September 09, 2007

Maajid Nawaz's defection

Maajid Nawaz has just left the British wing of Hizb ut Tahrir. Nawaz was an activist for the group- though only 29- he had been elected to the party's leadership committee in the UK and also had been involved in trying to set up Islamic parties in other countries. Nawaz was imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities for 4 years for his activities there in the early 2000s. Whilst he was not a key member of the party, he is obviously one of the more articulate members of the party. His defection comes hot on the heels of the former activist Ed Hussein's book- The Islamist- which came out recently. Nawaz though unlike Hussein has some rather precise theological reasons for leaving the group- theological reasons that deserve analysis because they demonstrate both the content of the core of Hizb ut Tahrir's ideology, which it holds in common with other radical Islamists, and also some of its vulnerabilities.

The party has been around for a long time. It's a party which is professedly peaceful but it shares ideology with some groups who are in favour of violence. Basically the party calls for the establishment of a Caliphate across the Middle East and central Asia, the destruction of the current status quo in the Middle East, the abstention of Muslims from the normal political process in the West and government through an Islamic state. Opposed to democracy and modernity, the group argues that a Muslim must live within a Muslim state- and argues that most of the states in the Middle East are not Muslim. They argue that a Muslim state denies Muslims the right to be Muslim- a right which they believe includes living under a Muslim state. Such a statement is incomplete but it is necessary before we dive into the more theological reasons that Maajid Nawaz has left the group.

Nawaz's departure from the group seems to have been for theological reasons- he has published an essay about his differences from them here, and it promises to be the first in a very interesting series. Essentially Nawaz argues that the central premises of the party's political involvement are dual- firstly that

Party members are obliged to believe that the whole world today is Dār
al-Kufr (contra-Islamic land), synonymous in its literature to Dār
al-harb (land of war)

and secondly that

So these texts indicate that to rule with anything other than the laws
of Allāh is a matter which makes it obligatory upon Muslims to declare
war against the ruler, and it is an evidence which indicates that
implementing Islām is a condition for having Dār al-Islām, otherwise
the ruler must be fought against.

Nawaz's argument mainly concerns first of these two principles. The principle was originally established in the work of Said Qutb. He argued that all the lands of the world are Dar al-Kufr and that consequently any Muslim must go to war with lands governed in such unIslamic ways. Qutb argued this in particular with relevance to Egypt under Nasser- an argument that became even more plausible when Nasser proclaimed the Egyptian, Syrian union from Moscow, the capital of Atheism in Qutb's view. Nawaz though discards this approach.

Nawaz's argument is based on a jurisprudential approach to the problem of defining the Dar al-Kufr. As in most Islamic theology, there are many sources of legitimacy: the word of God, the Quran, the sayings of the prophet, the Hadith, and lastly the work of the classic Islamic Sunni jurists. Nawaz's argument is that the Quran says almost nothing about the dar al-Kufr and the dar al-Islam, neither do the Hadith. His argument is based upon the work of the Islamic jurists. He suggests that given that the Islamic jurists have differing attitudes to what the dar al-Kufr is, it is acceptable for believers to have differing beliefs on that as well. Hence he would argue that such a party which sought through force to rebel or even to overthrow regimes would arrogate to impose an interpretation of the scholarship of the past upon other Muslims. Such a line brings a key accusation against extremists that they arrogate the power to excommunicate- to declare takfir. This has for years been a very controversial opinion in Sunni Islam and as Fred Kagan rightly argues is something that other Muslims routinely accuse the extremists of professing.

Nawaz provides as the basis for his argument a series of citations from the Sunni jurists who seem to have distinct and very different arguments about what constitutes the dar al-Kufr. Lets examine some of them and I rely on Nawaz's own translations here, but his statements have been published on Hizb's website and they haven't been questioned there. Basically his citations come down to arguing for three definitions of a dar al-Islam (the opposite of dar al-Kufr). The first definition is straightforwardly that the dar al-Islam is a land ruled by an Islamic ruler- whether Muslims or non-Muslims live there. If the law imposed is the law of an Islamic state then the land is part of dar al-Islam (though that law Nawaz argues need not be the Shariah, just a law which maintains the 'safety to manifest such rulings'). It is not conditional to Dār al-Islām that Muslims reside there, rather being in the hands of the Imām and his Islām is sufficient. Secondly there is the definition of dar al-Islam which sees it as any land in which Muslims are in a majority and which doesn't share a border with a land within dar al-Kufr. Thirdly some scholars argued that the dar al-Islam is a land in which Muslims can practise their religion- that would make say the United Kingdom part of the dar al-Islam. Nawaz doesn't make any comment on what argument he supports- just suggests that there is enough room for genuine Muslims to have differing opinions upon. He definitely believes that there is such a thing as dar al-Kufr or even dar al-Harb but argues that their location can be a matter of dispute.

If one were to accept Nawaz's argument therefore there is no conclusive argument amongst the Islamic jurists which supports the suggestion from Said Qutb and the party that the lands of the Middle East are places in which a Muslim is enjoined to rebel or to politically agitate against. The point of this argument is that by creating uncertainty about that argument Nawaz effectively closes off Hizb ut-Tahrir's main policy platform. He suggests that it just is not true that to be legitimate- ie part of the dar al-Islam- its necessary for the government of the said country to be governed under Sharia or as part of a Caliphate. Any argument to that end, Nawaz suggests is actually a takfiri argument- it gives to the party, not the prophet or the jurists, the power to declare who is or is not a Muslim, what kind of government is or is not Islamic.

What I hope this episode suggests is the degree to which Hizb and other extremists are vulnerable because of their stance that the governments of the world if they are not a Caliphate or do not legislate Sharia are anti-Islamic is actually something that can be criticised. There are lots of arguments surrounding what is the true Islamic religion. As I've suggested before- those arguments are irrelevant so long as we are analysing Islam as a political or historical reality- and are not interested in the theological substance of the religion- then there is no essential religion to look at. Rather there are differing strategies for playing what is in Wittgensteinian terms a language game about the Quran, Hadith and rulings of the Scholars, what I hope this article suggests is that there are more ways of playing that game than merely the extremist option.

I am no expert in Islamic theology- and that shines through this article- but I do think that this argument between Nawaz and his former colleagues illustrates something else. Its worth us understanding the importance of this idea of the contrast between the dar al-Kufr and dar al-Islam and the way that that contrast works in different versions of Islamic theology, that and the distinction between those who believe in the admissibility of excommunicating other Muslims and those that don't. It is upon those distinctions and this ideological war- in which other factors, economic, social etc are involved- that the future of relations between the Muslim world and the West depends.

Crossposted at Bits of News.


Beaman said...

This is an interesting post especially after reading Ed Hussein's book. Unfortunately it's a problem that's going to remain for a long time but to know there are people like Hussein who can perhaps open young Muslim men's eyes, offers a glimmer of hope.