The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World

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Overview

Analysts and pundits from across the American political spectrum describe Islamic fundamentalism as one of the greatest threats to modern, Western-style democracy. Yet very few non-Muslims would be able to venture an accurate definition of political Islam. Mohammed Ayoob's The Many Faces of Political Islam thoroughly describes the myriad manifestations of this rising ideology and analyzes its impact on global relations.

About the Author:
Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor of International Relations with a joint appointment in James Madison College and the Department of Political Science at Michigan State University. He is also Coordinator of the Muslim Studies Program at Michigan State University

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Editorial Reviews

Robert Springborg
"Although explicitly aimed at students in introductory courses and at nonspecialist readers, this is no dumbed-down textbook. Its argumentation is sophisticated, convincing, supported with ample empirical detail and presented in crisp, clear prose. While it does indeed fill the gap of a suitable introductory text to the subject, it will also be of value to specialists because of its intellectual merits and the wide scope of its coverage. Those familiar with the author's previous works on the subject will find here a useful crystallization of his ideas on the topic, combined with an expanded empirical universe that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia...The next time I teach a course on this subject, this is the book I shall use and strongly recommend that others do as well. It not only debunks pernicious myths, but it puts a clear case that is far more right than wrong and serves as an excellent thesis against which various antithetical ideas can be articulated and discussed."
—Robert Springborg, Director of the London Middle East Institute, Middle East Policy Review
Robert Springborg
Although explicitly aimed at students in introductory courses and at nonspecialist readers, this is no dumbed-down textbook. Its argumentation is sophisticated, convincing, supported with ample empirical detail and presented in crisp, clear prose. While it does indeed fill the gap of a suitable introductory text to the subject, it will also be of value to specialists because of its intellectual merits and the wide scope of its coverage. Those familiar with the author’s previous works on the subject will find here a useful crystallization of his ideas on the topic, combined with an expanded empirical universe that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia...The next time I teach a course on this subject, this is the book I shall use and strongly recommend that others do as well. It not only debunks pernicious myths, but it puts a clear case that is far more right than wrong and serves as an excellent thesis against which various antithetical ideas can be articulated and discussed.
Middle East Policy Review
Middle East Policy Review
"Although explicitly aimed at students in introductory courses and at nonspecialist readers, this is no dumbed-down textbook. Its argumentation is sophisticated, convincing, supported with ample empirical detail and presented in crisp, clear prose. While it does indeed fill the gap of a suitable introductory text to the subject, it will also be of value to specialists because of its intellectual merits and the wide scope of its coverage. Those familiar with the author’s previous works on the subject will find here a useful crystallization of his ideas on the topic, combined with an expanded empirical universe that stretches from Morocco to Indonesia...The next time I teach a course on this subject, this is the book I shall use and strongly recommend that others do as well. It not only debunks pernicious myths, but it puts a clear case that is far more right than wrong and serves as an excellent thesis against which various antithetical ideas can be articulated and discussed."
---Robert Springborg, Director of the London Middle East Institute, Middle East Policy Review
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472069712
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 11/19/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 446,335
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt


The Many Faces of Political Islam

Religion and Politics in the Muslim World


By MOHAMMED AYOOB
The University of Michigan Press
Copyright © 2008

University of Michigan
All right reserved.



ISBN: 978-0-472-09971-9



Chapter One Defining Concepts, Demolishing Myths

Over the last decade and a half, but especially since 9/11, three major assumptions have inspired much of the popular discussion about political Islam. These are, first, that the intermingling of religion and politics is unique to Islam; second, that political Islam, like Islam itself, is monolithic; and third, that political Islam is inherently violent. This book will argue that none of these assertions captures the reality of the multifaceted phenomenon fashionably called "political Islam." It will do so by demonstrating that the Islamic religious tradition is no different from many others in terms of wrestling with the issue of religion in politics and politics in religion. It will also do so by exploring the multiple voices that claim to speak for Islam and the discrete national contexts that give different manifestations of political Islam their distinctive local color. It will do so further by arguing both that mainstream Islamist parties-which form the overwhelming majority of Islamist political formations in terms of numbers, membership, and support bases-by and large abjure violence and that factions that engage in violent activity often do so in response to state repression or foreign occupation. It will also argue that transnational extremist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, are fringe phenomena that are marginal to the primary political struggles going on within predominantly Muslim societies. Finally, it will demonstrate that political Islam does not operate in a vacuum and that variables external to Islamism, principally the nature of domestic regimes and the substance of major powers' foreign policies, have substantial impact on the emergence, popularity, and durability of Islamist movements and parties.

