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Posts: 5,100
Reply with quote  #1

Jessica Stern argues that ISIS is a "modern phenomenon" and a "new religion". Much the same is said for other radical currents of Islamism, including the Khomeinism of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The point being that the use of the word "medieval" to describe radical Islam is utterly ignorant of historical and current realities. It is, like all other malignant ideologies, an entirely modern phenomenon which contrary to denials was also influenced numerous Western-derived ideas including Communism and fascism.

In a very broad sense, it is quite accurate to describe two Islamic political camps. While we talk about Sufis, Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood, we can also talk about dividing "Political Islam" into two camps, namely "conservative" and "radical".

The "radical" camp is represented in its most extreme form by ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and the so-called "Salafist Jihadism", and in different forms by currents inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat-e-Islami, and in Shiite Islam by the Iranian regime and its proxies like Hezbollah. The "radical" camp can be characterised as "extremist" and "anti-Western" and proponents of terrorism, but in a more sober sense, they are revolutionaries inspired as much by Marxist-influenced Third Worldism as they are by a radicalised form of Islam. They believe in revolution, an overthrow of the existing order and the creation of an Islamist utopia, and are hostile to the societies around them whether in the Islamic World or in the West.

The "conservative" camp includes, likewise, divergent and diametrically opposing strands of Islam such as Sufis and Salafists, as well as traditionalist or "quietist" Shiites. The reason I lump them together is because they share numerous characteristics. Their conservatism is not just social or religious, it's very much political conservatism in the fundamental sense that they reject violence or revolution and cooperate with the established order, and indeed serve to reinforce it. Often "quietism" means religious leaders avoiding direct involvement in politics and leave governing to temporal rulers, but it also means collaboration with the state. Hence they will work within the established political and socioeconomic order - anything from absolute monarchy to parliamentary democracy - rather than oppose it.

With the rise of ISIS, both conservative Sufi and Salafist groups have also devoted resources to refuting radical currents.

This is evident not only in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (where conservative Salafists support the monarchies they are ruled by), but also in Egypt and Jordan. In both Egypt and Jordan, the conservative Salafist tradition is represented by the Nour Party in Egypt (who more or less supported the military takeover by Sisi) and by Salafist sheikhs like Ali Al-Halabi in Jordan (who is essentially allied with the Hashemite monarchy of Abdullah II). While diametrically opposed and antagonistic, Sufis also take a similar path. In this respect, both Sufis and Salafists can be deemed representative of a conservative and even reactionary (as opposed to radical and revolutionary) form of Islam.

For us in the West, what does that mean? Many who do not have a nuanced understanding of Islam may not see the difference among them. Many may not see the difference outwardly between Salafist jihadists and ISIS on one hand, and the "loyalist" Salafists of Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states on the other. There is a very real political and ideological difference between them, an understanding of which is necessary in unscrambling the regional quagmire.


Posts: 858
Reply with quote  #2 
DavidV, thanks for this interesting link and interesting information. I also think it is important to have knowledge about the various types of Islam to make a fair judgement about them. 

Posts: 5,100
Reply with quote  #3 
This is not about a "fair judgement" but about stating some facts based on observations and research pertaining to Islam and state power. I can pinpoint to both Sufi and Salafist websites, in English by the way, which discuss political theory in some detail as well as refuting extremism which they call Khwarij or Kharijite. I am referring to the fact that there is a genuine distinction between Islamic groups that are not radical or revolutionary, and for instance ally themselves with the monarchies they live under, and those that effectively wage war against the established order. It is essential to understand this in the interests of forming a counter-narrative, a counter-ideology against radicalism.

Posts: 858
Reply with quote  #4 
Originally Posted by DavidV
 I am referring to the fact that there is a genuine distinction between Islamic groups that are not radical or revolutionary, and for instance ally themselves with the monarchies they live under, and those that effectively wage war against the established order

That's what I did mean with fair judgement - if you consider all Islamic groups the same thing you would lose such nuances in your descriptions. I think we meant the same. 

