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Towards A Secular Islamic State
Evolving ideologies, strategies & framing
This article underpins a pubic conversation hosted in conjunction with the Muslims Institute, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Semiticart, entitled Towards a secular Islam State. The ‘conversation’ shall seek to re-examine the notion of what the term ‘secular’ means to Arabs and the connotations it carries, but more importantly how Muslim Scholars and the legal practitioners of Fiqh (Islamic Law), interpret secularism in its current form, and the future of the notion, in light of events post Arab-Spring. Does the word itself need to be re-contextualised, in order for it to be an ‘acceptable-equivalent’ for Muslims? Thus, I have called such a play on words a ‘semantic-synonym’. Furthermore, what are the psychological and sociological forces at work, with such framing dynamics? Finally, do Arab Muslims need to overcome the ‘Western-colonial-cultural-baggage’, which is often associated with the word ‘secularism’ to mean anti-religion, in order for them to attain some form of ‘cognitive-consonance’ to be able to find their particular identity rather than imitating the western application of the word? As ‘Secularism’ a post-enlightenment movement, is viewed by non-Arabs and Arabs alike, as a period of time characterized by breakthroughs in thinking which steered the world away from religion and more and more toward secularism, humanism, individualism, rationalism, and nationalism. The Arab Spring has seen both ‘ideological secularism’ and ‘procedural secularism’ being practiced at different levels within Tunisia and Egypt respectively. Is a western form of Islam more in tune with Islam, as the highest purpose (maqasid) of the Sharia is to secure the interests of the people (maslahah)? Furthermore, if Arabs are seeking ‘secular’ political governance rather than ‘religious’ political governance, is the notion of an ‘Islamic state’ a redundant idea, a historical misnomer even, especially considering that Arab Muslims are demanding what Western Muslims have been enjoying for a number of decades?
Before 9/11 and 7/7, Islamist groups had been openly vocal in condemning America and its allies, as well as criticising western democracies over their foreign policy towards Israel. They called for violent Jihad and urged Muslims within the United Kingdom and America, into taking up armed resistance, and establishing an Islamic Nation and Caliphate, What is more, Islamists within the United Kingdom had been extremely radical in their ideological manifestos and literature, and moreover, in their public persona, both in front of the camera as well as celebrating terrorist attacks behind closed doors. However, post 9/11 and 7/7, British Islamist groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun illustrated a marked change in social and political policy, as well as, media rhetoric.
More recently, the Arab Spring which started out with slogans calling for democracy, justice and freedom, akin to the revolutionary chats of égalité, fraternité and Liberté, slogans which originally find there origins in the French revolution, made all of us in the Western world believe that both Muslim men and women were vocally demanding what we had come to take for granted, namely western secular democratic values, values which were born out of a post-enlightened period of upheaval within Europe. However, to our surprise, Islamists parties seemed to be winning the majority of the seats in their respective elections, in the aftermath of the popular revolts, which prompted the question by many observers, “Why”?
In Tunisia the Ennahda, a previously outlawed Islamist party, overthrew the dictatorship of Ben Ali, whilst in Morocco the Islamic Justice and Development Party (IJDP) recently gained the largest number of votes resulting in their leader being sworn into the office of Prime Minster by King Mohammed VI. But unsurprisingly in Egypt, the Islamists Muslims brotherhood along with the Salafists parties, made up 70% of the government.
The issue for me is twofold. Can Islamists still be considered authentic if they radically change their ideology, and, if they are still considered viable alternatives by loyal supporters, will other Muslim majority populations, legitimise Islamism? If so, what implication does this have for the rest of the Muslim diaspora, globally? Let me be very clear from the outset, Islamism (whose adherents are commonly referred to as Islamists) should in no way or shape be conflated with Islam. One is a political ideological system, and the latter a religion.
Why did the Arabs Spring lead to an Islamist triumph?
The Islamist vote seems to have come as a bit of a shock to western governments and observers alike. For far too long western backed decorator’s such as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, had denied citizens there rights and freedoms, and it was during this period that the Islamists were laying the foundation for their eventual success, via a network of Islamic NGO’s which supported the underprivileged, providing free food, education, financing and medical services, through the aid of wealthy members. Such charity work, on the part of the Islamists, is what ultimately leads to the loyal following we see today in the Middle East.
What is more, the Libyan NTC had to take a U-turn on a ban it imposed upon Islamist candidates and parties who wished to stand within the upcoming democratic elections on the 7th July 2012. Libya recently dropped a long-term ban against political parties based on religion, tribe or ethnicity, as the long standing law incensed Islamist parties in the run-up to the first free election in June. The ruling National Transitional Council’s judicial committee stated that this point has been dropped and so any party or political organisation will follow the law as it is now. Salwa Al-Dgheily, a member of the NTC judicial council, clarified this point to the Reuters news agency after an NTC meeting. Libyans voted in June to elect a national assembly for the first time since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Eighty of the 200 seats went to political parties, with the rest reserved for independent candidates.
However, only a week later, the NTC reversed its decision and passed a law banning parties based on religious, tribal or ethnic lines. The reason for this change of heart may be due to the fact that Islamists have performed strongly in post-uprising elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco and they were also likely to do well in Libya, a socially conservative country. Political analysts say the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to emerge as Libya’s most organised political force and an influential player in the oil-exporting state where Islamists, like all dissidents, were harshly suppressed during the 42 years of Gaddafi’s dictatorial rule.
