Martin Bright in ‘When Progressives Treat with Reactionaries – the British State’s flirtation with radical Islamism‘ laments the dominance of ‘political Islamism’ that has ‘crowded out’ the ‘liberal voices’. He is much exercised by ‘political Islamism’ and its attachment to the Shariah, seeing ‘signs of hope’ in ‘the Sufi majority, which has traditionally avoided politics’.
He notes, ‘Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the recently retired head of the MCB and its press spokesman Inayat Bunglawala have both expressed their admiration for Maulana Maududi, the founder of Pakistan’s Jamaat-e-Islami party which is committed to the establishment of an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law’.
Like some 19th Century colonialist investigating the natives, he compartmentalizes Muslims into two groups – ‘our/good/sufi Muslims’ on the one hand, and ‘awkward/ shariah-adhering/extremist Muslims’ on the other. There is no search for subtleties and nuances.
In reality Muslim opinion straddles the tariqa-shariah divide, and benefits from the creative tension. More importantly, faced with a challenge to one’s self-respect and dignity, or blasphemy on what we hold sacred, or injustice in places like Palestine, or abhorrence of senseless violence, then the divide fades away.
Take the example of Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, a leader of the anti-British non-cooperation movement in India and closely associated with Deoband, both as a student, teacher and its principal from 1926 to 1957. Deoband is today a bete-noire for the Martin Brights of this world. Yet Maulana Madani had ‘deep involvement with the Chishtia and Sabriya tariqas’ (according to biographer Maulana Syed Muhammad Mian, ‘The Prisoners of Malta‘). Madani held strong views on the shariah, but was also pragmatic in the context of the Indian multi-religious nation. Writing in 1932, he noted, “Undoubtedly Islamic laws are the true guarantors of peace and tranquillity in the world. In common government, the sovereignty of these laws alone cannot be established. Nor the Shariah law can be implemented. But it will be an intellectual and behavioural challenge before the Muslims that they get the supremacy of Islamic law accepted and implemented by the other communities. The lesser evil cannot be the ultimate goal for the Muslims. The road to action is open for Muslims”.
Another example of the nuanced relationship, also from the Indian context is the example of Shah Waliullah, considered the pre-Modern ‘Islamist’ par excellence and spiritual father of Maulana Maududi. It involves one of his relatives, a sufi teacher visiting Delhi who asked for permission to organize a sama in the mosque. Shah Waliullah’s compromise was to arrange for the musical gathering in a neighboring house!
Hasan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, would lead dhikr circles and attended meetings of Hasafiya Sufi order. The state security officials were continuously on the watch and there was an incident when two of them joined a congregation which Al-Banna was leading. It so happened that he recited a long passage of the Qur’an – which so tired out the infiltrators that they fainted.
And what about our Nineteenth Century heroes like Shaikh Shamil (Naqshabandi) and Abdul Qadir al-Jazairi (Qadiriya) who led resistance movements?
Mr Bright – the bad news for you is that we are all ‘bad’ Muslims. We take our lead from the example of the Prophet, peace be on him, who stood in long prayer vigils at night and administered the public affairs of Medina by day. And we believe that he was a blessing for all mankind. So these are your options Mr Bright: either get off your pedestal and engage in a discussion on equal terms, or send us back home (to Bradford?). (236)