By Dr. Ameer Ali
16 August 2018
Integrisme is a French term for an ideology
originated in the 19th and early 20th centuries which rejected the values of
secular modernism and wanted the state and government subjected to the Church
as it was in the days of medieval Christendom. This ideology rejects the idea
of separation of state and church as advanced by the philosophers of
Enlightenment. One who believes and works to achieve this objective is
therefore an integrist.
Sayeeda Warsi, a British Muslim writer and
politician, in her recently-published ‘The Enemy Within,’ finds a similarity
between integrisme and jihadism where the latter also wants an Islamic state
governed by the Sharia. Like the Catholic integrists, jihadists also want no
separation between religion and politics. In their view Islam is a totality
that encompasses all branches of human life, political, economic, cultural,
ethical and moral. Jihadists are now popularly called Islamists and Jihadism
These terms, as Warsi correctly identifies
are misnomers, because Islamism and Islamist were used by the French
philosopher Voltaire and philologist Ernest Renan in the 18th and 19th
centuries to describe Islam and Muslims respectively. They employed these terminologies because the
ones current in Europe during their time, Muhammedanism and Mohammadan were
It was the Pakistani Muslim integrists, who
a couple of weeks ago, burnt down twelve girl schools in Gilgit-Baltistan’s
Diamer district in Pakistan. In October 2012, Taliban integrists shot and
wounded Malala Yousafzai for advocating education for Muslim girls.
Since 2013 Boko Haram integrists in North
East Nigeria, with some regularity, burnt down a number of secular boarding
schools, killed hundreds of students studying there and kidnapped girls from those
schools not only to impregnate them but also indoctrinate them with their own
version of Islam. (Incidentally, the name Boko Haram, which generally means
‘Western education is sin’ also means in Hausa language ‘books are outlawed’).
In June 2018, in the city of Jalalabad in
Eastern Afghanistan, about 80 girl schools were reported to have been shut down
because of threat from the Islamic State (IS) integrists. IS also closed down a
number of girl schools in its so called Caliphate.
An incident that occurred in Saudi Arabia
in 2002 when a girls school caught fire and when students ran out to escape,
allegedly without their head cover, the religious police chased them back into
the burning building, because they were not properly covered, also shows the relative
values attached to a piece of cloth and girls’ lives and education. All these
raise one crucial question. Why are these integrists so afraid of and detest
Muslim girls acquiring secular modern education?
Integrists are generally against secular
education because that education teaches the learner the art of independent and
critical thinking. Questions why and how are more important in modern education
than questions of what, when, where and who, which focus on memory and
reiteration and do not lead to creation of new knowledge.
It was independent reasoning and rational
thought that pushed the Muslim world to the forefront of scientific knowledge
and discoveries between the 9th and 12th centuries, and dislodged Islamic
orthodoxy from its seat of intellectual domination. After the 12th century however, orthodoxy
came back with a vengeance, closed all avenues of independent reasoning and
promoted unquestioned imitation of the past. This is what the integrists want
from their followers and traditional education in the madrasas satisfies that
need. The history of Taliban madrasas in Pakistan is a good example to prove
However, from a utilitarian perspective
integrists are prepared to welcome modern education in physical sciences and
not in social sciences, because the latter undermines the social and political
equilibrium of the ideology of integrisme. It should not therefore be a
surprise to note that nearly 63% of the jihadists, according to one study, are
graduates of medicine, engineering, science and business disciplines. According
to the same source one of the disciplines the IS integrists suppressed in their
caliphate was political science.
Modern education beyond elementary level
for girls is double jeopardy for integrists. If Muslim girls are trained to
think independently and critically they would certainly start questioning the
unjust and misogynous traditions and rulings of orthodoxy. That would then pave
the way for a women liberation movement, which integrisme detests.
On the lap of the mother, said the Prophet
of Islam, the son finds his paradise. If these liberated women train their
children also to think independently and critically and question the teachings
of orthodoxy that would then dry up recruits for the jihadist venture.
Therefore the simple solution is to burn down all secular schools for Muslim
girls and stop them gaining higher education. This, in essence, is the reason
for the incidents cited above. (Though unrelated to the subject under review
the ongoing saga of reforming the MMDA in Sri Lanka and ACJU’s continuous foot
dragging also exhibits streaks of integrisme).
In any case, theirs is a losing battle.
Muslim girls in increasing numbers all over the world are breaking down
religious and social barriers and pursuing higher education in multiple
disciplines. Scholars like the Moroccan Professor Fatima Mernissi, American
Laleh Bakhtiar who translated the Quran, Egyptian American Leila Ahmad, a
sociologist and author of Women and Gender in Islam, American Quran exegetist,
Amina Wadud and British Sayeeda Warsi are a few of the shining examples of this
Muslim women are already confronting the
mullahs in their own territory. Even
Saudi Arabia, the fortress of Wahhabism, an ultraorthodox Islamic ideology, is
relenting before the rising tide of women power. Indeed, as Sherin Khankan, the
founder of the first mosque in Europe and a female imam has titled her book,
‘Women are the Future of Islam’.