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Islamic Movement

The road to success for the global Islamic movement

Muzaffar Iqbal

The situation Muslims currently face is by no mean unprecedented; several times in the last 1,425 years, Muslims have faced the threat of a total annihilation, because of either internal strife or external threats. Recall the day when the Companions of the Prophet found themselves pitched against each other, with ‘A’ishah (ra), the Prophet’s beloved wife, commanding one army and ‘Ali (ra), the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law the other. Or think of the twelve long and terrible years of the second fitnah (680–692), during which Husayn b. ‘Ali and all but one of his companions were killed at Karbala; when Makkah was besieged not by an alien army but by men who professed the same faith as those that they were about to slaughter in the sanctified precincts where fighting had been declared unlawful by Allah Himself (Qur’an 2:217); and when the Khawarij took control of much of Arabia. There is also in our history the great deluge of 1258, when Baghdad, now under barbaric occupation again, was taken over by a ruthless army of nomads who erected a tower of heads in the city that had been a seat of glory and power for five centuries. And, not long ago, almost the entire Ummah was under foreign occupation.

Yet none of these previous “low points” in history is comparable to what we face today. The present threat to Islam and Muslims threatens to dissolve the Ummah by means which were unimaginable even two decades ago. This menace, which has existed for at least two hundred years, has crossed a new threshold since September 2001. That dreadful event has not only provided a new launch-pad for the persecution of all manner of things Islamic, but also a brazen excuse for an open assault on even the most innocent symbols of Islamic commitment, such as hijab, beards and jilbabs. This recent aggressiveness of the West has radically transformed the nature of the threat faced by Muslims, and therefore needs a new response by the Muslim leaders now at the forefront of a loosely connected and sometimes internally fractured global Islamic movement. But before one can formulate a general framework for this new strategy, it is important to understand certain aspects of the challenges faced by Muslims in this changed environment.

The nature of the threat

Islam and Muslims today face a threat that is comprehensive and universal in nature. This means that the threat is global in a geographical sense, and it encompasses all aspects of religion and life. It aims at nothing less than a total destruction of the way Muslims try to live according to the dictates of a Divinely revealed Book that has always informed their decisions and shaped their lives. The global nature of the threat has been greatly enhanced by unprecedented technological developments. Technologies invented in recent decades have given the West an ability to reach out and destroy even the remotest deserts and mighty mountains of this planet; no place on earth is now safe from this technological invasion.

The multi-faceted and comprehensive nature of this invasion can be judged from the rapid impact on lifestyles, cultures and social and communal relations throughout the Muslim world. Then there is the emergence of a new kind of education that is eroding the Islamic worldview in Muslim lands. In addition, there is the ubiquitous dish antenna, dotting cities and remote villages alike, even in places where potable water is not available, projecting a mainly Western worldview, lifestyle and aspirations to peoples who have little resistance to this infiltration of visual images into their beings. But these are merely the outward signs of a deep malaise that now extends to the entire Muslim world. This is an invasion of a totally new kind, and it is undermining moral values and ethical norms that have existed for centuries. It is perhaps already too late to stem the tide, as one can see a wave of devastating destruction spreading throughout the traditional lands of Islam, where Western civilization has been able to create a niche in the hearts of young people who see merely the most superficial and glamorous aspects of a consumerist culture, and therefore seek instant gratification of base desires.

This constant seepage of Western culture, norms and values into the Muslim heartlands is creating a generation of Muslim men and women who are uprooted from their intellectual and spiritual heritage, disenchanted and in revolt. Possessed by a blind, passive and uncritical imitation of what they have seen in the West, these young men and women are the most important asset of the advancing armies (both real and virtual) of the new colonizers, who are spending billions of dollars to win them to their side in insidious ways. This havoc, now so visible in Muslim lands, is only one of many new challenges faced by Muslims.

The new threat has been institutionalized through a network of economic, political, social, scientific and intellectual organizations have been established to “legalize” aggression. The most dangerous and ubiquitous of these are the United Nations and its numerous sub-organizations, including the IMF, theWorld Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). These institutions have gained a certain degree of acceptability because of the inclusion of Muslim governments, and there is not a single government—Muslim or otherwise—that seems to have the ability to challenge the foundational or working principles of these institutions, no matter how inequitable and unjust these principles are. That the working principles of these institutions have been specifically designed to give control of the world to the West is abundantly clear and requires no further elucidation. Take, for instance, the fact that five and only five states are considered “permanent members” of the Security Council, and have special privileges. There is absolutely no justification for this. What makes this totally arbitrary rule immoral is not only the fact that it has been used against Muslims over and over, but also the very foundational anarchy of its existence: an organization purporting to represent all the peoples of the world on the basis of equality and human dignity cannot justly discharge its duties if five of its members assume this enormous advantage and privilege over the rest of the world. What elevates the US, Britain, France, Russia and China over the rest of the world? Surely not their track record of oppression and occupation of other lands, nor their ethically bankrupt economic strategies, nor their multi-billion dollar arms industries that continue to produce weapons of mass destruction.

