The Islamism Debate — Abdullahi Gallab Responds
I thank Alex de Waal, Carolyn Fluehr Lobban, Heather Sharkey and Neil McHugh for reading and for your appreciated responses to my book: The First Islamist Republic and for your insightful comments.
The book as its title, The Islamist Republic, indicates and as Heather has rightly characterized is about “Hasan al-Turabi’s decade in power” 1989″”1999, which is by all historical accounts the first of its kind in the entire Muslim world. It is in the context of the relations of that republic and within its fields of influence and conflict, each one of the four contributors has addressed some themes or raised some issues that not only contribute an explanation, but expanded some of the areas that could be debated. Indeed, Alex in his first commentary, did not only offer an explanation to why the Islamist project in the Sudan has failed, but also brought up other inferences, such as the race issue, that its discussion could also expand some aspects of the phenomenon the book addressed. Carolyn, introduced the issue of post-Islamism which Asef Bayat initiated in 1996 and that gained some currency ever since. A growing literature in the field suggests that some of the movements, the Sudanese one included according to Carolyn, are experiencing a shift or undergoing a transformation towards that direction. My book reveals the actual unfolding elements of disintegration of the Sudanese movement in particular rather than its transformation into a post-Islamist state. Brining the issue of post-Islamism to the debate is an interesting addition to the discussion as well. Heather, in her concluding remarks has raised very important questions regarding the future of Islamism in the Sudan: Such questions include: “Is Islamism as a political ideology fully discredited as an approach to governing Sudan’s republic? Can a better, more ethically rigorous state Islamism take hold? If not, what ideological source of hope – what “ism” – will inspire Sudanese Muslim intellectuals in the future?” And, Neil traces one of the main themes addressed by the book, what he has described as the violence of political acrimony during the brief periods of parliamentary rule alternated with the coercive violence of authoritarian military regimes.
It is perhaps appropriate to revisit some “˜unthought’ assumptions in the discourse such as racism and tribalism in connection to recent and past developments in the Sudan. In my book as well as in my introductory comments for this debate, I argued against the assumption that take for granted that the ruling elite of the current Islamist republic represent a riverain group that belong to the Jaaliyeen, the Danagala, and the Shaygiyya “˜tribes’. Such labeling, for all its oversimplification and exaggeration, is partly true, but incomplete. For what Alex described as “the deep-rooted political disease in Sudan, namely racism,” I will propose an alternative theme that might conceptualize one aspect of the Sudanese Islamists’ experience. In my book I argued that a form of identity management and its pedigrees, and the ways and means of admission into new Islamist corporate field and class could be detected. I would argue that race by itself does not constitute an explanation to such a phenomenon. Class might sufficiently give a clearer picture to the way inclusion and exclusion of individuals and groups or the entire modal form (s) of socialization. Such a process as Neil pointed out includes the “social zoning of the Other,” the “systematic process of marginalization of the Other,” stemming from the experience of Egyptian and Anglo-Egyptian colonialism as I said or even earlier, the kingdoms of Sinnar and Darfur according to Neil. Here also more discussion might expand the point at issue
Some of the comments raised by Carolyn about Islamism and the ranking of this republic might expand the issue to be discussed. In the Introductory and first two chapters of my book I tried to address what social scientists have settled for defining the term Islamism, the phenomenon, the elementary forms and the progression of the movement as well. This settlement has seen not only in acceptance to the term by wide range of scholars and knowledge workers but also brought to the discourse the formulation of the term in the Arabic language Isamiyyun or Islamawiyyun which is in wide use now in the academic as well as in the media.
(1) I define the term Islamism and Islamist or Islamiyyun or Islamawiyyun in Arabic, as we all know, to denote a “determined choice of an Islamic doctrine, rather than the simple fact of being born Muslim.” The Islamist movement which has been initiated first in the year 1928 by Hasan al-Banna “the proto-Islamist” and his society of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt “the wellspring for virtually all contemporary Islamism” as Anthony Johns and Nelly Lahoud described them. The second proto-Islamist is Abul A’la al-Mawdudi and his Jama’t Islami that he founded in 1941. Islamism as a new phenomenon is closely associated with those graduated and graduating from the higher public schools of learning which were instituted by the colonial state. Chapter 2 describes in greater details the emergence of the three groups of Islamism in the Sudan.
(2) Three main characteristics of the Islamists which could be important to mention here include: (i) the self image of novelty and authenticity they continued to construct convincing themselves, their sympathizers and challenging their detractors that their legitimization does not come from the past similar to other religious representations in the country especially the Sufi orders that they despise, or the “˜ulama‘, whom they deride and ridicule. Accordingly, they claim to be thinkers rather than “˜ulama‘ and stand out as self-proclaimed spokespersons of Islam as din wa dawla, or religion and state. At the same time, they go further to tell their secular competitors that their compact with modernity could be pronounced in a more authentic fashion. (ii) by decontextualizing Islam they ignore the social, economic, and political milieus within which Muslim communities exist. Finally, the most important aspect of this discourse and its historical narration is that it makes Islamists in general and the Sudanese Islamists in particular a self-sufficient political association rather than a religious movement.
(3) It might be true that the standard assumption sets The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Taliban as Islamist regimes. Neither the Shi’ite political movement and state, which is based on the hawzeh, nor the Taliban movement and Amarah, which is based on the madrasa, could be described as Islamist. Considered in this light, as mentioned before, the Islamist state in the Sudan in the period 1989-1999 is the first of its kind in the Muslim World and that is why I am describing it as the First Islamist Republic.
(4) The Nimairi September Laws of 1983 had nothing to do with that Republic, which was established by al-Turabi and company in 1989 and continued till 1999 only to be replaced by the second republic which has been established by three groups of Islamists that emerged as the regime’s verkhushka [pinnacle of power] that formed the new leadership of the National Congress, the state, and the regime as well as part of an Islamist middle class.