International Forum for Islamic Dialogue (IFID


A Global Network for Muslim Intellectuals & Activists Double Issue Nos. 43-44 Jan-May 2007

Mailing address BM Box 5856 London WCIN3XX United Kingdom Email: Editor: S Parvez Manzoor Mission Statement: To establish a humane, democratic, Islamic thought by maintaining and developing a dynamic dialogue.

Reclaiming History through Politics
Islam is God’s own text for eternity. Man is the context for which the eternal text was revealed. This is how we perceive our faith: transcendentally anchored in the command of a unique, all-wise, allmerciful Being, but existentially affirmed in the moral will of humanity. The dialectics of God’s Text and man’s context have always been the source of much contemplation and action for us For, the sovereignty of God, uncontested and unproblematic in the order of nature/creation, is not a given for man: it can only be claimed and testified through an act of submission (islam). But for man’s primordial covenant, Adam’s acceptance of the custodianship of the earth, the world of history, man’s world would be bereft of meaning and purpose. It is through this covenant that man receives his privileges and enjoys the mandate of being God’s deputy on earth. It is the basis for man’s mission to impart morality to creation and to make history in alignment with the will of God. All the children of Adam, Muslims included, are thus obliged to have an uninterrupted dialogue with history. History is humanity’s response to God’s call. It is not the showground for man’s uncontested dominion over nature, nor a stage for enacting man’s uncontrolled passions. The Muslim’s stake in history is for the realization of his moral commitment and it commissions a politics of humanity, beyond the messianic violence of Islamism and Empire. To reclaim our place in history is to accept the ‘worldliness’ of words and things. It is to acknowledge the ‘secularity’ of the historical world, without falling prey to the dogmatic claims of ‘secularism’. Secularism means all things to all men. For some, who take a humble view of it, it is merely a method of governance based on the rejection of ecclesiastical authority. Its main attraction is that it is able to deal rationally with the mundane affairs of a polity and is better equipped to cope with the problem of pluralism. Others, who are not immune to the lures of meta-theory, regard it as nothing less than a philosophy of history, a creed of atheism, or, indeed, an epistemology of humanism. Only to its fundamentalist fringe does secularism appear as the metaphysics of immanentism that corresponds to the ultimate

In this issue:
Islamist Options by Abdelwahab Al-Effendi Fundamentalism or the Second Great Fitna? by Mohamed Sharour IFID Activities 3



Promoting the Universal Charter of Islam 16 by Najah Kadhim Islam, State and Morality by Asghar Ali Engineer IFID Activities



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scheme of things! Needless to say, not every expression of the secular, this-worldly, conscience and piety is antithetical or inimical to Islam We cannot banish ourselves from the world merely because secularists have made it their estate. Nor can the unsubstantiated claims of ‘metaphysical secularism’ – a theory of everything that is – be our argument for the denial of transcendence. On the contrary, the misery of nihilism, secularism’s ultimate gift to humanity that now wears an ‘Islamic’ mask, alerts us to the fact that the worldliness of the human situation is indispensable for all morality. An ‘Islam’ which has no stake in history and which is indifferent to the fate of humanity would be a contradiction in terms. Muslims today are committed to renewing their dialogue with history. Theirs is the resolve to reclaim their rightful place within the fold of humanity. To court history, to become an actor on its stage, however, requires a political vision and a will to match. We may be the most history-intoxicated civilization on earth, but it is history as the remembrance of times past that is our passion, not history as the vision of a foreseeable future and the method of getting there through collective action. History has certainly passed us by and unless we do something about it, we too would belong to the have-beens of the world. Earlier, we thought, our rulers had let history slip out of our hands. Our ire was directed against them. Belatedly we are realizing that our decline in history may have been caused by our divines. At least, they appear to be the most formidable hurdle in renewing our dialogue with history. For them, Islam as eternal text and its formative history as context are congruent. Islam finds its full expression only in its primordial settings. And if Muslim history has moved away from that context, it is their claim, it must be brought back to its original moorings. Both history and society are static in this vision, and the real actor in history, the Ummah, has no other vocation but to act as the guardian of an unchanging order, fro-

zen in time and forever under the sway of the jurist’s logic. She stands disfranchised and has no means of expressing her political will save through the mediation of the cleric! What is missing in this logic however is the simple fact that even in the discourse of the fiqh, the living community has precedence over (closed) juristic texts. And politics, conceived as the pursuit of the Ummah’s collective interests in history, requires a ’sovereign’ self-governing community. Representative democracy is the best, most viable, means of ensuring the legitimacy of Muslim public order. It alone provides the Ummah with a mandate to chart its coarse in the troubled waters of history. Without the testimony of the political will of the living community, ‘Islam’ would just be a corpus of texts with no role in the historical world. It is with the insight that history is indispensable to Islamic commitment and morality that our contributors review the quandary of ‘Islamist’ politics. Abdelwahab El- Affendi wonders whether Islamists are the last remaining obstacle to democratization in the Arab world and offers some realistic scenarios for their future policies. Mohamed Shahrour presents an intimate historical analysis of the current impasse, renounces all attempts to force Muslims turn their back on the modern world, and has some sobering thoughts on the future of political order in Muslim societies. Najah Kadhim makes a passionate plea for pursuing the universal moral charter of Islam. A state-centred vision of politics, he argues, only finds favour with the unenlightened and retrograde groups who would make Muslims pariahs of the world, totally out of step with our times. Asghar Ali Engineer makes a similar plea for envisioning Islam as moral order rather than as a polity. And in these pages, we have presented an Islamic argument for accepting the worldliness of man’s historical enterprise without endorsing the claims of doctrinaire secularism. S Parvez Manzoor

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Abdelwahab El-Affendi

Are Islamists the last remaining obstacle to democratisation in the Arab world? This legitimate question leads to the following reflection regarding their possible choices: As things stand, Islamist groups appear to have four different options. They could, if they were bold enough, go for a full revolutionary take over on the basis of their current programmes, and face the consequence. The experience of movements which took this root (in Iran and Sudan) does not look very encouraging. However, one must add here that there was nothing inevitable about the disastrous performance of Islamists in power in those countries. As was indicated by the experiments with the Mehdi Bazargan government during the early phase of the revolution, and the more recent Khatami presidency (or even the Banisadr interlude). Other options were and are available in revolutionary Iran. In Sudan as well, the conclusion of the 2005 Naivasha agreement, which ended the civil war in the South on the basis of a power-sharing arrangement between Islamists and their main rivals, indicates that the pragmatic route remains open even in post-takeover situations. Alternatively, Islamist groups could withdraw from politics altogether and act as mere pressure groups in the way ulama have done for centuries and continue to do today. They could then support political parties or governments which are more sympathetic to their worldview and oppose those which are not, without contributing to a political impasse as is the case now. This role in fact may be the one more suitable for the current stance of Islamist groups, since it can combine a maximalist agenda with a minimalist commitment to effective political action. Pressure groups are differ-

ent creatures from political parties. And although some pressure groups did constitute themselves as political parties (the Greens, the UK Independence party, antiimmigration parties, etc.), such parties are very unlikely to be elected to power. And if they were, their tenure is likely to be very short and very disastrous. Single issue agendas do not sit well with the complex business of government and the endless compromises it demands. Islamist groups have been rather successful in the role of pressure groups in many Arab countries, although not always with positive consequences. The problem has often been their emphasis on marginal issue having to do with personal conduct or freedom of expression, a tendency which has both distracted from more important issues and invited incumbent governments to engage in even more restrictive practices. The third option for Islamists is to build broader coalitions in support of change. This has the advantage of not demanding any radical revision of Islamist ideology or programmes. The compromises reached could be legitimised as temporary and contingent. In fact, this is the substance of what Islamists have been doing in practice, whether in accepting to work within secular systems or in allying with secular parties. In Lebanon, Islamists have fully reconciled themselves to the secular constitution and therefore pose no problem to democracy there. In countries like Kuwait and Morocco, Islamists also support the constitution, and similarly play a constructive role in the democratic process. The problem only arises when the opponents of Islamists raise the question of the sincerity of Islamists in the compromises they make, and continue to express the fear that these temporary compromises are just that: temporary. They could be reversed any time the Islamists felt powerful enough to do so.

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And then there is the AKP option: that of radically restructuring Islamist programmes so as to attract a broader democratic coalition and make for a more stable political structure overall. The difficulties posed by such a radical break with what all traditional Islamism stood for is understandable, especially since Islamist groups have been experiencing a resurgence in support for their agenda as it stands today, as we have been discussing. It is going to be psychologically very demanding for Islamist groups to openly give legitimacy to “un-Islamic” arrangements and share power with former rivals on a diluted agenda. It is also likely to alienate a section of hard core supporters, which might do no more than displace the Islamist dilemma. This latter development is not new, since it has already occurred over the issue of violence and involvement in democratic politics. A significant section of Islamist opinion has rejected the peaceful democratic approach, and this schism, which is the heart of the debate on terrorism, has contributed significantly to the current crisis. Ironically, many regimes have used this as a pretext to punish the peaceful groups keen on joining the political process, and thus given credence to the argument of the radical groups about the futility of peaceful political involvement. However, this polarisation has nevertheless been instrumental in delegitimising and marginalising the violent extremist groups. This leads us to our conclusion. Islamist groups are, to reiterate, by definition those groups which have successfully and credibly appropriated a sizeable portion of the community’s spiritual capital in a context where such a success is politically relevant (i.e. through the existence of a sizeable constituency for which the locus of religious authority matters). This success can only be achieved with a combination of credible religious commitment and political entrepreneurship. What we are witnessing with the current im-

passe is the limits of this entrepreneurship. Islamist groups have successfully appropriated the politically valuable spiritual capital, but then sat on it, not knowing what to do with it, in the same way as governments have achieved monopoly of political power but also failed to use it creatively, leading to political stagnation. One or both of these actors needs to move and invest its capital to achieve a dynamic outcome. We have mentioned before that incumbent regimes have proved unable and unwilling to move forward in a satisfactory way. Quite the reverse, in fact; regimes have been punishing successful political entrepreneur, whether Islamist or liberal, and continue to stifle civil society. But since this is a meeting about the Islamist role, we can only address our concerns to the party which is present. And we are not being prescriptive here, at least not in a condescending way. All we are saying is that, from where we stand, it looks as though Islamist inaction is blocking the path of reform and providing incumbent regimes with sufficient excuses not to discharge their duties in promoting positive change. We would like to see them adopting a more flexible stance so as to build broader democratic coalitions that could push reform forward. Else, we would like to listen to what they have to say about how they intend to pull their weight in the cause of positive change and reform. What is unacceptable is the continuation of the present stalemate, where the major opposition group is often unwilling to bid for power, but also reluctant to stand aside and allow others to get on with the business of politics.

