Islam and International Relations: Exploring Community and the Limits of Universalism

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 Islam And International Relations
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  • Islam and Politics 4
  • Warming Up: The State versus the Umma 6
  • The Main Event: Liberalism versus Islamism versus
  • Poststructuralism 8
  • Structure of the Book 9
  • Notes 12
  • Part I: Critiquing International Relations
  • Islam(ism) and International Relations 17
  • Navigating Political Islam 19
  • Unique Politics in Early Islam? 22
  • Taking Issue with Din Wa Dawla 24
  • The Third Perspective: Normative Political Islam 27
  • Conclusions 30
  • Notes 31
  • International Relations, Islam, and the Secular Bias 35
  • IR and Political Islam in the MENA, Sub-Saharan Africa and
  • Southeast Asia 37
  • International Relations, Religion and the MENA 40
  • Marxist-Inspired Study of the Middle East and North Africa 40
  • Constructivist-Inspired Study of the Middle East and North
  • Africa 42
  • Theoretical Pluralism: Foreign Policy Analysis and Realist-
  • Inspired Study of the Middle East and North Africa 45
  • International Relations, Religion and the African Continent 50
  • African Marginalisation in International Relations 51
  • International Relations, Religion and Southeast Asia 55
  • Southeast Asia, Religion and International Relations 55
  • The Westphalian Narrative in International Relations
  • Scholarship 58
  • The Legacy of Westphalia 60
  • Liberal Individualism, the Umma and Communitarianism 61
  • Conclusions 63
  • Notes 64
  • A Framework for Studying Religion in International Relations 69
  • Epistemological Foundations 71
  • A Note on Terminology 73
  • Islam, Postcolonialism and Modernity 75
  • Postcolonial Critiques of Modernity 76
  • Poststructuralism and Islam: A Shared Agenda? 79
  • The Study of Religion in IR 80
  • Unpacking Political Islam Using Constructivism 83
  • Problems and Limitations 86
  • Conclusions 88
  • Notes 89
  • Part II: Developing an Alternative
  • Sovereignty and Political Islam 97
  • Political Islam and the State 100
  • Islamic Philosophy and Political Islam 104
  • Gnosticism and the Shi’ism of Ayatollah Khomeini 105
  • Exotericism in Sunni Islam 109
  • Exotericism and Politics 111
  • Ibn Khaldun, Exotericism and Sovereignty in Islam 113
  • Synthesising the Sovereignty of God and Exotericism in
  • Normative Political Islam 114
  • Deriving Political Sovereignty via an Exoteric Method 117
  • Conclusions 121
  • Notes 123
  • Accounting for Community 127
  • Islam as Community? Islam as Citizenship? 129
  • Liberalism and Communitarianism 133
  • Contents vii
  • Communitarian International Relations 139
  • Conclusions 149
  • Notes 151
  • Part III: Pluralism or Polarisation? Poststructuralism and Religion
  • Value Pluralism and the ‘International’ of International Relations 157
  • Communitarianism and the Clash of Civilisations 159
  • The Foundations of the ‘Problem’ in IR 164
  • Value Pluralism and IR 167
  • Certain in Scepticism? Postmodernism and Islam 172
  • Acknowledging the Truth of Islam, or Essentialising a
  • Diverse Tradition? 175
  • Bounding Expectations: Islamic Rationalism and
  • Poststructuralism 177
  • Conclusions 179
  • Notes 181
  • Conclusion 185
  • To What Extent Is an Islamic Notion of International Relations Tenable? 188
  • Notes 190
  • Bibliography 191
  • Index 203

Islam(ism) and International Relations

The Iranian revolution in 1979, which ushered in the clerical rule of Ayatol- lah Khomeini, also ushered in an interest in Islam and politics. After the Arab revolutions of 2011, and the elections of Islamist political parties, that is, parties that advocated some kind of Islamic order administered through the state, in Egypt and Tunisia, this interest is renewed. Such parties, however, are a world away from the Iranian Islamic state. As Asef Bayat explains, ‘[t]here is an unfortunate tendency to lump together quite different kinds of religiously inspired trends as “Islamist” while avoiding articulating any defi- nition of the term’.1

