Islamic Movement: An Overview

To some people it looks strange why Islamic leadership is not in power in Bangladesh and other parts of the Muslim world even after working for several decades to bring about the required social change. The reasons are many and every Muslim country has its own idiosyncrasy and peculiarity. It is generally true that leadership of the Islamic movements has not been able to properly use their vast manpower, the workers of dawah, call and guidance. There is also no doubt that Muslim leaders have failed to take a realistic and pragmatic assessment of the existing scenario and draw a well thought-out action plan to solve the critical ills of the life of the ummah. Islamic movements have not done enough work to train their manpower to meet the challenge of the age and are busy with what the Indonesian Vice president of the World Bank Ismail Serageldin has described: “As the world explores the marvels of genes, breaks down the secrets of the atom, reaches to the stars, and calculates the age of the oldest rocks, we Muslims… debate whether a woman’s nail polish prevents her from making full ablutions”. Ismail Serageldin expressed his dismay over the discussion on such minor issues as to “whether it is Islamic to have golden teeth or to give the Quran to a non-believer, or whether it is permitted to study Western law” in the Islamic columns of prominent Saudi Arabian newspapers like Arab News, Saudi Gazette and Riyadh Daily.

It is also largely true that Islamic leadership took a very negative attitude towards public good and social welfare of the common masses and has failed to earn the trust and confidence of the people. Sheikh Rashid Ghannoushi while commenting on the objective of the Islamic movements remarked: “Islamic movements should not make their primary goal to assume power in the government. Taking over the government does not necessarily mean the biggest achievement of the struggle. The bigger success would be when the society loves Islam and respect its leaders… As Islamic movement, we must be critical in assessing our strategies. Our activities and efforts must be reviewed in order to be relevant with the current changes… Islamic activists must prepare themselves with the correct knowledge and relevant skill so that they will be able to apply wisdom in carrying out effective and efficient dawah activities”. Malaysian Islamic Party leader Abdul-Hadi Awang rightly pointed out: “Politics of Islam is the politics of dawah, of winning hearts and minds of the people more than getting votes. It is based on fundamental truths, not ephemeral interests. That’s how Islam has been winning people all through history”.

The leadership of the Islamic movement is bent on shifting the failures to others. Dr. Farish A Noor, Malaysian academician and human rights activists has rightly pointed out: “One cannot continue to blame ‘foreign agents’ and ‘international power brokers’ for the loss of one’s credibility at home. The real problem that beset the economy and political system stem from cronyism, corruption, abuse of power and lack of accountability and transparency in the government”.

The most important reason that the workers of the Islamic movement or the workers of dawah are poorly equipped and not well trained is that they are not up-to-date of the latest developments in the field of knowledge. They are not aware about the most recent ijtihad, whatever little research is being done by the eminent Muslim scholars in various fields throughout the world. The leadership of the Islamic movement is mostly happy with the past heritage. Self-glorification for the past achievement and success has blinded Muslim leadership to the need to examine their history in a critical and analytical manner with a view to exploring the points of weakness. In actual fact the Muslim legacy is not adequate enough to provide solutions of our contemporary crisis. Islamic movements still measure themselves by the past models and ignore time and distinctive features, and yet expect identical results. The right perspective and perception needs to be invoked. In this way, a fair interaction with the past can be made instead of vainly trying to revive it. The study materials for the workers of the Islamic movements do not empower them with sufficient knowledge and ideas for meeting the changing needs of the age. The dawah workers, the cadres of the Islamic movement, are forced to read substandard books as rightly pointed out by    Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Professor of Physics, Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan. He said: “In fact many individuals make huge profits by producing substandard and badly written books filled with conceptual, pedagogical, and printing mistakes”. Shoddy books are included in the compulsory study materials of the dawah workers of the Islamic movement for the financial benefit in terms of royalty   of the so-called elite writers of the Islamic movement. Consequently Islamic workers have lost sight of the comprehensive totality of the Quran and thus losing the opportunity to relate to reality and control the inevitable changes in time and circumstances as the Quran behooves Islamic workers to do. The Muslim leadership rather is now behaving in a way that circumstance dictates their thinking. Muslim leadership is not the master of the circumstance rather circumstances dictate them.

The most regrettable affair of the today’s Islamic movement is that its elite leaders have developed weakness for wealth and money. To put in the language of Malaysian academician Dr.Chandra Muzaffar: “The love of money has given birth to the religion of moneytheism … The worship of wealth, and the worship of power and prestige it generates, have become so pervasive that we can perhaps talk of moneytheism as a formidable challenge to monotheism. Moneytheism, the ideology which legitimizes the relentless pursuit of riches is an end in itself.”

