An Islamic state is an ideological state; it is not a nationalist state and it is not a sectarian state. Achieving this, however, is easier said than done. An Islamic state rooted in an ideological Qur’an and a strategic Sunnah proved difficult to sustain for the early generations of Muslims after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. It is now proving just as hard to reconstruct after the death of Imam Khomeini (r).
The salient features of the first Islamic state and society in Madinah were many and varied. For the purposes of this article, we need to concentrate on just a few. The first is the fact that the wealth of the ummah was an accessible resource for all of its members, “So that it [wealth] does not become [a benefit] circulating [only] among those of you who are [already] wealthy” (al-Qur’an 59:7). An Islamic state and its society are distinguished from others by the fact that a slave like Bilal (ra) can attain the dignity to becaome equal with a master such as Abu Jahl. In the words of the Prophet (saw), “People are equal like the teeth of a comb.”
Another important feature of an Islamic state and its citizens is that they are required to obey Allah and His Messenger, and those of the believing Muslims who are qualified to lead them: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and uli al-amr from within you” (4:59).
Just as important a feature of an Islamic civil society and state is its transnational and global character: “We have not sent you [Muhammad] except as a mercy to all domains [of life]” (21:107); “It [the Qur’an] is but a reminder to all peoples” (81:27); “Allah does not want oppression [and tyranny] to befall humanity” (3: 108).
All these features and principles of the emerging Islamic society posed serious threats to the vested interests of the privileged classes of pre-Islamic society in Arabia, and contributed greatly to the fear, enmity and hatred with which they greeted the new faith and the Messenger bringing it. The powerful tribal leaders in Arabia declared war on Muhammad (saw) because of this idealism and the threat it posed to their position in society. Had the Prophet of Allah been content with a moral or spiritual change inArabia, these powers would probably have welcomed him as a preacher or visionary. But the Prophet was meddling in dangerous – to them – social and economic issues. The elites of Arabian society, like those everywhere, were ready to contemplate religious plurality, but not the implications of unconditional social and economic justice.
Now fast-forward to the Islamic movement and state today. There are many wealthy people who are not (nor want to be) concerned with the Islamic agenda of justice. They feel comfortable with Islam as ‘religion’ but nervous about Islam the ‘ideology’. They find it easy enough to be identified as Muslim to the extent of having it written on their identity card or passport, but consider it too much to be expected to “carry the world on their backs.” The justice-bearing Muslims of the first generations, the ones who accepted the honour of the Qur’an, cast aside their previous tribal, ethnic, national and racial loyalties and set out to change the world by bringing justice into the lives of individuals, families and societies. Nothing was going to keep them from this pursuit. They were driven by their consciences and their allegiance, and the opposition of those who felt threatened by the ideological elements of the new faith were not going to stop them.
The Islamic movement and Islamic state today have yet to recapture this spirit. It is a fact of our time (and the sooner we admit it the better) that we have state officials in Islamic Iran, and Muslims who identify with the global Islamic movement, who bend over backwards to accommodate the ‘kings’, ‘presidents’ and elites of the Muslim world whose main allegiance is to the Western imperialists of the modern world. This half-hearted Islam and half-made iman threaten to reduce the foreign minister of the Islamic state to a functionary, and to diminish the delegates of Islamic parties and organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to bus-boys. Their weakness comes from the fact that the Islamic movement and state no longer have the spirit and the breadth that would take them from a reactive mode to a proactive one. Whether these officials (and wannabe officials) realise it or not, they are all feeding off the sacrifices and revolutionary energy that were generated by the eruption of ideological Islam inspired by the late Imam Khomeini a quarter of a century ago. The salient features and principles of Islam (as described above) were all at work during that time. Unfortunately the Islamic state and movement have been coasting on the energy of that first decade of jihad and shahadah since then, while our enemies have not been so slack. Now, if only those officials would see the bigger picture, they would realise that the momentum of history is threatening to turn against them. To put it simply, Imam Khomeini (r) and those who aspire to fulfil their ideological responsibilities to Islam gave the Islamic movement a boost that has rarely been seen since the early history of Islam, and those of lesser faith and vision have squandered that legacy by diluting it with nationalism, pragmatism and political manoeuvring.