Abdelwahab El-Affendi Senior Research Fellow CSD, University of Westminster London UK Secretary of IFID (Excerpted from the author’s paper presented at the CSD Workshop, London, November 2006)

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Islamic Politics or the Second Great Fitna?
Mohamed Shahrour
Before anything, I wish to address the basic question and shed some light on what is meant by al‑uşūliah (fundamentalism), a term that has occupied, and continues to occupy under this rubric a large space within both Arabic and foreign literature. Significantly, the same term also has received much attention in Muslim history under the name of its promoters, the Kharijites or the Secessionists. The general linguistic sense of uşūliah is ‘returning to the uşūl’ (fundamentals). For some, al‑uşūl mean only the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet; for others, the Sacred Text (Qur’an) and the şahih (authentic) Sunnah; for the Kharijites, it includes the principle of “Judgment is by God Alone” (similar to the “Sovereignty of God” cry in the modern era). Others believe that the Shar’ia is the Holy Book and the oral or practical Sunnah. The discourse of fundaments (uşūl) however has nothing to do with violence. Hence, despite all the variations in the usage of the term, most Muslims, of whom I am one, do not practise violence or believe in terror. Uşūliah as a sectarian movement is part of modern Christianity, it is not part of the Islamic heritage. It is a purely political movement belonging to our times. The confusion arose when political movements, organized by Muslims who practised violence and terror, were described by foreign observes as fundamentalists or jihadists. When we talk today about violence and terror in aluşūliah al‑islamiyyah (Islamic fundamentalism), we really mean those armed political movements, not the moral or legislative Islam or the Islamic rituals, in which all Muslims believe. I shall now return to the basic question posed earlier. The legitimacy of the Umayyad rule (the Sufyanids and Marwanids) was buttressed by the fuquhā’, who provided the required legal façade for their authority. Their system was based on the key concepts of al‑jabr of qadā’ and qadr (fate and destiny). In other words, everything that men do had already been determined and prescribed. Later, they consolidated their hold on the mosques and other religious institutions for their political goals - supposedly implementing the sayings of the Prophet, but, in reality, the sayings of the Umayyads – to consolidate their power. As a result, protest movements began to appear under their reign. Ultimately, these protests culminated in the overthrow of the Umayyads by the Abbasids. During the first Abbasid period, however, we witness the rise of the Mu‘tazilite School, which adopted intellect, reason and free thought, as those concepts were understood in those days, as the cornerstones of their Islamic methodology. There was also another protest movement that practised violence under the name of the Kharijites. Eventually, the Sunni community’s allied itself with the Abbasid rulers, an act which appears as a coup d’état to their critics. During the rule of al-Mutawakkil (Abbasid Caliph 247 AH), the caliph succeeded in the further consolidating the party of Ahl al‑Sunnah wa al‑Jamā‘ah: here was the beginning of a very powerful and far-reaching alliance of political power and religious authority. In other words, the ‘ulamā’ and the fuquhā’ of those times surrendered their religious authority to the holders of political power, a situation that remains true of the Muslim world to this day. The Grand Mufti or the Head of the ‘ulamā’ or the Shaykh of Islam, an office which was established by the Ottomans, is appointed by the ruling power in most, if not all, of the Arab countries. This religious authority has provided the greatest support for oppressive rulers. When, for example, Imam A’az ibn ‘Abd al‑Salam began protesting against the Mamluk rulers in Egypt regarding alcohol and the emancipation of slaves, etc., he was not aware that he was ultimately protesting against an legitimacy of a repressive power rather than its abuses. If we look at Europe, on the other hand, we find exactly the opposite picture. The religious authority in Europe during the Middle Ages was supreme. Political power was, in theory if not in practice, subordinate to this authority. It was the Pope who appointed the kings and not the other way round. The ceremony of ‘anointing’

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was meant to demonstrate his sovereignty over the political realm, the ‘worldly sword’ of the Christian Commonwealth. One may say, from an objective historical viewpoint, that the Old Testament worldview formed the basis of the Christian understanding of the universe and its laws including the realm of government. The utilitarian, or secular movements that began in Europe had two objectives in mind: 1) The separation of political power from religious authority. The principal reason was that the Papacy claimed the right to appoint kings and princes. If someone acquired the throne without the consent of the Pope; or if some king wished to challenge the authority of the Pope, he was forced to establish his own church as well. This is what happened in England [in the sixteenth century], leading to the establishment [by King Henry VIII] of the Church of England, which asserted its independence from the authority of the Pope. Thus, the monarch became the head of both church and state. 2) The emancipation of scientific knowledge from the Church. Following new discoveries it was found that the Biblical vision of the universe and its laws, which had been adopted by the Church, was not correct. According to some, this transformation was made possible in Europe because there was no original legislation or legislator at the heart of its faith. Christianity became separated from Judaism by abandoning the Law of Moses. In other words, the principles of legislation in the Holy Book of the Old Testament were rejected by Christians, with the exception of the Ten Commandments, which are generally moral in nature. Therefore, the establishment of parliaments and the implementation of secular legislation by the Christians did not come in conflict with the Church, at least in theory, as there was no sacral legislative institution. This situation enabled the development of the alternative, secular intuitions of the parliament, the legislative council and popular rule. What we see in Europe is in my view the logical outcome of the Christian rejection of the sacred law. The king used to be appointed by the Pope, but later, rulers were appointed by the people. In those countries where the institution of the monarchy was retained, it was stripped of all its political power and it became a symbol

of the country, of its traditions and of national unity. The interpretation of the universe and its laws had been based on the text of the Old Testament and the Church’s understanding of it. Later, it came to be explained by scientific research, based on an empirical and analytical approach, that led to the development of centres of scientific research which contributed to the spread of scientific knowledge. In the absence of Canonical Law, parliaments and legislative councils began to emerge and legislate in the name of the people. The Ten Commandments now became the basis of the moral code. All these events were in harmony with the inner logic of Europe’s historical development. All the movements of political and intellectual renaissance that emerged had their beginning in this process of secularisation. So much for Europe, but what about the state of the reform and renaissance movements in the Muslim world? The political attitude of these movements, as for as the king was concerned, took its legitimacy from the idea that obedience to the ruler (wali al‑amr or the Guardian) was obedience to the Prophet, and obedience to the Prophet was obedience to Allah. The definition of qadā’ and qadar (divine decree and destiny) remained the same as it had been during the Umayyad period, that is, everything had already been prescribed, as according to the Qur’anic verse: “Say: ‘Nothing will afflict us save what Allah has ordained for us; He is our destiny’” (9:51), or the old popular saying: “What is written on the forehead must have been seen by the eye”, that is, Allah already has the knowledge (and hence approval) that the Bani Umayyad will rule; that it is their destiny; whereas fate (qadā’) is the enactment of this knowledge and its fulfilment in reality. Nevertheless, obedience to Allah is separated from obedience to the Prophet and to the ruler, as in the Qur’anic verse: “O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you; then, if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Apostle” (4:59). However, the ‘ulamā’ ignored that completely because they were under the control of the repressive government. The two concepts of qadā’ and qadar (fate and destiny) and obedience to those in command/authority (wali al‑amr) were accompanied by unauthentic Say-

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ings of the Prophet, such as that which was reported by Huthifah ibn al‑Yaman that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Listen to and obey [the amir], even if he hits you on the back and confiscates your money.” (In the modern language; if he taxes you unjustly.) In addition, there was the lineage of the Quraysh or Ahl al‑Bayt, which may have been envisaged as the equivalent of the Pope during his repressive rule in Europe. Then came the usage of the title of Caliph or Amir al‑Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful) which legitimated political power, with its right to coercion and control, in religious terms. Even before the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate, some reform movements were talking about the Just (coercive) Ruler. But they did not discuss the election of the amir or his powers or the duration of his rule, because the religious authority was under the control of the Caliphate. When the Caliphate collapsed in 1924, there collapsed with it the legitimacy of repression, a situation that has continued to this day in the mind of general public. That is why we find an astonishing mixture of regimes in power in the Arab and Muslim world. Rulers have realized that their legitimacy is insufficient or nonexistent and have resorted to oppressive measures to bolster their regimes. An example is the institution created by the Iranian Revolution, that of walyat al‑faqih, which may suspend any legislation issued by Parliament; for, the government merely represents the middle link between popular consent and the ultimately unchallengeable authority of the jurist (walyat alfaqih.) The Arab and Muslim world differs from Europe in what is known as the Shari‘ah. What I mean by the Shari‘ah is the [Qur’anic] verses of legal rulings (ahkām al‑Qur’an) covering social and family relations, legal penalties, interpersonal transactions (mu‘amālāt), and personal affairs. These are issues that certainly could not be separated from the state. It was possible to separate the religious rituals such as Hajj, prayer and fasting, as the Holy Prophet himself had done so. However, it was not possible to separate issues of marriage, divorce, heritage, upbringing, adoption, buying and selling (cash or credit), and consumption and in-

vestment laws. Europe did not face this problem at all. Although Europe could dispense with the Old Testament interpretation of the universe and its laws, the people of the Arab and Muslim worlds could not do that, for the old interpretation became firmly rooted in their traditional literature. Some of these were originally known as the Israelite traditions and contained a maxim, supposed to be a hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him), that exhorted the Muslims: “Talk as much as you wish about Bani Isra‘il.” Many enlightened Muslims today reject the traditions based on the Old Testament exegesis, which found their way into various Islamic disciplines, such as Qur’anic tafsir, hadith, Nasikh wa Mansukh (abrogator and abrogation), and Asbab al-Nuzul (Occasions of the Revelation.) These protests or rejections however do not affect the fiqh (jurisprudence), which is the main pillar of Muslim civilization. Even now, we continue to hear fatwahs (legal opinions) or read books demanding that anyone referring to the spherical shape of the earth should be subjected to takfir. Muslims have discovered that the problem is one of interpretation and that of a legislative fiqh based on that interpretation. What has complicated the matter further is the division of the Ummah into sects, each having its own authoritative texts, scholars and fiqh. This situation has produced a quantitative and accumulative heritage of traditions, parts of which do not complement one another; some even contradict the other. Not only is it difficult to co-ordinate the various parts, to screen them, modifying or accepting in parts, but also it is impossible to ignore them. All this has affected the behaviour of the fundamentalist Islamic movements and their different stances. The liberal movements in the Muslim world followed the European path and rejected fiqh (jurisprudence) and its rulings, though they did not reject Islam as a unifying, divine message; nor did they abandon its rituals and supreme values. Their demands for the separation of religion from the state meant the separation of fiqh and the Shari‘ah, not the separation of prayers, fasting or the Hajj, nor the separation of the penalties for murder or dishonesty. Nevertheless, these liberal movements did not possess the philosophical acumen that would

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allow them a foothold in the religious space of the Arab/Islamic culture. Thus, they remained alienated and removed from the culture of the people. I do not doubt at all the sincerity, intention and rationalism of the adherents of Western liberalism, which was taken in its original format from Europe without being transformed into a format suitable for Arab/Islamic culture. As for the Marxist movements, they were even worse. These movements began from their own absolutes and established their revolutionary legitimacy with their own concepts or slogans. They considered the inevitability of the judgement of history in a similar way to the inevitability of qadā’ and qadar as directed by The nationalist movements emphasised the concepts of science, progressiveness and modernity, but transformed them into a dogma. Freedom was hijacked under the slogans of Arab unity, socialism and progressiveness.

