Omar Hijazi argues that the often sectarianized lens of the Muslim blogosphere is finding its authors and activists in strange harmony with the discourse of the Islamophobic West.
In September 2022, popular Muslim website called the Muslim Skeptic published a long rant camouflaged as analysis titled The Inevitable Failure of Political Shi’ism: The Secularization of Iran.
After an extensive evaluation of data which the rant itself questions as quite dubious, it reaches a very non-Quranic and illogical conclusion, that being that Shi’ism can’t be political because it was never destined to rule or become a majority, which in effect is another way of determining that it is not the truth.
Thus, let’s address its most illogical conclusion cited above right at the start. Allah the High has never considered majority as a standard of truth as the Quran clearly states:
“A Book of which the verses are made plain, an Arabic Quran for a people who know. A herald of good news and a warner, but most of them turn aside so they hear not.”
Surah Fusselat (41): Verses 3-4. There are numerous other examples in the Quran and in life where Allah (SWT) states that majority is often on a mistaken path. The entertaining aspect about the conclusion of the rant is that the website and people associated with the website which published the above piece, often push the narrative that they are one of the few true voices of Muslims in the West, in comparison to compassionate imams they spend their time bashing. If truth is in numbers, the compassionate imams are on the right path and the group running the Muslim Skeptic are not.
Delving further into the rant’s conclusions, the main narrative it is trying to peddle is that Islamic Iran offers no solution or a concrete program for Muslims: it’s a failure. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that this slogan is correct, well, what solution has the opposing Islamic narrative offered to Muslims? By opposing we mean any forces which oppose, belittle or confront the achievements of the Islamic revolution in Iran. From Erdoğan fan boys to Ikhwan, Saudis or Salafis?
Since the cited rant included a reference to one of the Islamic movement’s most astute analysts and journalists, namely Zafar Bangash, let’s for a second refer to Mr.Bangash’s very important article where he analyzes as why in Egypt the Ikhwan failed within one year, while in Iran, the Islamic movement has established a government that is still in place after 43 years. To respond to this legitimate and logical question one would need to take off one’s sectarian blinkers. Let’s also remind ourselves that the past 43 years have not been a smooth ride at all for Iran – they have been 43 years of constant external attempts of destabilization.
Not learning from Egypt
Bangash argues that the inevitability of the Ikhwan’s fall came from their failure to bring any change to the institutional infrastructure of the pre-existing Egyptian state. In this they departed from the track taken by Islamic Iran in the days, weeks and years after the revolution. The military and top elites were purged and restructured and those responsible for the corruption and injustices that preceded the revolution (who didn’t flee), were tried. The Mursi government however sought to keep the institutions intact. Indeed it is reported that Mursi favoured Sisi with the command of Egypt’s military because he was thought to be a pious Muslim whose wife wore the hijab.
As Bangash exactly pinpoints:
“In Egypt on the other hand, the Ikhwan and Mursi assumed that if they played within the existing system and surrendered to US-Zionist interests, they would be allowed to complete their term in office. The haste with which the military overthrew Mursi surprised even seasoned observers. It was assumed that the military would allow sufficient time for Mursi to fail — he was set up to fail by the entrenched old guard — and people would automatically turn against him. This would have happened had he been given enough time but it seems Egypt’s imperialist and Zionist masters got impatient and decided to strike.
“This brings us to the question of clarity of thought in the Islamic movement. Most leaders of Islamic movements fail to analyze the socio-economic and political order in society properly. They assume that there is nothing wrong with the prevailing system; and all that is needed is for good, honest men to run it more efficiently. Events in Egypt have once again exposed the fallacy of such thinking and the price the Ikhwan have had to pay. This scenario will no doubt repeat itself in every Muslim society where such faulty thinking prevails. True leadership sets a directional course, and inspires and guides people toward achieving it. When the collective energies of even a small number of ordinary people are harnessed for the achievement of a pre-set goal, the results are often spectacular. This is what the Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh) teaches us.”
The Muslim Skeptic & Co, reading this piece might sloganeer how the Egyptian Ikhwan were not on the right Aqeeda, etc. Fine, lets assume this is true, what about the so called “Islamic revolutionaries” running Idlib today? What have they achieved? With immense NATO backing on financial and political levels, they are doing nothing but fighting each other. What socio-economic program have they managed to create for their own constituency? Those so called Ahlul-Salaf cannot even get along with their own supporters let alone manage running a functional state.
Whilst Islamic Iran’s institution building is not without criticism, its attempts to create Islamic institutions afresh reflects Islamic political thinking that structures are not neutral, they must be built with the thought and meaning that Islamic values and ethics bring.
Again, for argument’s sake, let’s adopt the rant’s sectarian narrative and label Islamic Iran a failure. It’s a “failure” which under 43 years of severe sanctions, produced a scientific output increase of 18-fold between 1996 and 2008. It’s a state system which while all other so called Sunni Muslims states sold out the Palestinians, unapologetically provides the means of self-defence to Palestinians. It’s the only Muslim state which retaliated against US military bases in the region when its General, Qassem Soleimani was killed. At the height of the Cold War, not even the USSR dared to directly target US military bases.
