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Islamism: the rise of political Islam
What we are seeing is not Islam. What we are seeing is
Islamism. Islamism is not a religion like Islam. Islamism is
political Islam. And Islamism is opposed to secularism,
democracy, and all those other western ideals that are
viewed by radical or fundamentalist Muslims as a
corruption of and deviation from Gods teachings.
Raja Petra Kamarudin
When I sit in front of my TV to watch the world news and what
is reported is strife and turmoil all over the world, mainly but
not exclusively in Muslim countries, I sometimes wonder whether Muslims have gone mad. Looking at this
whole matter in isolation, of course, this is what we may see. However, looking at it against the backdrop
of what was started 2,000 years ago, maybe it is not so crazy after all.
The Muslims can complain and protest as much as they like but they cannot deny that Islam was born
from the teachings of the Jews and the anti-Rome Christians, the main monotheists in Mekah at the time
of Muhammad. In fact, the Quran acknowledges this fact. And the struggle to set up the Kingdom of God
or a Theocratic State started soon after Jesus was said to have left this world.
The Great Revolt of the 70s, the Kitos War about 40 years later, and the Bar Kokhbas revolt 20 years on,
were all attempts by the Zealots to expel the Romans from their land but Rome was at the peak of its
power and had colonised lands as far away as Briton just a hundred years earlier. Hence Rome was
invincible and easily put down these revolts. Nevertheless, that was when the idea of the Kingdom of God
In the previous article, , I mentioned names such as Maulana Maududi, Jamal The Ulama and the Sharia
ad-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abdu, and so on. What we see in Pakistan, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi
Arabia, etc., today, is to some extent the product of what there people fought for.
But there was something not complete here. What they propagated was Pan-Arabism. And the Arabs are
amongst the most difficult people to unite. In fact, many, such as the Africans, Egyptians, Turks and
Persians, were not even Arabs and to unite them under the umbrella of Pan-Arabism is an impossible
task. Instead, they would need to be united under the umbrella of Pan-Islamism if you want to succeed.
But then, just as there is more than one Arab, there is also more than one Islam. So the early
experiments to replace Pan-Arabism with Pan-Islamism also failed. Until today, as we can see, not only is
the Middle East at war with each other but Muslims kill Muslims over doctrinal differences as well. There is
so much diversity not only amongst the people of the Middle East but also amongst the Muslims as well.
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And this was why it was so easy to demolish the Ottoman Empire and break up the Middle East into many
smaller republics, kingdoms and emirates soon after the First World War. A divided Middle East was good
for Western interests, especially when they were sitting on the oil that the West needed so much to
recover from the ravishes of the war.
Was it not the British who invented the divide and rule strategy and was it not also the British who devised
the plan on how to break up the Middle East and divide and rule the Arabs, Egyptians, Persians, Turks,
North Africans and so on?
Hasan al-Banna, who went to Cairo to further his education in 1923, was a believer in the teachings of
al-Afghani and Muhammad Abdu. And he, too, felt that the decline of the Islamic Empire was not due to
Western Imperialism or Western Colonisation but due to the failure of Muslims themselves for not
upholding the teachings and principles of Prophet Muhammad. Al-Banna saw the decadence and
corruption of Secularism and Western Imperialism. Islamic ideals had been discarded and replaced with
the greed and materialism of the political and religious elite.
Al-Banna felt that the only way forward was the Islamisation of society. Islam is the answer, preached
al-Banna. And he won many converts amongst those who felt that their country had been taken over
entirely by the westerners. We are brothers in the service of Islam. Hence we are the Muslim Brothers,
said al-Banna.
The influence of the Muslim Brothers spread like wildfire to countries like Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia,
Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and so on. The most significant aspect of what the Muslim Brothers
advocated was that Islam is not just a religion. It is a complete religious, political, social, economic and
cultural system. And the only way to achieve this was under an Islamic government.
In 1949, al-Banna was assassinated but that did not end his struggle. While this may have silenced their
leader, the Muslim Brothers grew in strength and within a year it became the most dominant voice of the
opposition, especially in Egypt. Two years later, military leaders under the Free Officers Corps launched a
coup in Egypt and installed a military regime headed by Colonel Gamal Abd al-Nasser.
Within two years of Nassers rule, he arrested and jailed all dissidents and outlawed the Muslim Brothers.
Most of those detained were tortured and killed. And this taught the Muslim Brothers a very important
lesson. And that lesson is you cannot change society just by preaching an ideology. You need an armed
rebellion and a strong army to back this rebellion.
It was now left to Sayyid Qutb to continue al-Bannas struggle. In fact, some even refer to Sayyid Qutb as
the Father of Islamic radicalism. Sayyid Qutb went to America for his education and on his return to Cairo
in 1950, a year after al-Bannas assassination, he joined the Muslim Brothers. Nasser invited Sayyid Qutb
to join the government but he refused and, after the failed assassination attempt on Nasser, Sayyid Qutb
was arrested and thrown into jail where he was brutally tortured.
It was in jail that Sayyid Qutb wrote his manifesto. Preaching alone is not enough, wrote Sayyid Qutb.
Those who have usurped the authority of Allah and who are oppressing Allahs creatures are not going to
give up their power merely through preaching. Sayyid Qutb agreed with al-Banna that a complete
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religious, political, social, economic and cultural system could only be achieved though an Islamic State.
Setting up the Kingdom of God on earth and eliminating the kingdom of man means taking power from
the hands of its human usurpers and restoring it to God alone.
Sayyid Qutbs radical version of political Islam would soon give birth to a new political ideology called
Sayyid Qutb was released from prison in 1965 and soon after that was rearrested and hanged for treason.
However, just like in the case of al-Banna after he was assassinated, Sayyid Qutbs ideas lived on long
after his death. And that is what we are seeing today throughout the Muslim world: Islamism, the new
politics of political Islam.
And this is what non-Muslims cannot comprehend, those non-Muslims in Malaysia as well. What we are
seeing is not Islam. What we are seeing is Islamism. Islamism is not a religion like Islam. Islamism is
political Islam. And Islamism is opposed to secularism, democracy, and all those other western ideals that
are viewed by radical or fundamentalist Muslims as a corruption of and deviation from Gods teachings.