Islamist Persistence, Part 1: The rise and reality of political Islam

It’s a provocative argument among Islamic Scholars: was Islam founded on political principles? Is the rise of Islamism, after the Arab Spring, a natural evolution in Muslim- dominated countries? Many would say no. But author Shadi Hamid, an American Muslim and self-described liberal, says the rise of Islamist parties is inevitable.
Protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo on December 14, 2012. (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Listen to the full episode54:00

It's a provocative argument among Islamic Scholars: was Islam founded on political principles? Is the rise of Islamism, after the Arab Spring, a natural evolution in Muslim-dominated countries? Many would say no. But author Shadi Hamid, an American Muslim and self-described liberal, says the rise of Islamist parties is inevitable. He also argues that mainstream Islamist parties that gain power through democratic, free elections should not be de-legitimized by secular liberals in the West and the Middle East. Part 2 airs Wednesday, May 23. **This episode originally aired April 5, 2017.

Part 1: An exploration of political Islam, including the idea of Prophet Muhammad as a state builder and why Islamism is a modern phenomenon.

Part 2: Talking to Islamists, Shadi Hamid travelled to three countries in the Middle East—Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt—to better understand the role of political islam in the modern world.
Shadi Hamid speaking about how Islam, in particular, infuses the daily lives of its believers. 0:42
Shadi Hamid, author of Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World, St. Martin's Press (2016).
"There's no doubt that Muslim majority societies can evolve and adapt in new ways. When we're talking about Islamist parties in the 20th century until the present day, we have Islamist parties that have come to terms with the nation-state. They accept the existing state. They accept modern notions of citizenship or even democracy, where maybe in the 70s or 80s, they were saying that democracy was a foreign concept. But now, many of these Islamist parties, they use the word democracy all the time. And they like using it a lot. And some of them have come to power through democratic elections. 

And I think what's really interesting about the Islamic legal tradition, is that because it's so vast and diverse, it's actually quite flexible and there's a lot to work with. And also when we think about law in the modern sense, we think that you can find it in a law book. There is no law book for Sharia. There are literally hundreds of thousands of books and legal commentaries, which form this vast legal corpus. 

And that's why you can find a lot of different interpretations and disagreements between different scholars. And different Islamist parties today disagree amongst themselves about: what does it mean to believe in democracy or to believe in elections -- because obviously in the time of the Prophet, you didn't have democratic elections."

Shadi Hamid is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World (St. Martin's Press). He is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic. His previous book Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East (Oxford University Press) was named a Foreign Affairs Best Book of 2014. Hamid served as director of research at the Brookings Doha Center until January 2014. Prior to joining Brookings, he was director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and a Hewlett Fellow at Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. Hamid received his B.S. and M.A. from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and his Ph.D. in political science from Oxford University.
 

Further reading:

WEB EXTRA | The Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. held a spirited discussion about how Islam shapes public life, law and the state. It explored the central (and at times controversial ideas) in Shadi Hamid's book, Islamic Exceptionalism.



** This episode was produced by Mary Lynk.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.