Politics and Religion: Politics and Islam

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Muslims have both an individual and a corporate religious identity and responsibility. Thus to be a Muslim, to follow Islam ("submission" to God), entails both an individual and a communal responsibility as members of a worldwide community (ummah ) to obey and implement God's will on earth in both the private and public spheres. The Qurʾān and the example of the prophet Muammad teach that Muslims have a universal mission to spread the religion of Islam and to establish a just society on earth, based on recognition of God (Allāh) as the source of all authority, law, and order. Historically politics have often been a central vehicle by which Islam was implemented in state and society.

Religion and Politics in Early Islam

How and under what form and institutions an Islamic society is to be established has been subject to many interpretations across time and space. The Qurʾān and adīth do not provide any specific format for an "Islamic state" or even prescribe one as necessary. Instead, they contain general prescriptions or norms about the function of the state as well as ethical considerations. Early Islamic empires and sultanates developed systems that combined elements adopted from conquered societies with religious prescriptions and institutions. During this time period most states, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, controlled or used religion as a source of legitimacy or to mobilize popular support.

Historically Islam's role in the state reinforced a sense of common identity for Muslims as well as a sense of continuity in Muslim rule. The existence of an Islamic ideology and system, however imperfectly implemented, both validated and reinforced a sense of a divinely mandated and guided community with a unifying purpose and mission, giving the Islamic state a divine raison d'être.

Belief in the divine mandate of the Muslim community gave Muslim rulers the rationale for spreading their rule and empire over the entire Middle East and major portions of Africa and South, Southeast, and Central Asia as well as into Spain and southern Italy on the European Continent. Islam served as the religious ideology for the foundation of a variety of Muslim states, including great Islamic empires: Umayyad (661750 ce), Abbasid (7501258 ce), Ottoman (12811924 ce), Safavid (15011722 ce), and Mughal (15261857 ce). In each of these empires and other sultanate states from the seventh to the eighteenth centuries, Islam was used by rulers to legitimate their governance, and it informed the state's legal, political, educational, and social institutions.

Sunnī Muslims (85 percent of the Muslim community, in contrast to Shīʿī, a 15 percent minority) see the success and expansion of Islam as religion and empire as evidence of God's favor upon Muslims when they fulfill their divine mandate to spread God's word, guidance, and governance, whereas the increasing decline and powerlessness from the eighteenth century through the early twenty-first century are understood to reflect their failure to adhere to God's will. It is this worldview that has in part given rise to the Islamic revival that began in the eighteenth century and experienced a major resurgence and reformulation in the twentieth century.

Government: The SunnĪ Caliphate

Sunnī Muslims believe that Muammad died without designating a specific successor (caliph) and that the most qualified person should become the head of the Muslim community. The caliph succeeded Muammad as political leader, not as prophet. Because Muammad was the last of the prophets, leadership of the Muslim community following Muammad's death ceased to be a religio-political position and became strictly political instead. Thus Sunnīs believe that the leader (caliph) of the Muslim community possesses human and worldly, rather than divine, authority. They look to the rule of Muammad (610632 ce) and of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs (632661 ce) as a special normative period in which God's favor was clearly upon the Muslims.

One of the most contentious questions faced by religious scholars throughout Muslim history has been whether the character of the ruler was a decisive factor in determining that the state was truly Islamic. That is, if the ruler is known to be immoral, did this necessarily render the state un-Islamic, so that its citizens were obligated to overthrow the ruler? The majority of religious scholars, or ʿulamaʾ, determined that maintaining social order and avoiding anarchy were more important than the character of the ruler. The decisive factor rendering a state or society "Islamic," they concluded, is its governance by Islamic law.

