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Throughout the last quarter century, political Islam was one of the most significant matters which has been emphasized. The paramount reason for this is the tremendous differences between the actions of the political Islamists who take over the power; their former discourses and requests, and the practices and policies they carry out later. As well as this situation receives serious criticism from the laical and seculars, it also caused the religionists to raise eyebrows, who advocates that political Islam is a contradiction to the spirit of religion and also is not a true path or method.

Political Islam is a very complex and extensive matter with regards to having a very long historical process, possessing very different fractions inside, revealing varied experiences during different times and places, and advocates having various ideas and opinions. However, our purpose here is not to provide thorough information about this matter, but rather try to reveal what kind of damages the political Islam causes to the communities and states in general, and to the Muslims and religion in private.

Dawn of Political Islam

First of all, it is very important to be reminded about the fact that many individuals, groups, parties, movements, or states, which follow political Islam today and did so in recent history, never consider themselves as being Islamists. On the contrary, the researches, who focus on religious, social and political sciences, named them “Islamist” based on their ideas, reactions, requests, and their behaviors. In this respect, it is not important how the individuals or groups identify themselves; but rather their discourses and behaviors. On this basis, it is possible to detect who were Islamists and who were not throughout the Ottoman dynasty and the Republic period, and also today.

Let’s have an overview on how the movement of Political Islam broke out in order to better explain the analysis and dissections we are going to provide later on. Ottomans getting weaker against the West; losing many of the wars and having their lands invaded as a result; and on top of that, the appearance of the new allegations that Islam would hinder progress; requests towards westernization and modernization; and the suggestions of orientalism about Islam which cannot be accepted under any circumstances are the factors which played a huge role for pan-Islamism to come into existence.

And throughout the following years, the enslavement of approximately 80% of the Islamic world by the Westerlies, abolition of the caliphate, Muslims getting seriously weaker day by day and falling behind in many fields against the West caused a huge shock and conscience trauma, which eventually revealed new pursuits and different ideas. Being left without a caliph, rootless, deprived of any political identities, and having the status of all out “prisoners”, resulted in new and different pursuits by the Muslims, since the situation they experience was a first in the history of Islam and it was explained in the books of fiqh.

Political Islam came into existence as a result of the efforts towards eluding these problems, in other words, primarily ensuring the survival of the Ottoman Empire, and retrieving the power and the government which had been lost. From this aspect, it is a modern fact altogether, and it is a product of the social and political conditions of the time when it came into existence. Therefore, there are substantial and deep differences between Political Islam and the traditional mentality of Islam.

Historical Process of Political Islam

Pan-Islamism has been through different phases until today since the day of its existence. Some people approach pan-Islamism in three or fourth phases with respect to various basic changes it has been through in its historical process.

We can confirm the following by referring the details of the matter to the studies carried out specifically on the matter: The main goal of the first era Islamists, who came into existence during the Tanzimat Reform Era and survived until the establishment of the Republic, was to keep Ottoman and the caliphate alive, defend Islam against the materialist and positivist ideas, prove that Islam in no way hinders progress and on the contrary, it promotes development, and procure the recovery of the community and state by reorganizing.

According to this period Islamists, the most significant ways to provide these things were to return back to basics and focusing on Quran and Sunna once again; to abandon the imitation spirits and functionalizing the judicial opinion again, to restore the jihad spirit that had been fizzled out and withered; and finally, to provide unity and solidarity throughout the Islamic world which had started to fall apart and crumble. In other words, the Islamists thought that the regression in the militaristic, economic and political fields, and retrogress in the religious, educational and cultural lives can only be cured by returning to self, and activating the jihad and judicial system together, thus, they intensified their work and efforts over them.

Without a doubt, these efforts provided clear benefits for aspects such as Muslims not surrendering to the West; preserving the religious culture and Islamic civilization albeit partially; coming up with various answers within the borders of religion against the modernity’s challenge; putting up a resistance against Westernization; and also pioneering various recovery efforts in the Islamic world.

Within the quarter-century after the establishment of the Republic, pan-Islamism literally sunk into sleep. However, important individuals and movements came into existence after the 1950s especially in Iran, Pakistan and Egypt. Together with the translation efforts of the works of these individuals into Turkish, their Islamic comments and ideas were transferred to Turkey. The policies adapted in order to imprison the religion only into the conscience of the people by isolating it in social and political fields with the help of the overwhelming and oppressive policies towards the Muslims within the first years of the Republic actually caused the pan-Islamism to rise significantly in Turkey.

