Islamism is a concept whose meaning has been debated in both public and academic contexts. The term can refer to diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles, or more specifically to movements which call for full implementation of sharia. It is commonly used interchangeably with the terms political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism. In Western media usage the term tends to refer to groups who aim to establish a sharia-based Islamic state, often with implication of violent tactics and human rights violations, and has acquired connotations of political extremism.
- History of the term
- Relation to Islam
- Predecessor movements
- Early history
- Muhammad Iqbal
- Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi
- Muslim Brotherhood
- Sayyid Qutb
- Six Day War 1967
- Islamic Republic of Iran
- Persian Gulf War
- Jihad movements in Egypt
- Hamas in Gaza
- Sudan and Turabi
- Taliban in Afghanistan
- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
- Other countries
- Hizb ut Tahrir
- Post Arab Spring
- Counter response
- Parties and organizations
Different currents of Islamist thought have advocated a "revolutionary" strategy of Islamizing society through exercise of state power or a "reformist" strategy of re-Islamizing society through grass-roots social and political activism. These movements have "arguably altered the Middle East more than any trend since the modern states gained independence", redefining "politics and even borders" according to Robin Wright.
Islamists may emphasize the implementation of Sharia (Islamic law); pan-Islamic political unity, including an Islamic state; or selective removal of non-Muslim, particularly Western military, economic, political, social, or cultural influences in the Muslim world that they believe to be incompatible with Islam.
Graham Fuller has argued for a broader notion of Islamism as a form of identity politics, involving "support for [Muslim] identity, authenticity, broader regionalism, revivalism, [and] revitalization of the community." Some authors hold the term "Islamic activism" to be synonymous and preferable to "Islamism", and Rached Ghannouchi writes that Islamists prefer to use the term "Islamic movement" themselves.
Central and prominent figures of modern Islamism include Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Maududi, and Ruhollah Khomeini. Some Islamist thinkers emphasize peaceful political processes, whereas Sayyid Qutb in particular called for violence, and his followers are generally considered Islamic extremists. However, Qutb, unlike modern extremists, denounced the killing of innocents. Following the Arab Spring, some Islamist currents became heavily involved in democratic politics, while others spawned "the most aggressive and ambitious Islamist militia" to date, ISIS.
For almost a thousand years, from the first Moorish landing in Spain to the second Turkish siege of Vienna, Europe was under constant threat from Islam. In the early centuries it was a double threat — not only of invasion and conquest, but also of conversion and assimilation. All but the easternmost provinces of the Islamic realm had been taken from Christian rulers, and the vast majority of the first Muslims west of Iran and Arabia were converts from Christianity ... Their loss was sorely felt and it heightened the fear that a similar fate was in store for Europe.
are the perpetual teachers; we, the perpetual students. Generation after generation, this asymmetry has generated an inferiority complex, forever exacerbated by the fact that their innovations progress at a faster pace than we can absorb them. ... The best tool to reverse the inferiority complex to a superiority complex ... Islam would give the whole culture a sense of dignity.
Islamism has been defined as:
Islamism takes different forms and spans a wide range of strategies and tactics towards the powers in place -- "destruction, opposition, collaboration, indifference" that have varied as "circumstances have changed" —and thus is not a united movement.
Moderate and reformist Islamists who accept and work within the democratic process include parties like the Tunisian Ennahda Movement. Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan is basically a socio-political and democratic Vanguard party but has also gained political influence through military coup d'états in the past. The Islamist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine participate in the democratic and political process as well as armed attacks. Radical Islamist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and groups such as the Taliban, entirely reject democracy, often declaring as kuffar those Muslims who support it (see takfirism), as well as calling for violent/offensive jihad or urging and conducting attacks on a religious basis.
Another major division within Islamism is between what Graham E. Fuller has described as the fundamentalist "guardians of the tradition" (Salafis, such as those in the Wahhabi movement) and the "vanguard of change and Islamic reform" centered around the Muslim Brotherhood. Olivier Roy argues that "Sunni pan-Islamism underwent a remarkable shift in the second half of the 20th century" when the Muslim Brotherhood movement and its focus on Islamisation of pan-Arabism was eclipsed by the Salafi movement with its emphasis on "sharia rather than the building of Islamic institutions," and rejection of Shia Islam. Following the Arab Spring, Roy has described Islamism as "increasingly interdependent" with democracy in much of the Arab Muslim world, such that "neither can now survive without the other." While Islamist political culture itself may not be democratic, Islamists need democratic elections to maintain their legitimacy. At the same time, their popularity is such that no government can call itself democratic that excludes mainstream Islamist groups.
