ISLAM AND REVOLUTION
To proclaim "Allahu akbar" (God is the greatest) is to
relativise all POWER, all POSSESSION and all KNOWLEDGE. Before this
cry of belief, we have seen in history the arms of the most insolent
armies lowered and blunted.
By Ahmed Rami
translated from German into English by Clive Lindhurst
The chief features of the islamic and Arabic world, to which I belong, are that it has common cultural roots and draws upon a common heritage, which is a very profound intellectual world based on the Islamic religion.
But the role played by Islam is by no means purely religious in nature; Islam is a historical factor which has made a decisive cultural and ideological contribution to the creation of an "Arab-Islamic" nationality.
The following persons belong to this "Arab-Islamic nationality", which is also known as the "Arab world":
1) Anyone who speaks a version of the Arabic language and at the same time regards the latter as his "natural" language; (language of the holy Koran) this may also apply to persons who do not know any Arabic, for example a large number of Berbers.
2) Anyone who considers that his heritage consists of the history and cultural characteristics of the ethnic group which calls itself the Arab ethnic group and is also so called by others. Since the 7th century, the first and foremost of these cultural characteristics has been the Muslim religion, which is to a certain extent the soul of Arabdom.
3) Anyone who demands that his Arab identity be returned to him and is aware of that identity.
The Islamic-Arab world is made up of the ethnic groups of those countries which either have a constitution laying it down that they are part of that world, or are member states of the Arab League and have signed its contracts. The core of the Islamic nation (we Muslims always use this term in the singular, even though a non-Muslim would be more likely to use the plural) is the Muslim religion, which is at the same time the decisive source of inspiration for the political ideology of the Islamic nation. Regardless of artificial borders, all the Arab countries form an ideological and political bloc with a common Arab-Muslim civilization.
In the islamic and Arabic world, Islam is regarded as a divine revelation concerning man, the world and God, and also as an exquisite treasure common to all muslims and Arabs. Islam can be classified as a "secular" religion, if the word "secular" means that the broad masses become aware that they are responsible for their history. The Koran emphasizes again and again how important it is to arouse an awareness of responsibility within the community.
The general tendency of Arab-Muslim nationalism is revolutionary, because it must struggle both defensive and offensively against adverse external circumstances and against colonial and Jewish rule, whether that rule is only capitalist or whether it is communist in nature. The trends which arise from the yearnings of the broad masses and form the basis of an ethnic political ideology are taken up and channelled, and are refined and elaborated in accordance with Islam. Islam characterizes the words and deeds of the rulers.
Today's islamic and Arab states cannot be described as nation states. There is only one Islamic nation: the "umma". According to today's Arab and Islamic ideology, the only entirely legitimate nation state is that comprising the entirety of the Islamic nation. The loyalty of a truly believing Muslim relates very much more to the ideal state which has yet to be created than to the state existing in reality.
According to the Koran, a Muslim is only obliged to be loyal to the state if the state is a legitimate political organization which is based on genuine Islamic principles and does not acknowledge that there are any borders separating Muslims. Otherwise, oppression (z.ulm) prevails, and it is the justification for rebellion, that is to say revolution. The Islamic and Arab states are hopelessly splintered at present. The power proceeding from the religious confession makes the temporary and basically illegitimate character of those states appear still more glaringly, and it weakens the believers' loyalty to them.
All the régimes governing the Arab world today are illegitimate, but they employ all kinds of hypocritical devices to try to give themselves an appearance of Islamic legitimacy.
At present - and this is a highly interesting phenomenon - two things can also be observed which, although they have existed since time immemorial, nevertheless gain particular significance as matters stand today. Firstly there is the extremely great political and social vitality of Islam, and secondly it can be seen that Islam has, in the most recent period, been purposefully rehearsing its re-entry into history - as the subject and not as the object. In this connection, Islam refrains from endeavouring to give itself a modernist face, and it also regards it as entirely unnecessary to justify itself by using intellectual reasons borrowed from alien ways of thinking. Islam's justification lies in Islam itself, in its own holy texts.
