The overwhelming majority of rulers and regimes in the Muslim world do not have legitimacy. Let us understand the nature of legitimacy first. The fundamental criterion for legitimacy flows from abiding by and following divine commands. Any leader that follows divine commands automatically has legitimacy whether the majority follows him or not. All prophets belonged to this category.
The second category is what we would call popular legitimacy. This means that people follow the leader who adheres to divine commands. If we look at prophetic history, we find that while all the prophets had divine legitimacy, not everyone enjoyed popular legitimacy because in many instances, the people did not follow them. The noble Qur’an narrates the stories of many prophets that delivered the divine message but the vast majority in society refused to follow it.
Fast forward to today. As stated above, the overwhelming majority of rulers in the Muslim world have no legitimacy, divine or popular. Their policies are not only un-Islamic, they are anti-Islamic. These rulers brutalize committed Muslims whose only fault is that they call for the implementation of Islamic laws in society. However, the rulers also understand that the masses yearn for Islamic laws. Thus, they put on a show of performing well-publicized Hajj or Umrah with TV cameras in tow. They also build cathedral-type mosques to give the impression that they are sincere about Islam. Mosques named after rulers litter the Muslim world, each one more massive than the other but far be it for these very rulers to alleviate the suffering of the masses.
Of late, they have resorted to other gimmicks. Every ruler has adopted his own favorite shaikh or Islamic scholar. Most of them have opted for the Sufi variety. Sufis are currently more popular in the West and since these rulers want to please their Western masters—the imperialists and Zionists—this serves their purpose well. This was not always the case.
For decades, most regimes in the Muslim world patronized the Ikhwan al Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) when they were being hounded by the Egyptian regime (The Ikhwan emerged in Egypt in 1928). Even the Bani Saud patronized them and gave them well- paying jobs in their universities and other state institutions. All this has changed now; the Ikhwan are no longer wanted. They are being persecuted not just in Egypt but also in Saudi Arabia as well as in other countries aligned with the Saudis. Today, the Ikhwan’s only patrons appear to be Turkey and Qatar. How long such patronage will last is uncertain.
Why have regimes whose roots are in Salafi-Wahhabism adopted Sufism for special favor? Their preferences are determined by their Western masters. When the Afghans were fighting the Soviets, these regimes were backing the very mujahideen that are today vilified as “extremists”. But since the US was using them against the Soviets, these regimes also joined the “jihad” against godless Communists. Once the Soviet Union was defeated, the US not only lost interest in the Afghan mujahideen, they were branded as “terrorists”.
Aware that Islam has enduring appeal for the masses, the rulers and their regimes in the Muslim world want to be seen as supporting Islam. But they want a “de-politicized” Islam of the Sufi variety in their own societies, not the active and engaged Islam advocated by the Ikhwan or a milder version promoted by the Jama‘at-e Islami in Pakistan. They have shipped their militants to other countries—Syria, Iraq, Libya etc—so that they can make trouble for others!
While these rulers talk about “tolerant” Islam, there is no tolerance in their version for the Ikhwan or what would be branded as “political” Islam. Why this double-standard?
The fact is that the “de-politicized” version of Islam they support is also political. When their paid ‘Sufi scholar’, Hamza Yusuf asserts that the masses should not rebel against the ruler—whatever the justification—this is a very political statement. It maintains the status quo of the illegitimate regimes.
The most hypocritical stance is that of the Saudi regime. It is currently leading a schizophrenic existence having shed, theoretically, its Wahhabi skin but is still unsure of where it wants to go. On the one hand its rulers talk about promoting “openness” and “freedom”, but on other they clamp down hard on those that are even mildly critical of regime policies.
Religious scholars that were until recently promoted suddenly fell out of favor and are today locked up in prison. Some are threatened with death; others have been executed. The Saudi regime has also announced that it will no longer finance mosques abroad. This is quite a change from its decades old policy. It has yet to be seen whether the regime will actually implement this policy but it is the contradiction in its stated aim of openness and the harsh treatment meted out to previously respected scholars that exposes its duplicitous nature.
What is beginning to emerge is that the regime wants to promote vulgarity and promiscuity. The aim is to keep people busy with pleasures of the flesh and crass materialism while it wants to have a freehand in the political arena that must remain its exclusive domain. How long will such contradictions endure is a moot point but what is clear is that these regimes are showing signs of extreme nervousness as their shelf-life gets dangerously close to expiry date.
The winds of change are beginning to blow stronger with time. Even their Sufi apologists would not be able to prevent their demise because at core, all these regimes are illegitimate. Gimmicks cannot confer legitimacy upon them.