History of the term
The term, which originally denoted the religion of Islam, first appeared in English as Islamismus in 1696, and as Islamism in 1712. The term appears in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in In Re Ross (1891). By the turn of the twentieth century it had begun to be displaced by the shorter and purely Arabic term "Islam" and by 1938, when Orientalist scholars completed The Encyclopaedia of Islam, seems to have virtually disappeared from English usage.
The term "Islamism" acquired its contemporary connotations in French academia in the late 1970s and early 1980s. From French, it began to migrate to the English language in the mid-1980s, and in recent years has largely displaced the term Islamic fundamentalism in academic circles.
The use of the term Islamism was at first "a marker for scholars more likely to sympathize" with new Islamic movements; however, as the term gained popularity it became more specifically associated with political groups such as the Taliban or the Algerian Armed Islamic Group, as well as with highly publicized acts of violence.
"Islamists" who have spoken out against the use of the term insisting they are merely "Muslims", include Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual mentor of Hizbullah, and Abbassi Madani, leader of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front.
A 2003 article in Middle East Quarterly states:
In summation, the term Islamism enjoyed its first run, lasting from Voltaire to the First World War, as a synonym for Islam. Enlightened scholars and writers generally preferred it to Mohammedanism. Eventually both terms yielded to Islam, the Arabic name of the faith, and a word free of either pejorative or comparative associations. There was no need for any other term, until the rise of an ideological and political interpretation of Islam challenged scholars and commentators to come up with an alternative, to distinguish Islam as modern ideology from Islam as a faith... To all intents and purposes, Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism have become synonyms in contemporary American usage.
The Council on American–Islamic Relations complained in 2013 that the Associated Press's definition of "Islamist"—a "supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam [and] who view the Quran as a political model"—had become a pejorative shorthand for "Muslims we don't like."
The AP Stylebook entry for Islamist now reads as follows:
"An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."
Relation to Islam
The relationship between the notions of Islam and Islamism has been subject to disagreement.
Hayri Abaza argues that the failure to distinguish between Islam and Islamism leads many in the West to support illiberal Islamic regimes, to the detriment of progressive moderates who seek to separate religion from politics. In contrast, Abid Ullah Jan, writes "If Islam is a way of life, how can we say that those who want to live by its principles in legal, social, political, economic, and political spheres of life are not Muslims, but Islamists and believe in Islamism, not [just] Islam." A writer for the International Crisis Group maintains that "the conception of 'political Islam'" is a creation of Americans to explain the Iranian Islamic Revolution and apolitical Islam was a historical fluke of the "short-lived era of the heyday of secular Arab nationalism between 1945 and 1970", and it is quietist/non-political Islam, not Islamism, that requires explanation.
Another source distinguishes Islamist from Islamic "by the fact that the latter refers to a religion and culture in existence over a millennium, whereas the first is a political/religious phenomenon linked to the great events of the 20th century". Islamists have, at least at times, defined themselves as "Islamiyyoun/Islamists" to differentiate themselves from "Muslimun/Muslims".
Daniel Pipes describes Islamism as a modern ideology that owes more to European utopian political ideologies and "isms" than to the traditional Islamic religion.
Few observers contest the influence of Islamism within the Muslim world. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, political movements based on the liberal ideology of free expression and democratic rule have led the opposition in other parts of the world such as Latin America, Eastern Europe and many parts of Asia; however "the simple fact is that political Islam currently reigns as the most powerful ideological force across the Muslim world today".
Even some of those (such as Olivier Roy) who see Islamism as fraught with contradictions believe "the socioeconomic realities that sustained the Islamist wave are still here and are not going to change: poverty, uprootedness, crises in values and identities, the decay of the educational systems, the North-South opposition, and the problem of immigrant integration into the host societies".
The strength of Islamism draws from the strength of religiosity in general in the Muslim world. Compared to Western societies, "[w]hat is striking about the Islamic world is that ... it seems to have been the least penetrated by irreligion".
Where other peoples may look to the physical or social sciences for answers in areas which their ancestors regarded as best left to scripture, in the Muslim world, religion has become more encompassing, not less, as "in the last few decades, it has been the fundamentalists who have increasingly represented the cutting edge" of Muslim culture.
In Egypt and the rest of the Muslim world "the word secular, a label proudly worn 30 years ago, is shunned" and "used to besmirch" political foes. The small secular opposition parties "cannot compare" with Islamists in terms of "doggedness, courage," "risk-taking" or "organizational skills".
