With the growing frequency of terrorist attacks happening the world over at the hands of people who claim to be Muslims, the differences between various Islamic groups becomes blurred, as people grapple to understand who is responsible for these crimes against humanity and whether or not Islam condones such acts. In an important interview, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi explains the essential differences between the Muslim Brotherhood and its peaceful approach to attaining positive change, and hard-line islamic movements that believe in the use of violence.
There is a crisis in Islamic jurisprudence in various issues; however, this cannot be attributed to Islam, but to a crisis in understanding these issues by some people.
Islamist movements are defined as ‘organized collective popular work to serve Islam’ and for the work to be done properly it has to be popular and non-official. It also has to be collective and not individual, because individual work never achieves great aims. It must also be organized with leadership and grassroots, and its aim should be to make (true) Islam victorious. The authentic Islamic movement should have links to politics, because it is must have influence and impact.
Not all Islamist movements are based on secrecy as this largely depends on the countries in which these movements operate. Some groups are constitutionally banned but if they are not, then the groups can work openly. Any religious individual has the right to participate in building the country through his personal opinion whether it is regarding political, economic, educational, or health. If the state prevents the practicing of politics, this will obviously lead to underground work. It is important that the work is done openly because in this way the people involved can be held accountable and can be criticized.
Some governments hesitate to allow such groups to operate openly, fearing that they will become popular and demand change. The problem is not the groups as much as the fact that the existing governments now do not have any popular support; in fact many are hated by their peoples, and they govern their countries by brute force, and martial and emergency laws rather than governing through the consensus of the people. In such countries there are no true elections because the governments rig the polls and fail to reflect the will of the people.
Splits within groups happen frequently, and this applies to all groups; whether Islamist or not. The main reason is because some people do not like continuous silence and peaceful struggle, and they have a violent and revolutionary character, and hence they split, and establish another group whose course is based on violence. However, more important is the mother group, and in many cases this is the one that remains, and the splinter groups dissolve into society.
In all idealistic movements that are based on principles, when the time comes for implementation, the call becomes one thing, and implementation becomes another. This is the nature of human beings.
Recently a form of competition has started to emerge between the Salafi tendency of the Muslim Brotherhood on both the political and jihadi arenas. The Muslim Brotherhood is broad and inclusive. Sheikh Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, when describing the group said that it includes all the concepts for which all groups call. He said that it is a Salafi movement as it calls for returning to the Quran and Sunnah, it is Sufi as it calls for purifying the hearts and returning to Allah, it is a Sunni way that is based on honoring the Prophet's companions and on the work of the Sunni school of thinking and it is a political body. The group includes all the concepts of reform. The advantage of the Brotherhood lies in its comprehensive character and its balance, as it does not exaggerate in supporting one tendency at the expense of another. For instance, the Salafi tendency sometimes prevails and this tendency adopts a hard-line attitude on some issues. Thus, the Salafis enter the arena, and these issues and others become the focus of a major debate, arguments, and fighting. This exists in particular in the Gulf countries, where the Muslim Brotherhood tendency has been influenced by the Salafi tendency.
Traditional Salafism has grown into several schools of thinking, and is no longer a single school. There is a Salafi movement that is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. There are Salafis who sometimes interpret and at other times abstain from interpretation, and combine intellect, action, religion, and politics. Moreover, we cannot disregard the development of the Salafis; in the past they did not talk about politics, but now they participate in political battles and elections after they reproached the Muslim Brotherhood for a long time for doing so. The Salafis have also developed in several jurisprudence issues, such as "photography," which they used to consider one of the major sins, but now they consider it allowed.
There is no doubt that the reality has imposed change on them, and this includes travelling and getting to know people and this happened after a large number of them started to leave their own countries. When the Salafi goes out, and gets in touch with the various peoples, he will definitely revise his views. There are also those whose reading has expanded, and they became acquainted with books they never expected to read. Man is not a stone, and there are many influences that are bound to cast their shadow on an individual.
The groups that have been based on jihad, such as the jihadi or Salafi jihadi groups have been established against the Muslim Brotherhood. The first jihadi group was established as opposing the Muslim Brotherhood, and accused it of betraying the principles of Islam. Such groups have carried out some acts of violence and we say to them that such things are not helpful, and the only things to be gained from them are detention, suffering, and victimization.
Man ought to be able to change his plans on the basis of what he sees. All Islamist movements are entitled to try for themselves, and start from zero until they reach the conclusions of the preceding groups. The jihadis who reproached the Muslim Brotherhood for some issues, have gone back, and retreated, considering themselves to have been wrong.
Political issues are subject to improvisation and change; they are not firm principles, but they are viewpoints that change with the change of situation and circumstances. Recently Sudan failed to keep its southern province but unlike current speculation, Al-Bashir will not apply Islamic Shariaa in the south, because any region that does not contain a Muslim majority does not have to apply the Shariaa. There are numerous reasons for this secession, which started with the British occupation that isolated South Sudan from North Sudan, and considered it an independent state, and the south was instilled with the culture of hating Khartoum . At the same time, Sudan has not exerted any effort since its independence to combat what the colonialist powers had entrenched.
Arabs and Muslims are still in a state of increasing fragmentation and division. European countries used to fight each other, but they have now found their interest in uniting and disregarding the entire past, contrary to what we do. Indeed, uniting for positive peaceful change may well be the lesson we have to learn.
This article is based on an interview with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi