Ateneo de Davao University

Ateneo de Davao

A closer look on Islamism

ALMOST every day we hear and read on the news the problems brought by the extremist groups in the Middle East, Africa, and some parts of the world that destroy the image of Islam and the Muslims today.

Non-Muslims reactions to the gruesome events like the 9/11 bombing, attack in Paris, and the worsening case in Syria and Iraq brought by Isis, many has tended to lump all Muslims as terrorists and brand Islam as a radical threat to the future of humanity. But they do not know that it is not Islam which is the problem. It is Islamism.

According to Daniel Pipes, Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Islamism is an ideology that demands man’s complete adherence to the sacred law of Islam and rejects as much as possible outside influence, with some exceptions (such as access to military and medical technology). It is imbued with a deep antagonism towards non-Muslims and has a particular hostility towards the West. It amounts to an effort to turn Islam, a religion, and civilization, into an ideology”.

Mr. Pipes also connects this to other modern concepts of “-ism”, such as Marxism-Leninism or fascism and nationalism”. Islamism turns the bits and pieces within Islam that deal with politics, economics, and military affairs into a sustained and systematic program.”

Because of Western education, there were Muslim scholars who view themselves as, “the Muslims are not socialist nor capitalist; We are Muslims.” They compare themselves to socialists and capitalists and not to Christians or Jews. For them, Islamism offers a way of approaching and controlling state power. It openly relies on state power for coercive purposes.

In a study of conducted by International Crisis Group back in 2005, they classify Islamism – or Islamic activism – has a number of very different streams, only a few of them violent and only a small minority justifying a confrontational response.

Their study also recommended, “the West needs a discriminating strategy that takes account of the diversity of outlooks within political Islamism; that accepts that even the most modernist of Islamists are deeply opposed to current U.S. policies and committed to renegotiating their relations with the West; and that understands that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war occupation of Iraq, and the way in which the “war against terrorism” is being waged all significantly strengthen the appeal of the most virulent and dangerous jihadi tendencies”.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. Furthermore, we need to understand the history of Islamism and how it evolved in the recent events. ICG study also mentioned, “in understanding the different streams of Islamic activism, the starting point is to distinguish between Shiite and Sunni Islamism”.

The two schools of thought of Islam had a different approach in handling a Western model of secularism and modernity. We also have to take note that the rise of the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979 paved the way of the concept of “political Islam”. Because of the Iranian uprising, ICG noted, “Shiite activism then viewed as the most worrying threat. Because Shiism is the minority variant of Islam (Sunnis constitute over 80 per cent of Muslims) and because Shiites typically are minorities in the states in which they find themselves, the most widespread and natural form of Shiite activism has been communal – defending the interests of the Shiite community in relation to other populations and to the state itself.

For this reason, and also because of the leading political role played by scholars and religious authorities, (‘ulama) Shiite Islamism has remained unified to a remarkable degree and has not fragmented into conflicting forms of activism as has Sunni Islamism”.

On the other hand, Sunni Islamism, which is now identified as Salafism and Wahhabism, is widely viewed as uniformly fundamentalist, radical, and threatening to Western interests. Like most religious groups, they are not at all monolithic.

ICG report suggests that we may view them on these three strands and their actors: Political: the Islamic political movements (al-harakât al-islamiyya al-siyassiyya), exemplified by the Society of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and its offshoots elsewhere (including Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Sudan and Syria) and by locally rooted movements such as the Justice and Development Party (Adaletve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) in Turkey, and the Party for Justice and Development (Parti pour la Justice et le Développement, PJD) in Morocco, whose purpose is to attain political power at the national level.

These now generally accept the nation-state, operate within its constitutional framework, eschew violence (except under conditions of foreign occupation), articulate a reformist rather than revolutionary vision and invoke universal democratic norms. The characteristic actor is the party-political militant. Missionary: the Islamic missions of conversion (al-da’wa), which exists in two main variants exemplified by the highly structured Tablighi movement on the one hand and the highly diffuse Salafiyya on the other.

In both cases political power is not an objective; the overriding purpose is the preservation of the Muslim identity and the Islamic faith and moral order against the forces of unbelief, and the characteristic actors are missionaries (du’ah), and the ‘ulama. Jihadi: the Islamic armed struggle (al-jihad), which exists in three main variants: internal (combating nominally Muslim regimes considered impious); irredentist (fighting to redeem land ruled by non-Muslims or under occupation); and global (combating the West). The characteristic actor is, of course, the fighter (al-mujahid).

In the local setting, we need to further study and understand how Islamism evolves and affects the lives of Filipino Muslims and their communities. What type of Islam do the Madaris (plural of Madrasah) teach their students? What Islamic traditions are being taught in their schools? We need to have a closer look at these schools and help them promote peace and harmony within their communities and with other faith groups.