Friday, November 13, 2009

Ramblings about an Islamic State & Nostalgia about the Cairo of the 50s...

For one of my classes, the Sociology of Religion, we had to choose an article about religious movements for the class to read, and I chose the preface of Gilles Kepel's book "Muslim Extremism in Egypt". It gives an overview of when, how and why the trend of Islamic extremism began. During the class discussion, I began thinking about whether having an Islamic state is viable.

Personally, I'm definitely against it. Who gets to interpret Islam in an Islamic state? What if they are very orthodox or fundamentalist (like the Muslim Brotherhood)? What does that mean for moderate and liberal Muslims, for non-Muslims, and for foreign policy?

Also, what do you think of Iran? Is it a success or a failure, or in between? Or is it too soon to tell? Iran after all is an Islamic state.

Then again, so is Saudi, and I would definitely call that a failure.

In terms of Egypt, I just don't see it as viable at all. The Muslim Brotherhood have so far been pretty vague about their specific plans for what to do if they get power. The only things they have explictly said is that the president will have to be a Muslim man.  I wonder what will happen to the large Christian population. Will they become a protected minority, like at the time of the Prophet (pbuh), and does this conform with modern ideas of complete equality between citizens, since they will have to pay jizya (a tax for protection)? Will this status even be respected, since we all know that laws are one thing and their application another? Will they in reality be pressured to convert or leave, or suffer even more abuse and discrimination than they already do?

All of this is making me nostalgic for the Egypt of 50 years ago, when (so I've heard and read) diversity was celebrated, when Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived side by side, when Egyptians were more concerned with a balance between inner and outward forms of piety, as opposed to the modern obsession of outward signs of religiosity.

Cairo sounded like the most beautiful city back then. It still is beautiful, but it is also stressful, unbearable, and full of tension and anxiety.

I know this post is a bit all over the place, but I just wanted to get some thoughts out there...

I still don't have an internet connection at my new place, so sorry that I haven't been commenting on all your blogs/my blog as much...soon i'A!


Jaz said...

Actually I don't know a lot about Iran. I think their goals were screwed up to begin with so they probably think they've achieved complete success!

I don't believe there are any groups of Muslims, able to achieve power, that have the mindset that could make an Islamic state successful.

For example, the jizya was for a number of reasons. I'm not sure if all these reasons today are still intact. There are certain things in which circumstances have changed in the world, which makes some options less socially viable than they were in the time of the Prophet.

However, I doubt that any popular group (like the Muslim Brotherhood) in existence today has the ability or desire to adapt to today's world.

And in Islam, we should think and apply the rules to our current situation.

Maybe if Tariq Ramadan was president. haha

Mrs. S said...

I recommend "The Crisis of Islamic Civilization" by Ali Allawi. He was in the Iraqi postwar government and recently left. Without doing the book an injustice, he essentially argues that Muslims need an Islamic government in order to combat fundamentalism, violence, and the rapid decline that has taken place. It's a great book, and I'm sorry that I can't describe it better, but he does speak on Iran and KSA and Malaysia among other things.

mezba said...

I had some thoughts on an "Islamic" state as well.

Why an Islamic State is impractical

I think people have to move on with the times.

Rashed said...

An Islamic state like the one of the days of the Prophet (pbuh) would be wonderful to live in. It was a state where people applied the shari'ah in their lives voluntarily. There was no police force and there were no prisons, nor were such things needed. When it came to the defence of the community, people went as volunteers. The Prophet (pbuh) taught, instructed and reminded people, and didn't force them to do anything.

Today, on the other hand, not one example of an "Islamic" state has been a success, whether Iran or Saudi Arabia (which you mentioned), or Sudan or Afghanistan. Iran is by far the best of these four, but even there, the mullahs have prevented people from exercising their democratic rights. In Sudan, the "Islamic" caused the genocide of fellow Muslims in Darfur, not to mention the awful treatment of Christians and others in the South. The abuses of the Taliban in Afghanistan are self-evident. And isn't it interesting how the rulers of most of these "Islamic" states see the other ones as un-Islamic?