Discretely, NTC officials said Libya had banned the “glorification” of the Gaddafi regime. “Glorification of Muammar Gaddafi, his regime, ideas and his children are punishable by a prison sentence,” according to the text of a new law read out to reporters by an official. The new law threatens imprisonment of anyone who “offends the 17th February revolution, anyone who insults the Islamic religion or the state and its institutions”; the spokesperson quoted the law as saying, referring to the start of Libya’s uprising last year. Libya’s NTC has already indicated the country will be run in accordance with Islamic Shariah laws, though its exact place in the legal system will be settled only when the new constitution is written after the elections.
In its naivety The West, however, assumed the rebellious teenage Facebook generation, with its Armani T-shirts and smartphones were demanding a western cultural revolution. But this was not the case. The West should have known better, as for far too long, the Islamists have not been shy in claiming that they have been fighting a Western ‘anti-imperialist’ cultural war, even though colonialism ended a number of decades ago, the Islamists still believe the hearts and minds of the Arab Muslims have not been fully cleansed of colonial anxieties or philosophies. Therefore it became the raison d’etreof the Islamists to cleanse the population of this sickness.
However what Western political observers failed to realise is that “modernization in the Arab world, has not lead to the triumph of secular political and economic ideologies. Liberal Nationalism, Arab Nationalism, Socialism, Capitalism and Marxism have, in fact, come to be viewed [by Muslims] as the source of Muslim political and economic failures.” Similarly, the resurgence of religious politics can be viewed as a continuum of interaction between western and Islamic civilisations, “In its long confrontation with the civilisation of the West, the Islamic world has gone through successive phases of revival and resistance, response and rejection.”
Another approach emphasised, that rather than being a historical continuum, this is something new, born out of modernization and modernity. Bruce Lawrence insists that fundamentalist revival of all types regardless of religious persuasions, are a direct product of the modern era: “without modernity there are no fundamentalists, just as there are no modernists. The identity of fundamentalism, both a psychological mindset and a historical movement, is shaped by the modern world. Fundamentalist…are at once a consequence of modernity and the anti-thesis of modernism.” Yet, Lawrence makes a distinction from Lewis, arguing that fundamentalists “accept implicitly the benefits of modernity, often thriving through their use of technology, while explicitly rejecting modernism as a holistic ideological framework. They are moderns but not modernists.” But, John O. Voll believes that Lawrence is implying that the recent Islamist political revival is somehow identifying with Islamic Fundamentalists.
Modernist Intellectual Muslim Thought
Ahmed Hassan, reminds us in a recent article for the Foreign Policy Journal, that the majority of Muslims who lived abroad for extended times were more successful in drawing the correlations between democracy and Islamic teachings due to their better understanding of the western culture. Furthermore that many of the Egyptian expatriates discovered that the majority of western countries apply the teachings of Islam even though Muslims represent a very small fraction of the population, which enabled them to build the strongest nations on earth in modern history. Hence, the great Islamic scholar of the 19th century, Muhammad Abduh, wrote, after his return from France in 1888, that “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam”. Given this, most of the core values of western countries, such as freedom, human rights, and justice, are universal and do not conflict with Islam or any religion, yet they are important foundations of Islamic teachings.
Muslim academics involved in the scholarly and civil decline of Muslim-majority states, are largely divided into two factions. On one hand, some attribute the intellectual and political decline of Muslim-majority societies to a deviation from a perceived ‘glorious’ past, calling for the revival of ancient traditions, in order for success in the political realm. However, others would contend that progress of any kind can only be accomplished by accepting and adapting modern political ideas and contexts. What is more, such Muslim intellectuals would insist that this process is completely compatible with Islamic values. The first camp accuses the second of being besotted by the West and forsaking their traditions. The latter accuses the former of failing to comprehend the maqasid (purposes) of Shari’ah (Muslim code of conduct), which was to realise social justice and secure the maslahah (interests of the people).
A prominent modernist thinker, who was highly influential during the mid-19th century, was Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97). Al-Afghani was born in Iran but travelled widely before settling in Egypt in 1871. It was in Egypt that he first began to promote his modernist opinions and attracted a large following, before he was expelled in 1879. Al-Afghani was principally concerned with Europe’s superiority over the Muslim East. He thought that Muslims could reclaim an influential position in the world by firstly, urging Muslim unity on political issues, secondly by re-discovering the ‘pure essence’ of Islam and rejecting taqlid (blind following) of traditionalists, and finally by encouraging the embracing of science and logic as vehicles for progress and change. Al-Afghani was principally concerned with the significance of science, technology and philosophy over irrational belief and conjecture. He famously said, ‘There was, is, and will be no ruler in the world but science’.
Al-Afghani credited the comparative backwardness of many Muslim majority societies to their negative approach towards science and reason. He argued, dogma stifled free enquiry, which explained why Europe had advanced whilst the Muslim East had deteriorated. He also thought that the failure to embrace logic and reason had given rise to despotism and repression, which in turn, further stifled rational and scientific progress. For al-Afghani, Islam first needed something akin to the European reformation for Muslims to resist European hegemony. But this would involve learning from Europe and relying on reason and scientific enquiry, which he maintained was completely compatible with Islamic teachings.
During al-Afghani’s time in Egypt, he attracted a bright young student who would go on to influence a whole new generation of thinkers in Egypt and around the world. His name was Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905). Abduh studied Logic, Philosophy and Mysticism at al Azhar University in Cairo, going on to teach there from 1877 after being granted the degree of alim (scholar). He was banished from Egypt in 1882 for supporting a revolt against European influence in the country. He then moved to Paris to work with his spiritual mentor, al-Afghani, on a journal. He later returned to Egypt and was appointed official mufti in 1899, a position that he held until his death in 1905.