While there is controversy around the examples of both the En-Nahda party in Tunisia and the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt (the latter removed from power by military coup within a year of election), these parties are perhaps more akin to Christian democratic parties in Europe than to the Islamic governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

 To cement this distinction, Bayat describes such parties as ‘post-Islamist’, that is, ‘a different, more inclusive, kind of religious project in which Islam neverthe- less continues to remain important both as faith and as a player in the public sphere’.2 It goes without saying that it is of utmost importance to define these key terms ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamism’, which I will do, relating to IR, in this chapter.

I take Islam to be the broadest term. For some Muslims, separating ‘polit-

ical’ Islam from ‘Islam’ is already an act of vandalism against the faith. For such Muslims, Islam is an inherently political religion, defining one’s duties and obligations in all walks of life—recall the din wa dawla phrase from the introductory chapter.

If there is a separation to be made from an Islam that speaks to one’s relationship with God and the care of one’s soul, and social and political practices that facilitate the former, but are not in themselves a means to that end, then we can speak of political Islam or Islamism (I use the terms inter- changeably).

What distinguishes Islamists from post-Islamists, for Bayat, is that the former focus on the fulfilment of duties, while the latter focus on the attain- ment of rights.3 Post-Islamism would appear to be a clarification of the broader ‘Islamist’ label, a way to distinguish, conceptually, a different agen- da within the broad umbrella of ‘Islamism’.

Another prominent term in many discussions of Islam and politics is fundamentalism. Olivier Roy points out the difference between an Islamic fundamentalist and a political Islamist: The former wants ‘a return to the old ways’, while the latter wishes to develop their societies on the basis of modern technology and politics.4

Arriving at Roy’s definition of an Islamist or fundamentalist is not as easy as it would seem; John Voll states that ‘[t]he wide diversity of individuals and groups associated with Islamic fundamen- talism indicates that it is not a monolithic movement and renders a simple definition difficult’.5 For example, Henry Munson claims that the modern usage of the term fundamentalist refers ‘to anyone who insists that all aspects of life, including the social and the political, should conform to a set of sacred scriptures believed to be inerrant and immutable’.6

 By Munson’s understanding, the difference between Roy’s Islamist and Islamic fundamen- talist is trivial; both seek to establish God’s rule on earth. For Sami Zubaida the term is even broader; any modern political movement seeking to establish an Islamic state is in fact fundamentalist, 7 and there are differences in opin- ion besides. For my purposes it is not necessary to see, as Roy does, a distinction between an Islamic fundamentalist and an Islamist, as Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof highlight that fundamentalism as a sub-cate- gory of Islamism.

They distinguish between what they call modernist and fundamentalist Islamism. The former, modernism, ‘covering a period be- tween the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, consisted of a set of interrelated discourses that sought to bridge Islam with modernity’.8 While the latter, fundamentalism, ‘came in pari passu with the decline of liberal- nationalism between [the] 1930s and 1950s . . .

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this new discourse categorically rejected the Western model and outlook’.9 Separating fundamentalism from the umbrella term Islamism writes fundamentalism out of the discus- sion. Rather than contribute to the idea that ‘fundamentalists’ do not read books in the darkness of their caves, I will not assume that political Islam is divorced from any fundamentalist interpretations and incorporate the term within what Islamism might be in global politics, in the method of Moaddel and Talattof.

Islamism is still a broad term then; it encompasses those groups that commit violence10 against the state in the cause of ‘enforcing good’ in society, those who work within state systems via democratic means, those de- fined as fundamentalist and modernist. Additionally, in Moaddel and Talattof’s modernist Islamism, Islamism may not refer to the capture of state power at all, but rather a social activism to increase the piety of ruling elites.11

Those ‘modernist Islamists’ who do not seek state power or the replacement of the state with some other political assembly, those who are more concerned with religious piety in whatever political system, would not qualify, for me, as Islamist.

