Islamic political movements exist throughout the Muslim world, whether that is the Freedom and Justice party in Egypt (FJP), En Nahda in Tunisia, AKP in Turkey, PAS in Malaysia, Jammat i Islami in Pakistan or Hizb ut Tahrir (HT) that exists in various Muslim countries. Each of these movements present themselves as Islamic political movements but the question is: what exactly is a political movement and what makes it Islamic? These are important questions to answer in order to assess whether Islamic political movements are actual political movements or mere pragmatic movements with a sugar coating of Islam. I have researched extensively into Islamic political movements, and spent much time in Egypt and Pakistan interacting with Islamic political movements placing me in a good position to try to provide an answer to the above questions.

A political movement by definition is a grouping of people that share similar political ideas that emanate from a world view. For example, the Democratic party or the Republican party in the US, are groupings of people that share similar political ideas that emerge from a secular capitalist worldview, which both parties agree upon but differ in the branches i.e. the extent to which the state should be involved in the economy, its role in setting moral bench marks, whether the state should play a paternal role or not etc. An Islamic political movement is not above such a definition, meaning that the movement must have a fixed worldview from which emanates political ideas on what the state should look like, function and be structured. If a political movement professed to believe in a certain worldview but its subsequent ideas were not consistently linked to its worldview, it would be quite accurate to make the point that this political movement is not by definition a political movement but also not ideological. As a political movement having a fixed worldview and political ideas linked to this worldview would make it ideological.

Therefore a communist party’s political ideas on the base and superstructure are intrinsically part and parcel of the communist materialistic worldview, making it ideological but if one was to find political ideas such as existence of a state, private control of means of production, structures deciding morality floating around in a communist party, the one who understands what is communism, ideology and a political movement, would clearly argue that such a communist party is pragmatic and not a true political movement as it is not consistent with its worldview, thus its ideology. Bearing the above in mind, now if we were to take the Islamic political movements into consideration, how consistent are they with being a political movement? How reflective are they of the Islamic worldview? Is there a relationship between their political ideas and behaviors to the Islamic worldview?

If one was to read the manifestos and observe the political behavior of most Islamic political movements, one will find political ideas and behaviors which are inconsistent with the Islamic worldview on which they claim to base their movements. If one was to examine Islamic political movements such as FJP, PAS and AKP, one would find that they have agreed to IMF loans and structural adjustment policies, agreed with capitalist economic structures, legitimized the democratic political infrastructure and looked to fuse Islamic thoughts with Western political thoughts, leading to Frankenstein conclusions such as Islamic democracy or Islamic capitalism. Likewise in Pakistan, if one was to examine Jamat al Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, one will realize that they have become part of the democratic political infrastructures’ furniture post 1947, they have worked with the secular political elite whether elected or not, had no problem with the capitalist economic structures apart from raising concerns over interest and accepted the existing war on terror narrative.

Given, this, anyone familiar with Islamic political theory will find it difficult to reconcile the above political ideas and behaviors with an Islamic worldview, leading to a conclusion that most Islamic political movements have become pragmatic, taking on board various political ideas and behaviors even if inconsistent with the worldview they profess to believe in. It is hard from a definitional point to argue that such Islamic political movements are either true political movements or ideological, leading to a fairer definition of them being pragmatic movements with a cosmetic face of Islam to mobilize public support. However, behind this veneer of Islam exists hard core Machiavellian pragmatism, with political power overriding ideology. The failure of such Islamic political movements to behave as political movements driven comprehensively by their worldview, has led many dissatisfied with capitalism and existing Islamic political movements to look to HT. Mohammed Nawab Osman, the author of ‘The Transnational Network of Hizb ut Tahrir Indonesia’, states this exact point, as HT has been able to give confidence to bright minds in the Muslim world that have taken an interest in Islamic political discourse and activism. It is no surprise that this political movement driven by ideology has been listed by Zeyno Baran, a US scholar as being a key strategic challenge to US interests in the Muslim world, given no prospects of co-optation and inclusion into existing political structures, key survival strategies for autocratic regimes.

The Islamic political field is congested, with numerous political movements professing to be Islamic political movements but for them to do justice to what is a political movement and the Islamic worldview, there is a need for them to shift away from pragmatism to ideology rather than continuing to be chameleons that blend with the reality and begin to provide political ideas that are consistent with their worldview so that they can play a role in intellectually and politically re-constructing society rather than causing confusion and despair as is the reality today.

 The writer is an assistant professor of political science at LUMS.