Political Islam: Can It Be Reformed

Part One

Defining the Essence of Islam

The Roman philosopher Cicero wisely taught that before one can discuss anything intelligently one must define one’s terms, including what today would be one’s basic premises or paradigms of thought.

Political Islam is usually equated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab World, though there are other similar forces in the rest of the world. In this case, one must first agree or at least discuss what Islam is before one discusses so-called political Islam as a means to practice it.

The Islamicity of “political Islam” may be the key question in the world today, other than reforming the entire system of money, credit, and banking, including so-called “Islamic banking”, in order to reverse the otherwise inevitably increasing wealth gap within and among countries, which either is or may become the principal cause of global terrorism.

The Year 2016 (1437 Hegira) witnessed perhaps the most significant turning point in the global history of the century-old Muslim Brotherhood or Ikhwan. In May, 2016, Tunisia’s Ennahda (Renaissance) Party, at the 10th Congress in its 35-year history, held as a special constitutional assembly, announced that Islam has no essence and exists only contextually in response to changing conditions from one century and one geographic region to another.

This definition or non-definition of a global religion was developed during the 1990s in great detail as his life’s work by the renegade Jesuit priest, Hanns Kueng, in three massive tomes to prove that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam do not exist ontologically (what is reality), epistemologically (how does one know it), or even axiologically (how does one derive justice from it), but are, in effect, the result of political conflict and compromise.

This de-constructive approach, premise, or paradigm of thought was also the naïve theme or contention of my honors dissertation at Northwestern University in 1955-56, entitled The Political Origins of Heresy in the First Six Centuries of Christianity.

Developing the opposite conclusion was my pre-occupation during the following twenty years and has been my full-time occupation, mostly in my own think-tanks, during the past almost four decades in my study of comparative jurisprudence in the world religions.

This includes the indigenous religions and among them my own Cherokee heritage, which dates back to the two great expeditions of Emir Abu Bakr’s Mali Empire in 1310 and 1312 to the Caribbean islands of America and then a century later on to the Yucatan, the Carolinas, and Virginia (then known as the Tuscarora, a new addition to the Iroquois Confederation).

The definition of Islam that I use encompasses three modes or levels of reality all integrated holistically through the unique Islamic concept of tawhid and the derivative concept of ‘adl (‘adala) or transcendent and compassionate justice.

The first mode of Islam’s essence, which may be called “Classical Islam”, is based on the scientific method in the heuristic search for knowledge of immanent reality (the physical world), known as ‘ain al yaqin. This mode exists in all the world’s religions, but is uniquely prominent in Islam as part of its essence.

This scientific method was borrowed by Western Europe largely from Andalucian Spain in a very successful search for physical power as an ultimate purpose.

Unfortunately, in the Muslim world the threat mentality, especially after the Crusades and the holocaust of the invading Mongol hordes, raised mere physical survival in the Muslim world to the level of an ultimate aim and surpassed the search for truth. It is an iron law of history and of civilizational rise and fall, as well as of human psychology, that whoever seeks only to survive will surely die. The opposite occurred in Europe, where an opportunity mentality gave rise to a new civilization, where truth was not sought but created by man.

The second mode of Islam is the search for knowledge of ultimate reality, which may be defined as Traditionalist Islam, known as haqq al yaqin. This aspect of Islam’s essence is based on the unique Qur’anic concept of haqq, which means simultaneously God (Allah), truth, wisdom, and justice in the sense of respect for human responsibilities and their corresponding human rights.

Western Christianity borrowed this primordial and perennial wisdom from Saint John of the Cross in Andalucia, who, in turn, borrowed his entire substance, methodology, and even terminology of what became known as Christian mysticism from Shaykh Abu al Hassan Ali al Shadhili of North Africa, who founded the only major tariqa or spiritual order to originate outside of Asia.

This second mode of Islam is also known in English as Sufism in the search for an individual, closer relationship with God, sometimes to the exclusion of one’s social responsibilities.

The third paradigmatic concept and mode of Islam may be referred to as Critical Islam, not in the sense of negatively criticizing what exists, but in the more positive sense of spelling out the meaning of the Qur’anic concept of furqan, which means distinguishing right from wrong and virtue from its absence.

