Islam vs. Islamism

Mekki ElMograbi is a press writer on African affairs. He can be reached through his email (elmograbi@gmail.com) or his contact number +249912139350 (Whatsapp and Telegram)

Answering a question in the article: Who dares to invite the elephant to the room?

I had a nice discussion on the article “Who dares to invite the elephant into the room?” with a smart ambassador from the country of smart people, I liked this question and I will answer it in this article:

What is the difference between the ordinary Muslim and the Islamist?

Both an ordinary Muslim and Islamist believe in Islam as “beliefs, practices, rituals, and laws” (the Islamic law -Sharia- contains among its branches sentences and legal punishments for specific crimes). The ordinary Muslim believes that he is only responsible for beliefs, practices, rituals, and parts of Sharia related to his personal life while the government shoulders the responsibility to laws and no further obligations on individual Muslims. So, the real difference is in the responsibility to Islamic laws not in “the existence of Islamic laws”. Sometimes, the ordinary Muslim expresses anger upon the bad implementation of Islamic laws and might blame Islamists for that but the theoretical existence of Sharia is not questionable for him.

Indeed, Islam is not an ideology, Islam is a religion. Yet, it has some ideological aspects.

Although I prefer moderate and progressive Islamic thoughts, I don’t tend to practice hypocrisy by attacking radical Islamists to get closer to secularism. Sometimes, I state clearly, “progressive and radical Islamists and even ordinary Muslims, share some ideological aspects.”

Furthermore, we need to discuss the differences between the nature of Islam and some other religions and let us have Christianity as an example. Both religions share the Abrahamic history and they coexist peacefully in most parts of the world. They also share being open religions in which is easy for all ethnicities to join, here they differ from Judaism that is connected to the concept of the Chosen people of Israel.

However, Islam contains a very clear list of forbidden food, drinks, clothes, transactions, etc. Then Islam exceeds the level of banning adultery, theft, and other major sins to the level of setting legal punishments. You can indeed find the same thing in the early version of Judaism and at some points in the history of Christianity but this is not the case of Islam.  Throughout Islamic history, none of the major Islamic schools dismissed these laws. Presently, in the human rights era, the intervention of religion in “the legal system” became difficult. Muslim scholars started to show a better understanding of the modern communities by making strict restrictions on the implementation of Sharia but they didn’t say it is invalid. Although the majority of the Muslim world does not implement Sharia, a tiny minority among the educated Muslims deny its validity. On the other side, it was possible for Western countries to limit any political orientation based on religion and to re-build Christian communities on secularism.

In Islam, some intellectuals tried to do the same by connecting the verses of the Quran that Prophet Muhammad received from Almighty God after he migrated to Medina – where he established the first Islamic state – to their historical and political context claiming that the validity of the texts linked with that time. Although it seems a sound idea, all trials to change it into a mainstream failed. Not just that, these trials gave more power to Islamists to attract ordinary Muslims, simply, because it contradicts the nature of Islam.

Ordinary Muslim believes that he is only responsible for the five pillars of Islam, still, he is not okay with the rejection of Sharia. Muslims who question the validity of Sharia define themselves as secular or progressive Muslims. On the opposite side, a committed Islamist is a person who believes in Islam as creeds, rites, and laws and believes that he should maintain a clear stand to Sharia not just beliefs and rituals. Here, Islamists are three different categories:

  • Moderate or Progressive Islamists: They accept the free will of people to accept or reject Islamic laws. When moderate Islamists reach power usually they spend more time discussing Islamic laws than implementing them. Then, they start by picking some laws to implement and some anti-Islam laws to repeal. In some cases, they don’t implement Sharia at all, they just stay at the stage of advocacy.
  • Radical Islamists: They strongly blame and criticize whoever rejects or works against Islamic orientation. In conservative countries, the radical groups are stronger than the moderate ones but in liberal communities, they cannot create alliances with secular groups and they became a minority. 
  • Extreme Islamists: They justify doing stronger actions against “the enemies of Sharia” in their eyes. In out-of-law areas, they enforce Islamic laws. If they reach power, they implement Sharia strictly.

Notice that, generally, moderate Islamists accept losing power during the democratic game but when it happens to them by force and suppression, some of them shift to radicals or extremists. This phenomenon is taken as evidence by some of their opponents that moderate Islamism is the primary stage of extremism. In reality, suppression always creates extremism, not just in the case of religion.

On the other hand, secular Muslims believe in Islam as beliefs and rituals but when it comes to “laws” some of them reject Sharia clearly and completely while others focus on criticizing Islamists and their practice to avoid any clash with ordinary Muslims.

I always say the Western world should deal with all as reality because in some cases the western support to some groups pushed them to that situation and made the radicals a populist stream.

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