Yet they seem not to care. Don’t remind them of what Imam Khomeini (r) said or warned; do not refer them to the Qur’an and Sunnah. They are now in the middle of high-stake negotiations with taghut (2:256-7). They have gone so far; now is not the time to reappraise their policies. They have sent every type of signal and assurance to their interlocutors in Europe and America. The essence of their diplomacy is: “do not hate us, we are reasonable, we want to be like you, we want a dialogue; we want to forget the excesses of the past, and we will not act irrationally again.” All the greatest contributions of the movement inspired by Imam Khomeini – the bara’at from the mushrikeen in Makkah, the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the army to liberate al-Quds, the idea of Islamic unity, and the identification of the ‘Great Satan’ of our time with the US and the US-led world order– are seen as aberrations that these diplomats are willing to atone for. They seem content to operate within the taghut-defined boundaries of nationality and sect, and to ‘live and let live’.
So blind are these officials that they do not seem to realise that however hard they work to be accepted into the league of official taghut, this taghut will not accept them so long as they are are associated, in any way whatsoever, with ideological Islam. To convince this taghut of its ‘moderation’ – i.e. the total repudiation of any ideological element to Islam, and its firm restriction to the ‘religious’ level – Islamic Iran will have to scale down its nuclear programme to its non-military level; it will have to cast off and renounce every claim to Jerusalem and Palestine; and its people will have to behave like the nationalist Iranians and the sectarian Shi’is that they are are supposed to be. Yet even that may well not be enough; then, the compulsion will be to go even further to convince the West that Iran is really ‘liberal’ and ‘freedom-loving’. Iran will have to think about admitting transnational capital and becoming more ‘cooperative’ in the OPEC cartel. And if Iran’s Muslims are willing to ‘moderate’ their legal and social norms to be more permissive and promiscuous, then the ‘civilised world’ might readmit them into the ‘international community.’ If, for strictly religious reasons, the last is difficult, Iran may be permitted to maintain an element of ‘Islamicity’, on condition of there being a strict separation between ‘religion’ and politics, and no persecution of secularists or anti-religious elements in the cultural sphere. But Iran’s Muslims will still never be permitted to control their own petroleum, possess their own natural resources and decide how to use them, distribute their own wealth, or bring about a modicum of social justice– all that will never be countenanced.
The day is approaching when Islamic Iran, which has been at the cutting edge of the Islamic movement, will have to decide whether it is committed to the ideological and ethical purposes of the deen, or is willing to become just another ‘Islamic’ nation-state on Western terms, in which all the ideological, collective elements of Islam are set aside. It took a Mu’awiyyah and a Banu Umayyah to derail the first Islamic state to be based on the last wahi from Allah (swt). The question is whether the same is about to happen again to the first Islamic state of the contemporary era.
The Islamic Uprising in Iran a quarter of a century ago is too important and too special for Muslims to simply watch it wander from its original and true course. We remember all too clearly the impact this breakthrough had on Muslims everywhere. For the first time in modern history, Muslims had risen against a corrupt government and its imperialist and zionist sponsors, and were able to take control of their own country, and begin to show the rest of us how things should be done.
Of course, the road forward was not likely to be smooth. The sponsors of the Pahlavi regime could not be expected to sit and watch a people shape their own future on the basis of their Islamic faith and commitment. Throughout the last 25 years, America and Israel have been working to bring the Islamic government in Iran to its knees, with the support of their Western allies, Iran’s pro-Western neighbours and even supporters within Iran. Iran’s borders amount to some 8,000 kilometers; American troops are now based across six thousand kilometers of this border. This grim scenario has been gradually built over 25 years, and has passed almost unnoticed by most Muslims, and even most Iranians. There has never been any cessation of hostilities between the followers of the line of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), who refuse to compromise when it comes to the independence and sovereignty of the Islamic state, and the numerous other interests wanting to shape the state on their terms.
Part of our object in this new column is to look at some of the gaps that have developed since the passing of Imam Khomeini (r.a.), many of which are rooted in earlier events, and how these gaps have caused serious problems about which we can no longer remain silent. But before we walk into this sensitive area, one point needs to be made absolutely clear. This is that none of the points we make are intended to express any criticism of Imam Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the successor to Imam Khomeini (r.a.) as Rahbar of the Islamic State. Many of the points we make will be highlighting natural processes in the evolution of post-Revolutionary state and society. Others will indeed involve criticism of errors and failures in Iran, mainly on the part of those who have been responsible for aspects of Iranian government and policy at the executive level. It was inevitable that such errors and failures should emerge over a quarter of a century in an unprecedented and highly-pressured historical situation; unfortunately they have contributed greatly to what many now see as the Islamic experiment’s current stagnation.
Sometimes frank statements of truth can be bitter pills to swallow; we hope no-one will consider this column to be too bitter a pill. We say what we say only to express our honest understanding of the issues. If we are correct, we appeal earnestly to Allah to accept our humble words to our humble readers. If not, we request Allah’s forgiveness and correction from anyone able to do so; without, we hope, descending into personal issues or hidden agendas. Ameen.