The nationalist movements emphasised the concepts of science, progressiveness and modernity, but transformed them into a dogma. Freedom was hijacked under the slogans of Arab unity, socialism and progressiveness. They settled for the terminology of “reactionary”, “agent” or “traitor”, as opposed to the Islamic terms of kafir, “atheist” and mushrik (polytheist) and the communist terms of “capitalist”, “imperialist” and “enemy of the people”. Then there erupted the war of 1967, the greatest debacle and unmasking, of these movements, for it showed that the modernist projects in the Arab world did not deliver on their promises. Nationalism had become a set of romantic ideas empty of a philosophical theory for building a society and state, or achieving justice or the reconciliation of conflicting interests. The best that the nationalist movements could produce was a police state that denied people their freedom, as if the flowers in the meadow can be crushed by the heals of the boots. Finally, we come to the Islamic movements. The religious and political authorities in the Arab world were separated from each other. Historically, the religious authority wholly submitted to political power, so that its role was confined to justifying the behaviour of those in power. Not inconsistently, the political Islamic movements were based on the following principles: Promoting the slogan “the sovereignty of Allah” in order to take away power from the political and traditional religious authorities, they relied on the historical Islamic literature of fiqh and books of the Prophet’s Hadith with the aim of finding a new unity between political and religious power. This was impossible in the world of Sunni Islam, for these two powers had been separated since the period of Mu‘awiya ibn Sufyan, when the management of the mosque was taken over in support of those in government. This explains the mutual repulsion that exists between representatives of the political Islamic movements and the scholars of the religious authorities. It also explains the emergence of Jama‘at-eIslami, al-Qa‘idah and others, just as both the political and the religious power had a single authority during the Taliban regime of Afghanistan.

the repressive Umayyads. Their belief in the transformation of human societies was absolute and, according to them, the Marxist historical scheme would unfold in stages until humans achieved communism. In many ways, their thought was dogmatic and rigid. Then they moved on to regard laws of societal development within these stages as purely physical laws, ignoring human freedom and its propensity for debate and participation as well as the role of society in the march of history. They regarded nationalism in the same manner as the Mamluk and their fuquhā’, for they believed that the holy tradition of Islam could act as a melting-pot capable of dissolving all nationalistic affinities. An even greater failure was their tendency to espouse secularist atheism. Their efforts and ideas focused on deconstructing religion instead of struggling against the religious authority that had taken hold over people’s minds and bodies. As justification, they blame the repressive feudal Church and her clergy, such as Rasputin [known as the Mad Monk], for the reaction of Marxism and Marxists towards religion. However, all they have done, in my opinion, is to block the spring under the pretext that the estuary is polluted.

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Since the political Islamic movements have relied completely on the literature of the heritage (turath), they have not offered anything new, or added anything substantial to the theory of state and society; nor have they reflected on what the twentieth century has produced in terms of advances in science and information technology. These advances have enabled certain concepts to become commonplace – which was not possible before – such as the state, civil society, general freedom, individual freedom, right of expression, constitution, and the rights of women in the workplace, universal suffrage and governance. For example, the constitutional theory of law and state, which limits the power of the ruler, the duration of his/her rule, and the method of his/her election; these issues do not exist at all in the historical Islamic literature. The concept of individual freedom, for instance, is compared with the system of slavery. In that literature, the free people are only those human beings who are not bought or sold in the marketplace! Today, in contrast, the concept of individual and general freedom has many different meanings. Further, the concept of public opinion and parliaments was unknown. In the traditional Islamic fiqh, there was no value attached to public opinion, and most people were not even allowed to have an opinion. According to the jurists, the general public is to follow the religion of the rulers and fuquhā’. Although in the traditional fiqh, there is a legitimate exercise of fatwah (personal opinion), yet there is no referendum. Where is the Islamic theory of the state that provides a constitutional space for public opinion and parliamentary referendum? I have personally reviewed the literature of some of these movements and groups and discovered that I am facing people who are very sincere concerning their religion, yet they are a group that treat problems of the state and modern society with the utmost political naivety. Why, then, do some resort to violence and terror? I believe that it is for the following reasons. The weakness of their ideas and the promotion of binary politics, to which I have referred earlier. The mixture of politics and kufr, politics and faith, piety and rituals, jihad and armed violence, and ignoring the verse of the call to Allah (da‘wah) with encouraging words and replacing it with the verse of the

sword. The symmetry of the terminology has been achieved through an arbitrary understanding of the Text, resulting for instance in equating fighting (qatal) with killing (qatl). For them, it is a feat of original reading! All this has occurred owing to the lack of an original and modern Islamic theory of the state and society, which would have put jihad, piety and public debate in their proper places. This misunderstanding and confusion, even when accompanied by a sincere religious emotion and true love for Allah, the Prophet and the Holy Book, could lead to incidents of armed violence. Probably the greatest error into which human beings fall is that they fight, kill and die in defence of their ignorance, as happened during the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States. There is a purely political reason as well. The Arab and Muslim world is full of repressive governments, which are aware, deep down, that their legitimacy is incomplete and that it is actually on the wane. So, they appeal for the support of the official religious authority. It is only natural that they resist the attempts of the movements striving to strip them of their political power, and this causes violence. Then The symmetry of the (Islamist) terminology has been achieved through an arbitrary understanding of the Text, resulting for instance in equating fighting (qatal) with killing (qatl). For them, it is a feat of original reading! All this has occurred owing to the lack of an original and modern Islamic theory of the state and society, which would have put jihad, piety and public debate in their proper places. the problem becomes, which came first? The chicken or the egg? It is known that when repressive authority uses violence in response to anyone who tries to remove it from power, it not only targets the Islamist movements and groups, but also confronts anyone who poses a threat to it, be they Islamists, communists or nationalists. In the light of the last point, in particular, we see that these movements will not fade away or cease as long as there exist poverty, unemployment and ignorance in Arab society. Violence and force cannot eliminate these movements, for their popular base is widespread in society. As long as there is an unequal distribution of wealth and privileges

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among the social classes, and as long as unemployment among the youth of Algeria, for example, remains at more than 25 per cent, the violence will not cease and the political movements will not fade away, be they Marxist, Islamist or anything else. The failure of the modern movements in the light of what the results of the 1967 War have shown, and the descent of the Arabs and Muslims into a national, cultural and intellectual vacuum, which the Islamist movements have been enabled to fill. However, they have filled it with an outdated content, based on the experience of ancient times, and created by people for their times. They have crystallised the most dangerous trend in the Arab mind, namely, yearning for the past, just as they have been helped by the official religious institutions in implementing this policy up to the present day. This policy includes the use of violence to impose a return to the past as if it were a religious duty. Therefore, we think that it is impossible for the political Islamist movements to succeed in gaining legitimacy until they present a modern Islamic theory of the state and civil society, establish the concept of the democratic state, and provide space for opposition and public opinion. They should also provide a space for a representative government, a parliament, freedom of belief, greater public role for women, and public and private human rights. None of We think that it is impossible for the political Islamist movements to succeed in gaining legitimacy until they present a modern Islamic theory of the state and civil society, establish the concept of the democratic state, and provide space for opposition and public opinion. this will be possible unless the concept of legal evidence (al‑adillah al‑shari‘ah) is thoroughly analysed. It is the concept of legal evidence, established in the second and third century AH, which needs a complete revision, not Islam itself. Without this revision, the danger is that the fundamentalist forces will increase in power to the point where they could threaten or even prevent the development of a civil society and

its institutions. Let us take the following example. The Islamic literature and books of Qur’anic interpretation, Hadith, Abrogator and Abrogation, Reasons for the Revelation, etc., are the texts that have been adopted and taught by the Taliban and al‑Qa‘idah. They are the same texts that are taught in al‑Azhar, Zytuna (in Tunisia) and in Shari‘ah colleges everywhere; they are used for the science of the Qur’an and Hadith in the universities of Damascus, Cairo, Mecca and other cities. What I mean is that the curricula, the books and literature that have fiqh of mu‘amalat and an interpretation of the laws of the universe will by necessity produce merely different versions or models of the Taliban regime. This is what Muhammad ‘Abdu once pointed out, yet he was labelled a kāfir (unbeliever) by the traditionalists, who accused him of being a Freemason and an agent of the West. What I mean is that Islamization is, in reality, a purely sociological process. As a result of this process, the civilized society will produce a civilized Islam, and the Bedouin society will produce a Bedouin Islam. Probably the worst that Muslims have produced are political Islamist movements that use violence and force in an attempt to lead Arab and Muslim societies back to the past under the slogan “Implementation of the Islamic Shari‘ah”. Under this system, the Islamic Shari‘ah becomes a mere façade, because the private interests of the rulers are the real politics of the state. Afghanistan under the Taliban was the biggest producer of drugs in the world. Muslims are no different from other people and, like them, can be seen to carry out all sorts of astonishing acts when they gain power. Let us reflect at the phenomenon that emerged in the 1970s, after the 1967 War. It was called ‘Islamic awakening’ (şahwah). This phenomenon emerged, as we have said, as a result of the failure of the modernity’s projects, because modern ideologies and methods did not redeem their promises. It was felt that there has to be an alternative, and that alternative was found in a return to the cultural heritage. However, the much proclaimed Islamic awakening did not progress beyond rituals and worship (‘ibādāt), as understood by the people of the heritage of prayers, fasting, the Hajj, religious retreat in the mosque (mahrab), in addition to the growing of beards [for men] and the