Abduh was a strong advocate of rational thought, maintaining that Islam was the only religion that could be proved through reasoning. He also believed in reviving ijtihad (individual theo-legal reasoning), asserting that morality and law must be adapted to the conditions of the time according to what are in the interests of society. Like Syed Ahmed, he believed that politics is not pre-determined by scripture, but rather something that changes depending on time, place and circumstance. Abduh advocated consensus politics, and sought to reconcile the traditional Islamic concept of ijma (consensus) with democracy. He also emphasized the need for civil leaders who are bound by the law of the land and are installed, supervised and, if necessary, removed by the people. Abduh’s work had a huge impact and a number of his students went on to become leading Muslim political theorists.
The Jihadist struggle we see today is a schismatic offshoot of the Islamist struggle to seize state power in Muslim majority countries. It is also symptomatic of the failure of Islamist groups, and many governments, to provide real solutions or improve the lives of ordinary Muslims. Ordinary Muslims do want change and they seek to live in more stable, productive and prosperous societies, the Arab Spring is a testament to that. But this can only be achieved if road-blocks, such as Jihadist groups and corrupt autocrats, are removed and democratic culture is allowed to take root. A broader reading of Muslim history would show how the Abbasids learnt from their imperial predecessors, the Persians, and how the Ottomans also learnt from theirs, the Byzantines. Muslims were able to flourish across a huge culturally diverse land mass precisely because they didn’t view their faith as a rigid set of unchangeable rules but rather, a flexible and accommodating set of principles. That understanding needs to be re-discovered.
Current Muslim Intellectual Thought
Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim, now a professor of law at Emory University in the US, opens his remarkable book Islam and the Secular State (2008) with the line, “In order to be a Muslim by conviction and free choice, which is the only way one can be a Muslim, I need a secular state.” He advocates a ‘secular state’ rather than a ‘secular society’. That is to say, he believes that shar’iah’s role in legislation and public policy should be limited to shaping ethical norms and values which would influence the democratic political process. An-Naim goes on to argue that acts of worship and obedience to God are only valid in Islam if they are performed voluntarily and not enforced by a state apparatus. Enforcement of shar’iah by the state invalidates personal pious intention and encourages hypocrisy through superficial observance of ritual in lieu of sincere faith.
For him, the state should remain neutral on issues of faith, thus facilitating the possibility of religious piety stemming from honest conviction. Citizens should also be free to interpret and practice, or not practice, their faith as they choose. For an-Naim, it is not the role of governments or political parties to monopolize one interpretation of Islam and use it to pursue political goals. He argues that, whenever human beings propose legislation in the name of Islam, it reflects their own perspectives on the subject. This is because shari’ah is a human construct, a human attempt to understand God’s word rather than God’s word itself. In other words, whatever the state enforces in the name of shar’iah will be inherently secular in the sense that it is the product of human agency and coercive political power.
An-Naim goes further and illustrates that throughout Muslim history, Islam and the state have been separate. Moreover, the very idea of an ‘Islamic state’ is based on “postcolonial discourse that relies on European notions of the state and positive law” and “…a totalitarian view of law and public policy as instruments of social engineering by ruling elites.” Similar points to an-Naim are now increasingly being made by a number of leading theologians, thinkers and disaffected members of Islamist groups. In political discourse amongst Muslims, emphasis is starting to be placed on the importance of contextualizing earlier Muslim political models and not viewing them as normative. Furthermore, the importance of consensus politics and the futility of agitating for an Islamist state seem to be increasingly widely accepted, as recent election results from numerous Muslim majority nations seem to illustrate. However, deep-rooted problems still remain.
Islamism verses ideology
Khaled Haroub argues that the evolution of political Islamic movements is essentially contextual rather than ideological and therefore, Islamic movements are best understood individually within their own historical, socio-political and cultural setting. In this way, self-proclaimed Salafists, Omar Bakri Mohammed and Anjem Choudary evolved the original thesis set out by the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir Imam Taqiuddin al-Nabhani by employing a form of ijtihad (independent reasoning as opposed to taqlid imitation) in formulating Hizb ut-Tahrirs original ideologies to fit the current political context they found themselves in, so as to employ successful resource mobilization through appropriate framing strategies.
Given this, it would suggest that Political Islam does not rely on a historically fixed ideology in the past, rather it is evolving and not a static fixed ideology; evolving to meet the needs of its leaders and the political and socioeconomic climate.
In particular, I would argue that numerous Islamists movements, during the Arab spring have been playing a game of ‘sematic-synonyms’, by replacing ‘Islamic’ with ‘civil’, in a bid to re-frame themselves and their identity. For example, the Islamist party spin-doctors have been careful to avoid the use of the words such as, secularisation, secularism; due to the fact such terms carry negative connotations and historical-baggage with them, which is still raw in the Arab mindset, and would not be easily digestible by the native population. Thus the Islamist parties are very mindful of distancing themselves from the notion of ‘secularism’, which is often conflated by Muslims to mean westernisation, and at the same time veering clear of the idea of an ‘Islamic State’, as it strikes fears within Arabs of an Iranian-style theocracy of 1979. For me it suggested the Islamists are employing ijtihad.
The Turkish model of State is one that appeals to Arab Islamists, as it strikes a balance between Islam and modernity. The AKP party in Turkey managed to successfully evolve away from dogma and idealism, preferring to promote pragmatism and compromise, in a world that is increasingly becoming globalised, and connected through social media. Given this, Muslim scholar and Tunisian Islamist Rashid Ghannouchi, clearly advocates a secular form of government and embraces secular ideals of governance.
