Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 7

This continues what I started in Modernism and Fundamentalism in Islam. Part 1. The previous installment was Part 6.

I am reading Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam. A Reader, edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof, and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002. All citations refer to that book, unless otherwise stated.

Now I continue reading "Part Two: Islamic Fundamentalism". The second section of this part is about "Islam and Politics".

Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) begins this section with an article on "War, Peace, and Islamic Jihad". He attacks the Modernists' interpretation of Jihad, and continues to reveal goals of his militant, fundamentalist type of Islam:

It is the result of this defeatist mentality that these people maintain that "Islam only believes in defensive war." On top of that, they are laboring under the misconception that they have rendered some good to the religion by this discovery, although by this incorrect deduction they want religion to surrender its distinctive method. In other words, religion should relinquish its ideal of destroying all the Satanic forces from the face of the earth and making human beings bow down their heads before one God, relieving them from the servitude of the servants and making them enter the servitude of the Lord and Creator of the servants. But Islam, in order to translate this ideal into reality, does not corcibly compel people to accept its faith but provides them with a free atmosphere to exercise their choice of faith. It either completely dynamites the regning political systems or, subjugating them, forces them into submission to and acceptance of Jizyah. Thus it does not allow any impediment to remain in the way of accepting the belief. Thereafter it allows complete freedom to people to accept or reject belief. (p. 226.)

It would be interesting to know what exactly are the "Satanic forces" alluded to here. I wonder if any critic of this form of Islam can avoid being placed into that category? The notion that destroying such forces and making everyone bow to God are ideals of the religion Qutb clearly promotes is horrible and scary. It shows how little he has learned from history. It clearly implies the use of force to convert people, which he seems to quickly backtrack from, as if only realizing a bit late how disgusted his readers must feel at that point.

It seems clearly hypocritical of Qutb to claim that his religion qould not forcibly compel others to accept it if it were in power: there certainly would be a lot of incentive to do so, and at least social cost to not doing so. It doesn't seem to bother the Islamist fanatic that other people might actually prefer their non-Islamic political systems, which he is eager to "dynamite" (how metaphorically this can be taken at this time, I am not sure). Qutb manages to show that like some others, Fundamentalist Islamists can also play the "Liberator card" in politics, and use double talk about removing obstacles "from accepting the faith". Even if other religions besides Islam would be tolerated in Qutb's ideal Islamic state, I suspect there would be no such freedom to refuse to accept any faith.

It is especially ironic that a proponent of a religion the very name of which means "submission (to God)" pretends it to be a liberator of mankind. Of course, he cannot hide very long what this "liberation" really means:

This means that religion is an all-embracing and total revolution against the sovereignty of man in all its types, shapes, systems, and states, and completely revolts against every system in which authority may be in the hands of man in any form or in other words, where he may have usurped sovereignty under any shape. [...] In short, proclamation of the sovereignty of Allah and the declaration of His authority connotes the wiping out of human kingship from the face of the earth and establishing thereon the rule of the Sustainer of the world. [...] The establishment of God's rule means that the laws of God whould reign supreme and all the affairs should finally be decided accordingly. (p. 228.)

The idea here is that instead of man-made political systems, an Islamic state would be based on a God-made political system. That is, it would be a theocracy, with some sort of priest class ruling by divine mandate. Just exactly how this differs from the medieval European idea that kings rule by divine mandate. Oh yes, of course, that belief was false. But this Islamist idea is obviously true. No need to prove it, except by a show of force. How enlightened.

It matters little to such Islamists that the actual rulers in a theocracy would be those who get to interpret God's allegedly revealed will, those who get to decide for everyone else, what reality is like. And those people would be humans, just like everyone else, and presumably fallible as well, unless he wants to claim that religious authorities are infallible in matters of religion. But I thought only the Pope of the Catholic church could be that silly. And no one in their right minds believes that piece of Catholic dogma. The fact is, achieving the Islamist goal would (and has) put a tremendous power in the hands of a few humans, exactly the situation Qutb claimed his religion would liberate people from. The only way people could be liberated from the rule of a few humans is if the chosen political system and the policies of the government are based on frequently checked consensus (or something near enough). Religion that cannot exist within such a political system cannot be accepted at all. It follows in a pluralist society that the society must be secular, i.e. there will have to be a separation of State and Mosque. But this Qutb would not accept:

Whatever system of governance may be established in the world, it should be based on the worship of God, and the source of authority for the laws of life should be God alone, so that under the shade of this universal system every one may be free to embrace any faith one likes. (p. 231.)

I cannot resist to urge to phrase Qutb's wish a little differently: One religion to rule them all, and to darkness bind them. That captures rather well, I think, what any theocracy would amount to (at best). It is incredible that someone not completely ignorant of world history could even desire such a regress in the 20th Century. That some people still want the same in the 21st, is incomprehensible. How can anyone fail to see how disastrous the rule of religion has been throughout the middle ages, or better yet, thoughout all history? Progress in thinking and in society has only come from freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of inquiry, the latter two being impossible without the first. It simply follows that society must be secular, or it will regress rather than progress. Religions, if they wish to survive, must find a way to adapt to and exist within secular states.

