Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Intellectual godfathers of jihadism (2)

Continued from Part 1

‛Abduh and Ridhā

Two of al-Afghānī's followers were particularly important in developing his ideas: Muhammad ‛Abduh (1849-1905) and Rašīd Ridhā (1865-1935).

‛Abduh became the Mufti of Egypt in 1899, making him in Henzel's words "the only prominent Salafist to have made a career among the clerical elite."  Küng's description of ‛Abduh and Ridhā gives a synopsis of the elements of  their approach that made them made them influential.  Küng writes that as Mufti, ‛Abduh sought to "authoritatively interpret the sharia in a modern way."  (Note: Küng writes his historical narrative in present tense.)

He interprets it so that a reform of the justice system becomes possible and even European clothing and the payment of interest are allowed.  At the same time, he presses for reform of Islāmic law, Islāmic theology and education.  He made the differentiation that duties to God like prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, are clearly unchangeable; but in no way is that true of duties to other people.  ‛Abduh showed himself to be especially critical of polygamy and its highly negative effects on family life.  Besides his Qur'ān commentary and a treatise on mystical inspiration, he wrote The Theology of Unity (Risālat at-tawhid).  His comrade-in-arms (Mitkämpfer) Qāsid Amīn (1862 to 1908), prosecutor and judge, writes a bold, controversial book on the emancipation of women: The Liberation of Women (1899), then The New Woman (1901).  He would later be praised as the hero and founder of the [Islāmic] feminist awakening.  After ‛Abduh's death, Rašīd Ridhā (1865-1935), a Belanese-descended journalist and religious teacher, became the intellectual leader of the reformist movement in Egypt.  In the fight again nationalism and secularism he even advoctated a renewal of the caliphate: "The caliphate or the largest imamate."

It's important to recognize that men like al-Afghānī, ‛Abduh and Ridhā cannot easily be pigeonholed into present-day Western democratic categories of progressive, conservative,reactionary, etc.  This is especially impoortant to keep in mind because of the simple-minded and often downrightbigoted ideas about Islām commonly tossed out by Republicans and the Christian Right.  These Islāmic thinkers were not mini-Osamas.  And even though they influenced the development of present-day jihadist thinking, their influence evolved in various directions.

Their emphasis on rationalism and the need to adapt Islāmic theology and sharia to changing social-historical conditions represented a vital push to understand the modern world and modern science in Islāmic terms while preserving the core of the religion: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his Prophet."  The strong element of rationality, the increasing recognition of the rights of women and the strong desire for independence from colonial rule are all things that seem understandable and positive from a democratic point of view.

Even some of the elements that directly influenced today's revolutionary Salafists are complex and often contradictory.  Admirers of the American Revolution can certainly understand the impulse to revolt against colonialism.  But in the minds of al-Afghānī and those he inspired, the revolt against colonialism was also understood as a revolt against Western corruption that threat the core religious values of Islām.  As much as they desired to assimilate Western rationality, they were still engaged in an intellectual, political and religious opposition to the West; they were not trying to become like the West.  And they didn't hate the West because of its democratic freedoms.  They opposed the Western powers because they were seen as, above all, a threat to Islām.

The idea of the umma (Muslim community) promoted by these reformers could be used, as in the Ridhā quote above, to promote the goal of re-establishing the caliphate of old.  While it may have been useful in promoting Muslim solidarity across national, class, ethnic and other barriers, it was also a utopian fantasy.  The notion that a unified, theocratic superstate like the caliphate of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, the Umayyads and the 'Abassids could be recreated in the world of the 19th century or today so defies practical reality taht it almost inevitably leads to desperate ideas and actions.  And this idea of recreating a utopian caliphate is a major element of today's jihadist ideology.

Perhaps the most contradictory notionbequeathed by these reformers is that of the need for "itjihad."  (I'm using "contradictory" here in the sense of "internal contradictions"; I have a soft spot for Hegel, okay?)  This concept relates to the interpretation of Islām, and of sharia in particular, in the light of individual reason and judgment.  Since the 1300s, the general consensus in Sunni Islām was that "the gates of itjihad are closed," and that new interpretations must be drawn from previous Islāmic scholarship and tradition.

The new reliance on itjihad is certainly an important one for those who want to challenge ossifed ideas of religious authorities.  But, as anyone familiar with the fractious history of American Protestantism is aware, the "priesthood of the believer" (Luther's version of itjihad, to use a loose analogy) can lead to arbitrary and eccentric interpretations if it is not also firmly anchored in the theology and traditions of the faith.   Itjihad is used by today's revolutionary Salafists as a way to justify their extremist, ahistorical and homicidal interpretations of the religion of the Prophet.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Sayyid Qutb

Henzel briefly mentions Hasan al-Bannā as the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is rightly regarded as the organizational godfather of today's Islamism - a broader concept than the revolutionary Salafism of the jihadists.  Al-Bannā had been a student of Rashid Ridhā.  Küng describes al-Bannā's vision of the Brotherhood as follows:

Its goal: an Islāmic order based on the Qur'ān and the Sunna, a "social Islām" with its own factories, stores, schools, groups and newspapers.  So a Muslim ethic should be developed for the modern world which proves itself in charitable and social instituions.

One of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, Sayyid Qutb, was especially important as an influence on today's jihadists.  I've discussed Qutb at some length in an earlier post.  A decisive idea of Qutb's was that an entire Muslim society and state can be declared "jahiliyya", outsiders to true Islām,against whom a religious jihad can be justified in Islāmic terms.