The nature of this institutionalized threat to the Muslim world has been amply demonstrated in the last two years, when the UN and the permanent members of its Security Council failed to prevent the US’s aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. Apart from these two recent examples, one can find numerous instances of unjust aggression by the US, Britain and Russia against other peoples that were either sanctioned by the UN or were committed with its tacit approval.

Likewise on the economic front, this institutionalized threat to the Muslim world has woven such a net of economic dependence that no Muslim country controls its own resources. Trade quotas and imbalances force small economies into a slavish isolation. In addition there is the technological advantage of the West, which has made the entire Muslim world hostage to the dictates of Western multi-national corporations even for Muslims’ daily needs and food supplies. This dependence has been created by a nefarious process of destruction of local industry and agriculture, with the help of lackeys installed in the Muslim world.

The threat faced by the Muslim world today is both internal and external. The most dangerous aspect of the internal aspect of the threat is concentrated in the power nuclei that shape, define and control the social, political and economic lives of the Muslim communities. These local outposts constitute the institutionalized forms of a neo-colonization that has been built upon the structures first established during the period of direct occupation of the Muslim world: the military is the most ruthless and omnipotent institution of the colonial vintage. No matter where one looks in the Muslim world, it is the brute force of organized, trained armies that ultimately acts against Islamic movements; it is always our own armies that counter the aspirations of committed Muslims to create societies based on the teachings of Islam. Whether in Syria, Turkey, Pakistan or Iraq, it is the military that takes over the reins of the state and enforces the writ of its masters. This internal power structure owes its foundation, as well as continued existence, to the West. Without exception, officers in these armies are trained in the military academies of the West. The higher the rank, the deeper the infiltration of ideas and lifestyles of the West.

A closer look at the making of these armies is instructive. In all of these armies, there exists a comprehensive internal process of filtration that weeds out anyone whose loyalty is perceived to be a threat, long before he reaches a post where he can be instrumental in bringing any change. Then there are numerous training programs that bring officers to the West, where they are trained not only in military techniques, but also in living a lifestyle that conforms to Western norms.

An important feature of these armies is their total failure: since World War II, when the formal occupation of Muslim countries by the West ended, these armies have never won a war against any aggressor. Whether it be multiple armies against the tiny Israel, or Pakistan’s large army against the Indian army, there has never been a success story. The two American wars against Iraq also demonstrated that these armies are of no use when it comes to foreign aggression. Thus the only role of these armies is to conquer their own peoples, over and over again. In this role, they are a very effective tool in the hands of the West: instead of dealing with multiple and diffused civil institutions and nuclei of power, the West has conveniently created and maintained these so-called Muslim armies to do their bidding. No wonder that, when these armies were recently destroyed in Afghanistan and Iraq, their restoration became a top priority of the West.

In addition to the military, there are many other facets of the internal threat. They include a very large and complex communication system controlled and operated by the West; sophisticated means of controlling public opinion, lifestyles and popular trends, such as the news and entertainment media; and a vast network of think-tanks, non-governmental organizations and institutions such as the British councils and the American centers, which use camouflaged programmes to undermine Islamic norms and values in our societies.

Another aspect of this internal threat is sectarian conflict, which has been increasing. Not only are Shi’as and Sunnis being set against each other, but even within the Sunni communities—and to a lesser extent within Shi’a communities—small, inconsequential differences are being played up as major points of discord and disharmony. This sectarianism, aimed at dividing Muslims by overshadowing the central unity of beliefs in Tawhid, Risalah and the Hereafter, shared by all Muslims, often result in violence, and is among the most dangerous internal perils that the Ummah faces.