These three modes of Islam as its essence are legitimate only to the extent that they reflect and reinforce the nature of Holistic Islam, which combines all three modes as the essence of every world religion.

Together they provide a holistic pattern for their development in the governing paradigm of civilizational rise and fall, as suggested in my book written in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at my Center for Civilizational Renewal in the mid-1990’s and published in 1997 under the title Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response.

This tripartite pattern is the precursor of physical science and human intellection in recognizing the coherence in the dialectical diversity of observable reality that points to the Oneness of its Creator, and is also the derivative expression of tawhid in the hierarchy of higher jurisprudential purposes known as the maqasid al shari’ah,

These two bases of Islam’s essence are summarized in Surah An’am 6:115, tamaat kalimatu rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “The Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in compassionate justice”.

This reference compares with the revelation from Jesus Christ, who himself, like every prophet, was a manifestation and a revelation from God: John 14:6, I am the way, the truth, and the life”, and John 8:32, “The truth will set you free”.

Part Two

The Challenge of Muslim Practice

The essence of Islam challenges the individual Muslim to become the person one was created to be and therefore already is. This requires the lifelong search for ultimate being, ultimate truth, and ultimate meaning as the ultimate source of compassionate justice.

The challenge for humankind at every level of community is to develop a system of governance most conducive in the given circumstances to this end.

The almost universal system of government in modern polities or countries today is the secular state, which originated at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 as a means to end the Thirty Years War in Germany between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism,

The concept of a sovereign state, hitherto unknown in human history, denied the existence of any transcendent authority and placed the absolute power of sovereignty, by definition, in the hands of whoever could impose one’s physical power over more than 50% of a given territory. This also is the definition of imperialism.

This modern phenomenon first reached its height during the French Revolution, when the Jacobins publicly beheaded about 17,000 men, women, and children. During the 20th century the most successful states were the Soviet Union, which killed 20,000,000 people, and Communist China, which killed 50,000,000, in the process of imposing their sovereign power. The most famous state in the world today is the so-called Islamic State or daesh, which claims legitimacy under the cover of religion and thereby demonstrates the essence of evil.

Another system of governance, common in practice in much of human history, is confederalism, as described in my “state of the world” essay in last year’s edition of the Muslim 500, entitled “Kurdistan: Pivot of Southwest Asia”, based on the organic nation defined as a large group of people with a common sense of their past, common values in the present, and common hopes for the future.

A good example of an ancient nation today is Pushtunistan, which was split by the British in 1947 to give the eastern half to form the western third of Pakistan and to give the western half to form the majority of Afghanistan. Such nations never die, nor does their national liberation movement.

Still another system of government is a republic, which is a product of nation building, designed not to destroy existing nations as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Mali, but to create a new nation, as best exemplified in the United States of America and possibly in Tunisia, each following the guidance inherent in the essence of a world religion.

In a principled republic, as distinct from a polity based on raw democratic power, the legislature is charged with deriving guidance from a higher source than human fiat, namely, from natural law (Sunnat Allah), consisting of revelation, scientific study of the world, and human reason. The executive branch of government is charged with doing what it is told by the legislature, and the judicial branch has the responsibility to assure that the first two branches are doing their job.

Although this form of government is distinct from a democracy in which legitimacy is based by definition on the power of a majority vote, a republic can include such a system of voting either or both by indirect representation and direct universal voting on individual issues in order to derive consensus (ijma) as a technique of consultation (shura).

Both of these are essential to the four pillars of governance in the sixth of the eight maqasid al shari’ah that I use, namely, haqq al hurriyah or respect for both personal and community self-determination.

These eight consist of two sets of respect for human responsibilities and rights. Human rights come in practice from respect for human responsibilities. The first set, which are guiding purposes, consist of respect for freedom of religion (haqq al din), the sacredness of the person (haqq al nafs), the sacredness of the community (haqq al nasl), and the physical environment (haqq al mahid). The second set, which are purposes of action and implementation, consist of respect for economic justice (haqq ‘al mal), individual and community self-determination (haqq al hurriya), dignity, including gender equity (haqq al karama), and freedom of speech, writing, and assembly (haqq al ‘ilm).

