemies, without any sense of the intellectual, social and political issues involved in establishing an Islamic society and state, others focus entirely on the issue of Islamic values, particularly in terms of personal or social religiosity, without appreciating the importance of resisting our enemies. There are also of course many shades of opinions between these two extremes. Perhaps the greatest problems come when proponents of these different approaches become arrogant in asserting the primacy of their own approach, or disparaging or dismissive of the other approach, attitudes which of course reinforce one another and become sources of disunity.

Another problem that sometimes arises is when Islamic movements that are primarily focused on activism in one part of the Ummah — nowadays, usually a particular nation-state — lose sight of the larger Islamic movement endeavour of which their local struggle is only a part. The global Islamic movement consists of course of countless smaller groups operating in their own areas, focusing on their own chosen priorities, at whatever level of understanding and sophistication they can achieve. These range from major political organizations such as Hizbullah or al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen down to the smallest community projects. Thus local groups trying to run Islamic schools for Muslim children in non-Muslim countries; da‘wah groups promoting their particular understanding of Islam (Sufi, Salafi, Shi‘i or whatever) among non-Muslims, and providing support for local reverts; charities collecting funds for Muslims in places such as Gaza or Kashmir; campaigners representing the interests of Muslims persecuted for wearing niqab, hijab or beards; research groups working in fields such as contemporary fiqh or Islamic economics; even Muslim newspapers or websites struggling to counter the influence of the West-dominated media; all are constituent parts of the Islamic movement whether they realise it or not, and their work must be understood in terms of the objectives of the movement.

Imperialism is a timeless historic phenomenon which is primarily about control and exploitation

What is more, at whatever level these groups operate, all are also part of the global Islamic effort against the enemies of Islam. The external challenge we face can be characterised as having three elements: imperialism, authoritarianism and cultural hegemony. All three are widely recognised in different forms but they are often not associated with one another. But in fact they are inseparable, and any effort against any one of them must inevitably involve challenging the others as well. This is because imperialism amounts to far more than just the colonialism that may arguably be regarded (as our enemies constantly tell us) as a thing of the past. Formal colonialism may have ended with the achievement of “independence” by Muslim nation-states, but imperialism was always far more than that.

Imperialism is a timeless historic phenomenon which is primarily about control and exploitation; European colonialism is merely the form that it took in one particular phase of history. In the post-colonial era, Western imperialism has taken many new forms, albeit ones rooted in the legacy of colonialism. The problem of authoritarianism that Muslims face in our own countries — the prevalence of repressive secular dictatorships instead of governments reflecting our own values and aspirations — needs to be understood as a facet of on-going Western imperialism in our countries. The same is true of Western cultural hegemony, reflected in languages, ideas, norms and values promoted as “modern” and “progressive” in our institutions and societies, as well as the more obvious signs of “westoxification” we see in most Muslim countries. The fact that even many institutions in our societies, and parts of the Islamic movement that ostensibly seek to counter this hegemony are themselves Western in form and outlook is indicative of the insidiousness of Western influence and the depth of this problem.

Addressing all these issues concurrently is essential for the success of the movement. We cannot ignore any of them, and nor should those working on any part of them be disparaged by others in the movement. A broad and inclusive understanding of the movement is essential for its unity and strength. The arrogant and contemptuous attitude that some in the movement tend to display towards others is as damaging to the unity of the Ummah as sectarianism or nationalism. However limited or misguided the efforts of some groups may appear, all are contributing to the progress of the movement as a whole and deserve to be respected as such, even as we may debate their approaches and try to guide them to what we regard as more effective projects.

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