Mawdūdī and the  Jamaat-i-Islami group

Another important figure, who was a key influence on Qutb and on Islāmic fundamentalism generally, was the Pakistani Mawlānā Abu'l-A‛la MawdūdīMumtaz Ahmad in his essay on "Islamic Fundamentalism in South Asia" in Fundamentalisms Observed (1991), Martin Marty and Scottt Appleby, eds., makes some important observations in relation to the Pakistani Jamaat-i-Islami fundamentalist group, which Mawdūdī founded.  He describes some of the ways in which Islāmic fundamentalism differs from both conservative Islām and modernizers like al-Afgānī.  For one thing, their version of itjihad is limited in practice:

[U]nlike the conservative ulama, who, for all practical purposes, maintain that the gates of ijtihad (independent legal judgment) have long been closed, the Jamaat-i-Islami upholds the right to ijtihad and fresh thinking on matters not directly covered in the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunna. But, unlike Islamic modernists, who would like to institutionalize the exercise of ijtihad in the popularly elected assemblies, the Jamaat restricts this right only to those who are well versed in both the classical sciences of Islam and in modern disciplines. Again, in actual practice the extent to which the fundamentalists of the Jamaat do exercise the right to ijtihad has been rather limited. In many cases, especially those involving a consensus among the orthodox imams of legal schools, they have tended to be one with the conservative ulama. The only areas in which the Jamaat leaders have shown readiness to accept fresh thinking are in the implementation of the socioeconomic and political teachings of traditional Islam: political parties, parliaments, elections, etc. (my emphasis)

He also makes this distinction between Islāmist fundamentalists and other reformers:

This brings us to one of the most important defining characteristics of the Jamaat-i-Islami and other Islamic fundamentalist movements:unlike the conservative ulama and the modernists, the fundamentalist movements are primarily political rather thanreligio-intellectual movements.  While both the ulama and  the modernists seek influence policy-making structures, the fundamentalists aspire to capture political power and establish an Islamic state on the prophetic model. They are not content to act as pressure groups, as are the ulama and the modernists.They want political power because they believe that Islam cannot be implemented without the power of the state.

Finally, as lay scholars of Islam, leaders of the fundamentalist movements are not theologians but social thinkers and political activists. They are less interested in doctrinal, philosophical, and theological controversies associated with classical and medieval Islamic thinkers. The main thrust of their intellectual efforts is the articulation of the socioeconomic and political aspects of Islam.

But this does not mean, as some American polemicists who wish to minimize the religious elements of the jihadists' ideology carelessly assert, that the jihadists are not religious but purely political.  While there are surely individual variations among individuals, the revolutionary Salafist ideology - and fundamentalist Islām more generally - has political goals but those goals are understood in religious terms and in the context of the Muslim faith.

The South Asian Islāmic opposition movements of which Mawdūdī was a part sought, as Henzel writes, "to exclude non-Muslim influences from their lives, build purely Muslim institutions, and strive to live a wholly Islamic life..."  Ahmad observes:

The task of a Muslim, according to Maududi, is "to try to make the whole of Islam supreme over the whole of life." It is not enough to give "an Islamic color to one or a few aspects of life. . . . The all-encompassing supremacy of Islam alone can give us in opportunity to fully enjoy the spiritual, moral, and material benefits that are the natural and inevitable results of working according to the guidance of the Lord."

The idea that Islam encompasses the whole spectrum of life and that there is no separation of religion and state in Islam is of course not original with Maududi. His real contribution was "to offer a set of clear and well-argued definitions of key Islamic concepts within a coherently conceived framework" and then build a systematic theory of Islamic society and the Islamic state on the basis of these concepts. Through a systematic treatment of such key Islamic terms as Allah, rab (lord), malik (master), 'ibada (worship), deen (way of life), and shahdah (to bear witness), Maududi demonstrated a rational and logical interdependence of Islamic morality, law, and political theory.  The key Qur'anic concept that Maududi has used to advance his idea of Islam as a complete system and a way of life is deen. Throughout his commentary on the Qur'an, Maududi keeps coming back to this holistic and primarily political meaning of the word deen. At one point, translating the word deen as "law," Maududi writes: "This use of the word categorically refutes the view of those who believe that a prophet's message is principally aimed at ensuring worship of the one God, adherence to a set of beliefs, and observance of a few rituals. This also refutes the views of those who think that deen has nothing to do with cultural, political, economic, legal, judicial, and other matters pertaining to this world."

However, here again it is important to not jump to easy conclusion about the implications of Mawdūdī's teachings.  Ahmad points out that, especially later in life, Mawdūdī described his desired political order in terms that sounded much like European parliamentary democracy:  "universal adult franchise, periodic elections, guaranteed human rights and civil liberties, an independent judiciary and the rule of law, and multiple political parties."  He also says that Mawdūdī's experiences in jail led him to a greater concern for issues of procedural justice.

Anthony Shadid, one of the Western reporters in Iraq who actually speaks Arabic, provides some anecdotal confirmation of Henzel's article in his report on a Baghdad bookseller who he's interviewed at a number of different times since the beginning of the Iraq War: Two Years of War: Taking Stock Washington Post 03/20/05.

He approved of attacks on U.S. soldiers -- like  most Sunnis, he considered that part of the insurgency legitimate resistance. But he recoiled at the car bombs and suicide attacks against Iraqi police and civilians, whose deaths are far more numerous.

"A car bomb in front of a school, in front of children?" he asked. "Can you call this an act of resistance?" ...

In his bookstore, once-banned titles were selling well. Most wereIranian imports by Shiite clerics. Also popular were titles by radical Sunnis: Mohammed ibn Abd Wahhab, the 18th-century godfather of Saudi Arabia's strict brand of Islam; the austere medieval thinker Ibn Taimiya; and Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian author of the seminal militant tract "Signposts on the Road," who was executed in 1966. (my emphasis)

See also Index to Posts on Hans Küng's Der Islam

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