In the hierarchy of purpose known as Islamic jurisprudence the highest level is known variously as the maqasid (ultimate purposes), kulliyat (universals), and dururiyat (essentials). The internal architectonics of each maqsud has four levels of specificity, of which the second is known as the hajjiyat (goals), followed by the subordinate level of objectives and then courses of action, as spelled out in eight model charts in Chapter Five of the four-volume textbook, Islam and Muslims: Essence and Practice.

The four goals in haqq al hurriyah are khilafa, which is the responsibility of both the governors and the governed equally to God as trustees and stewards of creation, followed by shurah (consultation) by the governors with the governed or electorate, ijma (consensus among the governed), and an independent judiciary to supervise the constitutional and holistic legitimacy of the entire operating system.

The two nations, America and Tunisia, are designed to be models for the rest of the world, but will always be works in progress with occasional lapses. As Benjamin Franklin said at America’s Constitutional Convention when asked what kind of a polity or political community had just been created, he answered “A republic, if we can keep it”.

Part Three

The Historical Role of Personal Leadership

The Nahda branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan), spelled Ennahda in English, originated in response to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Historical trends and forces for change, however, often depend on individual “out of the box” leadership in developing and introducing new paradigms of thought.

The founder of Ennahda, Rachid al Ghannouchi, a former philosophy professor, followed the enlightened wing of the Egyptian Ikhwan’s founder, Hassan al Banna, and from his leadership introduced in Tunisia the profoundly traditionalist paradigm of thought that change in support of human dignity can come only from “bottom-up”, not from “top-down”, that is, from individuals whose personal sovereignty comes from God.

Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi, a walking one-man think-tank, dared to challenge the “deep state” under Bourguiba despite the Ikhwan’s history epitomized by the violent deaths of its two greatest martyrs, Hassan al Banna, who was gunned down in 1949, and Sayyid Qutb, who was publically hanged in 1966.

In 1987, the worst of the secular autocrats in the Arab world, Habib Bourguiba, ordered the top twenty of the Ikhwan in Tunisia to be executed. His more rational policy advisors persuaded him to try them publically first and then execute them.

At the behest of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), then considered to be the “brain center” of the world-wide Muslim Brotherhood, as well as of the new American ambassador to Tunisia, my friend Robert H. Pelletreau, two former ambassadors were invited to the trial as international observers. These two were myself as former U.S. Ambassador in 1981-1982 to the United Arab Emirates, responsible also personally to President Ronald Reagan for two-track diplomacy with the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the MENA region, and the former French ambassador to Kuwait, Francis Lamand, head of the Association Francaise ”Islam et Occident” (AFIO).

Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi was famous at the time for stating that, if the Ikhwan would ever gain power in a free election in Tunisia, its leaders would immediately surrender after losing the next election.

During the trial, the Tunisian exiles in Paris sent me a message, which I was able to give to the court, that Imam Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran had just denounced Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi as an apostate (kafir) for rejecting the use of force to either gain or keep power.

This may have been the critical piece of evidence to save his life, so that someday he could prove that he was serious and that the Islamophobic charge against the Ikhwan, “One election, one time”, is misleading propaganda, at least in Tunisia.

Part Four

Five Questions

The failure of the Arab Spring, as discussed in my essay in the 2013-14 edition of the Muslim 500 under the title, “Flameout-Out of the Muslim Brotherhood: Options for the Future”, raises the question whether political Islam as a paradigmatic concept is necessarily a dead-end failure in constructively shaping the global future.

The answer depends on five further questions:

  1. Does the answer depend on context, rather than on principle, as illustrated by the experiment led by Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi?
  2. Is he right that politically active Muslims should and can keep political advocacy separate from Islam as a world religion?
  3. Can and should the Muslim Brotherhood be reformed by returning to its roots in the teachings and practice of its founder, Hassan al Banna?
  4. Can the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who can be called the originator of the paradigm known as the “clash of civilizations” (rather than Samuel Huntington) be legitimately re-interpreted to conform with those of Hassan al Banna? In the past, extremists in the Muslim Brotherhood have tried to prove that Hassan al Banna, properly interpreted, agreed with Sayyid Qutb and that there is little or no difference between the two. The reverse argument that Sayyid Qutb’s writings, in fact, can be interpreted to agree with Hassan al Banna’s enlightened vision and mission has been undertaken in her thirty-volume “critical thinking” series by Sayyida Lalah Bakhtiar, who in 2012 published her translation of the Qur’an, one of the best among the new translations from the 21st century. “Each lesson-section (ruku)”, she writes, “has a modern commentary from the work of Sayyid Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an, designed to arm young people with a new approach to understanding the Qur’an so that they are less likely to radicalize”.
  5. And finally, can Muslims in America and elsewhere follow the similarly enlightened insights of America’s founding fathers and mothers? This challenge is a major purpose of my new Holistic Education Center for Civilizational Renewal.

