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Archive for April, 2012

Khayrat el-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for the forthcoming Egyptian presidential elections, met with Islamic scholars from the Islamic Legal Body for Rights and Reform (al-hay’at al-shar’iyya lil-huqûq wal-islâh) on Tuesday.

According to the Body’s founding statement, one of their principle goals is:

“The creation of an Islamically-legitimate [râshida] source of authority, which revives the function of clerics and Islamic intellectuals in the Umma (global Islamic community), to support The People who Loosen and Bind [ahl al-hall wal-‘aqd] in strengthening freedoms and ensuring reform.” (إيجاد مرجعية راشدة تُحْيِي وظيفة العلماء والحكماء في الأمة، لمعاونة أهل الحل والعقد في تدعيم الحريات وتحقيق الإصلاح.)

Now, The People who Loosen and Bind is an historical Islamic legal term for those members of a community invested with the power to ‘elect’ a caliph or imam.  It is through this group that a caliph received an oath of allegiance (bay’a) on behalf of the people.

The modern institutional equivalent of the ahl al-hall wal-‘aqd is the legislature or the Majlis al-Sh’ab in the case of Egypt.  It is noteworthy, therefore, given Khayrat el-Shater’s reluctance to speak directly to the media since the annoucement of his candidature, that he paid a visit to this group of clerics and scholars.  Particularly so, given that the Body consists of a cross-section of senior Egyptian ulema; the sort of people likely to endorse or reject his nomination from an Islamic perspective.

At the meeting, Associated France Press reports him making some controversial statements on sharia:

“…Khairat el-Shater, has pledged to press for the implementation of sharia (Islamic law) if elected [and] said implementing the sharia was “his first and final goal,” […] Shater [also] said “he would work to form a group of scholars to support parliament in achieving that goal,”

What’s interesting again is that the Arabic term used at the Body’s website, from which AFP gleaned their information, for ‘a group of scholars’ is ‘majmu’a min ahl al-hall wal-‘aqd‘ (وقد أكد الشاطر أن الشريعة كانت وستظل مشروعه وهدفه الأول والأخير، وأنه سيعمل على تكوين مجموعة من أهل الحل والعقد لمعاونة البرلمان في تحقيق هذا الهدف.).  The use of this term further underscores the importance for Islamists of tradition.

El-Shater’s mention of this ‘group of scholars’ could signal his intention to use the Islamic Legal Body for Rights and Reform.  It will also alarm many who read the Brotherhood’s Draft Party Platform several years ago and noted its reference to the creation of ‘a council of religious scholars’ with the power to veto legislation proposed by the People’s Assembly/Majlis al-Sh’ab.  Could this be the same thing?  It certainly seems so.  If el-Shater is elected, and even if he is not (and becomes PM!), it will be intriguing, not to say worrying, to see what form this ‘group of scholars’ takes.

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During the course of the Arab Spring, we have noted various types of Islamist group emerging into the public sphere.  From the well-organised Muslim Brotherhood and their political party, the FJP, to the newly formed Yemeni Salafist party, the Rashad Union. Muslims of various creeds and affiliations have taken an active part in the political revolutions sweeping the MENA region.

Yet, not all of the Islamists vying for attention belong to parties or established movements.  For some, this is because of a doctrinal aversion to hizbiyya or partisanship; for others, it is simply because they are unaffiliated to any specific theological movement or Islamist grouping.  Khalil al-Anani terms them ‘informal’ Islamists:

“They are not officially affiliated with any Islamist movement. Nor are they keen to establish their own organizations. Ironically, they shunned joining any of the new Islamists parties. Moreover, whereas “formal” Islamists, for example, the MB, ad-Dawa al-Salafiyya, and ex-Jihadists, rushed to formal politics, “informal” Islamists prefer to play outside the official framework.”

Perhaps the archetypal unaffiliated or ‘informal’ Islamist is the Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.  Despite being associated with the Ikhwan, and playing a pivotal role in the initial formation of the Global Muslim Brotherhood Organisation, al-Qaradawi has established a global independent platform for his doctrine of wasatiyya or ‘moderation’ in one’s interpretation of Islam.  Through his appearances on the popular Al Jazeera show Al Sharia wal Hayat, his leadership of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, to the publication of numerous books translated into a multitude of languages, he has been able propagate his ideology to a global audience independently of the Egyptian Brotherhood.

It is the flexibility of operating outside of any formal religious or political organisation that has been a boon for this type of Islamist personality in the wake of the Arab uprisings.  Whilst politico-religious movements such as the Ikhwan and the Salafis have entered parliament, Islamists such as the Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, who bridges the gap between the two, have been left untarnished by any controversial pronouncements made by members of either movement, and have built allegiances that cross traditional class and economic boundaries.

It is worth noting that these types of Islamist only represent a short term threat to the political aspirations of the Brotherhood and the Salafi movement; in the long term, these independent Islamists serve to frame the terms of the political debate along Islamic lines.  They broadly share the same goals as these movements in that they wish to see greater Islamic unity, and to see a prominent role for the sharia in the legal systems of their respective countries.

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