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Husain Haqqani on the Islamic State and the State of Islam

Husain Haqqani on the Islamic State and the State of Islam

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Published by Tarek Fatah
Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani in 2007 wrote the Afterword to the book, "Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State" in 2007. At that time he was a prof at Boston U.
Pakistan's Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani in 2007 wrote the Afterword to the book, "Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State" in 2007. At that time he was a prof at Boston U.

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Published by: Tarek Fatah on Nov 20, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 “Contemporary Muslims need to understand the material causes of their material decline, recognize the sacred essentials of the Islamic faith, and acknowledge Islam’s historic diversity and pluralism. Islamist demands for an Islamic State, accompanied by calls to arms and terror, arelikely to only push Muslims further down the road of weakness and humiliation.” 
FOR FOURTEEN CENTURIES Islam has been the faith of hundreds of millions. Its followers have included emperors and mystics, traders andfarmers, soldiers and philosophers. Like all religions, Islam aspires toprovide ethical and spiritual guidance to its followers. This guidance appliesto all spheres of life, but cannot be described as a political or economicideology in the contemporary sense. Throughout history, Muslims have hadthe sense of belonging to a community of believers, but they have hardlyever been organized into a single state. Beginning with the 20th century, however, several interlinked movementsseeking an Islamic revival have claimed that Islam lays the foundations for aspecific political system, and that the principal objective of Islam is thecreation of an Islamic State. The desire to revive something that historicallydid not exist has led to a partial erosion of Islam’s ethical and spiritualheritage, and its replacement with totalitarian and semi-totalitarian versionsof a political ideology that seeks legitimacy in Islam’s name. The Islamic political theory known today as Political Islam has developedlargely in response to the breakdown of traditional order under the pressuresof modernity. Several political models prevailed in the pre-modern Muslimworld. Prophet Muhammad’s immediate successor (the first of the “RightlyGuided Caliphs”) was elected when the notables of the time gathered in amosque.The first caliph designated his own successor, while the third was chosen byan appointed committee and then endorsed by the community. The Shia split
with the majority Sunnis over the concept of the caliphate, and asserted thatreligious authority rested with those known as imams, all directly descendedfrom the Prophet’s daughter and son-in-law. Temporal power in Shia-majority Iran was exercised by kings (“shahs”), and the Fatimid offshoot of the Shia in Egypt preferred to call themselves caliphs, like their SunniUmayyad and Abbasid predecessors. The larger Muslim states were ruled by sultans, hereditary autocrats whoderived their legitimacy from the implementation of sharia laws. EarlyMuslims did not accept the divine right of kings and considered the sharia asa means of tempering their rulers’ authority. The Ottoman Empire in Europeand the Middle East, and the Moghul Empire in India, accommodated largenon-Muslim populations within the sultanates. Sultans aided by the Ulema(religious scholars) also ruled parts of contemporary Malaysia and Indonesia.Smaller principalities, such as Yemen and the present-day Gulf States, wererun by imams, emirs, or sheikhs, all of whom paid tribute to the major sultanin the region, especially the caliph in Constantinople after the 15th century. Having lived on its own terms, and with few setbacks (such as the Mongolconquest of Baghdad in 1258), the Muslim world’s ascendancy turned into agradual decline that coincided with the rise of Europe. The Muslim worldfaced modern transformation over a relatively short time and mainly underpressure from the European powers. Unlike Europe and North America,Muslim territories did not get the opportunity to evolve into modern statesover time. The British and the French in the Arabic-speaking lands, theRussians in Central Asia, the Dutch in Indonesia, and the British in India andMalaya penetrated and occupied Muslim lands. Once their authority wasfirmly established, the Europeans governed with an iron fist, with the help of elites trained by the colonial masters. The earliest Western idea borrowed by Muslim modernizers, especially inthe 19th century, was enlightened absolutism. Administrative and militaryreform within the decaying Ottoman Empire, for example, depended largelyon the model of the enlightened despot. Numerous “partial modernizers”emerged in other parts of the Islamic world: primarily rulers who wanted tointroduce selected Western social and economic ideas and technologywithout altering the basis of political power. Some Sultans even followedEurope’s enlightened despots in introducing constitutions and assemblies of nobles, but these efforts did not go far enough for some and went too far forothers within powerful elite groups. 
Muslims responded to the challenge of the technologically and militarilysuperior West in one of two ways. One segment of the population acceptedWestern education and adopted the Western way of life, excluding religionfrom their discourse almost entirely. Others started defining politics inreligious idiom, insisting that Islam offered a complete way of life distinctfrom that offered by the colonial powers and their modern ideas. The beginning of the modern era thus marked the beginning of ideologicalconflicts within the Muslim world about politics and governance. Until then,traditional Islamic scholarship had focused on the divine message throughcritical evaluation of the Quran and extrapolation from the hadith, as well asthrough philosophy, reasoning—and some jurisprudence. With notableexceptions, Muslims paid little attention to political and economic theory.This absence of a consistent Islamic political theory has led scholars such asBernard Lewis to argue that in Islam, “In principle, at least, there is no state,but only a ruler; no court, but only a judge.” The alternative explanation isthat Muslim politics is plural and changing, which renders redundant anymonolithic interpretations of fourteen centuries of history by historians or byreligious ideologues. Muslims have a tremendous sense of history and of civilizational rise andfall. Having lost the status of world leaders to the West beginning in the 16thcentury, Muslims have developed a collective feeling of weakness andhelplessness. Starting in the 19th century, Muslim scholars have spent a lotof time explaining the Muslim decline and proposing remedies for it. Of allthe remedies proposed, the one with the most disastrous consequences hasbeen the notion of Islam as political theory, resulting in what Tarek Fatahdescribes as “the illusion of an Islamic State.” The advocates of an Islamic State back their ideology with conspiracytheories about threats to Islam that have been popular among Muslims sincethe twilight years of the Ottoman Empire. Non-Muslim conspiracies are usedto explain the powerlessness of a community that was at one time theworld’s economic, scientific, political, and military leader. The over- archingIslamic State that would unite all Muslims and topple the ascendant powersfrom their perch is offered as the remedy to the Muslims’ current weaksituation. One can find evidence of fear of schemes by “freemasons” and“Zionists” being voiced since the late 18th century. The 19th and early 20thcenturies saw wider discussion of how Muslims and Islam were beingcontrived against. 

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