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compulsory hijāb for women. These became slogans and political symbols worth fighting for. None of this has troubled the repressive rulers in the slightest. On the contrary, they encourage and participate in it, as long as these activities keep people occupied and distract them from assessing and evaluating the rulers’ performance. What concerns the repressive rulers and frightens them are activities such as constitutional fiqh, scrutiny of the conduct of the government and the accountability of state officials, motifs not originally found in turath literature. Only the fact that copies of the books about the cultural heritage are sold (and reprinted) by the million is regarded by the people as evidence of the Islamic awakening. The official religious institutions have also support these activities, as long as they further their own interests. The other part of the cultural heritage that is accessible is in the domain of the Shari‘ah or the legislation covering the ma‘amalāt and personal affairs. Though, it often sectarian in nature, displaying a multiplicity of legal opinions, most of them mutually contradictory, it still points the researcher towards some kind of historical insight. Nevertheless, even this apparent advantage hides an inner disadvantage, namely that these conflicting views do not help us understand the true maqşad (intention) of the Lawgiver (Shari’). Confirmation of the sighting of the new moon (hilāl) at the beginning of the month of Ramadan by using modern techniques was approved by some and rejected by others. The interest charged by a bank on a mortgage for buying a home was legalized by a shaykh of al‑Azhar and rejected by an imam in Damascus, who issued a fatwah on the Internet concerning the falsehood of the Shaykh of al‑Azhar. Perhaps the most ridiculous of their differences is the interpretation of the amputation of a thief’s hand. For some, it refers to the fingers; for others, the hand should be amputated at the wrist; for some, at the elbow; and for some, at the shoulder. In the opinion of al‑Suyuti amputation of the hand can include the legs, when the crime is repeated. However, according to Abu Muslim, amputation of the hand is only a figure of speech and is not to be taken literally. Therefore, the Islamic awakening and revivalism has limited its inquiries to matters regarding what has been agreed upon concerning the rituals, and, of course, the compulsory hijab.

Some believe that the call (da‘wah) for the legal implentation of the Islamic Shari‘ah will represent the rejection of religious, political and cultural pluralism in society. We should discuss this matter and define precisely what we mean by the Islamic Shari‘ah. If it is the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, then this means that Allah and His Prophet are opposed to cultural, political and religious pluralism within the borders of the Islamic State. This is impossible. Allah states, loud and clear, that

…... the curricula, the books and literature that have the fiqh of mu‘amalat and an interpretation of the laws of the universe will by necessity produce only different versions or models of the Taliban regime.

there is “no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “if your Lord had wished, surely all those who are on the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men until they become believers?” (10:99). At some level, it is of course a matter of verbal games, or word play, for other elements have also been introduced into the definition of the Islamic Shari‘ah in addition to the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah. In the same way, books on şuhah, al‑masānīd, mut‘āt and sunān have been introduced into the Prophet’s Sunnah under the assertion that they are Sunnah. How can the Islamic Shari‘ah contradict what is not contradicted by Allah in His Book and the Prophet (peace be upon him) in his Sunnah? If we remove the Holy Book and the Prophet’s Sunnah from the term Islamic Shari‘ah, then there remains what we mean by it, that is, books on fiqh that are easily accessible. Examples are al‑Umm by al‑Shafi‘i, Hāshiya Radd al‑Muhtar by Abu ‘Abidīn, alMuwāfaqāt by al‑Shatibi, rules of the imāmah by Abu Ya‘lā, al‑Ahkām al‑Şulţaniyah by Mawardi, as well as other books on fiqh, whose titles we cannot remember. Nevertheless, all these books are the product of the human endeavour and there is no doubt whatsoever that they carry the stamp of history. These books were formulated by their authors according to the legal evidence and fundamentals (uşūl),

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which are themselves human products and thus carry the stamp of history. If the intention is to apply the content of these books about uşūl (fundamentals) to the current reality of the Muslim society, then I say that the Taliban will become a reality in every Arab and Muslim country, depending on the conditions in the individual communities. This not only contradicts pluralism and civic society, but also represents a disaster that will take the Muslim community back to the Middle Ages, and not to the era of the Rightly-Guided Şahaba (Companions). We know that a religious state is necessarily a repressive state as it has greater difficulties accepting the Other on equal terms. However, we understand that the Islamic Shari‘ah comprises of the verses of the ahkām (legal rulings) mentioned in the Holy Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunnah. To note however is the fact that the first actual application of these ahkām was not only within a dynamic society, but also within a defined historical period and geographical location. We say this because we want to esnure that there is no conflict with pluAll these books (of the fiqh) are the product of the human endeavour, carrying the stamp of history, and express their rulings according to the legal evidence and fundamentals (uşūl), which are themselves human products and thus carry the stamp of history. If the intention is to apply the content of these books about uşūl (fundamentals) to the current reality of the Muslim society, then I say that the Taliban will become a reality in every Arab and Muslim country. ralism or with a civic society. What remains is that we should make full use of our intellect as believers and produce a new fiqh which is based on the new evidence (adilla) and the fundamentals (uşūl) enshrined in it, it should be a fiqh which does not oppose democratic society or pluralism and it should accepts the Other and the plurality of different opinions under the umbrella of parliaments, elections and referenda. What is entrusted to us is that we should do what our predecessors did in their time, when they read the Qur’anic verses of ahkām with the Prophet’s Sunnah as the primary source of guidance suitable for their circumstances and in tune with their age. We should

read the verses and Sunnah as a secondary reading to give us new uşūl (fundamentals) for fiqh and legislation. As I see it, we should begin from the following principles: The supreme values of morality have been subjected to a development and modification, from the Holy Prophet Noah to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and have carried the great universal human values and injunctions such as dutifulness to parents, not killing human beings, keeping promises, and not telling lies, etc. The religious rituals, which are an important part of faith, such as prayers, fasting and Hajj, have been subjected to variation. Prayer exists in all beliefs; fasting exists in Judaism and Christianity and it is imposed on all believers for a specified number of days. For Muslims, it takes place in the month of Ramadan, and for others it takes place at other times. All these are forms of fasting and all are unproblematic. Therefore, we say that pluralism and variety in religious rituals should be acceptable in a state and the presence of places of worship – churches, mosques and so on – next to one another should be acceptable in a democratic society, so that we see it as a reality in most of the Muslim countries and in other countries of the world. The Shari‘ah based on the ahkām verses (apart from tawhīd and rituals) has undergone development in the understanding and application of its principles. What distinguished the Islamic Shari‘ah was that Prophet Muhammad brought the final version of earlier legal codes that had undergone development based on change and reform. The Prophet brought a Shari‘ah based on ahkām (rules) that were characterized by limits, known as the “limits imposed by God” or the hudūd of Allah, and were part of the finality and universality of the Islamic message. Although the punishment for a murderer is the death penalty, this is the upper limit, which should not be exceeded. The sentence can be reduced to a more lenient penalty than execution. There are countries that decree execution, based on the most severe penalty, and there are countries that have abolished execution and consider life imprisonment sufficient, for example. Both systems are Islamic and correct. Another example is that the most severe penalty for theft is the amputation

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of the hands (far from the most extreme variations mentioned earlier). There are countries where the hands are amputated and others where a more lenient penalty is imposed. Both systems are Islamic and correct. The characteristics of hudūd (limits) and ahkām gave the Shari‘ah a flexibility in that everyone could apply it on the basis of fiţrah (nature): “The nature made by Allah, in which He has made men; there is no altering of Allah’s creation” (30:30). Haram (forbidden) is absolute, comprehensive and eternal, and (its prescription and annulment) within the jurisdiction of Allah Alone. No one has the right to make anything haram, be it prophet, messenger, Companion, ijmā’, or qiyās. We find the tahrīm in the Holy Book of Allah (Qur’an): in particular, twelve that had been collected from the time of Noah to Muhammad (peace be upon them), which are major vices. At the top comes shirk or polytheism, followed by the ill treatment of parents, murder, obscene behaviour, swearing false oaths, and giving false witness. These harams are not open to analogy or discussion or voting or the opinion of the other or a referendum. Nor can the rule, “necessity permits the forbidden”, be applied to them unless there is a clear text and a sound reason, such as eating forbidden food when the alternative is starvation. However, there are some fuquhā on the Internet who allow that which is forbidden, that is, they are legalizing the harams. We advise them to go back and study the Arabic language. Using analogy as an excuse for eating forbidden food out of necessity and extending that to allowing ribā (usury or interest) is clearly not the action of anyone in his right mind. If the Prophet was not allowed to make anything halal or haram, except what God had instituted, then how can those fuquhā and fatwah councils take it upon themselves to do so? And what about the tahrīm that one hears daily from the fuquhā’ and the issuers of fatwahs? The rule that “necessity permits the forbidden” applies to prohibition (al‑nahy), which is mentioned in the Holy Book of Allah. Prohibition is less strict than tahrīm, for it has some flexibility. Spying and talking behind people’s backs (ghībah) are prohibited though not absolutely forbidden. This is why spying on enemies and finding out what they are doing is a duty, as is for instance spying on murderers and

murderous gangs. It is also a duty to give a detailed account about one of your relatives to someone intending to have financial dealings with him or to embark on a joint commercial venture with him. This is not the ghībah or backbiting, against which God has warned us. From all this, we can say that the Prophet was not authorized to decide for himself what was halal (permitted) and what was haram (forbidden). However, he was free to give orders and warnings, and he needed to be aware that prohibition was subject to flexibility and context, for it was not absolute, comprehensive and eternal like tahrīm and tahlīl. This insight

Those who are aware and are bold enough to speak out are our only guarantee for the truth and our bulwark against violence and terror. I say that the road to all these goals and objectives is long and arduous and I do not deny that we will have to mix a good measure of utopianism with our sober hopes to achieve them.

provides us a path for the interpretation and understanding of the Prophet’s Sunnah. There is one last point that I have considered for a long time. For, how long can we say that the fundamentalists are capable of sustaining this collective effort? After I have examined all the principles on which fundamentalist political Islam is based, realistically, ideologically and legally, I can only foresee the following picture of what is possible in the future, and attempt to draw the conclusions as best as I can. Highlighting as well as discussing it and finding an answer to it is a matter of interest for all the parties concerned, including the political Islamist movements themselves. I am inclined to focus the discussion on the central topic without including all the fundamentalists, some of whom are not fully aware of the opinions of the other movements. At the top of the list is the fundamentalism of the official religious institutions. The discussion of this question and the answer to it are not as easy as we might imagine. Although the question mentions “collective effort”, it does not clarify the objective of the collective effort and its intention. Does it aim to reach the corridors of power?

