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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Self-criticism and reconsideration - I
By Rashid al-Ghannushi

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 mould society. 

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 mould society. 

Today Islam is progressing forcefully while secularism is falling rapidly. While Islam attracts people who are looking for justice, secularism is losing 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" (Zukhruf: 23). 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."

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.

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. 

Self-criticism and reconsideration - I I

(Continued in next issue)

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