During a recent trip to my hometown of Najaf in southern Iraq, I stumbled across a book titled My Leader Khamenei in the personal library of a cleric studying in the Islamic seminary known as the Hawza. He had picked it up at a bookstore near the shrine of Imam Ali, where the first Shia Imam is buried. It is a popular destination for Muslim pilgrims – especially Shia Muslims – from across the world.
Najaf, which lies 100 miles south of Baghdad, is the heartland of Shia Islam. Home to a seminary established in the early 11th century and the seat of the Marja’iyya – the influential religious establishment led by Ayatollahs.
Banafsheh Keynoush is an international geopolitical consultant, foreign affairs scholar, and author of Saudi Arabia and Iran: Friends or Foes?(Palgrave Macmillan, February 2016). The book is based on dozens of interviews with Saudi and Iranian leaders, politicians and decision makers, and rich archival material collected and made available for the first time in English. Drawing on unique insight into the relationship over a span of a century, the author challenges the mainstream fallacy of the inevitability of sectarian conflict or that it is the main cause of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and instead argues that the relationship can be fixed through increased diplomacy.
Do you think that Iran is seeking to revise the Western dominated regional order in the Middle East?
Iran promotes the view that the security of the Persian Gulf and by extension the Middle East should be guaranteed and upheld by the regional states, rather than by foreign powers. Its view of regional security is somewhat revisionist, aiming to correct the regional order which is influenced by foreign powers including the United States. Tehran believes that foreign power influence does not serve it, because the Arab Gulf states rely on Washington to advance their security while Iran generally views U.S. presence as a threat.
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.
BACKGROUND: Whether in Ottoman times or in the Republican era, the Turkish state has made control of religious affairs a priority. In Ottoman times, this function was fulfilled by the Ulema under the leadership of the Sheikh ul-Islam, himself appointed by the Sultan. Following the creation of the Republic, the Diyanet Işleri Başkanlığı, or Directorate for Religious Affairs, fulfilled this role. Diyanet was created in order to maintain control over the religious sphere of Islam. All imams in every mosque across Turkey were appointed by Diyanet, which wrote their Friday sermons. Diyanet was a key institution of the Republic: it helped legitimize the modernization and westernization of Turkey from a religious perspective, and prevented the mosque from becoming a central focus point for reactionary activity. In this, it largely succeeded; and it is no coincidence that it is considered among the three key institutions of the republican era, together with the Army and the Ministry of Education.
The call is often from a worried teacher. They are noticing changes in students from immigrant backgrounds. Before, they defined themselves by nationality, as Kosovars, Bosnians or Turks, now they say they are Muslims. Before, they took part in art classes, now they insist their religion prohibits art. Then there’s a second change: these young men and women start to talk of a war against Islam that targets Muslims – targets them.
When I listen, I remember myself as a 16-year-old, the daughter of a diplomat from a secular family, coming back to my home country, Yemen, after four years in Morocco. It was 1982 – a period that saw the mushrooming of Islamist ideology in North Yemen. I was fascinated by a religious group led by a charismatic young woman of 17. The group met in the schoolyard. I would later learn it was part of a strong Islamist movement that saw Salafists work hand-in-hand with the Muslim Brotherhood.