Features of Islamic Radicalism
The Islamic movement is composed of the views of three thinkers of Muslim India, Indo-Pakistan, and Egypt. They are Abul Hassan ’Ali Nadawi, Abul A’la Mawdudi (1903-79), and Sayyed Qutb (c. 1906-66), who wrote their main works in the mid-twentieth century. Based on the Quran, their views encompass aspects of society and the state. They have made the seizure of state power the main goal. The movement is political, and the Islamists are, like other revolutionaries, concerned with power. In their view, God is the source of sovereignty, and his commands are the laws of Islam. Secular concepts such as nationalism, liberalism, democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism, and the like are rejected. As Sayyed Qutb holds, Islam “has chosen its own unique and distinctive way and presented to humanity a complete cure for all its ills.” Their prescriptions for the ills of humanity are to be administered by professional revolutionaries without recourse to the masses of the people and with no room for accommodation with adversaries.
The Islamists stress the need to introduce reform along Islamic fundamentalist lines. This is because, according to the thinkers, religious ignorance (jahiliyya) has prevailed in the world, as it had before the rise of Islam. Like revolutionaries, the Islamists consider the state to be an instrument of reform. The state, Mawdudi has propounded, is universal to the extent that its “sphere of activity is coextensive with the whole of human life.” Also, the state is ideological: that is, its aim is to establish the ideology based on the fundamentals of Islam, which are the Quran and the Sunna (sayings of the Prophet Mohammad). In Mawdudi’s writings, this is called the Islamic state, whereas in Sayyed Qutb’s writings it is termed “an Islamic order.” Both are coextensive with the activities of humanity. In Sayyed Qutb’s view, “Religion in the Islamic understanding is synonymous with the term nizam [order] as found in modern usage, with the complete meaning of a creed in the heart, ethics in behavior, and law in society.”
In Mawdudi’s view, the state “should be run only by those who believe in the ideology [of Islam] on which it is based and in the Divine Law which it is assigned to administer.” Mere belief in the ideology of Islam is not enough for a Muslim to run the state. “The administrators of the Islamic State,” Mawdudi avers, “must be those whose whole life is devoted to the observance and enforcement of this law, who not only agree with its reformatory program and fully believe in it but thoroughly comprehend its spirit and are acquainted with its details.” He further states that “whoever accepts this program, no matter to what race, nation or country he may belong, can join the community that runs the Islamic State. But those who do not accept it are not entitled to have any hand in shaping the fundamental policy of the State.” The non-Muslim subjects of an Islamic state are thus excluded from running the Islamic state but are entitled to all the rights and benefits of second-class citizens.
The Islamic state is yet more exclusive, for women, too, would be prohibited from administering it. In Mawdudi’s view, nature has made women unfit to play an active role in society, outside the home where they belong. He holds this view although Muslim women, like Muslim men, are counted as first-class citizens on whose will alone the Islamic state is to be based. Among men, too, by definition only a small group of pious professionals thoroughly versed in Islamic law and the fundamentals of Islam are entitled to run the state. Thus, the Islamic state, which is to be universal in function, becomes exclusive in composition. Mawdudi calls this state a theo-democracy. He calls it so not because it offers political pluralism and equality of all citizens before the law, irrespective of religious or political beliefs; indeed, he holds these principles to be contrary to the essence of Islam. He calls the Islamic state theo-democratic because, in his view, “the entire Muslim population runs the state in accordance with the Book of God and the practice of His Prophet.” In his view a theo-democracy is “a divine democratic government, because under it the Muslims have been given a limited popular sovereignty under the suzerainty of God.”
