In Part 2 of his analysis on the paralysis afflicting Muslim political thought, Dr Perwez Shafi examines the stifling influence of colonialism and neo-colonialism.
In Part 2 of his article on the acquisition of political power, Dr. Perwez Shafi looks at how colonialism and neo-colonialism have kept Islamic political thought from evolving out of the dictatorship, autocratic paradigm.
Phase two of Muslim history began when European colonialists were knocking at the door of the Muslim world around the 17th century to exploit its riches, and its defective political structures complicated by a weak and crumbling ideology. The Muslims’ diplomatic skills were unable to sense all dimensions or any long-term implications; their militaries were disorganized, divided and loyalties were for the highest bidder. Scientific and economic or industrial infrastructures were non-existent. While the Muslims were declining, the Europeans were the ascendant. It was not as if the European colonialists conquered the Muslim world after a good fight; rather, due to their decline and decay Muslims were barely conscious when the Europeans appeared like a mugger and robbed them.
There was a qualitative difference between phase I and II. In phase I, as long as the masses did not challenge the rulers directly on political and governance issues they were largely left alone and creativity was allowed to flourish in other areas. The Europeans were driven by the same fear of illegal occupation and exploitation and they knew full well that once this sleeping giant (the masses) woke up their days of exploitation would be over hence they went one step further than mulukiyah. While the kings left the Muslim society as a single cohesive and socially strong body, the Europeans went about methodically dividind and disintegrating the Muslim Ummah to permanently cripple it. This was done first by dividing the Ummah along racial, ethnic, linguistic, economic and religious fault lines. These were further widened and exacerbated. Where they did not find any fault lines they created them.
In the Arabian Peninsula, to weaken the Ottoman Khilafah from within, the British Empire promoted one Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab as a social and religious “reformer” of Islam in the late-18th century. In Confessions of a British Spy, the British agent Hempher has described in detail how Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was guided, exploited, funded and propped up by the British imperialists. The result is obvious and devastating. Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s so-called reforms were turned into the sect of Wahhabism whose main target was to eradicate all historical and physical traces left by the Prophet (pbuh) and to reinforce the imperial version of their predecessor mulukiyah in the name of Islam. They hoped that the gullible and illiterate Muslim masses would not notice the great and systematic destruction of their Islamic and spiritual heritage in the midst of glittering five-star western hotels surrounding the Ka‘bah in Mak-kah and al-Majid al-Nabawi in Madinah.
Similarly, in 19th century Persia, the British imperialists propped up Baha-ullah, who invented the Bahai faith to break Muslim unity. Nowadays both Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism and the Bahai faith are strongly supported by Western colonialists.
In the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent the British imperialists had a field day during their 200-year occupation making every section of society dysfunctional by imposing a different identity and outlook, infusing it with either an inferiority or superiority complex. After the War of Independence in 1857, the British realized the danger of Hindu-Muslim unity that might liberate the country from the yoke of British colonialism so they embarked on inculcating nationalism among Hindus as well as Muslim communities. Later they created political parties — the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League — which divided the interests of both communities and led to the division of the sub-continent a hundred years later into two separate countries — India and Pakistan.
These days the Saudis are championing the cause of Abu Sufyan’s Sunnism against Iran, which they try to project at the sectarian level but at the beginning of the last century they had no qualms about revolting against their own Sunni brethren of the Ottoman Khilafah at the behest of Western imperialist forces. So instead of any argument or principle, naked self-interest and ad hocism was the rule and remains to this day.
But the British were not content with division only at the national level. Muslims had to be further divided from within. After the 1857 War of Independence, the Hanafi school of thought was further sub-divided. From the Orientalist reading of the Qur’an, they came up with inquisitive questions to “clarify” certain aspects of the Prophet’s (pbuh) personality and mission. The British encouraged heated debates among the ‘ulama’ whose respective positions crystallized into two major sub-schools of thought who later founded their headquarters in Deoband and Bareli, directly and indirectly, with British help. These groups are now known as Deobandis and Barelvis respectively. Deobandis were further divided into a number of other groups. On one extreme there is the passive Tablighi Jamaat that shuns jihad and politics, which in and of itself is a political decision, while on the other extreme are tribal people like the Taliban who are inspired by Saudi Wahhabism and routinely carry out suicide bombings to eradicate “shirk” taking place at various mausoleums. In addition, the British also promoted Mirza Ghulam Ahmed Qadiani who elevated himself to make a claim to prophethood in the late 19th century (nastaghfir-allah).
