Tunis, Tunisia 2011: Demonstrators calling for an Islamic state of Tunisia.
Group of ideologies in Islam that want to use the Sharia, Muslim Law, to its full extent, meaning that secular forms of governments and institutions are considered foreign to a true Muslim society.
Islamism is not one -1- ideology. Inside the same society, several directions of Islamism can be found, and these are seldom cooperating. People belonging to an Islamist group, call themselves, and are called by others 'islāmiyy for men and 'islāmiyya for women. Both men and women are called Islamists in English. Islamism is often referred to as Salafism, but this encyclopaedia uses the general term 'Islamism' throughout, since early Salafism is the contrary to modern Islamism.
Early descriptions of Islamism relied much upon the presentations of the Islamist ideologists themselves, in which there are 4 main motifs for the development of the modern, yet conservative understanding of :
Islamists are strongly concerned about social differences, between the rich and the poor world, as well as inside the Muslim communities. As responsibility for the poor and the needing is central to Islam, any situation with unevenly divided wealth and many poor people, is unacceptable to a zealous Muslim.
Islamists react towards both the West for its reluctance to address the poverty of the world, as well as towards the rich in their own societies, who are considered equally reluctant.
2. Cultural problems
Islamists feel that they are losing their culture, that Western clothes, values, social patterns, political structures, language and identity are replacing what there once was. Islamists reject many elements of the modern culture (but accept a lot), elements they feel are superfluous and dangerous.
In many countries, the growth of Islamism must moreover be seen in connection with an inferiority complex towards the rich West, which is not only felt by Islamists, but many Muslims.
All Muslims are all well aware that they were the superior military and cultural force in the world for centuries, and the reversed situation in the modern ages hurts the pride of Muslims.
As many Muslim countries have tried to copy both the capitalist system, and others the socialist system, and all have seen little but marginal success, Islamists are working for re-establishing what the promote as a "third alternative"; a political system that they claim is similar to the one which once made unknown tribes grow into becoming lords of empires in a few decades.
But in order to create such a society, the Islamists are not rejecting modern technology, and are very concerned about implement this on a grand scale in an Islamist society. And because of the technology, the Islamists believe that the coming Islamist society will be an even better society than the one of the Golden Age.
However, there are no Muslim sources indicating that the Islam of the Golden Age was as strict, conservative, intolerant and violent as the present Islamist ideology. All indications show that it was the liberal Islam that paved the ground for cultural, social and military achievements of those days values foreign to all major Islamist groups. Hence, there is reason to say that the Islamist idea of the Golden Age is a dramatic falsification of history.
Moreover, the Muslims of the Golden Age were often pragmatic in the sense that they borrowed solutions from other cultures, both from the lands they conquered as well as neighbour states. This involved not only the technology of its times, but also ideas and custom.
In the case of the modern Islamists, their only fascination with the non-Muslim world is with modern technology, as for the rest, culture and values, they have almost only negative attitudes.
Last, but not least, the advances of the Golden Age were actually few and came slowly. The Golden Age may therefore not be compared to anything in the modern world; the successes of the Muslim countries was more a matter of a comparison with the highly unsuccessful Europe at the time. Also, much of the economy and drift in the Muslim world came from the efforts of non-Muslim subjects, especially Christians.
4. Political alternative
Islamism has been implemented as a real political alternative in modern times. Several countries have implemented Islamist politics: principally Iran and Sudan, but also to some extent Pakistan and Libya. Saudi Arabia has had an Islamist politics for a long time, but is not regarded as Islamist by many, because of the enormous differences between the rich and the poor in the country.
But the large numbers of problems these countries have faced have to a large extent discredited Islamism, though. What has been represented as good solutions for economy, safety and welfare, has not yielded its promised results. In many cases, the situation has worsened compared to before the implementation of Islamism, as is the case of Sudan, Pakistan and Iran.
On a smaller scale, but just as important in many countries, are all the small welfare institutions that Islamists have put up in rural areas and in poor neighbourhoods in the cities. These institutions have served people often left out of state run services, like health care and support for unemployed. Their success have often been great, and they have helped many people.
It is not clear however, if the Islamists run these from a good heart or because these institutions have proven effective to spread their ideology.
5. Self-pity and hate
The Islamist construction of a world image involves several ideas about wrong being done by non-Muslims upon Muslims, as well as by leaders of Muslim countries being corrupt and not fulfilling the obligations to their subjects as required by Islam. Corrupt Muslim leaders are explained to be created by non-Muslim interests and/or upheld by these.
In total, the lack of success for all Muslim societies and the near absence of Muslim individuals in the forefront of creating the modern world over the recent centuries, is not the fault of the average Muslim, it is the fault of non-Muslims exercising a combination of force, brutality and lack of ethics to make true Muslim life difficult.