In the Middle East and Pakistan, religious discourse dominates societies, the airwaves, and thinking about the world. Radical mosques have proliferated throughout Egypt. Book stores are dominated by works with religious themes ... The demand for sharia, the belief that their governments are unfaithful to Islam and that Islam is the answer to all problems, and the certainty that the West has declared war on Islam; these are the themes that dominate public discussion. Islamists may not control parliaments or government palaces, but they have occupied the popular imagination.
Amitai Etzioni has coined the term "illiberal moderates" to describe the majority of the Islamic world that rejects religious violence, and opposes jihadists, but is also suspicious of secularism and prefers to be governed by Islamic law. Opinion polls in a variety of Islamic countries show that significant majorities want religion to play a greater role in public life, but also oppose groups like Islamic State.
Moderate strains of Islamism have been described as "competing in the democratic public square in places like Turkey, Tunisia, Malaysia and Indonesia. In Morocco, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) supported King Muhammad VI's "Mudawana", a "startlingly progressive family law" which grants women the right to a divorce, raises the minimum age for marriage to 18, and, in the event of separation, stipulates equal distribution of property.
Even before the Arab Spring, Islamists in Egypt and other Muslim countries had been described as "extremely influential. ... They determine how one dresses, what one eats. In these areas, they are incredibly successful. ... Even if the Islamists never come to power, they have transformed their countries." Democratic, peaceful and political Islamists are now dominating the spectrum of Islamist ideology as well as the political system of the Muslim world.
Islamism, or elements of Islamism, have been criticized for: repression of free expression and individual rights, rigidity, hypocrisy, lack of true understanding of Islam, misinterpreting the Quran and Sunnah, antisemitism, and for innovations to Islam (bid‘ah), notwithstanding Islamists' proclaimed opposition to any such innovation.
Some Islamic revivalist movements and leaders pre-dating Islamism include:
The end of the 19th century saw the dismemberment of most of the Muslim Ottoman Empire by non-Muslim European colonial powers. The empire spent massive sums on Western civilian and military technology to try to modernize and compete with the encroaching European powers, and in the process went deep into debt to these powers.
In this context, the publications of Jamal ad-din al-Afghani (1837–97), Muhammad Abduh (1849–1905) and Rashid Rida (1865–1935) preached Islamic alternatives to the political, economic, and cultural decline of the empire. Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida formed the beginning of the Islamist movement, as well as the reformist Islamist movement.
Their ideas included the creation of a truly Islamic society under sharia law, and the rejection of taqlid, the blind imitation of earlier authorities, which they believed deviated from the true messages of Islam. Unlike some later Islamists, Early Salafiyya strongly emphasized the restoration of the Caliphate.
Muhammad Iqbal was a philosopher, poet and politician in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Islamic Nationalism and Pakistan Movement in British India. Iqbal is admired as a prominent classical poet by Pakistani, Iranian, Indian and other international scholars of literature. Though Iqbal is best known as an eminent poet, he is also a highly acclaimed "Islamic philosophical thinker of modern times".
While studying law and philosophy in England and Germany, Iqbal became a member of the London branch of the All India Muslim League. He came back to Lahore in 1908. While dividing his time between law practice and philosophical poetry, Iqbal had remained active in the Muslim League. He did not support Indian involvement in World War I and remained in close touch with Muslim political leaders such as Muhammad Ali Johar and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He was a critic of the mainstream Indian nationalist and secularist Indian National Congress. Iqbal's seven English lectures were published by Oxford University press in 1934 in a book titled The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. These lectures dwell on the role of Islam as a religion as well as a political and legal philosophy in the modern age.
Iqbal expressed fears that not only would secularism and secular nationalism weaken the spiritual foundations of Islam and Muslim society, but that India's Hindu-majority population would crowd out Muslim heritage, culture and political influence. In his travels to Egypt, Afghanistan, Palestine and Syria, he promoted ideas of greater Islamic political co-operation and unity, calling for the shedding of nationalist differences. Sir Muhammad Iqbal was elected president of the Muslim League in 1930 at its session in Allahabad as well as for the session in Lahore in 1932. In his Allahabad Address on 29 December 1930, Iqbal outlined a vision of an independent state for Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern India. This address later inspired the Pakistan movement.
The thoughts and vision of Iqbal later influenced many reformist Islamists, e.g., Muhammad Asad, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi and Ali Shariati.