Part Five

Contextualizing the Muslim Brotherhood

The key to the failure of the Arab Spring in Egypt was the Ikhwan’s refusal to compromise or cooperate with the secular liberals, who were the leaders of the Arab Spring at last in the beginning. These “liberals” were seeking to introduce a third option other than the simple tyranny of the entrenched “Deep State”, based on the military and security establishment, and the feared totalitarian system of so-called “political Islam” based on controlling the very thought of every individual person.

The top-down mentality of the Egyptian Ikhwan during the Arab Spring resulted from an internal coup by extremists a year before the Arab Spring started. The front man, President Morsi, was primarily interested in imposing the designation “Islamic” on the constitution. The new Ikhwan leadership ignored the need to address the economic problems in any meaningful way, especially the highly concentrated ownership of productive wealth, which, as in every country, leads to concentrated political power.

Not coincidentally, unlike in Tunisia, the Egyptian economy was owned by the military.

The key to success in transforming the government in Tunisia, on the other hand, was the Ikhwan’s delay of a new constitution for two years in order pragmatically to address the everyday concerns of the Tunisian people.

The extent of Annahda’s compromise with the secular liberals in a country where the “left/right” conflict was the most extreme in the entire Arab world was illustrated by Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi’s daughter, Sumaya Ghannouchi, who is an expert on Middle East affairs and on June 24, 2016, one month after Annahda’s 10th Congress, published an article in the Huffington Post entitled “Should Islam Have a Role in Politics?”

In this article she wrote: “There is no Islam in itself outside of historical practice”; “Two models have failed in the Muslim world. One is based on top-down secularization, the other on top-down Islamization”; and “Tunisia’s new constitution exemplifies the state model, which protects freedoms and rights, while also recognizing Islam as the state religion”.

The U.S. State Department hesitates to give foreign aid on any other basis, and does not even mention the word “justice”, even though President Obama did so in Cairo in his first major foreign policy address, where he used the paradigmatic word “justice” for the first and last time during his first four years in office.

Part Six

Separating “Church and State”

The immediate issue after what might be called the Constitutional Congress of the Tunisian Muslim Brotherhood in May, 2016, is not merely whether but how Muslims can keep political advocacy separate from Islam as a world religion.

At the Congress, while engaging in definitions, Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi explained, “One of the reasons that I do not need to belong to political Islam is that Daesh is part of this political Islam. Daesh is one of the elements within political Islam, so I would like to distinguish myself from Daesh. I am a Muslim democrat and they are against democracy. … Daesh is another face of dictatorship. Our revolution is a democratic revolution, and Islamic values are compatible with democracy”.

While keeping enlightened Islam as its reference point, just as the parties in America do with Christianity and its expression in natural law, Shaykh Rachid announced, “We would like to promote a new Ennahda, to renew our movement and to put it into the political sphere, outside any involvement with religion. Before the revolution, we were hiding in mosques, trade unions, charities, because real activity was forbidden, but now we can be political actors openly”.

He explained in reference to what one might call the transcendent essence of Islam as the source for transcendent justice, “We adopted the idea of a civil party so that we can distinguish between what is sacred in Islam and what can be freely interpreted. The political field is not sacred nor immutable. It’s civic, human. It’s free for ijtihad or independent reasoning. … The Islamic text concerning politics is open to interpretation, and this is the field in which Ennahda now acts”.

From a sociological perspective, the function of religion for its adherents in a secular, totalitarian society is to confirm one’s own existential identity. This perspective is well presented in Dr. Emin Poljarevic’s 190-page book, Islamist Grassroots and Youth Activism: A Sociology of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Movement in Egypt, Mobilization Series on Social Movements, Protest, and Culture, Routledge Publishers, to be released on April 4, 2017.

