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Islam and Politics ( 27 Nov 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Probable Effects of Arab Spring on Muslim World


By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef (Shahbaz Nadwi), New Age Islam

November 28, 2013

During the long Muslim rule, with all its ills and shortcomings, welfare of the masses was the first priority of every ruler. After the demolishing of Ottoman Empire and dissolving the traditional caliphate in 1923, the complete Muslim world was shattered and divided in big and small states. Causes were many, notably insurgence of Arab and Turk nationalists, the conspiracies of world powers and internal ills and weaknesses of the “Ill man of Europe”.

Now Muslim world became divided in so many states, which often acted as satellite to big powers. Some of them such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey and some gulf states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Arab Emirate, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar are prosperous countries in terms of beautiful cities, gigantic shopping malls filled with European goods, in addition to lavish palaces and monumental mosques etc. But when it comes to Arab world, it is the royals, army junta or a privileged class who rule the roost and not the public.

A major part of their economy has been the privilege of the royals and there is no accountability, responsibility, or individual freedom. Press is not allowed to make free debates or critical comments on political issues. No criticism of government's affairs, of behavior of royals or of army junta. Monarchs, kings and army rulers are the sole self-instated public representatives and all in all in affairs of the state. In some of these countries, customarily the Friday sermon is provided by the government agencies to be read out before the people praying in mosques! Doesn’t it make a mockery of true Islam? Even indirect criticism that is rarely done by the pulpit of mosques is generally met with a heavy hand. And the imam or cleric who dares to do it has to face severe consequences. Examples are many.

 In Saudi Arabia, tribalism is still the prevalent social order like in the pre-Islamic history. These satellite tiny Gulf States, at times, are seen struggling against each other and ironically is triggered to this clash of interests by tribal strife and prejudices and age-old biases.

Amidst this atmosphere of totalitarian state, and in this ambience of stifling mind and soul, shutting off from the out world, the Arab spring had occurred quite unexpectedly and swiftly, bringing a great change in the politico-socio and economic order and challenging the status quo. True, that Arab spring was not the outcome of Islamic revolutionary literature directly. Yes, of course it was somehow a big force to ignite the popular uprising if not the chief instrumental. Free thinkers, liberal writers and human rights activists were in fact the direct source of inspiration for the insurgent youth.

Add to that Qatar based TV channel Al-Jazeera’s positive role, which, within a short span of time, marveled to have a remarkable niche, wide acceptance, credibility, reporting venture and now locking horn with America's CNN, Fox ABC and Brit BBC etc. Of course this popular uprising against tyrants, dictators and autocratic despots in the Arab lands was provoked by globalization factor too. Arab spring marvelously marched ahead, with jumps and leaps, and from country to country. The zeal and courage its youth showed was makeable.

 For decades, they were seething under the rage that now found its way to vent out in full gear. It wanted a rapid change in the circumstances as every revolution has this nature. It wished to change everything in a spur of a moment, to crush everything that impedes its way and to sweep all the human misery, agony, helplessness, greed, unemployment and exploitation. It wanted to do away with all pain and all human suffering in a guffaw.

No doubt, Arab spring has hiked unreal expectations and superfluous anticipations. Notwithstanding that it was rightly hopped that this spring would shortly engulf the whole Arab lands, freeing the people from the yoke of hereditary monarchy, repressive kingship and corrupt army rule.

In the process, Islamists were seeing a promising and bright future for them. For they have been bugbear for every monarch, king and army ruler. In this backdrop, they rightly hopped a free hand for their reform agenda which they wish to be launched. That includes political, social and economical reforms. Their hopes were by and large fulfilled, as people chose them in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. People gave a majority mandate to Development and Justice Party, an MB political offshoot, and Mursi was elected as president. But eventually his government failed very bitterly on many grounds and people rose against it. What happened after that is not unknown.

As for the probable effects of this spring, it is merely hypothetical to think of any probable effect of the revolution on the current Arab politics. Yet, one should be hopeful for the better future. Keeping that in mind, I would like to state that Arab spring has potential to create a notion of human freedom, human rights, democracy and liberalization. It will necessitate that the common people should have a say in the affairs of state, which have been denied to them for centuries.