However, a minority of ʿulamaʾ, most notably the thirteenth-century scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymīyah, ruled that the character of the ruler was in fact decisive. If a ruler was unjust or immoral, Muslims were bound to overthrow him. Ibn Taymīyah's enduring influence, direct and indirect, on contemporary political thought and politics is also reflected in several other doctrines: the necessary synthesis between religion and state (that Islam is din wa-dawlah, or religion and state); insistence that one who claims to be a Muslim but does not act like one cannot be considered a true Muslim; a bipolar view of the world in which only two choices or sides existed, Muslim and non-Muslim, belief and unbelief. These viewpoints have been appropriated in particular by extremist movements, past and present.

The ShĪʿĪ Imamate

In contrast to Sunnī Islam, Shīʿī Islam teaches that Muammad decreed that succession or leadership (the imām or leader) of the Muslim community belonged to the family of the Prophet, beginning with Alī, his cousin and son-in-law. However, ʿAlī's caliphate began only after three other caliphs had ruled; ʿAlī was assassinated by opponents and the caliphate was seized by his enemy, Muʿāwiya. Shīʿī regard the caliphs, in particular Muʿāwiya, as usurpers and believe ʿAlī's son, usayn, was ʿAlī's rightful successor. usayn was persuaded by some of ʿAlī's followers to lead a rebellion against Yazīd, Muʿāwiya's son, in 680 ce. usayn and his army were slaughtered in battle at Karbala (in modern-day Iraq). The tragic death of usayn and his followers, commemorated by Shīʿīs every year during ʿĀshūrā, shaped the Shīʿī worldview and its view of history as one of disinheritance and oppression, suffering, protest, and struggle against injustice and discrimination under Sunnī Muslim governments.

In contrast to the Sunnī caliphate, Shīʿī believe that leadership of the Muslim community belongs to the leader, or imām, a direct descendant of Muammad who serves in a religious as well as political-military capacity. Although the imām is not considered a prophet, since the Qurʾān states that Muammad was the last of the prophets, the imām is nevertheless considered divinely inspired, infallible, sinless, and the final and authoritative interpreter of God's will as formulated in Islamic law. After decades of rebellion against early Sunnī rulers, Shīʿī found a formula for coexistence, a means to recognize de facto Sunnī rule and participation in Sunnī majority territories without acknowledging the legitimacy of the Sunnī caliphate.

Because Shīʿī existed as a disinherited and oppressed minority among the Sunnī, they understood history to be a test of the righteous community's perseverance in the struggle to restore God's rule on earth. Realization of a just social order led by the imām became the dream of Shīʿī throughout the centuries. Whereas Sunnī history looked to the glorious and victorious history of the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs and then the development of imperial Islam, Shīʿī history traced the often tragic history of the descendants of ʿAlī and Fāimah. Thus whereas Sunnīs can claim a golden age when they were a great world power and civilization, evidence, they believe, of God's will and favor and historic validation of Islam, Shīʿī see these same developments as an illegitimate usurpation of power by Sunnī rulers at the expense of a just society.

Shīʿī view history more as a paradigm of the suffering, disinheritance, and oppression of a righteous minority community who must constantly struggle to restore God's rule on earth under his divinely appointed imām. In the twentieth century this history was reinterpreted as a paradigm providing inspiration and mobilization to actively fight against injustice rather than passively accept it. This reinterpretation had a significant impact during the Islamic Revolution of 19781979 in Iran, where the shah was equated with Yazīd and Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers with usayn. Thus the victory of the Islamic Revolution was declared the victory of the righteous against illegitimate usurpers of power.

Visions of Politics and the State in Modern Islam

Classical definitions of the role of Islam and the state have undergone substantial revision in modern times. Up until the nineteenth century Muslims generally thought of politics in terms of the Muslim ummah (the universal Islamic community) and either a universal caliphate (in which its religious character was emphasized) or diverse sultanates (in which its political character was emphasized). Politics was more a matter of dynasties and rulers (referred to as dawlah ) than of popular participation.

