Poster of Muslim Girls at Prayer, courtesy Adam Jones/flickr
This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 2 February 2016.
The political ideologisation of Islam refers to the interpretation of Islam as a ‘political ideology’: a comprehensive ‘system of ideas for social and political action’ (Safire, 2008: 336) which serve as a functional tool for the ordering of state and society, whilst also outlining how this ideal socio-political order might be attained (Erikson and Tedin, 2003: 64). It is precisely this tendency to interpret Islam as a political ideology which scholars frequently attribute to the twentieth century Egyptian and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna. This text will therefore assess the extent to which al-Banna’s thought signifies the political ideologisation of Islam in the twentieth century. To do so, it will first combine a contextual appreciation with an explanation of al-Banna’s call for the establishment of an Islamic State, rooted in his understanding of Islam as a perfect, all-embracing political solution. The text will then proceed to explore al-Banna’s political ideologisation of Islam, focusing on his calling for ‘Islamic governance’, his Fifty-Point Manifesto, his portrayal of Islam as an alternative to competing ideologies and his founding of the Muslim Brotherhood. Next, the text will consider other twentieth century thinkers who have also contributed to Islam’s political ideologisation, notably Sayyid Abu’l-A’la al-Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb. Finally, this analysis will conclude by outlining the notion that al-Banna’s thought does indeed signify the political ideologisation of Islam, but must nevertheless be appreciated within a broader ‘neo-revivalist’ tendency to politically ideologise Islam.
Characterised by a conservative, Sufi influenced upbringing (Jones, 1960: 1018) and the backdrop of colonial encroachment, al-Banna’s formative years coincided with an intense debate over Egypt’s identity at the turn of the twentieth century (al-Anani, 2013: 44). Western hegemony, experienced by al-Banna first-hand in Isma’iliyya, continued implicitly despite Egypt’s formal independence in 1922. This interference notably included a form of cultural domination manifest in the Egyptian nationalist elite’s tendency to adopt secular, Western ideas at the expense of customary beliefs and practices associated with Islam (Commins, 1994: 127). The subsequent deviation towards a ‘colonised, submissive and servile Islam that accepts its confinement to the private sphere’ (Soage, 2008: 27), exemplified by Kemalist Turkey’s abolition of the Caliphate in 1924, instilled in al-Banna a firm belief that Islam, and by extension Muslim identity, was still threatened by the ‘devil of colonialism’ (al-Banna, 1999a: 103). This formed the latter part of his view of Muslim history as a continuous decline from the ‘true Islam’ exemplified by the Prophet, his Companions and the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Deviation from such ‘true Islam’ had led to Muslim degeneration and vulnerability to the immorality of Westernisation, according to al-Banna. The solution to Muslim decline and Western intrusion, he therefore proclaimed, lay in reviving ‘true Islam’. This required the ummah’s purification of its existing beliefs and practices, which, al-Banna stressed, must be facilitated through the gradual establishment of a creed-correcting, reform-inducing Islamic state that fully implements the Shari’ah. Significantly, al-Banna’s proposed political solution ‘marked a watershed in modern Muslim discourse by making the successful transition of Islam into a [political] ideology’ (Lia, 1998: 72), as the first unambiguous call in the modern Muslim-majority world for the creation of an Islamic state (Turner, 2011: 220). According to Hamza Yusuf (2011: 1), this illustrates a shift away from the widely held belief amongst Muslims that ‘Islam is wahy, a revelation from God’, ‘not a political ideology, and hence does not offer a political solution per se’.