By Nastik Durrani, New Age Islam
Late Sheikh Muhammad Al Ghazali of Muslim Brotherhood says, “The tragedy Islam faced was not as much the result of its numerous governments as it was the result of the follies of the ruling class and of the caliphate falling in the hands of those who did not have the ability to run even a small village or organisation.”
If the situation is such then what is the reason for the religious groups raising the voice to associate religion with politics which reached such a crescendo which has no precedence in the entire Islamic history even after the confrontation between the Alawites and the Umayyids?
There are many reasons one of which is the synchronisation of the poor economic condition of Arab world with the emergence of the Islamic groups. We observe that the first Islamic group, Muslim Brotherhood, emerged in Arab world in 1928. The year was marked by economic crisis in the Arab world. The next year, the whole world went through economic recess. In this economic crisis, this new-born Islamic organisation sold the dream of ‘Islam is the solution’ to Arab and Islamic world and assured them that only Islam could provide food to the hungry and peace and security to the fear-stricken.
Victimisation of Islamic Groups
One reason for the emergence of the political Islam is the victimisation of the Islamic groups by the democrats in the Islamic world particularly Arab world in the latter half of the 20th century which created a soft corner for them in the heart of the common Muslims. For example, the collective leadership of Muslim Brotherhood was executed in 1955. Syed Qutub was hanged in 1966. Saleh Siryah was executed in 1974, Shukri Mustafa in 1977 and Muhammad Abdus Salam of Al Jihad was executed the same year and thousands of the activists of Muslim Brotherhood were executed in 1982 in Halab and Hamath in Syria.
The Defeat Of 1967
One important cause for the powerful emergence of political Islam is the defeat of 1967. The defeat had many drastic social, political and economic effects and it finished the social plans of Gamal Abdal Nasser. Some researchers believe that the basic reason for the emergence of the Islamic movements during the second half of the 20th century is social because most of the Islamic groups belong to the poor sections who live in slums. They are the people who did not pass their school examinations with good marks. Therefore, they did not get jobs other than political and religious work which could salvage their lost social dignity and status. Even today the class struggle has put on the religious garb. On the other hand, the use of religion as a provocative weapon cannot be separated from the interests of the middle class where these movements flourish. It is not a mere coincidence that religious organisations comprising skilled and unemployed students derive most of their strength from middle level and small businessmen. These students were sacrificed at the altar of political and financial interests.
Yet another reason for the emergence of Islamic groups in the second half of the 20th century is that until then the thought of students, farmers and workers had not gone haywire, nor had they been affected by any philosophical ideology. They were on their own nature and used to take pride in and appreciated religion, its values and sanctity. Moreover, the interests of the majority had not clashed with religious teachings. Religion, for them, was a good tiding for emancipation from political and social oppression. These groups were still unaffected by western traditions and the western modernism had not yet touched their lives.
The uprisings resulting from the poverty and the poor economic condition of the Arab world helped in the spread of the political Islam. The first such uprising was witnessed in Egypt in 1977, in Sudan in 1982, in Tunisian and Morocco in 1984 and in Aden in 1989. According to the statistics of 1993, the Arab families living below the poverty line were 34%. This ratio even goes up to 60% in some Arab countries. To sum up, the majority of the Arab population, except those in the oil producing countries did not earn more than one or two dollars per day. The answer to the uprising was given in the form of Islam, Islamic self-reliance and Islamic economy. As a result, some Islamic groups started supporting Islamic banking in various Arab countries, particularly Egypt. It was an alternative to the social economy which had destroyed Arab families as the literature of the Islamic groups had then claimed. These Islamic banks and financial organisations with the help of big Islamic leaders did big business in the name of Islam. This aspect was manifest in the name of these banks that were influenced by religion such as Al Badr, Al Huda, Al Hilal, Al Noor, Al Raza etc. To give them an Islamic touch, these banks coloured their offices green and claimed that their business was based solely on Islamic principles of profit and loss and purely on Islamic teachings. However, these banks and financial institutions went bankrupt after looting the money of poor people and people with limited income. Some of the owners of these banks were put behind bars while some escaped after looting crores of rupees of the poor people. For example, the owner of Sharkat al Halal fled to America with 100 million Egyptian Pounds. Similarly, the owner of Sharkatus Safa and four other Islamic banks of Alexandria also fled. According to the Egyptian researcher Muhammad Deedar, they succeeded in escaping due to the corruption on the government level.