The proposition that Islam is both a religion and a state (din wa-dawlah ) dates to the early twentieth century, when Muslims were confronted with both the abolition of the Ottoman (Turkish) Caliphate and the territorial division of Muslim communities under the impact of European colonialism. Although the caliphate had in fact come to a forcible end with the fall of the Abbasid dynasty to the Mongols in 1258, it remained a powerful religious symbol of political legitimacy. The Ottoman sultans had adopted the title of caliph in order to lend religious legitimacy to their rule; their claim to the caliphate was abolished in 1924. Desire to restore the caliphate provided an alternative to fragmentation, reasserting the unity of the Muslim ummah. It also provided an alternative political vision to the territorial nationalism of Europe. Those who supported the continued existence of the caliphate defined it as a combination of political and religious authority in its ideal form. Since then there have been occasional calls among Islamic revivalists for a revival of the caliphate as a means of maintaining unity of the broader Muslim community, but such calls have not garnered significant popular support.

Political Islam

Twentieth-century visions of the relationship of religion to the modern nation-state varied. At one end of the spectrum was the "self-described" Islamic state of Saudi Arabia and at the other modern Turkey's secular state. Most Muslim countries were states whose majority population was Muslim and had some Islamic provisions, such as the requirement that the head of state be a Muslim, but that adopted Western political, legal, and educational models of development. However, the mid-twentieth century also brought the creation of modern Islamic movements, in particular the Jamāʿat-i-Islāmī in Pakistan and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Both called for the foundation of a specifically Islamic state, a God-centered one run only by true believers with the Qurʾān and sunnah as guides. They believed Islam should inform all spheres of the statepolitical, economic, and legislative as well as moraland called for the Islamization of society and state.

In the late twentieth century political Islam, often referred to as "Islamic fundamentalism," became a dominant factor in Muslim politics, the primary language of political discourse and mobilization. New Islamic republics were created in Sudan, Iran, and Afghanistan. Muslim rulers as well as mainstream opposition leaders and movements appealed to Islam to legitimate their rule or policies. Islamists have been elected president, prime minister, or deputy prime minister and to parliament, and they have served in cabinets in countries as diverse as Sudan, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. At the same time extremist organizations have used violence and terrorism in the name of Islam to threaten and destabilize governments, attacking government officials, institutions, and ordinary citizens in Muslim countries and in the West. Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah have become a symbol of the threat of international terrorism, driven home by the September 11, 2001, attacks against New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Islamic Fundamentalism or Political Islam?

Though convenient, the use of the term fundamentalism, which originated in Christianity, can be misleading when applied to a diverse group of governments, individuals, and organizations. The conservative monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the radical socialist state of Libya, clerically governed Iran, the Taliban's Afghanistan, and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan have all been called "fundamentalist." The term obscures significant differences in the nature of the governments (monarchy, military, and clerical rule) as well as their relations with the West. For example, Libya and Iran have in the past been regarded as anti-Western and enemies of the United States, while Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have often been close allies of the United States. Similarly Islamic activists are not monolithic; they represent a broad spectrum: mainstream and extremist, progressive and conservative. Therefore political Islam or Islamism are more useful terms than fundamentalism when referring to the role of Islam in politics and society and the diversity of Islamic political and social movements.

Origins and Nature of Political Islam

The reassertion of Islam in politics is rooted in a contemporary religious revival or resurgence affecting both personal and public life that began in the late 1960s and 1970s. On the one hand, many Muslims became more religiously observant (emphasizing prayer, fasting, dress, family values, and a revitalization of Islamic mysticism or Sufism). On the other, Islam reemerged as an alternative religio-political ideology to the perceived failures of more secular forms of nationalism, capitalism, and socialism. Islamic symbols, rhetoric, actors, and organizations became major sources of legitimacy and mobilization, informing political and social activism. Governments and Islamic movements spanned both the religious and political spectrums from moderate to extremist, using religion to enhance their legitimacy and to mobilize popular support for programs and policies.