Professor Jacques Berque stresses the following: "Islam can only be the vehicle of a utopia, the utopia of the restoration of harmony between man and the world... In my opinion, the power of the Islamic and Arab world lies not in its oil, but in the strength of its identity, or, to put it another way, in the strength of its authenticity. In order really to understand what is going on in the Islamic world at present, it is necessary to cast aside all the categories which are borrowed from sociology and compel us to think in political or materialistic concepts. Instead, the fundamental dimension of the world of the imagination must be restored to favour. Islam is undergoing a radical transformation, and it is therefore necessary not to lose sight of the fact that this is primarily a cultural revolution." What is called "modernity", whether it is decked out in Eastern or Western feathers, has proved to be a mere imitation, a characteristic form of cultural, intellectual and economic dependence, indefensible and immensely deceptive. One cannot possibly understand the Muslim revolution unless one has previously studied and understood Islam, which is that revolution's soul and ethnic ideology.
Many in the West mix up the two terms Muslim and Arab; thus Iran is occasionally described as an "Arab state", and this is of course nonsense. It is by no means necessary to be an Arab in order to be a Muslim. The Islamic nation ("umma"), which has been taking shape ever since the 7th century, is based first and foremost on Arab culture, which is in turn founded on Islam.
The relatively small number of ethnic Arabs who initially took part in disseminating Islam soon became merged with the new local societies. What is today called the "Arab world" was created by Islam and not by any Arab colonialism.
The Arab world comprises those Islamic states in which Arabic is the national language. The other Islamic states, from Turkey to Pakistan, from Iran to Indonesia, have their own languages.
The approximate figure of 200 million Arabs living in the states from Morocco to Iraq form no more than a minority in the Islamic world, which consists of a billion human beings. Arabic is the language of the Koran (prayers are conducted in this language), and this means that for every Muslim it is a holy language. The Koran as holy writ is, unlike the Bible, not translated into other languages. The translations of the Koran which nonetheless exist are regarded not as holy texts, but merely as interpretations.
Every Muslim must read and recite the Koran in Arabic. The Koran is an original text which was written down in the 7th century of the Western calendar and has remained entirely unchanged. Of course, one does not need to know Arabic to be a Muslim. For example, my mother knows no Arabic. She only learned by heart some verses from the Koran, and these are sufficient for her to say her prayers.
Islam and Revolution
To proclaim "Allahu akbar" (God is the greatest) is to relativise all POWER, all POSSESSION and all KNOWLEDGE. Before this cry of belief, we have seen in history the arms of the most insolent armies lowered and blunted.
1. Islam is the fundamental religion since God "has breathed into him of His spirit" (Qur'an,XV:29) - i.e. from the time of Adam until today.
There is no "fundamentalist", "moderate", occidental Islam any more than there is no Black African Islam or Arab Islam or Indian Islam or Indonesian Islam.
There is only one Islam.
This is the one that the Qur'an calls the "The Sunnah of God", the continuation of the prophetic revelations and the last message -- that of Muhammad.
Our first task is to attest our Islamic belief by living it in its universality, and not to defend a particular folklore or any traditions.
2. The Prophet Muhammad has never pretended to create a new religion.
"Say: I am no bringer of a new-fangled doctrine among the Apostles..." (Qur'an,XLVI:9, XLI:43, etc)
He came to remind all people of the primordial Religion:
"So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the faith: (Establish) God's handiwork to the pattern on which He has made mankind - No change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by God; that is the standard Religion; But most among mankind understand not." (Qur'an,XXX,30)
Say ye: "We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: and we bow to God (in Islam)." (Qur'an,II:136, also III:84)
The Prophet Muhammad was sent by God to confirm the previous messages, to purify them from historical alterations to which they were subjected and to complete them.
Our belief will be impoverished if we proclaim our religion as the best simply because we ignore all the others.
Seclusion, self-confinement, pretension and "selfsufficiency" are
at present the major obstacles preventing the enlightenment of Islam
to reach the non- Muslim world.
3. The essential and universal message of Islam is the following:
- The certitude that God is unique
- The Community of Humans
- The Responsibility of Man
God is unique (Tawheed):
"If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides God, there would have been confusion in both" (Qur'an,XXI:22).