After Wahhabism took hold in the Arabian Peninsula at the religious level, the British colonialists recruited Saudi tribes who used to roam the vast expanse of the desert in Najd robbing and looting Hajj caravans. In the early 20th century, the Saudi robbers and Sharif Husain of al-Hijaz agreed through various letters with the British to undermine the Ottoman Khilafah by launching a revolt. In turn, the British promised them power in the Arabian Peninsula. Both were paid huge sums of money. These days the Saudis are championing the cause of Abu Sufyan’s Sunnism against Iran, which they try to project at the sectarian level but at the beginning of the last century they had no qualms about revolting against their own Sunni brethren of the Ottoman Khilafah at the behest of Western imperialist forces. So instead of any argument or principle, naked self-interest and ad hocism was the rule and remains to this day.
The tragedy during the colonial phase was not so much the division and disintegration of the Muslim Ummah from within, rather its acceptance and internalization by the Muslims themselves. Whatever muttaqi leadership existed was further marginalized by the colonialists either through persecution, political intrigue or by turning it into an institution of peeri-mureedi (relationship of absolute domination of saint over his disciple). In addition, the colonialists encouraged the turning of mausoleums of ‘ulama’ and saints into shrines where ignorant and illiterate people would pray and worship, often bordering on shirk. On the other hand, the colonialists used the Deobandis and Wahhabis as a tool to keep attacking Barelvis resulting in constant low level warfare.
The masjids and religious institutions were economically relatively independent with large agricultural lands and significant income derived from such holdings. The concept of running masjids on charity and dole was non-existent in phase I but in phase II the colonialists gradually stripped the masjids of these resources and forced them to live off charity. Thus, as Western-educated classes emerged, the masjids lost their vitality and instead of producing ‘ulama’ and learned scholars capable of leading society they started producing simpleminded mu’adhdhins, qaaris and maulvis, who with little or no self-esteem were relegated to perform simple rituals at birth or death. While the obscurantist religious establishment had little dynamism or knowledge of world sciences or capability of leading society, they performed an important and valuable function of keeping Islam alive at the most basic level and provided solace to the masses in that dark and hopeless era of colonialism.
The neo-colonial phase is not much different from the colonial phase except it is more intensified form of westernization, filled with deception while creating the illusion of independence. In the neo-colonial phase, starting after World War II, more than 50 or so countries were carved out of the single Muslim Ummah as a result of managed “national struggle” for independence marked by installation of local rulers; but intellectual, political and economic independence remained elusive. These so-called “Third World countries” were integrated into the global capitalist system whereby these countries at the economic level provide ready markets for Western goods and services, and as a source of raw material. But this required the local political and economic elites to be subservient to the West, the result of which was the suppression of their own populations.
Since the victors of the Second World War wrote history as well as arrogated to themselves the right to set up global institutions like the UN, the World Bank, IMF, etc. in their own image to rule the world, Muslim countries were also made part of these illegitimate and illegal institutions by using local elites. Through these institutions the West gets any decision approved for its benefit and interest while giving the illusion of legitimacy. The rest of the suffering humanity merely uses these institutions as a forum to air their frustrations and to seek more Western aid for survival.
During the colonial period, the West’s mission was to “civilize” humanity; in the neo-colonial phase the mission has morphed into spreading “democracy” and democratic values, norms and a belief system as the only sanctified ideology. In Western conception, the Greek word demo means human. Now the context has changed drastically. It now means that after the Renaissance (14th–17th centuries) and Industrial Revolution (1730–1850s), man has become the master of his own destiny through science and technology and has progressed and elevated to such heights that he no longer wishes to live or be constrained by Allah’s (swt) teachings, guidance and plan. In other words, God occupying the highest position in cosmological hierarchy has been replaced by man himself. In this context, Western democracy, not bound by divine order, is shirk of the highest order.
In fact, democracy per se even from the Greek times — direct rule by the people — has never been practiced anytime in history. This is admitted even by Western political scientists and philosophers. In fact they shun it by calling it “mob rule” and don’t trust the raw human instinct. What is actually practiced is more precisely plutocracy — rule by the rich and wealthy class. Plutocracy controls the establishment providing a strong center and direction to the political system while capitalism serves as its economic engine. All other institutions work for or in tandem with the state. There is consensus among Western elites within society of the efficacy of this political philosophy and its associated structures.
