Looking at the Islamic revival worldwide today - a revival aiming to rebuild the individual and society and recompose the nation's thought and politics based on Islam - we find it making progress. It is making victories that no other ideology is making in today's world.
The progress is not limited to the idea, because the idea itself is improving. The Islamic movement has been able to discover new areas of Islam, and the discoveries continue along the path forged by men of the last century like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and continued by men like Hasan al-Banna and Abu Al-A'la al-Maududi. The ideas of these men gave birth to modern Islamic movements which rediscovered the Islamic basis upon which to build life. Islam is not a group of individual beliefs, rituals, or mannerisms.
It is a comprehensive way of life. Islam was around before the modern Islamic movement, but it had been thought of as a preparation for one to get to heaven, not a system to mold society.
Today Islam is progressing forcefully while secularism is falling rapidly. While Islam attracts people who are looking for justice, secularism is loosing major footholds and has lost its ability to defend itself except by violence. When you see a secular state using more and more violence, know that it is bankrupt. The secular state has lost its legitimacy. Instead of being based on popular support, these states are based on international support and on violence. Meanwhile, Islam is progressing vertically and horizontally. Its idea deepens daily while spreading from fields such as politics and economics to art, human resource development (including women), and institution-building. Despite this remarkable progress, however, I must make some negative remarks, emphasize some shortcomings in the performance of the Islamic movement, and warn against some pitfalls, because we cannot always focus on the positive side of things.
One of the elements of repentance is reconsideration. We must reconsider our actions every day. Are we really on the truth path, or can we be described by the Qur'anic verse:
"We found our forefathers doing something and here we are doing the same"
This verse was intended to describe the polytheists, but Muslims should learn to understand the meaning of continuous evaluation. So repentance is not something limited to our relationship to God; it includes reconsideration of the self at every step in life. This is why self-criticism is so important. The Prophet (PBUH) says, "Hold yourself accountable before you are held accountable."
It is imperative that every movement correct its performance. It should ask: is our plan fulfilled? Why were we late in fulfilling it? What can we do to avoid delays next time? If a movement has 20 members in the parliament in one election, and five in the next, shouldn't it ask why? If the state has conspired against us, why and how? Such a movement should not get angry because we ask that it re-evaluate itself. We have performed such re-evaluations in our movement, and were able to put our finger on a number of mistakes that we made in dealing with the regime in our country.
What I am proposing is a group of comments that have a lot of room for personal interpretation. Some might agree, disagree, or partially disagree.
My first comment is about the strategy of the Islamic movement in dealing with minorities. Muslim minorities are 45 percent of the entire world population of Muslims. They are a major value for Islam, and they are the pioneers of Islamic propagation. Either they help open the path or else they become extinct. Supporting these outlying regions must be a priority before extinction. Look at what happened in the Balkan region. In the days of the Ottomans, the spread of Islam was rapid. After the demise of the Caliphate, the Islamic presence there is like puddles of water where the sea has left, waiting to dry out.
The balance of international power is not on the side of these minorities. They should not have to over-extend their resources and carry the burden of Islamic governance. This is a role for the countries with a Muslim majority. If these Muslim minorities adopt the ideas of Islamic governance laid out by Sayyed Qutb and others at this point, they will have signed their own death warrant. The role I suggest for Muslim minorities is to reinforce the Islamic presence in the countries they live in. There is a big difference between maintaining a presence and working to establish an Islamic government. The most a minority can hope for is participation in politics. In fact, their entry into the realm of politics is sometimes a major reason for the attention minorities get. So they better focus on social work. Politics is a grinding arena. The race for government is the race for wealth and influence.
Sometimes we find Muslim minorities asking for independence or a separate state. Of course this is allowed from a legal point of view, but in reality it must not be allowed. We can ask: is the quest for independence necessary? Or can we accept a lesser arrangement, like self-rule, in preparation for the return to Islam? This goes for the Chechnyans, where the Muslim minority is demanding independence from Russia. Russia is a decaying empire; Islam can get to it in time. So why should we prevent that by splitting from it especially if independence is simply not viable and would lead to the annihilation of the Muslim minority? Also, the incessant demand for independence might damage the relationship between the Muslim world and the nation that the Muslim minority wants independence from. If the Muslim minority in China adopts the demand for independence one day, and the Muslims find an interest in allying with China against some mutual enemy, the Muslims will be faced with a major dilemma.
The Islamic nation has an interest in not picking fights with China, India, or even Yugoslavia these days. Wherever Muslim minorities can live safely, and practice their religious rites freely, independence is not necessary. In fact, the pursuit of independence could be deadly. Generally speaking, Muslim minorities are not requested to govern the countries they live in by Islam, nor to think about independence, because this will lead to their genocide and put the entire Islamic nation's interests in danger.
The second comment is about priorities. Is our priority social work or reaching power? These two items might not be mutually exclusive - Islam wants to Islamize politics and society simultaneously - but if the interests of social missionary work (da`wah) contradicts political interests, the social interests must be put before anything else. It has been proven that what is achieved socially is more permanent and better than what is achieved politically. Modern experience has taught us that things achieved through the state are quick but short-lived, because they depend on force. But what is done through social activity lasts, because it depends on persuasion. Humans do not like to be forced. The Makkans offered Muhammad (PBUH) the government but he refused it, preferring instead to establish his calling.
