The term “Islamism” has two common uses in the study of contemporary Sudan, what I will call “the descriptive” and “the analytical.” Descriptively speaking, Islamism refers to the historical phenomenon of what is called in Arabic al-haraka al-islaamiyya (the Islamic Movement, that is, the plethora of groups which trace their genealogy back to Muslim Brotherhood of the 1940s and 50s and whose members are referred to in Sudan as al-islaamiyyiin, the Islamists, al-kayzaan, (xii) or, naas al-jabha, the people of the National Islamic Front). Here we must agree with Gallab that there have been major intellectual, personal, and military-tactical splits within the movement which have led to a significant recasting of the Islamist message, a reshuffling of its cadre, and even the disappearance of some of the earlier goals of the Islamist state which had been on its agenda. That said, a great number of the Islamists who steered the inqaadh revolution of 1989 have managed to remain in power for the past 20 years (with no sign of disappearing anytime soon), turning up the force of Islamist politics at domestically and internationally strategic moments (as Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban noted in her post), and turning down the same forces when it was politically prudent. Despite the radical changes in the implementation of al-mashru‘ al-islaami (the Islamic Project), it is my contention that due to the maintenance of personnel and the continued mobilization of Islamic politics in both the judicial and executive “branches” of government, it is certainly open to debate whether, in using the descriptive definition of Islamism, we can say that Sudan is in a post-Islamist stage. Instead I tend to side with Einas Ahmed (xiii) that we are not necessarily witnessing a waning of Islamism as a political force, but rather a change in its morphology. (xiv)
If in using the descriptive definition of Islamism we find ourselves on unsure ground as to whether or not we may say that Sudan has entered a post-Islamist phase, when we turn to the analytical definition of Islamism, it seems to me that we are on even shakier ground in answering the question of “post Islamism?” in the affirmative. Analytically speaking, Islamism generally refers to a modern political ideology whose foundations are said to be partially, if not primarily, grounded in the Islamic tradition. If we use Islamism as an analytic category, without any necessary ties to those islaamiyiin who claim the term as their own, we can clearly conclude that Sudan has not entered a post-Islamist stage. Rather, it is my contention that the failure of the Islamic Movement to create a stable state and implement the projects it set out to accomplish, far from signaling the end of Islamism, has instead enhanced the political future of Islam in Sudan (and thus various forms of what we can clearly call Islamism, using the analytic definition) in often surprising directions.
The years in which I conducted fieldwork in Sudan (2003 and 2004, intermittently, and 2005-7, continually) were characterized by an opening of the window of political and journalistic freedom (a window that seems sadly to be closing in more recent months). What I observed in my time in Sudan is that it was precisely the Islamic Movement’s failure to maintain hold of the steering wheel of the ship of Islamization on which they had embarked that was causing new Islamic actors to enter political debate. Thus while the debate occurred in the language of the Islamic Movement, they were not the only party to it. I can cite many examples: the increasingly vocal critique from the Salafi mosques of Ansaar al-Sunna (even in the years after they joined the government) against the Islamic Movement’s obsession with the Islamic state before it has clarified and corrected key matters of religious doctrine in its ideology; the attempt of Sufi movements to ground the unity of the umma in this time of political turmoil within Sufi principles, such as tolerance (tasaamuh) for intra-Islamic religious difference, in the founding of a movement called harakat al-‘itisaam al-watani (the Movement of National Solidarity); the attempt by Muslim members of the SPLM in Tagali (in the Nuba Mountains), in a series of lectures I attended there in a public square, to mobilize Islam for political purposes in a way that would be respectful of the religious diversity of Sudan; or, finally, the resurgence in popularity (xv) of the “neo-Islamist” (to use Mohamed Mahmoud’s term (xvi)) ideas of Mahmud Muhammad Taha, who, while certainly opposed to the reading of Islamic politics of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, saw an important role for “the true” Islam in Sudan’s political future.
Before asking “is Sudan a post-Islamist state?” it seems to me imperative that we address the key assumptions that lie behind the term “post-Islamism” (secularization, privatization, deliberation) as well as the analytical use-value of the term Islamism itself in order to see if such concepts help elucidate the complicated political present of contemporary Sudan. In this process, it is my hope that we as scholars of Sudan will develop our own analytical tools and in so doing contribute not only to future generations’ understanding of post-CPA Sudan but also of engagements with Islamic politics across the Muslim world.
xii. Al-kayzaan means “the cups,” and became a moniker applied to the Islamists after al-Turabi’s famous proclamation “Islam is an ocean and we are the cups [who deliver this water to the people],” (“Al-Islaam huwa al-bahr wa nihna al-kayzaan“).
xiii. Einas Ahmed. 2007. “Political Islam in Sudan: Islamists and the Challenge of State Power (1989-2004)” in Islam and Muslim Politics in Africa, edited by Benjamin Soares and Rene Otayek. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).
xiv. Einas Ahmed uses the term “post-Islamism” herself in this article, but I think it is in opposition to a much more nuanced argument that she develops throughout the piece.
xv. Such popularity is evidenced, for example, by the recent founding of “The New Organization of the Republican Brothers,” (al-tanziim al-jadiid) whose goal was precisely to discuss a public role for Islam on the Republicans’ unique interpretation thereof.
xvi. Mohamed A. Mahmoud. 2007. Quest for Divinity: A Critical Examination of the Thought of Mahmud Muhammad Taha, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. Pg. 19.
Noah Salomon is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, currently resident at Columbia University