Now when the euphoria of this Arab spring is long gone as explained by Ramzy Baroud, we are witnessing a grim and growing fear of sectarian war which is redrawing the Middle East.

Islamists have to retrospect and rethink their version of Islam. They have been very naïve, so far, in understanding the realities of the world and the need to evolve a new kind of modern Islamic political thought, especially when it comes to secularism and democracy. They can easily adopt it for their polity with some genuine changes in both the structure and fabric of the system. In order to introduce new trends in Islamic polity, it is imperative to deal with Secularism and Democracy; the two modern popular political concepts from the practical point of view. Now we are going to summarize what A.H. Ansari averred on the subject:

 “Secularism is used in two contexts, in one it is a particular prospect of life, according to which, religion or Divine revelations could only be believed in the personal part of human life. AS far as the collective aspect of life is concerned, it must be administered solely by human reason and experience and not by any revealed knowledge. In the second context Secularism is a basic concept of the state policy that, state in principle, cannot believe in a religion seeking interference in the state affairs. Yet in the detailed applications of this theory, there are three kinds of states in the world.(a) Anti religion, like that of Communists states of recent past (b) Religion friendly (in individual sense only)like most states of the world.

(c) States impartial and unbiased to various religions and faiths. (India is a secular state in the last two senses)

Democracy: Democracy also connotes three meanings: 1-The state in which sovereignty goes to public domain and wherein source of law is the people of the country and not any individual, dynasty, or group.  2- The form of government in which elected public representatives rule the country and it is not inherited to a dynasty or class or some privileged persons. Also in it there is a provision to change the hands from elected representative to another elected representatives and to punish them too.3- Democracy is a name of certain values also ,including freedom of speech, thought and action, freedom of religion and creed and other fundamental rights, rule of law and equal opportunities to every citizen etc. Thus according to first meaning Democracy is in clash with Islam, because in Islamic state sovereignty is only for God and not for the masses. Nonetheless, there is no contradiction between Islam and Democracy when it comes to both the last meanings. (1)

It is imperative for Muslim academicians, scholars, researchers, Ulema and thinkers to redevelop a new political practical and pragmatic approach and rethink some stereotypes like Jizya, issuing full citizenship in a Muslim majority country to a non-Muslim minority with all its implications. In fact, there are some bold steps aimed at this objective, yet they have to be done on a larger scale. I would cite here, for example, one name to show a kind of adaptability towards some existent formations in the world political discourse. Dr Israr Ahmad was a staunch protagonist of revival of Khilafah system in our age, yet he had a practical approach towards several forms of government in modern era, as he quipped:

“Khilafah system evidently is nearest to that of presidential form of government. I have always been saying that parliamentary and presidential systems both are valid and their various forms like that of unitary, federal or con-federal all are valid……..There in the world different political system are prevailing now ,as unitary presidential, federal presidential, con-federal presidential, unitary parliamentary, federal parliamentary and con-federal parliamentary. All these six forms are valid to me’’. (2)

Dhimmi and Jiziyah:

The most reliable opinion about Jizya is that it was a pre-Islamic tax, but, it neither contradicts civil rights guaranteed by Islam nor it reduces a Jizya payer to a second rate citizen. For these terms were never meant to degrade or lower their status. Traditions of this effect are all crooked and baseless. (3) It had been imposed on non-Muslim citizens of Islamic state as a state tax. In addition, it was justified on the account that state was bound to protect them in case of a foreign invasion. This is why non-Muslims doing army services in the state were exempted from it. In addition, Muslim citizens of the Islamic state were to pay taxes in terms of Zakat and alms with amounts more than Jiziyah, and since both are a obligatory religious duties and mandatory financial forms of worship, they were not to be taken from non-Muslims. So, Jizya was a very slight tax on them. (4) Hazrat Umar Farooq r.a (the second caliph of Islam) had adopted so lenient approach towards Dhimma and Jiziyah, that if any non Muslim had any reservation in using this term, he ordered Muslims to avoid it and use words like Sadqah (alms) instead. It should be noted here that many modern day scholars are of the opinion that Jizya would not be taken from non-Muslims in today’s Islamic countries. (5)