So I agree with the point Jaz makes in her joke. Tariq Ramadan advocates a democratic, humane and just interpretation of the shari'ah. So far, no self-proclaimed "Islamic" state has been able to live up to this standard.

So, perhaps, instead of focusing on the "Islamic state" so much, Islamists should focus on building just and pious societies first (the way the Turkish Islamists do, for example).

Umm Omar said...

Our ummah is so divided, I couldn't even imagine what a true Islamic state would look like. I don't think one-including Iran or Saudia Arabia-exist today.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jaz: I think that's the problem - the rulers of Iran may actually think they've achieved some kind of success, even though many Iranians (and other Muslims) would disagree.

If Tariq Ramadan ran for president somewhere I would be the first to vote for him. But I know MOST Muslims would not...sad!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mrs S - thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely check it out. It's a subject I'm really interested in, esp. having lived in Egypt.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Mezba: excellent post! "Apparently all the main social ills that plague the various parts of the Muslim world today can disappear in an instant if we implement an "Islamic State"...this is really important. I think many Egyptians today think this, which is very dangerous. At the centre of almost every ideology or movement is a quest for power, which makes it risky to believe all the promises made by said ideologies or movements.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Rashed: welcome to the blog :)
You're right - it is very unlikely that an Islamic state like the one that existed at the time of the Prophet could be established today.

I find the Turkish Islamists very interesting. I wonder if the fact that secularism is quite ingrained in Turkey prevents them from doing as much as they would like, whereas in Egypt, for example, the Islamists get away with a lot simply because many Egyptian people do not see secularism as important.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Umm Omar: I also don't think Iran or Saudi are Islamic states, but they certainly do. If Saudi is seen as an example of a modern Islamic state, then that is the last thing I would want, for Egypt or anywhere else.

Bahlool said...

I think its important for us to establish a muslimstate, and yeah we cant see any state today that is even close. As for Iran you have to understand the situation with Iran. Iran is surrounded by either arab states that hate shiaislam or arabstates that support USA/Israel or states that hate iranians. Every country around Iran, is in one way or another hostile to Iran.
We got muslim states who support boycott of Iran and those embargos make Iran be on the defensive all the time.
I read an opinionpoll some months ago that stated that 80% of the iranians support the government and the system, so i wouldnt trust the belief that the population in Iran are mistreated or unhappy, but the problem is that Iran isnt allowed to achieve the freedom it needs.

The Iranian system is a test that has to take time, it might not work out we dont know but i think they have achieved a lot. Without Iran the fight against Israel would be lost.
When Imam Ali was chosen to lead the Ummah, he was chosen by the people. Do we have such freedom in Sudan or Saudiarabia? Does islam support a king? Saudi is corrupt and i hope we get rid of it so that those kings and princess stop rule our holy land.

A muslim state that i have thougth of should give freedom of religion to its population and its most important first step should be to give its people education. Thats why the Talibans are another group that failed miserably, they refused to give half of the population any education.
A pretty insightful text about islamism, shia and sunni is here

Bahlool said...

As for several of the comments. We have to have an islamic state cause we see that everywhere in the world muslims are mistreated, even in muslim states. A state that is built upon the Quran and the Prophets words and sunnah.
Muslim achievments were greatest under the muslim caliphats. Science and knowledge were increasing and on the rise in the muslim countries.

I think most muslims in the west seem to disslike a muslim state because we have not seen any modern successful muslim state yet. But in the long run its our only solution if we wish to live in a society where we wish to avoid too many of the western problems with misery amongst women and so forth. (Every 6th girl/woman in sweden feels bad emotionally)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: I definitely agree that forming an Islamic state would be a solution to the mistreatment of Muslims, but only if it were a successful one. Like you said, most in the West think it is a horrible idea because they have not seen a successful one.

I have a question for you: who then would be in charge or interpreting Islam in such a state?

Kizzie said...


I think a great book about this is Islam and the Secular state by Andullahi An Naim.

