Assad Ahmed

Political Islam: A response to Nadeem Farooq Paracha

Political Islam: A response to Nadeem Farooq Paracha
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In our day and age most writers, particularly journalists, express their opinions on “academic topics” without any erudition about these topics. In the recent past, many famous writers have been writing about the complex theological and metaphysical issues without any sound research and bereft of any profundity. A few days ago, famous writer Nadeem Farooq Paracha’s article (Political Islam: A history from right to left) was published, which is a good example of academic dishonesty, the superficiality of thought, and glaring inconsistencies. In fact, the premise of the article is completely flimsy (which is reflected by the list of references at the end containing not even a single influential read on the subject except B. Lewis). The incoherencies in the article are evident to the readers who are well informed but for the common people who are oblivious of these issues, the whole exposition besides being misleading presents distorted picture of Islamic movements.

According to the author, political Islam came into being as a reaction to the imperial rule. These people never told the imperialist to stop the cruelty, however, raised the questions to the oppressed regarding their self-defense. The example of such behavior is that someone is forced to sit on a hot stove and when he starts screaming, such intellectuals ask the reason for the scream. This implies that we kneel to the oppression and ask them to invade us as we are nice people.

In order to address any epistemological issue, the first step is to define the terminologies used in that topic. The author, to begin with, makes an epistemological error by defining “Fundamentalism” and “Islamism” in the western paradigm. These terms are alien to a Muslim mind who is brought up in traditional society. Furthermore, they always have a negative connotation and are, therefore, incompatible with Islam. The article is basically concerned with “The History of Political Islam” but fails to trace the origins of fundamentalism, Islamism, post-Islamism and problematizing them. For instance, the author says:
“So, even though it is [fundamentalism] usually attributed to the beliefs of modern-day extremist movements in the Muslim world, Islamic Fundamentalism is basically a firm belief in the theological musings of classical Islamic jurists and the reported traditions and sayings of the faith’s leading luminaries.”

After this, he traces the term fundamentalism to the west and attributes to the Christians Fundamentalist Movement in the United States. The movement adopted a literalist understanding of the Bible and was a reaction against modernism. Consequently, he equates “this literalistic Christian fundamentalist movement, with traditional Muslim approach which is a vague generalization and exposes the author’s incognizance of Islamic tradition. Are all Muslim Jurists literalists?

Furthermore, the author’s doctrinal ignorance leads him to blame Sayyid Qutub as the father of fundamentalism without caring to cite even one source.
Moreover, he tries to show that fundamentalism leads to radicalism and also includes “Islamic evangelicals” [this term is only associated with Christian tradition and has nothing to do with Islam] in the same category. He concludes that the early manifestation of fundamentalist Islamic evangelicalism could be seen in Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi and Ibn Taymiyyah and its Contemporary Manifestations are Tableeghi Jamat, Farhat Hashmi, Zakir Naik, and Dawat-e-Islami, which is nothing but a mere oversimplification. Any person who is aware of these movements and their methodologies knows how different their approach is from each other and using a single umbrella term to define them all is problematic and erroneous. Some of these organizations or Islamic parties are non-violent, reformist and legalist; others are a literalist and dogmatic. Therefore, wrapping them under a blanket term of fundamentalism is inaccurate.

The second part of the article argues with “Neo-Islamic Fundamentalism”. In this part, the author writes about its early manifestation: The Kharijites, Ibn Abd Al-Wahab, and Muslim Brotherhood. One fails to understand any correlation between these movements. The Kharijiyah is a creed and any group having these doctrines was considered to be the heretic. Comparing the Muslim Brotherhood with Kharijites is a grave mistake and it is quite embarrassing for a serious reader to see such random and irrelevant comparisons in the article. Moreover, how can Muslim brotherhood add to the early manifestation when it is the twentieth century’s movement.

History from the right, in second last part he discusses Post-Islamism. Unfortunately, his understanding is very incongruous. He develops an unapt understanding of Post-Islamism, rather, completely inverts the meaning of this term. In the first part, he cites Oliver Roy who is considered as one of the pioneers of Post-Islamism. According to the author, the term post-Islamism is often explained as a process in which Islamism’s political and ideological tendencies mutated to become more militant and extreme in nature. In reality, not a single writer describes Post- Islamism like that, rather, according to Gills Kepel:
Post-Islamism describes the departure of Islamist from the jihadi and Salafi doctrines. Olivier Roy says:
It is perceived in terms of the “privatization” of Islamization (as opposed to Islamization of the state).

In each of these cases, post-Islamism denotes a departure, however, varied in degree, from an Islamist ideological package characterized by universalism, the monopoly of religious truth, exclusivism, and obligation. In other words, post-Islamist movements profess ambiguity, multiplicity, inclusion, and compromise in principles and practice.

Now, look at the Paracha’s comical understanding. He adds Hezbollah (Lebanon); Islamic Jihad (Egypt); Al-Gamaat Al-Islamiyya (Egypt); Sipa-e-Sahaba (Pakistan); Sipa-e-Muhammad (Pakistan). Al-Qaeda (Global); Islamic State of Iraq and Levant/Daesh (Global); Armed Islamic Group (Algeria); Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Pakistan); Boko Haram (Nigeria); Tehreek-i-Taliban (Pakistan); Taliban (Afghanistan); Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (Palestine); Al-Shabab (Somalia); JammaIslamiya (Indonesia). This speaks volumes of his insight about these very movements working in different geographic spaces across the world.
To sum up, the author has not completely understood the terms even from the western perspective.The whole article is fallacious and inconsistent.

The author is a student of International Relations and Politics at International Islamic University Islamabad. He can be reached at

Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position or editorial policy of Oracle Opinions.

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