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I shall assume the truthfulness of the adopted slogans about justice, equality, shūrā, fighting corruption and strengthening public security. Nevertheless, all these slogans should have mechanisms to implement them, and programmes for those actions that must inevitably follow this implementation. None of these factors exist in the Heritage upon which fundamentalism is based. The basis of al‑uşūliah (fundamentalism) is the view that the Heritage and its people (the people who created our tradition and heritage) are beyond criticism and therefore they should be followed literally, despite their shortcomings and contradictions. The promoters of al‑ūşūliah feel obliged to put the cart before the horse so that they can force the person to return to the past in every detail and abandon the present and all that is new, in order to apply the texts of the Heritage, not one letter of which should be altered. All of these actions are performed under the slogan of the fundamentals. If their aim is participation in power, as well as enjoying its privileges, then with whom will these movements be able to cooperate? With the nationalists or with the liberals? Or will they transform themselves into an official religious institution under a new name with a mission to give legitimacy to a ruling power that is itself a participant? In our opinion, the aim of the fundamentalist movements is to gain power. Whether to enjoy it or take part in it will leave the door open for all the movements in their wake, whether religious or not, to bring back violence, though after exchanging rulers and positions. We are experiencing a new phenomenon in Lebanon: a fundamentalist movement of principle and ideology that is proving that terror has no place in it and that its violence is directed exclusively towards occupation and colonialism and it is trying to find its place in the political and cultural jigsaw of its society. It is not possible to predict the extent of this movement’s ability to co-operate with other nationals and its influence inside the country. The outside world, East and West, perhaps will not allow, owing to its historical experience, the emergence of collective action of any kind led by a religious and fundamentalist movement. What the rest, of whom I am one, are calling for is that we should begin with individual human beings and their intellect (faculties of reasoning, (‘aql). There must be a fresh, modern reading of the Supreme Book of Allah (Qur’an)

and the Sunnah of His Holy Prophet from the perspective of our own realities. Even if our own reading comes to differ from the earlier readings of our illustrious fuqaha, we’ll still have love and respect for them. Those who are aware and are bold enough to speak out are our only guarantee for the truth and our bulwark against violence and terror. I say that the road to all these objectives is long and arduous and I do not deny that we will have to mix a good measure of utopianism with our sober hopes to achieve them. Yet, I can see no other clear way to the final destination or salvation. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the worlds. ———————————————————*Mohamed Shahrour (PhD) is an engineer and eminent Islamic thinker resident in Damascus, Syria. Translated by Najah Kadhim

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Activities of IFID

ELECTING ISLAMISM Islamist politics and the prospects for Arab democracy Three-day workshop organised together with the Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London W (3 - 5 November 2006)
The recent string of electoral successes by Islamist parties in a number of Arab countries, of which the victory by Hamas in Palestine is the most dramatic, seems to indicate that this phenomenon is far from transient. It is a highly significant and potentially transformative trend and calls for an urgent examination of its impact on democratization and political stability in the region. In response to these developments and in order to address new challenges posed by “electing Islamism”, in the Arab world, the Democracy and Islam Programme (in partnership with the University of Durham, the Program for Dialogue between Civilizations, Faculty of Economics, Cairo University and the International Forum for Islamic Dialogue) organised a three-day workshop in London, at which invited participants from the Arab World, UK, Europe and the United States had the opportunity to review and discuss current developments with academics, policy-makers and opinion-builders from these regions. The prominent guests and speakers included the following:
Dr Abdelwahab El-Affendi (UK), Ambassador Hans-Gunther Gnodtke (Germany), Dr Ibrahim al-Jaafari (Iraq), Sheikh Rachid al-Ghannoushi (Tunisia), Dr Nasir Al-Sani’, MP (Kuwait), Dr. Radwan Masmoudi ( USA), Dr Abdolkarim Soroush (Iran), Dr Samir Khalaf (Lebanon), Dr Abdul-Majid Manasra (Algeria), Mr Muhammd Al-Mansouri (UAE), Dr Rafiq Abdussalam (Tunisia): Dr Asma Afsaruddin (CSID), Dr Robert Springborg (SOAS), Dr Johannes Reisner (Germany) Dr Bilal Tlaidi (Morocco), Dr Burhaneddin Duran( Sakarya University-Turkey) , Dr Saeed Shehabi (UK) Dr Laith Kubba (Iraq/US), Dr Simon Joss, CSD (UK), Prof John Keane, CSD (UK), Dr Maria Holt, CSD (UK) and Dr Najah Kadhim (UK).

The International forum for Islamic Dialogue (IFID), the Muslim Institute and the City Circle hosted a seminar in London on 31 October 2006, on:

Islam and State: Rethinking Muslim Politics Dr Asghar Ali Engineer was the Keynote Speaker.
The Brainstorming session discussed the relationship between Islam and the state, the impasse of Muslim politics under the banner of radical fundamentalism, and the moral and practical challenges of democracy, secularism, human rights and the promotion of a just world-order.

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Promoting the Universal Moral Order of Islam
Arguments for a Rational, Humane and Democratic Political Order
Najah Kadhim
Introduction The question that needs to be asked is: Was Islam revealed in order to determine the politics of a certain historical community? Is its goal, to use the current jargon, merely the establishment of an Islamic state? Or, is it so that Islam is essentially a universal message that addresses the moral and social malaise of mankind? Today, we are told by most, if not all, of the ideologues of the Islamic movements that the role of Islam is to establish an ‘Islamic’ state, a political entity whose mission is to safeguard virtue and protect the moral fibre of the society. The Shari‘ah, accordingly, is its mechanism for carrying out this mission. (Such a model of Islam is obviously a failure. We need only to think of the modern “caliphate” or “emirate” of Afghanistan, the Taliban regime, to realize the fallacy of this claim! There do exist, of course, other contemporary examples of catastrophic failure in social and economic growth or immaturity, as for instance in the case of Sudan and Iran!) The other view, which gives an affirmative answer to the second part of the question, is based on the emphasis on society and its needs. One example is the government of Erdogan in Turkey. Paradoxically, however, while Turkey is a secular state, where women wearing hijab are banned from the universities and state employment and men wearing baggy trousers and beards are banned from employment in the civil service, yet, the presence of moral and practising Muslims in the government, proclaiming virtue by example rather than by passing laws and implementing political directives authorizing the halals and harams, is very much part of the Turkish scene. Indeed, it is also a legitimate form of Islamic response to the question of Islamic identity and its relevance in the public sphere. The aim of this approach is to meet the requirements of a twentyfirst-century Muslim society and its life through an ethical vision. Its mechanisms are the modern institutions that combine Islamic culture and secularism, seen as a separation of religion from the affairs of the state. This does not mean the reduction of Islam to an individual moral dimension, but the establishment of a just society by the creation of a range of social institutions that embrace the whole population. The empowerment of the whole society and community is an effective means of limiting any excesses of political power. One might ask: What is the role of the Shari‘ah? If it is perceived as dynamic and modern, then it must be incorporated into the social dimension of the community, albeit not in its present form as a medieval political system and methodology. The Qur’anic View The Qur’an states: “And most surely you conform to sublime morality” (68:4); “We sent you but a mercy to the world” (21:107); “This Book – there is no doubt about it – is a guide to those who guard [against evil]” (2:2). The Prophet (pbuh) said “ ‫[ اﻧﻤﺎ ﺑﻌﺜﺖ ﻷﺗﻤﻢ ﻣﻜﺎرم اﻷﺧﻼق‬I have been sent to complete the moral guidance] (1). These are just a few of the many verses and the prophetic sayings that strengthen the societal argument that the task of Allah’s Messenger was to create a community. The Holy Qur’an stresses the establishment of a just society, even producing new terms such as ihsān, whose nearest meaning in English is “benevolence, or kindness; even generosity”, a virtue particularly appropriate to the social community rather than to the politics of a state. The example of the Prophet in Madinah al‑Munawwara in establishing the Covenant of Madinah is clear enough: Islam was not to be imposed on the other communities. Each community, according to Abu Ishaq, the earliest biographer of the prophet, was treated as an autonomous unit. By guaranteeing the rights and duties of the whole population, the Prophet created a very basic multi-cultural society which could be considered a kind of secular (or Pluralist) experiment at the Dawn of Islam. A study of this early model shows that the characteris-

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tics of this type of community were voluntary work and various contributions by the individuals. This is indicative of social rather than political activity. The emphasis of many verses in the Holy Qur’an on Arabic words like qawm and jama‘ah, meaning groups and their organization in various forms and contexts reflects the importance of groups and communities in the believer’s work and daily life. There are even two instances of the Caliph being selected by the efforts and approval of the community. The first occasion was the selection of Abu Bakr by the elders of the Quraysh, who swore allegiance to him (bay‘ah). The second occasion was the case of the fourth Caliph, ‘Ali, who did not even accept the oath of allegiance from individuals, but insisted on the collective allegiance (bay‘ah) from the Ummah, for he considered the Caliphate a social contract between him and the whole community. Perhaps many could argue that these two examples rather strengthen the message of political Islam. Nevertheless, a sociological analysis shows that there are practices in these and other examples to explain the societal objectives, for the Holy Prophet’s emphasis were on the moral and ethical aspects of community. As in Madinah, there was huge scope during the Caliphate for doing ma‘rūf or actions that were generally considered beneficial. This was another social term that Islam created to validate good social deeds. Voluntary assistance to the poor and sick was also an outstanding characteristic of this period. That the Companions of the Prophet and members of the public challenged the Caliphs such as Abu Bakr and others indicates the empowerment of the community rather than the power accumulated by the Caliphs, as was the case in later times. Some of the injunctions were never enforced, thus preserving the freedom of choice so as not to contradict the spirit of the Qur’an. For example, people were not to be forced to contribute to the Public Treasury (bayt al‑māl) or attend the dawn (fajr) or other time’s prayer in congregation (jamā‘ah) at the mosque. These actions were to be performed voluntarily out of conviction or through faith. It was these practices which provided the grounds for not imposing – as some fuqahā’ saw it – the Shari‘ah on Muslim society.

