Chapter 13 – The Confusion in Understanding Political Sunni Islam

This is a serialization of the book titled ‘Crisis in Islam’. The full book and its Endnotes may be accessed here.


The problem with most writings on the conflict in the Muslim world today revolves around two facts. Firstly, it is almost impossible to find Muslim writers who have enough objectivity to present faithfully what is happening to enable readers to draw their own conclusions. Secondly, and invariably, the best of the Orientalists lack a true understanding of political Islam. It is not surprising, in view of the above two facts, that people in the world find it difficult to follow and understand what is happening in the Muslim/Arab world today.

I do not intend to take the reader through the development of political Islam as no such matter could be covered in one chapter or even one book. However, I would like to clarify a few matters for the independent minded, to enable them to better understand what is happening.

The use by most writers of the word ‘jihad’ and its other conjugations, is defamation against Islam and Arabic language and plays into the hands of the Salafi terrorists, who try to hijack the beauty of Arabic and the decency from the Qur’an and use it for their evil pursuit.

 

  1. The schism in Islam is not theological. It is political and dates back to the first century AH. The oldest books on the history of Islam starting with Sirat Ibn Hisham (on the Prophet’s life) make this so clear that it needs little elaboration.

 

  1. Islam has not gone through a stage of enlightenment. This meant that no independent analysis of Islamic history has ever been attempted by Muslim scholars who have all been writing from their narrow sectarian points of view.

 

  1. All research centres or academic institutes in the Muslim world have been dominated by dogmatic disciplines adhering to one sect or another; so much so that it took a thousand years and a secular political regime before Shi’a theology was recognized as a sect of Islam and taught at Al-Azhar University in Egypt along with the main four Sunni schools of thought.

 

  1. Today’s Shi’a Islam is politically dominated by Wilāyet Al-Faqih movement (which represents the political stage for the coming of the Mahdi) while Sunni Islam is dominated by the Salafi movement, which aspires to restore the rule of the Islamic Empires.

 

  1. This observation does not result just from the fact that either of the above two political movements necessarily represents the majority of Shi’a or Sunni Muslims respectively. They are powerful and dominant for other reasons than the number of followers.

 

  1. Shi’a Muslims, being a minority, have been alienated in most Muslim countries for centuries excluding Iran of the last few centuries. But even in the latter, they never felt they secured a Shi’a state until the coming of Khomeini and the Wilāyet Al-Faqih, which raised hopes and expectations among Shi’a masses of a new era of the freedom to practice their beliefs. The more the Shi’a outside Iran come under attack, the more they are moved to follow the Wilāyet Al-Faqih. The popularity of Hizbullah in Lebanon following the Israeli aggression is a good proof of this fact.

 

  1. The Salafi movement basically calls for the return to the ‘Golden’ days of the Islamic Empire which has a nostalgic resonance with most Sunni Muslims who deplore the level to which the Muslim states have descended. The Salafi movement, which may not have a single ideology beyond the call to restore the past, is powerful because it is supported by both the Muslim populace and the Governments of the rich GCC.

 

  1. The emergence of non-Salafi Sunni Muslim movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, has failed, being unable to de-establish the supremacy and power of the Salafi. The Muslim Brotherhood today is on the way out as has been demonstrated in Egypt, Syria and Libya.

 

  1. There is a myth about having peaceful or moderate Salafi and violent Salafi. There is no such division. All Salafis believe in their God-given right to impose the Shari’a of the predecessors on the rest of the world. The variations are in the degree of violence only. The ascension and assumption of power by Wahhabism in Arabia in the 19th and 20th centuries was no less bloody and brutal than that of the Islamic State today.

 

  1. The battle of the Salafis is first and foremost against other Muslims whom they accuse of having become apostate. This includes all sects of Islam outside Sunni Islam and some even among the Sunnis.

 

  1. This belief among the Salafis has been what Imperialism latched onto since the end of the 18th century when they set up the modern Salafi movement under the name of Wahhabism in Arabia.

 

  1. There is no real conflict inside the Salafi movement as it is purposely and confusingly made to appear. There is no conflict between Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State as they are all in unison on what to achieve. They may differ on leadership or the pace of action but the ultimate objective is the same.

 

  1. The bogus claim about the threat, which the Islamic State poses to Arabia or the other Gulf states, is so transparent that it baffles the mind that some writers even try to assert it. There is no conflict or difference between IS, Al-Qaeda, An-Nusra or Wahhā They are all a produce of the Sunni Salafi movement; derive their ideology from Ibn Taymiyyah and aspire to achieve one objective. The rules imposed by the Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa are identical to those in Riyadh!

 

  1. None of the Salafi movements has ever declared any of the states in Arabia or the Gulf to be non-Islamic or apostate that needs to be replaced. The differences are easily settled by changing faces, as happened more than once during the last fifty years, when different people from the ruling families of the same despotic regimes assumed power.

 

  1. The use by most writers of the word ‘jihad’ and its other conjugations, is defamation against Islam and Arabic language and plays into the hands of the Salafi terrorists, who try to hijack the beauty of Arabic and the decency from the Qur’an and use it for their evil pursuit. Any decent and objective writer should refrain from using this word and instead call the Salafis by their real name: ‘terrorists’, lest the true ‘jihad’ of the soul depicted in the Qur’an becomes so confusing that the whole of Islam veers towards terrorism as a means of salvation. Objective writing does not mean one should play to the tune of the transgressor.

 

It is within the above indicators that developments in the Arab world should be seen. Those writers who cannot see these facts will only be adding more confusion in people’s minds.

 

After this short view of the crisis of the political project of the Sunni Islamic movements, I must deal with the Shi’a political movements and their roles during the last century and the present in the formulation of the Islamic and Arab political stage.

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