On da’wa and harakat
In a number of online forums including this blog and UV, I’ve chided Bangladeshi progressives for lumping all Islamic movements — harakat, to use the Arabic term preferred by many participants of such movements — as one monolithic and homogenous enemy, and demonising them as war criminals / collaborators / militants (if not chhagu or something worse). For some ultranationalists, anyone with facial hair and skull cap — dari-tupi — or hijab is enough to warrant such derogatory tagging. Childish such behaviour may be, but in a country where 90% of the people are Muslim, that behaviour will have dangerous blow back.
This post, however, is not about making that argument. Rather, this is really my attempt at classifying several streams of harakat as I see them in (hopefully soon to be post war crimes trial) Bangladesh. The analysis behind the classification is based on my own personal experience, observation and conversation, as well as a reading of the relevant literature (authors I would recommend include Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, Timur Kuran and Wali Nasr).
As always, the views are ever evolving and tentative. I may well change my mind in future. In fact, I will very likely do so. But this is how I see the movements in near future Bangladesh.
This is a positive post, not a normative one. That is, I am not going to comment on where I stand on the movements or their objectives. Rather, the idea is to classify the movements.
At the broadest level, a distinction needs to be made between the political and apolitical movements, where political is defined as those pertaining to achieving power over the state machinery. There are many Islamic movements that either actively disavow politics and distance themselves from the state. In a sense, these movements underscore the liberal concept of a separation between spiritual and secular. Let me broadly classify this stream as the Da’wa (the invitation).
Tabligh Jamaat is perhaps the largest Da’wa movement in Bangladesh. Anyone familiar with them — and let’s face it, any Bangladeshi, of whatever religion, socioeconomic or ethnic background, is likely to know someone who belongs to Tabligh — will know that this movement has nothing to do with attaining state power. Their entire programme is about changing lifestyles — growing a beard or wearing hijab, sleeping on the floor because the Prophet didn’t sleep in a bed — to become ‘better’ Muslims.
The idea of Da’wa is usually (but not always, see below) to change the individual — non-Muslims to convert, nominally Muslims to become better Muslims. Tabligh attempts to do this through a peer network system. But others have different methods.
Various Pirs across the country preach Da’wa in their own way. A Pir essentially claims to have some spiritual superiority over his followers, and others are invited to share the fruits of his spirituality. People like Zakir Naik or the recently sentenced fugitive AK Azad or the alleged war criminal Delwar Hossein Sayedee also practise a form of Da’wa when they use modern technology to explain Islamic precepts and ideas to their followers.
Da’wa movements can be further classified into the interpretation of Islam being preached. On one extreme is the Salafiyya — those who want to live like the Prophet and the Rightly Guided Successors. For them, anything not found in the Quran and the Sunnah is forbidden. Then there are the Tablighis, who also favour a literal or traditional interpretation. Various Pirs, on the other hand, are a different matter. The whole concept of Pirs and Sufis is considered bid’a (harmful innovation) to the Salafiyya. Whatever they preach, the Pirs are a product of local conditions of rural and semi-rural Bangladesh. They are, almost by definition, syncretic. The modern Da’wa practitioners, of course, could be anywhere in the Salafi-syncretic spectrum.
While most Da’wa movements aim to change the individuals, there are some who aim to affect social changes, but fall short of outright politics. In Bangladesh, there are two broad social Da’wa movements. The older of the two is the network of traditional qawmi madrassahs, who look to Deoband for spiritual guidance (as does the Tabligh). The more recent one is composed of the Gulf funded philanthropies — Islamic NGOs if you like — that have come to challenge western-funded organisations like BRAC in delivering various services to marginalised communities across the country.
Related to these Islamic NGOs are the Islam-based education, health or financial service providers that have sprung up around the country. Some of these are outgrowth of NGOs (think BRAC University or BRAC Bank). Others are outright profit making ventures. But many are linked to the political harakat that is Jama’at-e-Islami. I’ll do a separate post on Jama’at. For now, the relevant thing is this. Whereas, say, Tabligh Jama’at eschews politics, Jama’at-e-Islami is all about politics. Whereas Tabligh wants the individual to become a better Muslim by following the rituals properly, Jama’at says that one cannot live an Islamic life in a state that is not run by Islamic precepts.
How do you run the state according to Islamic precepts? You begin by capturing the state machinery. And to do that, you need to participate in politics.
The political harakat can be further classified by the nature of that politics. On one extreme are those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of modern states — not just Bangladesh, but any state. Formally, Hizbut Tahrir seeks to replace modern states with a Caliphate. On the other extreme are parties like the Turkish AKP who not only accept the sovereignty of their respective states, they also ground themselves in respective national identities, and accept the basic constitutional and political pluralisms of their societies. Further, there are those who refuse to accept democratic means — elections, courts, media — as legitimate, even when these are available, preferring violence. Others use violence because that’s the only option available, but would prefer democratic means if they were available (if only to do away with them once they achieve power).
If elections are any guide, Jama’at has been the largest political harakat in Bangladesh over the past quarter century. During this time, they have accepted the reality of Bangladesh, and sought to consolidate their position within electoral politics. Individuals such as Fazlul Huq Amini (of Islami Oikko Jote) or Maolana Mannan (founder of Daily Inqilab) have been Jama’at’s main rival in this kind of politics. Both Amini and Mannan are now dead, as will the senior Jama’at leader be soon (they are old man, the trial or not, nature will run its course). There are several million voters out there waiting to be captured by some new generation of harakat.
Well, that’s the harakat that seeks to work within the confines of electoral politics within the reality of Bangladesh. What about those who wants to practice violent means or seek global revolutionary ends?
For a while in the middle of last decade, people like Bangla Bhai seemed like a significant factor in Bangladesh. And the government likes to trumpet HT as a major threat. These groups deserve a post on their own. But for now, let me end with noting that I don’t actually see such any significant violent, revolutionary harakat in current or near future Bangladesh.