Ideas & Philosophy — 06 August 2013
Beyond Pragmatism – a response to Beyond Islamism

Dr. Mohammad Zahid

I would like to make some brief points in response to Tariq Ramadan’s piece ‘Beyond Islamism’ published on his website ( that has raised many points concerning the future of Islamic movements in the Muslim World.

There is no doubt that the overthrow of President Mohammed Mursi in Egypt has led to many commentators championing ‘the failure of Political Islam’ scenario that was emphasised by Oliver Roy in the 1990s which has been given new sense of life over the last few months. This new piece by Ramadan seems to fall into this new wave of commentary that is looking for a new way, if one can draw analogy to the New Labour ‘Third Way.’ However, Ramadan does not propose clearly what this new way should be except that he mentions a need to focus on the achievement of Islamic objectives, which is a main theme in much of his writings, implying the need for Islamic movement to ditch with the body i.e. Islamic Law and focus on the spirit i.e. the Islamic objectives.

He further alludes to this through his title and certain points raised in the article, about Islamic movements having no real economic discourse, and that there is a need for Islamic movements to leave out the politics and follow a more traditional root, of aligning themselves with Islamic objectives of justice and peace.  Ramadan believes that the Islamic projects in Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey have not provided a clear political project, but a blend of Islam with ruthless capitalism, which is a common theme through the Islamic projects in the mentioned countries.

Given that the Muslim brotherhood movements in these countries have failed to provide a clear and distinct political programme stemming from genuine Islamic discourse, clearly the need is to go beyond Islamic pragmatism and not “Islamism,” as to date it is fair to argue that no Muslim country has implemented a complete political programme deemed to be Islamic, and can be assessed if we look and scrutinise any of the Muslim countries, whether that is Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt or Tunisia.

If one looks to Islamic political discourse, there is no doubt that it has something to offer much more than the anti-colonial and victim narrative that Ramadan mentions, and there is a need to explore this in much more detail. And when looking at Islamic culture one will find a wealth of books and literature on politics, economics, laws, finance, international relations and structures from which a coherent political programme can be derived and implemented in the global context in which we live. Time itself is not an indication of the redundancy of an idea/rule/programme/ but that of its ability to solve human problems. If time is made an issue or globalisation then much of the basis of the modern secular state would be redundant, given that democracy itself pre dated Islam and secularism emerged through blood-shed in the 16th century.

To end there is a genuine need for Islamic politics to be looked into in a serious manner and not for existing Islamic movements that have risen to power to be made a basis of judging the success or failure of Islamic politics, given that these movements are pragmatic, which Ramadan himself suggests. Islam has a rich history of ruling, governance and management of human affairs and there is a need for any serious Islamic movement to revisit it and to make it the basis of its political programme if it is to be in essence an real Islamic movement rather than one that carries the name and slogan of Islam but in substance is no different to the existing opposition forces in the Muslim world.

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