This book by Emin Poljarevic, now a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh, explains that political oppression produces a resistance culture focused on authority and elemental justice. In 2012, I was honored to evaluate the first draft of this book at the dissertation stage when I was Director of the Qatar Foundation’s Center for the Study of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies and Emin was studying at the NATO-allied European University Institute in Florence, Italy.

He focused on the teachings and practice of Hassan al Banna. His core chapter introduced the paradigmatic concept of the “Islamist search for the authentic self”, whereby “the grass-root activists’ understandings of an ideal-type human extend this notion to an ideal-type social-political system”.

Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi is adapting to the freedoms in Tunisia by abandoning the politics of identity in favor of the bread and butter issues that concern both the entire Tunisian political electorate and all the parties competing with Ennahda. Ennahda is no longer a revolutionary liberation theology, a language of opposition, but a participant in governance and reform.

This reinvention of Annahda is Shaykh Rachid’s strategy to protect Tunisia from the surrounding chaos that results from the cycle of extremism and extremist counter-measures.

At Annahda’s Constitutional Congress in May, 2016, Shaykh Rachid warned, “We advise all Islamists in the region to be more open and to work with others and to look for a consensus, because without national unity, without national resistance against dictatorship, genuine freedom cannot be achieved. There needs to be genuine reconciliation (tawafuq) between Islamists and secularists, between Muslim and non-Muslim. Dictatorship feeds off confrontation among all parties”.

In the May 25, 2016, issue of the Washington Post, Monica Marks, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, contributed an article entitled “How big were the changes Tunisia’s Ennahda party just made at its national congress?”: She writes, “The most important thing to emerge from the congress is a new push for reconciliation (tawafuq), The congress delivered a referendum upholding the politics of reconciliation spearheaded by Ghannouchi and Beji Caid Essebsi [of the Nidaa Tounes party, whose career was based on opposition to Ennahda and since January, 2015, has been Tunisia’s President]. In vote after vote, congress delegates – including prominent national leaders and low-ranking representatives from Tunisia’s countryside – overwhelmingly endorsed, with margins of two-thirds or greater, the political direction of consensus and reconciliation favored by Ghannouchi in recent years”.

It was primarily in recognition of its leadership in reconciliation that the Tunisian Dialogue Quartet, a team of four civil society activists, was awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.

The challenge then was to put into practice not the separation of religion from public life, but the “separation of Church and State”, that is, of organized religion from organized politics as competitors for power, because “politics”, based on a platform of conflict and power, is not the proper function of any religion.

The operational strategy adopted at the Congress was not “separation (fasl) but specialization (takhasus), whereby anyone who functions primarily as a cleric or religious guide is barred from participation in politics, and vice-versa. The aim presumably is to prevent also a reverse trend toward the revolutionary system in Iran, known as wilayat al faqih or government by clerics, which is just as much condemned in classical Shi’i thought as in orthodox Sunni Islam.

The strategy of takhasus in Tunisia may remain a permanent work in progress, as it has been in America for two and a half centuries.

Part Seven

Modeling Reform

Revolutionary ideas for reform based on reason and justice can eventually prevail only by choosing the best paradigmatic model for the given context in order to bring out the best of the past in the present to build a better future.

America’s Founders chose to reject one-man-one vote democracy as the ultimate source of legitimacy, because it already had been tried with disastrous results in France as a high-risk road to mobocracy. The American revolutionary war of reform was against the mercantilist English parliament dominated by what today we might call the “one percent”. They chose a republic. Not until the so-called Revolutionary War was well underway did they oppose the English monarchy and the king.

Modeling reform in Tunisia may still be open to multiple options and scenarios. Applied to the Arab Spring of the 21st century’s second decade one might well follow the wisdom of Gustav Mahler’s definition of “tradition”. He said it is “the handing on of the flame, not the worship of ashes”.

As Norman Kurland, the de facto founder in 2014 of the Unite America Party, says, quoting R. Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete”.

One of the most powerful models may be found in the Platform of the Unite America Party, produced by the Center for Economic and Social Justice. This was founded in 1984 to advise President Ronald Reagan, who was its principal supporter, on broadening capital ownership under the slogan “own or be owned”. Unfortunately, he never overcame the barriers posed by the Republican establishment in New York and Washington.

