LESSONS FROM MODERN ISLAMISATION PROGRAMMES
A LECTURE PRESENTED
MR AL SADIQ AL-MAHDI
FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF THE SUDAN
AT AREWA HOUSE KADUNA, NIGERIA
ON SATURDAY THE 30TH OF JUNE 2001
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF ASSEMBLY OF MUSLIMS IN NIGERIA (A.M.I.N.)
Brothers and sisters, peace be upon you.
I have been invited to give two lectures. The first one of a general nature, which I have given in Lagos. This one is more specific to Islam and Islamization.
The issue of Islamisation is loaded in the internal political scene in many Muslim countries because in the eyes of some, Islam is associated with abuse of Human Rights, oppression of minorities, discrimination against women, ready resort to violence and so on; portraying a veritable chamber of horrors.
Externally, many circles engulf Islam in stereotypes: terrorism, despotism, injustice, and fanaticism, to name a few of the articles of demonisation.
I, and others, have written and talked extensively to establish the truth about Islam as a religion and as a social system. However, whenever the issue arises in internal politics and/or international relations, it transmits more heat than light.
Bias and bigotry notwithstanding, I shall persevere in avoiding heated polemics and shift the debate to the required level of rationality and moderation:
And let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just. That is nearer to piety. (Quran 5:8)
Hopefully, the debate will gain rationality and balance, because the alternative in both internal and international affairs is unthinkable. It has the potential of augmenting civil strife, and international confrontation ushering in to a new “Age of Darkness”.
I shall unfold my argument in seven points.
POINT NUMBER ONE
As the twentieth century came to a close, there was ample evidence that all universal religions witnessed a degree of revival. A necessary consequence of that is a higher degree of self-assertion, a greater commitment on the part of religious communities to self-fulfilment. This phenomenon was particularly intensive for Moslems because in the balance of power they see themselves as downtrodden, marginalized, by an arrogant West, whose culture threatens their identity. They have been the battleground for many high sounding invading isms. They have been disappointed with the performance of their political elites. They see the body politic in terms of corruption, immorality, and injustice and feel enticed to protest, even take the initiative in the exercise of people’s power. Feelings, which simmer below the surface when dictatorship prevails. However, given half a chance, the protest surfaces in substantial protest.
The wave of Islamisation aspirations is genuine, and may be linked to credible antecedents, and because of popular appeal, it may be, and has many times, been manipulated by vested questionable interests and opportunists.
There have been several Islamisation programmes in many countries. In many cases, the programmes have been associated with a dictatorship, which short on legitimacy, embraced Islam to dress up its usurpation of power.
Islamisation in Nigeria is being addressed through a democratic mechanism. No wonder, the debate has so far produced greater literature and wider discussion than other, more ambitious programmes. Dictatorship is about hush-hush techniques, whereas democracy is about talk-talk discussion. I very much appreciate the extent and richness of the debate regarding the Nigerian process and hope that no party will lose its temper and try short-cut surgical solutions, because they precipitate blood baths and ultimately don’t work.
I shall here discuss the possibilities of accord, but before I do so, there are three things, which I hope my Nigerian brethren will observe with their hearts, and minds, and sinews. They are:
FIRST: NIGERIAN UNITY
I don’t mean that it is an idol. Its terms could be negotiated whenever there are justifiable grievances or credible imbalances, through the democratic process. But unity itself must be preserved in the interest of all the citizens of Nigeria.
As to my brother Moslems, I should like to ask them to ponder the results of the creation of Pakistan in circumstances more conducive to that sort of experience. That surgical operation, half a century ago, has created two hostile states, has not benefited the Moslem population of Pakistan, has created constraints for the remaining Moslems of India, has fuelled Hindu fundamentalism, and poised the two countries on a course of mutual nuclear destruction. I don’t think this is what the founding fathers had in mind.
SECOND: NIGERIAN DEMOCRACY
The very phenomenon of Islamisation is related to democracy. Dictatorship will always suppress any process of cultural fulfilment, because dictators hate plurality in any form. They are for centralisation and for standardisation. Democracy is the only guarantee that those who seek justice would in due time realise it.
However, to preserve democracy all parties to the debate should eschew extremism. The enemies of democracy like nothing better than a stalemated strife, because then they will find an opportunity to administer their lethal medicine.
THIRD: LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE OF OTHERS
As much as possible avoid repeating the mistakes of others. Many contemporary Islamisation programmes have failed to deliver on their promises, and simply harmed their countries, and given the enemies of Islam ammunition to further target it. This brings me to my second point.
