The Islamic Forum of Europe and Political Participation
The Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) has been the subject of much scrutiny since Andrew Gilligan’s investigation into them revealed that the group was using effective entryist tactics to infiltrate and influence local politics in East London. Local MP Jim Fitzpatrick even went so far as to say that the IFE was “trying to get individuals selected and elected” so that they could eventually achieve their goal of establishing an “Islamic social and political order” in Britain. The IFE and its parent organisation the East London Mosque (ELM), have since been protesting against accusations of extremism. Despite this, senior IFE member, Azad Ali, wrote a blog yesterday in which he suggested an ideological affinity between his group and Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT).
In his most recent article on the IFE’s ‘Between the Lines’ blog, Ali discusses the subject of Muslim political participation. He argues that it is a duty for Muslims to become politically active, which on its own it something to be applauded. But what one must ask is, for what purpose do Azad Ali and the IFE promote political participation? Is it so that British Muslims can feel they have more of a stake in the running of their country? Or is it so as to eventually achieve something which is an anathema to liberal democracy? Before analysing Ali’s latest blog, we can go some way towards figuring out Ali’s view of democracy by taking a look at what Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ filmed him telling his audience at the IFE:
Democracy, if it means at the expense of not implementing the sharia, of course no one agrees with that.
Ali begins his piece by citing a long list of Islamic scholars and preachers who have encouraged Muslim political participation. Among these are Muslim Brotherhood figurehead Yusuf al-Qaradawi, and Salafi preacher Haitham al-Haddad. In his article, ‘Why Vote, and Who To Vote For?’, Haddad lays out the classic ‘non-violent’ Islamist view on Muslim political participation in the West:
It is clearly evident to any Muslim who possesses a basic understanding of Islam that the greatest and most important aim of Islamic law is the deterrence of evil or the reduction of harm, and the attainment of good or its increase. The establishment of a harmonious and successful way of life depends upon this principle. This is why the Islamic law – that is, the law of Allah – is never contrary to the basic needs of humanity, or establishes anything in contradiction to sound logic.
Subsequently, it is an obligation upon every Muslim to achieve this aim, whether in part or in its totality. However, it is apparent that it is virtually impossible to attain this objective in its absolute sense, in the majority of cases; yet, in spite of this, the Muslims must endeavor to carry out the necessary means that enable them to achieve this objective.
Based on this, it is obligatory for those Muslims living under the shadow of man-made law to take all the necessary steps and means to make the law of Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer, supreme and manifest in all aspects of life. If they are unable to do so, then it becomes obligatory for them to strive to minimise the evil and maximise the good.
In democratic countries which are ruled by man-made law, candidates from the various parties compete to attain power. Some of these parties or candidates are working against the benefit of humanity (i.e. against the law of the Creator), while the policies of others are less detrimental. Therefore, it is obligatory on the Muslims to utilise all means to promote the candidate who will best ensure the welfare of the people according to Islam, the law of their Creator, to be elected to the decision-making posts.
Simply put, Haddad sees democracy and political participation as a means to an end. He explains that it is the duty of Muslims all over the world to establish sharia law, but his suggested approach to this is a pragmatic one. He accepts that in countries like Britain this goal is unattainable in the near future and, for now at least, political participation seems to be the most effective way to accelerate the transition from a kufr government based on man-made law to a theocracy. Muslims, he claims, should vote for the candidate who is least likely to be an obstacle to the final Islamist goal.
Ali then goes on to criticise Hizb ut-Tahrir for distributing a leaflet which states that the recent IFE episode shows the futility of political participation and that “Islam does NOT allow joining secular political parties, especially when they promote policies that directly contradict Islamic values…” Like other Islamist groups, HT seek the eventual re establishment of the Caliphate, but they are against all forms of political participation to achieve this. Indeed, Ali suggests that strategy is the only thing on which IFE and HT disagree: ” …our difference is political and one of ‘approach’ and not theological.”
Here, Ali demonstrates something which can be applied to the wider conflict among Islamists: they all want to create an Islamic state, but they are at odds with each other about how best to achieve this, and where they should start.
Although some may define a group that wishes to establish a medieval theocracy as ‘extreme’, Ali and HT simply do not accept this label. They honestly believe that their religion commands them to establish an Islamic state and to them this is not an extreme position, rather it is the only truly Islamic position. This still remains a minority view among British Muslims, but if the government continues to sponsor groups like IFE and ignores their attempts to influence political parties, this could eventually change.