Posts: 5,100
Reply with quote  #5

This is a very good article, the essence of which I can agree with however... the problem is not so much "Iranian leadership of Shiite Islam as Iranian regime ideology perverting Shiite Islam. Traditionally Shiite clerics were quietist who kept out of politics and left governing to temporal authorities. This was turned upside down by Khomeini, whose teaching off wilayat al-faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) created a system where clerics have absolute authority over the state.
A point made in the article is about the loyalties of Shiite Muslims. What the Iranian regime and its proxies have done is create a network by which Shiites owe loyalty to their ideology rather than to the countries they live in. Traditional clerics like Ali Al-Amine of Lebanon reject this completely and insist on a) wilayat al-dowlat (the state is supreme, not clerics) and b) Shiites' loyalty belonging to their countries first.

Posts: 5,100
Reply with quote  #6 

To understand the divisions that exist within Islam today, we have to examine the history and development of Islam since the schism between Sunni and Shiite Islam. There emerged in Sunni Islam four madhabs (schools of jurisprudence) and three aqidah (literally "creeds").

The four madhabs are:
Hanafi - dominant in Turkey, the Levant, and Central and South Asia, also present in Egypt. Traditionally the most liberally-minded (relatively-speaking) of the four
Maliki - dominant in North and West Africa, specifically the "Muslim Belt" stretching from Senegal to Sudan (the Sahel and Sudan regions)
Shafi'i - dominant in Yemen, East Africa and South-East Asia.
Hanbali - dominant in the Arabian peninsula, and the most rigorous of the four madhabs

The three aqidah are:
Ashari (or Ash'ari) - the school of Abu al-Hassan al-Ashari and one of two major schools of ilam al-kalam (theology or "science" of Islam).
Maturidi - the school of Abu al-Mansur al-Maturidi, the other of the two major schools of kalam. Collectively, they are known as ilam al-kalam (علم الكلام) or ahl al-sunnah wa al-jamaah (أهل السنة والجماعة), which for centuries has been the basis of orthodox, traditional Islam.

Sufism is often characterised as representing moderate and tolerant Islam, but in fact is only one aspect of the tradition of Islam mentioned above.

Athari (literally "narration") represents what is known as the textualist school of thought. With the Hanbali madhab, Athari thought is considered to form the basis for what is commonly known as Salafism or Wahabism. The terms are often misunderstood and misappropriated, but the movement has precursors from the Hanbali school transmitted through Ibn Taymiyyah and Muhammad bin Abdul Wahab.

What must be understood is that each of these claims to represent the "true" or "orthodox" Sunni Islam, 

These are the basics. Now for more modern developments. The various Islamic political movements that have emerged include the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafist groups, the Deobandi and Barelvi movements in South Asia, and the jihadist movements.

First of all, the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami are the prototypes of modern Islamist movements. The Ikhwan's Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb and the Jamaat's Abdul Alaa Maududi are correctly seen as the fathers of politicised radical Islam, and thus of movements like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Furthermore, Ayatollah Khomeini even acknowledged the influence of Maududi on his ideology and the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Maududi even admitted that an Islamic state as he saw it would resemble Communism and fascism.

Consequently we have Salafist Jihadism and the Taliban. So-called Salafist Jihadism is actually distinct from Salafism or Wahabism as I mentioned above. "Official Salafism", as is promoted in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan, is a conservative religious movement tied to those regimes which rejects radicalism and reinforces the established order. This is also known as Quietism, meaning that clerics refrain from direct political involvement and provide only a frame of reference.

In South Asia, movements include:
Barelvi - claiming to preserve tradition based on Sufism, Hanafi and Maturidi thought
Deobandi - a puritanical movement which is also rooted in Hanafi and Maturidi thought, but became a fundamentalist movement that spawned the Taliban
Ahle Hadees - the local variant of Salafism and sharing many of its characteristics

We must understand that beyond the divisions of Islamic philosophy, law and theology, are the very real political and ideological traditions between conservatives and radicals. Witness the pro-regime Sufism and Salafism that exists in the Gulf, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and elsewhere. Witness the fact that on both sides of the conflict in Syria you have clerics coming from the traditional ulema - the pro-regime Mufti Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun on one hand, the pro-rebel Sufi Muhammad al-Yaqoubi on the other. Witness, likewise, the Saddam-sponsored "Faith Campaign" in Iraq which created a state-sponsored form of Salafism, and paved the way for ISIS. And so on.
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