Protest against Oppression

In the theories of classical and modern writers, the ideal Islamic social order should be based on justice; one of the features of this model is the establishment of an elective authority that comes to power by the choice (ikhtiyar) of the ruled and governs through collective consultation (shura). Modern interpretations are inclined to claim that there are democratic elements in Islamic rule, or at least that Islam does not hinder democracy or facilitate harsh, authoritarian rule (Price 1999: 137). However, since very early in Islamic history political realities have witnessed sharp departures from what Muslims have perceived as the ideal, and authoritative rulers have been more or less the norm right up to the present time. Thus, the question of the nature and extent of permissible protest against oppressive regimes arose very early on and remains at the core of modern Muslim political thought.

In the early centuries of Islam there were many revolts against unjust rulers, carried out mainly by sectarian minorities: the Shiites and the Kharijites and a very few Sunnite groups. The Kharijites, in particular, advocated the use of violence in order to redress injustices, and many find affinities with their thought in modern Muslim terrorist groups (Enayat 1982: 7). However, the Sunnites and the Shiites have gradually adopted a form of more quiet and peaceful protest. Leading Muslim Sunni scholars have argued strongly against armed revolt (khuruj). They considered it unfruitful and worse than an unjust ruler because of the destruction caused in the confrontation. The Shiites have also developed an increasing tendency toward passive noncompliance with the established order. These two views, espousing respectively violent and passive resistance, are more or less characteristic of Islamic reform groups in modern times. It is worth discussing in more detail specific modern trends of thought, namely those of Qutb and Fadlallah, in relation to responses to oppression.

Qutb considers Islam a revolutionary process against all systems that do not recognize the absolute sovereignty of God. In his view, there is no liberty and respect in a society that gives some men the right to legislate and compels others to become submissive and obedient to them. Any society in which such a condition prevails is to be considered reactionary and backward, or, in the Islamic terminology, as polytheistic and part of jahiliyya (ignorance). Jahiliyya is a characteristic and not a historical period that prevailed before Islam. Today, it prevails in many societies that give sovereignty to human beings rather than to God alone. These include Muslim countries where Islamic law is replaced with secular law (Khir 1996: 142-3).

The views of Qutb have far-reaching consequences. They call for a continuous struggle to change regimes in order that they may acknowledge the sovereignty of God. He himself advocated this contest when he said, "those who consider themselves Muslims, but do not struggle against different kinds of oppression, or defend the rights of the oppressed, or cry out in the face of dictators are either wrong, or hypocritical, or ignorant of the precepts of Islam" (Abu-Rabi' 1996: 130). The major form of oppression, according to Qutb, is the rejection of Islamic law as a supreme legislation. It is worthy of note that Qutb was writing at a time when the Egyptian regime of Nasir confronted Islamic movements and persecuted and oppressed their followers. Qutb himself was executed for his views on the basis that they induced violence. Although Qutb was radical in describing Muslim societies as being non-Islamic in that they were submissive to secular rulers, there is no evidence that he advocated violent change. On the contrary, it seems that he emphasized a step-by-step establishment of the Islamic order in place of secular systems (Abu-Rabi' 1996: 183). Nonetheless, his ideas have been interpreted as endorsing violent struggle and are used by many current Islamic groups for that purpose. Islamic groups in Algeria, Syria, and Egypt are representative of this radical trend.

Many moderate Islamic groups advocate nonviolence in their campaign to bring about an Islamic political order. Al-Ghannoushi, the leader of an Islamic party in Tunisia, writes claiming that "today, most Islamic parties have rejected the use of force to achieve political ends, and instead, initiated a search for opportunities that would enable them to effect changes through peaceful means" (Al-Ghannouchi 2001: 115).

In contrast, Fadlallah, the leader of the Shiite party in Lebanon, the Party of God (Hizbullah), justifies the use of power to change the critical conditions of the oppressed. Abu-Rabi' (1966: 220-47) describes him as developing a liberation theology out of the Shiite tradition and detects some Marxist influences in it. Fadlallah argues that the rich minority have used power to exploit and oppress the poor and weak in society. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the Muslim elite to alert the silent and oppressed majority to their plight and to the doctrinal and ethical Islamic attitude opposed to such a state of affairs. The oppressed are justified, in Fadlallah's view, in using power in order to ward off their inner defeat and apathy, to realize Islam in its true form, and to fight neocolonialism. Fadlal-lah, it should be noted, was writing at a time when Lebanon was disintegrating due to an internal civil war and an external invasion by Israel and Syria. In his vision, the armed struggle of the Party of God, Hizbullah, is the spearhead to the materialization of justice, first in Lebanon and then in other parts of the Muslim world.

0 0

Post a comment