This limited sovereignty entitles the Muslims to constitute the government and also to depose it when it is found to be working contrary to Shari’a (Islamic law). In Mawdudi’s view, “Every Muslim who is capable and qualified to give a sound opinion on matters of law is entitled to interpret the law of God when such interpretation becomes necessary.” This sovereignty is further reinforced by the principle that “all questions about which no explicit injunction is to be found in the Shari’a are settled by the principle of consensus among the Muslims.” But in practical life only professionals are able to express sound judgment on matters of law. Since the majority cannot become professionals, the field becomes restricted to a small portion of society. Also, when it comes to the question of the head of the state, the limited sovereignty is limited still further, since only a male Muslim is considered qualified for the post of amir, who is to be assisted by a consultative council. Although Mawdudi allows women the right to vote, he demarcates a permanent division of labor in accord with the Islamic law, in which women are assigned indoor duties. On this point Sayyed Qutb is more explicit, stating that a woman fulfills her function by being a wife and mother, while the function of a man is to be the authority, the breadwinner, and the active member in public life. Thus, the Islamic state becomes a prerogative of professional Muslim men only.
On the question of state power, the Islamists are more serious than the traditional reformist religious thinkers were. This is one of the points of their departure from the reformist thinkers of the past. Since the state has now become more important, its seizure has been made a goal. Toward this end jehad, which traditionally is religious in the sense that it is extreme exertion of self and property in the cause of God, is looked on as a “continuation of God’s politics by other means” not only against infidels but also against tyrannical rulers when the tenets and rules of Islam are neglected or violated. In this sense, jehad is a form of permanent political struggle designed, as Qutb argues, to disarm the enemy so that Islam is allowed to apply its Shari’a unhindered by the oppressive power of idolatrous tyrannies.
Both Mawdudi and Qutb place jehad at the forefront of religious obligations, arguing that it is a duty incumbent on all Muslim men, particularly when their religion is under attack by the spread of jahiliyya. Mawdudi rejects the view that jehad is either a “holy war” waged by religious zealots in order to convert infidels by force of arms or an instrument of self-defense. There is a connection between the use of force and the nature of Islam as a dynamic movement, or “a revolutionary ideology” as Mawdudi calls it. The missionary side of Islam is relegated to this ideology. Because it is “a revolutionary ideology,” Islam has adherents who are an “international revolutionary party” that has as its main aim a worldwide revolution that transcends boundaries and national territories. The seizure of political power is thus the consummation of jehad and its raison d’être.
The process by which political power is acquired is central to the Islamists, as it is to all revolutionaries. Since to the Islamists Islam is a “revolutionary ideology” and its adherents “revolutionaries,” it is logical to assume that their immediate goal is to seize the state. They have discarded gradualist and reformist approaches, including the holding of elections and the rest of the democratic procedures for attaining state power. They have done so not only because these approaches are the contribution of the Western world, for which Islam has no need, but also because in Sayyed Qutb’s view the common people are unreliable, easily swayed by demagogues, particularly in the age of mass media. In his view the seizure of power is the work of the “chosen elite,” the vanguard of professional revolutionaries who dedicate their life to one purpose. Well-disciplined, highly organized, and imbued with the spirit of a new era in the long march of Islam, they cannot fail to win.
To ensure victory for the vanguards, Sayyed Qutb has left them some guidelines in their “long march” toward an Islamic state. In their daily confrontations with the state, they must dissociate themselves from it. Except for a studied and purposeful interaction, neither penetration of the existing political establishment nor cooperation and accommodation with the state are to be allowed. In his own words, “the summoners to God must be distinct and a community unto themselves.” As Youssef M. Choueiri points out, this attitude results in a society of the believers, represented by God’s select group, that is in a perpetual conflict with the unbelievers, whose earthly concern spans both society and the state. The more important point of Sayyed Qutb’s views on the subject of direct struggle of the vanguards with the state has been summed up as follows: “First a small group of people accept the creed until it is firmly rooted in the hearts of its members; then this group begins to organize its life on the basis of this creed and encounters persecution from the surrounding jahili [ignorant] society, then it splits off from the surrounding jahili society and confronts it in an open struggle. Then it succeeds completely, or partially, or is defeated, as God wills.” As a devout Muslim, Sayyed Qutb, with the cooperation of a network of militant underground cells, intended to offer a model to his followers by trying to overthrow the socialistic government of President Jamal Abdul Nasser by a swift armed action. But before he was able to do so, he was seized and condemned to death in August 1966. His teachings and methods, however, soon invigorated Islamists throughout the Muslim world, encouraging them to set up political organizations for the same purpose.