Does Islam Need A Reformation or a Purge?

A prominent Muslim author argues that Islam just needs to get rid of the influence of Marxist thought. Is he right?

BY CounterJihad · @CounterjihadUS | May 13, 2016

The Islamic Monthly has published an argument on the question of an Islamic Reformation by Davide Mastracci, a Muslim journalist who is currently one of its associate editors following stints at Al Jazeera and the Globe and Mail.  Mastracci thinks that Islam is not in need of a reformation in the sense of the large-scale process that affected Christianity in the early Modern age.  That process, which was brought on by a combination of political and scientific changes, turned out to be a traumatic and blood-soaked process.  Nevertheless, it altered ossified Christian doctrines in ways that made them more amenable to the Modern world.  Mastracci is right that many Western thinkers have argued over the years that Islam is in need of a similar set of adjustments.

His counter-argument is that the kind of radical Islam that is causing the problems today is the most modern form of Islam, because it is the form that is most influenced by Marxism.  Marxist thought arose well into the Modern age, during mid-19th century clashes over industrial changes to European life.  It became especially prominent in the 20th century with attempts by global powers, especially the USSR and China, to fundamentally transform their societies along communist lines.  But, Mastracci argues, Islam’s worst actors were also transformed by Marxist thought at this time.

First, he arges that the most important thinker of the Muslim Brotherhood was heavily influenced by Lenin:

In fact, the “architect of world-wide jihad,” Sayyid Qutb, was aware of modern Western political thought, to the extent of finding inspiration for his classic manifesto, Milestones, in Lenin’s What Is To Be Done….  Upon returning to Egypt, he joined the prohibited Muslim Brotherhood, seeking to bring about an Islamic revolution….  Milestones, Qutb’s blueprint for an Islamist takeover of the globe, bears an unmistakable resemblance to Lenin’s What Is To Be Done, especially the espoused notion of a vanguard party…. Qutb believed that the overwhelming majority of Muslims had been tainted by Western ideas and lacked the level of consciousness necessary to engage in the struggle to establish a caliphate.

Two of Qutb’s students, Mastracci then shows, went on to found al Qaeda.

Author James Meek,writing in the London Review of Books, notes that [al Qaeda leader] Ayman al-Zawahiri’s “uncle was Qutb’s pupil[.]”  Shortly after Qutb died, al-Zawahiri took part in forming a violent underground cell that would later become the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a predecessor to al-Qaida. This cell worked toward the goals Qutb called for in Milestones, including overthrowing the Egyptian government and creating a worldwide Islamist state.

Journalist David Von Drehle, writing in Smithsonian Magazine, notes that while this was occurring, “Qutb’s brother Muhammad went into exile in Saudi Arabia, where he taught at King Abdul Aziz University. One of his students, an heir to the country’s largest construction fortune, was Osama bin Laden.”…

Lenin’s influence on Qutb, and Qutb’s influence on nearly every Islamist militant group that followed him, are clear indicators that Islamist militants arose from a serious engagement with, not a retreat from, modernity.

This is a heavily redacted version of his argument, which is worth reading in full.  It is not wrong as far as it goes, and indeed he has some good things to say.  He is quite right, for example, that al Qaeda is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.  He is right that the Brotherhood itself is a radical organization.  Marxism was indeed a baleful influence on Islam as on everything else it touched in the 20th century.

Nevertheless, there are two major points he neglects.  First, the Muslim Brotherhood was not radicalized by Qutb.  It was founded in 1928 as a counter-reaction to modernizing reforms by Turkey’s Ataturk. Ataturk thought of Islam as being a reactionary force, so among his attempts to modernize Turkey he banned the wearing of beards by men and headscarves by women, and banned the call to prayer from being sounded in the streets.  The Muslim Brotherhood’s original 1928 charter calls for the overthrow of secular governments and the restoration of the caliphate.  It organized and operated brigades, fighting alongside not the Communists but the Nazis in World War II.

This was not Qutb’s idea.  He did not join the Muslim Brotherhood until the 1950s, following his studies in America.  He was part of the organization during it’s overthrow of Egypt’s monarchy, and he was part of it when it then turned on Nasser’s government as well.  But his Leninist books were not written until after his arrest by Nasser.  The radicalization was there from the beginning, and was from the first about Islam and the caliphate.  The Nazis were tools from the Brotherhood’s perspective, as were the Communists and their thoughts.  The ends to which those tools were applied were always part of the Brotherhood and its offshoots like al Qaeda, as they remain part of it today.

Second, the theology that motivates a jihad against the rest of the world toward the establishment of a global caliphate is very much older than the Modern age.

Islam’s greatest philosophers endorsed this position.  Avicenna, the Persian philosopher frequently cited by Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike, wrote of jihad in this way.  Jihad was in a class of beneficial acts, he said, that were good not only for the soul but for “worldly benefits,” because you got to plunder the enemy.  (This is in his Metaphysics of the Healing, Book Ten, Chapter Three, if you are following along at home.)  He went on to write that, “as for enemies and those who oppose the law, [the legislator] must decree waging war against them and destroying them — after calling on them to accept the truth — and [decree] that their property and women must be declared free for the spoil.” (That’s in Book Ten, Chapter Five.)

Likewise, in Reliance of the Traveler:  The Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, Ahamd ibn Naqib al-Misri states that “Jihad means to wage war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion.”

This has been a consistent feature of the writings of the finest minds in Islam for a thousand years, in other words.  They are the ones behind Islamic reformer Sultan Shaheen’s remarks that “For hundreds of years now, major Muslim theologians have been engaged in creating a coherent theology of intolerance and violence in order to expand the Islamic reach.”  He clarified, “Luminaries of Islam have established a theology which primarily says that Islam must conquer the world.”

Purging Marxist thought from Islam is a very worthy goal.  Qutb’s influence on contemporary Islamic thought ought to be rooted out.  The Muslim Brotherhood is shot full of it, and it did indeed give rise to al Qaeda.  But the reformation still needs to occur.  Sultan Shaheen is quite right about the age and depth of the problem.  Islam’s leaders must figure out how to reform that basic, ancient theology.



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