Some might remind us of the Qur’anic verses, such as: “ ‫[ ﻓﺎﺣﻜﻢ ﺑﻴﻨﻬﻢ ﺑﻤﺎ أﻧﺰل اﷲ‬And rule among them by that which Allah sent down] (5:48, 6:57, 12:40) or [….. the true one, now surely His is the judgment…] (6:62). These verses could well serve as sources for legislation but hardly for political power. Other ask, what about the “Wélayat” that is mentioned in the Quran?. The answer could well be the creation of social institutions to act as checks and balances to prevent corruption, suppression and oppression, etc., as well as protecting citizens’ rights and promoting the transparency of government. Clearly, the concepts of freedom and rights have no meaning if there are no institutions to safeguard them. These institutions should be effective in protecting the moral code and working for social justice, which was the objective of the Qur’an. The Qur’anic verse “And that man shall have nothing but what he strives for, and that his striving shall soon be seen” (53:39–40) is discussing society and the economy. It shows that social mobility has an essential role to play in economic activity. Yet, who initiates such an activity? It is the people who activate a society. It is their human interests and motives, which activate society. It is the social and moral attitudes by means of binding institutions, which regulate interests and motives. It is the reduction of Islam to a political ideology and political control and the inherent tendency of the human psyche to wield some form of power, which exacerbates the vested interests and motives of those seeking power through religion. Throughout human history, wars have been caused by human interests, motives and attitudes. More often than not, political power was the “legal” vehicle for waging war. It is political ideology that underpins communalism, which, in turn, encourages the human thirst for power and egotism. Even the effective terms produced by Islam, such as “brotherhood”, “Ummah”, etc., which were the early manifestation of political sociology, place the emphasis on society. The Sayings of the Prophet, such as “ ‫آﻠﻜﻢ راع وآﻠﻜﻢ ﻣﺴﺆول‬ ‫[ ﻋﻦ رﻋﻴﺘﻪ‬Each one of you is responsible for him/ herself and for the community] and “ ‫اﻟﻨﺎس ﻣﺘﺴﺎوون‬ ‫[ آﺄﺳﻨﺎن اﻟﻤﺸﻂ‬People are equal like the teeth of a comb] were aimed at activating people and putting a limit to the level of an individual’s power. It was probably an early and very simplified ver-

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sion of what we call today as a civil society. It did not last long, however, for the use of religion for hard-line politics, as we understand it today, was strongly apparent in the powerstruggle at the end of each Caliphate, particularly that of the Umayyads and the Abbasids. Power was shifted to satisfy personal ambitions and agendas instead of being based on a collective effort for the service of the community. The Umayyads and Abbasids set the stage for the acquisition of political power by an individual or a clan with all the privileges and wealth that come with it. They even created new terms such as “sultan”, which is still in use today in the Muslim world. The Arabic word Sultān The example of the Prophet in Madinah al‑Munawwara in establishing the Covenant of Madinah is clear enough: Islam was not to be imposed on the other communities. Each community, according to Abu Ishaq, the first biographer of the Prophet, was treated as an autonomous unit. By guaranteeing the rights and duties of the whole population, the Prophet created a very basic multi-cultural society. (powerful) is derived from Sultah, which means “power”, that is, the sultans empower themselves to safeguard their vested interests. This can be achieved only by disempowering the Ummah (community) and by the use of oppression and violence, as has been documented throughout Islamic history, to keep possession of that power. This situation has continued to the present day, when the equation of state– society is totally in favour of those in power, and democracy and freedom are the exception in the Arab/Muslim states. In today’s world, Muslims cannot revive the Caliphate and other early models, owing to the differences in international relations and socio-economic conditions, not to mention the immaturity of Muslim society as well as its widespread illiteracy and general lack of education. Current Muslim Contradictions The model presented by the Islamic movements is based on a utopian political ideology, whose components or tools are either ancient or borrowed from other ideologies. It is the function of the Islamic state, they believe, to

enforce virtue and maintain social order. They have a naively idealistic political vision, that as long as they ‘apply’ Islam, as long as they impose certain injunctions, then all their problems will be solved and their aspirations achieved. As long as they are very religious, discarding the human aspect of society and trusting Allah alone, then all their dreams will come true. We are not given any details of the understanding of the dynamics of history, politics or human nature and the role of all these factors in the workings of the human society. The dismantling of the Ottoman Empire (or the politics of Islam) in the mid-1920s in Turkey and the announcement of the political message by the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1920s in Egypt was no coincidence. This was clearly a reaction rather than an original act. In other words, Islam was used as a tool to justify politics rather than serving the society. It meant that the state was to look after religion and society was to adapt to the requirements of the state. Islamization to suit today’s reality would follow the purification of Islam as envisioned in the Middle Ages. All political institutions would undergo Islamization to give the government the necessary legitimacy to rule. The Shari‘ah, in its medieval form and outlook, would become the basis for enforcing “puritanical Islam”. Further, its ancient, and to the critics quite fossilized, rulings could be interpreted only by the fuqahā’ (jurists), the intellectual elites of our civilisation who have in fact become social elites. Therefore, only the fuqahā’ would be the source of power to interpret “God’s rule on Earth”. The absolutism of belief (‘aqīdah), as has already been seen, would be transformed into the absolutism of practice, allowing political power to enforce what would be considered truth (haqq) or right, and forbid what would be considered false (bātil) or wrong. This would later be transformed into the absolutism of the social aspects of government, as clearly envisioned by Osama bin Laden, alZarqawi and others. However, it begs the question whether the transformation of social absolutism from one state to another, that is, from dogma to politics to social application, is as simple as the transformation of solid matter into a gas or liquid in the natural world! The answer is obviously “No!” Such a simplistic view might well explain the

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ignorance, contradiction and the prevalence of senseless violence in the Muslim world. There is also another question whether the protection of the Revelation (shar‘a) or its practice is the domain of the Shari‘ah or of the belief or faith (‘aqīdah). If the answer is ‘aqīdah, then there is no compulsion to impose religious rites and rituals on the population, as happens in some Muslim countries, where their enforcement is the duty of the “Morality Police” or the “Guardians of the Faith”…etc. In their nature and practice, these enforcement groups are no different from the agents of the Spanish Inquisition or from Gestapo and other terrorist arms of the modern totalitarian states. . Compulsion in religion can lead only to hypocrisy and confusion, and finally, to the rejection of religion itself. Belief and faith can flourish only in a free environment. Forcing people into accepting Islam is against the Message and logic of the Qur’an and the jurisprudence that was developed afterwards. The Qur’an states that human beings are free in this world to choose their religion, although they are responsible for their actions and will have to answer for them on the Day of Judgment. Therefore, it is impossible to have freedom without responsibility. Freedom of choice in this world will incur the appropriate obligatory consequences in the hereafter. Further, the stewardship was granted to humankind as stated clearly in the holy Quran (2:30). If we reject this, there can be no freedom of choice. If we deny the existence of the freedom of choice, then how can we consider human beings to be responsible for their actions? The problem with the Islamic movements is that their political programmes have originated in ideas and tools from the Middle Ages or other political systems and cultures. Most of the Islamic movements have highlighted the slogan “The Qur’an is our constitution”, which is a contradiction in terms, even if leave aside the legal confusion that this claim gives rise to. First, these activists are equating the Qur’an (believed by Muslims to be a Divine Book) and its text with the term “constitution”, a concept created with the development of political power in modern times. Second, a constitution is made by human beings and is subject to modification and change, whereas the text of the Qur’an, which Muslims believe to be holy, can-

not be modified or changed, for it represents the Ultimate Truth as revealed to the Prophet. When some of these Islamic movements succeed in grabbing power, such as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, they are forced to face the challenge and problems of a social reality, and the inadequacy of their slogan “Islam is the solution” is fully revealed to the whole world (2). To implement the idea behind this slogan would mean making Islam or the Holy Qur’an a manual of science, economics and strategy, which would be an insult to the Holy Book. The Qur’an is a book of moral guidance and ethics for human conduct, as explained above, not a manual of politics and economic, or a handbook of strategy and laboratory research! “Islam is the solution” means that there are rules and regulations for everything. The inter-pretation of this concept would require an enormous effort by contemporary leading experts with the necessary technical, scientific, practical and Qur’anic knowledge. These experts would have to know these rules and regulations or at least have the ability to derive them from the Text so as to apply them to the modern society. In addition, if there do exist such ‘Islamic’ Most of the Islamic movements have highlighted the slogan “The Qur’an is our constitution”, which is a contradiction in terms, even if leave aside the legal confusion that this claim gives rise to. First, these activists are equating the Qur’an (believed by Muslims to be a Divine Book) and its text with the term “constitution”, a concept created with the development of political power in modern times. rules and regulations for everything in this world, then what is the mission of humankind on earth? What remains for us to do as humanbeings in this life? If there are rules and regulations for everything, as presumed by the supporters of this slogan, then human-beings must apply them instinctively, or else they would be behaving like robots, without thinking (3). This provision would be against the spirit and content of the Qur’an, which particularly emphasizes reasoning as well as the concept of human vicegerency on earth, as explained in verse 2:30.

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There is a total lack of rationality and common-sense in Islamic politics, as revealed by the Sudanese model, owing to the absence of political institutions and their role in implementing the checks and balances required in the practice of politics. There is no concept of modern management in a state of this kind and its governance of society. In Iran, there are not enough institutional checks and balances to prevent suppression. The result is blatant violations of human rights as well as a restriction of freedom that prevents the reforms necessary for growth and development. In the minds of many Islamic movements, there is some confusion over or lack of understanding with respect to the meaning of politics and the political, or over the separation of the state and the governmental, administrative institutions. Hizb al‑Tahrir, furthermore, believes that it is the responsibility of every Muslim to establish the Caliphate. This system was actually developed by men, although it is considered by them to be “divinely ordained”, and therefore to be implemented by everyone as the only legitimate political system for the Muslims. We are not provided with the details of the roles and functions of the new Caliphate, and whether they are separate from the government or overlap and interchange with it. In addition, this policy presents a challenge to Muslim communities in the West, for Hizb al‑Tahrir wholeheartedly rejects the West and any talk about multiculturalism or integration (not assimilation) becomes ludicrous! State institutions in modern politics, as we understand them, are based on laws and a constitution and apply equally to all citizens, including the rulers, or members of the government as understood today. The constitution grants the government officials legitimacy for their actions. There is a clear separation between state administration and political activities and the actions of consecutive governments. The state cannot be the government or vice versa, for the state is static, whereas the government is dynamic. Static and dynamic are used as relative terms in this context. A state is static in the sense that its institutions and the people (such as civil servants) working for the state do not change every four or five years. On the other hand, the members of the government and its ministries change with the arrival of a new government every few years as man-