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi
Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi was an important early twentieth-century figure in the Islamic revival in India, and then after independence from Britain, in Pakistan. Trained as a lawyer he chose the profession of journalism, and wrote about contemporary issues and most importantly about Islam and Islamic law. Maududi founded the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and remained its leader until 1972. However, Maududi had much more impact through his writing than through his political organising. His extremely influential books (translated into many languages) placed Islam in a modern context, and influenced not only conservative ulema but liberal modernizer Islamists such as al-Faruqi, whose "Islamization of Knowledge" carried forward some of Maududi's key principles.
Maududi believed that Islam was all-encompassing: "Everything in the universe is 'Muslim' for it obeys God by submission to His laws... The man who denies God is called Kafir (concealer) because he conceals by his disbelief what is inherent in his nature and embalmed in his own soul."
Maududi also believed that Muslim society could not be Islamic without Sharia, and Islam required the establishment of an Islamic state. This state should be a "theo-democracy," based on the principles of: tawhid (unity of God), risala (prophethood) and khilafa (caliphate). Although Maududi talked about Islamic revolution, by "revolution" he meant not the violence or populist policies of the Iranian Revolution, but the gradual changing the hearts and minds of individuals from the top of society downward through an educational process or da'wah.
Roughly contemporaneous with Maududi was the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Ismailiyah, Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al Banna. His was arguably the first, largest and most influential modern Islamic political/religious organization. Under the motto "the Qur'an is our constitution," it sought Islamic revival through preaching and also by providing basic community services including schools, mosques, and workshops. Like Maududi, Al Banna believed in the necessity of government rule based on Shariah law implemented gradually and by persuasion, and of eliminating all imperialist influence in the Muslim world.
Some elements of the Brotherhood, though perhaps against orders, did engage in violence against the government, and its founder Al-Banna was assassinated in 1949 in retaliation for the assassination of Egypt's premier Mahmud Fami Naqrashi three months earlier. The Brotherhood has suffered periodic repression in Egypt and has been banned several times, in 1948 and several years later following confrontations with Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser, who jailed thousands of members for several years.
Despite periodic repression, the Brotherhood has become one of the most influential movements in the Islamic world, particularly in the Arab world. For many years it was described as "semi-legal" and was the only opposition group in Egypt able to field candidates during elections. In the Egyptian parliamentary election, 2011–2012, the political parties identified as "Islamist" (the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Salafi Al-Nour Party and liberal Islamist Al-Wasat Party) won 75% of the total seats. Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist of Muslim Brotherhood, was the first democratically elected president of Egypt. He was deposed during the 2013 Egyptian coup d'état.
Maududi's political ideas influenced Sayyid Qutb, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and one of the key philosophers of Islamism and highly influential thinkers of Islamic universalism. Qutb believed things had reached such a state that the Muslim community had literally ceased to exist. It "has been extinct for a few centuries," having reverted to Godless ignorance (Jahiliyya).
To eliminate jahiliyya, Qutb argued Sharia, or Islamic law, must be established. Sharia law was not only accessible to humans and essential to the existence of Islam, but also all-encompassing, precluding "evil and corrupt" non-Islamic ideologies like communism, nationalism, or secular democracy.
Qutb preached that Muslims must engage in a two-pronged attack of converting individuals through preaching Islam peacefully and also waging what he called militant jihad so as to forcibly eliminate the "power structures" of Jahiliyya – not only from the Islamic homeland but from the face of the earth.
Qutb was both a member of the brotherhood and enormously influential in the Muslim world at large. Qutb is considered by some (Fawaz A. Gerges) to be "the founding father and leading theoretician" of modern jihadists, such as Osama bin Laden. However, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and in Europe has not embraced his vision of undemocratic Islamic state and armed jihad, something for which they have been denounced by radical Islamists.
Six-Day War (1967)
The quick and decisive defeat of the Arab troops during the Six-Day War by Israeli troops constituted a pivotal event in the Arab Muslim world. The defeat along with economic stagnation in the defeated countries, was blamed on the secular Arab nationalism of the ruling regimes. A steep and steady decline in the popularity and credibility of secular, socialist and nationalist politics ensued. Ba'athism, Arab socialism, and Arab nationalism suffered, and different democratic and anti-democratic Islamist movements inspired by Maududi and Sayyid Qutb gained ground.
Islamic Republic of Iran
The first modern "Islamist state" (with the possible exception of Zia's Pakistan) was established among the Shia of Iran. In a major shock to the rest of the world, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led the Iranian Revolution of 1979 in order to overthrow the oil-rich, well-armed, Westernized and pro-American secular monarchy ruled by Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi.
