Current Affairs Forum Seminar on “Understanding contemporary Islamic Movements”

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A seminar entitled “Understanding Contemporary Islamic Movements” was organized under the aegis of Current Affairs Forum on Thursday, August 25, 2016 at Al-Tabari Conference Room in International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). The speaker was Dr. Malik Badri, renowned academic and holder of the Ibn Khaldun Chair, IIUM. The seminar was moderated by Dr. Elmira Akhmetova on behalf of the forum. It was attended by faculty, staff and students of the university. Distinguished guests among the attendees included Dr. Rahmah Ahmad Hj. Osman, Dean of KIRKHS, Dr. Kamal Hassan and Dr. Abdullah al-Ahsan among others.

The moderator, after a brief introduction for the benefit of the audience, invited the speaker to share his thoughts and ideas on the subject matter. Dr. Badri, after thanking the moderator, began in earnest through identifying a common trait of importance in all movements, that of the quality of charismatic leadership. The quality of charismatic leadership is of importance in all types of movements within Islam as well, whether they are good or bad. To give examples of bad movements within the context of the Islamic tradition, he brought forth examples of the munafiqeen (the fathers of bad Islamic movements), Abdullah bin Khuwaisera (father of the khawarij), Nafi’ Bin Azraq (another charismatic khariji leader of the deviant sect called Azariqa) and Omar ibn Tofail (a challenger to Prophethood during the lifetime of Prophet Mohammad (SAW); miraculously killed by lightning strike) among others. Dr. Badri observed that this charismatic quality was an essential trait in the characters of the prophets as well.

Over the course of the next section of his speech, Dr. Badri went on to share his observations and memories of some of the figures of the Islamic movements whom he had met at various points in his life. Both Sennousi and the Mahdi of Sudan were highly charismatic figures who were able to successfully lead the Islamic movements within their countries. This was also true for the character of Hasanul Banna, the charismatic founder and prominent leader of the Brotherhood in the Arab world, and Maulana Abul ‘Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the Indian subcontinent. The early assassination of Hasanul Banna left a crisis of leadership within the Muslim Brotherhood due to a lack of charismatic leadership which could replace his role. On the other hand, the selfless contribution of Maududi, including his simple life, prolific writing and untiring leadership made Jamaat into a strong movement in the subcontinent. However, Dr. Badri feels that the Jamaat, due to its stance against Sufism, fell back on the issue of spirituality, a move that alienated scholars such as Abul Hasan Al-Nadwi, who disagreed with Maududi on various aspects of the movement and eventually disassociated himself from it.

Speaking on his personal experiences, Dr. Badri expounded on his own participation within the Islamic movement, namely as a central figure in the Islamic movement in Sudan, until the coup d’état in 1969 by Numeiri. His differences with the viewpoints of Hasan Turabi and an accumulation of observations over time eventually led to his withdrawal from Islamist politics and more into academia. Finally, he spoke of his personal experiences with Malcolm X, a deeply charismatic black US Muslim preacher who eventually came to accept true Islam due to his connections with scholarly individuals and personal study on Islam. In this regard, Dr. Badri reminisced about a deeply moving speech given by Malcolm X at the Sudan Cultural Attaché premises at Beirut after the latter’s embrace of true Islamic faith in place of the deviant beliefs of Elijah Mohamed’s Nation of Islam.

Lastly, he spoke of the negative implications of Islamic movements in the context of present Muslim societies, through which he also outlined the reasons behind his eventual abandonment of Islamic movements. The very concept of the Islamic movement, according to Dr. Badri, is a bid’ah or an innovation within Islamic tradition. Within the context of present Islamic societies, apart from being a force for seeking a public role for Islam in the affairs of the society, the Islamic movements had several negative impacts. Firstly, in terms the moral impact on the society, such movements tend to identify and react to modern societal ills in a manner that forces them to veneer to the other end of the spectrum through strict moral policing and conditioning, instead of adopting a balanced approach. Secondly, the very nature of a grouping based on the concept of a common brotherhood brings about the in-group and out-group mentality within members of such a movement. According to Dr. Badri, this mentality, although absent or minimal at the beginning, gradually solidifies over time and even leads to a takfiri attitude, whereby others are seen as lesser beings. Moreover, he felt that Islamists were rather prone to violence, despite propagating a peaceful approach, due to the fact that their literature tends to condone fiery spirit and illiberal views of others, which he felt was very much prevalent in the writings of Maududi. Dr. Badri further iterated that the model upon which the Islamic movements operated, the unit or usra, was a concept adapted from the Communists or Marxists. He finally wrapped up his discussion with the conclusion that there was a need to understand that leadership within Islamic movements had its strengths and also its weaknesses, and thus evaluate them accordingly, citing examples such as Hassan Turabi of Sudan in this regard.

The moderator, after thanking Dr. Badri for sharing his experiences on understanding Islamic contemporary movements, opened the floor for the Q&A session. In the session that followed, a lively discussion ensued as Dr. Kamal Hassan shared his views on whether there was a need to redefine the very concept of the ‘political party’, which he believed was a Western construct which brought with it the assorted ills associated with such a concept, such as the view that the party was a sacred animal for which all members were ultimately expected to sacrifice alternate thinking or differences in opinion at any cost. There were also comments from Dr. Abdullah al-Ahsan and questions from the audience regarding the nature of contemporary Islamic movements and alternate solutions to their drawbacks. The session was concluded by the respected moderator, who thanked all participants for their engagement and time to make the discussion lively and fruitful.

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