Granada Talk / Parvez Asad Sheikh
“Lecture about the elements which define the growth of a Muslim community within the present European context.”
I would like to take this opportunity to propose a model of activism that, when put in place, can establish two important elements necessary for Muslims to adapt to the greater political atmosphere in general and the European context in particular.
Firstly I will propose a dynamic element that will help us, as Muslims the world over, to develop much needed representation and leadership from within ourselves on the world stage. This in an age of false dialectics in which we tend to find ourselves all too often on the wrong side and without the opportunity to stand our ground in a unified manner.
Secondly, I will outline an organisational model for activism that is flexible and dynamic enough to be active at all the levels of European politics as it stands today.
The rules of the European game are still being written and Muslim communities, who play an increasingly important role in the continent’s politics can, and should, take their place at centre stage in order to ensure that our interests are protected as the European destiny unfolds. From here I would like to open up the floor to any questions that may come up from my esteemed audience.
The Creation of a Dynamic Political Language:
There is an evident, a real and an urgent need for us, as Muslims, to take a stance in relation to events that happen around us and very often involve us intimately. I say this knowing fully that there already are present today organisations that attempt to take on this very task. At the same time we can adapt our activism to the current political dynamics in order to optimise our presence at the European stage.
If we look at events that are happening today the world over and at different levels of political discourse, conspicuously, we are without a voice that impacts directly on the actions of those who look at us with suspicion.
At the level of nations, particularly European nations, we bear the brunt of the clumsy slogans of political parties and the opportunistic political class that constitutes them. At the international level and in Syria in particular, the fabled world community would rather continue to see the madness of a psychotic president and his sect than to see an empowered populace whose only defining crime, according to the West, is that they are Muslim and may desire to be free as Muslims, even in a democratic state.
In order to establish a place for Muslims at the world stage able to impact directly on the policies of states, we must address the question of the language used by the west in order to define us as well as the language we use in order to represent ourselves to the west. As Shaykh Abdalqadir has often mentioned, the words used to describe the world in which we live no longer hold the meaning of that which they describe. There is a need for the ‘revaluation of all values’, as Nietzsche pointed towards, as a means to take us out of the nihilism of a meaningless and valueless language. This is the task of our time as a whole. For Muslims, it is the key to our developing the space for leadership.
In order for us to define ourselves as Muslims in a manner that allows us to use a language of strength as opposed to the reactionary and fragmentary language the west has afforded us, we start from the position that in fact Islam is not a subjective and private set of values but the Deen of Allah and a way of being from the very we perceive the world to how we deal with the creation.
Regardless of the myriad of moralistic opinions of Muslims on issues that affect us, there exists a body of knowledge that is our anchor and has been so up until the fall of the Mughal Dawlet and the Osmanli Caliphate. This knowledge is still present and we base our Deen on the Aqida and Fiqh that the great Fuqaha have expounded in a chain of knowledge that goes back to the Prophet salalahu’alayhi wa salem and the first Communities.
The work of Shaykh Abdalqadir points continually to this body of knowledge as the key to Muslim strength. Furthermore, there is one Islam that is not a usurpation of all values as the one of terror imposed upon us by the west. We can pray in any mosque in any country on the globe because, no matter what the west says, we are united in Islam. There continue to be great men and women of knowledge who carry on the high tradition of learning.
The first false dialectic that I would like to mention, present at the highest levels of academia and academic discourse, is that of the secular versus the orientalist. In the dominant academic approach to Islam, a Muslim attempting to be heard at an academic level has to take on a position on the spectrum of this dialectic. You are either a secular, ‘cultural’, Muslim or you are an ‘Islamist’. If one defines one’s stance removed from this dialectic as that of a Muslim, simply a Muslim, eyebrows are raised and boots are shaken in. Nevertheless, no one can challenge this reality because we have a position as I have mentioned earlier.
Furthermore, when a Muslim academic adopts a position from inside this spectrum, they use concepts and a language defined by the dominant discourse while attempting to adapt Islamic terms to fit these concepts. So that when we see the concept of democracy, the term Shura is used not as a relative but separate term but the Islamic equivalent. In so doing the Islamic meaning is lost and replaced by the meaning of the dominant discourse. When the concept of State, in its modern sense, is used, the same is done with the term Dawlet.