POINT NUMBER TWO
The first Islamisation programme in the modern Sudan was initiated by the regime of Nimieri in September 1983. He was a dictator at bay facing a wide political opposition, strikes by Trade Unions, and to confound him the judiciary resigned en masse. He sought Islamisation as a means to legitimise his regime, confound his opponents, and intimidate them with Islam as a punishment institution.
He surprised everyone by issuing a Decree of a Criminal Islamic Code in September 1983. Then a series of laws followed on civil matters, Zakat, and so on. He declared that since he applied sharia, his authority has become sacred. From now on “those who obey me obey God, and those who oppose me oppose God.” He inserted a draconian law of State Security in the Criminal Code. The legislation was hastily drafted and passed by Decree in spite of the existence of a “rubber stamp” Parliament.
He started Islamisation with criminal law, and engaged in an amputation spree numbering 200 in six months in a year 1983-84 when the Sudan was in a state of famine. Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna said:
A hand should not be amputated until the person had been provided with his rights in health, education, domicile, clothing, and his debts paid if he is indebted. (Our Constitution page 11)
His legislation abolished interest on loans, but because he did not enact an alternative system, he had to allow exceptions, particularly in dealing with foreign banks. He enacted a Zakat law, which would apply to Moslems as Zakat and to non-Muslims as a social tax. His Zakat law abolished all direct taxation as an alternative tax, and just as he did not abide by the Islamic regulations concerning the collection of Zakat, he freed himself from the same regulations in the expenditure of Zakat revenues.
He celebrated his Sharia application in September 1984 and invited many guests from all over the Muslim world. They all congratulated his achievements. However, after the fall of his regime, namely, in February 1987, I invited ulema and thinkers from all over the Muslim world, one of them by the way was Nigerian, to come and review the Nimeiri Islamic enterprise. They did so and after studying it faulted it on its essence, formulation, and its application.
The second Islamisation programme was during my democratic government. We laid four principles to guide our deliberations:
1St Principle: Legislation must be by democratic procedure.
2nd Principle: Islamic legislation will take the changed circumstances of modern times into consideration, and so espouse new ijtihad.
3rd Principle: That foreign relations will not be on the basis of that formulated by many ancient jurists considering the world in terms of two camps, the Islamic and the enemy.
We sought to establish foreign relations on the principle:
Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion, nor drove you out of your houses. (Quran 60:8)
4th Principle: Discuss with non-Muslim citizens the constitutional basis and the assurances required to assure them about their civilian and religious rights.
However, before we completed the task a coup d’etat usurped power in the Sudan in June 1989. Their main criticism was that our programme was too slow. So they initiated a rushed programme.
The Third Sudanese Programme: After a year and a half in office, the regime requested a vow BAIA for its leader. The Prophet says: No BAIA not based on the free participation of the Moslem community is binding.
They declared that Moslems who did not accept their dictated programme are outlaws and so created a deep rift with the majority of the Moslem population.
They declared the ongoing civil war with the South a jihad and so precipitated, for the first time, a southern demand for self-determination arguing that a country whose identity is based on Islam alone by definition excludes non-Moslems.
They issued a Zakat law, which does not abide by the Islamic regulations. For example, it deducts Zakat from wages and salaries from the source, without any reference to the needs of the employee. It enforces Zakat on income yielding utilities like Taxi cars at the beginning of the year, and so on.
As it stands it is simply a double taxation on the Moslem! And since there are no taxes exacted from non-Moslems, except the regular ones, it amounts to a financial burden for being a Moslem. The expenditure of the “Zakat” revenues is through partisan controlled channels.
They enacted a criminal law without the participation of other citizens. They installed mainly Murabaha and Salam instead of the rate of interest in banks. Their rates and the insurances needed were higher than the exactions of the ordinary banks. The whole programme needs to be reviewed.
Fortunately, there is now an open attitude, which would in the right circumstances lead to a just peace agreement, and a plan for democratic transformation, and consequently a review of all transgressions.
THE PAKISTANI PROGRAMME
From its inception, the Pakistani Islamic aspirations were ambivalent, between the Moslem League of (Jinah) which regarded it in Nationalist terms, and the Islamic Jama’a (Mawdudi) which regarded it in Islamic Fundamentalist terms.
During the reign of Bhutto in the mid-seventies, a group of nine parties challenged him, and the two sides i.e. the P.P.P. and the P.N.A. fought the 1977 general elections on Islamic upmanship. The P.P.P. won the elections, the P.D.A. declared it rigged and the rift ultimately led to a coup d’etat, which put Zia ul Haq in power.