Plutocracy, democracy or any other philosophy has nothing to do with human values. In this dehumanizing system the rich can become richer only by exploiting the poor and their labor. The highest value of capitalism is “profit maximization,” a euphemism for greed and exploitation leading to inequality, class warfare and concentration of almost all the wealth in the hands of the less-than-1% plutocrats. That is why protest movements by 99% of the masses in the US is being waged, calling for human and egalitarian values. Political parties and elections are cosmetic and inconsequential in nature and their purpose is only to lure and keep people into the political system by them believing that “change is possible” when each party actually represents different shades of the same philosophy. Thus, deception and illusion are at the root of democracy whereby plutocracy can rule in the name of the masses; but in this departure from God, the interests, desires, and benefits accrued to each class are different and separated by a wide gulf. Since the West has 150 years of experience with population conditioning according to its requirements, even a highly exploitative system manages to survive despite its obvious imperfections. The ultimate goal or value of democracy is to make all human beings slaves of the rich and powerful.
In contrast to mature plutocracies, the ex-colonial recently-independent states (whether ruled by military or civilians) have no strong center or establishment with a firm and deep-rooted philosophy. They are characterized as “weak states” as each institution — the military, bureaucracy, judiciary, executive and parliament — acts as different power centers with which the US and other imperialist powers maintain independent yet direct relationships. If any institution does not toe the US line it is checked by other institutions.
The elite in Muslim states are trained in the West; they have inculcated Western values, norms, belief system and lifestyles. Their personal and collective interests are the same. If they refer to Islam at all, it is invoked only to fool the masses. The West allows no choice or alternative to native elites in choosing their political ideology. Their job is to keep their countries dependent on the West — materially and psychologically — while the local economies must be kept open for exploitation and integrated within Western markets.
If the disease of westernization had infected only the secular elites, it would be understandable. Tragically, the entire religious establishment is also afflicted by it despite their knowledge of Islam. In the neo-colonial phase, the religious establishment has undergone greater transformation and actually started participating in the so-called democratic process without realizing that it is a deception. It contradicts the goals and means of Islam yet they adopt and participate in it in hopes of achieving Islamic goals of social justice, equity and the liberation of humanity from slavery. For religious, political and non-political parties, the short cut to power appears deceptively attractive and within reach.
…muttaqi leaders can only emerge if Saudi funding is eliminated. Alternatively, new institutions free from sectarian and illegitimacy contradictions must be established to produce the caliber of muttaqi leadership needed for the struggle ahead. This intellectual struggle has to be waged as a first step by the genuine Islamic movement as “Islamic” political parties cannot hope to resolve this issue.
Under Western influence, they have come to believe the goal is to win an election (that is generally rigged by the military anyway). They assume that upon coming to power, Shari‘ah would be “imposed” resulting in the creation of an Islamic state. Their version of the Islamic state can still co-exist with the West, remain economically integrated with the global capitalist system, and maintain a politically subservient relationship. This is an elitist top-down approach and is seriously flawed because it is not able to differentiate between means and objectives or between the Islamic and Western democratic systems. It seems not to bother them that this simplistic, naïve and deceptive model is against the Shari‘ah and the Sirah of the Prophet (pbuh). The noble Messenger (pbuh) did not win or opt for election or grab power by other means before implementing Islamic principles in society. The Sirah teaches us that by propagating and practicing Islam in all its dimensions (not focusing on one or the other aspect) he transformed the social structure of the tribal jahili society into an Islamic society. Once this social transformation had taken place, the road to the Islamic state opened by itself. Thus the goal of the Islamic movement is not to construct an Islamic state but to transform the social base of the ignorant society into an Islamic society; the Islamic state will then be the logical end result of such transformation. This is the bottom-up approach and from the Sirah it can be characterized as Islamic Revolution.