The causes of the Islamic resurgence have been many: religio-cultural, political, and socioeconomic. More often than not, faith and politics have been intertwined causes or catalysts. Issues of political and social injustice (authoritarianism, repression, unemployment, inadequate housing and social services, maldistribution of wealth, and corruption) combined with concerns about the preservation of religious and cultural identity and values.

Among the more visible crises or failures that proved to be catalytic events in the rise of political Islam were:

  1. the 1967 Arab-Israeli War (Six-Day War) in which Israel decisively defeated the combined Arab armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, occupied Sinai, the West Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem, transforming the liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine into a transnational Islamic issue;
  2. the 1969 Malay-Chinese riots in Kuala Lumpur reflecting the growing tension between the Malay Muslim majority and a significant Chinese minority;
  3. the Pakistan-Bangladesh civil war of 19711972, heralding the failure of Muslim nationalism;
  4. the Lebanese civil war (19751990), among whose causes were the inequitable distribution of political and economic power between Christians and Muslims, which led to the emergence of major Shīʿah groups: AMAL and the Iranian-inspired and backed Hizbollah;
  5. the Iranian Revolution of 19781979, a pivotal event with long-term global impact and implications for the Muslim world and the West;
  6. the continued conflict in Palestine-Israel, which grew in strength during the 1980s and spawned its own Islamist movements, among them HAMAS and Islamic Jihad.

The failures of the West (both its models of development and its role as an Arab and Muslim ally) and fear of the threat of westernization and its political, economic, and cultural dominance were pervasive themes of the resurgence. Many blamed the ills of their societies on the excessive influence of and dependence upon the West, in particular the superpowers the United States and the Soviet Union. Modernization, as a process of progressive westernization and secularization and increasingly globalization, have been regarded as forms of neocolonialism exported by the West and imposed by local Western-oriented elites, undermining religious and cultural identity and values.

While most Islamic movements developed in response to domestic conditions, international issues and actors increasingly played important roles in Muslim politics: the Soviet-Afghan War; the Arab-Israeli conflict; sanctions against addām usayn's Iraq; the "liberation" of Bosnia, Kashmir, and Chechnya; and Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Libya as well as individuals used their petrodollars and wealth to extend their influence internationally, promoting their religious-ideological worldviews and politics and supporting government Islamization programs as well as Islamist movements, mainstream and extremist.

Islamic Movements: Leadership and Ideology

Political Islam is in many ways the successor of failed nationalist ideologies and projects in the mid-twentieth century, from the Arab nationalism and socialism of North Africa and the Middle East to the Muslim nationalism of postindependence Pakistan. The founders of many Islamic movements were formerly participants in nationalist movements: the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's founder, asan al-Banna; Tunisia's Rashid Ghannoushi of the Renaissance Party; Algeria's Abbasi Madani of the Islamic Salvation Front (the FIS, or Front Islamique du Salut); and Turkey's Ecmettin Erbakan, founder of the Welfare (Refah) Party.

Islamic political and social movements proved particularly strong among the younger generation, university graduates, and young professionals recruited from the mosques and universities. Contrary to popular expectations, the membership of movements, especially in Sunnī Islam, has not come from religious faculties and the humanities so much as from the fields of science, engineering, education, law, and medicine. Thus the senior leadership of many movements includes judges, lawyers, teachers, engineers, physicians, journalists, and prosperous businesspeople. At the same time leaders of militant movements like Egypt's Islamic Jihad and Usāmah bin Lādin, al-Qāʿidah, and those specifically responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, also included many university graduates.

Ideological Worldview

Islamists believe the Muslim world's state of decline is the result of corrupt authoritarian regimes and excessive political, economic, and cultural dependence on the West. The cure is a return to the faith and values of Islam. Islam, they assert, is a comprehensive ideology or framework for Muslim society. It embraces public as well as personal life. They believe the renewal and revitalization of Muslim governments and societies require the restoration or reimplementation of Islamic law, the blueprint for an Islamically guided and socially just state and society. While westernization and secularization of society are condemned, modernization as such is not. Science and technology are accepted; but the pace, direction, and extent of change are subordinated to Islamic belief and values in order to guard against excessive influence and dependence on the West.