The militant nature of Qutb's Islamism is shown in its imperialism, as seen in the following quote:

The peace Islam desires is that the religion should be established in its entirery in the world. All the peopole should bow in submission before One God, and should not take their fellow men as lords in place of God. [...] Thus the entire people of the world stood classified under three categories: first, the Muslims who had reposed belief in [Muhammad]; second, those peace-loving who had been granted peace by the Holy Prophet [...], and third, the opponents who were afraid of him. (p. 233.)

For Qutb, Islam would bring peace to the world by dominating it. This is such a stupid view that it doesn't deserve a response. It is just another form of imperialism, and just as any other, the only justification for it is that happens to be the proponent's own style of imperialism. It cannot be taken seriously, except as a violent threat. Clearly the modernist interpretations of Jihad do not fit this imperialist form of Islam very well, so Qutb attacks them and supports a far more dangerous interpretation:

Thus according to the explanation by Imam Ibne Qayyim, first all Muslims were restrained from fighting against the polytheists and unbelievers, then permission was accorded them to fight, then they were commanded to fight against the aggressors and, ultimately, they were commanded to fight all the polytheists and the unbelievers. These verses of the Holy Quran, the traditions of the Holy Prophet [...] prompting and inciting to Jihad, the Islamic wars of the early period, rather the entire Islamic history replete with the description of Jihad, are eloquent testimonies in the presence of which every Muslim's heart will abhor to accept the commentary about Jihad conceived by minds having been defeated by the pressure of unfavorable conditions and the treacherous propaganda [of] the orientalists. Can such a person claim to be an intellectual who may have listened to the clear commandments of God, pursued the distinct sayings of the Prophet of God [...] and seen the historical records full of Islamic victories, but still labor under the misconception that the scheme of Jihad is a temporary injunction, related to changing conditions and transient circumstances and only that aspect of the scheme has a perpetual effect which is concerned with the defense of the borders. (p. 234.)

One could answer by asking, how can anyone read the Quran and take suitable quotes from it out of context to justify one's own violent fantasies? This obviously is what Qutb has done in this article, but unfortunately, it must be left for scholars of Quran to provide Muslims with a better, more accurate, and more acceptable interpretation of Islam. Here it is enough to show where the violent interpretations of Jihad come from, and that they do exist and must be refuted, if Islam is ever to co-exist peacefully with other worldviews. Qutb doesn't hide the aggressive nature of his interpretation of Islam, which is quite contrary to to views recently and frequently presented about Islam being "a (or even the) religion of peace":

It is the inevitable demand of the nature of Islam that it takes strides from the very beginning to pull mankind out from the servitude of others than God. Hence it is impossible for it to abide by geographical boundaries and bind itself within racial limitations. It cannot be brooked to leave the entire sprawling mankind from East to West to be devoured by vice and corruption and servitude to others than God, and, leaving it, take to seclusion.

It may happen with the opponents of Islam that, deeming it expedient, they may not commit aggression against Islam provided it allows them to continue the leadership of human beings over others within their geographical limits, leaves them to their lot and does not force them to follow its message and its declaration of freedom. But Islam cannot declare a "cease-fire" with them unless they surrender before the authority of Islam and they will no more place impediments in its way by virtue of any political power. Exactly this is the nature of this religion and, being a declaration of the universal lordship of God and a message of deliverance from the servitude to others than God for the people living in the East and West, it is also the inevitable duty of Islam. (p. 243.)

It seems to this reader, at least, that Qutb is advocating an interpretation of Islam, according to which it is the duty of Islam to wage war against all countries that do not submit to it, in order to "liberate" their peoples. He could be understood, perhaps, as saying that this only applies to countries that use "political power" to "place impediments" in the way of Islam. But it seems likely to be referring to impediments on the way of the unified Islamic State becoming the only state in the world.

Imam Ruhullah Khomeini (1902-89) writes about "The Pillars of an Islamic State". He states that "the head of the Islamic State must know the Law thoroughly" (p. 248), referring presumably not only to the Quran, but also the shari'ah. It seems a bit redundant in my view, for the head to know every single law himself, rather than just the laws that deal with governing the people. But it is just one of his strange ideas for an Islamic State. He also states that the Islamic state would "enforce an Islamic character, Islamic prayers, and an Islamic penal code so that Muslims can remain as Muslims and their next generations also" (p. 249). As Qutb before, Khomeini is also using the double-talk some of us have learned to associate with cults (and others perhaps with politics): he uses the word "can", when in fact he means something far more constrictive.

