Islamism, Post-Islamism, and Civil Islam

By Kömeçoglu, Ugur | Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Islamism, Post-Islamism, and Civil Islam


Kömeçoglu, Ugur, Current Trends in Islamist Ideology


CIVIL DEMOCRACY DISTINGUISHES PHILOSOPHICALLY AND MORALLY between political life and religious faith. Religion and politics are not mutually exclusive under such modern conditions. Indeed, it is possible to be devoutly faithful and to embrace civil democratic politics, just as it is possible to be faithful and to adhere to an anti-democratic political ideology. Such is the case with Islam and Islamism; Islam the religion is compatible with civil democratic modernity, but Islamism is an anti-democratic political ideology. Whereas Islam is defined in the Quran as the "path to God's blessings and eternal salvation," Islamism as a political project seeks to energize and organize Muslims to struggle against what it perceives as a Western-dominated world system.1 More specifically, Islamist ideology seeks to oppose Islam against secular, pluralistic and liberal understandings of the emancipated self and the democratic public sphere.

As a religion, Islam is widely considered to be essentially different from other religions in that its concepts of belief and political rule have been fused in different historical contexts. Because of this, Islam and the Muslim ideal of the "Islamic State" are generally assumed to be resistant to pluralist democracy and religious modernity. This is certainly the view propagated by the Islamist movement, which has largely defined political action in revolutionary terms and as inherently opposed to the modern liberal order. In 1941, the Pakistani ideologue Abul Ala Mawdudi wrote that "Islam is a revolutionary doctrine and a system that overturns [modern] governments."2 Through this politicization of religion, Islamism has appropriated the ideal of the Islamic State and claimed it as its own.

Islamists imagine Islam as a totalistic and divine system for organizing politics, culture, law and economic life. For them, the Quran offers a programmatic blueprint for an "Islamic State" that contains prescriptions for all aspects of everyday human life. Indeed, like other modern political ideologies, Islamism is totalitarian in nature. Consequently, Islamists concern themselves mainly with the duties and obligations that their political project requires. They reject democratic pluralism and civil society, and they see little point in reflecting on ethical responsibility or in determining and safeguarding the rights of individuals. In fact, as with other totalitarians, Islamists do not respect the religious beliefs or conscience of others.

Islamists are focused principally on power, and they seek to achieve their goals of transforming society through its acquisition. Indeed, to the Islamist, power is more important than spirituality, and he will often sacrifice the latter for the sake of political action. Islamists are usually not men of dialogue, but instead are fond of constructing insurmountable borders by denouncing others-pious Muslims and non-Muslims alike-as secularists, liberals, and unbelievers. Islamist rhetoric is thus by design harsh and severe and Islamist preaching and proselytization is repulsive rather than inviting. Islamists seek to blame non-Islamist Muslims for the problems that many modern Muslim societies face; they attach little importance to the spiritual development of individuals and service to civic society and they focus their efforts instead on political action and their struggle against the enemies that they've made for themselves. There are, of course, multiple manifestations of Islamism and one can talk about the variety of Islamisms, not a single type. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned characteristics can mostly be found in all variations of Islamism.

Contrary to what Islamists would argue, however, Islamism is only one of the interpretations of Islam by Muslims. In an alternative Islamic understanding that might be broadly described as "Civil Islam," Islam isn't corrupted or transformed into a political ideology, nor is it state-centric. Instead, the main focus of Civil Islam is on the spiritual development of individual Muslims and the promotion of the general conditions for human flourishing, including a robust civil society, human rights, religious freedom, peace, ethics, social justice, and the rule of law. …

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