Islamists debate the impact of politicisation on their commitment to social and religious reform – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by , April 30, 2013.
When Mohamed Ibrahim, secretary-general of the Salafist Al-Hayaa Al-Shareya lel-Houkouk wal-Islah (the legal body for rights and reform), was asked on TV whether or not Islamists have directed their energies to the political realm at the expense of the religious his response was to reverse the question: The question should rather be if Islamists decided tomorrow to abandon politics, would this serve the religion better? … //
… Assessing the relationship between the religious and the political Al-Baz shed light on the growing tension between the two with a case study on the Nour, comparing religious and the political activity before and after the revolution of 25 January 2011. He examined the frequency of religious activities, the age groups of attendees, type of audience and the relationship between the religious and political and how it has developed over the last two years.
Interviewing four leading figures from Al-Daawa Al-Salafiya, Al-Baz concluded that a consensus has emerged among them that the relationship between the religious and political was “a unifying” one. They all perceived politics to be subservient to religion. He also noted how Salafi leaders were comfortable in their view that their involvement in politics was “a religious duty”. Yasser Burhami, head of Al-Daawa Al-Salafiya, said “the separation was cosmetic and the Salafis’ grassroots did not differentiate much between the two.”
Agreement did emerge that one unintended consequence of being engaged in politics was what Sheikh Said Abdel-Azim called the “cadre drain” as skilled and well trained members move from the movement to the party. Both Burhami and Abdel-Moneim Al-Shahat, another leading Salafi figure, cite this as a key challenge, though both agree it has been “a good investment” as cadres accumulate political and administrative experience.
One unintended consequence of the political overdose, said Habib, is losing the moral high ground against political rivals. Habib noted how political conflict and polarisation have affected the behaviour of MB supporters who sunk to levels of rudeness and — at times — indecency unheard of inside a movement which once prided itself on its high standards of behaviour.
While Salafis argue that the political is at the service of the religious experience has shown that they are willing to compromise on some political issues and then look for doctrinal and jurisprudential justification for their positions. As one observer put it, “it is the religious which is being employed to bestow legitimacy on political choices and not the other way around.”
The question of the nature of relationship between the party and its mother organisation has yet to be resolved. While Anz and MB activists share the view that at the beginning an overlap is inevitable gradually both entities will act independently. The party, says Anz, does not need to consult with the movement on every single decision.
There is an awareness that the impact of politicisation could lead to diluting the religious message. One observer noted how that the word Sharia had disappeared from the Salafis’ everyday rhetoric. In their quest to be accepted as political entities Salafi groups have refrained from waving the flag of Sharia implementation.
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