The Divide and Rule of US Foreign Policy Skeptic
The type of “analysis” published against Islamic Iran by the Muslim Skeptic is a type of narrative which is aimed at directing the energy of Islamic socio-political movements and masses away from neo-colonialism and towards the divide and rule project. It’s an ignorant narrative with devastating effects for the Muslim world. It echoes the policy papers of so many US think tanks: take down Iran, pit Muslims against each other and socially engineer a European and American Islam.
Indeed with the current attempts to destabilise Iran and foment regime change through the infiltration of the protests after the death of Mahsa Amini, this type of acerbic reaction to the project of the Islamic Revolution, makes the authors strange bedfellows with the most anti-Islamic and racist groups and movements.
Whether this is the NATO cheerleader Masih Alinejad, the terrorist cult MeK, the Israeli regime and various Zionist factions masquerading as the champions of women’s rights or those who thrive on Islamophobia, Islamic Iran is in their crosshairs. The Muslim Skeptic’s ire rather than engagement with the only successful example of Islamic revival and political mobilisation in recent times, simply makes them another voice aligned with the neo-colonial order against all forms of Islamic organisation.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, that everything said in the rant published by the Muslim Skeptic is correct and the “Aqeeda” of the Muslim Skeptic types is correct; what working strategic project has it produced for Muslims in the past 20 to 30 years? Al Qaeda? Taliban? Secular AKP? Saudi monarchy? They don’t have that many options to pick from and the options they do have are outright embarrassing given their claim that:
“Shi’ism was thus secularized from within by the Khomeinist revolution, but it was due to the “inadequate” nature of Shi’ism itself. Like Christianity, it was flawed from the onset and is thus unable to impact society on a larger scale. And when pushed to do so, it was destined to submit itself to the secular world.”
The Muslim Skeptic’s abundant critiques of Saudi Arabia on its pages and its mania for Westernisation is a more apt target for criticism, should the Muslim Skeptic wish to critique inevitable failures of Muslim projects. The Saudi ‘liberalisation plan has simply brought to the light lifestyles of its elites now to be rolled out as part of the culture of the country ruled by the ‘guardians of the two holy places’. The building of The Line, argued by critics to be an MBS plan for a party city to rival Dubai (and Jeddah and Riyadh as it happens), the normalisation of unveiling, the open recognition of queer personalities and culture is just the public face of the private Saudi shame that has characterised that country’s elites since its inception. If we take the Muslim Skeptic’s own rather basic arguments to their conclusion, then the type of policies shown in the WION video (‘Gravitas: Saudi Arabia does the unthinkable, throws a ‘rave party’ in Riyadh’) on YouTube about the four-Day rave in Riyadh at the end of 2021 shows the logical conclusion of Al-Salaf’s flawed Aqeeda.
It is exactly this inability to engage with other Muslims, and to critique but engage with the differences between us that perpetuates the oppression of the ummah and indeed the majority of the people of the world, denied knowledge or the ability to know Islam in any form except the caricatures created by aggressive regimes like the US and Israel, and perpetuated by the ‘Muslim Skeptic’ type narratives that do nothing except divide Muslims on behalf of those who would rule.
Indeed, they fall into the well worn trap of those who would socially engineer Islam and Muslims into subservient states of the West. In these narratives Islam and Muslims have no history, culture or ethics outside of these narratives. A century ago Muslim women were seductresses and overly sexualised, now they are described as sexually repressed and in need of saving. Both these narratives are evidence, as even the clumsiest of feminists (in a lucid anti-racist moment) would concede as evidence of racist misogyny. Yet, in ‘critiquing’ Yasmin Mogahed’s comments about the Taliban, the site just reinforces the stereotypes of Islam that have been perpetuated by those claiming Islam hates women: Yes, Islam is more ‘misogynistic’. Time for Muslims to fully embrace this. Why deny it? What the West considers ‘misogyny’ is really just wisdom and sheer brilliance, so Muslims can stop apologizing for it. The same piece rages against work on female hadith scholars as somehow pandering to ‘feminism’, undermines the nobility and of the female Sahaba who fought in the early battles of Islam with a list of exceptions as to their unexceptionally.
This was a missed opportunity to highlight how Muslim civil society in the US has been instrumentalized in the ‘forever wars’ by becoming the highest proponent of the narratives that are part of that instrumentalization.
While the editorial board and those pushing the narrative published in the Muslim Skeptic against Islamic Iran are busying themselves with being keyboard warriors, Islamic Iran is battling to overcome real hardships and the West-centric global order in the region. Thus, to those ranting against Islamic Iran under a so-called Islamic veneer, go produce a functional state system run by your own Ulema which does not bend to imperialism and Zionism. Only then can their rants be considered to be analysis. Until then, they are just rants, nothing more.
Omar Hijaz is a descendant of migrants from Hijaz, an educator, translator, writer and traveller.