There is no reason to believe that these threats, and many others, have come into existence as a short-term response to a perceived or actual Islamic threat; this vast network of control has come into existence over a long period of time and has been established to last for a long time. To understand the nature of the longevity of this threat, one has to accept one fundamental difference between the Western and Islamic civilizations: the former is a man-made civilization in which ultimately the source of all things is the human will. Built upon a succession of philosophical ideas and moral and ethical values that follow from those ideas, the Western civilization derives its legitimacy from its belief that ultimately what is best for humanity is defined by humanity itself. All ideologies and beliefs held sacred by Western men and women stem from this basic belief. Even when religion is present in one or the other form behind these philosophies, it is not a divine deen anchored in revelation, but a human construct, perceived, constructed and formulated by men (and occasionally by women). In contrast, all things Islamic originate in a supra-human text, the Qur’an, which remains the ultimate arbitrator of the validity of a belief in the Islamic civilization. This sharp contrast between the two civilizations is not a temporary phenomenon; in fact, the divergence between them is going to increase as the West becomes more and more moribund. Thus, whether it is the general acceptability of homosexuality or the new laws being enacted to include ‘same-sex marriage’ in legal codes, Western civilization is moving further away not only from Islamic civilization, but also from its own now-remote origins. This divergence is misconstrued by power-holders in the West as a threat to their way of life, and thus they are, in turn, going to increase their aggression against Islam and Muslims in the future.

Finally, let us note that the threat posed by the West to Islam and Muslims is not merely to the economic, political and social structure of the life of this world; it is a threat that encompasses the entire spectrum of life in this world and endangers our individual and collective lives in the Hereafter. Through its penetration into the Islamic intellectual tradition, the West has been able to create a small but very aggressive intellectual front within the Muslim world that consists of Muslims who are attacking some of the most sacred foundations of Islam. Whether they claim to be promoting “progressive” or “enlightened” Islam, or simply work through universities, madaris, and mosques (such as the Masjid al-Darar in Madinah in the Prophet’s time), the goal of these intellectual lackeys is to expose the sacred text of Islam and the life of the Prophet Muhammad—may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him—to treatment similar to the one meted out to the Bible by the so-called “higher criticism”. Such activities, all pursued, of course, as reinterpretation and ijtihad, are now widespread and present Muslims with an challenge to their faith that endangers their Hereafter. The dangers posed by this effort need to be understood very clearly, as nothing could be more important to Muslims than what we are to face in the Hereafter.

The responsibilities of the global Islamic movement: what is to be done?

This broad outline of the challenges faced by Muslims necessarily leads to the question: What is to be done against these threats? In the first two parts of this article, we explored various responses and strategies adopted by Muslim leaders. The obvious reality of these strategies is that they have failed to turn the tide: the overall situation of the Ummah has not improved; in fact, it has continued to deteriorate. The various solutions adopted by Muslim leaders have evidently been inadequate; perhaps the malaise has not even been diagnosed properly.

In this bleak scenario, our hope lies in the incorruptible, authentic and time-tested guidance that is in our possession in the form of the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet (saw). The real answers lie in these two sources only; all other solutions will prove inadequate, transitory and partial. The guidance from these two sources is general in nature, as it must be for people in all places, at all times; it provides basic principles on which the Islamic movement needs to be established. Wherever and whenever Muslims have adopted these principles they have been successful to the extent of their faithfulness to the principles.

It is obvious from the Qur’an and the Sunnah that a successful Islamic movement begins with a righteous, devoted and fully committed leader who gathers a number of people around a clearly articulated goal. This strategy is the way of the prophets (as); each and every Prophet followed this path, and although not all succeeded in establishing states based on the message they brought, as that was clearly not part of Allah’s universal plan for humanity, not one has ever abandoned this path.

The results obtained by following this path can be evaluated from the historical record. We see that whenever Muslims followed this prophetic path, they succeeded in achieving results to the extent of their commitment and sincerity. We have pointed out that both Mawlana Mawdudi and Imam Khomeini adopted this strategy; both clearly recognized the threats faced by Muslims and both had produced small nuclei of others who did the same. Mawlana Mawdudi later abandoned this path and failed, Imam Khomeini remained committed and succeeded in establishing an Islamic state.

The second prerequisite for a successful Islamic movement is clarity of thought and vision. One finds that the Makkan surahs of the Qur’an repeat three fundamental aspects of the Prophetic message over and over, in many different ways and through a host of metaphors and examples. These are Tawhid (the Unicity of Allah), Risalah (Prophethood) and Ma`ad (the return, i.e. to Allah for judgement). This repetition is meant to delineate clearly the fundamental beliefs of the two systems—those of kufr and iman. The understanding and expression of these articles of faith generates a clarity that sets Islam’s message apart from kufr. A host of historical, logical and observational arguments are used to deny multiplicity of deities, assert the need for prophets, and to establish the fact of the Hereafter. Once the two modes of thought and action had been clearly established as antithetical and fundamentally different, the Prophet then proceeded to establish a state and society based on Islam.