The views of Ali Shariati, the ideologue of the Iranian Revolution, resembled those of Mohammad Iqbal, the ideological father of the State of Pakistan, but Khomeini's beliefs are perceived to be placed somewhere between the beliefs of Shia Islam and the beliefs of Sunni Islamic thinkers like Mawdudi and Qutb. He believed that complete imitation of the Prophet Mohammad and his successors such as Ali for the restoration of Sharia law was essential to Islam, that many secular, Westernizing Muslims were actually agents of the West and therefore serving Western interests, and that acts such as the "plundering" of Muslim lands was part of a long-term conspiracy against Islam by Western governments.
His views differed from those of Sunni scholars in:
The revolution was influenced by Marxism through Islamist thought and also by writings that sought either to counter Marxism (Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr's work) or to integrate socialism and Islamism (Ali Shariati's work). A strong wing of the revolutionary leadership was made up of leftists or "radical populists", such as Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pur.
While initial enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution in the Muslim world was intense, it has waned as critics hold and campaign that "purges, executions, and atrocities tarnished its image".
The Islamic Republic has also maintained its hold on power in Iran in spite of US economic sanctions, and has created or assisted like-minded Shia terrorist groups in Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan (SCIRI) and Lebanon (Hezbollah) (two Muslim countries that also have large Shiite populations). During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, the Iranian government enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity amongst the predominantly Sunni "Arab street," due to its support for Hezbollah and to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vehement opposition to the United States and his call that Israel shall vanish.
In 1979, the Soviet Union deployed its 40th Army into Afghanistan, attempting to suppress an Islamic rebellion against an allied Marxist regime in the Afghan Civil War. The conflict, pitting indigenous impoverished Muslims (mujahideen) against an anti-religious superpower, galvanized thousands of Muslims around the world to send aid and sometimes to go themselves to fight for their faith. Leading this pan-Islamic effort was Palestinian sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. While the military effectiveness of these "Afghan Arabs" was marginal, an estimated 16,000 to 35,000 Muslim volunteers came from around the world came to fight in Afghanistan.
When the Soviet Union abandoned the Marxist Najibullah regime and withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 (the regime finally fell in 1992), the victory was seen by many Muslims as the triumph of Islamic faith over superior military power and technology that could be duplicated elsewhere.
The jihadists gained legitimacy and prestige from their triumph both within the militant community and among ordinary Muslims, as well as the confidence to carry their jihad to other countries where they believed Muslims required assistance.|
The "veterans of the guerrilla campaign" returning home to Algeria, Egypt, and other countries "with their experience, ideology, and weapons," were often eager to continue armed jihad.
The collapse of the Soviet Union itself, in 1991, was seen by many Islamists, including Bin Laden, as the defeat of a superpower at the hands of Islam. Concerning the $6 billion in aid given by the US and Pakistan's military training and intelligence support to the mujahideen, bin Laden wrote: "[T]he US has no mentionable role" in "the collapse of the Soviet Union ... rather the credit goes to God and the mujahidin" of Afghanistan.
Persian Gulf War
Another factor in the early 1990s that worked to radicalize the Islamist movement was the Gulf War, which brought several hundred thousand US and allied non-Muslim military personnel to Saudi Arabian soil to put an end to Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. Prior to 1990 Saudi Arabia played an important role in restraining the many Islamist groups that received its aid. But when Saddam, secularist and Ba'athist dictator of neighboring Iraq, attacked Saudi Arabia (his enemy in the war), western troops came to protect the Saudi monarchy. Islamists accused the Saudi regime of being a puppet of the west.
These attacks resonated with conservative Muslims and the problem did not go away with Saddam's defeat either, since American troops remained stationed in the kingdom, and a de facto cooperation with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process developed. Saudi Arabia attempted to compensate for its loss of prestige among these groups by repressing those domestic Islamists who attacked it (bin Laden being a prime example), and increasing aid to Islamic groups (Islamist madrassas around the world and even aiding some violent Islamist groups) that did not, but its pre-war influence on behalf of moderation was greatly reduced. One result of this was a campaign of attacks on government officials and tourists in Egypt, a bloody civil war in Algeria and Osama bin Laden's terror attacks climaxing in the 9/11 attack.
Jihad movements in Egypt
While Qutb's ideas became increasingly radical during his imprisonment prior to his execution in 1966, the leadership of the Brotherhood, led by Hasan al-Hudaybi, remained moderate and interested in political negotiation and activism. Fringe or splinter movements inspired by the final writings of Qutb in the mid-1960s (particularly the manifesto Milestones, a.k.a. Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq) did, however, develop and they pursued a more radical direction. By the 1970s, the Brotherhood had renounced violence as a means of achieving its goals.
