International politics and the Muslim world

By Abdul Kabir Gonzales

International politics and the Muslim world is a course that every Political Science student must be aware of because of its relevance to the current trends, its impact on world politics, especially for the Muslims due to its revolutionary insights into the reality in the Muslim world, Muslim politics and international relations.

A significant number of pronounced thoughts will be learnt in this course, which can be categorised into three major things. First, the new and deep knowledge that an ordinary person was not aware of. Secondly, contrasting rhetoric, convictions and opinions that a person may have before and after taking the course. Third, consequential concepts, matters and issues that surround us. These will be the focus throughout the reflective discussion. 

First, on how the language and symbolism in Islam is being used by certain powerful personalities and even countries in Muslim politics. This particular issue might look impossible to believe for common people and even regular Muslims that such a thing happens knowing that Islam and Muslims are seen by the public as one entity.

The greater public was not aware of and have not imagined that even Muslims are divided and even worsened using Islamic language and symbolism to their advantage and promoting their interest in order to win over the hearts of the Muslims around the globe.

In addition, since hierarchy is not present in Islam, unlike in Christianity, whereby they have the pope as their highest religious personality, Muslims are open to looking for someone who would address their concerns. This is also one of the results of the civic geography of Muslim politics whereby everyone can now provide his or her own interpretation of the world matters based on the religious substances and texts, especially for the Muslims.

Moreover, it is by this approach rulers are legitimising their regimes after securing support from the people. The reason why the Islamic language and symbolisms were used is that it is the speech that they understand and have a special place in their hearts, and without a shadow of a doubt that Islam is a collective value that Muslims share. For instance, “Syurah” is an Islamic term and symbolism that has a solid connection to the identity of Muslims, whereas if “Election” or “Human rights” was used, it won’t catch enough attention from the Muslim communities looking at it as westernised. Therefore, it can be seen on this lens that language and symbolism are compelling, thus shouldn’t be undermined.

Next under the first category is the concept of defensive jihad. Historically up until today, the West has been doing its most to control the economic and political spheres globally, especially of the Muslim world that poses a threat to their future dominance. The West uses different kinds of approaches to the point where even murder is justified, yet there are not enough actors who fight against the western intervention, if not because of the struggle of jihadists, the West will be walking mighty in a red carpet of blood without any obstruction as well as legalising exploitation in the Muslim world, destroying their culture, values, social and civil relationship.

We’ve seen, heard and observed that the West beat the stability and development in the Muslim world in order to stay at the top, be the hegemonic and dominant power. At this point, this could be considered as a defensive jihad which is reasonable and justifiable.

Secondly, a bunch of new rhetoric and views were ingrained in my mind while being absolute on what was initially in it, thus creating a contrasting and diverging motion in my one-sided wit. Such thing is the popular notion that the West is the source of all evil and anarchy to the Muslim world and politics.

Grown as a son from a devoted family, the idea that America and Europe are the roots of immorality is not surprising. This course led us to the unbiased reality that the former thought is not totally fallacious but contradicting the reality on the ground. It is supported by a lot of people coming from the West, insisting that such conviction must be lightened up to the Muslims.

In fact, there is a popular saying quoted from a famous personality, Muhammad Abduh, stating that “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” It acts as an eye-opener for those individuals who still have the same belief. However, it is still vital to study every notion, check and balance the facts, and look at both sides of a coin. It is also wrong to believe that the West is not a threat to Muslim politics and identity. 

In addition to the aforementioned, due to the one-sided view of the West, it is easy to conclude and decide that Muslims have the right to wage war or jihad against the western superpowers. But it has been discarded by the course highlighting that there is a better solution to the disputes and misunderstanding between the West and the Muslim world known as “Dar al-Ahd”.

Dar al-Muwada’ah or known as Dar al-Ahd is a concept that promotes a peaceful way of dealing with the discourses between Islam and the West, that war is not always the best resort (Ahmad, 2008). In today’s world, it could be the internationally recognised institutions such as the United Nations (U.N.) and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), using humanitarian interventions rather than a bloody war. 

