Problem with gradualism: Egypts military coup highlights the problem with this methodology
Until the overthrow of President Morsi in Egypt this week, many supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) approach would point at the great successes of the Muslim Brotherhood since its inception.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s method of returning to a wholly Islamic system and establishing Khilafah has been termed gradualism. “Gradualism here refers to preparing people ideologically, psychologically, morally, and socially to accept and adopt the application of the Shariah in all aspects of life, and to finding lawful alternatives for the forbidden principles upon which many associations have been founded for so long.” (Yusuf al Qardawi, OnIslam.com). This argument is predicated on the principle that Islam was not revealed to Prophet Muhammed (saw) in its entirety at the advent of Islam, therefore any aspect can be used as evidence for this methodology. In particular examples of prayer, fasting and the prohibition of alcohol are used. So Allah (swt) gave people the Shariah step by step and likewise if it is to be reintroduced, that is how it should be done. Human beings then decide how and when the Shariah is to be implemented.
The institutions of Egypt did not fall when Hosni Mubarak fell, and Morsi faced opposition from the country’s judiciary, media and police. He was not able to reform these institutions. The country faced an unprecedented economic crisis which he was ill equipped to tackle. His secular political opponents were dismissive of his democratic credentials and his quasi-Islamic political opponents were dismissive of his Islamic credentials. Progress would have challenged the most experienced and talented political leader with the institutions of state on his side. His failure was predictable.
So what of the “gradual” approach? There are conceptual and Islamic legislative flaws.
1. The Misunderstanding of the purpose of politics in Islam.
The purpose of politics is to tend to the affairs of people. Islam sets forth political and economic principles and detailed rules to address societal problems.
Egypt faces a critical economic crisis as well as problems with security, political corruption and sectarianism. By looking towards capitalist economic solutions (such as an IMF loan and structural reform) to address Egypt’s economic turmoil, the government ingrained the view that capitalism has the correct ideas to turn the Egyptian economy around. If Islam will not work in a crisis, when will it work?
The idea that problems can be solved with non-Islamic solutions in order for Islam to be eventually implemented is flawed. Confidence is built in Islamic solutions by seeing that they work, not that they can be abandoned in times of crisis. Any problem that is solved by referring to something other than Islam simply enforces the view that Islam is not really required, practical or desirable.
2. Gradualism enforces the belief that Islam is devoid of solutions.
Rather than this ideological view that Islam can solve the nations problems, the “Islamic” policy ideas were often counterintuitive and made problems worse.
The Egyptian government were seen to provide cheap electricity to Gaza while Cairo suffered power cuts; liberalisation of the Rafah border crossing was blamed for worsening security in Sinai and northern Egypt and the murder of Shia in their homes was widely reported and met with silence from the government. As the year went on, there were shortages of bread, petrol, electricity, water and unemployment rose while security deteriorated. The Egyptian government did not implement a single economic solution based on Islamic thought, yet they managed to give the impression that Islam had caused economic collapse. The Egyptian government did not implement a single policy to strengthen the unity of the country and the acceptance of minorities based on Islamic thought, yet they managed to allow the impression that Islam had caused sectarianism.
If their view of the gradual political implementation of Islam is a decision on when during your gradualism to ban alcohol and flog fornicators, they should not have taken power.
The Prophet Muhammad (saw) said: “The son of Adam has no better right than that he would have a house wherein he may live, a piece of clothe whereby he may hide his nakedness and a piece of bread and some water.” (Tirmidhi)
The Egyptian government failed to achieve these basic rights for the people of Egypt. When were they planning to get to this with their gradual methodology?
3. Being locked into a “fait accompli”.
After the fall of Mubarak, Egyptian society was divided regarding what system should govern the country. Rather than settling this question, Morsi carried on within the existing paradigm and constraints. So in reality, an American controlled secular system remained largely intact. Muslims came to power but Islam did not come to power. Subsequently, we saw ongoing political crisis as a divided society become even more polarised. This was a natural consequence of not settling that fundamental question.
As a result, Morsi was locked into a “lose-lose” reality, where all problems and challenges are blamed on Morsi and his “Islamisation”, whilst he has no power or ability to really bring about Islamic solutions outside of the current system and its failures.
In reality, his inability to rule by Islam from the first instance, has created a fait accompli – which unravelled last week, leading to his removal military coup and the subsequent claim that Islam is unfit for governance. A better case against Islam could not have been made by liberals and anti-islamic forces in Egypt!