What Is Political Islam?

Before beginning a discussion of issues related to political Islam, one must provide an adequate definition of the terms political Islam or Islamism-that is, Islam as political ideology rather than religion or theology. At the most general level, adherents of political Islam believe that "Islam as a body of faith has something important to say about how politics and society should be ordered in the contemporary Muslim world and implemented in some fashion." While correct as a broad, sweeping generalization, this is too nebulous a formulation for it to act as an analytical guide capable of explaining political activity undertaken in the name of Islam. Greg Barton points out: "Islamism covers a broad spectrum of convictions. At one extreme are those who would merely like to see Islam accorded proper recognition in national life in terms of national symbols. At the other extreme are those who want to see the radical transformation of society and politics, by whatever means, into an absolute theocracy."

A more precise and analytically more useful definition of Islamism describes it as "a form of instrumentalization of Islam by individuals, groups and organizations that pursue political objectives." According to this definition, Islamism "provides political responses to today's societal challenges by imagining a future, the foundations for which rest on reappropriated, reinvented concepts borrowed from the Islamic tradition." While Islamists do not necessarily agree on the strategies or tactics needed to re-create a future based on their conceptions of the golden age of early Islam, they share the yearning to "go back to the future" by reimagining the past based on their readings of the fundamental scriptural texts.

The reappropriation of the past, the "invention of tradition" in terms of a romanticized notion of a largely mythical golden age, lies at the heart of this instrumentalization of Islam. The invention of tradition provides many Islamists the theoretical tools for dehistoricizing Islam and separating it from the various contexts-in terms of time and space-in which Islam has flourished over the past fourteen hundred years. In theory, this decontextualizing of Islam allows Islamists to ignore the social, economic, and political milieus within which Muslim societies operate. It therefore provides Islamists a powerful ideological tool that they can wield in order to "purge" Muslim societies of "impurities" and "accretions," natural accompaniments of the historical process, which they see as the reason for Muslim decline. However, context has a way of taking its own revenge on abstract theory when attempts are made to put such theory into practice. This is exactly what has happened to Islamism, a topic I will return to later in this book.

The Islamic Conception of the Golden Age

Patricia Crone characterizes the Islamic notion of the golden age, central to Islamist thinking, as a "primitivist utopia, both in the sense that it presented the earliest times as the best and in the sense that it deemed a simple society to be the most virtuous." This notion of a golden age, limited to the time of the Prophet and the first four "righteously guided" caliphs, is not a novel twentieth-century idea. It has existed, with certain variations, from the earliest centuries of Islam. However, what is new is the way it is used by modern Islamists. These Islamists posit that it is possible to re-create that golden age in the here and now and that the political energies of Muslims should be devoted toward achieving this goal by reshaping and reconstructing Muslim polities in the image of Islam's first polity, the city-state of Medina.

In contrast, the classical Muslim notion of the golden age hinged on the assumption that it is unattainable in historical time. This implicitly contextualized it in seventh-century Medina and thus ruled out its re-creation in the present or future. In fact, this continues to be true of the majority traditionalist view of the golden age today. Carl Brown has pointed out: "[M]ainstream Muslim political thought throughout the ages has protected inviolate the idealized early community by resisting the temptation to relate too precisely the pristine model to stubborn reality. The model of the early community remains thus an unsullied norm, but in the terminology of modern political science the maxims derived from the idealized model are not readily operationalized." This idealization but presumed inoperability of the golden age model helped the vast majority of Muslims to reconcile themselves to the reality of imperfect political arrangements, including unjust orders and tyrannical rulers.

