intellectual property rights: This blogger firmly believes in intellectual and other property rights. Links have been given to the material including images and maps used from outside sources. The blogger requests pointing out any material that have escaped this policy.
Today: consumption kills eco-systems; fraud, greed, grand larceny and theft bring down world's finances; deceit, infidelity and instant gratification destroy families; murders and wars have left us without peace or stability. On top we have droughts, earthquakes, floods, storms, tsunamis … has the world gone mad! Submit now to Allah before it is too late - to the One and Only God, the Creator, Lord and Sustainer of the universe, Unique in His Person and Actions, without any blemish, weakness or relatives. Follow the Sunnah of Muhammad (the last Messenger and Prophet - upon whom be the peace and blessings of Allah), and join those who will be the really successful ones.

see end of page for buttoned useful links

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Islamist, a review - Part One

Review of The Islamist
By Ust. Andrew Booso*
May 10th, 2007

Part One

There was a certain amount of clamour before the actual publication of Ed Husain’s Islamist (London: Penguin, 2007). Moreover, the fact that Penguin considered it worthy of printing and the Sunday Times, I believe, had run two weeks’ worth of extracts certainly made the publication more appealing. The author is a troubled soul, who has gone through cycles of self-discovery, self-criticism and then personal, resultant epiphanies. It is these trials and insights that the author wants to share with us as the wisdom of his life. His essential purpose is to tell the reader that he became, at the age of sixteen, an ‘Islamic fundamentalist’, an ‘Islamist’, a follower of ‘extremism’ and ‘political Islam’ – all of which are synonymous in Husain’s worldview. Then, he saw the error of his ways and became attached again to ‘moderate Islam’. Now he is here to share his story because he feels it is ‘clear’ that ‘Islamist groups pose a threat to this country that we – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – do not yet understand’, and his life shows the ‘appeal of extremist thought, how fanatics penetrate Muslim communities and the truth behind their agenda of subverting the West and moderate Islam’. I think he fails on many counts – and I shall try to analyse why – but he certainly gives us hints, wittingly and unwittingly, that we can take as positive lessons.

Religious extremism exists in the Muslim community, and there is a religious duty for all Muslims to do their best to tackle the problem in whatever way they can legally muster. It is honourable that Husain has spent so much of his time and energy concerned with this challenge, and we salute him for it. Nevertheless, tackling extremism does not mean placing the blame where it is not deserved, or making connections that do not exist. Moreover, the task does not only require honesty and intellectual integrity, but it demands responsibility. Sadly, Ed Husain is guilty of many of these flaws, despite the best of intentions. Consequently, his message is therefore only likely to appeal to the converted, and not those that he and we so dearly desire to moderate. This is likely to be because the people he wants to convince will see his glaring failings and will hence dismiss the good along with the bad.

Let us first identify the terms and definitions that Husain provides us with. It is clear that his work is aimed at religious extremism that is identified as being ‘Islamist’. He acknowledges that ‘Islamism’ is ‘disparate’, but we are still able to discern whom Husain identifies as the main heads; they are namely: Sayyid Abu’l-A’la Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb and Taqi al-din Nabhani. Essentially, the ‘Islamism’ of these figureheads is ‘political Islam’, i.e. they want Islam is to be the main ‘signifier’ of the political order (as S. Sayyid defined the ‘Islamist’ in A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the Emergence of Islamism). Husain, in the end, rejects such notions of ‘political Islam’; he says: ‘Religions are not for governments or states, they are for individuals. The state can assist individuals’ religious responsibilities, but governments cannot, should not, profess faith’: in other words, he is a secularist in the Western sense. In the course of trying to de-construct Nabhani, Husain seems to be saying that Nabhani took the idea of God legislating for people from Rousseau. He identifies the ‘Islamist’ groups as the Muslim Brotherhood [al-ikhwan al-Muslimun] (part of the wider, global ‘Islamic movement’) and Hizb ut-Tahrir of the Arab lands, and the Jamat-e-Islami of the Indian subcontinent (who are also seen as part of the Islamic movement). Then the British ‘Islamists’ are identified as those who are connected or inspired by these groups: the Young Muslim Organisation UK (YMO), Islamic Forum Europe (IFE), Dawatul Islam, Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), the Islamic Foundation in Leicester and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) – all ‘movement’ affiliated groups – as well as of course the Hizb ut-Tahrir and some other groups. Furthermore, a close relationship is envisaged between the ‘Islamists’ and ‘Wahhabis’: who are seen to be identical in terms of ‘creed’, with both on the rise in England. In contrast to this ‘political Islam’, Husain leaves us the only option of Islam as predicated by adjectives such as ‘moderate’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘traditional’; and he lets us know the moderates: Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Nuh Keller, T.J. Winter – all close allies – the Haba’ib and the ‘Sufis’.

