By Farman Kakar
January 15, 2015
Once Islam is implemented as a system, the otherwise moral obligations of Sufi Islam become legal obligations. Here, a Muslim is not only answerable to Allah for his deeds but also to the government
Political Islam establishes a relationship between politics as an arena of the exercise of power and religion as a set of belief systems. Political Islam, as I define it, is a struggle for power in the name of Islam either through violent or non-violent means in order to implement religion as a system of government. Islamists are of two kinds. Those who believe in the implementation of Islam once they come into power through elections are political Islamists. On the other hand, militant Islamists are those who want to seize power and enforce Islam through armed struggle. All religious political parties, the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or Jamat-i-Islami in Pakistan, fall under the rubric of political Islamists. On the other hand, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al Qaeda and the Taliban are militant Islamists. Political and militant Islamists converge on the implementation of Islamic Shariah. However, they diverge on how to realize this goal.
Religion is a set of divinely revealed belief systems dealing with how to lead life. Here an individual is answerable only to Allah for his/her deeds. This is the essence of Sufi Islam. Conversely, politics in Islam is not only, as Weber says, “to strive for a share of power” but also to implement Islam as a system of government. It is here that Islam becomes political. The Holy Quran says, “(Muslims are) those who, if we give them power in the land, [they] establish the system of Salah (worship), give Zakat (charity) and enjoin virtue and forbid evil” (22:41). The verse is explicit that authority, i.e. politics, is in the service of purely religious values (prayer and Zakat). Moreover, besides being a prophet, which was a religious obligation, Mohammad (PBUH) was also the head of the tiny state of Medina, which was his political function. Once Islam is implemented as a system, the otherwise moral obligations of Sufi Islam become legal obligations. Here, a Muslim is not only answerable to Allah for his deeds but also to the government.
The life of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) at Makkah before migration to Medina is a perfect example of the sort. Neither did the Prophet (PBUH) strive for power nor was a government there to punish the Muslim violators of Islamic values. After the Prophet’s (PBUH) migration to Medina and the subsequent founding of a nascent state there, the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet (PBUH), called Shariah, became the supreme law of the land. In the current context, apolitical Islam, i.e. Sufi Islam, would mean Islam sans a state machinery to enforce Islamic injunctions. An example of this is millions of Muslims living in Europe, North America and elsewhere in the West.
Political pundits employ too broad and too abstract a definition of political Islam to conflate the entire 1.5 billion plus Muslims as political Islamists. Graham E Fuller, an authority on the subject of political Islam, defines a political Islamist as a person who believes that, “Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered in the contemporary Muslim world and who seeks to implement this idea in some fashion.” Obviously, every Muslim performs the religious ceremony of Nikah for marrying. Similarly, almost every Muslim would like at least his/her personal law to be governed by his/her religious values. From the perspective of the above definition, all those Muslims who do so are political Islamists. But if one replaces the words Islam with Christianity and Muslim with Christian in Fuller’s definition, almost all the Christians would be branded as political Christians. The same holds true for the Jews and Hindus.
With democracy as a benchmark, political Islamists who compete for power within a democratic arena are not a problem. It is militant Islamists, who want Shariah through force, who are a source of disruption in the world. From the Taliban to al Qaeda to ISIL, all attribute their violence to a supposedly “just cause” because the Prophet (PBUH) also waged jihad on various occasions. The problem with this line of thinking is that a prophet could undertake jihad for a cause for the simple reason that the Creator had ordered him to do so. Militant Islamists with their belief in the finality of prophethood of Mohammad (PBUH) cannot and do not claim divine revelation. Second, the clergy is divided over the question whether a group of people can wage jihad in their private capacity without permission from a Muslim ruler. Third, in its violent form jihad is fought against a non-Muslim enemy not for his being non-Muslim but primarily because the enemy was the first to initiate the attack. Fourth, ironically, the militant Islamists kill Muslims disproportionately, far more than they kill non-Muslims. Fifth, they do not spare even non-combatants — children, women, the crippled and the elderly — from their killing spree, something unknown to jihad by the Prophet (PBUH).
Militant Islamism is not a monolithic phenomenon. In Iraq, ISIL is predominantly the result of marginalization of a Sunni minority at the hands of a Shia government, especially under Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki. In the case of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, weak statehood and the ideology of jihad against the NATO presence and the colluding Afghan government have resulted in violence. In Pakistan, the politicization of Islam since pre-partition days when the slogan was raised: “What does Pakistan mean? No God but Allah!” and later the passage of the Objectives Resolution, which defined the Islamic character of the constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973, laid the ground for the divisive question of whose Islam will prevail. The stubbornly divided clergy propagates their own respective brands of Islam such as Sunni, Shia, Deobandi, Barelvi, Wahhabi, etc.
The unresolved problems ranging from Palestine to Kashmir to the US backing of undemocratic regimes in the Muslim world remain all-pervasive. In Iraq and Syria, an all-inclusive democracy is the way forward. In Afghanistan, in the present context, ensuring the Taliban’s participation in the democratic process will ensure peace. In Pakistan, gradual and complete de-politicisation of religion will help defuse religious violence. Peace in the overall Muslim world depends upon the resolution of the outstanding issues of Palestine and Kashmir and respecting popular mandates.
Farman Kakar is a freelance journalist based in Quetta.