It has been argued that certain contemporary approaches to religion which eulogies wealth without an iota of concern for social justice are nothing more than conduits for the propagation of moneytheism. Moneytheism contradicts the essence of faith in a variety of ways. One, the blind worship of money often leads to the displacement of God in one’s worldview. Even if it does not, the pursuit of wealth for the moneytheists is at least on par with the worship of God. Two, since the accumulation of wealth for its own sake is a self-serving activity, it fosters a form of selfishness which is antithetical to the values which religion so cherish. Self-gratification becomes the overriding goal of human existence. Three, consequently moneytheism not only legitimizes greed but it also sanctifies acquisitiveness. It is in this moneytheistic civilization that greed and acquisitiveness have acquired legitimacy and respectability that was denied them in all previous epochs of human history. Four, because greed has become legitimate, the culture of moneytheism emphasizes acquiring more and more and more. That is why the entire system of economic production in contemporary societies is geared towards the constant stimulation of desires. Religion, however, is the ethic of restraint, of controlling and curbing one’s desires, that is regarded as worthy of emulation. Conspicuous consumption and a fetish enslavement of fads and fashions, which are defining characteristics of modern living, is totally alien to religion with its commitment to moderation, balance and equilibrium. Five, the consumption patterns and the underlying attitudes engendered by moneytheism have become so pervasive and penetrative that they threaten to transform human personality so completely that the person who might dominate the 21st century could well be an utterly self-serving individual with very little empathy and compassion for his fellow beings. How moneytheism, which manifests itself in almost every sphere of life, is changing the human personality is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges confronting religion nay the Islamic movement. For the moulding of character has been one of the time honoured roles of religion, the Islamic movement.

Materialism or acquisitiveness is a new phenomenon in the Islamic movement. Allah swt has promised victory to the Muslim if we live and die for Islam. Al Quran states: ‘Never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves’ [Al Quran-13 (Surat Ar Rad): 11]. Mohammad Asad in his celebrated commentary of the Quran - The Message Of The Quran - translated this verse as: “God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves”. Unless the leaders of the Islamic movement shun moneytheism and bring change in their hearts, pattern of behaviour and their priorities and goal of life, Allah will not give victory to the Islamic movement.

The concept of an exclusive or one-dimensional organization, political, social, cultural or intellectual, has wreaked great damage to the unity of the Islamic movement. It has led such organization to believe that it is the embodiment of the will and consciousness of the Islamic movement, which surely is a misleading concept; one does not truly realize the implications of such a perception. Never can an individual organization be a substitute for the Islamic movement as a collective endeavour and will of the people. Rather such single organization or party will become mere splinter group on a long list of adversarial groups. The Quran and sunnah do not sanction the claim of sole representation of the entire Islamic movement by any particular Islamic organization. An organization persisting in its claim that it alone possesses the knowledge and legitimacy ends up not only alienating every other member of the Islamic movement but also accusing them of apostasy and ignorance. It starts with the wrong premise of introducing Islam to the world anew, ignoring all history and precedence. There exists no justification for any faction or individual to claim sole representation of the Islamic movement or monopoly of the Truth.

Some people think that joining a particular Islamic organization in a particular country is obligatory ‘otherwise you remain out of the Islamic community’, which is indeed a wrong perception. In this connection the comment of eminent Egyptian Islamic scholar Sheikh Adil Salahi who is the English translator of monumental Tafsir Fi Zilal al Quran (In The Shade of Quran) by Sayyid Qutub Shaheed is most relevant and noteworthy. He wrote:

“If we interpret this requirement as an obligation to join a Muslim organization in the country where we live, then certainly we are way off the mark. There may be an Islamic organization in our area, which sincerely works for the re-establishment of Islam in our country. Its efforts certainly deserve support. But there can be no question of joining its being a religious obligation. We may have a different approach from that chosen by this particular organization. An individual may be of such temperament that membership of an organization does not suit him. He cannot be forced to join it. However, he should render support in any situation where he feels the organization is right and its attitude serves the Islamic cause.

“Indeed, no broad-minded founder or leader of an Islamic organization ever suggested that his organization represents the Muslim community, or that its membership is obligatory to all Muslims. It is true that some groups advance such a view, but these were rigid in outlook, mistaken in approach. Imam Hassan Al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, used to say to all Islamically minded people: ‘Let us help one another in all matters on which we agree, and let us excuse one another where we differ’. This is the proper attitude. He never suggested that those who did not belong to his movement were in error, or deviated from the right path. His attitude was echoed by most leaders of the enlightened Islamic movements throughout the Muslim world. Narrow-mindedness is alien to the nature of Islam. Hence, to suggest that the line adopted by a particular movement is the only one acceptable to God is totally wrong. Since approaches may differ, choosing a particular approach is acceptable” (Our Dialogue. Arab News. 11 October 1993. Jeddah).

Eminent Iraqi scholar Dr. Taha Jabir al Alwani in his monograph Missing Dimensions In Contemporary Islamic Movements   has highlighted some of the very fundamental weakness of the Islamic movements:

1.      The Islamic movements have become tainted with a partisan mentality; they have allowed themselves to turn into groups at odds with the higher interest of Islam. Indeed they have become incapable of carrying out any form of collective work within the body politic. That is why they have become easy targets of others to isolate or destroy them.

