The Arab Spring confirms the bankruptcy of violent Jihadist groups and the Islamist narrative that stresses religion as the basis of political identity, says a new report on Muslim modernism.
“In recent years, the voices of extremists have dominated Muslim political discourse,” writes Ghaffar Hussain, author of Modern Muslim Political Thought: The Progressive Tradition. “Now however, with the advent of the Arab Spring, we are seeing the re-emergence of older democratic and liberal ideas and values that actually pre-date Islamist movements. One of the most heartening aspects of the Arab Spring is to see Muslims reclaiming not only their freedom but also their democratic heritage.”
The Jihadist violence of groups like al-Qaeda is “a schismatic offshoot of the Islamist struggle to seize state power in Muslim majority countries,”. But “it is also symptomatic of the failure of Islamist groups, and many governments, to provide real solutions or improve the lives of ordinary Muslims.”
The report, published by Quilliam, the London-based counter-extremism think-tank, highlights progressive trends in Muslim political thought and the work of key Muslim intellectuals who affirm the compatibility of Islam with secular, liberal and democratic governance.
“For over a century, Muslim political theoreticians have created a rich tradition of progressive political thought that seeks to harmonize Islam and liberal democratic politics,” says Hussain. “When looking at the events of the Arab Spring therefore, it is important to understand that Arab democrats are not just following the West but are also drawing on their own long-standing indigenous liberal traditions.”
The Arab Spring is “a testament” to the fact that ordinary Muslims want change and “seek to live in more stable, productive and prosperous societies. But this can only be achieved if road-blocks, such as Jihadist groups and corrupt autocrats, are removed and democratic culture is allowed to take root.”
During colonialism, early Muslim modernists understandably looked to Islam as a form of political identity and mobilization. But Hussain contends that innovative a new generation of Muslim thinkers “has shown the way by highlighting the fact that political norms and conceptions of citizenship have developed over the years, and religion no longer dictates one’s political identity.”
Like citizens of any other state, Muslims’ political interests and identities are not primarily driven by religious convictions [a recent survey by the International Republican Institute revealed that 80% of the Jasmine revolution’s supporters were motivated more by socio-economic grievances around living standards and unemployment] . Consequently, political arrangements should not privilege Shariah or elevate Muslims above other religious minorities. “The focus should be on achieving parity through good and accountable governance, social justice and economic development,” the report concludes.
Quilliam has today released its latest publication, Modern Muslim Political Thought: The Progressive Tradition, authored by Quilliam’s Head of Outreach and Training, Ghaffar Hussain.
The publication is the latest in a series of digestible analyses of issues relating to democracy, extremism and Islamism, including A Brief History of Islamism and Islamism and Language – How using the wrong words reinforces Islamist narratives.