For Ghannouchi, “The state should not have anything to do with telling people what to wear, what to eat and drink, what they should believe in. We consider that a state is more Muslim, more Islamic, the more it has justice in it. When people asked me why I came to Britain, I explained that I was going to a country ruled by a Monarch where people are not oppressed and where justice prevails. The type of state we want is one that doesn’t interfere in people’s private lives. The state should not have anything to do with imposing or telling peoples what to wear, what to eat and drink, what they believe in, what they should believe in.” He says he has no plans to ban bikinis on the beach or the sale of alcohol, for example.However he does clarify,”I would prefer it if people didn’t do this, but it is up to them,” thus, Ghannouchi’s vision for the model of an Islamic state is built profoundly on the idea of morals.
What is more, Graham E. Fuller argues, that “political Islam cannot properly be viewed as an alternative to other ideologies such as democracy, fascism, socialism, liberalism, and communism.”It cannot be put anywhere clearly on an ideological spectrum. It is far more useful to see it as a cultural variant, an alternative vocabulary in which to dress any one of these ideological trends. It is hard to argue that Islamism is a distinct program in itself, rather this is a political movement that makes Islam the centrepiece of its own political culture and then proceeds to improvise on what this means in the local political context. He therefore concludes, “Islamism is therefore not an ideology, but a religious-cultural-political framework for engagement on issues that most concern politically engaged Muslims.”
Often what happens is that western observers tend to conflate Islam and Islamism as being synonymous, whereas is reality one is a religion and the other a form of political ideology. I am discussing numerous interpretations of Islam within society and politics; thus, it is more accurate to discuss Islamism’s. Subsequently, we talk less about Islam and more about Muslims; I am speaking not about what Islam is, but what Muslims want. From this angle, Islam and Muslims will always have something to say about politics and society.
Not surprisingly, in a recent debate entitled ‘Who speaks for Islam?’ Dalia Mogahed and Irshad Manji argued that Islamists employ religious symbolisms and rhetoric, framing Islam within a specific context, and employing some degree of ‘Mythos’ by adopting linguistics that will resonate with the target audience. This was best illustrated by Mohammed Siddiq Khan the July 7 bomber who employed symbolisms of Mohammed (pbuh) as prophet of war, by alluding to the first battle of Islam ‘Battle of Badr’ in his suicide video, promoting the idea that Mohammed was his own Constantine who fought offensive wars rather than defensive campaigns.
In short Mohammed (pbuh) was framed intentionally as a ‘Prophet of War’ and not of peace. For example, Barak Obama and George W Bush both framed Islam as a religion of peace, however, in an interview with CBN terrorism analyst Erick Stakelbeck, Anjem Choudary of Islam4UK begged to differ, arguing, “you can’t say that Islam is a religion of peace, because Islam does not mean peace, rather it means submission, moreover there is a place for violence in Islam and a place for Jihad in Islam.” However the Agenda of CBN (Christian Zionist Broadcasting News) was to project Anjem Choudary as ‘speaking for Islam,’ whereas in reality he only represents a very small fringe of second generation British South Asian Muslims.
Tunisia, one year of an Islamist government
It has been over one year since Tunisia’s former President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia. In his absence, the country held its first truly democratic elections. The winners were Islamist party Ennahda, which for some threaten Tunisia’s secular tradition. Already, one town in the north is now under the control of a group of Salafists.
Supporters of the Islamist lead government, argue that they strike a balance between modernity and Islam. However, its critics believe that religious based politics could ruin Tunisia’s secular tradition, and in some areas of Tunisia a hard-line stance is on the rise.
Sejnane, (a small town in north-western Tunisia), is under the grip of Salafist Muslims, who are imposing their restrictive views of religion and civil liberties, upon the local population.
Whereas all Muslims try to emulate the Prophet Mohammed and his companions, Salafist whom are ultra-orthodox Sunni Muslims, take this one step further, by viewing any social developments that came after the death of the prophet, with great scepticism and suspicion. Salafists are easily recognisable by their medieval style of garb and long beards. Its followers believed that its practitioners offered a truly pure version of Islam, one that was free of innovations; human intellect and logic, a version which was adopted by the first four ‘Rightly Guided Caliphs.’
Salafist consider their interpretation of Islam to be authentic, believing the Qur’an and Hadithare self- explanatory, subsequently requiring no interpretive differences or religious pluralism. In short it was imitating the past without applying independent reasoning to the current paradigm. Furthermore they are known for advocating extremely radical views and reactionary social laws, especially concerning the rights of women, freedom of religion, alcohol laws and on freedom of expression, but it’s worth noting, that in Tunisia they are in the minority. More worryingly, since the revolution they have made it clear they are very well organised, very vocal and willing to use violence to get their point across. The problem facing Ennahda is that in rural parts of Tunisia there is a power vacuum, and controlling rural areas is proving a lot harder, compared to the larger urbanised cities and towns.