In the neo-colonial phase, one of the most important catalysts for change are the ‘ulama’ and the institutions they have established. Ironically, they are also a major obstacle to change and the emergence of muttaqi leadership. One of the major reasons is that most of the Sunni ‘ulama’ and their establishments are heavily financed by the Saudi regime. Such funding ensures that the ‘ulama’ and their establishments keep following the obscurantist and deviant Sunni political thought where Mu‘awiyah and Yazid are praised and where nowadays attempts are underway to rehabilitate even Hind, the wife of Abu Sufyan, who gained notoriety for disfiguring the body of Hamzah (d) by chewing on his liver after the latter was martyred in the Battle of Uhud. The Prophet (pbuh) was greatly anguished by such disrespect for the dead, made all the more shocking because Hamzah was his uncle and close friend, the two being close in age.
Friendship with and dependence on the West/Zionists is considered essential, and support for the Saudi monarchy flourishes in line with continuation of the mulukiyah/monarchical dynasties. If Saudi petrodollars keep the ‘ulama’ and “official” Sunni worldview on the path of praising the worst enemies of the Prophet (pbuh) and ignore or abandon those loved by the Prophet (pbuh), then the prospects for change are dim. Thus, muttaqi leaders can only emerge if Saudi funding is eliminated. Alternatively, new institutions free from sectarian and illegitimacy contradictions must be established to produce the caliber of muttaqi leadership needed for the struggle ahead. This intellectual struggle has to be waged as a first step by the genuine Islamic movement as “Islamic” political parties cannot hope to resolve this issue.
For confusing goals and means, the religious elites and their political parties are continuously failing. Yet they do not want to allow change in their methodology or learn any lessons from the Sirah. But when one realizes that this democratic worldview of the religious establishment was superimposed on the decadent Sunni political thought of the mulukiyah, worldly challenges cannot be surmounted by using a crude mixture of both mindsets.
Given this theoretical background to clarify Islamic goals and the means to achieve them through historical evolution, it enables us to answer the questions posed at the beginning of this article about recent developments in the Muslim world. Specifically, Egypt represents the best case in which a political party backed by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has made impressive gains in elections in the Muslim world; Turkey is another but dissimilar example.
To be sure the Muslims’ yearning for independence from foreign domination and the awakening is genuine. But the US has been busy taming the MB and turning the transition away from its revolutionary spirit to bureaucratic changes in such a way that its leaders are given some government posts yet the real power is retained by the military and the old establishment, which ultimately means the US. The sequence of events themselves reveals the story of compromises and adjusting to “reality” by the MB, followed by the principle stated in parenthesis as discussed above (see paragraphs below).
One year after the awakening of the Muslims started, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns earlier this year met with the MB’s high-ranking Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater, (the powerful presidential candidate before being disqualified by the Elections Commission on flimsy grounds). Burns promised financial aid of more than $20 billion from the IMF and the Gulf sheikhdoms if the peace treaty with Israel continued to be honored. The MB quickly agreed to maintain the status quo. The MB’s statements to the contrary were merely for public consumption (strategic compromise for tactical support, unable to distinguish between friend and foe). Two days before the presidential election, the judiciary and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), effectively ruling Egypt since president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in February 11, 2011, struck and cancelled the parliamentary elections already won by the MB who protested but to no avail so far (keeping in check one institution by using another).
Shortly after becoming president and before Hillary Clinton arrived in Cairo, Muhammad Mursi visited Saudi Arabia on July 11 to answer demands by a Saudi academic close to the monarchy who wrote an article in the London-based al-Hayat newspaper titled “What the Gulfies want from Brotherhood’s Mursi?” He asked Mursi to provide public assurances on four major concerns of the Gulf sheikhdoms:
Within a week Mursi complied with all the demands through his statements. While in Saudi Arabia he affirmed Egypt’s policy of belonging to the “moderate Sunni” camp as he assured the Saudi monarch of Egypt’s strategic alliance with his country, as well as lending support to the regional balance of power in direct reference to the challenge posed by Iran to the Gulf monarchies. Like former Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf’s policy of “Pakistan first” Mursi assured his Saudi hosts that Egypt will continue to maintain an Arab first foreign policy approach rather than taking Turkish democratic germs too far. As demanded, Mursi also promised to maintain the same distance with Palestinian factions but more importantly he promised to side with Saudi and Israeli intelligence and security apparatuses against the Palestinian resistance (local elite not independent in their domestic as well as foreign policies but ultimately subservient to the US and its local Saudi agents; their narrow interest to gain political power at any cost forces them to act against their own brethren and side with the imperialist West and oppressive forces).