In our present circumstances, the need to articulate clearly the purpose, goals and strategies of the global Islamic movement has become extremely pressing. What exactly is the difference between a society based on revelation and a society based on man-made laws? What are the reasons and benefits for establishing Islamic states? How does a society based on Divine concepts of ‘adl (justice) benefit humanity? Why should all Muslims become part of the struggle to establish Islamic states? What are the consequences of remaining passive? These and other aspects of our contemporary struggle need to be clearly and repeatedly defined and explained.

The third basic aspect of the strategy required for success is a certain degree of spiritual detachment from concern about the outcome of one’s efforts. This is an extremely crucial point, and its understanding requires a strong and clearly understood belief in unalterable Divine Writ, without giving in to fatalism. In other words, what needs to be understood is the fact that, ultimately, no human being controls the outcome of human struggles; that the outcome of our striving rests with Allah. We neither control, nor are responsible for the general flow of human history. Thus at each and every instance of our lives, we are faced with the choice of aligning ourselves with truth (Haqq) or against it, and it is to our own benefit that we side with truth and struggle to establish it according to our capacities. This means that each and every member of the global Islamic movement – ideally, each and every Muslim – needs to understand that his or her involvement in the cause is purely and solely for a reward that comes from Allah; that there is nothing of this world that he or she wishes for as a reward to establish Allah’s deen in this world.

Apart from these fundamental and general considerations, there is another particular aspect of the contemporary situation that must be mentioned. Today, political, economic and social conditions of the Muslim world vary from place to place. There are places where it has become impossible even to have a beard without risking being thrown in jail, and there are places where one faces state oppression merely because one goes to the mosque regularly. Then there is Iran, where twenty-six years ago a successful revolution installed an Islamic government and thus set the country apart from all other countries. The example of Iran merits the special attention of the leaders of the Islamic movement.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran

In 1979, the Islamic movement in Iran became the first movement in modern times to achieve a remarkable and significant success. The details of how this success was achieved offer fascinating insights into the wisdom and courage of leadership that established an Islamic government in a country that was the hub of the CIA’s espionage activities, and where a ruthless secret police particularly targeted those who wished to establish Islam. But that was twenty-six years ago. A whole new generation of Iranians has matured since that transforming year, and today Iran faces a new set of internal and external challenges that must be recognized by the Islamic leadership of that country as well as Muslim leaders elsewhere. Here, we can only highlight elements of the experience in Iran that are particularly important for the broader Islamic movement, rather than providing a detailed outline and analyses of the challenges that now confrontJomhuri-ye Islami-ye Iran.

Today, 70 percent of Iran’s 69 million people are less than 35 years of age. 22.5 million Iranians (or 33 percent of the population) are between the ages of 15 and 29. This means that most Iranians have grown up without any experience or memory of pre-revolutionary times. These young Iranians have no idea of the horrible conditions their parents and grandparents faced, nor of the tremendous sacrifices that were made to establish the Islamic state. These young men and women have no doubt heard about the Revolution, but the Revolution is not part of their own personal experience. They cannot really be expected to share the revolutionary fervor of their parents’ generation. This becomes clear as one walks through the streets of Iran’s major cities and meets these young men and women. They are not really all that interested in a by-gone revolution, and perhaps have heard too much about it. As is the case with young people everywhere, they are more interested in the future—especially their own futures— than in the past.

Of course, there is still a generation of Iranian Muslims who took part in the Revolution and who remember what Iran was like before 1979, and this generation is able to guide many institutions of contemporary Iran, but this situation is changing. As the new generation takes over, the spirit of the Revolution diminishes. In addition, despite Iran’s 133 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (which are expected to last until 3004, and are worth $7 trillion at current oil prices), and its 812 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, Iran today faces serious economic challenges. There is an acute housing shortage, especially in the big cities, and young men and women are facing increasing problems in starting their lives as new family units. The rate of inflation is as high as 20 percent, and unemployment is a major problem, especially for the young and educated. In addition to these numerical indicators, one also perceives a certain disenchantment with the Revolution, at least in a not insignificant segment of the population, particularly among the youth. Then there is the usual uninformed infatuation with the West’s glamorous and seductive image, among certain parts of Iran’s population as in all Muslim countries, perhaps exacerbated by the fact that Iranians have had less direct experience of the West than Muslims in other countries.