To examine the question what probable effects the Arab spring can bring to the polity of Islamic states, we should see a successful example in Turkey and learn from it. Twentieth century was marked by a revival wave in the whole Islamic world, which is called ‘political Islam’ in western discourse. But to nine decades of Twentieth century this political Islam or revivalist Islamic movements remained a failed case. Their protagonists were not able to actualize their political agenda even in a single Muslim county. Nonetheless, we have seen these forces once again fervently marching ahead in the Sunni world which was preceded by Iran, the sole representative of Shia Islam, with its Islamic revolution, led by Khomeini in 1979.

As far as the Sunni world is concerned, the first stubborn citadel of ultra secularism fell to this force was in Turkey. A Turkish Islamic revolution that came in full secular, democratic and peaceful manner was a miracle. Because it was accomplished by dint of the very ideological methodology that seems, to me, fit to be called as Islamic democratic secularism. This Turkish experience was an eye opener in many ways to other Islamic revivalist movements and especially for Ulema, who are still relying on traditional thinking and old stereotypes. Turkey is now fairing well in economic area and is playing a leading role in the affairs of Ummah, and in problems facing the Arab world, as a regional power.

Turkish Islamic reformers and ideologues did not wage a Jihad on Secularism, Democracy and Modernity dubbing them un-Islamic. They even did not propagate to wage an unflinching war against non Muslims and unbelievers and never voiced to impose Jiziyah. Neither they were banking on emotional sloganeering, nor they took refuge in creating a sensational mirage to revive the old time grand Ottoman Caliphate. Rather, they worked on the grass root level and served the people and the country well and, thus, won the minds and hearts of the masses. The model of reform in Turkish paradigm is a combination of common human values, modernity and the spirit of Islam.

Given this, Arab spring brought about a notion of being one and unified nation having roots in one language, one geographic location and one populist culture and one universal mood. It is its duty to promote it further. To me, violence is always a counterproductive thing, so this Spring too ought to shun all kinds of violence, sectarian, ethnic or regional, as we are witnessing all this gruesome state of affairs in Syria, where Arab spring is derailed, misled, and unfortunately has been changed into a killing tool.

The end: Now Arab spring has been stopped at its fourth junction, Syria. In Bahrain also, it failed to gain a political change. However, it stirred a general political awareness, deep feeling of hope and high spirit in common folk. It created a social and economic wisdom and unparalleled strength in the hearts and minds of Arab people to assert themselves and express their vision, ideas, aspirations, hopes and wishes for a better future. They are looking forward to make their territories peaceful, bustling and vibrant in the times to come.

However, they will develop a growing understanding and awakening of abiding by the Sharia. That will necessitate to abolish artificial boundaries drawn in Islamic heartland such as emigration laws, passport and visa regulations which may be removed or eased in due course of time. Geographical boundaries might be open. Moreover, all Arabs, if not all Islamic countries, must do efforts to adopt a common currency and a common open market so that a unified Islamic bloc in its true sense might come in existence.


1-Dr. A H. Ansari, Secularism, Democracy and Elections, MMI publishers New Delhi (Urdu)

2- Israr Ahmad Dr. Khilafah system in Pakistan, possible ties, prospective and mode of its forming published by Nidae Khilaphat Pakistan.

3-Numani Yahiya what is Jihad, p: 134-135 (Urdu) published from Lucknow

3-Islahi,Sultan Ahmad, the desired role of Muslim Minority in non-Muslim Countries, Takya BhorMau Azamgarh Up (Urdu)second edition 2002 p: 44


5- Ibid and Ammar Ahmad Nasir, Jihad Number Monthly Al-Sharia, Sharia Academy Gujranwala Pakistan. Issue No: March 2012

Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef is a journalist, writer, translator and director of Foundation for Islamic Studies, New Delhi