In Jan of this year, victims of the Salafists, allege that they were attacked by groups of men wielding sword, and accused of the crime of drinking alcohol, as well as selling alcohol. Furthermore, in two more very recent separate attacks in the same town, during May, both a number of students and tourists to the areas complained of similar assaults for mixing with women and drinking alcohol publicly. On the other hand Salafists rejected all accusations, according to them former party strongmen, who were still loyal to Ben Ali, paid the accusers money in order to discredit them by spreading unfounded rumours. However, the ruling Islamist party Ennahda, have made it clear they do not want to be associated with the Salafist groups, however, they can neither alienate them. Ennahda during their campaign trail, were trying to be all things to all people, managing to gain 70% of the votes in Tunisia, but Salafists claim the Islamists are being two faced. Ennahda election manifesto was to clamp down on corruption, clearly stating they were first and foremost ‘democratic’ and ‘Islamist’ second. However when Ennahda campaigned in rural areas of Tunisia, they changed their rhetoric, taking on a ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ tone, in order to appeal to potential voters, which seems to have alarmed many in the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN). Such deviations in the strategy and tact of the Islamist, have lead critics to believe the U-turn by the Ennahda, is merely superficial cosmetic tokenism on the part of the Islamists, in order to appease the liberal voters, as well as the international community. The President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH), Abdel Sattar Ben Moussa, confirmed that the organization’s report on the situation in Sejnane had been finalized on 19th Jan 2012. The report was written after the visit of the league to Sejnane, following accounts from residents of the region of Salafists making attempts to take over the area.
Ben Moussa stated that the report confirms violations and assaults committed by a group of Salafists against residents of Sejnane. However, the report denies the establishment of a Salafist Emirate in Sejnane. He further goes on to state, “the Salafist phenomenon is present throughout the country. The reason it was able to proliferate in Sejnane is due to the lack of security or functioning government institutions in the area.” Moussa asserted that although Sejnane is rich in natural resources, it lacks infrastructural development. The government’s neglect of the area led to a poverty rate of 80% and an unemployment rate of approximately 54%.
Many secular-minded Tunisians do not trust Ennahda’s Islamist leader Rashid Ghannouchi; they argue that he is playing with words, according to a Tunisian Feminist Ibtisam, who argues that “they (the Islamists), say you can go onto the beach in a bikini, yet at the same time when such women are attacked by Islamists, the authorities do nothing to protect them.” Many other Arabs accuse Mr Ghannouchi of double-talk when it comes to Islam and democracy. Ghannouchi is also quoted as saying, “secularism is turning the West into a place of selfish beasts”, arguing that the religious and moral fibre of society has become eroded, and he believes that Israel has a duty to make peace with the Palestinians. Many fear that such ‘tactics’ on the part of the Islamists who are employing the rhetoric of democracy and civil rights, is a ploy to impose theocratic states by the back door.
However supports of Post-Islamism would argue that Post-Islamism is not anti-Islamic or secular; a post-Islamist movement dearly upholds religion but also highlights citizens’ rights. It aspires to a pious society within a democratic state. Early examples of such movements include the reform movement in Iran in the late 1990s and the country’s Green Movement today, Indonesia’s Prosperous Justice Party, Egypt’s Hizb al-Wasat, Morocco’s Justice and Development Party (PJD), and Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Each was originally fundamentalist but over time came to critique Islamist excess, its violation of democratic rights, and its use of religion as a tool to sanctify political power. They all eventually opted to work within the democratic state.
The Egyptian Islamist dilemma
Egypt swore in a new president in July 2012, namely Mohammed Morsi, a former member of the Islamist Muslims Brotherhood party. In a bid to reassure Egyptian minority groups, human rights campaigners, artists and intellectuals, Morsi proposed that Egypt would be a cultural and artistic leader in the region, as well as a tolerant and just society for all its diverse citizens. On the other hand, Morsi in the same speech he promised to free Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence in the USA for his part in planning the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre. Many political analysts believed such a public promise by Morsi on live TV was a token gesture towards the hard line Salafi groups whom have put the release of Abdul Rahman at the top of their agenda.
BBC Journalist Stephen Sackur interviewed Gehad El-Haddad, an adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. El-Haddad clarified that under the FJP Egypt would be a ‘civil’ not ‘secular’ society that would have an Islamic reference point. However, El-Haddad was clear to point out, as in the case of Iran, “We do not believe in theocracy. We the FJP, unlike Ennahda of Tunisia, which is Islamist but do not want sharia law, the FJP in contrast wants Egypt and all its laws to be based on Sharia in the second article of the Egyptian constitution.” At the same time, El-Haddad was quick to point out that the FJP would never use laws to impose religion upon society. However, in May 2012 Morsi in a CNBC interview argued that “my party believes that a woman should not assume the role of president,” but El-Haddad refuted what Morsi had said and told Stephen Sackur that, “we the FJP will work with any woman who wishes to become a president of Egypt. “ Shakur remarked that such a statement sounds like sophistry. However, El-Haddad argued that the Presidents reference point was taken from the Scholars at Al Azhar University in Egypt, who had stated that women could not run for president.
Then again, more recently an article published by Women’s News Network, illustrated how, Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed of Al Azhar University, defended his PhD thesis that sparked a heated debate among religious scholars. The candidate concluded that the Hijab, or the veil, is not an Islamic duty. The assertion is not unique, but the mere fact that it is adopted in Al Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s leading seat of learning makes it challenging for clerics and the majority of the practicing orthodox Muslim population. Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed argued that Hijab is not an Islamic duty. He stated that Hijab refers to the cover of the head, which is not mentioned in the Holy Quran at all. However it is not clear if the dissertation was preserved or shelved, but the Women’s News Network believes the Arab Spring was conducive in bringing such hidden and diverse scholarship at Al Azhar to light. Given this, it could be argued that Al Azhar University maybe under the scrutiny of the Salafists or Islamist FJP, in the type of intellectual freedom it allows in terms of progressive intellectual scholarship?