Self-pity is the beginning of this rationale. Muslims claim to be badly treated, discriminated and subject of prejudice when non-Muslims evaluate Muslims without taking into consideration that everything structurally wrong is forced upon Muslims by non-Muslims.
A natural result of self-pity is hate. Hate towards all that and those that are responsible for the misery of the Muslim world.
There is a hierarchy of hate subjects for the Islamists. First is the two-headed devil of the USA and the Zionists, which is responsible for a long line of misdeeds simply to keep the state of Israel alive. Second is international capitalism, which of course in its efforts of creating wealth without taking into consideration the rights of Muslims, happily cooperate with the USA and the Zionists. Third up can be anyone, any state in Europe, any ruler cooperating with anti-Muslim interests. Even individuals, whether it be the British author Salman Rushdie or Danish cartoonists, can be considered major parts in the uninterrupted, deliberate or inconsiderate series of campaigns intending to insult or degrade Muslim individuals and societies.
Islamism is a phenomenon primarily taking place in cities, and the most prominent members are young people with higher education, often with a modest background and often with parents living in the countryside. Islamists often have a feeling that despite the efforts they have put down in their studies, they have not managed to climb very much socially, that the jobs they were aspiring for are given to people with good social connections, but less qualifications.
Islamists do not see themselves as revolutionaries, in the sense that a revolution will turn the society upside down, and create new social structures from scratch. The revolution that Islamists hope for is the one that will bring old values back (according to their erroneous understanding of Muslim societies of the past), and wipe out all the degenerated elements of the modern society. But Islamism is just as much a fight against what they perceive as old, rigid values, still found among many Muslims living in rural areas. Islamists seek to bring people of the rural areas into the modern age, at the same time as they fight for preserving many old values that they believe that cities dwellers have lost or are about to lose.
Islamists' political programs were for a long time simple and basic: it was based on the Sharia. But demands from rulers, intellectuals and people, have forced the Islamists to concretize the actual content in their politics. Sayyid Qutb, one of the main characters of Sunni Islamism, have stated that true Islamist politics would first come clear during the practice of Islamism. From this it is clear that he intended to state that Sharia was not clear on all points, and that humans could not act blindly according to it.
After Qutb, there seem to have become a tendency among many Muslims to advocate that Sharia actually shall be followed blindly, as it is a perfect system for law and society.
In economic politics, most Islamists defend a system close to the social democracy practised in many European countries. When Islamists diverge from social democracy it is more often in a direction of capitalism (which is the case with FIS in Algeria), than in direction of communism. The most specific Islamist view on economics, is the refusal of interests on loans and deposits. Instead banks should work as investment organizations, earning money from real profits, shared with the business owners. There have been attempts on establishing such bank systems, but the results have in some cases been catastrophic, as was the case in Egypt in the 1980's.
The Islamist view on women vary a lot, from extremely conservative to more liberal. In some cases women have joined the Islamists in order to liberate themselves from more negative views on women elsewhere in the society, while in countries in especially in North Africa, non-Islamist women enjoy freedoms out of reach by Islamist women.
It is quite common that Islamists defend the woman's right to work and to have political and social influence. But in general, Islamist groups see men as belonging more to life in society, while a woman's primary obligation is towards the family. But seclusion of women is rarely professed by Islamists.
Islamists are not democrats, even if there have been very successful attempts of making the Islamists part of a democratic structure (as in Jordan and for a breif period in Turkey). Yet, Islamist programs are not in favour of dictatorship (even if this has been the temporary result of Islamism in Iran and Sudan). Dictatorship can be transitory, but the ideal structure in an Islamist society is the system of shura, where the leaders are in frequent contact with the entire society, and ask about their needs, and for their ideas, and are obliged to show respect for what they are told. Islamists have shown little ability to define structures that will prevent the leaders inside the shura-system from turning it into a system of dictatorship.
With the rapid growth of Islamism in European societies, many Islamists have used the freedom of organization and speech to define more radical views. In this, the call for a return of the caliphate involves clear elements of a dictatorship.
Islamists have in many cases been involved in violent acts. The reason for resorting to such means appears to be the same over and over again: First, the Islamists try to change the rulers and men of power through intellectual means, but as this seldom leads to anything and as there seldom are any democratic channels to be used, violence has been the last resort.
But during the last two decades violence seem to have become an intrinsic part of the Islamist ideology, and the will to use violence doesn't need much provocation anymore. This seems to be the situation for some groups in Egypt, and some minor groups in Algeria.
In 2001, the world saw the ultimate form of violent Islamism, when Al-Qa'ida performed some of the most dramatic non-war attacks on civilian goals the world has ever seen. Nearly 3,000 people were killed as two airliners crashed into the Twin Towers in New York, USA and one airliner into the US military headquarters, Pentagon.