On the one hand, in the case of reviving the idea of one strong Islamic government. In a real-time question and answer situation, this question could unanimously gather the response of “yes” due to the shared identity as Muslims knowing that we were once led by a single person, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), then the caliphs after him.

However, nowadays, in a deeper look, it can be seen that the concept is no more relevant and effective, rather would create bigger fissures. Muslims around the world are not within a single form of creed or identity of Islam. There are Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis, and many other sects that affiliate themselves as Muslims, whereas one might go against another.

For instance, Saudi Arabia and Iran are known to be hardcore rivals. Do you think that Shiites are going to follow the order from the Sunnis? Absolutely no. Supported by history and predicted by political scientists. And as we can see, isn’t it one of the reasons why Syria is in havoc/chaos is because their leaders do not represent the greater public? Moreover, the condition and situation of Muslims differ from one place to another. We can’t impose what is wajib (obligatory) in Iran must be wajib in Europe and America because the environment is different. Meaning Islam is not confined to one or single worldview and perspective, which was even more pointed out in geopolitics.

Third, there are plenty of concepts, matters and notions regarding Muslim politics that make it impossible for everyone to avoid dealing with it, especially for political science students. Among the leading concepts is pan-Islamism. Although this particular term may still appear vague, that is because of the broad image that it brings. Many, including myself, were not aware of this concept.

According to Jawad (1997):

Pan-Islamism emerged during the late nineteenth century; it aims to unify the Muslim world via its commonly held Islamic beliefs. It emphasises the universality of Islam and hence the union of Muslim peoples by arguing that ‘the idea of political unity is inherent in Islam, whose character is a priori international, no less than a complete moral, cultural, legal, social and political system (p. 140). 

We may know about the topics, issues and history that encompassed it but are not mindful of what it really is. To give an example, some know about the decline and collapse of the Ottoman empire yet doesn’t know that it was the start of the pan-Islamism when in the late 19th century, Sultan Abdul Hamed II said that the empire is weakening due to the lack of unity. However, this can’t be blamed on the common Muslim, since in the first place, it was not popular due to the difficulty of finding one unique, strong and charismatic leader that would be the bearer of it. 

Another thing is the unrealised reality that monarchy is not the Islamic political system. Many people nowadays think that monarchies such as in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are the manifestation of the Islamic political system due to its global influence, especially in the Muslim world and because it was the place of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), thus imprinting an unchallenged notion in people’s minds.

And prior to the horizons of international relations, here we are talking about the relationship to contest or cooperate between states in an international scheme, whereby each state, especially the powerful ones, are trying to promote their identity and influence other state actors and be viewed as the true voice of the Muslim ummah, for instance, the Saudis Salafism, Iran’s Shia beliefs, or Turkey’s liberalism. Other than the fact that every action of a Muslim nation would directly or indirectly influence other states, and that’s how Muslim politics deal with international relations.

Lastly, under this section is the notion of political pluralism. It was defined by Galston (2009) as “an understanding of social life that comprises multiple sources of authority-individuals, parents, civil associations, faith-based institutions, and the state, among others – no one of which is dominant in all spheres, for all purposes, on all occasions.” Despite its excellent façade, it is still seen as unIslamic and causes chaos in the Muslim world. But we have to accept that we can accept political ideas that do not come from our own tradition, it doesn’t mean that if something did not come from Muslims a thousand years ago it is already bad. In addition, we need to accept that Muslims did not create everything, which is not an issue; instead, we need to know that there is still a lot that we do not know. 

To sum up, it is very evident on the ground that we Muslims are still living in a realm of one-sided dimension, but this could not be blamed on us because there are lots of things that were not clearly explained to the common people.

It is our job, as students and academicians, to spread awareness to the greater public and be part of the revolutionary era of knowledge. Furthermore, in order to learn from this course, a student must be open-minded, should not be biased and ready to accept facts and figures.

It is not right to be the counterpart of Islamophobic people in the Muslim world. Mind and intellect must be the driving force in learning rather than emotions to avoid rejecting truth under the daylight. Muslim politics and international relations are two side-by-side matters that matter. A bright future is seen ahead for the Muslim world if we keep going on the right track and strengthen the sense of ummah.***

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