Migration of People
One of the reasons behind the popularity of political Islam is the trend of migration during the rule of Abul Nasser, Sadat and Hafez al Assad. The process of migration was on the peak during the 70s when people were settling in the West in hordes. Abdul Nasser was greatly influenced by the West but could not make it public due to his political adventures. The topmost among his adventures was the Palestine issue. It is not difficult to understand what the condition of Arab world would have been if Israel had not been created on the land of Palestine and there was no issue like that of Palestine. To understand this better, one has to grasp counterfactual thinking. Apart from this, it also has its social, economic, cultural and political aspects as well. At a time when the religious thinking was taking roots under various factors, it clashed with the trend of migration which was a painful matter for the religious thinking. As a result, the Arab liberal political position on the West was simultaneously based on like and dislike – a liking for the cultural progress and hatred for imperialism.
The discovery of oil in the Gulf States in the second half of the 20th century and a manifestation of its effects after 1974 which created the impression among the people that thanks to the implementation of Shariah laws in some gulf states, wealth was being showered from the heavens also contributed to the spread of political Islam. It was a common belief that due to the implementation of Islamic laws of crime and punishment, the Islamic countries have been bestowed with this wealth and the land had become fertile. Thanks to oil, the gulf countries were showered with wealth. As a result, the Islamic groups headed towards these countries considering them Daral Islam (Islamic country) where there is oil as well Islam. Some gulf states were regarded as models of Islamic countries which had brought wealth.
The successful Khomeini revolution in Iran in 1979 cast a positive effect on the emergence of political Islam. Islamic organisations had the belief that Iran’s Islamic revolution could be repeated in other Islamic and Arab countries. Just a few a years later, Israel invaded Lebanon and Hizbullah had the opportunity to gauge the might of Israeli army. Subsequently, the Israeli army had to beat a retreat in Lebanon. The movement of Intifada was started in Palestine under the leadership of Islamic organisations particularly Hamas. The purpose behind all this unconsciously was to repeat the Iran experience.
Failure to Build a Powerful Army
The failure of Arab countries to build a powerful army despite their financial and numerical superiority over Israel is also one of the factors for the emergence of political Islam. The unresolved issue of Palestine for more than half a century and the lack of a powerful army that could bring the issue to its logical conclusion is also one of the factors strengthening political Islam. With the advent of 2000 A.D., the Israel army became the most powerful army of the Middle East before whom the Arab countries seem helpless and could do nothing except holding conferences and releasing statements protesting the oppression of the Palestinian people. This strengthened Islamic organisations in the occupied territories and Hamas and Hezbollah won an important political role in the Arab-Israel conflict.
A Weak Political System
There is no denying the fact that the unexpected success of the Islamic groups in the municipal, legislative and trade union elections in Arab countries particularly Aden and Algiers increased the shares of the political Islam but it is also a fact that this success was achieved in the face of weak secular forces. These forces failed to acquire social and ideological strength for their survival. Clean national political forces were crushed and were put behind bars or were expelled from the political arena or forced into exile. Some Arab countries (during the rule of Sadat, for example) even supported Islamic groups and conspired with them to crush the left forces. As a result, Islamic organisations captured media and educational institutions. Thus the media and the educational curriculum were filled with Islamic content and programmes and they were cleansed of exported philosophical thought. Bans were removed from religious programmes and books, particularly the books of Syed Qutub and Maududi. The preachers of mosques were off radar, ignoring what they were saying. This politics gave ample opportunity to the Islamic organisations to fill the vacuum in the absence of other political forces.
The slogans of political Islam were very deceptive. They were extending invitation to root out the government of the Jahiliya and establish the rule of Allah on earth but without any concrete acceptable political, social and economic programme with which they could replace the existing system. They were only giving a call or raising a slogan. They said that establishing a real social and political system was a sacred duty for which every Muslim man and woman should strive but no one from these Islamic organisations was able to tell us how such a system could be established because none of them knew how it could be achieved.