As I pen this article Islamists in Egypt are demanding the introduction of Sharia laws as the country debates its constitution. Thousands of Islamists rallied in Cairo on Friday 9th November 2012, to demand the immediate introduction of sharia laws calling on President Mohamed Morsi to resist opposition to Islamic law. Islamists, Liberals and non-Islamists have locked horns over what civic freedoms women, Christians and minority groups will enjoy under a new constitution being drafted by an Islamist-dominated panel. Numerous posters with the slogan: “God’s law is our constitution” and what is significant is that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flag was seen soaring over the throngs of various Islamist protesters, however it was noted that the Egyptian flag was absent. “The people demand God’s law implemented,” sang thousands of demonstrators. When the crowds where questioned as to what Sharia meant to them, many said it involved the abolition of corruption and loose sexual behaviour, modesty in men and women’s dress codes, and improved living conditions. Only a day after the rally an Egyptian Jihadist by the name of Murgan Salem al-Gohary, who had previously been jailed twice during the Mubarak era for advocating violence, called for the “destruction of the Sphinx and the Giza Pyramids in Egypt.” Al-Gohary argued that God had ordered the Prophet Mohammed to destroy idols, and that it was the duty of all Muslims to follow suit. Not surprisingly the Salafis agree with al-Gohary’s view and they have insisted that the Pharaonic sculptures be veiled. It is important to note that the Salafist party is the second most influential in the country, after the Muslim Brotherhood.
As a result, President Mohamed Morsi is caught between pleasing various Islamist hardliners who voted him into power enabling him to have international legitimacy. President Morsi faces a dilemma in having to satisfy the desires of different Egyptians. Ammar Ali Hassan, Islamist thinker and analyst, informed Reuters news agency that, “President Mohamed Morsi cannot do it without changing his discourse, on one hand he tells liberals and the international audience that Egypt is a moderate, modern and civil state. But to his Islamist backers across the country he must say that sharia will be implemented.” In a way it could be argued that Morsi may have to employ positive semantic-synonyms, in order to appeal to the entire Egyptian population, or he risks alienating not only both Salafists and minority groups, but also the international community.
Tangible changes or tokenism
Omar Bakri Mohammed departed as leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain (HTB) in February 1996subsequently forming Al Muhajirun (AM). Countless numbers of his followers had been members of HTB. Resonating HTBoriginal strategy and ideology, AM called for the re-establishmentofa British Islamic state with a Caliphate at its helm ruling via the legal system of shariah.Bakri differed with HT’s central leadership’s stratage min relation to British Muslims. Bakri argued that Nabhani’s original methodology be applied in its totality within the UK seeking to turn Britain into an Islamist state however HT central leadership believed it was more vital to publicise the parties ideology seeking to create support for its Islamist revolt in predominantly Muslim-majority countries initially. Given this it would suggest that after the initial revolutions HT would possibly be planning further campaigns in an offensive manner in non-Muslim majority countries?
Before 9/11 HTB were advocating military style Jihad on British soil, however, after the departure of Omar Bakri Mohammed the policy adopted was that Britain was accommodating to Muslims ‘Darl-al-Sulh’ (territory of treaty) and therefore, Hizb ut-Tahrir, did not propagate bombings on British soil. However the core strategy of HT head office remained, in which offensive Jihad was permissible in lands that are perceived as occupied or repressed such as in Israel and Palestine. Subsequently, British Islamist groups over this decade have been gradually forced to phase in changes to their British tactics and policies, post 9/11; however, this change was not immediate or coherent, but more profound and clearer post 7/7.
Interestingly the proposed ban of Hizb-ut-Tahrir within the United Kingdom has brought it to the fore of Western media further it has unintentionally gathered support from amongst the mainstream Muslims, who worry their own parties could face proscription next.
“However, in the discussion over the ban, Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Britain had been forced to publicly water down its rhetoric and has taken many of its controversial articles off their website, suggesting the group in Britain could be coming closer to mainstream Muslim rhetoric.”
It is important to note that Hizb ut-Tahrir was cohered into modifying their rhetoric in an unprecedented move to co-operate with the Home Office and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, rather than genuinely altering it themselves. From this angle, it could be seen as cosmetic tokenism on their part, in an attempt to avoid proscription. Furthermore, Sarah Swick informs us that in 2003 Hizb ut-Tahrir had been deceptive, in not fully disclosing to both the LSE (London School of Economics) and unsuspecting non-Muslims students, when they established The Comparative Ideologies Society, by failing to make known the societies affiliation to Hizb ut-Tahrir. Not surprisingly, Sadik Hamid notes that “moderate Islamists prefer a strategy of a gradualist social Islamisation, but, Hizb ut-Tahrir prefers a revolutionary methodology of raising religious consciousness and political entryism.”
The semantics of Taqqiyah
The practice of Taqiyya (concealment) which is normally confined within the Shi’ite tradition is now common practice among Sunni Islamist groups. The concept allows Islamists, whom fear they are in the minority, to legally practice hypocrisy, by holding an opposing view from their ideology in public, hence proclaiming in public precisely the opposite of what they believe in secret. You can see this illustrated in the behaviour of the Muslim Brotherhood post Mubarak. Their political and religious views, three months prior were in stark contraction to the rhetoric they were employing after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
The danger of taqiyya comes when Islamists make pronouncements or give undertakings in their dealings with representatives of other cultures that loathe deceitfulness, in matters pertaining to their rejection of violence, respect for women’s rights and non-Muslim minorities etc., which fly in the face of what Islamists think in secret, as it is religiously permitted for them to hold such hypocritical and conflicting views in public, as they have yet to attain total empowerment. Such a policy (of taqiyya) could be considered Machiavellian in its very nature.