dated by elections. A modern state is a reflection of the time in which it is situated and its requirements, that is, it is inspired or motivated by the era. Hence, the First, Second…etc. Republics in France indicated a renewal at long intervals. The government itself, however, is a reflection of the status quo or the current demands of the enfranchised population. Due to human nature, the mere presence of Islamists in power does not guarantee the eradication of corruption or abuse of power, just because these rulers wear the Islamic mantel. Thus the need for institutional checks and balance to limit power and provide the required transparency remains crucial even under an Islamic government. The other area of confusion is that the Islamic state is based on the assumption that the ruler is a judge or a jurist (faqīh) with superior knowledge of the Islamic laws, and governance is the mere application of these laws (4). However, throughout the world, governance means the management of people’s affairs and relies on rationalization and the ruler’s freedom to manoeuvre, that is, give and take or wheeling and dealing (5). The term “Islamic state” is new, for it is no older than 100 years and was developed with the arrival of concepts such as the nation-state. The politics of the Islamic state, such as qawm or jama‘ah, is not enunciated by the Qur’an, but elaborated by people with terms like the “Sovereignty of Allah” when they were challenged by the onslaught of European colonialism. There are some who claim that Abu Ala’a Mawdudi coined this expression, whereas others say that it existed even before his times. Whatever the truth, the equating of Allah with human ‘sovereigns’, like a king or an amir, is an insult to Divine Majesty (jalal). Beside, such a view drains the concept of politics of its human dynamics and renders it almost abstract and non-political. In the past, it was justified in the name of the “Divine Right of the Kings”; today, it is proclaimed in the name of ‘Allah’s Sovereignty’. But Allah’s Sovereignty on theoretical and practical levels has to be translated by humans in decision-making processes and the management of their governance. The Muslim society is badly in need of theological reforms: intellectual revival and a culture of non-violence are necessary for its economic

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and political progress. Such a vision would contribute to the development of a cohesive society that could deal with its politics and assign a proper role to religion in public life. The harmonious marriage of the two could then create the urgently needed new Muslim model that has been sought for so long. This model should limit the power of the ruler, while empowering the Muslim society. It could take a variety of forms, although it should include the awareness of people’s rights and duties, the concept of citizenship, freedom and democracy, and modern education. Most importantly, in this age of information, people should be equipped with the tools and freedoms to acquire knowledge, in other words, the ability to read. Let us remember that the first verse revealed to the Prophet was “Iqra’!” [Read!].

Notes 1. 2.




Fath al‑Bārī, Ía°ī° al‑Bukhārī, Manāqib Matn 3. Najah Kadhim, Al-Arab: Bain Mathlade al-Aslahand Fajwah te al-Afkar [The Arabs: Between the Predicament of Reforms and the Gap of Ideas] (Casablanca, Morocco, & Beirut: Arab Cultural Centre, in press. Najah Kadhim: Al Qwa’ Al Fahlah wa Quran Al Qadim [Effective Powers in the next Century] London: Al-Rafid Publishers, 1994, p99 Abdelwhab El‑Affendi, “Iran: Islam, Revolution and Reforms”. Seminar held at the Abrar Islamic Foundation, London, 5 February 2004. Ibid.


Najah Kadhim is the Director of IFID (International Forum for Islamic Dialogue) and a Senior University Lecturer – LondonEngland.

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State, Morality and Politics
Asghar Ali Engineer

Is Islam a political ideology or moral and spiritual guidance? The answer depends on one’s point of view. It has become commonplace to assert that one cannot separate religion from politics in Islam. And hence one often talks of the Islamic state. However, this approach does not bear Qur’anic scrutiny. If one studies the Qur’an carefully, one does not find any mention of the Islamic state in the holy Book. It was sheer coincidence that a state emerged in Islamic society almost during lifetime of the Holy Prophet. No religion comes in the world to establish a state. It appears to remove moral corruption and provide spiritual guidance. If a state had been necessary to establish a religion, Allah would have made it a universal rule and all prophets would have established one. How could then Islam be an exception? We do not find any prophet in the Qur’an establishing a state. Only two prophets Daud and Suleman (peace be upon them) are mentioned as kings and rulers. In fact, except these two, all prophets mentioned in the Qur’an come from among the common people and were of humble origin. They all faced persecution at the hands of powerful vested interests i.e. rulers like Nimrod or Pharaoh or leaders of the community who found the prophets’ moral and spiritual teachings dangerous to their interests. All these prophets were severely persecuted by these vested interests, Nimrod persecuted Ibrahim (A.S.), Pharaoh persecuted Musa (A.S.), and Salih by his community leaders and Mohammad (PBUH) by the powerful and rich tribal leaders of Mecca. Throughout the Meccan period Muslims faced severe persecution and the Prophet (PBUH) bore insults, humiliations and physical persecution with exemplary patience and fortitude. He did not even curse his enemies. Also, a religion can never be established by

state authority, it establishes itself through its own moral and spiritual force. People believe in religion not because it is patronized by a state but because its moral teachings appeal to the people. Those who believe in the necessity of establishing Islamic state indirectly believe that Islam can be sustained only through state authority and not by its own moral and spiritual appeal. Some people even argue that if there is no state, how shari’ah law can be enforced? For them shari’ah law, in order to be enforced, needs a state authority. There is an obvious flaw in the argument. There are millions of Muslims living as minority in countries like India, U.K., USA, France, Germany, Canada, Switzerland and so on. How about them then? Are they not Muslims? Do they not follow the shari’ah laws? In fact more Muslims today live in minority than in Islamic states. The Qur’an strongly believes in the freedom of conscience and the real foundation of religion rests on this doctrine of freedom of conscience. A person can be truly moral only if his heart and soul accept moral doctrines. Coercive power can never make a person moral in the true sense of the word. Coercion leads to hatred of the authority rather than to respect for law. Respect for law can be inculcated only through awareness and moral education. Thus, it is not a sound argument that one cannot enforce shari’ah without there being a state agency. In fact the state is always seen as a coercive agency. Also, there is absolutely no guarantee that state actors will not be corrupt and will be always morally sound. Even history of Islamic state in last 1400 years is nothing to be proud of. Whenever a powerful establishment like a state establishment, based on power and wealth comes into existence, there is struggle to control it and this obviously leads to struggle between various aspirants, resorting to fair and foul means. Even those who were close com-

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panion of the Prophet and morally upright and worthy of emulation, struggled among themselves to control state machinery. Even bloodshed could not be avoided and Muslims plunged into civil war and more than 70,000 lives were lost. This was during the period of pious Caliphs. During Umayyad and Abbasid periods things were far worse. State machinery was controlled by ambitious rulers who used all foul means conceivable to eliminate their competitors. Most unscrupulous means were employed to obtain or retain power. During the Umayyad period only Umar bin Abdul Aziz was morally upright and tried to follow the Islamic principles but then he was poisoned by the vested interests. Yusuf bin Hajjaj was a great tyrant who controlled Iraq during the Umayyad period. He killed about one hundred thousand Muslims and sent to jail half that number. The Umayyad’s were overthrown by Abbasids resulting in a great bloodshed. So much blood was shed that the leader of the Abbasid insurrection came to be known as Saffah i.e. one who sheds a lot of blood. The Abbasids did not spare even newborn Umayyad babies. The Rightly Guided Caliphs could not last for more than thirty years and three out of these rightly guided caliphs were assassinated. Thus one can easily say that even pious caliphs found it very challenging to establish a just state, a state which really could rule according to the moral and spiritual guidance of the Qur’an. And even if the ruler at the top is just and scrupulous, there is no guarantee that people around him will not be tempted to become corrupt in order to accumulate wealth and power. In fact the whole history of the so called ‘Islamic State’ is a history of coercion and bloodshed. States never succeed in establishing morality and spirituality in the society. Morality and spirituality can be imbibed only through inner an transformation which is possible only through inner conviction. Thus it is conviction which is more fundamental in moral and spiritual matters than coercion. The state always represents coercion, not conviction. II

The Qur’an not only emphasizes freedom of conscience in matters of deen but also exhorts the Prophet (PBUH) not to act as a (musaytir) (88:22). Thus even the Prophet (PBUH) is only a moral guide, not a warden or supervisor. The Prophet further is not required to perform state function, let alone establish a state in order to impose deen on anyone. Thus, not only the Qur’an does not refer to any concept of state, it does not recommend to Prophet to become a musaytir. It should also be noted that Islam has spread in the world not due to any state machinery, but due to those who led pious and exemplary lives. In fact at times the state became an impediment to the spread of Islam. During the Umayyad period when some enthusiastic preachers converted large number of people to Islam in Iran, it affected the state income as the jizya amount was reduced. The Umayyad Caliph thus wrote to the Governor of the province to restrain the preachers from conversions as the state treasury was being adversely affected. The Qur’an advises the people calling others to the way of Allah to do so through good words and wisdom (16:125). Thus it is certainly not for the state to organize da’wah. Its only function is to legislate in the interests of people and maintain law and order and provide impartial machinery for justice. Now some may, and many do, argue that the state can only impose shari’ah law and cannot legislate, as the shari’ah law is itself a divine law. The state can only implement what is already given as DivineLaw. Thus some Islamic states follow only the shari’ah law and do not legislate. But even Islamic jurists agree that it is only the rules of ‘ibadat (rules pertaining to arena of worship like prayers, zakat, haj, etc.) that cannot be changed. But those pertaining to mu’amalat i.e. interpersonal matters need changes from time to time. The law cannot remain stagnant in matters of mu’malat. While principles and values cannot change, law based on these principles and values should keep pace with changing times. A law, for example, thought to be just at one period of time, becomes unjust or oppressive, at another period of time. Thus justice is more important than the law based on it. Many laws, which Islamic

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jurists had thought to be quite just in respect to women, are being thought to be unjust by women today, who are demanding changes in these laws. The case of hudud laws in Pakistan is the best example of this. Today Islam is divided into several sects (and this division is justified by our ‘ulama on the basis of a hadith ascribed to the Prophet that Islam will be divided into 72 sects and only one sect will be naji i.e. on right path) and every Muslim country has several of such sects in its geographical boundaries. Each sect has its own laws, its own shari’ah. Then the question arises, which of the various shari’ahs law may an Islamic state enforce? If the state follows the laws of one particular sect, other sects will be coerced into following that law. Thus it will violate the principle of freedom of conscience. Also, any law imposed coercively will not bring about real moral transformation which is the The Qur’an strongly believes in freedom of conscience and the real foundation of religion rests on this doctrine of freedom of conscience. A person can be truly moral only if his heart and soul accept moral doctrines. Coercive power can never make a person moral in true sense of the word. Coercion leads to hatred of the authority rather than respect for law. Respect for law can be inculcated only through awareness and moral education. main purpose of the Islamic shari’ah. Only in the case of crime, the state should be permitted to use coercion. Thus if someone steals, or rapes, he/she has to be punished, just as such crimes need to be coercively prevented. In all other matters, which pertain to moral and spiritual elevation, coercion cannot be permitted. Islamic states are coercively imposing even dress code, particularly where women are concerned. And this dress code is often cultural rather than religious. Such imposition has no meaning because these women, given a chance, will wear mini-skirts and one finds Saudi and Iranian women wearing even outrageous dresses in other countries. This defeats the very purpose of shari’ah law. Shari’ah is not meant for coercion, but for moral transformation.

