Democracy in Islamic Political Thought

[Hassan Al-Banna]

Al-Banna notes that as each of these nations struggled to regain its freedom and the right to exist as an independent entity, concepts of localized nationalism arose, and many states working towards this revival purposely ignored the idea of unity.[^27] From that moment the Muslim Brotherhood launched the struggle for the return of the Islamic empire as a unified state embracing the Muslims that had been scattered around the world, raising the banner of Islam and carrying its message.[^28] At this stage, the Europeans ceased to be a model. On the contrary, they were blamed for the ills of the Muslim ummah. 'The Europeans', Hasan Al-Banna wrote:

….worked assiduously in trying to immerse (the world) in materialism, with its corrupting traits and murderous germs, to overwhelm those Muslim lands that their hands stretched out to . they were able to alter the basic principles of government, justice, and education, and infuse in the most powerful Islamic countries, their own peculiar political, judicial, and cultural systems. They imported their semi-naked women into these regions, together with their liquors, their theatres, their dance halls, their amusement arcades, their stories, their newspapers, their novels, their whims, their silly games, and their vices. Here they allowed for crimes intolerable in their own countries, and beautified this tumultuous world to the deluded, naive eyes of wealthy Muslims and those of rank and authority. This was not enough for them, so they built schools and scientific cultural institutes, casting doubt and heresy within the hearts of people. They taught them how to demean themselves, to vilify their religion and their homeland, to detach themselves from their beliefs, and to regard anything Western as sacred, in the belief that only that which is European can be emulated. These schools were restricted to the upper class, the ruling body, the powerful and the future leaders. Those who were unsuccessful in such places were sent abroad to complete their studies. This drastic, well-organised social campaign was tremendously successful since it appealed to the mind. It will continue to exert its strong intellectual influence over a long period of time. Thus, it was far more dangerous than any political or military campaign. Some Islamic countries went overboard in their admiration for the European civilization and their dissatisfaction with the Islamic one, to the point that Turkey declared itself a non-Islamic state, imitating the Europeans in everything that they did. Aman Allah Khan, King of Afghanistan, tried this, but the attempt cost him his throne. In Egypt the manifestations of this mimicry increased and became so serious that one of her intellectual leaders could openly say that the only path to progress was to adopt this civilization: good or evil, bitter or sweet, praiseworthy or reprehensible. From Egypt it spread with strength and speed into the neighboring countries, to the extent that it reached Morocco and encircled the holy sanctuaries within the midst of Hijaz.[^29]

Explaining that his movement's mission is one of reawakening and deliverance, Al-Banna declared that the goals of his organization were:

  1. Freeing the Islamic homeland from all foreign authority, for this is a natural right belonging to every human being, which only the unjust oppressor will deny.

  2. The establishment of an Islamic state within this homeland, which acts according to the precepts of Islam, applies its social regulations, advocates its sound principles, and broadcasts its mission to all of mankind.[^30]

Al-Banna warned the Muslims, in general, and the members of his group, in particular: 'As long as this state does not emerge, every Muslim is sinning and Muslims are responsible before Allah the Almighty for their failure and slackness to establish it. In these bewildering circumstances, it is against the interests of humanity that a state advocating injustice and oppression should arise, while there should be no one at all working for the advent of a state founded on truth, justice, and peace. We want to accomplish these two goals in the Nile Valley and the Arab Kingdom, and in every land which Allah has blessed with the Islamic creed: uniting all the Muslims.'[^31]