This is what he argues
"An-Na‘im argues that the coercive enforcement of Shari‘a by the state betrays the Qur’an’s insistence on voluntary acceptance of Islam. Just as the state should be secure from the misuse of religious authority, Shari‘a should be freed from the control of the state. State policies or legislation must be based on civic reasons accessible to citizens of all religions. Showing that throughout the history of Islam, Islam and the state have normally been separate, An-Na‘im maintains that ideas of human rights and citizenship are more consistent with Islamic principles than with claims of a supposedly Islamic state to enforce Shari‘a. In fact, he suggests, the very idea of an “Islamic state” is based on European ideas of state and law, and not Shari‘a or the Islamic tradition."

what do you guys think?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Kizzie: interesting! I think when Islamists today talk about an Islamic state they mean the Caliphate of the Prophet, so in that sense it is not necessarily a European invention, although the term "state" might be.

I agree though that the idea seems to somehow contradict voluntary acceptance of Islam, and by extension Islamic principles and values. My main worry is the large non-Muslim minorities in some Muslim-majority countries.

Bahlool said...

I for myself have often thought about a muslim state and i can tell you that the last 15 years my thoughts havce changed as often as i change clothing :P Its due to the fact that we evolve as humans and that we get to understand the muslims and the world better.
I defend democracy but i think a big fault with democracy is that people like the racists or the fanacits can get to get power.
One solution on who would be in charge would be that there would be a mix of the Ulamaa, a mix of the usual people, a mix of women and men that are voted by the people to represent them.
Religious freedom is a must. But not a freedom to dress as you like like in the west, as htat would contradict a muslim state.
Human rights proteced by the holy Quran are a must.
If you read a bit bout the ottoman state, you will see that they had the milletsystem, where differend religions and races had their own smaller government, where they had their own laws and so forth.
In iran for instance you have in the Majlis, seats for jews, zaroastras and christians so they are represented there too. One fault is that we shias have a big problem with women leading government and that contradicts our history as we had great leaders in Khadija, Fatimah and Zeinab. So thats part of the problem with Iran.
So in esseence we have a system where jews and christians were to have their own laws and hten the state would have laws that are for everyone. If there is a conflict between a jafari and a maliki, there the state has to come in and take care of that matter.
Sharia has so many differend interpretations that what we see as sharia might be a certain lawschools view or a interpretation by some "imam".
When a girl gets raped and then stoned for beeing raped, that shows that there is something fundementally wrong with our society.
If we look at the Prophets and Imam Alis islamic rule we see the example of how a society should be. Jews were protected, christians were protected people knew there was justice they knew their rights and they were in "utopia"...

Stephanie said...

This is an interesting topic and one that I have given some thought to. I personally would never ever want to live under a pure theocracy, because as you have stated, who decides? One of the greatest aspects of Islam is the differing opinions and ideologies we have regarding shariah. Most of the movements today that claim to be "islamic" are lacking this and tend to lean towards oppression especially when dealing with women and I'm sure minorities. Essentially every society has to find their own particular method when forming a constitution or laws of the state; one which suites their people and culture for the greater good. One that works. And hopefully one that encourages freedom and equality. A Muslim majority society doesn't have to necessarily mimic the West in formulating their own republics and the rules therof, but I would like to see societies which are governed by the same principles of equality, justice, and freedom. These ideas, after all are certainly not unislamic.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: what you say about democracy is true, and we can see that fault in Holland now. Wilders has a chance of being elected democratically, and that seems pretty dangerous to me. However, democracy is the best system out of those available. Especially compared to Arab governments, which are more or less a (sad) joke.

"there would be a mix of the Ulamaa, a mix of the usual people, a mix of women and men that are voted by the people to represent them."
I wonder who would choose these people? That's what would worry me: what if from the above, only ultra-conservatives got chosen?

"Religious freedom is a must. But not a freedom to dress as you like like in the west, as htat would contradict a muslim state."
Again another problem for me personally: I believe everyone should be able to choose what to wear, even if they are Muslim. God will judge them for that, not us. Also what about non-Muslims living in the state? Will they be forced to wear "Islamic" clothing, like in Saudi?

"One fault is that we shias have a big problem with women leading government."
Shi'as, Sunnis, most Muslims I would say :)

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stephanie: "I would like to see societies which are governed by the same principles of equality, justice, and freedom. These ideas, after all are certainly not unislamic." Exactly, yet we don't see them in countries that claim to be Islamic states: Saudi, Iran, Sudan, etc. Which is why I have little faith in the viability of a Islamic state. Not because of Islam, but because of Muslims.

