- ActivitesIslamic IssuesIslamic Movements
- February 1, 2009
- 12 minutes read
Is political islam a threat to the west?
No, rather it’s a blessing for the whole world provided it’s seen in the right context,
The program was chaired by the award-winning former BBC correspondent and interviewer Tim Sebastian, who founded Doha Debates in 2004, and secured their editorial independence. Known for being the first host of the BBC’s flagship interview program “Hardtalk”, for which he was twice named Interviewer of the Year by the Royal Television Society, Sebastian has also won the Society’s Television Journalist of the Year award, as well as a British Academy award for contributions to factual television. Doha Debates is financed by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, a private, chartered, non-profit organization, founded in 1995 and chaired by her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned. It is said that no government, official body or broadcaster has any control over what is said at the sessions or who is invited. Televised eight times a year by BBC World News and watched by 300 million viewers across 200 countries, the Doha Debates today provides a battleground for conflicting opinions and arguments about the major political topics of the region in the Arab world. The 350-strong audiences are mainly selected from Qatar’s Universities and other educational and scientific institutes in the Arab world. Other people come from all over the worlds. It focuses on a single, controversial motion, with two speakers, for and against. Once they have outlined their arguments, each speaker is questioned by the chairman and the discussion is then opened up for the audience, and then finally there is a final electronic vote.
On 18th January Doha Debates in 2009 ended in its closest ever as the motion “This house believes that political Islam is a threat to the West” was defeated by 51% of the vote. Speaking for the motion was former member Hizb-ut-Tahrir and current director of the UK-based Quilliam Foundation Mr Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim counter extremism think tank, which works to counter extremism. He was joined by vice president of the Islamic Religious Community of Italy, Imam Yahya Pallavicini. The motion was opposed by Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy and the Hewlett Fellow at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. He was assisted by Sarah Joseph, CEO and editor in chief of Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel and a strong votary of inter-faith dialogue and women’s rights. Sarah Joseph has been described as one of Britain’s most powerful Muslims. Introducing the motion to the select gathering, “Doha Debates” Chairman Tim Sebastian said that the issue of politicization of Islam had come into sharp focus due to the ongoing hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Nawaz, who had been imprisoned by Egyptian authorities for four years for helping to set up offshoots of his radical Islamist party Hizb-u-Tahrir in Denmark and Pakistan was first to speak, and he emphasized on the need to distinguish between “Muslims involved in politics,” and “political Islam.” “We are not arguing that Muslims should not participate in the political process – far from it, as we are all Muslims who are politically involved, but we are arguing that Islamism, which has a fixed agenda and uses scripture and spirituality to justify its political aims, is a threat to the West,” he said. “Muslims as political leaders are not a threat to anyone, rather they are welcome.”
But anyone or any group using Islam as an emotional weapon to browbeat others and garner votes is unacceptable, undesirable. “In fact, those who believe that Islam is not just a faith but a political system are not doing any good to the religion,” he added. Citing his example, he said, “I was with the Hizb-ut-Tahrir for 14 long years and helped it in setting up offshoots in Denmark and Pakistan. Later, I was imprisoned in Egypt for four years, while in prison I realized that radical Islamist ideology was a misplaced concept. I took up traditional Islam and began to espouse inclusive politics. Those who want to divide the people on sectarian lines and try to dehumanize them should be challenged with full vigor, he said. Imam Pallavicin was next to speak. And he argued that the use of Islam to brainwash and mislead people is a threat not only to the West, but the East and the international community of Muslims and all believers.
“They make people believe that they are acting in the best interests of the Muslim community, but they do not act with any legitimacy because they use arguments that have no spiritual basis,” he added. “We want to safeguard the peaceful, spiritual justice of Islam – misleading sacred principles and legitimizing violence is not right,” he added. By misinterpreting the Shariah law, some fanatic groups are keen on misleading the people. They are using arrogant and inhuman methods to spread their misplaced concept of Islamism. Take for example Taliban which destroyed Buddha statues at Bamian in Afghanistan. Which religion preaches such intolerance? “To legitimize violence is wrong and such fissiparous tendencies should be curbed,” he added. Sarah Joseph spoke next against the motion. Sarah Joseph, a British woman who converted to Islam some 20 years ago, gave an impassioned defence of adopting Islamic principles in political participation. “Why should we not be inspired by the political dimension of our faith?” she demanded. “I feel that Islam has something to say and offer to both my life and my politics – why should we not combine our religion and politics when other parties in the West do so?”