4. Gradualism creates a trust deficit.
It was well known in Egypt that many supporters of the MB were hoping for the establishment of Khilafah with the knowledge that the current regime were not trying to achieve that.
The knowledge that your ultimate political objectives are very different from your current political policies ensures that you always operate under an air of suspicion. This characterised the last year of MB rule in Egypt as they were constantly accused of covert “Islamisation,” even when their policies were overtly secular.
So gradualism in government implies deception.
5. The Qur’an specifically warns about the partial implementation of Allah’s (swt) systems.
وَالَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَفْرَحُونَ بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمِنَ الأَحْزَابِ مَن يُنكِرُ بَعْضَهُ قُلْ إِنَّمَا أُمِرْتُ أَنْ أَعْبُدَ اللّهَ وَلا أُشْرِكَ بِهِ إِلَيْهِ أَدْعُو وَإِلَيْهِ مَآبِ
Those to whom We have given the Book rejoice at what has been revealed to you: but there are among the clans those who reject a part thereof. Say: “I am commanded to worship Allah, and not to join partners with Him. Unto Him do I call, and unto Him is my return. (Surah Ar-Rad 13:36)
This ayah is in response to some of the tribes around Madinah at the time of the Prophet (saw) who had not accepted Islam. It advises the Prophet (saw) to confirm to them that He (saw) believes in all that has been revealed to him and to worship Allah (swt) therefore in all things. The surah goes on:
وَكَذَلِكَ أَنزَلْنَاهُ حُكْمًا عَرَبِيًّا وَلَئِنِ اتَّبَعْتَ أَهْوَاءهُم بَعْدَ مَا جَاءكَ مِنَ الْعِلْمِ مَا لَكَ مِنَ اللّهِ مِن وَلِيٍّ وَلاَ وَاقٍ
Thus have We revealed it (the Qur’an), a code of judgement in the Arabic tongue. If you should follow their desires after all the knowledge you have been given, you shall have none to protect or shield you from God. (Surah Ar-Rad 13:37)
Often Allah (swt) makes an example for the Muslims of previous nations so that we can learn from the mistakes in the past. An Islamic political party should call in the current era for the comprehensive implementation of Islamic systems and the solutions that emanate from them. The implementation requires the general support of the people and those with power in any state (eg the army). There should be no deception that if placed in power, the constitution will be an Islamic one and the solutions will all be from Islam. If that is not to the liking of the people or the military without many compromises, then it is not the correct time to take power.
وَإِذْأَخَذْنَامِيثَاقَكُمْ لاَ تَسْفِكُونَ دِمَاءكُمْ وَلاَ تُخْرِجُونَ أَنفُسَكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ ثُمَّ أَقْرَرْتُمْ وَأَنتُمْ تَشْهَدُونَ
ثُمَّ أَنتُمْ هَـؤُلاء تَقْتُلُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ وَتُخْرِجُونَ فَرِيقاً مِّنكُم مِّن دِيَارِهِمْ تَظَاهَرُونَ عَلَيْهِم بِالإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ وَإِن يَأتُوكُمْ أُسَارَى تُفَادُوهُمْ وَهُوَ مُحَرَّمٌ عَلَيْكُمْ إِخْرَاجُهُمْ أَفَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِبَعْضِ الْكِتَابِ وَتَكْفُرُونَ بِبَعْضٍ فَمَا جَزَاء مَن يَفْعَلُ ذَلِكَ مِنكُمْ إِلاَّ خِزْيٌ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَى أَشَدِّ الْعَذَابِ وَمَا اللّهُ بِغَافِلٍ عَمَّا تَعْمَلُونَ
We made this covenant with the Children of Israel: “Worship none but God; show kindness to parents and kinsfolk and to the orphans and the poor; speak kindly to all people; attend regularly to your prayers and pay the obligatory charity.” But, except for a few, you turned away and paid no heed. We made a covenant with you that you shall not shed your own blood or drive yourselves out of your own homeland. You acknowledged all that and bore witness to it. Yet there you are slaying yourselves, and driving some of your own people out of their homes, collaborating against them in sin and injustice. Had they come to you as captives you would have ransomed them. Their expulsion is indeed forbidden to you. Do you, then, believe in some parts of the Scriptures and deny others? Those of you who do this will have nothing for their reward other than ignominy in this life and, on the Day of Resurrection they shall be committed to a most grevious penalty. For Allah is not unmindful of what you do (Surah al Baqarah 2:84-85)