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August 06, 2005

Different Strands of Radical Islam in Britain: Mawdudism and Hizb ut-Tahrir

Posted by Anthony McRoy

Mawdudi & the Making of Islamic Revivalism
by Seyyeid Vali Reza Nasr
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996
Hardback, £45

The Islamic State
by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani
written in 1950s
1998 edition, London: Al-Khilafah Publications

In the light of 7/7, and all the resulting discussion of Islamic radicalism, it is worthwhile examining the views of some of the figures behind the phenomenon. One of the first points we recognise is that Islamic radicalism is not a monolith; there are differences of attitude or at least nuance in their attitude to issues such as democracy and jihad. Reviewing these two books gives us an insight into the diverse phenomenon that is radical Islam in Britain today.

The Muslim Council of Britain is at least partly the brainchild of supporters of Abu'l Al'a Mawdudi, via its inter-related Mawdudist affiliate organisations such as the UK Islamic Mission (UKIM), Dawatul Islam, Islamic Society of Britain, Islamic Forum Europe, and their respective youth and women's sections. In the Subcontinent, Mawdudi founded the Jama'at i-Islami ("Islamic Congregation" party). Nasr's study is thorough, readable and instructive; I find little or nothing to criticise and much to commend. Part biography and part examination of Mawdudi's teachings, it does justice to both.

Born in southern India in 1903, he came from a proud Sufi family of Afghan descent, who because of their close association with the Mughals had a strong anti-British tradition. This heritage speaks volumes about Mawdudi's later thought: he came from a tradition of Muslims, even though a minority, who had held power over infidels, originally as a result of jihad, but who in his day were ruled over by infidels – and the opposition to this domination was mainly from the despised idolatrous Hindus, who sought to recruit Muslims into their syncretistic concept of "Indian" identity. That Mawdudi and his followers would later place so much emphasis on preserving the purity - even in Britain - of Muslim identity, on Muslim empowerment and even in certain circumstances, on jihad, can be partly explained by this inheritance.

Mawdudi was educated and erudite, both in Islamic and Western subjects. He knew the works of philosophers as wide-ranging as Plato, Kant, Hegel and Marx, and he spoke several languages, including English. At first involved in the Khilafat (Caliphate) and Swaraj (home rule) movements, he later came to fear Indian nationalism as Gandhi's leadership emphasised Hindu cultural identity. Nasr makes an interesting observation (p. 20): "Democracy, Mawdudi said, could be a viable option for Muslims if the majority of Indians were Muslim".

Later as Hindu fundamentalists began to seek the conversion of Muslims, Mawdudi emphasised the need for Muslims "to proselytize" – a required policy later implemented in the UK scene by his disciple Khurram Murad. Moreover, at this time, Ahmadi missionaries, from a deviant Muslim sect, were executed by the Afghan authorities, leading to condemnation by the British, Indian liberals and Gandhi, who derided Islam (p. 22) "as the religion of the sword". This led Mawdudi to begin his pivotal exposition of jihad. Inexorably, this led him to the path of Islamic revivalism.

As the independence struggle developed, Mawdudi's opposition to Congress was matched by his rejection of Jinnah's Muslim League with its secularised concept of Subcontinental Muslim identity. Again, this explains the rejection of Home Office Minister John Patten's 1989 letter to UK Muslim leaders which was interpreted as advocating a secularised British identity.

Mawdudi also sought to (p. 55) "insulate Muslims from Western influences", a major concern of British Muslims during the Rushdie crisis, namely the fear of degenerating into "Brown Sahibs". To campaign for his vision of Muslim identity and the Islamic State, he developed the concept of the political vanguard in the form of the Jama'at i-Islami and in a sense, UK Mawdudist groups and their youth wings perform a role in Britain analogous to that of this party.

Mawdudi saw himself as a mujaddid, a reformer or renewer, based on a prophecy that in every century God would send someone to restore the pristine purity of the faith, excising any accretions. He stood out against "traditional" Islam, and wanted the faith purified, a point emphasised by his British followers such as Khurram Murad, whose missiology adapted this to the UK scene. Later Mawdudi decided on "infiltrating" the ulema. The creation of mosques through UKIM and Dawatul Islam continues this strategy in Britain.