She claimed that she was not scared of people who combine Islam and politics, and said that the debate offered an opportunity for people to embrace discourse on the issue, and “be part of change in the world.” Sarah Joseph opposed the motion tooth and nail. She said, “The brouhaha being created about political Islam is unwarranted. It is creating undue fear among the people. Politics and faith have always played a pivotal role in society and their synergy cannot be challenged. We must not forget the words of great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi who had said “those who think that religion can be separated from politics do not understand the meaning of religion.” Even Bishop Desmond Tutu had used religion to usher in freedom for his countrymen.” Making an impassioned plea to the house to reject the motion, she concluded, “Some people misuse religion for narrow gains but that does not mean that the entire community and the religion are at fault. Let’s call a terrorist a terrorist and not see him as belonging to this faith or that. We must surely give some space to those who have a different view on issues.”
Taking serious exception to Maajid’s contention, Shadi Hamid, who was against the motion cited examples of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordon, Pakistan and Justice and Development Party in Turkey to prove that these outfits had joined the mainstream of politics and were posing no threat to the west or anyone else. “These organizations have shunned violence and accepted democratic principles to an extent. They have won people’s mandate in their countries. We must give these groups a chance to further moderate themselves. Branding them as a threat to others is not the right thing to do. I think even groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are not strong enough to challenge the West,” he added.
Unconvinced by Hamid’s point of view, Imam Yahya Pallavicini said that political Islam was a threat to the East, the West and even to Islam. “The community is being harmed immensely as youngsters are being brainwashed to believe in the utopian dream of Islamist state. By misinterpreting the Shariah law, some fanatic groups are keen on misleading the people. Nawaz asked a pertinent question that was never really addressed by the opposition, when he queried the need to combine politics and Islam: “What is it that means Islamists cannot just engage in the normal political process as Muslims – what are the other aims of political Islam?”
Interestingly many Muslim among the attendees spoke in favour of the motion and also voted in favour of the motion, which was finally defeated by a narrow margin of 51% against the motion and 49 % in favour. Sherin Khan, a half finish and half Syrian who has converted to Islam, stood against the motion that, “this house believes political Islam is a threat to the west”.
One of main reasons of the West fearing political Islam is that most of the leaders in Arab nations are Islamists — groups that embrace a political view of Islam and reject secular forms of government. The West also feels that these groups are anti-Western. But religious ideals within Islam always favour democracy. The Holy Quran contains a number of ideas that support democratic ideals. One is shura, or consultative decision-making. The other is ijma, or the principle of consensus. So this leads us to agree that political Islam has all the democratic norms and can never be a threat to West or the world. In fact no form of Islam can be a threat to any body in the world if interpreted, presented and adopted in its right text, context and pretext.
The West believes that in Islam God is the giver of laws, while men have only limited autonomy to implement and enforce those laws. In fact, shariah applies to all aspects of religious, political, social, and private life. The model set by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) reveals how democratic practices and theories are attuned to an Islamic state. The first Islamic state based on a social contract was constitutional in character and had a ruler who ruled with the written consent of all citizens of the state. Demonstrating democratic spirit, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) chose to prepare a historically specific constitution based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed to him but he also sought the consent of all from time to time. This means that in a democracy Muslims and non-Muslims are equal citizens of an Islamic state. Turkey and Malaysia, Pakistan and Bangladesh set a fantastic example for nations around the world to see that democracy coexists with a great religion like Islam. The experience of both the above-mentioned countries reflects the fact that many Muslims, whether living in secular or formally Islamic states, see democracy as their main hope. The Constitution of Madina established a pluralistic state, a community of communities. The principles of equality, consensual governance and pluralism were central to that concept and practice.
Western scholars are trying to present Islam as anti-democratic and inherently authoritarian. By misrepresenting Islam in this way, some people in the west seek to prove that Islam has a set of values inferior to Western liberalism and is a barrier in the way of progress of civilizations, which is totally wrong. They don’t read the Holy Quran themselves and study the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The Last sermon delivered by our Great Prophet (PBUH) is in fact an eye opener to all.
Yes if political Islam is a threat to anybody, it is to those who don’t want that their government tomorrow should be accountable to its people and it is threat to those who do not want to deliver justice to its people, they don’t want that democratic institutions should flourish in their countries as their kingship will end then and there.
West on one hand is advocating democracy, and on the other hand we see what happened to the legitimate Hamas Government and its legitimate force in Palestine, which was elected after fairest ever elections in the Arab world in the January 2006 elections to the Palestinian Legislative Elections and obtained the majority of the seats. They want Muslims to do what they like for themselves. The peaceful aspects of Islam, its rejection of aggression unless attacked and the need to treat prisoners of war kindly are not aspects that are frequently stressed, and consequently neither readers in the west know about them nor do western Middle East specialists care to acknowledge them on the whole. Islam is not what He, She and Me say, Islam is the Holy Quran and Seera of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and it belongs to all who want to adopt its principles. The West generally, and the US particularly, should change their policies with regard to the repressive regimes in Muslim nations to prevent political Islam from growing as a threat to the West. Basic responsibility lies with Muslim scholars who should reinterpret Islamic laws in the light of the changing needs of a modern society and show to the world that Islam is blessing to the world, and nothing from Islam is basically a threat to any body in this world.