The path of violence and military struggle was then taken up by the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Unlike earlier anti-colonial movements the extremist group directed its attacks against what it believed were "apostate" leaders of Muslim states, leaders who held secular leanings or who had introduced or promoted Western/foreign ideas and practices into Islamic societies. Its views were outlined in a pamphlet written by Muhammad Abd al-Salaam Farag, in which he states:
...there is no doubt that the first battlefield for jihad is the extermination of these infidel leaders and to replace them by a complete Islamic Order...
Another of the Egyptian groups which employed violence in their struggle for Islamic order was al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group). Victims of their campaign against the Egyptian state in the 1990s included the head of the counter-terrorism police (Major General Raouf Khayrat), a parliamentary speaker (Rifaat al-Mahgoub), dozens of European tourists and Egyptian bystanders, and over 100 Egyptian police. Ultimately the campaign to overthrow the government was unsuccessful, and the major jihadi group, Jamaa Islamiya (or al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya), renounced violence in 2003. Other lesser known groups include the Islamic Liberation Party, Salvation from Hell and Takfir wal-Hijra, and these groups have variously been involved in activities such as attempted assassinations of political figures, arson of video shops and attempted takeovers of government buildings.
Hamas in Gaza
Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist organization that governs the Gaza Strip where it has moved to establish sharia law in matters such as separation of the genders, using the lash for punishment, and Islamic dress code. Hamas also has a military resistance wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
For some decades prior to the First Palestine Intifada in 1987, the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine took a "quiescent" stance towards Israel, focusing on preaching, education and social services, and benefiting from Israel's "indulgence" to build up a network of mosques and charitable organizations. As the First Intifada gathered momentum and Palestinian shopkeepers closed their shops in support of the uprising, the Brotherhood announced the formation of HAMAS ("zeal"), devoted to Jihad against Israel. Rather than being more moderate than the PLO, the 1988 Hamas charter took a more uncompromising stand, calling for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state in Palestine. It was soon competing with and then overtaking the PLO for control of the intifada. The Brotherhood's base of devout middle class found common cause with the impoverished youth of the intifada in their cultural conservatism and antipathy for activities of the secular middle class such as drinking alcohol and going about without hijab.
Hamas has continued to be a major player in Palestine. From 2000 to 2007 it killed 542 people in 140 suicide bombing or "martyrdom operations". In the January 2006 legislative election—its first foray into the political process—it won the majority of the seats, and in 2007 it drove the PLO out of Gaza. Hamas has been praised by Muslims for driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip, but criticized for failure to achieve its demands in the 2008-9 and 2014 Gaza Wars despite heavy destruction and significant loss of life.
Sudan and Turabi
For many years, Sudan had an Islamist regime under the leadership of Hassan al-Turabi. His National Islamic Front first gained influence when strongman General Gaafar al-Nimeiry invited members to serve in his government in 1979. Turabi built a powerful economic base with money from foreign Islamist banking systems, especially those linked with Saudi Arabia. He also recruited and built a cadre of influential loyalists by placing sympathetic students in the university and military academy while serving as minister of education.
After al-Nimeiry was overthrown in 1985 the party did poorly in national elections, but in 1989 it was able to overthrow the elected post-al-Nimeiry government with the help of the military. Turabi was noted for proclaiming his support for the democratic process and a liberal government before coming to power, but strict application of sharia law, torture and mass imprisonment of the opposition, and an intensification of the long-running war in southern Sudan, once in power. The NIF regime also harbored Osama bin Laden for a time (before 9/11), and worked to unify Islamist opposition to the American attack on Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War.
After Sudanese intelligence services were implicated in an assassination attempt on the President of Egypt, UN economic sanctions were imposed on Sudan, a poor country, and Turabi fell from favor. He was imprisoned for a time in 2004-5. Some of the NIF policies, such as the war with the non-Muslim south, have been reversed, though the National Islamic Front still holds considerable power in the government of Omar al-Bashir and National Congress Party, another Islamist party in country.
An Islamist movement influenced by Salafism and the jihad in Afghanistan, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, was the FIS or Front Islamique de Salut (the Islamic Salvation Front) in Algeria. Founded as a broad Islamist coalition in 1989 it was led by Abbassi Madani, and a charismatic Islamist young preacher, Ali Belhadj. Taking advantage of economic failure and unpopular social liberalization and secularization by the ruling leftist-nationalist FLN government, it used its preaching to advocate the establishment of a legal system following Sharia law, economic liberalization and development program, education in Arabic rather than French, and gender segregation, with women staying home to alleviate the high rate of unemployment among young Algerian men. The FIS won sweeping victories in local elections and it was going to win national elections in 1991 when voting was canceled by a military coup d'état.