Muslims and non-Muslim and alike, need to be aware that when you hear the rhetoric of change from Islamists, you must likewise employ a council of caution to the universal or even western ideals they espouse, due in part to the practice of taqiyya as a religious tool of the Islamists in attaining consensus. It is therefore advisable to critically analyse the vocabulary Islamists of all shades employ, and the actions they carry out or condone. In the end, Islamists actions will speak louder than their words.
I would argue that if Islamist groups such as The Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir & Al-Muhajirun and numerous others, succumb to western style democratic politics and adopt Universalist rhetoric and ideologies, they may seize to be “the voice of dissent” for disaffected young Arabs or their European and American counterparts. But at the same time, initial cognitive openings that attracted certain individuals to the group dissipate over a period of time, either through outgrowing the group or the ‘self-interest’ of the individuals, causing disaffection elsewhere or completely out of Islamism. If Islamist groups change, can they still claim to be Islamist in the traditional sense of the word? Could this dissolution, lead Islamist Muslims to join the more radical Salafist style groups, as the Islamists might be seen as ‘sell-outs?’
For example, “Islamologue” Olivier Roy argues that Islamist movements like Ennahda in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can no longer even be called Islamists, as they are conservatives analogous to the religious right in the US. This is what he calls “post-Islamism” — much like socialist parties in Europe abandoned Marxism at some point in the 1970-80s, Islamist movements have abandoned a pure Islamist framework by combining “a religious reference” with democracy in a plural political space. They cannot impose themselves, and they do not necessarily deal with issues such as women’s rights in terms of Sharia, but in terms of “family values.” What is more, Rachid Ghannouchi does not have a dual discourse; having been quite coherent for twenty years Roy reminds us that when Ghannouchi was a political refugee, he was refused a visa by France. In particular, Roy believes the debate between Muslims Brothers and Salafis in Egypt will be key. The MB must now choose to align itself with Salafis or make its own beliefs distinct; much like the right in Europe must distinguish itself from the far right which accuses it of having abandoned core values. The Muslim Brotherhood has not campaigned as an Islamist party as much as the party of order and stability.
Therefore according to Graham E.Fuller, “Islamism as a phenomenon will never fully disappear, because its message in one sense is timeless for Muslims: that Islam has something significant to say about the political and social order. Political Islam will thus evolve and change, divide and unite; wax or wane in its popularity, but it will not disappear.”
The British Ramifications of an Islamist/Salafist success in the Middle East
The bigger question for me, as a British-born first generation Muslim, is that, if Islamists governments dominate the post Arab Spring, and Western governments are forced to work with them, will this give British Islamists legitimacy in the eyes of the British Muslim community, viewing them as a credible alternative to vote for in a British style general and local elections, especially in communities that are populated by likeminded individuals?
Moreover, will the success of Islamists governments in the Middle East force the Home Office to relook at its policy on proscribing British Islamists groups in the future? Furthermore, will groups such as Hizb ut-Tahir,(who wish to establish a British Islamic Caliphate), or Anjem Choudary(who seeks to turn ‘red zones’ within the United Kingdom, into Islamic Emirates), gain legitimacy from their Arab counterparts success in the Middle East?
These are real ramifications for groups such as the British Muslims for Secular democracy (BMSD) and the Co-Existence Trust along with the (3FF) Three Faiths Forum, which are tirelessly working to try to promote tolerance, secular democratic ideals and the justice for all, regardless of a citizen’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, social class, religion or irreligion. In this way, more recently, former Islamist sympathiser Dr Usama Hasan who currently serves as senior researcher of Islamic studies at Quilliam, publicly posted a help request, via the BMSD Facebook group page in early 2012, in which he sought to prevent an extremist Salafist takeover of Al-Tawhid Mosque in Leyton, by requesting BMSD members to petition the arbitrator of Mosque disputes, namely Mr Nizar Boga who is a Justice of the peace, articulating their concerns of an imminent take over by extremist Salafists.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that, just as the Islamists came into power through a prism of popular sentiments to overthrow Western backed puppet dictators, the people who voted the Islamists into powers can also vote them out of power, either democratically or through brute force, and the Islamist are well aware of this. The real test of Islamist government’s will ultimately come down to delivering the vision all Arabs dreamed about, namely an end to corruption, and a fight to establish democracy, civil-rights, justice and jobs’. In short, the universal unalienable legal and natural rights of all men and women, as consecrated into the United States Deceleration of Independence, specifically “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In Contextualising Islam in Britain, a ground-breaking research project conducted by Cambridge University that asked a diverse group of Muslim participants to answer the question “what does it mean to live faithfully as a Muslim in Britain today?” an overwhelming majority of participants affirmed their support for the British model of State. They observed that procedural-secularism provides many benefits for British Muslims, including religious freedom. From this angle, It could also be argued that, Arabs in 2012, have started to articulate a demand for a ‘procedural secular state’ very similar to Britain, rather than ideological-secularism. What is more, advocates of ideological-secularism often cite the negative role that religion can play when it comes to issues like women’s rights as grounds for their objection to allowing religion into the public sphere. When extremely conservative religious activists speak out against women’s rights and use supposedly religious arguments, this furthers such misconceptions. However, such extreme acts have more to do with culture than religion. For example, forced marriage is a negative cultural practice. Although associated with Islam, it is actually totally at odds with Islamic history, which includes examples of the Prophet Muhammad ending marriages in which consent had not been sought.
Yet, it could be argued, if you exclude the gulf and Morocco, that religious revivalism and Islamism is a direct response to the failure of ideological secularism on delivering on its promises. The deal was “old religion has made us soft, this new path will make us strong” but the reality was very different, the reality was failing satism and rentier states. In this light, the intervention of policies that are seen as “ideologically secular” draw a reaction from the conservative religious establishment as examples of either western imperialism or reminders of the policies of the ideological secularists. We see this play out when the more orthodox Muslims seem to be very concerned that “secular democracy” is an organised attempt at undermining religion itself. There is a reason they see it like that – history and experience.