2.       Some of the Islamic movements are confused about distinction between the sacred texts with human interpretation and jurisprudence of ijtihad based on these texts.

3.      This confusion of the divine and the human has resulted in some of these movements claiming that they are the sole possession of the Truth, thus conferring on their own human thought and ijtihad the sanctity of fundamental texts. By the same token, they have expropriated the historical achievements of the Muslim community as a whole and credited it to themselves through the claim that they are the only extension or embodiment of the historical reality.

4.      Some Islamic movements have deluded themselves into believing that they could do without intellectual effort or ijtihad so long as they had the Quran and the Sunnah to hand. By thinking along these lines they have failed to link the Islamic text with the real world and lost the ability to actualize the faith. Some of them have indeed launched themselves as full-fledged organization well before determining or reforming the world of their thoughts. It followed that they began to haphazardly select notions from the real world and Muslim tradition in order to respond to the requirements of their organizations and everyday activities instead of proceeding in the light of sound and rational judgment.

5.      Besides their claim to encapsulate, through their ideological platforms, the whole faith, many of these movements have claimed to embody, through organization and membership- and to the exclusion of all other groups- the whole Muslim community. This cannot but be the result of intellectual immaturity and a juvenile fondness for exclusiveness and theatrics.

6.      Despite their untiring verbal commitment to the Quran and the Sunnah, these movements have failed to draw up appropriate programmes for themselves, thus reflecting a poor grasp of the methodological foundations of Islamic doctrines and Shariah. Indeed methodology constitutes the cornerstone towards the development of comprehensive Islamic discourse capable of implementing the ultimate objectives of the Islamic message.

7.      Since the beginning of modern contacts with the West, the Islamic discourse has been marching on the spot, stranded as it were, between high and low tide, between progression and retrogression. At times when all-out mobilization of effort and resources was needed to ward off an outside danger, it rose to the occasion; however, during times of construction and development, the Islamic discourse seemed – almost everywhere- pathetically lacking in vigour and wholeness. Be that as it may, an analysis of the silent characteristics of the present Islamic discourse ought to instill among the Islamic activists more awareness towards rectifying the form and content of Islamic discourse to make it more viable in an age fraught with intellectual and other challenges.

Another weakness of the Islamic movement is that although it believes in human equality in principle but it has failed to translate such equality in real life practice in the state and society as a whole. Dr. Chandra Muzaffar rightly pointed out: “If one looks at the contemporary situation, one could argue that contemporary Islamic movements have by and large, with a few exceptions such as the An Nahdah Party of Sheikh Rashid Ghannouchi, inherited this notion of equality and political, economic, social, and gender relations from the history … It is a notion of equality which has been embodied in the fiqh tradition, the Islamic tradition of jurisprudence, which must be distinguished for the purpose of analysis from the divinely rooted shariah. It is this fiqh tradition, which has formed the basis of Islamic movement’s approach to this fundamental question of equality in society. What Islamic movements have done the most notable amongst them being the Ikhwan-al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Jamaat-e-Islami is to say that they have accepted equality as an important principle at the general level. However, when it comes to translating that principle into specifics you will find that there are many inequalities and that they accept the inequality as divinely sanctioned…For example, in the realm of politics the fiqh oriented approach of contemporary Islamic movements is to say that you need a powerful ruler, a ruler who would centralize authority and thus be able to establish the norms and principles of an Islamic polity. That this in itself an act of inequality is something that does not occur to them. You will find that within these Islamic movements there is very little support for the idea of people’s participation and empowering the individual. Rather there exists this notion of a strong leader at the apex of society”.

Islamic movements are not still ready to accept and embrace women in leadership, which is another example of inequality between men and women. Those who object to assigning political position to women forget that in today’s world rulers are parts of an establishment. Indeed government itself is one of a group of institutions that share out among themselves the power and authority, which used to be exercised by a single ruler, regardless of the title he assumed. During the earlier days of Islam the Kholafa-e-Rashadeen used to combine in them comprehensive and broad authority, over the whole Muslim world which no ruler is expected to exercise in foreseeable future, including leading prayers, commanding armies, exercising absolute ijtihad in fiqh, and being the supreme judge. From the point of view of her competence, a woman may be assigned some of these powers, including the post of the head of the state, because none of these powers, including that of head of state, constitutes the overall authority over the community which assigns it to a woman. Dr. Kaukab Siddique in his book The Struggle Of The Muslim Women (American Society For Education And Religion, INC, U.S.A.) has discussed in depth and details the pros and cons of the issue and has concluded that woman leadership is allowed in Islam. Interested readers will find the book analytical and authoritative. 

To conclude, it should be kept in mind that in this overview an attempt has been made for a brief appraisal of the Islamic movement. Issues have been raised and talked about to initiate a wider deliberation and reflection by the ulama, academicians, scholars and Islamic activists, the workers of dawah, meaning the advocacy of Islamic order. What has been discussed here is not the last word, rather the subject demands in depth analysis, critical examination, rigorous and painstaking exercise.

1st  October 2001