Externally, Iran is faced with a growing threat of invasion by the US, and although there is every reason to believe that this will not be an easy venture for the US, an attack on Iran would certainly cause terrible destruction and drain Iran’s resources. Then there is the dispute about Iran’s nuclear programme, which goes with the Western obsession about the mythical weapons of mass destruction that Iraq was supposed to possess. The International Atomic Energy Agency may try to maintain the image of independence from the US, but will no more be able to counter the US’s interests in this matter than the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were. An ever-intensifying game of diplomatic pressure and threats continues, amounting to psychological war. In addition, pro-Western Iranian elements in the US, and to a lesser extent in Europe, continue to receive large sums of money to fan anti-government flames within Iran.

Under these circumstances, Iran needs a second revolution, an intellectual and economic revolution that will inspire and equip new generations of Iranians to further the achievements of the 1979 revolution, and secure Iran’s future as an Islamic state. The two components of this new revolution, the intellectual and the economic, require detailed formulation by leaders of the Islamic movement. The intellectual revolution should aim at exploring the main facets of the Western civilization and analyze its real nature. Another dimension of this intellectual revolution should be to focus on the recovery and revival of Islamic intellectual thought, to which Iran has contributed so much in the past. This will anchor the new revolution in history, and provide much-needed openness for exploring contemporary issues.

The economic dimension of the new revolution should aim to bring a comprehensive change in the economic activity of the country, weaning it away from the emphasis on state-owned enterprises. With its oil and natural gas reservoirs, 80 percent literacy rate, and available manpower, Iran can achieve a major economic transformation within ten years, provided there is sound planning for this goal, a planning that harnesses new possibilities, especially in areas of technological development. There is also a pressing need to relocate large segments of population to rural areas in order to improve living conditions and to reduce air pollution in urban centers, where pollution from vehicle emissions has become a serious health hazard. A successful programme in Turkey, for instance, has brought large number of people back to three villages where the state has provided an institutional infrastructure comparable to that in cities. Such a programme would also provide at least a partial solution for the lack of housing in major cities. Urbanization is a process driven by economics, and can only be reversed through proper economic planning, taking into account the diverse nature of the Iranian population and the local needs of its 28 provinces.

In conclusion, a word must also be said about defence. In a world where no moral and ethical rules seem to prevent the strong and the powerful from devouring the rights of the weak, realism teaches us that only the strong and well-prepared can survive. There are no guarantees whatsoever that the US will not attack Iran at some point; nothing could keep it from attacking Iraq, despite the opposition of millions of people around the world. Only a credible deterrent can ensure that Islamic Iran is safe from a sudden aggression by the United States or its regional agent, Israel. Diplomacy can play its part, but everyone in Iran must realise that ultimately their homes, families and possessions are only safe if they can protect them. We have already learnt that no Muslim country will come to the help of another when it is most needed; and in fact, there is every possibility that the puppet states of the Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Iraq will openly or tacitly support the invading armies. Under these circumstances, Islamic Iran must develop a defence capability that will deter the US from military action that would cause massive destruction.

Iran must, therefore, work on several levels simultaneously; it must address its internal problems more effectively, on the basis of the values of the Islamic Revolution; it must develop all possible resources for its defence; and it must support the global Islamic movement in its bold confrontation with the present international power structure, at philosophical as well as practical levels.

The Way Forward

The global hegemony now enjoyed by the West – which itself is now dominated by the US – is opposed by the vast majority of the world’s people, both Muslim and non-Muslim. It is sustained only by the networks and institutions of dependence and control – political, economic, intellectual and philosophical – that the West has built to sustain its dominant position. But it is widely recognized that there is absolutely no moral and logical reason that a few chosen states of the world should have the right to develop all kinds of lethal weapons, including nuclear weapons, to establish and sustain their powers, while using agencies like the IAEA to ensure that other states are unable to do the same in order to defend themselves.

During the late nineteen-sixties, smaller nation-states attempted to dismantle the unjust framework of the United Nations, or to off-set its hegemony by establishing the non-aligned movement (NAM), but the effort was crushed even before it took off because of the political and institutional power that was turned against those states and the institutions they established. The danger those states recognized is all the greater now, and can only be countered not by states, but by a mass, popular movement among the peoples of the oppressed and dispossessed world. This movement can only emerge if it is based on values and faith with the depth to counter the most sophisticated belief-system ever devised by man: a value-system based not on anything man-made, but on the guidance provided to all mankind, for all time, by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala through the Qur’an and the example of His Prophet (saw).

Only the Islamic movement has the potential to rekindle the flame of a new hope for oppressed peoples all over the world, by leading an intellectual revolt against the powers that control these oppressive structures; the Islamic State of Iran must play a leading role in helping Islamic movements all over the world, and the leaders of the global Islamic movement, to launch a truly global effort to dismantle the present unjust world order.


Article from

Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 1

Muharram 20, 14262005-03-01


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