While I predominately focus on Sunni Islamic practice 12 (though we will see that this distinction means little given the multiplicity of competing narratives about ‘real’ Muslims), Shi’ism will be examined also, where relevant. Beyond defining these terms, I will look to Islam, a religion believed by some Muslims to provide the basis of their social order, for guidance on the international sphere. In doing so, I will articulate the nature of this guidance and begin to outline the extent to which Islamic scriptures and religious traditions can inform IR.

I am at great pains to point out that my discussion of Islamism, given its inclusion of the word ‘Islam’, does not point to a ‘Muslim perspective on politics’; ‘Islamists share the label Muslim with more traditional, liberal, modernist, mystical, and secular Muslims, with whom they may agree on many theological points but with whom they are often in vital disagreement on others’.13


That Islam offers guidance on the political is a widespread but dubious assertion. Dietrich Jung points out how pervasive the link between Islam and politics can be:

[T]he overwhelming majority of both Western scholars in oriental studies and followers of Islamist movements have defined Islamic culture first and fore- most by its sacred moral and legal codes. Based on the almost axiomatic assumption that in Islam religion and politics are inseparably knitted together, they both view Islamic culture as intrinsically different from the modern democratic culture of the West. 14

Like Jung, I find this assertion to be deeply problematic in how it posits an ‘essential’ and ‘pure’ Islam, independent of the people who constitute it. If this view of Islam holds true, then it implies that there is a ‘pure’ Islamic mode of governance.

 Historical precedence does not seem to support this essentialist position, as ‘[f]rom time to time theologians or muhaddithun (specialists in the traditions or saying of the Prophet, hadith) did write pro- fessions of faith (‘aqa’id) that can be compared to Christian creed, but these texts entailed no obligation and remained valid only for a circumscribed time and place’.15

Being valid in a specific time and place conflicts with the idea that there is a universal Islamic ideal valid for all Muslims, thought it does not deny smaller Islamic polities the potential to exist. In early or ‘classical’ Islam, Joseph van Ess maintains that the prevailing wisdom of the time derived from the Qur’anic verse 2:256, which states that there shall be ‘no compulsion in religion’.16

Unlike Christianity, in Islam it is not the ‘narrow path’ that leads to salvation but simply the shahada (declaration of faith); it was considered that the wide path would save Muslims in the hereafter. 17 Such a relaxed posture is echoed by Khan, who, we will recall, points out that the argument of the din wa dawla adherents, that is, the inseparability of the faith of Islam from politics, is not one substantiated by the early history of Islam.

 He claims that ‘if the first thirty years of Islam were excepted, the historical conduct of Muslim states could hardly be distinguished from that of other states in world history’.18 Khan’s statement is astute, if missing the point slightly.

 That the first thirty years of Islamic history were potentially unique is the call of many modern Islamists. For such Islamists (placed in the broad category of Salafism), the age-old practice of taqlid, imitation, has failed them and as such the many changes and accommodations made by Muslim jurists since the time of revelation are not worth imitating. As such, there is no use in pointing out, as Khan does, that Islamic polities have behaved in much the same way as non-Muslim polities thirty years after the revelation of Islam.

This is something both sides of the debate agree upon. For the one side it is cause to point out how misguided Muslims have become following the passing of the rashidun, Rightly Guided Caliphs,19 for the other side, it is cause to show how novel the idea of an Islamic state is. As such, both sides of the debate talk past each other, never addressing the points or grievances of the other.

 Engaging with such an ongoing debate is problematic; there is little chance to rest conclusively on one side or the other. However, while I may not conclusively settle the discussion, I must attempt to work through this issue regard- ing Islam’s guidance on politics to arrive at a position that can then be used to examine IR—if this position is not satisfactory to some, I hope that my line of argument is at least clear enough to be followed.

Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori infer that the constant differentiation between the rashidun and their successors implies a cleavage between relig- ion and state. Going further, perhaps this division happened at the Prophet Muhammed’s death; he was the seal of the prophets, and thus no one could succeed his religious authority. 20

A similar yet different argument claims that the separation of religion and state happened during the reign of Abbasid Caliph Ma’mun (813–833). Ma’mun was sympathetic to Mu’tazilite theolo- gy and, to put it crudely, adopted it as a ‘state’ religion. This was rejected by the majority of Muslims, the Hanbali school in particular, effectively freeing religion from state. Going against the Caliphate in this way distinguished the limits of its authority, especially with regards to religion; ‘[h]enceforth, the Caliphate was no longer the sole identifying symbol or the sole organizing institution, even for those Muslims who had been most closely identified with it’.21

These arguments do not claim that Islam and politics did not co-exist at one time; whether that ended with the death of the Prophet, the passing of the rashidun or the reign of Ma’mun does not matter. Rather, for one side of the argument, that of the unspectacular nature of Muslim politics, the separation of religion and state represents a precedent that means modern Muslims are able to live in and interact with political systems ostensibly ‘foreign’ to them.

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The opposing side of the debate, the din wa dawla advocates, see the cleav- age between religion and state as a sign that modern Muslims have lost their way; emulation of the early Muslims is the key component of politics for these ideologues. Such emulation, for them, includes an Islamic state and distinctly Islamic political system. A third position, and the position which I will pursue, is an approach that allows some synthesis of Islam and politics, but challenges the all-encompassing and literal exhortations of din wa dawla advocates. In this way, my approach might be classified as post-Islamist.

But why is Islam the basis of this culturally specific normative foundation? Why not Arabism or some other ethnic affiliation? I claim that Islam is peculiar, though not unique, in its ability to incorporate many differing axes of identity into its ideology. One can be a student, male, female, a parent, elderly, nomadic, sedentary, upper-class, lower-class, Moroccan, Egyptian, Afghani, British, and still be Muslim.22

In addition, Islam has been articulated as a project that strives for anything, from upholding the politics characterised by modernity, to mass emancipation within the boundaries of contemporary politics, all the way to a rejection of the system and complete revolution.

Khaled Abou El Fadl does not share the idea that revolution is the ‘true’ articulation of political Islam. Rather, it is a possible source of emancipation for Muslims from Orientalism, Westernisation and modernity, by taking con- trol of power and its symbols.23 However, what is specifically jarring to the Muslim world about the ‘West’ or political modernity is not defined by Abou El Fadl.

 Indeed, it often is not defined by authors trying to debunk essential- ist accounts of Islam. This mistake is sometimes referred to as Orientalism in reverse, Occidentalism, whereby the author essentialises ‘the West’ for the purpose of their argument. Regardless, what El Fadl emphasises is that the pursuit of power by political Islam carries with it a potential emancipatory character, bringing power to Muslims where power currently rests in non- Muslim hands, though the nature of this power is entirely undefined beyond finger-pointing to ‘the West’.

Bryan Turner deals with Islam’s emancipatory nature in a much more articulate way. Here too is the assertion that political Islam, over ethnic affiliations or nationalistic projects, represents a potential global political system.

Crucially, Turner articulates Abou El Fadl’s ‘West’ as cultural bag- gage that accompanies modernisation, namely, ‘a post-Enlightenment system of thought’.24 Rather than using the language of emancipation, Turner pre- fers to use ‘opposition’ as his key word; ‘[Islam] can operate globally as an oppositional force’.25 This ‘opposition’ introduces some much-needed nuance; for Turner political Islam is an ideology with the potential to contest the very Enlightenment rationality that current political structures are founded upon.

The methods of this challenge are not so well defined; it is neither a revolution, nor, clearly, an ideology working within the boundaries of the contemporary political system. Beyond describing political Islam as filling an oppositional void left by the collapse of Communism, Turner, like many other writers on political Islam, does not attempt to explain what political Islam is for, but rather defines the concept by articulating what it is against.

Despite the problem of defining what political Islam stands for, my argument is that political Islam, over and above ethnic affiliation, nationally or regionally focused identity, presents a strong challenge to the discipline of IR. Briefly, that challenge is conceptualised as an Islamic politics based on a specific normative foundation derived from the Islamic faith.