I would say that I don’t fit into either of his two camps: I’m not a follower of any of the people named on both sides; nevertheless, I’m familiar with them. In fact, my familiarity with the latter group brings me to my first point of analysis: Husain’s name-dropping of Hanson and Keller, in particular, seems to be opportunism based on assumptions that are false. Firstly, his definition and rejection of ‘political Islam’ does not hold up to analysis from Nuh Keller’s compendium Reliance of the Traveller, which received a confirmatory certificate from al-Azhar University, whom Husain calls ‘arguably the highest authority on Muslim scripture’. Nuh Keller adds a section entitled ‘The Caliphate [al-khilafah]’ to the original legal manual that he translated (which is called ‘Umdat as-salik). Keller explains his inclusion as follows:

This section has been added here by the translator because the caliphate is both obligatory in itself and the necessary precondition for hundreds of rulings (books k through o) established by Allah Most High to govern and guide Islamic community life.

Therefore Mawdudi, Qutb and Nabhani cannot be accused in this specific regard of believing and propagating anything but a standard, orthodox belief expounded and endorsed by the jurists throughout time. Moreover, one is convinced that Husain misrepresents Hamza Yusuf’s statement that there was ‘no such thing as an Islamic state’, because I remember that speech, and Yusuf was simply denying the English word ‘state’ as a way of understanding the khilafah, and it was certainly not a rejection of Islam being the ‘signifier’ of the political order.

This leads on to my second observation: despite endorsing continuous scholarship through 1400 years of uninterrupted transmission through the isnad system, as well as memorising almost half of the Qur’anic text, Husain shows a serious inadequacy of knowledge regarding theology and Sacred Law as expounded by the masters through the ages. One can start with the following claim from him: ‘It never occurred to me that if Islamic governance was of such importance, why did not one classical Muslim text have a chapter dedicated to this?’ Well, to begin with, Nuh Keller continues in the extract we started quoting directly from above:

What follows has been edited from al-Ahkam al-sultaniyya wa al-wilayat al-diniyya by Imam Abul Hasan Mawardi, together with three principal commentaries on Imam Nawawi’s Minhaj al-talibin, extracts from which are indicated by parentheses and the initial of the commentator, Ibn Hajar Haytami (H:), Muhammad Shirbini Khatib (K:), or ‘Abd al-Hamid Sharwani (S:).

Now Husain is aware of Mawardi’s work because he accuses Nabhani of plagiarising the text – Husain incorrectly transliterates Mawardi’s name as al-Mawaridi. Again, let us take Nuh Keller as a yardstick when it comes to defining ‘classic’. He subtitles his Reliance with ‘A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law’, so if Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, the author of the original, is considered ‘classic’, then Ibn Juzayy, a great Maliki, can count as ‘classic’ because he was born just prior to Ahmad ibn Naqib in 693; and his famous al-Qawanin al-fiqhiyyah has an entire chapter on ‘Imamate [al-imamah]’, in which he lists the traditional conditions [ash-shurut] necessary for the role. In fact, all of this leads one to the conclusion that even the terminology of ‘Islamist’, ‘Islamism’ and ‘political Islam’ can be dismissed as false. The Islamic scripture calls for Islam to determine the private and public dealings of man, i.e. it is opposed to secularism, for there is no belief in Islam of the Biblical notion: ‘Render…to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). Instead, God says in the Qur’an: But no, by your Lord, they will not believe [completely] until they make you [O Prophet!] judge what is in dispute between them, and find within themselves no dislike for that which you decide, and submit fully [Qur’an 4:65]. Imam Nawawi includes this ayah of the Qur’an in his Riyad as-Salihin, in the seventeenth chapter entitled ‘On the Obligation of Submission to the Decree of Allah’. As Keller’s Reliance, for example, or any other ‘traditional’ manual of law shows, the Sacred Law of Islam covers all human dealings.

For the complete review see:

The Islamist, a review in the Translators