It is strange to say this, but even Qutb seemed liberal when compared to Khomeini's views, for the former at least spoke of religious freedom, whereas the latter seems to be opposed to it. Khomeini wants the State to enforce Islam on the people, and make sure following generations will remain Muslims as well. This is totalitarian control. Precisely what theocracy leads to. Those who hold power to define the truths of religion become the masters everyone else must serve. There is no room in the world for interpretations of religion like this.

The same author continues with another article, on "The Necessity of Islamic Government". In this one, he reveals just how totalitarian his interpretation of Islam is:

First, the laws of the shari'ah embrace a diverse body of laws and regulations, which amounts to a complete social system. In this system of laws, all the needs of man have been met: his dealings with his neighbors, fellow citizens, and clan, as well as children and relatives; the concerns of private and marital life; regulations concerning war and peace and intercourse with other nations; penal and commercial law; and regulations pertaining to trade and agriculture. Islamic law contains provisions relating to the preliminaries of marriage and the form in which it should be contracted, and others relating to the development of the embryo in the womb and what food the parents should eat at the time of conceptiopn. It further stipulates the duties that are incumbent upon them while the infant is being suckled, and specifies how the child should be reared, and how the husband and the wife should relate to each other and to their children. Islam provides laws and instructions for all of these matters, aiming, as it does, to produce integrated and virtuous human beings who are walking embodiments of the law, or to put it differently, the law's voluntary and instinctive executors. (p. 253 - 254.)

In other words, this form of Islam seeks to control every aspect of every individual's life, destroying their individuality and making them all brainwashed clones. They also become a "militia" eager to point out anyone who fails to conform as they have, and to punish them -- and not just with social punishments, I'm sure.

Khomeini doesn't seem to think that Muslims could differ in their aspirations, or their political views. In fact, all Muslims must clearly think alike, which greatly reduces the need for separate Muslim countries:

In order to attain unity and freedom of the Muslim peoples, we must overthrow the oppressive governments installed by the imperialists and bring into existence an Islamic government [...]. (p. 257.)

At this point the irony of an Islamist such as Khomeini writing about "imperialists" is no longer funny. It is easy to accept that the populations of the countries he speaks of do indeed need liberation, but merely replacing one form of imperialism with another is hardly good enough for them. They deserve something better. Khomeini's hostility to Western culture is not shared by all Muslims, as he acknowledges (p. 261). One can then only wonder at his audacity at claiming a position from which to tell these other people how and what they should behave, believe, and like.

Next in turn is "The Political Theory of Islam" by Sayyid Abul A'la Maududi (1903-79). He writes much about the evil of "domination of man by man" and how "the effect of godhood is so intoxicating that one who tastes this powerful drink can never keep himself under control" (p. 268), but clearly fails to see that theocracy is no safeguard against these, quite the contrary. He opposes men making commands in their own right (p. 270), but fails to see that men can very easily make commands in the name of God. History (and the present) provides depressingly many examples of precisely that. As long as the final authority is placed upon God, it follows that the interpreters of God's alleged will are placed above all others and they will become the new tyrants.

There are three more articles in this section, but each of them of little concern here. The first of them is "All-Encompassing Program of an Islamic State" by The Islamic Salvation Front of Algeria, originally published in 1989. I will leave the analysis of the viability of that program to those better qualified for it, except for one single, saddening point about the education:

A reassessment of educational content to remove any ideologies and concepts that have contrary values to those of Islam; this is to preserve our personality, realize authenticity, and stimulate creativity. (p. 290.)

It is unbelievable how censorship of unwanted ideas can be combined with the stimulation of creativity in one sentence. Also, it is far too obvious that the purpose of this censorship is actually to rear uniform citizens, no matter what kind of euphemisms they want to use to say so. One can only hope that contemporary Muslims see value freedom, individuality, and creativity more than this Salvation Front.

Second to last in this section is an article on "Boycotting the 1997 Election in Jordan" by the Society of Muslim Brothers, published in 1997. It seems irrelevant now, so I will skip it except for one curious note. In the very end they mention "the policies of the New World Order" (p. 307). "NWO" was not mentioned anywhere else in the article, and one is left wondering if this is intented as just as referring to the political economic powers of the present, or whether it should be taken as an indication that the Brothers actually believe in Grand Conspiracy theories involving NWO. The latter, unfortunately, seems somewhat more likely to me, for reasons I will not go into here. But if that is the case, one can only hope such paranoia to be rare and receding among other Muslims.

This section ends with an interview of Dr. Ishaq A. Farhan by Mansoor Moaddel, conducted in 1997 and titled "Islamic Action Front Party". The only point of interest in the interview is when (p. 311) Dr. Farhan is forced to accept, though he of course won't do so directly, that the Islamic injunctions against usury have to be "worked around" in modern society. This implies that the Quran is not such a perfect book of advice for all situations and times, as fundamentalists claim. The placement of this interview in Part II of this book seems a little strange, actually, since Dr. Farhan does not seem to be a fundamentalist.

Continue to Part 8.

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