The Islamic movement must not have the government as its first priority. Takeover of government should not be the biggest achievement possible. A bigger achievement would be if the people would love Islam and its leaders. Our entire activity is based on the Islamic state of `Umar Ibn `Abdul `Aziz, which lasted only for two years, and the Guided Caliphate before him. Who remembers anything from the Umayyad or Abbassid caliphates? `Umar Ibn `Abdul `Aziz was a beacon because he renewed the prophetic form of government. The issue is not how long you governed, but what you did. The years of `Umar left a long-lasting effect in the hearts of Muslims for the rest of history. The most dangerous thing is for the Islamists to be loved by the people before they get to power and then hated afterward.
The third comment deals with civil society. The Islamic movement should be keen on developing and strengthening civil society even after the state is established. Even the Islamic state doesn't have control over everything under it. Government is a small part of the institutions of civil society. It is there to support and strengthen society. There must be more institutions of civil society, enough so that the people don't need the state. The Islamic movement must return power to the society through grassroots institutions. These institutions must be led by elected officials.
There shouldn't be institutions exclusively for Islamists. It's better to have nationwide institutions where everyone competes for their leadership. It is a waste of time to have a leftist student organization, an Islamic student organization, etc. The Islamic movement should not be an excuse to divide the people. All are Muslims, but the Islam of some needs a little rejuvenation. Even the idea of Islamic parties should be given up. While the word "Islamic" usually is prohibited for political reasons from being in the name of Islamic parties, that might actually be a blessing. Any party that the Islamists participate in must be an open, national party.
The fourth comment is on the current conflict between the Islamic movement and the secular state. The movement is being subjected to horrific amounts of violence and suppression. The question is: how should the movement respond to oppression by the secular state? Is state violence a justification for popular violence? There are many religious replies to this question; most do not condone violence against a government that calls itself Islamic. Pragmatically speaking, however, all of the episodes where Islamists responded violently to state violence have been negative. Popular violence, whether Islamic or otherwise, has not been able to damage any regime's standing. Leftists and Islamists have carried out violence, and it has led to nothing but disaster, as in Syria.
The Islamic movement must abide by peaceful methods. It must refuse all forms of military activity. This is the lesson we can learn from the Rafah Party in Turkey. The achievements of the Islamic movement were confiscated more than once by the military. Had the Islamists called for revolution against the army, it would have been utter stupidity and it would have been a catastrophe. Today the Islamic movement in Egypt suffers from hard times, but its leaders refuse to be misled into violence. These regimes want the Islamists to enter the fighting arena, because the government has more resources. Violence is what these regimes specialize in, and they are rather creative at it. The arena of the Islamists is thought, and that is where the rulers are bankrupt. We should not be pulled into a field where they will surely win.
The fifth comment deals with democracy. Many Islamists associate democracy with foreign intervention and non-belief. But democracy is a set of mechanisms to guarantee freedom of thought and assembly and peaceful competition for governmental authority through ballot boxes. The Islamic movement's negative attitude toward democracy is holding it back. We have no modern experience in Islamic activity that can replace democracy. The Islamization of democracy is the closest thing to implementing Shura (consultation). Those who reject this thought have not produced anything different than the one-party system of rule.
The Islamists have two examples: Iran and Sudan. Both are searching for identity, searching for a modern Islamic form of government. We have no modern example for implementing Islamic government. The uneducated think that the Islamic program is a ready-made entity: stick it on the ground and implement it. I don't see any choice before us but to adapt the democratic idea. It might even be dangerous to ignore democracy. Even more dangerous is for the Islamic movement to reach a state where either it remains in power or it dissipates. The movement's options must be open to guarantee its existence. The ones who can gain the most from democracy are the Muslims; they should be the most keen for it. They might come to power whenever free elections are held. The secularists are in the minority these days. They are the ones who have problems with democracy. They are preventing democracy in the Islamic world, because they would lose.
The Islamic mind must adjust until it sees things in their real light. America, the Zionists, and the secularists are the ones afraid of democracy in the Islamic world. So why do you, brother in Islam, share this fear with them? Why are you helping them destroy this beautiful thought?
The Islamists must realize that, despite the achievements of the Islamic movement, the balance of power is simply not in their favor. The balance is in the secularists' favor. Governance might be something the Islamic movement cannot do alone. Maybe the better option is to participate in government as long as the balance of power is what it is. This would maintain the achievements that the movement has gained over time. Governing single-handedly would put the Islamists in the spotlight, and then isolation. Rather, they must open up to all the political forces and forge alliances with all national parties. Islam is facing the threat of Zionism. The Islamists must be looking for common ground to establish a dialogue with the national forces, even Western non-xenophobic streams of thought, to face the Zionist threat together. The Zionist threat is endangering the Islamic nation and the world, and is a threat to values, family and religion. It aims to get rid of everything good about humanity.
We must work to lessen the conflicts between the Islamic trend and other political trends in the Muslim world. May God help us.
"If anyone fears God, He will find him a way out for him that he never thought possible. If one trusts God, He will be enough for him" (Talaq: 2-3).
Such promises must remain in our souls, and in the souls of the generations to come. The sun of Islam will shine the world over.
But we must affirm the need to educate ourselves in Islam, fear God, observe the prayers, read Qur'an, and find time to feel God in our everyday lives. We must believe that, without God's presence, we cannot change any balance of power.
"And God will have His way, but most people do not believe" (Yusuf: 21).
Shaykh Rashid al Ghanuchi is head of the Al-Nahda Islamic movement of Tunis and is one of the most important Islamic thinkers today. After obtaining political asylum, he has resided in Britain. He is considered one of the more pragmatic Islamic leaders and supporters of coexistence and cooperation among cultures.