The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood took a special interest in stressing that their movement was set up in response to the downfall of the Khilafah. 'When the Khilafah was brought down', Mustafa Mashhoor, deputy leader of the Brotherhood explained: 'Imam Hasan Al-Banna rose up and proclaimed the restoration of the Khilafah to be a religious duty incumbent upon every single Muslim man and woman.'[^32] In a message sent to the heads of Muslim states in June 1947, Hasan Al-Banna demanded that they shoulder their responsibilities and undertake the task of serving the ummah. The task, he explained, consisted of two parts: the first, to rid the ummah of its political shackles so as to achieve its freedom and restore its lost independence and sovereignty; and the second to rebuild the ummah anew in order to pursue its path among nations and compete with others for the attainment of social perfection.[^33] Hence, Hasan Al-Banna's main concern was to mobilize the public against colonialism and its adverse effects on society. He called for the re- establishment of Islamic governance on three foundations: the ruler's accountability to Allah and to the public, the unity of the ummah within a framework of brotherhood, and respect for the will of the ummah and its right to check its rulers who are obliged to respect its will and opinions.[^34] In his analysis of the causes of European progress, he prognosticated the eventual collapse of Western civilization due to immorality, usury and political divisions.

In his message Bayn al-Ams wa'l-Yawm (Between Yesterday and Today), he cites (political) parties as one of the factors that would lead to European decline.[^35] Although he stood for parliamentary elections twice, and while stressing that the parliamentary and constitutional system is in essence compatible with the Islamic system of government, he was adamant in his opposition to political parties. He regarded them as a potential threat to Islamic unity, which he deemed was essential for the re-establishment of the Khilafah. 'They (political parties) are this homeland's greatest misdeed, the root of social corruption whose fire is scalding us. They are not genuine parties in the sense by which parties in any other country of the world are known. They are no more than a series of dissension caused by personal disagreements among a number of the children of this ummah. Whose circumstances necessitated one day that they should speak in its name and demand its national rights . There is no more room for half solutions and there is no escape from the inevitability of the dissolution of all these parties. The forces of the ummah ought to be joined in one party that would have to work for the restoration of its independence and freedom, and that would lay down the foundations for general domestic reform.'[^36] Between the two World Wars, thinkers affiliated with the liberal trend campaigned, like their 19th-century predecessors for total Westernization. Embracing secularism, they called for formulating modern constitutions and legal systems that, just as the Europeans had done, exclude religion and restrict its rule to the private domain. They hoisted the slogan of 'separating state and religion' and blamed Islam for the backwardness of the Arabs.[^37]

The abolishment of the Khilafah in 1924 aroused a debate among thinkers of the time over its importance. Ali Abd Ar-Raziq (1888-1966), an Al-Azhar graduate who later studied at Oxford, contributed to the debate with a book that turned out to be among the most controversial works in modern Islamic history. Abd Ar-Raziq's theory claimed there were no such things as Islamic political principles. He denied the existence of a political order in Islam and claimed that the Prophet never established one and that it was not part of his mission to found a state.[^38]

As Arab societies responded to the challenge of colonialism and rose to restore their freedom and struggle for their independence, Westernized elites took over the leadership of national movements that originally had Islamic inclinations. Despotic single-party regimes or absolute monarchies replaced the colonial authorities in most of the Arab countries. Throughout the post-independence era, Islam, its culture and its heritage came under savage onslaught in the name of modernization. The Al-Azhar of Egypt was turned into a secular university, the Tunisian Az-Zaytouna Institute was closed down, awqaf (endowment) institutions were nationalized, Shari’ah courts were either dissolved or marginalized and political parties and groups were banned or outlawed. The Ikhwan, who had already established branches or strong links in many Arab and Muslim countries, were hit hard by Nassir in Egypt soon after he came to power in 1952. Following the execution of several of their leaders and the imprisonment of hundreds of their followers in 1954, they were driven underground. The challenge had once again changed shape. It was no more the challenge and struggle for independence and freedom, but rather the struggle to resist and defend the ummah against what was perceived as a pernicious onslaught against Islam and the cultural identity of the ummah not only by foreign colonial powers but also by post-independence regimes. From then until the early seventies, members of the Islamic movement were influenced mainly by the works of Mawdudi and Nadwi and by the writings of Sayyid Qutb.