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Non-Turkish Misgivings
What causes astonishment, rather than admiration, in the aftermath of the recent victory of the Turkish Justice and Development Party, are the congratulations and comments expressed by many Islamists in the Arab world.
Sunday, September 9,2007 05:12
by Mshari Al-Zaydi Asharq Al-Awsat

What causes astonishment, rather than admiration, in the aftermath of the recent victory of the Turkish Justice and Development Party, are the congratulations and comments expressed by many Islamists in the Arab world.


These comments were marked by the exultation of (our) victory and the gloating over the defeat of (our) secular opponents. However, amongst those who pass on their congratulations and celebrate the victory, did any one ask whether Recep Erdogan"s party and Abdullah Gul"s discourse, which are considered Islamist, are in accordance with their own standards?

Why aren’t the Justice and Development Party"s concessions, flexibility and pragmatism taken into consideration? Not only does it

acknowledge and adhere to Atatürk"s reference, it pledges to protect the Turkish constitution, which states unequivocally that Turkey is a “secular democratic state”. Why aren’t the Party’s two symbols, Erdogan and Gul, considered secular, elusive and subservient to the West by these positions and a psychological defeat vis-à-vis the values of such positions?

If the official opinion of one of these supporters is that the request for Saudi women to drive is a kind of secularism and conspiracy against religion whilst he celebrates the victory of Erdogan and Gul on his official website considering it a victory for the political Islamist presentation; is this not a contradiction in the rulings?

By no means, the great Justice and Development Party’s rise to power, the Muslim Brotherhood"s rivalry with the regime in Egypt, the advance of the Islamists in Kuwait and the Islamist statelet in Gaza – all these with the exception of the Turkish case or at least its particular context – do not prevent their inclusion in a wider framework, namely, the inflation of political Islamist movements that gained significant ground in both the Arab and Muslim worlds.

This leads us to a discourse that will not be pleasant for many advocates of the political Islamist groups. This discourse on political Islam is a problematic and sensitive issue whereby the members of such groups do not accept this label, yet some of them feel no sensitivity towards it.

We find that there are stubborn Islamists who mix the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood and its experience of political conspiracies with the strictness and limitation of the fundamentalist Salafist discourse. For example, the Syrian preacher Mohammed al Abda criticized those who use the term ‘political Islam’, saying “They invented the term ‘political Islam’ as if there is also social Islam, economic Islam and jurisprudential Islam. Such division is not innocent. They [divisions] belong to those who divide the Quran into different parts. Islam represents all of this and has nothing to do with politics if it means hypocrisy, lying and deception,” (‘Khwadir fi Asiyasa’ [Reflections on Politics], Dr. Mohamed al Abda, page 34).

What is odd, however, is that al Abda wrote a book that was published ten years ago, entitled the ‘Movement of the Pure Soul: Lessons and Examples [Harakat Anafs Azakiya: Doroos wa Abrash]. This book is a review of the [failed] revolution of one of the grandsons of Hassan Ibn Ali Ibn Abi Taleb [Prophet Mohammed’s grandson], namely Mohammed Ibn Abdallah, who was known as Nafs Azakiya (The Pure Soul). The [failed] revolution aimed to overthrow the second Abbasid caliph Abu Jaafar al Mansour. The ‘pure soul’ led the [failed] revolution from Medina, while his brother Ibrahim with the same goal was based in Iraq in order to remove the Abbasid caliph and establish rule in the way of “Al Mahdi Al Muntazar” [the awaited Mehdi]. But the revolution failed and the forces of the Abbasid caliph were successful at crushing it. Dr. al Abda"s book, which I remember was widely circulated and very influential among the Islamist circles in Saudi Arabia and possibly in other countries, looks at the reasons for the failure of the revolution. Dr. al Abda was sympathetic with this revolution as it is considered a historical example that can be applied to the political Islamist revolution. But according to al Abda, this movement failed due to its leader"s excessive idealism and adherence to morals and ideals that were not shared by his opponent, Abu Jaafar Al Mansour.

However, in his last book, ‘Reflections on Politics’, that was published last year, Mohamed al Abda stated that Islam has nothing to do with politics if it means hypocrisy, lying and deception.

So which of the two is correct? Is it the idealism of the pure soul and his practicality that was criticized a few years ago or the required purity of politics as mentioned in al Abda’s last book?