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Egypt to meet President Mursi. After the meeting, Clinton declared that the US “supports the full transition to civilian rule with all that entails.” The following day Clinton met with head of SCAF, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and prodded him to go along with the civilian set up and declared that the US would like to see the Egyptian military return to a “purely national security role.” In return, the military was also promised billions more in aid (US dealing independently with weak multiple power centers).
The same corrupted Sunni political thought superimposed by the Western democratic model is unable to differentiate between friend and foe in Syria. All Muslim countries have ruthless dictators and Syria is no exception. But at least Syria has taken a consistently strong anti-Israel stand for the last four decades and supported various Palestinian resistance factions. That reason alone is sufficient not to destabilize the Asad regime which the US, Israel, Saudis and other sheikhdoms are trying hard to do.
This raises another question. Why in Syria, as in Libya, the opposition instead of launching a public protest campaign as in Yemen and Bahrain, has suddenly resorted to armed struggle from the beginning? The reliance on violence and force is built-in to the Sunni political though stoked by Western, Saudi and Zionist arms and mercenaries. In Sunni political paradigm there has never been peaceful transfer of power since Mu‘awiyah came to power. One must either use overwhelming force to subdue rivals or prepare to be subdued and slaughtered; there is nothing in between and certainly there are no rules and regulations nor precedent. If the opposition wants to air their grievances they could certainly launch public protests like in Bahrain or Yemen rather than instinctively rely on overwhelming force. This all or nothing proposition is to keep rivals at bay. That is why ruthless dictators and their dynastic rule last for decades. This political mindset still prevails today (instinctive reliance on using overwhelming force against rivals is the secret of dictator’s longevity).
In electoral politics, no country appears to have had as much success as Turkey, yet it has accepted US hegemony, its global and regional agenda, and maintained friendship with Israel, never challenging Washington’s strategic interests. The US has, therefore, felt comfortable in holding up Turkey as a democratic role model for other Muslim countries to emulate, if they ever get rid of their US-backed dictators. After a decade of experience with the Turkish religious political party approach, the US feels confident in managing the transition to democratic order in Egypt as well. At the other end, the US is ready to use oppression and persecution in Bahrain rather than respect human rights because toppling of the feudal monarchy would directly threaten its strategic interests (which country is allowed to have change and which is to be blocked depends on US strategic interests).
The US/Zionists have no qualms in supporting those opposition forces from any group or ideology including al-Qaeda or known terrorists who want to overthrow any government not friendly to the West (the criteria is whether terrorist use serves US interests).
It is evident through historical evolution that the sectarian Sunni political thought as seen through the actions of the so-called “moderate Sunni” states is corrupt, decadent and needs re-evaluation and reform. The humiliation of decline and decay of Muslim states is obvious; one must, therefore, challenge the assumptions of its paradigm. It is not enough simply to acquire cosmetic political power, the real question is on whose terms and conditions: whether on Sunni-Western-Zionist terms and conditions with a democratic façade while remaining subservient to US/Zionist interests or on one’s own terms and conditions relying on the revolutionary spirit of the masses that must first be transformed into a dynamic Islamic society. Only a genuine Islamic movement, not a religious political party, can accomplish this task and only then it can go in an independent and Islamic direction. But the precondition is to challenge basic assumptions of our decadent worldview that has remained stagnant since mulukiyah’s times superimposed with Western democratic values and norms. As the Qur’an declares, “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people unless they are willing to change their attitude…” (13:11). Hence, the condition of a society does not change until it changes what is inside its heart. In other words, change in the worldview and mindset will lead to change in worldly conditions.
We must cleanse the original historical contradictions introduced in Sunni Political thought to evolve to a higher paradigm of Muslim political thought. These reforms will take us to a true convergence point in time and history, to the time when the Prophet (pbuh) left this earthly abode, when sectarianism and mutual hostilities did not exist. The next logical step would be an open declaration of abandonment and rejection of the so-called “democracy” and short-cut democratic model to political power. Without both these changes, internalized and acted upon, violence will continue and any other kind of revolution may be possible but not an Islamic Revolution. Note in the above Qur’anic ayah that it takes a longtime to change and internalize and reform the existing defective and contradictory worldview within our hearts but once it is done through debate and an open mind, a very short time is needed to change the outer worldly conditions. This sense of timing is demonstrated from the Sirah of the Prophet (pbuh).