The majority of Islamists have worked to bring about change through social and political activism within their societies, participating in electoral politics and civil society where permitted. However, a significant and dangerous minority of extremists, jihād groups from Egypt to Indonesia, al-Qāʿidah, and other terrorists, believe that they have a mandate from God to make changes and that the rulers in the Muslim world and their societies are anti-Islamic. For these extremists, those who remain apolitical or resistindividuals and governmentsare no longer regarded as Muslims but rather as atheists or unbelievers, enemies of God, against whom all true Muslims must wage holy war (jihād ).

Extremists also believe Islam and the West are locked in an ongoing battle that stretches back to the early days of Islam, is heavily influenced by the legacy of the Crusades and European colonialism, and is the product in the twenty-first century of a Judeo-Christian conspiracy. This conspiracy, they charge, is the result of superpower neocolonialism and the power of Zionism. The West (Britain, France, and especially the United States) is blamed for its support of un-Islamic or unjust regimes and biased support for Israel in the face of Palestinian occupation and displacement. Violence against such governments, their representatives, and citizens (Jews, Christians, and other Muslims, noncombatants as well as combatants) is regarded as legitimate self-defense.

The Quiet Revolution

In contrast to the 1980s, when political Islam was simply equated with revolutionary Iran or clandestine groups with names like Islamic Jihad or the Army of God, the Muslim world in the 1990s saw Islamists participate in the electoral process. A quiet revolution had taken place. While a minority of religious extremists sought to impose change from above through terror and holy wars, many others pursued a bottom-up approach, seeking a gradual transformation or Islamization of society through words and example, preaching, and social and political activism.

Islamic organizations and associations emerged as part and parcel of mainstream society and institutional forces in civil society, active in social reform and providing educational, medical, dental, legal, and social welfare services. The number of Islamic banks, insurance companies, and publishing houses mushroomed. Social activism was accompanied by increased political participation. In the late 1980s and the 1990s failed economies and discredited governmental development policies led to political crises and mass demonstrations, resulting in limited political liberalization. Islamic candidates or leaders were elected as mayors and parliamentarians in countries as diverse as Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They served in cabinet-level positions and as speakers of national assemblies, prime ministers (Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan), a deputy prime minister (Malaysia), and Indonesia's first democratically elected president. The general response of many governments to this political power of Islam was to retreat from open elections, identifying their Islamic opposition as extremist or simply canceling or manipulating elections, as in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan.

UsĀmah bin LĀdin and Global Terrorism

September 11, 2001, was a watershed in the history of political Islam and of the world. Its terror and carnage signaled the magnitude of the threat of Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah. The multimillionaire, seemingly devout, well-educated, wealthy son of a prominent Saudi family had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan, a struggle that allied him with a cause supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and many others. However, after the war he became radicalized when faced with the prospect of an American-led coalition in the Gulf War of 1991 to oust addām usayn from his occupation of Kuwait and the prospect of the presence and increased influence of the United States in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf. Usāmah bin Lādin was regarded as the major godfather of global terrorism, a major funder of terrorist groups suspected in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the slaughter of eighteen American soldiers in Somalia, bombings in Riyadh in 1995 and in Dhahran in 1996, the killing of fifty-eight tourists at Luxor, Egypt, in 1997 as well as the bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. He threatened attacks against Americans who remained on Saudi soil and promised retaliation internationally for cruise missile attacks.

In February 1998 bin Lādin and other militant leaders announced the creation of a transnational coalition of extremist groups, the Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders. Al-Qāʿidah was linked to a series of acts of terrorism: the truck bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998, that killed 263 people and injured more than 5,000, followed on October 12, 2000, by a suicide bombing attack against the USS Cole, which killed 17 American sailors.