The truth is that politics transcends slogans. Despite the difference in its definitions, it is ultimately a pure worldly practice. Thus, politics is not necessarily subject to the ideals, values and principles no matter what the sources of these ideals are. If we look at the most frequent definitions of it, it would be the art of achieving the possible, although this simplification doesn’t appeal to political scientists who maintain that politics is an independent science rather than an art or skill that can be practiced. However, it is a considerable science subdivided into fields such as political theory, history of political ideologies, political psychology, to which a series of other sciences such as sociology are related, etc.


Despite all this, politics is subject to limitations and is based on the relationships and balances of interests; it is not merely a vehicle that is driven to reach a final ideal destination, namely, the paradise of pure Islamic rule, as heralded by the literature of political Islamists.

However ‘politics’ [Asiyasa], as it is suggestive of exercising power, is a non-Quranic term and is not mentioned in the Quran in this sense. The term ‘al Amr’ is used, which is what today’s Islamists want us to understand. Nonetheless this term carries the same ideological connotations that ‘politics’ does now.

In the Quran it says, “So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs,” (159: The House of Imran), “…and their rule is to take counsel among themselves,” (038: Ash-Shura) and “obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you,” (059: Nisa).

The significance of managing the affairs of the group and its administration with what will fulfill the interests, maintain the benefits, and prevent inflicting damage on the “Amr” [affairs] of the group is evident from the above [Quranic verses].

This term was mentioned in these senses, although the term ‘politics’ has been stated and broached in the Arab texts since the dawn of Islam. In Lisan al Arab, [by Ibn Manzour] it says:

Running affairs and leadership… Thalab said:

Masters and leaders for all, Officials for men on the day of fighting.

Therefore, politics is a subsequent term of the old Islamic one. Politics in the sense of ‘al Amr’ was even stated in recent Arab lexicons as a reflection of what has happened to this term and what was agreed about it, according to the Egyptian intellectual Muhammad Said al Ashmawi in his book ‘Reason in Islam’ [Al Aql fi al Islam].

In this book, al Ashmawi presented an interesting read focusing on the point at which politics and its conflicts spoiled the meaning of the true religion. He discussed the major events of the sedition that began during the reign of the Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan (644-656 A.D.). The revolt had taken place against the caliph based on the pretext that he favored his Umayyad clan. Al Ashmawi then looked at what happened after the murder of the Caliph, the conflict between Ali and Muawiyah and the revolution of the Kharijites against both parties, etc. Al Ashmawi wrote, “The dispute between Uthman and his opponents was not over a religious rite or a religious duty, rather it was over what is known in any state system as an act of the leadership, since he was accused of favoring his relatives.”

Al Ashmawi added, “If this dispute had not been provoked by sentiments, it would have led Muslims to place clear and explicit definitions of religion, Islamic law (Shariaa), the Caliphate system, administration, politics, and the like, and it would have inevitably led to identifying what is related to religion and what is related to politics" (Reason in Islam, p.42). Depending on this use and the throwing of religious arguments and Islamic-based texts between the parties of the political conflict during al Fitna al Kubra (the Great Upheaval), namely, the Umayyads and their camp, Ali and his camp and the Kharijites; this resulted in a complete depletion of the religious institution and a huge break that infused religion and politics together.

For that reason, did the new Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who comes from a political Islamist background, observe that “the confusion between religion and politics inflicts damage upon both of them? Intrinsically, the religious principle is immune to change, but politics is constantly changing in response to reality,” (Abdullah Turkmani, Morocco, June 2006).

This awareness, shown by President Abdullah Gul regarding the change of policy, the durability of religious principles and the mixing between them as an absolute danger, is a new one and is hoped to be a strategic and profound rather than tactical and superficial one, because it simply means that Gul and Erdogan are Turkish Muslims who are practicing politics and are not “Islamists” using politics and its tools as a means for a futile ideological program.

Therefore, will the Islamists of the Arab East, who celebrated the rise of the Justice and Development Party to power, consider these connotations? Furthermore, will they realize the extent to which politics has inflicted damage on religion and religion on politics since the days of al Fitna al Kubra until today and for as long as we remain in this very state of affairs with these very ideas?

Mshari Al-Zaydi: A Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others. He has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.


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