Only some small groups no longer politically relevant, such as the Kharijites and the early Ismailis, advocated implementing the golden age model in historical time. But they were either suppressed or unable to capture the imagination of the large majority of Muslims, who remained rooted in reality and suspicious of millenarian movements. The largest minority sect, the Imami, or Twelver Shiites, came to terms with what they considered to be unjust rule through the mechanism of the occultation of the twelfth imam, the Mahdi, whose return is considered essential by them to usher in legitimate rule among Muslims and in the world. Had it been otherwise-that is, had the golden age been generally perceived by a substantial segment of Muslims as a model to emulate in historical time-it would have led to incessant turmoil threatening Muslim societies with recurrent anarchy. The notions of justice and equality, enshrined in the golden age model, would have attained priority over those of order and hierarchy, thus threatening the fragile stability, first, of the Umayyad and Abbasid empires and, subsequently, of the multiple Muslim polities that succeeded them. Moreover, the model of the city-state of Medina would have never worked in the context of huge agricultural and hydraulic empires that emerged out of early Muslim conquests. These needed dynastic rule to provide continuity and stability, thus rendering the quest for the ideal an exercise in futility.

Justifying the Status Quo in Classical Islam

Political quietism, which, despite periodic turbulence, became the norm among Muslim masses living under Muslim rulers for a thousand years, was the product in part of the indefinite postponement into the far future of any attempt at replicating the imagined model of perfect justice and equality that were presumed to reign supreme during the time of the Prophet and his immediate successors. The Shiites, as pointed out earlier, achieved this by sending their twelfth imam into occultation and postponing the creation of a just order until his return. The majority Sunnis achieved the same result partly by accepting the notion of the return of their own mahdi toward the end of time. In greater part, however, political quietism was justified by the Sunni ulama, the religious scholars, with the help of two interrelated arguments.

First, they argued that the alternative to tyranny would be anarchy that could lead to the dissolution of the umma, the community of believers, thus throwing out the baby with the bathwater. This argument was buttressed by selectively quoting from the Quran, especially the verse "O ye who believe! Obey Allah and obey the messenger and those of you who are in authority." It was reinforced by reference to the maxim, often attributed to the Prophet, that "sixty years of tyranny is better than one day's anarchy." Carl Brown points out: "Rather than a divine right of rule, Islam came to recognize a divinely sanctioned need for rule ... The Islamic tradition asserted, in effect, that mankind's need for government was so overwhelming as to make the quality of that government decidedly secondary." It would not be wrong to assert that Thomas Hobbes must have been familiar with this classical Islamic argument. His social contract theory mirrors it quite faithfully.

The second argument took as its starting point the assumption that a Muslim ruler, however corrupt and unjust, was essential to preserve and defend the land of Islam against infidels and to ensure that Muslims in the realm could practice their religion freely. The existence of less-than-perfect political orders was also justified with reference to the belief that Muslims could not perform their religious obligations unless they had an imam or caliph presiding over the community, in whose name the Friday sermons could be read and who could be deemed the leader of the caravan (the metaphor used by Patricia Crone for the Muslim umma), leading the community to salvation. Again, the character of the imam/caliph was deemed secondary, and Muslim theologians went to great extents to legitimize rule by caliphs who were visibly unjust, cruel, and corrupt.

Sunni theologians of Islam's classical period turned the defense of the status quo into a fine art. When the Abbasid caliph became a mere handmaiden of Turkic warrior-rulers from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, leading ulama devised ways to bestow legitimacy on him even though he no longer exercised power in any real sense of the term. For example, in a novel interpretation of the caliph's role, the famous theologian Al-Ghazali of the eleventh and twelfth centuries advocated a division of labor between the sultan and the caliph, with the former exercising power on the latter's behalf while the latter continued to symbolize the religious unity of the umma. He went to the extent of justifying usurpation of power by Turkic dynasts, who constantly overthrew and replaced each other in different parts of the nominal caliph's domain, by ex post facto investiture by the caliph of their right to rule over territories they had acquired by force. In fact, this practice became common in the later Abbasid period in a desperate attempt by the caliph and his advisors to make theory conform to reality. Writing two hundred years later, the Hanbali theologian Ibn Taymiyya, commonly considered to be the forebear of Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and his puritanical interpretation of Islam, argued: "The essence of government ... was the power of coercion, which was necessary if men were to live in society and their solidarity was not to be destroyed by natural human egoism. Since it was a natural necessity, it arose by a natural process of seizure, legitimized by contract of association. The ruler as such could demand obedience from his subjects, for even an unjust ruler was better than strife and the dissolution of society; 'give what is due from you and ask God for what is due to you.'"