Usāmah bin Lādin 's message appealed to the feelings of many in the Arab and Muslim world. A sharp critic of American foreign policy toward the Muslim world, he denounced its support for Israel, sanctions against Iraq that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and the substantial American (military and economic) presence and involvement in Saudi Arabia that he dismissed as the "new crusades." To these were added other populist causes like Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, and Kashmir.

Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah represented a new international brand of Sunnī militancy associated with the Afghan Arabs, those who had come from the Arab and Muslim world to fight alongside the Afghan Mujāhidīn against the Soviets. It was also reflected in the growth of extremism and acts of terrorism in Central, South, and Southeast Asia (where it has often been referred to as Wahabism because of its reported Saudi financial backing). Islam's norms and values about good governance, social justice, and the requirement to defend Islam when under siege are transformed into a call to arms in order to legitimate the use of violence, warfare, and terrorism. Their theology of hate sees the modern world in mutually exclusive, black-and-white categories, the world of belief and unbelief, the land of Islam and of warfare, the forces of good against the forces of evil. Those who are not with them, whether Muslim or non-Muslims, are the enemy and are to be fought and destroyed in a war with no limits, no proportionality of goal or means.

Sayyid Qub: Godfather and Martyr of Islamic Radicalism

It would be difficult to overestimate the role played by Sayyid Qub (19061966) in the reassertion of militant jihād. He was both a respected intellectual and religious writer whose works included an influential commentary on the Qurʾān and a godfather to Muslim extremist movements around the globe. In many ways his journey from educated intellectual, government official, and admirer of the West to militant activist who condemned both the Egyptian and the American governments and defended the legitimacy of militant jihād has influenced and inspired many militants, from the assassins of Anwar al-Sadat to the followers of Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah.

Qub had a modern education and was a great admirer of the West and Western literature. After graduation he became an official in the Ministry of Public Instruction as well as a poet and literary critic. Qub's visit to the United States in the late 1940s proved a turning point in his life, transforming him from an admirer into a severe critic of the West. His experiences in the United States produced a culture shock that made him more religious and convinced him of the moral decadence of the West.

Shortly after he returned to Egypt, Qub joined the Muslim Brotherhood. Qub quickly emerged as a major voice in the brotherhood and its most influential ideologue amid the growing confrontation with the Egyptian regime. Imprisoned and tortured for alleged involvement in a failed attempt to assassinate Nasser, he became increasingly militant and radicalized, convinced that the Egyptian government was un-Islamic and must be overthrown. Qub's revolutionary vision is set forth in his most influential tract, Milestones. His ideas have reverberated in the radical rhetoric of revolutionaries from Ayatollah Khomeini to Usāmah bin Lādin.

Qub sharply divided Muslim societies into two diametrically opposed camps, the forces of good and of evil, those committed to the rule of God and those opposed, the party of God and the party of Satan. There was no middle ground. He emphasized the need to develop a special group, a vanguard, of true Muslims within this corrupt and faithless society. Since the creation of an Islamic government was a divine commandment, he argued, it was not an alternative to be worked toward. Rather it was an imperative that Muslims must strive to implement or impose immediately.

Given the authoritarian and repressive nature of the Egyptian government and many other governments in the Muslim world, Qub concluded that jihād as armed struggle was the only way to implement the new Islamic order. For Qub, jihād, as armed struggle in the defense of Islam against the injustice and oppression of anti-Islamic governments and the neocolonialism of the West and the East (the Soviet Union), was incumbent upon all Muslims. Muslims who refused to participate were to be counted among the enemies of God, apostates who were excommunicated (takfir ) and who should be fought and killed along with the other enemies of God. Sayyid Qub's radicalized worldview became a source for ideologues from the founders of Egypt's Islamic Jihad to Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah's call for a global jihād.