After this date, the path of pan-Islamism changed substantially. Abolition of the caliphate, establishment of modern and nation-states throughout the Islamic world, racism getting ahead of pan-Islamism, establishment of oppressive regimes in the countries where Muslims live, and serious suffering of the freedom of religion and conscience were among the factors.

Goals of Islamists

Despite the fact that Political Islam follows very different paths, and different opinions and movements appear in the countries where they come into existence, it is a reality that it has common goals and characteristic features in essence. The most important goal for the political Islamists, especially after the 50s and 60s, was to create a social and political order where Islamic law would be able to be practiced completely, meaning in short, to establish an “Islamic state”. Therefore, they used all of their energy to politics and tried to “take over” the state.

The Islamists foresaw this as the only way to furnish the state structure and the social life, which were under the influence of “de-Islamization”, with religious values and Islamic law, and entirely make Islam dominant in life, and started a social-engineering project in order to “shape” the community again.

We can explain the ideology and the goal of the Islamists with the following simple example: For instance, let’s say there is a store that sells alcohol in a Muslim neighborhood. According to Islam, the necessary thing to do is to guide and convince the people over there to quit drinking. However, according to the political Islam, the necessary thing to do is to shut down the store in question. Because if it is shut down, the people will not be able to drink.

Modern Nation-State Trial

As a matter of fact, Islamists are not aware how they can “take over” a state, or try to adapt what kind of a “superstructure”. Because, just like Wael b. Hallaq insistently lays emphasis on in his book “The Impossible State”, it is nearly impossible to polish a modern nation-state with Islam. Because, the constitution, laws, operating system, political structure, bureaucracy, philosophy, and ideology of today’s states possess a nationalistic and secular structure.

And the Islamists, who cannot, does not, or unwilling to see this, couldn’t manage to change anything after they took charge, and in fact, they even started to change themselves. In other words, while the Islamists try to take over the power in many countries, modern nation-states actually took over them, and transferred all the negative features it possesses to the Islamists.

From this point of view, the countries where the Islamists were in power, religion was left to the hands of the state, the state was responsible to take care of the religious needs of the people, the state sit in for the ulama in terms of religion, and while the situation turned out like to be this, the oppression, cruelty, and human right violations continued to exist only with different colors. Furthermore, the “new owners” of the state did not only use the opportunities they received to make the people “more religious”, but also they started to silence, suppress, and if these did not work, they crushed everybody, who were simply dissents, without considering their emotions or opinions. There is no doubt that these practices are a work of strange and contradictory ideas altogether and against the spirits of Islam. While an ideal state should be based on social agreement; consider the requests and wishes of the people; take care of the social, economic and religious needs of the people; and allow them to have freedom of religion, the political Islamists aimed to discipline and make the people become religious by force with the state mechanism they occupied, rather than educating and enlightening the people.

It is a paradox for the Islamists, who continuously criticized and denigrated the state while they were the weak or the minority, to aggrandize the state at a consecrated level after coming to power and care about it so much while never giving any space for the civilian organizations. When a state, which is governed by religionists or the ones who pretend to be, is aggrandized and mythicized this much, the practices of the people who occupy the administrative positions started to be approved, and they were obeyed unconditionally, some of the individuals/groups were sacrificed, and an unsupervised structure were created.

Damages of ‘Political Islam’ on Islam

Unfortunately, the experience throughout the last half century together with the scientific and intellectual accumulation shows us, this created serious negations over the interpretation of Islam and general conditions of the Muslims.

If we are supposed to explain the negative effect of Political Islam over Islam in a single sentence: together with pan-Islamism, religion became more and more political, ideologized, radicalized, instrumentalized, neutralized every passing day, and was formed into a reactional, defensive, monopolist, polarized, marginalized, revanchist, complexed, pragmatist, epic, disconnected, authoritarian, and totalitarian structure.

While it is beautiful to emphasize Quran and Sunna under the “going back to basics” discourse of the Islamist ulama, it is a fact that this eventually intersects with the salafi movements somewhere, and neglects the system of values of religion and fiqh, and also shakes the authority of the follower ulama. Besides, both Quran and Sunna were not tried to be understood as a whole, and these two sacred sources were read within a political plane, and while benefiting from them, the provisions about the worshipping and the morals were rather pushed into the background by acting “selective”.