The second most powerful model was created in 1997 by Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi, together, among other “traditionalists, with Louis Cantori, who was a professor at the University of Maryland and a stalwart advisor to the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and Anthony Sullivan, who was the Program Director of both the Relm and Earhart Foundations and funded my own think-tank through Professor John Esposito’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.

This model was produced by the Halaqa Asala wa Taqadun (Circle for Tradition and Progress) as an interfaith coalition of scholars for reconciliation in order to provide spiritual and moral direction to revolutionary movements that may oppose modernism as an ideology but are products of Western secular education without any real foundation in the essential wisdom of any world religion.

The founding vision and mission of the halaqa al asala wa taqadun is described on pages 13-15 and 78-81 of my book, The Grand Strategy of Justice, which was published by the Islamic Institute for Strategic Studies in April 2000. The specific orientation of this movement within the broad scope of both chaos and cosmos sweeping the Muslim world is indicated in the founding statement’s emphasis that:

We believe in the transcendence of God, the need of man for divine guidance, and the continuing relevance of the prophetic faiths of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. … Just as there has always been a Muslim imperative to reform, there has also been a Western search for God and for the modalities of cultural conservation. Belief in a religiously rooted natural law and an acknowledgement of the importance of the claims of the past have been a hallmark of Western thought at least since Thomas Aquinas. In more recent times, this Western religious imperative and traditionalism has manifested itself in the work of such thinkers as Edmund Burke, Eric Vogelin, Russell Kirk, and Gerhart Niemayer. Together, we believe that the Islamic impulse to reform and the Western quest for religious understanding provide a solid foundation for our joint endeavors.

The three principles governing this movement were provided by Shaykh Rachid al Ghannouchi. The first principle of this movement is tahqiq, the ascertainment of reality. The second principle is masawad, equality in dignity and opportunity. And the third principle is khadam, or servant, which is the designation that he gives to governmental power.

The following founding statement of this movement was designed succinctly to summarize the key to global leadership in the Twenty-First Century:

The modern project, derived from the European Enlightenment, can rightly claim great achievement in the technical and socio-political realms. Many people throughout the world, however, have come to realize the destructive consequences occasioned by modernity: the triumph of materialism, the decline of morality, unequal global economic development, the collapse of family and community, and the erosion of religious belief.

Implicit in the modernist project is an arrogant and naïve insistence that human fulfillment can be achieved solely on materialistic bases, and a belief in the absolute autonomy of human reason and in man’s presumed ability to create his moral and cultural systems in isolation from any belief in transcendence. The modernist project issuing from a shallow, utilitarian claim of value-free rationality has come to pose a threat to life itself.

The Circle of Tradition and Progress has been established to promote and enhance dialogue, discussion, and scholarly research among academics and public figures committed to the preservation of religious and traditional values and the achievement of progress in the Muslim world, the West, and elsewhere. Special emphasis will be placed on counteracting the excesses of modernity, with particular attention to a critique of the contemporary materialistic, behavioralist, and radically secular experiment. All the activities of the Circle will be scholarly and intellectual in nature. The Circle will not engage in the advocacy of any specific public policies.

Among much else, this effort will include an encouragement of holism in both the individual and society. The societal holism we seek will incorporate accountable and democratic government, individual liberty and human rights, and an economic system that is both free and humane. What we propose is to reestablish an equilibrium between the spiritual and the material, and reclaim for our time what have been called the “permanent things”. Most broadly, the intention of the Circle is to foster intellectual activities designed to rectify the modern rupture between economics and ethics, reason and religion, and man and God. Above all, we hope to encourage greater understanding among religions and to contribute to reconciliation of peoples and to international cooperation.

We believe in values that are not alterable and have been manifested in the teaching of all the prophets (peace be upon them) and great civilizations throughout the ages. We believe further in the transcendence of God, the need of man for divine guidance, and the continuing relevance of the prophetic faiths of Muslims, Jews, and Christians.

A commitment to reform has always been at the heart of the Islamic project as articulated in the work of such ulama and scholars as al-Ghazali, Ibn Taymiyya, al-Afghani, Abduh, Rida, Iqbal, Baqr al Sadr, and Malik ben Nabi. Each of these great reformers attempted to address the problems occasioned by the recurring imbalance caused by man’s quest for earthly fulfillment and material prosperity on the one hand, and the reality of God and the ultimate primacy of matters spiritual on the other. We regard the Circle of Tradition and Progress as a new initiative in this long and unending enterprise of reform.