Globalization of the JihĀd

In the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century the word jihād gained remarkable currency, becoming more global in its usage. On the one hand, jihād' s primary religious and spiritual meanings, the "struggle" or effort to follow God's path, to lead a good life, became more widespread. It is applied, for example, to individual struggles to be religiously observant as well as improve one's society through educational and social welfare projects.

The Soviet-Afghan War marked a new turning point as jihād went global to a degree never seen in the past. The Mujāhidīn holy war drew Muslims from many parts of the world and support from Muslim and non-Muslim countries and sources. In its aftermath jihād became the common term for all armed struggles, used for resistance, liberation, and terrorist movements alike in their holy and unholy wars. Most major Muslim struggles were declared a jihād, from Palestine to Kashmir, Chechnya, Daghestan, and the southern Philippines. Those who fought in Afghanistan, called Afghan Arabs, moved on to fight other jihād s in their home countries and in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Central Asia. Others stayed on or were trained and recruited in the new jihādi madrasahs (religious schools) and training camps, joining in Usāmah bin Lādin and al-Qāʿidah's global jihād against Muslim governments and the West.

Although the distinction is often made between Qurʾanic prescriptions about just war versus unjust war, many and conflicting interpretations of the verses have been made over time. At issue are the meaning of terms like aggression and defense, questions about when the command to sacrifice life and property to defend Islam is appropriate, and how to define the "enemies" of Islam. For example, the Qurʾān speaks repeatedly of the "enemies of God" and the "enemies of Islam," often defining them as "unbelievers." Although other Qurʾanic verses appear to make it clear that such people should be physically fought against only if they behave aggressively toward Muslims, some Muslims have interpreted the call to "struggle" or "strive" against such enemies to be a permanent engagement required of all Muslims of every time and place until the entire world is converted to Islam.

Terrorists like bin Lādin and others have gone beyond classical Islam's criteria for a just jihād and recognize no limits but their own, employing any weapons or means. Adopting Sayyid Qub's militant worldview of an Islam under siege, they ignore or reject Islamic law's regulations regarding the goals and means of a valid jihād (that violence must be proportional and that only the necessary amount of force should be used to repel the enemy), that innocent civilians should not be targeted, and that jihād must be declared by the ruler or head of state. As the Islamic scholars of the Islamic Research Council at al-Azhar University, regarded by many as the highest moral authority in Islam, forcefully stated in condemning bin Lādin's calls for jihād and terrorism: "Islam provides clear rules and ethical norms that forbid the killing of non-combatants, as well as women, children, and the elderly, and also forbids the pursuit of the enemy in defeat, the execution of those who surrender, the infliction of harm on prisoners of war, and the destruction of property that is not being used in the hostilities" (Al-Hayat, November 5, 2001).

Political Islam and the Democracy Debate

In the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century the call for greater liberalization and democratization has become widespread in the Muslim world, as diverse sectors of society, secular and religious, leftist and rightist, educated and uneducated, increasingly use democratization as the litmus test by which to judge the legitimacy of governments and political movements alike.

A diversity of voices exists in debates over political participation and democratization. Secularists argue for secular forms of democracy, the separation of religion and the state. Rejectionists maintain that Islam has it own forms of governance and that it is incompatible with democracy. Accommodationists, or Islamic reformers, believe that traditional concepts and institutions can be utilized to develop Islamically acceptable forms of popular political participation and democratization. Maintaining that Islam is capable of reinterpretation (ittiād ), traditional concepts of consultation (shura ), consensus (ijmā ʿ), and public welfare (maslaha ) are reinterpreted to provide the bases for the development of modern Muslim notions of democracy, parliamentary government, and the like. While some would reinterpret traditional beliefs to essentially legitimate Western-generated forms of democracy, others wish to develop forms of political participation and democracy appropriate to Islamic values and realities.


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John L. Esposito (2005)

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