As Islamists took up arms to overthrow the government, the FIS's leaders were arrested and it became overshadowed by Islamist guerrilla groups, particularly the Islamic Salvation Army, MIA and Armed Islamic Group (or GIA). A bloody and devastating civil war ensued in which between 150,000 and 200,000 people were killed over the next decade.
The civil war was not a victory for Islamists. By 2002 the main guerrilla groups had either been destroyed or had surrendered. The popularity of Islamist parties has declined to the point that "the Islamist candidate, Abdallah Jaballah, came a distant third with 5% of the vote" in the 2004 presidential election.
Taliban in Afghanistan
In Afghanistan, the mujahideen's victory against the Soviet Union in the 1980s did not lead to justice and prosperity, due to a vicious and destructive civil war between political and tribal warlords, making Afghanistan one of the poorest countries on earth. In 1992, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan ruled by communist forces collapsed, and democratic Islamist elements of mujahdeen founded the Islamic State of Afghanistan. In 1996, a more conservative and anti-democratic Islamist movement known as the Taliban rose to power, defeated most of the warlords and took over roughly 80% of Afghanistan.
The Taliban were spawned by the thousands of madrasahs the Deobandi movement established for impoverished Afghan refugees and supported by governmental and religious groups in neighboring Pakistan. The Taliban differed from other Islamist movements to the point where they might be more properly described as Islamic fundamentalist or neofundamentalist, interested in spreading "an idealized and systematized version of conservative tribal village customs" under the label of Sharia to an entire country. Their ideology was also described as being influenced by Wahhabism, and the extremist jihadism of their guest Osama bin Laden.
The Taliban considered "politics" to be against Sharia and thus did not hold elections. They were led by Mullah Mohammed Omar who was given the title "Amir al-Mu'minin" or Commander of the Faithful, and a pledge of loyalty by several hundred Taliban-selected Pashtun clergy in April 1996. Taliban were overwhelmingly Pashtun and were accused of not sharing power with the approximately 60% of Afghans who belonged to other ethnic groups. (see: Taliban#Ideology)
The Taliban's hosting of Osama bin Laden led to an American-organized attack which drove them from power following the 9/11 attacks. Taliban are still very much alive and fighting a vigorous insurgency with suicide bombings and armed attacks being launched against NATO and Afghan government targets.
Currently, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is the second largest party in the Parliament of Bangladesh and the main opposition party, followed by Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. The BNP promotes a center-right policy combining elements of conservatism, Islamism, nationalism and anti-communism. Since 2000, it has been allied with the Islamic parties Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, and, Islami Oikya Jote.
Early in the history of the state of Pakistan (12 March 1949), a parliamentary resolution (the Objectives Resolution) was adopted in accordance with the vision of founding fathers of Pakistan (Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan). proclaiming:
Sovereignty belongs to Allah alone but He has delegated it to the State of Pakistan through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him as a sacred trust.
This resolution later became a key source of inspiration for writers of the Constitution of Pakistan, and is included in the constitution as preamble.
In July 1977, General Zia-ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's regime in Pakistan. Ali Bhutto, a leftist in democratic competition with Islamists, had announced banning alcohol and nightclubs within six months, shortly before he was overthrown. Zia-ul-Haq was much more committed to Islamism, and "Islamization" or implementation of Islamic law, became a cornerstone of his eleven-year military dictatorship and Islamism became his "official state ideology". Zia ul Haq was an admirer of Mawdudi and Mawdudi's party Jamaat-e-Islami became the "regime's ideological and political arm". In Pakistan this Islamization from above was "probably" more complete "than under any other regime except those in Iran and Sudan," but Zia-ul-Haq was also criticized by many Islamists for imposing "symbols" rather than substance, and using Islamization to legitimize his means of seizing power. Unlike neighboring Iran, Zia-ul-Haq's policies were intended to "avoid revolutionary excess", and not to strain relations with his American and Persian Gulf state allies. Zia-ul-Haq was killed in 1988 but Islamization remains an important element in Pakistani society.
Turkey had a number of Islamist parties, often changing names as they were banned by the constitutional court for anti-secular activities. Necmettin Erbakan (1926-2011) was the leader of several of the parties, the National Order Party (Milli Nizam Partisi, 1970-1971), the National Salvation Party (Milli Selamet Partisi, 1972-1981), and the Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, 1983-1998); he also became a member of the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi, 2003-2011).
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has dominated Turkish politics from 2002 to 2015, is sometimes described as Islamist, but rejects such labelling.