- God is the Creator of
everything, and consequently we
cannot suffice by ourselves.
"How many are the creatures that carry not their own sustenance? It is God who feeds (both) them and you..." (Qur'an,XXIX:60)
- From the principle of
Oneness and that of awareness of our "dependence" vis-a vis
God - The Creator -- (secular self-sufficiency contradicts the
reality of Transcendence) arises the third aspect of the belief in
Transcendence: the acknowledgement of absolute values to be held
above the egoistic interests of individuals, groups and
The principle of community is the opposite of individualism which implies that man (as an individual) is the center and measure of everything. In the Islamic perspective of Community, everybody has an awareness of being personally responsible for all others.
Humanity is ONE, because God, its Creator, is ONE. All men have the same origin and are created for the same end.
"It is He who created you from a single person ..." (Qur'an,VII:189, also IV:1 and XXXIX:6)
The Responsibility. Islam is the opposite of fatalism and resignation.
It is the constant appeal for resisting all oppression because it excludes any submission other than to the will of God and holds man responsible for the accomplishment of the divine order on earth.
Everything on earth is subjected to the Law of God;(the word
Muslim means submitting to God) the stone in its fall, the treee in
its growth, the animal in its instincts, all submit to the Law of
"Glorify the name of thy Guardian-Lord most high, Who hath created and further, given order and proportion; Who hath ordained laws and granted guidance." (Qur'an,LXXXVII:1-3)
Man alone has the tremendous privilege of the power of
"We did indeed offer the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof: But man undertook it; He was indeed unjust and foolish." (Qur'an,XXXIII:72)
If one becomes a "Muslim'', i.e. if one unconditionally responds to the call of God by one's supreme sacrifice, then one becomes a Muslim by virtue of a voluntary, free and responsible act.
When God says in the Qur'an:
"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error : whoever rejects evil and believes in God hath grasped the most trustworthy hand hold, that never breaks. And God Heareth and knowth all things.'' (Qur'an,II,256)
it is not only a matter of excluding physical or military or
police compulsion, but any compulsion, even of the self or the
spiritual: the Qur'an underscores:
"Say, `The truth is from your Lord ': let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject (it) ... '' (Qur'an,XVIII,29).
The Qur'an tells us that God has made of man His successor,
"Khalif'', on earth. ( A "Khalif'' is not a subordinate and passive
executive; he is a responsible manager, charged with making
decisions. This function is not confined to some individuals : it is
the mission of every Muslim.
"Then fight in God's cause - Thou art held responsible only for thyself'' (Qur'an,V,84).
"Every soul will be (held) in pledge for its deeds'' (Qur'an,LXXIV,38).
To proclaim "ALLAHU AKBAR'' ( God is the greatest ) is to relativise all POWER, all POSSESSION and all KNOWLEDGE.
Before this cry of belief, we have seen in history the arms of the most insolent armies lowered and blunted.
4. The need for this message has been made more evident by the spiritual failure of the West.
Thousands of men and women in the world, whatever their belief may
be, if loving the future, are becoming aware that the Western
civilisation has declared its bancruptcy, and that if we give in to
its drive, it leads us to a global suicide.
In 1985, 700 billion dollars have been spent on armaments. The great powers have actually stocked the equivalent of more than one million bombs of the Hiroshima type.
That bomb of Hiroshima killed 70,000 persons in one instant.
This means that as of today, it is technically possible to annihilate 70 billion human beings, which is more than 10 times the total human species!
For the first time, since the three million years of human
cavalcade, it has become technically possible to destroy every trace
of life on earth.
This technical possibility is strangely enough called: "progress'' !
Still more strangely it is called: "peace''; this is an "equilibrium of terror" between the "great" powers.
The relations between the North and the South are equally established on a demeaning basis.
The sequences of colonialism and the persistent unequal exchange have lead to the following scandal:
The United States is limiting its wheat production, and the European cold storages cannot accomodate any more the surplus of meat and butter, while in the rest of the world, in 1985, 80 million human beings have died from starvation and malnutrition.
The indebtedness of the so-called "Third World'' is aggravating year after year, and the burden does not stop increasing : the North is becoming more and more rich and the South more and more poor.