Nevertheless, Tariq Ramadan argues that the time has come to stop blaming the West for the colonialism and imperialism of the past. Muslim-majority societies must shed aside their attitude as being victims and accept that they are empowered actors, as millions of Arabs demonstrated last year by coming out into the streets and altering the course of history. The worn-out dichotomy of “Islam versus the West” is giving way to an era of multipolar relations. The world’s economic centre of gravity is shifting eastward. But the growing prominence of China, India and Russia, and of emerging powers like Brazil, South Africa and Turkey, does not automatically guarantee more justice and more democracy. Some Muslims are too quick to rejoice at the decline of American power. They seem unaware that what might replace it could well lead to a regression in social and human rights and to new forms of international dependency.
The Arab peoples, like those throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia, cannot, and do not want to, disregard the cultural and religious traditions that have long defined and nurtured them. As they pursue values like freedom, justice, equality, autonomy and pluralism, and new models of democracy and of international relations, they need to draw on Islamic traditions. Islam can be a fertile ground for political creativity — and not an obstacle to progress, as Orientalist thinkers in the West have so often claimed.
The Arab world, and Muslim-majority societies, need not only political uprisings, but also a thoroughgoing intellectual revolution from within that will open the door to economic change; to spiritual, religious, cultural and artistic liberation; and to the empowerment of women. The task is not an easy one.
The Sunday Times: Undercover in the academy of hatred. While London reeled under attack, the teachers of extremism were celebrating— and a Sunday Times reporter was recording every wordBy the Insight team: Ali Hussain and Jonathan Calvert. Bakri sighed. “So, London under attack,” he said. Then, leaning forward, he added: “Between us, for the past 48 hours I’m very happy.” August 7, 2005
 Islamic NGOs and Muslim Politics: A Case from Jordan, Author(s): Quintan Wiktorowicz and Suha Taji Farouki, Source: Third World Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 4, NGO Futures: Beyond Aid (Aug., 2000), pp.685-699Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3993373. Accessed: 08/05/2011 11:29
 Pg 379, John O.Voll, Islam: Continuity and Change in the Modern World, Chapter 7: Perspectives and Prospects: The Islamic Resurgence and Contemporary History, Second Edition, Syracuse University Press, 1994
 Ibid.3, pg.380.
 Ibid.3, pg.381.
 Ibid.3, pg.381.
Quilliam Foundation Paper on Modern Islamic Intellectual Though 2011 http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/
Edited by Khaled Haroub, Political Islam: context verses ideology, SOAS Middle East Issue, Nov 2010, Paperback, Saqi books London, IBSN: 9780863566592
Aspen Institute, Colorado USA http://fora.tv/2008/07/01/Irshad_Manji_and_Dalia_Mogahed_-_Who_Speaks_for_Islam on June 2008, Accessed 20/08/2011
Christian Zionist Heralded in Israel, by Craig Nelson 2009,http://www.patrobertson.com/Speeches/speechreaction.asp,Accessed : 20/08/2011
http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/world/2010/March/UK-Muslim-Leader-Islam-Not-a-Religion-of-Peace/Monday April 5th 2010, Accessed: 20/08/2011
Pg. 267, John L Esposito, Dictionary of Islam, Oxford: Oxford University Press, paperback edition 2004
Pg. 101-2, John L Esposito, Dictionary of Islam, Oxford: Oxford University Press, paperback edition 2004
 http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/11/09/islamists-in-egypt-demand-introduction-of-sharia-law-as-country-debates-constitution/Marwa Awad, Reuters | Nov 9, 2012 3:25 PM ET | Last Updated: Nov 9, 2012 3:34 PM ET
The Huffington Post | By Cavan Sieczkowski , 11/13/2012 11:06 am EST Updated: 11/13/2012 1:44 pm EST
Aya Batrawy, Associated Press, Cairo November 9, 2012 (AP)http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/egyptian-islamists-rally-shariah-law-17677906#.UKKJHId302g
‘Jews fear rise of the Muslim “Underground”’, Guardian, 18 February 1996
Pg 30, Taji-Farouki, ‘Islamists and the Threat of Jihad’, Taji-Farouki states that Bakri took HT ideology and ‘transformed [it] more or less in toto to the new group’.
Pg 31-32, Taji-Farouki, ‘Islamists and the Threat of Jihad’
Sarah Swick , From London to Andijan: The rising global influence of Hizb-ut-Tahrir among Muslim Youth, Minaret of Freedom Institute
Pg 172, Peter Byrd, Oxford concise dictionary of Politics, edited by Iain Mclean and Alistair McMillan, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press 2009
 Tarek Heggy, Political Islam v Modernity, Almuslih.org 2012 http://www.almuslih.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=214%3Apolitical-islam-vs-modernity&catid=45%3Aislamism&Itemid=243
Graham E Fuller, page 14 the future of political Islam, Palgrave Macmillan, paperback 2004,ISBN 1-4039-6556-0
A fresh look at Muslims and secularism in the UK,, by Tehmina Kazi,22 May 2012http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=31431&lan=en&sp=0
Ali A Naqvi, BMSD Facebook Group contributor
Prof Tariq Ramadan, Professor of contemporary Islamic Studies Oxford University, “Waiting for an Arab Spring of Ideas”, The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, Op-ed contribution, September 30th 2012