Despite the contemporary Islamists' admiration for Ibn Taymiyya, they have in theory radically reversed the traditional orientation of Islamic theological interpretation. Their position that the golden age of pure and pristine Islam can be re-created in the contemporary era has had the opposite effect of that of political quietism and stable political orders so dear, for good reasons, to the hearts of most Islamic scholars of the classical period. The Islamists' current rhetoric mobilizing popular opinion in support of their vision has capitalized on the increasingly democratic and participatory sensibilities of the modern age. It has thus helped to mobilize large segments of the population in many Muslim countries that may otherwise have remained politically apathetic. This has certainly had destabilizing effects; but, at the same time, it has contributed in substantial measure to democratizing the political culture of several Muslim countries because of the high value it places on political activism and participation. I will return to this theme when I discuss the impact of political Islam on important Muslim countries later in this book. However, it is clear that leading theologians of the classical period of Islam would not have approved the use of political Islam for objectives against the status quo.

Colonialism and the Emergence of Islamism

As we know it today, Islamism, or political activity and popular mobilization in the name of Islam, emerged in response to a set of factors that were introduced into the Muslim world as a result of the latter's encounter with the West from the eighteenth century onward, when the West became increasingly powerful and the lands of Islam became progressively weak. This, in Muslim perceptions, was a reversal of the normal and presumably divinely ordained order of things, at least as it had persisted for a thousand years before the beginning of European ascendancy. Thus it needed both explanation and remedy. One of the most powerful explanations of Muslim degeneration was provided by those who came to be known as Salafis (meaning emulators of the salaf al-salih, the "righteous ancestors"). They argued that the primary reason for Muslim decline lay in the fact that Muslims-rulers and subjects alike-had deviated from the model set out for them by their righteous ancestors. The Salafis advocated that the remedy for Muslim degeneration lay in their return to the original path of Islam and in the re-creation of the model that had prevailed in the presumed golden age of the Prophet and the first four caliphs.

To be fair to the original proponents of the idea of returning to the pristine Islam of the earliest centuries, leading figures among them, such as the nineteenth-century theologian and jurist Muhammad Abduh of Egypt, advocated such a course because they believed the original teachings of Islam to be in total accord with the scientific positivism and rationality that underpinned modernity. Eminent historian Albert Hourani explains things from Abduh's point of view: "[T]he mark of the ideal Muslim society is not law only, it is also reason. The true Muslim is he who uses his reason in affairs of the world and of religion; the only real infidel (kafir) is he who closes his eyes to the light of truth and refuses to examine rational proofs." Abduh's aim and that of his peers who thought on similar lines was to rescue Muslim societies from backwardness and superstition, which they saw as consequences of un-Islamic accretions introduced in the later centuries of Islam.

However, this modernist interpretation of the golden age was overshadowed by those among the revivalists, such as Abduh's Syrian disciple Rashid Rida, who interpreted the return to the golden age in literal terms and advocated the creation of an authentic Islamic polity based on their imagined model of the Islamic society at the time of the Prophet and his immediate successors in seventh-century Arabia. Paradoxically, Abduh himself was responsible for opening the way for such a revivalist interpretation. Malcolm Kerr has argued convincingly: "[B]y asserting that Muslims must look back to their earliest history to discover the principles of their faith, he encouraged others to reexamine traditional institutions of government and law as they had presumably existed in the great days of the Rashidun [the righteously guided] and to explain in what respects they had become corrupted. 'Abduh's stimulus thus made the almost forgotten classical theory of the Caliphate and the resurrection of the Shari'a as a comprehensive legal system live options for such men as Rashid Rida."

(Continues...)




Excerpted from The Many Faces of Political Islam by MOHAMMED AYOOB Copyright © 2008 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface     ix
Abbreviations     xiii
Defining Concepts, Demolishing Myths     1
Islam's Multiple Voices     23
Self-Proclaimed Islamic States     42
Between Ideology and Pragmatism     64
Muslim Democracies     90
Islamist National Resistance     112
Transnational Islam     131
The Many Faces of Political Islam     152
Notes     171
Glossary     191
Bibliography     195
Index     205
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