Mawdudi placed a great emphasis on Islamic education, especially in terms of prodigious publishing, and Da'wah, and established an institution (Daru'l Islam) to this end, and we can see how the UK Islamic Foundation continues this emphasis, especially since Mawdudi sought (p. 37) "to train a cadre of men who would be able to operate in the political arena". This is mirrored in how the Islamic Foundation spawned Young Muslims UK (YMUK) to proselytise and campaign politically.

Mawdudi believed in Islamic revolution, not in the insurrectionist sense, but rather as a (p. 76) "gradual and evolutionary process of cultural, social and political reform", occurring through Islamic education and propagation, just as YMUK have declared their commitment to "gradualism" in the process of Islamisation. The final end, of course, was the Islamic State, which he saw as a (p. 84) "democratic caliphate", and "theo-democracy".

Nabhani's book, The Islamic State, is in many ways the central manual of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation that since 7/7 has been subject to much discussion and criticism – perhaps not altogether justly, since they do not approve of jihad within the UK. For those with no knowledge of Islam, The Islamic State would be difficult to follow. He wrote it in the 1950s, at a time when pan-Arabism or Communism were the dominant ideological currents in the Muslim world. It was also a response to the Palestinian Nakba ("Catastrophe") of 1948, and it should be remembered that he was a Palestinian himself. Many Muslims had been traumatised by events since 1918 – the betrayal of Allied promises to the Arabs, the colonial domination of Muslim lands, the abolition of the Caliphate. Hence the book was an attempt to compete with rival visions of how to oppose Western domination.

Much of the book addresses early Islamic history – indeed, what Muslims call the Sirah – the biography of the Prophet. For people with knowledge of Islam this is tedious, but for those who do not it would be frustrating – not until about half-way through the book do we begin to find material addressing the contemporary situation. The chapters entitled "The Missionary Invasion" and "The Crusaders' Hatred" (referring to modern-day "crusaders") indicates the tone of the book. Nabhani sees the root of the problem for Muslims in the weaknesses of the Ottoman ('Uthmani) Caliphate (p. 168):

The 'Uthmani Khilafah united most of the Muslim lands under its leadership. They initiated Jihad throughout Europe and resumed the conveyance of the Message of Islam. However, this outburst in activity was only backed by the solid Iman [belief] of the first 'Uthmani Khulafah and the military might of the army, and not on a clear understanding of the Islamic concepts and comprehensive implementation of Islam… Consequently, the State soon waned, eventually collapsing until it finally ceased to function.
Nabhani condemns the intellectual stagnation of the Ottoman regime, and its failure to understand the (p. 169) "intellectual and legislative side of Islam", causing it perplexity when the Industrial Revolution and democratic ideas transformed Europe. This caused two reactions: either to denounce Westernisation/modernisation as unbelief, or to try to harmonise it with Islam which essentially led to the jettisoning of the latter. It is clear that he has in mind secularists such as the Young Turks and Arab nationalists. Mustafa Kemal, who abolished the Caliphate and secularised Turkey, is viewed with vehement antagonism.

Nabhani insists on the Khilafah (Caliphate) not primarily as expedient necessity, but as a Scriptural injunction (pp. 221, 222):

The appointment of the Khalifah is an obligation upon the Muslims...The obligation of appointing a Khalifah has been confirmed by the Qu'ran [sic], Sunnah and the general consensus of the Sahabah.
The conditions for being a Caliph is that he must be sane, male and Muslim, immediately excluding women and non-Muslims, and thus placing the Khilafah in contrast to modern democracy. The way to establish the Khilafah is through da'wah (mission), and Muslims must work to change (pp. 236, 238):
…their land where Islam is not implemented, and which is considered as Dar al-Kufr, into Dar al-Islam.
Nabhani regards it as an obligation for the Islamic State to perform offensive jihad to conquer and "liberate" non-Muslim states on the basis of Surahs 8:39, 2:193; 9:29 (p. 148ff).

The optimism with which he states this ignores Surah 8:66 which suspends offensive jihad if the foe is more than twice as strong as you, and as the Western nuclear superiority is unmatchable, we can sleep safely in our beds, whatever the fantasies of Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters. Nonetheless, study of these two books helps us understand the competing Islamic visions that characterise British Muslims today.

Dr Anthony McRoy is a writer on Islam in the UK. He is the author of From Rushdie to 7/7: The Radicalisation of Islam in Britain, (Social Affairs Unit, 2006).

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