Ismet Özel, a prominent Islamist intellectual, argued that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's secular authoritarian policy, ironically, Islamicized the Turkish nation by forcing people to internalize and value their religious identity and not simply to take it for granted as in the past.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
"The Islamic State", formerly known as the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" and before that as the "Islamic State of Iraq", (and called the acronym Daesh by its many detractors), is a Wahhabi/Salafi jihadist extremist militant group which is led by and mainly composed of Sunni Arabs from Syria and Iraq. In 2014, the group proclaimed itself a caliphate, with religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide. As of March 2015, it had control over territory occupied by ten million people in Syria and Iraq, and has nominal control over small areas of Libya, Nigeria, and Afghanistan. (While a self-described state, it lacks international recognition.) ISIL also operates or has affiliates in other parts of the world, including North Africa and South Asia
Originating as the Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, ISIL pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, participated in the Iraqi insurgency that followed the invasion of Iraq by Western coalition forces in 2003, joined the fight in the Syrian Civil War beginning in 2011, and was expelled from al-Qaeda in early 2014, (which complained of its failure to consult and "notorious intransigence"). ISIL gained prominence after it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in western Iraq in a offensive in June that same year. The group is adept at social media, posting Internet videos of beheadings of soldiers, civilians, journalists and aid workers, and is known for its destruction of cultural heritage sites. The United Nations (UN) has held ISIL responsible for human rights abuses and war crimes, and Amnesty International has reported ethnic cleansing by the group on a "historic scale". The group has been designated a terrorist organisation by the UN, the European Union (EU) and member states, the United States, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other countries.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is an influential international Islamist movement, founded in 1953 by an Islamic Qadi (judge) Taqiuddin al-Nabhani. HT is unique from most other Islamist movements in that the party focuses not on implementation of Sharia on local level or on providing social services, but on unifying the Muslim world under its vision of a new Islamic caliphate spanning from North Africa and the Middle East to much of central and South Asia.
To this end it has drawn up and published a 187-article constitution for its proposed caliphate state specifying specific policies such as sharia law, a "unitary ruling system" headed by a caliph elected by Muslims, an economy based on the gold standard, public ownership of utilities, public transport, and energy resources, and Arabic as the "sole language of the State."
In its focus on the Caliphate, the party takes a different view of Muslim history than some other Islamists such as Muhammad Qutb. HT sees Islam's pivotal turning point as occurring not with the death of Ali, or one of the other four rightly guided Caliphs in the 7th century, but with the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. This is believed to have ended the true Islamic system, something for which it blames "the disbelieving (Kafir) colonial powers" working through Turkish modernist Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
HT does not engage in armed jihad or work for a democratic system, but works to take power through "ideological struggle" to change Muslim public opinion, and in particular through elites who will "facilitate" a "change of the government," i.e., launch a "bloodless" coup. It allegedly attempted and failed such coups in 1968 and 1969 in Jordan, and in 1974 in Egypt, and is now banned in both countries.
The party is sometimes described as "Leninist" and "rigidly controlled by its central leadership," with its estimated one million members required to spend "at least two years studying party literature under the guidance of mentors (Murshid)" before taking "the party oath." HT is particularly active in the ex-soviet republics of Central Asia and in Europe.
In the UK its rallies have drawn thousands of Muslims, and the party has been described by two observers (Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke) to have outpaced the Muslim Brotherhood in both membership and radicalism.
Greater London has over 900,000 Muslims, (mostly of South Asian origin and they are concentrated in the East London boroughs of Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest), and among them are some with a strong Islamist outlook. Their presence, combined with a perceived British policy of allowing them free rein, heightened by exposés such as the 2007 Channel 4 documentary programme Undercover Mosque, has given rise to the term Londonistan. Following the 9/11 attacks, however, Abu Hamza al-Masri, the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque, was arrested and charged with incitement to terrorism which has caused many Islamists to leave the UK to avoid internment.
One observer (Quinn Mecham) notes four trends in Islamism rising from the Arab Spring of 2010-11:
Another observer (Tarek Osman) notes with concern that
The U.S. government has engaged in efforts to counter Islamism, or violent Islamism, since 2001. These efforts were centred in the U.S. around public diplomacy programmes conducted by the State Department. There have been calls to create an independent agency in the U.S. with a specific mission of undermining Islamism and jihadism. Christian Whiton, an official in the George W. Bush administration, called for a new agency focused on the nonviolent practice of "political warfare" aimed at undermining the ideology. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called for establishing something similar to the defunct U.S. Information Agency, which was charged with undermining the communist ideology during the Cold War.
Parties and organizations
Listed below are parties and organizations which