If you set up an Islamic state, it is the ‘ulama who will control the state machinery in the name of imposing the shari’ah law. The elected rulers, will have to fear them and ‘ulama, who are not accountable to the people, often rule by proxy. Thus technically an Islamic state cannot become truly democratic. In Iran, any law passed by the parliament cannot become law unless approved and signed by the supreme faqih or by a council of fuqaha’ who will examine it from the point of view of shari’ah as compiled in early Islamic period. The ‘ulama do not even allow any re-thinking of the shari’ah provisions in the light of new developments, as their interests can be protected only if the shari’ah remains immutable. They do not allow even to use the doctrine of ijtihad (creative interpretation) to make shari’ah law more relevant to people’s lives. They go on insisting on laws that are no more relevant to modern age. They even negate the true spirit of the Qur’an which is the most dynamic book for guidance for any age. The Qur’an stresses certain values as fundamental, such as equality, truth, justice, compassion, benevolence (ihsan), freedom of conscience and wisdom. All shari’ah laws should be based on these values and, as pointed out above, these values are more important than any law, unless the law embodies these values. Our shari’ah laws were undoubtedly quite progressive when they were formulated by the great jurists but in the contemporary world they need to be revisited. Our ulama who control state power do not allow shariah law to be revisited and that is why all Muslim countries which have proclaimed themselves to be Islamic states are stagnating in the field of modern knowledge. There is not a single Muslim country with an Islamic state which can boast of modern laboratories for the study of nuclear or atomic physics or other institutions of higher learning. The Qur’an lays great stress on learning and even says that ‘scientists’ (‘ulama, not in traditional sense) alone can understand this universe and praise its creator (see verses 3:190 and 35:28). A Modern state cannot confine itself to traditional knowledge but has to actively seek and promote modern knowledge and has to encourage excellence in all the fields of modern sci-

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ence. No country can play the leading role today without achieving such excellence in the fields of modern natural and social sciences. An Islamic state is constrained by traditional sciences and the whole stress in such states is on religious learning rather than on modern science and technology. True religion can flourish only if there is freedom to choose and the state does not dictate anything to its citizens. The more a person is free, the more he would be able to develop his religious and spiritual thoughts. If a state is encumbered by a particular sect or school of thought, it will not grant freedom to other schools of thought. This is the dilemma of all ideological states. Only a narrow interpretation of the ideology on which a state is based, is permitted and it is the official interpretation which prevails. This totally curbs freedom to advance thought in the public realm. Freedom of conscience is most fundamental for true spiritual enterprise and for moral excellence. The Qur’an also requires all believers to choose freely and to use power of reasoning and intellect to reflect and make moral choices. ‘When angles argued with Allah, saying that we always pray to thee and thou art creating a human person who will defy thee. Allah replied you do not know what I know and created the first human being.’(2:30). What mainly distinguished human beings from angles was freedom of choice. Human beings can choose between good and evil, whereas angels have no such freedom. They have to follow the good without any option, as they have been created as such. Human beings, on the other hand, are free to choose, and yet, if they choose to be good it makes them superior. Thus it is freedom to choose which made them superior to angels. Hence, angels were asked to bow before Adam. Any ideological state does not allow such freedom of choice. It is only the modern democratic state, unconstrained and unencumbered by any religious dogmas, which can allow people to choose and be morally superior. Human spirit demands freedom and only a free human actor can be held responsible for his/her conduct. One cannot be a free moral agent in any ideological state.

III In fact, Islamic state is not a deeni concept (i.e. pertaining to matters of faith) but a historical construct. If one wants to understand how the concept of Islamic state evolved, one has to look to history not to religious principles. I have already thrown light on the Qur’anic values and claimed that what the Qur’an aims at is a society based on these values, and not a state. When the Qur’an was being revealed in Mecca and, also during the first few years in Madina, there was nothing like a state structure. Moreover in Mecca the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers were in small minority struggling to form a community (ummah), rather than a state. In Madina the situation changed somewhat in later years when the Prophet emerged as a supreme authority, not only in religious but also in secular matters. It was a historical, not religious need. The whole emphasis of the Qur’an, even in the Medinese period, is on prophethood, not on No state can be run today with strong biases for or against one particular religion or a religious sect. Such a state run by imperfect human beings cannot be expected to be impartial towards other religious communities or towards other sects of the same religious community. Even in Muslim -majority countries a state, not based on a single religious dogma, can be administered properly. What is desirable is not an Islamic state but a society based on the Qur’anic values. kingship or being ruler. Even throughout the Medinese revelations, Muhammad (PBUH) is referred to as prophet. Thus his pre-eminent position was that of a prophet. He never raised any army or police or imposed any taxes. Whenever Madina was attacked, people were persuaded to volunteer themselves, and hence the emphasis on martyrdom (shahadat). Those who fought with the Prophet were not paid anything; on the contrary they had to contribute weapons, camels and horses and other provisions. Thus it was a purely voluntary force as long as the Prophet was alive. No state structure of any kind was evolved during the Prophet’s lifetime. Zakat was also a religious obligation rather than a state tax. There were no other employees of any kind.

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It was only after the Prophet’s death that the need for some kind of a rudimentary state was felt. It is also important to note that the Prophet (PBUH), unlike Jesus (Isa), was not born in a society where there was a ruler. Jesus was born under Roman rule. Thus he remained only a prophet. Similarly Ibrahim and Moses were also born under rulers like Nimrod and Pharaoh and hence remained only as prophets. But the Prophet of Islam was born in a society where there was no ruler, no state. It was primarily a tribal society and hence once a religious community came into existence, it needed some kind of ruling authority to maintain law and order. Consequently, all four pious caliphs ruled through mutual consultation. It was a loosely structured state authority which had the function of maintaining law and order in the society and this need increased as nonArab foreign lands were conquered. Many non-Arabs, who came under Muslim authority, were neither formally converted to Islam nor did they accept some form of Islamic morality. Thus with these conquests a proper state authority became a must. During the reign of Umar, the second Caliph, when foreign lands began to be conquered, there arose some kind of a state structure with the trappings of a paid army and police force. It was no longer possible to work with voluntary services now Thus, the caliph Umar set up an army register (he took it over from Iran) and also shurta (police) and even market inspectors. The four rightly guided Caliphs tried their best to keep the character of state as non-coercive as possible but with the seizure of power by Mu’awiyah, the state really became more of a coercive apparatus mainly concerned with political power rather than creating a moral, valuebased society. The Prophet’s (PBUH) whole efforts were directed at creating a value-based society rather than controlling political power. The four Caliphs tried to maintain this tradition but the Umayyads were mainly concerned with political power, and not with the quality of the society. The Islamic world thereafter never saw a period where the main concern was creating a moral society. On the contrary, it was to capture and retain power for one’s own dynasty. Such states cannot be characterized as ‘Islamic

State’ by any stretch of imagination. In modern times and in a globalised world, societies are becoming more and more multi-religious and hence the best form of statehood can be the one which is not concerned with this or that religious dogmas but with the fundamental values and people’s welfare. No state can be run today with strong biases for or against one particular religion or a religious sect. Such a state run by imperfect human beings cannot be expected to be impartial towards other religious communities, or towards other sects of the same religious community. Even in the Muslim-majority countries, a state, not based on a single religious dogma, can be administered properly. What is desirable is not an Islamic state but a society based on the Qur’anic values. ————————————————————-

Asghar Ali Engineer is a renowned scholar, Director for the Centre of Study of Society and Secularism (CSSS)" ,Mumbai, India

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Activities of IFID

MCP workshop Bahrain-August 2006

MCP workshop Cairo-Egypt-August 2006

International Forum for Islamic Dialogue INTERNATIONAL FORUM FOR ISLAMIC DIALOGUE (IFID)
Mailing address: BM Box 5856 London WCIN3XX United Kingdom Phone: : (+44) 20 7724 6260

The International Forum for Islamic Dialogue (IFID)
IFID was established in 1994 as a UK based non-profit organization. It is an independent voice calling for an enlightened and modern understanding of Islam. We believe that Muslim democrats can potentially become a stabilizing and a constructive force in developing institutions, modernizing Muslim societies and playing their full role in world peace. The key to a better future for Muslim nations lies in developing interpretations of Islam, Muslim thought and attitudes that are compatible with the contemporary world. IFID was founded by Dr Laith Kubba, who served as it’s first executive director (1994 to 1998). He was succeeded by Dr Mansoor Al-Jamri. IFID’s current director is Dr Najah Kadhim. IFID aims to: 1. Identify, encourage and introduce new, enlightened Muslim writers to engage in debate and discussion on key Islamic issues and establish a network for the sharing of ideas and experiences on the challenges faced by Muslims today. 2. Initiate innovative ideas that provoke contemporary Islamic thought and generate much needed debate and dialogue. 3. Assist and strengthen the efforts of enlightened and liberal Muslim democrats in propagating a modern understanding of Islam and it’s values, focusing on human rights, democracy, pluralism, non-violence, civil rights, modern institutions and in identifying future trends and strategies. IFID Objectives: 1. The "Friday Note" - whereby, concise articles, by known Muslim writers from a number of countries, address contemporary Muslims concerns. These are emailed on Fridays, to our online community. Each year a collection of these articles are published in book form. 2. T o i m p r o v e a n d u p d a t e "" Web site. 3. To produce an "educational guide", catering to the needs of Muslims, that is modern, scientific, and flexible - to be used by teachers of religion and by Imams. 4. To publish the quarterly "Islam21" journal, focusing on specific themes. 5. To host Seminars, addressing specific topics relevant to current Muslim reality and to publish and circulate them to individuals and organizations. 6. To publish the quarterly Islam21 Youth, focusing on Muslim Identity from a youth perspective.


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MCP workshop Basra-Iraq-July 2006