 To get to this position, I must first deal with two competing visions for Islam in politics, that of the unspectacular nature of Islamic politics on one end of the spec- trum, and the unique inseparability of religion and politics on the other end of it. The next section will begin by looking at the unspectacular nature of Islamic politics.

Unique Politics in Early Islam?

Fazlur Rahman argues that the Prophet Muhammed, through revelations and his religiously authoritative personal guidance, was the sole religious and political guide for Muslims during his lifetime. With his death this guidance was cut off, but the first four Caliphs, those who knew the Prophet best, ‘met the ever-arising new situations by applying to these their judgements in the light of the Qur’an and what the Prophet had taught them’.26 Only after the passing of the rashidun did the first theological sects emerge. While Rahman shows why many Muslims revere this period of Islam’s history, a period before any infighting occurred between the Muslims, I argue that he inaccu- rately portrays the Prophet Muhammed as the sole political guide for Mus- lims in this era, a case put forward by Ali Abd al-Raziq.

Al-Raziq claims that there is a difference between ‘kingly’ and ‘prophet- ic’ rule.27 Prophets, according to al-Raziq, have a special nature that cannot be emulated; ‘[the] Messenger may tackle the politics of his people as a king would, but the Prophet has a unique duty which he shares with no one’,28 that is, delivering the message of God to humankind.

 This is not a characteristic that can be replicated after the passing of the last of the Prophets, Mu- hammed; no one can hope to reproduce this prophetic authority and as such the period of Muhammed’s rule is politically unique, and cannot be replicated. Now considering that al-Raziq says a prophet may tackle the politics of a king, it is necessary to clarify how a prophet exercising kingly authority is not as unique a situation as a prophet delivering a religious message. Carry- ing a religious call demands of a prophet leadership skills.

 These are skills which may also make a prophet a capable ‘king’, in al-Raziq’s language. But were a prophet to exercise kingship, as Muhammed undoubtedly did in com- manding the hijra to Medina, his negotiations with the various communities at Medina and his generalship at the battle of Badr and Uhud, 29 these actions may not be inspired by God.

Such ‘worldly’ matters often fall beyond the purview of prophets. In exercising political authority, a prophet would draw upon his high status within a community, not his unique relationship to God (though the two are undoubtedly related). This, however, is not the only line of reasoning that al-Raziq takes. Rather, he seeks to further define Mu- hammed as a unique figure in history:

[T]he authority of the Prophet, peace be upon him, was, because of his Mes- sage, a general authority; his orders to Muslims were obeyed; and his govern- ment was comprehensive. . . . This sacred power, special to those worshipers

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of God whom He had raised as messengers, does not hold within it the mean- ing of kingship, nor does it resemble the power of kings, nor can the [authority of the] sultan of all sultans approximate it. 30

If one wants to call the community of Muhammed’s followers a state, and Muhammed their king, then this is a matter of semantics to al-Raziq. The important point is that the politics practiced by the Prophet was grounded in his religious message, and as such is not a system of politics that can be replicated—nor should one try. The difference between prophets and kings is that the former governs over the heart while the latter over material things.

‘The former is a religious leadership, the latter a political one—and there is much distance between politics and religion’.31 Muhammed Khalaf-Allah defines the roles of prophets as ‘explanation and analysis of Qur’anic texts— especially that which deals with beliefs, worship, and [social] interactions’.32 This is a role that the ulema, Muslim religious scholars, have taken on with the passing of the last of the Prophets.

 That being the case, Khalaf-Allah states it is an error, in the contemporary world, to look to ulema for guidance on politics; as the practice of politics was not the primary role of the proph- ets, so ‘religious scholars cannot do what the prophets, peace be upon them, could not do’.33

So, the politics practised by Muhammed was unique by virtue of his divine guidance in those matters, which no other can replicate. Also, the Prophet’s politics was concerned only with delivering the message, and any governance he conducted ‘was only a means that the Prophet, peace be upon him, would seek for the strengthening of his religion, in support of the call’.34 Al-Raziq does not answer the question as to why the Prophet’s suc- cessors could not pursue politics with a similar aim; what is particular of the call to Islam that is, for al-Raziq, incongruous with politics? Interestingly, this is the same question that is not answered by IR scholars: what is it that makes Islam incompatible with politics? As I will argue in the following chapter, a key reason why the IR of the MENA, sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia is deficient is the Eurocentric assumption that the relationship between religion and politics that played out in Europe happened the same way the world over, or should play out in this mould.