He reigned with very thin legitimacy, and so promised general free elections in three months. A promise he could not fulfil, nor could he fulfil two subsequent ones. He sought legitimisation through Islamisation and prepared a programme of Islamisation and offered it for public plebiscite in 1985 with the provision that if people voted for the programme, they would have automatically voted him to reign for five more years. This was his basic disservice to Islam, to link it with dictatorship.
He even maintained that Islam is above democracy, as if they are in the same category. He espoused policies of centralisation, and ultimately accentuated the political and ethnic tensions, which have made Pakistan more ungovernable.
THE AFGHANI PROGRAMME
The issue of Islamisation in Afghanistan got embroiled in cold war issues, deep party conflicts, ethnic rifts. Although all these conflicts were held at bay during the confrontation with soviet troops, when the soviet army withdrew from the country in February 1989, and after the fall of the puppet regime in 1992, the Afghani parties turned their weapons against each other tearing themselves to pieces.
Pakistan organised all the Afghani students in Pakistan religious schools to form the Taliban movement. Taliban soon swept other parties away, controlled 80% of the territory, and achieved a measure of stability.
However, it regarded its enterprise as jihad, espoused a highly reactionary programme to out-Islam all others. Its ulema banned party politics, considered democracy un-Islamic, burned all other Islamic literature including Sayyed Qutb’s Fi Zilal Al Quran and Al Maududi’s Tafhim Al Quran. It shut down institutions of civil education, banned photography, banned TV, declared all fine arts abominations, and confined women to their households.
Finally, they revamped the depleted revenues of state by a 400,000 ton per year production of opium. Further polluting the name of Islam.
THE IRANIAN PROGRAMME
The Iranian Islamic revolution represents a genuine uprising against domestic injustice and foreign subservience. It represents a radical restoration of the country’s Islamic identity, a tendency towards social justice, and tentative steps towards democratisation. It represents the most serious and most genuine, and most definite expression of people’s power among modern Islamic programmes. However, failure to accommodate the other led to a continuing round of violence.
The other constraint is the fact that the system is too deeply involved with a particular Moslem Shiite ideology. It is facing certain contradictions between the Mullahs and the civil educated, between the conservatives and the reformers, but more specifically between the authority (Wilaya) of the theologians and the (Wilaya) of the people.
The very people’s power which supported Al-Khomenei to victory are now behind Khatami whose programme is clearly support for civil liberties, the freedom of the press, the rule of law, social justice, transparency, opening up to the world, and the dialogue between civilisations.
The conflict can only be resolved by accepting Wilayat Al Gamhour and giving Wilayat Al Faqih a symbolic status.
POINT NUMBER THREE
Lessons to draw from these experiences:
- Islamisation is a legitimate commitment for a Moslem.
- Islamisation in the private and personal domain is a matter for the religious community.
- However, in the public domain, there are aspects to consider, for example, the changing circumstances of time and place, the rights of non-Muslims, the circumstances of the international community and so on. A Moslem should realise that in these matters, the margin of application is wide making some obligations in certain circumstances necessary, others not as necessary, yet others unnecessary because they could harm the ultimate goals of sharia.
The revealed text of Islam Al-Quran permits a Moslem to declare apostasy in certain circumstances while his heart was believing, in other circumstances he is expected to fulfil all principles and regulations. Al-Quran refers to fearing God as much as we can, and to fearing him absolutely, it speaks about holding your hand and praying in Mecca, and standing up to aggression in Madina. And so on.
He should consult the texts no doubt, but also employ certain God given faculties like Wisdom, Balance, and Justice.
- Sharia is a very serious business, and should be embarked upon after an intensive effort to establish the programme that could be realised, the priorities to espouse, and the reassurances required.
- Manipulation of Islam for power ambitions is a disservice to Islam.
- No person or party has any mandate to force a programme upon others and must seek empowerment by the people, and seek the required change through democratic means.
The experiences are pregnant with lessons. There are so many parties internal and external to be reassured. There are many vested interests to be minded.
Therefore, I have suggested to a number of learned Islamic Conferences to convene a special conference to study the lessons of contemporary Islamisation, and to make an objective analysis of the experiences and issue a guiding declaration for the whole Muslim community. I expect such a conference to take place in the foreseeable future.
THE FOURTH POINT
Why Nigeria? And what are the problems.
