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Re-assessing Political Islam: Part II

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*The hijras (to Abyssinia, Medina) were necessary both for personal safety, to propagate the message of Islam and, in the latter case, to provide a base for establishing Islamic governance. In sending some of his followers to Abyssinia, Muhammad boldly wrote directly to King Negus, asking him to provide the Muslims asylum. The germ of an Islamic state whose leader held temporal power on the level of a king was there even in exile.        

*The Constitution of Medina, arguably the world's first constitution, set new rules of conduct in a divinely conforming society: any believer in need is the responsibility of all other believers; Jews have equal status with Muslims; mercy is better than punishment, but punishment is also a form of mercy to "balance accounts' and protect the umma; no individual/ group can enter into separate arrangements with enemies of the state.        

*The latter allowed Muhammad to make formal treaties with nearby tribes preventing them allying with the Quraish of Mecca, consolidating Muslim power. This culminated in the Treaty of Hudaybiya with the Quraish, where Muhammad made significant compromises to achieve his political goals, foregoing the hajj that year but established peace for 10 years. This implicitly recognized the Muslim state in Medina, allowing the rapid expansion of Islam and preventing further Quraishi conspiring.         

*Muhammad's political testament came in his final sermon during his last hajj to Mecca, where he emphasizes the cultivation of an Islamic personality, the necessity of both economic and social justice, stressed the danger of   riba (usury, based on greed) as opposed to sadaqa (charity, based on compassion).         

*To lead a revolution requires a strong, confident leadership, motivated by belief and compassion. Muhammad always remained optimistic, exuding confidence. He told Quraishi leaders who were persecuting him early on that they would conquer the Byzantine and Persian empires if they accepted Islam, already aware of his power and authority through his divine inspiration. They laughed at him and drove him out of Mecca, but he returned 10 years later peacefully--though he smashed their idols--and they willingly converted en masse to Islam. And together, the Byzantine and Persian empires were conquered.         

*Power must be consolidated in the hands of a just executive authority (state) to represent all factions in the body politic. Institutional injustice cannot be corrected by individuals alone. Whereas corrupt politicans seek to amass rights and wealth for themselves and minimize their responsibilities to society, Muslims even where they are a minority have an extra responsibility to society, based on belief that the worldly journey is a mere reflection of the spiritual one, and must reflect spiritual values. Without the fearless self-assurance that comes with acceptance of divine guidance, the individual as well as societies soon succumb to the corrosive influence of power and wealth. "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely', unless the leadership holds to moral laws above man. Islam regulates use of power to avoid the rich (powerful) using their advantage to exploit the weak (poor).         

Lessons from Egypt's first Islamic government        

Looking back on the fateful period in Egypt that marked the brief rule of the first Islamist government, there are many lessons to be learned. Not cynical Machiavellian ones, but ones grounded in the Quran, which must be read and reread (tajdid), the life experience of the Prophet (sira, sunna), and applied in our ever-evolving historical context (ijtihad).

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*The result of the Treaty of Hudaybiya suggests that when history is on your side (as Islamists believe) the old order can collapse quickly and a new order can be ushered in relatively peacefully. The Iranian revolution confirmed this, even in the age of empire, as did five elections in post-revolutionary Egypt.

*Alliances with non-Muslims are always necessary, but beware traitors.

*Yes, nationalism is dangerous, but it is wrong to ignore the real forces at work, which must be harnessed.

*Sharia and an Islamic state are essential, but they are concepts which evolve and require careful input from both scholars and the umma.  

Just how the MB's relations with other "progressive' forces could have been better is a moot point now. The MB leaders were unable to find common ground with the opposition, even those socialists whose aims are largely those of Islam--social and economic justice. Islamists have been traditionally intransigent towards socialism, dismissing it as just a variant of secular materialism, lacking a moral center. But trust-building is a two-way street, and there is little evidence of the opposition making any concessions in order to meet the MB halfway.   

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Essential to the success of the Islamist project today is recognition of the important difference between capitalism and communism--the latter based on social justice, banning of interest, speculation and exploitation, though flawed by its militant secularism. The Muslim Central Asian states, after several decades of state repression of religion, became far more prosperous than their neocolonial Muslim neighbors, and voted overwhelmingly to keep the Soviet Union intact. A reformed communism could arguably have accommodated a genuine revival of Islam there. This includes in Afghanistan, where the 1978 socialist "revolution' was instigated solely by Afghans and was only reluctantly supported by Moscow, and where any thought of building an Islamic society was lost in the US-led insurgency and subsequent invasion.   

Perhaps we are now closer to a "global Islamic movement' after the Egyptian coup. The need for Sunni-Shia convergence in confronting imperialism has never been clearer. The Iranian revolution as bellwether is as compelling as ever, even though attempts to emulate it have not yet succeeded. As well, there are some anti-imperialist forces in the West--both left and right--who see through the smoke and mirrors of Iranophobia and Islamophobia generally, and are readier now to work with Islamists in their common struggle. This is not central to Siddiqui's pre-911 analysis, but his call for new revolutionary thinking by Muslims, based on the Quran and life of the Prophet, taking into account the historical context, leads logically to this.   

Are we in the home stretch for a re-emerging Islamic civilization? The Egyptian coup looks like a desperate last-ditch move to brand Egypt's body politic indelibly with secularism. But the sands of time shift. The turncoat Salafi and the Mubarakite Al-Azhar sheikhs blessing the coup are already balking at the roughshod rewriting of a constitution that they earlier approved and partially wrote themselves. By banning the MB, torturing and murdering its members, confiscating their property, the secularists only dig themselves deeper into a hole. Astute US political strategists--even Senator John McCain and PNAC notable Robert Kagan--have denounced the coup, along with conservatives such as Ron Paul, though the coup was approved by President Obama, and western lefitist have--shamefully--been less categorical.  

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Eric writes for Al-Ahram Weekly and PressTV. He specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. His "Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics and the Great Games" and "From Postmodernism to Postsecularism: Re-emerging Islamic Civilization" are available at (more...)

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