The profound cause of this Western policy since what is called the "Renaissance'', i.e. since the simultaneous birth in Europe in the 16th century of capitalism and colonialism, is the abandonment of belief in the absolute values.
Once a community stops recognising absolute values as its guide in action, nothing remains but the confrontations of desires for material growth.
It is the war of all against all, and the West is given over to it. Its real religion is the blind belief in a hidden god: growth, i.e. the desire to produce more and more - at an accelerated speed, anything which is the most profitable of industries. This hidden god is a cruel god: it exacts human sacrifices.
What characterises this false god is that it exalts the sufficiency of man against the Transcendence of God, and individualism as against community.
"Sufficiency'' has been proclaimed since the "Renaissance" in "Faust" by Marlowe: "Man, by means of your powerful brains, become a god, the master and the lord of all elements''.
Individualism, since the so-called Renaissance, is the return to the sophist maxim of ancient Greece: "Man is the center and the measure of everything''.
This failure of civilisation has engendered a culture of despair.
The false prophets of the nil and the absurd, reflecting this chaos as if it were ineluctable and eternal, and instead of trying to overcome it, teach our youth that life has no sense.
If life has no sense, then everything, even crime, becomes permissible and we are dealt with all sorts of savage violence that flares among individuals, groups and nations. "The equilibrium of terror'' becomes the law of these savage relations among men on all levels of social life.
The negation of the sense of life and the existence of absolute values has led to making of science and technique - which are admirable MEANS in the service of man - ENDS in themselves, trying to make us believe that science and technique can solve all our problems, and that problems which do not relate to them, such as love, beauty and the meaning of life, do not exist.
This "religion of means" - forging MEANS into ENDS - i.e. creating false gods: science, technique, nation, money, sexuality and growth, has created a new polytheism and new superstitions, transforming science into scientism, technique into technocracy and politics into Machiavellism.
The fundamental problem is thus to restore to man his proper dimensions: the belief in the Transcendence of God, in human community and the awareness of our personal responsibility.
5. By saying that Islam can bring about the answer to the problems posed by the bankrupcy of the Western hegemony, does not mean:
- That Islam can accomplish everything alone;
- That it has complete ready-made solutions to the problems of
On the contrary, the two endemic principal obstacles against the present time spread of Islamic enlightenment are:
The "sufficiency" and ignorance of others. Early Islam had spread in less than one century from the Indus to the Pyrenees not by means of military conquest, but because it knew how to integrate all other great previous cultures, to draw from them an unprecedented creative synthesis, and because the millions of believers of all religions have identified themselves with it. Today, Islam cannot resume its course unless it is open to all wisdoms and all creeds that it can contain.
The "triumphalism": meaning the mortal pretence of having complete ready-made answers, formulated one thousand years ago by its jurists and their traditions.
Saying that the Qur'an has "omitted nothing'', means that it has given us eternal "guidance'', that it has designated the ultimate and absolute ENDS of our actions. This does not exonerate in the least man's respon- sibility to discover, in each era, the MEANS to realise these ends.
To pretend that the Qur'an comprehends a complete ready-made economic system or political constitution or an encyclopedia, would be demeaningly reducing the eternal message to institutions or to passing theories.
The revealed message does bring infinetely much more : the ends, the eternal immutable orienting principles that guide our inner life and all our activities, public and private, in order to elaborate in every era the answers to the economic, political and cultural problems of our time by means of new insights into these eternal principles.
These principles are simple ones:
- in the economic field: God alone possesses;
- in the political field: God alone commands;
- in the cultural
" ... all that is in heavens and on earth belongs to God ...'' (II,116 also II,284 and III,109 etc.).
Man is God's khalif on earth; he is comissioned to manage this property in the way of God and according to His directives.
This concept is contrary to that of the Roman law which defines
owner- ship as the "right to use and abuse''.
Man, the responsible manager of the property of God, cannot
dispose of it according to his own desires: he cannot destroy it
according to his whims and caprices, he cannot squander it or neglect
it. Without ob- taining its usufruct trough his work, he cannot
"...And there are those who bury gold and silver and spend it not in the way of God : announce unto them a most grievous penalty '' (IX,34).
