Is Islam the political answer?

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Since its inception in 1928, we have heard, loud and clear and over and over again, the Brotherhood’s slogan: “Islam is the solution.” It was supposed to be the ultimate promise for our utopian world: If we just had a true Islamic system, we could resolve today’s problems and bring back our past glories.

However, it was more of a teaser or a sound bite than a practical program. Still, we took it on blind faith that “those who knew better” would deliver once they were in power. We never doubted their promise or ability.

Then, it happened, starting in 1979. First in Iran and Sudan and then in Gaza and Afghanistan, the Islamists finally ruled. Now it was time to demonstrate their century-old cultivated secret recipe for good governance!

We waited and waited, patiently and faithfully. We accepted their many excuses and conspiracy theories. We gave them the benefit of the doubt every time they failed to deliver or even to look sincere and decent. But, alas, in the end they failed us, miserably!

Later, in 2010, came the so-called Arab Spring. The Islamists, as the only organized groups, were ready. Devoted Muslims believed their vows, trusted their dignity, and gave them their votes. Again and again, they proved us wrong. They reached for power, grabbed every tool and occupied all forums, excluding the rest of the political spectrum. So, when their ship went under, they had no one else to share the blame with.

The Brotherhood in Egypt was first to falter, and their branches in Syria, Yemen and Tunisia followed suit. They had no magic wand! Their solution had no meat. It was as if they did not expect to rule, so they kept the “how to” at the bottom of the “to do” list. Or maybe they thought Allah would show them the way, once they climbed that mountain. Hence, they had no map, plan or compass, but the Holy Book. Even Communist revolutionists fared better!

The only Islamist experiments that worked - at least for a while - were in Malaysia and Turkey, but only when they fully submitted to democratic and scholarly norms. They did have Islamic values, like most of their citizens, but they won on professional qualifications, ruled by autocratic governments, and followed constitutional laws. People voted for specific, detailed programs that promised better governance, economy and education, as well as more freedom for citizens to pursue prosperity, happiness and political participation.

Turkey, today, is faltering. Its Islamist party is using democracy to circumvent democracy. Here is a president who is occupied with his own power and legacy, obsessed with witch hunting and concerned with conspiracy theories. Here is a party engaged more in ideological politics than in interest-based, pragmatic policies. The history of past glories and Ottoman imperialism now count for more than grand plans for nation building.

But how can you be an Islamist and a democrat at the same time? Democracy is based on pluralism - equality among all citizens, governed by a man-made constitution. Islam, on the other hand, is one umbrella that safeguards the rights of minorities; the rulers are Muslims and the rules are Islamic. Democracy is a Greek term that means “rule of the people”. In Islam, the ruler is the “Emir of the Faithful,” supported by the Shoura Council, following the rules of Allah.

So how can people with such a mindset work in the framework of a democratic system? The answer is that they cannot.

Is Islam the solution? Let us be more precise. I would say the mind of a Muslim researching his heritage and environment for homegrown solutions is the answer.

Victorious Islamist parties should be wise, generous and humble enough to include the defeated and to give away some of their spoils. Otherwise, they only make enemies who conspire against them. When a leader and his cabinet are out, an entire body is still there - the “deep state.” Either you replace the body’s vital organs or win them over. They won’t allow you to rule if you do not.

Islamist parties rushed into a predicament before studying how they could manage it, or, if they failed, how they could find their way out. They bet on a system of government they did not really believe in or sought to improve. It would have been wiser to leave it to others and learn from their mistakes while in opposition.

After gaining experience and developing sound mechanisms, they could participate, not under the banner of religion alone, but rather with efficient management and good governance, integrity and honesty.

I hope that we come out of this experience with an awakening. We need thinkers who find in our heritage and environment a good Islamic governance system that suits our present and future. It does not hurt to learn from the experience of others, as long as it is not a simple “copy and paste.” Islam is our religion, not our political party!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at kbatarfi@gmail.com. Follow him at Twitter:@kbatarfi


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