Hicham Maged said...

I don't find a 'theocratic state' in Islam but rather a 'civil state' that can be labled as "Islamic" when human rights, justice, equality, non-disgracing for women are practiced. This is simply what Islam call for and I think you are aware that most of Arab constitutions have (Shari'a) in their articles already and I don't know more about other non-Arab and Muslims country.

Bahlool said...

Arab governments are not islamic. Even the holy Prophet took advice from people and listend to them, then decided. While muslim fighters fought Israel, the Saudis condemned those fighters and even made the reilgious leaders to make fatwas that took side with Israel when it said that any support for those fighters was a crime. That is an example of a corrupt government with a corrupt cleregy. As for democracy beeing the best system, is it so?
If it was, why would not the Prophet institute such a system?
I know many people who do not know about what happens in the elections. Politics say they will do this or that, but in the end you as a common voter do not grasp the whole issue. I write bout these things, i study them every day, and i still am not knowledgble enough about them.

I think a blend of both democracy and islamic rule would be appropriate.
Saudi and iranian dressing is to go too far. But we have laws in the west that forbid you to be naked. Why is that ok but forbidding you to go in shorts is not ok?
A dresscode is implemented everywhere, at work, in school, in public, why is it a problem when its a muslim dress code?
Is your freedom more precious then the rule of Allah?
And you seem to have a problem with orthodox islam but the majority of the reliigous muslims are orthodox...

As for the principles of equality, justice and freedom, do we see those principles in the west?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hicham: "when human rights, justice, equality, non-disgracing for women are practiced. This is simply what Islam call for."

Very well said!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

"I think a blend of both democracy and islamic rule would be appropriate." I agree 100&.

And you're right about how there are dress codes for everything, I hadn't thought about it that way.

Yes, most Muslims are orthodox. Most Muslims I've met also believe women are inferior to men. So just because a majority thinks something doesn't make it right :)

My problem is not with Muslims who are orthodox, but with the fact that some of them think ANY other kind of Islam is heresy. I am a liberal Muslim, and that is my choice. I'm sick of other Muslims saying that I'm not a "real" or "good" Muslim. This type of judgment is really annoying and anti-Islamic.

Sam said...

Regarding an Islamic state there was really no such thing. The state a long time ago was a civil government governed by Islamic principles. The ulama did not rule the country but many of the rulers were just and fair for Islam was their guidance. There never was a theocracy before like Iran.
The prophet pbuh warned about love of power and love of dunya. Those 2 infatuations are the main problems today. Beware of leaders or movements who are begging to get elected, for they simply want power not justice. The best person for a position of power is a humble person nominated by people not someone nominating him/herself screaming elect me.
Before you govern society by Islam, you first need people to practice Islam. By that I do not mean the prayers, fasting, etc, but the inward practices. That is, purifying one's heart, ridding oneself of hubris and envy, and show compassion and patience. This is something learned in childhood that diffuses through society through the work place, university, government, police, etc as one approaches adulthood.
The way the school system is now in the muslim world which has adopted Western style education, we continuously distance ourselves from a true Islamic based society. For a starting point, one might take a look at the Gulen based schools in Turkey.

G said...

I wonder what would happen to atheists, homosexuals, people who engage in pre marital sex, women who dress the way they want and people who are originally Muslim and then convert to another religion in an Islamic state? I don't see any solution to SOMEone's rights being destroyed. The rights of these people in today's Arab Muslim majority countries are abused as hell. Would a real Islamic state even change that? I wonder. What do you think? I don't know how I feel about this issue honestly. I guess I can raise more questions than answers.

Candice said...

I'm reading "The Natural Republic" from the website (Qur'an alone gang). I disagree with a lot of it, really, but there is a lot of interesting things in there anyway. Don't know if it might be worth the read for you... I was already pretty familiar with some of the ideas, even if not all members agree with everything in this book.

Anyway, it's the laws that they get out of the Qur'an alone, with not even a reference from history (no hadiths, they pretend it doesn't exist). So it's cool to see things stripped down. At the end, they have a constitution they base on what they found.