Political Islam or Islamism—that is Islam as a political ideology instead of a religion or theology—is a relatively contemporary phenomenon in the history of the Muslim World. Although Western Academia coined the term, the distinctive forms of Muslim politics that later came to define Islamism emerged in the nineteenth-century as European colonial incursions into Muslim territories increased. For many Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Political Islam represents what they fear most; a brand of aggressive, politicized Islam hell bent on bringing about autocratic theocracies. Of course this is nothing short of a cartoonish portrayal of a complex sociopolitical phenomenon, but nevertheless this caricaturization continues to plague any conversation pertaining to the role of Islam within politics. In an attempt to explain the ongoing political upheaval observed in many Muslim countries, some Muslim intellectuals, scholars, and politicians often resort to facile and simplistic explanations.
According to them, the proliferation in the Muslim world of ideologies and movements that strive to establish some kind of an “Islamic order” is due primarily to an increasing religious illiteracy. This particular outlook on the ongoing anomie in the Muslim world is especially prized by contingents of the Muslim community who label themselves as progressives and/or moderates. In this narrative, proponents of political Islam are portrayed as ignorant, fundamentalist, regressive forces battling against the very idea of progress and development. Interestingly enough, this perspective is also one that authoritarian regimes are often quick to reiterate in an attempt to delegitimize any broad-based opposition to their rule. After all, both Muslim personalities in the West, and officials of authoritarian regimes in Muslim countries were quick to point out the glaring religious illiteracy of ISIS’s foot soldiers, while remaining mum on the political factors at play in the very emergence of ISIS.
SILENCING ISLAM ON MATTERS OF POLITICS: WELCOME TO CORPORATIZED DA’WAH.
Using the existing problem of religious illiteracy amongst Muslims to sweep under the carpet the very real political, economic, and social grievances of this Ummah is not only fallacious, it is down right disingenuous. At some point this community of ours will have to drop the groupie mentality and start holding folks accountable for their words and their actions. At some point this community of ours will have to take a long and hard look at people’s motivations and loyalties. Islam, is and always was, a complete way of life encompassing all aspects of human existence. Those who—in this dire moment in the history of our Ummah—are quick to preach that Muslims should turn away from politics and confine their practice of Islam to mere rituals are for all intent and purposes telling Muslims to not only accept their own oppression, but somehow find purpose and contentment in it.
Those who are window dressing the acceptance of our humiliation and oppression as a religious edict cannot (and should not) be allowed to hide behind the title of scholar (‘alim) to avoid the much deserved criticism levelled against them. No scholar is infallible, and no human being is above criticism. Yes Muslims suffer from religious illiteracy. However, to surreptitiously omit mentioning that this problem is a direct result of the Western colonial onslaught that destroyed and dismantled much of the Muslim world’s institutions is nothing short of historical revisionism. To somehow pretend that religious illiteracy is the primary reason we are observing an uptake in extreme forms of militancy in Muslims countries, and not the direct result of Western imperialism and its murderous forays into Muslim land is the epitome of hypocrisy.
Here is the thing: THE STATUS QUO IS NOT AN OPTION ANYMORE. There comes a moment where remaining silent, turning the other cheek, and hoping for the best won’t cut it anymore. When in the absence of viable options to address the very real grievances of our Ummah, some of our brothers and sisters turn to the only groups—albeit problematic, and often flawed in their approches and methods—that seem to be offering a semblance of resistance, a promise to change the tide and bring about change, why do we collectively clutch our proverbial pearls and pretend not to understand what compels them to do so? We—by our indifference to the plight of our Ummah, our cowardice that prevents us from speaking truth to power, our selfishness that makes us so enamoured with our own confort that we keep silent in the face of mounting injustices—create the very conditions that lead so many of our youth to embrace this path. Our disconnect from the political realm as a community has left a void that sadly has been filled by groups lashing out in anger and despair. It is so easy and oh! so convenient to look at them with disdain, point the finger at them, and label them the bane of our existence and the root of all our problems. It is easy to ascribe to them all the evils of the world in an attempt to wash away our own guilt. For we are guilty my brothers and sisters. Guilty of not living up to the true potential of Islam. Guilty of remain deaf, dumb, and mute to the cries for help emanating from the four corners of the Muslim world.
Silencing Islam in all matters other than rituals, repeatedly downplaying the political and social grievances of Muslims, while vehemently criticizing those who engage in political and social resistance has become a staple of an increasingly corporatized form of Da’wah. Many of these scholars have turned into media personalities with massive platforms and millions of followers. They repeatedly use their platforms to plead for the need to maintain the status quo, while demonizing those who criticize and question it. While being implacable critics of what is often dubbed in the West as “political Islam”, they have no qualms cozying up to the same forces that generate the existing political crisis of the Muslim world. While they have no problem becoming the “poster child” for a brand of state approved Islam getting the thumbs up from Washington to Dubai, empathizing with the pain of their fellow Muslims and standing in solidarity with them in their grievances is apparently where they draw the line. In Islam, scholars are said to be the inheritors of the Prophets. As the custodians of Islamic knowledge, they are supposed to be a source of guidance not only through their teachings but also through their actions. To see so many Ulama become deeply entrenched in corrupt power structures, and Da’wah turn into a increasingly lucrative industry should alarm us all.
Look, the very first act undertaken by the Muslim Ummah in the moment of its birth was of two fold; religious and political. When Muslims gave their Bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to our beloved Rasulullah (saw), they recognized him as both their spiritual leader and their political leader. He became their Imam and their Amir. To pretend today that somehow Islam has nothing to say on political matters, or solutions to offer to the political problems plaguing the Muslim world is nothing short of delusional. Asking Muslims to prove that they are peaceful moderate people by endorsing their own oppression is a sacrifice one only asks of subjugated people. When the very forces occupying and exploiting much of the Muslim world are also the one’s fabricating the labels that exalt or demonize us, we should realize that utilizing them only furthers their interests. Ignoring politics only services the forces that are seeking to subjugate, oppress, and exploit our Ummah.