However, there are some very real reasons that assuming a coherent and distinctive Islamic politics is not achievable, namely the fractious reality of the religion. As Piscatori observes, ‘[i]n practical terms, although not in theology, there are as many Islams as there are Muslims’;35 the lack of unity within the faith makes it unfeasible and unnecessary to unite politically.

The aforementioned lack of unity is not something I posit as a negative thing, an issue that needs resolving. Rather, I take differences within the faith of Islam to be a divine mercy, as chapter 10, verse 99 of the Qur’an states: ‘If your lord had willed it, all the people on the earth would have come to believe, one and all’.36

 As I demonstrated earlier in the chapter, there is something dis- tinctive to Islamic politics, specifically the politics of the Prophet Mu- hammed, but what this is and whether it is applicable after the death of the Prophet Muhammed remains to be seen. Before proposing the content of this Islamic distinction, I will look at the most vehemently argued nature of this distinction, that of din wa dawla, the inseparability of religion and politics.

Taking Issue with Din Wa Dawla

Eickelman and Piscatori take great pains to highlight the problems regarding din wa dawla. For them,

The presupposition of the union of religion and politics, din wa-dawla, is unhelpful for three reasons. . . . First, it exaggerates the uniqueness of Muslim

politics. . . . Second, the emphasis on din wa-dawla inadvertently perpetuates

‘orientalist’ assumptions that Muslim politics, unlike other politics, are not guided by rational, interest based calculations. . . . Third, the din wa-dawla

assumption contributes to the view that Muslim politics is a seamless web, indistinguishable in its parts because of the natural and mutual interpretation of religion and politics. 37

That the din wa dawla assertion is unhelpful cannot be denied. As I have already noted, Muslim politics is not so unique that it fails or failed to interact and integrate with international systems now and through history.

But the other points raised by Eickelman and Piscatori are not so easily substantiated. The Orientalist problem is interesting as this is not a problem that cannot be overcome; ‘inadvertent’ ignorance is not a problem of the din wa dawla position, but of students of political Islam and as such is not a criticism that can be levied towards the position itself.

In addition, it was noted earlier there is something distinct about Islamic politics, but whether that leads to difference and an Orientalist understanding remains to be seen.

Indeed, Eickelman and Piscatori’s criticism of the din wa dawla position radiates with assumptions about secular rationality, ‘that Muslim politics, unlike other politics, are not guided by rational, interest based calcula- tions’,38 suffers itself from a problematic assumption: why can a synthesis of religion and politics not be rational and interest based? The third part of Eickelman and Piscatori’s criticism is the most interesting of all.

 That a combination of religion and politics that is indistinguishable from its separate parts is an issue at all highlights some of the limits of IR. Din wa dawla Islamists recognise little, if anything, which separates humanity other than faith.

 The state, that most fundamental of building blocks in IR, unacceptably divides the unity of believing Muslims and so is problematic to such Isla- mists. This is presumably one of the types of the inseparability of religion and politics that Eickelman and Piscatori allude to with their final criticism of din wa dawla adherents, and is one that previous work has tried to overcome by analysing how Islamism might be conceived in such a way as to ‘fit’ seamlessly with the discipline of IR, notably in Piscatori’s work, Islam in a World of Nation-States. Rather than assume that secular rationality is inher- ently superior to a religious rationality, as Eickelman and Piscatori inadvertently do,

I will instead proceed by critiquing the din wa dawla position as being theologically unsound, as defined by Islamic precedent itself rather than a comparison to dominant understandings of politics and religion in IR.

I will save further discussion on the nature of secular rationality in IR for chapter 4, which will deal explicitly with the analytical framework employed…

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