The Islamists concentrating on politics, governing, and state too much caused Islam to be acknowledged as a political system and ideology; and resulted in the civil fields, which are the focus point of the religious provisions and basically concern the people, family, community, morals, and values to stay in the background.  On the other hand, together with the Islamic values starting to address politics and state, and at the same time, approaching the provisions of Islam as if they are only about realizing the earthly matters, religion was secularized, and the moral principles, wisdom, sufistic experience, worshipping life, and the faith towards the afterlife of the Muslims started to take naïve situation.

Islamists, instead bringing religious morals and values to politics, they inherited today’s conflicting, disputing, separating, and polarizing language of politics, and thought nothing of Islam’s understanding of the community that is based on brotherhood and unity, and eventually ignited new and new conflicts and quarrels. On the other hand, a new party coming into existence in today’s multi-party system in the name of religion, and acting like as a defender, practitioner, and representative of religion, causes all of their mistakes to be appropriated to religion, and eventually various wrong opinions and approaches appeared as a result.

Since the idea of advocacy and fanaticism, which dominate politics and partisanship, continue in the parties founded by Islamists, qualification, merit and justice left their places to favoritism, backing, and factionalism, therefore, Islam was represented in a very bad way. Furthermore, it is a fact that the political Islamists instrumentalise religion, abuse religious values, exploit the religious emotions of the people, turn to hypocrisy in order to show themselves religious, and act machiavellian in order to legalize every occasion.

Political Islam and Violence

 Throughout the last century, the drama and tragedies experienced by the Muslims disturbed the balance of Islam, and persuaded them to reactionist attitudes. Factors like west, the US, and Zionism in the international arena, and different groups like leftists and secularists were declared as enemies and opposing fronts were formed. Therefore, the language of anger was used constantly; hostilities were resurrected; emotions towards revenge were revived; however, nobody took into account how Islam should be explained, or how peace will be established in the world.

Furthermore, it is irrefutable that the hate and violence language of the Islamists targeting the West, and the secular or anti-religious people within their own countries, caused radical terrorist organizations to come into existence. In fact, together with the anti-religious attitudes of the states they live in, and the examples such as the Iranian revolution caused the Islamism to consider the idea of “revolution”, and thus, rather contributing the state to be more humane, fair, and more democrat, they constantly opposed the state and tried to conquer the powerful positions.

Scientific and Intellectual Shallowness

The Islamists could not gift anything to the humanity since they did not have any realist and sophisticated project about how they would start governing according to the new conditions of the modern era after they come to power, how they would create a relationships with the “others”, how they would continue their communication with the West, and how they would realize the principles, provisions, and the goals of religion.

Lack of deep opinions on how the values of the modern era would be welcomed such as globalization, pluralism, and democracy; and how these values would cause discrepancies towards execution of the religion lead them either to the repetition of the “past”, or a very bad imitation of the “new”.

Efforts of the Islamists towards supporting and improving the products of civilization and culture such as philosophy, ideology, artistic activities, urbanization, education, culture, sports, media, and technology were unfortunately bad at a criticizing level.

Likewise, while the discourses and the desires of the Islamists towards saving the Muslims from submission, superstition, imitation, and captivity, and urging for a new recovery movement are beautiful, the lack of their religious, social, and positive science knowledge caused these claims only to be platitudinous.

On top of that, Islamists being unaware of the fact that politics and governing require a different type of art, technique, and discipline, and thinking that they could solve the problems with the help of religious provisions are amongst the reasons which caused their failure. In fact, Islam, by force of having a universal and flexible understanding of fiqh, could not manage to provide expatiatory regulations about governing, and only settled with only imposing various basic principles and doctrines.


Despite the political Islamists started their journey with good wills in the name of religion, and offered Muslims good promises, since their methods and projects were full of many glitches and defects, aside from partially beautiful activities, left many disappointments, hopelessness, and victimizations behind.

According to the experiences throughout the last century, piety were not increased; morals were not improved; an Islamic civilization could not be established; and on the contrary, the Islamists, who whose opportunities and potencies were greatly advanced, was exposed to hubris syndrome, and dived into luxury and debauchery in the countries where pan-Islamism advanced and became the power. At the same time, since some of these Islamists receive the “fatwa”, meaning approval, of every kind of cruelty, injustice, and despotism from religion, and tried to “legalize” all of their evil actions, they were far superior than some of the historical and today’s dictator regimes.

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Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.


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