One of the worst condemnations in the Qur'an is that addressed to
Abu-Lahab and to his wealth:
"Perish the hands of Abu-Lahab! Perish he! Neither his wealth, nor his gains are of any avail to him!'' (Qur'an,CXI,1-2).
All Qur'anic prescriptions, especially Zakat, being a social
transfer of wealth as a religious requirement, and the prohibition if
Riba and un-earned incomes, i.e. the prohibition of all increase of
wealth without work in service of God, - all such prescriptions tend
to prevent the accumulation of wealth in one sector of the society
leaving another in misery.
God, in the Qur'an, radically excludes every social regime in which money establishes a political hierarchy.
God, on the contrary says without equivocation:
"When We decide to destroy a people, We (first) send a definite order to those among them who are given the good things of this life and yet transgress..." (Qur'an,XVII,16).
The Prophet had created at Medina a radically new type of community. It was not founded on blood or race, nor on ownership of land, nor on market relations, nor even on common culture or history; in one word, on nothing that flows from the past or could be an inherited legacy.
It was a community exclusively founded on the belief: the un- conditional response to the call of God of which Abraham had given the eternal example.
Such a community is OPEN TO ALL without consideration of
For example, nothing is contrary to the spirit of this Islamic
"Ummah'' then the Jewish Western idea of "nationalism'', i.e. of a
market protected by the State and justified by the racial, historical
or cultural mythology which tends to make from the "nation'' an end
in itself, and which contradicts the concept of human unity (which
concept is a particular aspect of Tawheed - unity of God - the
corner-stone of all the Islamic vision of the world).
As well, the Qur'anic concept of "Shura'' (consultation) requires
that, in every domain and on all levels, the members of the community
must be consulted in view of participating under the sight of God, in
the elaboration and application of the decisions on which their
destiny depends. This principle excludes at once all despotism of one
man, of one class or of one party, as well as all forms of purely
STATISTICAL, delegated and alienated "democracy".
As for the economy, it is for us to discover the MEANS to attain these ENDS, to apply these immutable principles in the unprecedented historical conditions of our societies, combating the technocratic positivism, the political Machiavellism, the confrontations of archaic and perverse nationalisms, the unequal exchanges, the polarisations of blocs and the equlibrium of terror.
GOD ALONE KNOWS:
We must as well fend against the sterilizing triumphalism and the illusion that we can find in the past - without exerting effort for thinking and research - economic solutions to all our present time problems, or a ready-made political constitution.
Thus, it would be childish to reduce the Qur'an to nothing more than an encyclopedia that saves us the strenuous effort of scientific and technical research which made the Islamic world the center for radiating enlightenment to the world when the University of Cordova flourished.
Consequent upon an immense effort of translation and assimilation of all the great cultures of the past : of Greece and Rome, of Persia and India, and in compliance with the Islamic exhortation to seek knowledge "as far as China'', a genuine synthesis and an Oriental Culture were simultaneously born.
The basic principle is that as long as God alone possesses and God alone commands, God alone knows.
It is that which excludes the pharaonic pretention to usurp all God's powers or the illusion of keeping an absolute perfected knowledge which reaches out for the knowledge of the first causes and the ultimate finalities.
The example of the Islamic University of Cordova in the tenth century constitutes, from this point of view, a model of which it would be commendable to revive the spirit in order to develop, in our time, the sciences in such a manner that they are not harnessed for the destruction of man, but for his growth in the way of God.
From the Muslim University of Cordova, and from the 10th to the 13th centuries, rays of culture in its widest form have flooded three continents:
- In SCIENCE: by creating therein the experimental method for discovering the relations of things among themselves and the sequence of causes.
- In WISDOM: such as the reflection on the meaning of everything in its relation to God in one harmonious world where life has a significance and an objective.
- In BELIEF: such as admitting that science will never reach the first cause, nor can wisdom reach the ultimate finality; belief as awareness of our limits and our postulates, and belief as reason without frontiers.
Such a concept of science and technique would enable us - and it
is that which makes its actuality - to prevent all sciences and
techniques from dragging us towards planetary suicide.