Panel 2e. God’s Chosen Peoples: Historical Perspectives on Islam and Liberation

Chair: Ulrika Mårtensson

Liberation from Foreign Tyranny: Islam and the Arab Nation
Ulrika Mårtensson, NTNU-The Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Drawing on Anthony Smith’s (2003) concept of religion as the source of national identity, this paper explores the function of Islam as the source of Arab national identity with reference to three cases. (1) The rise of Islam as presented in al-Tabari’s (d. 923) history: in some reports the Prophet’s divinely willed mission is described as the power behind the Arabs’ military victories over the Persian Sassanid kings with ensures the liberation of both Arab men and women from Persian political and sexual oppression. From al-Tabari’s perspective, Islam is connected with a shift from Arab vassal status under the Sassanid empire to Arab political sovereignty: the free Arab nation was born. (2) This is also how Michel Aflaq (d. 1989), the intellectual originator of Ba’th Arab nationalism in the colonial period, conceived of Islam: as the source and genius of the re-awakened Arab nation. (3) Extrapolating from these cases, it is suggested here that the adjective ‘Islamic’ in today’s IS signifies that it’s self-perception is a project to liberate the Arab nation from foreign tyranny, i.e. all its enemies. Hence, jihadi fighters cooperate with former Ba’th leaders and Sufis, indicating that the common cause of sovereignty is paramount and religious dogma plays at most a secondary role.

Hanbalism as a project of liberation
Susanne Olsson, Stockholm University

Hanbalism from the earliest era until today promoted literal readings of Scripture and the subjugation of reason in the process of understanding the divine will, which if implemented would liberate humanity and lead them towards eternity in Paradise. Implementation was therefore considered necessary. The legal phrases al-amr bi al-ma‘rūf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar (commanding good and forbidding evil) and al-walā’ wa al-barā’ (allegiance and disavowal), were used to develop strategic motivations to agitate against those considered dealing with innovation (bid‘ah), which were those not abiding to a Ḥanbali lifestyle. This pietistic struggle of “othering” intended to transfer a specific view of a moral vision on society, sometimes through hands-on “correction”. Ibn Hanbal (d. 855) and al-Barbahari (d. 941) are early Hanbalis promoting this view but differed on how “correction” ought to be performed. However, both agreed that “correction” should not be directed towards political leaders. A political quietism was forwarded as the correct action (manhaj) and loyalty to political authorities was reinforced. Political leadership was in this sense “passively” accepted. This perspective on manhaj towards leaders was changed with Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328) and contemporary Salafi interpretations differ on this point, but are influenced by the early Hanbali scholars. The paper will focus on the actions recommended in order to reach liberation as understood from early Hanbali views.

Historical Developments of Kharidjite Communities: Contemporary Reflections
Marianne Laanatza, Lund University

The paper is about how the violent Kharidjites, who once upon a time were a threat like the current al-Qaida or IS in areas around Baghdad and Basra as well as in some parts of Iran, developed their religious believing and acting from applying a very aggressive form of jihad to an inner and peaceful one in order to survive. They were then not any longer known as Kharidjites but Ibadits. They were settled in Oman and in the Maghreb under different conditions. While they have played an important and dominant role in Oman and still is the leading form of Islam in that society, the Ibadites in the Maghreb had a violent and complicated history, but still exist – although as very marginalized – in the Maghreb. The situation for the Ibadites in the current Maghreb is highlighted here as well as their roles during the so-called Arab Spring and their views on al-Qaida and similar groups today.

Identity, Liberation and Multiplicity in the Legal Discourse of Abou El Fadl
Angus Slater, Lancaster University

While liberation in the purely social or political aspect has always been a focus for thinking in the Middle East, a concomitant part of the recent movements termed the ‘Arab Spring’ was the liberation of identity from the strictures of past social and religious constructions in favour of a re-working and re-imagining of the possibilities for Muslim identity in the Middle East and beyond. As part of this re-imagining, the role that the discourse of Islamic law – its internal mechanisms, its social standing in Islamic communities, and its relation to the performance of Islamic identity – all become key components of re-envisaging the terms and possibilities of liberation. This paper attempt to address this process through the work of Abou El Fadl, a noted western scholar of Islam, who addresses the intersection between the classical tradition of Islamic law, representations of that tradition in the grab of contemporary invocations of the Sharῑ’ah, and the way in which these issues have an impact on the formation of Muslim identity in the West. In doing, Abou El Fadl’s proposes the liberation of contemporary Islamic identity through a renewal of the multiplicity and hesitancy of the classical tradition. In deconstructing and challenging the singular representations of Islamic identity and the Sharῑ’ah, the discourse promoted by Abou El Fadl opens up the possibility for liberation beyond the purely social or political into the arena of identity and the formation of the self.

“Is Sharia antithetical to democracy and justice?”
Ayesha Malik, The Review of Religions Magazine

The term Sharia, perceived through a purely etymological lens presents itself today as an oxymoron on many levels. The term literally means life-giving water – however, when juxtaposed against state practice in the Muslim-majority world with respect to the enforcement and implementation of Sharia law, a deepening divide between the letter and spirit of Sharia is revealed. The enforcement of Sharia in Muslim-majority lands has mutated from constitutionalisation to politicisation, interspersed by layered responses from the judiciary. The choice of wording of constitutional Sharia law provisions, presents a range of vexed questions with respect to their interpretation – not least the difficulty of whose version of Sharia shall prevail. The analysis will aim to examine, by exploring a series of conundrums, state practice (focusing primarily on the Middle East) in relation to the construction and interpretation of such provisions and illustrate the implications that such provisions have had on the socio-legal fabric. It will be demonstrated that the heightened role of Islam in the state in Muslim-majority countries has meant the entrenchment of a pernicious ideology, the proponents whereof claim to be the “true” warders of religion. It will be argued that this “custodians of heaven” approach has paradoxically made a travesty of Sharia – alienating it from the source text (the Qur’an) and reducing it to epitomising violence and intolerance. The exposition will aim to explore the fundamental principles of governance as espoused in the Qur’an and trace the gap that ironically exists between these principles and actual state practice.

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