The first question is simple. Dictatorships have tried to sweep the differences over sensitive issues under the carpet. However, differences, which have any real basis, do not disappear by being neglected. They can only be resolved by being addressed.
If it can be established that the sharia issue is being forced on people by scheming politicians and/or established that it is all a foreign conspiracy to destabilise Nigeria, then it could be treated as a security problem and stamped out by security measures.
If that is not the case, and I believe among others, it is not the case, then the issue is indeed important at three levels:
- Constitutional, and
The Political Question:
Nigeria is multi religious, multi ethnic, multi cultural. What degree of autonomy in these respects is consistent with the unity of the country? This question might have been implicitly addressed in the past. So long as people are satisfied with a de facto co-existence, national affairs can proceed. However, since there are ambitions and aspirations, which threaten to upset the balance, it is necessary to address the issues explicitly with the aim of establishing a cultural National Charter to be respected by all and not to be questioned by any.
The Constitutional question:
I don’t like the word secular because it is pregnant with un-acceptable philosophical connotations. The more exact description of a constitution, which is based on the equality of citizens irrespective of religion, culture, ethnic identity, or gender, is to describe it as such.
If certain states enact sharia, then the question arises: is it constitutional? To what extent does the constitution allow asymmetry at the state level? As far as the Nigerian Constitution is concerned section 38 guarantees religious freedom. Section 10 prohibits States from adopting a state religion. Sections 4,6, 277 and Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution enables States to establish Sharia Courts and expand their jurisdiction.
Differences over interpretations of the Constitution should be settled by judicial review. However, the sensitivity of the matter may require a constitutional discourse to elucidate the matter to the satisfaction of the contending parties. The point is to approach the issue in a rational, orderly way and shut away any heated action and reaction.
The Legal Question:
It is legitimate for a community to wish to observe laws, which have a greater moral authority over it. It is also legitimate for a citizen or group of citizens to reject laws drawn from sources it does not recognise. How can these two positions be reconciled with the principle of citizen equality before the law? This leads to the question of co-existence of different legal systems within one community, a practice that British Nigeria has known.
In British Colonies with a large Muslim population there was a triple heritage of law: indigenous, Islamic, and British derived. In the three respects, I have tried to demythologise the conflicts, quantify them, and establish a rational basis for their resolution.
THE FIFTH POINT
I have recently given a lecture by the title: The Dialectics of Identity and Modernisation. In it I have detailed a section about two attitudes to the question of identity, namely, a reactionary attitude, and an enlightened one. I do believe that the reactionary attitude is the result of a period of despotism and stagnation. The enlightened one is more consistent with the Islamic Message, before reaction to foreign encroachments, and fear of interference by dictators, forced the ulema to shut down the doors of ijtihad.
There are seven areas in which we need to exercise ijtihad. I have enumerated them and presented my arguments and conclusions. The areas are:
- The concept of Islam.
- The meaning of
- Islam and the state.
- Islam and the economy.
- The Islamic criminal code.
- Islam and the rights of women.
- Islam and fine arts.
I have dealt with these subjects in three references: The Dialectics of Identity and Modernisation. The book Islamic Punishments and Social Order and the book In the Way of the Second Home Leaving.
THE SIXTH POINT
For Muslims to be more positive and moderate, the parties facing them must cultivate similar attitudes. It takes two to row, and much of the heat generated by non-western cultures against the West would develop along more moderate lines if the West:
- Recognises that its civilisation is indebted to others. A point made by Martin Bernal in his book Black Athena, and by Montgomery Watt in his book The Influence of Islamic Civilisation on Medieval Europe.
- Recognise that other cultures have a valuable contribution to make.
- Accept the fact that as other cultures borrow from the West, they will do so voluntarily, and in terms acceptable to them.
This is especially necessary for Islam because Moslems believe that they had a very raw deal by the West.
THE SEVENTH POINT
Nigeria, of course, is not an island unto itself. There are certain aspects of modernity, which genuinely constitute the cumulative achievements of human endeavour. They have been, it is true, developed in more recent times by the West, but represent human universal achievements, which Nigeria, Sudan, within themselves, and between them and indeed the whole southern global hemisphere are expected to adopt in clear terms. They are:
- Universal Human Rights.
- Inter religious co-existence.
- Co-existence between civilisations
- International relations\based on peace and cooperation.
- Protection of the environment.
- Globalisation without hegemony and loss of identity.
I so much look forward to us successfully transcending our current rifts to stand up to the common challenges ahead.