Just as there has always been a Muslim imperative to reform, there has also always been a Western search for God and for the modalities of cultural conservation. Belief in a religiously rooted natural law and an acknowledgement of the importance of the claims of the past have been a hallmark of Western thought at least since Thomas Aquinas. In more recent times, this Western religious imperative and traditionalism has manifested itself in the work of such thinkers as Edmund Burke, Eric Vogelin, Russell Kirk, and Gerhart Niemayer. Together, we believe that the Islamic impulse to reform and the Western quest for religious understanding provide a solid foundation for our joint endeavors.

We favor the conduct of international relations on a basis of respect for all the world’s civilizations. We oppose all attempts to export or impose cultural systems, to support dictatorial regimes, or to obstruct democratic transformation. It is our conviction that attempts to re-invent the Cold War with Muslims as enemies of the West, or the West designated as an incorrigible enemy of Islam, are deplorable and should be avoided. We are united in our belief that all such Manichaean formulations will impede cooperation between Muslims and the West and are likely over time to have a dramatically negative impact on both international stability and world peace.

This mission statement puts the Haraqa Asala wa Taqadun among the founders of traditionalism in the ranks of what today amount to 7,000 think-tanks worldwide, as evaluated in my forthcoming book for the IIIT, entitled Think-Tanks in the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of the Culture Wars.

The four criteria used for defining traditionalist think-tanks are the following four concepts or sub-paradigms, which might best be identified today as the common wisdom of Islamic and American genius and as the most powerful model for reform of the Muslim Brotherhood:

  1. The degree to which the think-tank is responsive to the Qur’anic concept of law found in all religions, but especially in the Qur’an 20:11, which refers to multiple levels of jurisprudence. These are 1) the shar’ or normative jurisprudential principle common all sentient beings everywhere in the universe, which may be termed “natural law” or “meta-law”; 2) the more restrictive term, minhaj, referring to a way of life based on one’s own conscience and on the wisdom of one’s community; and 3) the shari’ah, which is the most restrictive term, reserved for the normative principles (maqasid) and the derivative rules or regulations (fiqh).

The specific regulations or fiqh, some of them depending on changing context, are binding only on those who profess to be Muslims and accept one of the major madhahib or “schools of law” in Islam, such as the Maliki in North Africa and the Ithna’ashari in Iran. These schools of law were developed a thousand years ago to maintain the independence of law from political power, which is the opposite of the state sovereignty model borrowed by Muslims from European imperialism.

The greatest of all Islamic jurisprudents, who lived seven centuries ago at the end of the classical Islamic civilization, Al Shatibi, taught, “Anyone who seeks to obtain from the rules (ahkam) of the shari’ah something that is contrary to its purpose has violated the shari’ah and his actions are null and void”.

2. The second concept basic to a think-tank’s traditionalist orientation and emphasized by Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk is expressed in the coherent balance (mizan) of order, justice, and freedom:

“When freedom is construed to be independent of justice, there can be no justice, and the result will be anarchy. When order is thought to be possible without justice, there can be no order, because injustice is the principal cause of disorder. When justice is thought to be possible without order and freedom, then the pursuit of order, justice, and freedom are snares of the ignorant”.

3. The third criterion or concept basic to a republic and to a traditionalist think-tank was best expressed by the author of America’s constitution, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote, “A people can remain free only if they are properly educated. Proper education consists above all in knowledge of virtue. No people can remain virtuous unless both the personal and public lives of the individual person are infused with awareness and love of Divine Providence”, by which he meant not deism, which is mere recognition of God’s existence, but theism, meaning thankful acceptance of God’s love and guidance.

4. The most profound criterion and model needed for reform in the world today was experienced and described by the publisher, Gray Henry, one of the world’s most influential Muslims, at the Martin Luther King anniversary celebration in June, 2016, “Our souls overflowed as we witnessed the presence of God in our minds as truth, in form as Beauty, and in the will as virtue”.


by Dr. Robert D. Crane

Chairman, Holistic Education Center for Civilizational Renewal, Herndon, Virginia