This process is dangerous as it leads to the fundamental misunderstanding of Islam that has real consequences. The western approach to such Muslim areas as Afghanistan and Somalia are indicative of exactly how this misunderstanding can be worsened through the use of a political language foreign to the land.
The idea of social capital as the key to state-building, the dominant rationale behind the Afghan disaster, ignores the fact that the Muslim society of these ungoverned spaces will respond better to the reformulated idea of state that includes Amr in a sense that allows for greater autonomy of the constituent communities in the country. By attempting to build a centralised state, the competition over a land’s control will inevitably lead to war between factions.
To take the task of developing a political language of Islam at the highest levels of academic and political discourse I propose here the development of intellectuals and activists who are able to use the very language of the dominant discourse in order to delineate a strong and unified Muslim position.
We can begin to redefine, revaluate as it were, the fundamental concepts used to approach matters that affect us. By making clear the meaning of the terms that are part of the body of knowledge in Islam and drawing lines where western concepts misconstrue their meanings, we can develop a political language from within where it has so far been from without. This to safeguard the meanings of our Deen and in so doing strengthen our position in relation to the dominant discourse.
If we can develop a position that stands its own at the centre of the highest levels of political discourse, no matter whether we are accepted by the West or not, our position will be established and the act of representing the Muslims will be taken a step forward.
As it stands today there is no such body of people outside of the Ikhwan who represent Islamism to the West, however there is an ample amount of space for such a body to emerge. Where the Ikhwan is closed, we should be open and visible. Where the Ikhwan is the result of an historic esoteric deviation caused by their perceived defeat by the west, we should stand upon the foundations of our Deen.
This, then, is the first and essential element that, when established, will aid the Muslims in general to remove ourselves from the second false dialectic that is the one of terrorism which is currently being adapted and fortified at the world stage. I will conclude this section by defining this element formally as a centre for strategic studies that conducts research, publishes formal academic articles and studies in political and geo-political analysis, is able to mobilise lobbying groups at all governmental levels and which aims to participate at the highest levels of academic political discourse in the manner I have described.
Adapting to the New European Reality:
Now that we have established the first element I would like to look specifically at the European context. We will go on from here to an actual organisational model for the growth of Muslim community in the European context through a dynamic and sustained activism.
The major trend today in Europe is the tension between the supranational project that is the EU and the reaction of the traditional nation-states under this pressure. As we see everywhere on the continent, this tension has produced massive deficits in the traditional concepts of political legitimacy and the relevance of the traditional states themselves.
One of the most visible results of this tension has been the Sovereign debt crisis which is the greatest indicator of the crisis of legitimacy. Linked to the very real economic and financial pressure that the populations of European nations have experienced is the creation of a real power vacuum at the non-state level. So we see the development on the continent of regional movements as a result of the process of the dissolving of traditional states into a greater EU reality. For Muslims, whose demographic position on the continent points only towards an increasingly central role in the future of Europe, this means that the vacuum of legitimacy created by the EU-member state tension has opened up a space for our input.
European integration is by its very nature an incremental and unsure process. There is no set five year plan that Brussels follows to the point because the stakes of the game are too high for all players to expect unanimity. This means that we, as Muslims, can place ourselves in the game in order to represent our interests. We can and we should, because we are a central force to the process of European integration. If we establish the first element that I have defined, this organisation can indeed place itself at the centre of the European discourse in order to establish proper representation of Muslims.
There are three levels at which we can establish activist pressure in order to ensure our growth and survival. The gate to the first of these three, the supranational, lies in Brussels. There is no reason why we should not establish a Muslim presence at this gate. By this I mean a position as defined in the first section of this talk.
From the Supranational level of European politics we now move to the regional and national levels. Here too, space has been opened for renewed regionalism at one level, as in the case of Catalunya, and there is an increasing role for Muslims to be represented at the national level. This both in terms of national policies and the manner in which Muslim interests are represented by the nation-states at the supranational level.
At these levels there is a natural need for the political atmosphere to respond to Muslims in terms of immigration and in terms of the terror dialectic. The establishment of a unified presence similar to the one I have outlined at the EU-level at both the regional and national levels is essential to protecting Muslim interests. The community here in Granada, has already taken on these roles and serves as a prime example of the activism of which I refer to. What we need to establish are formal connections of such communities around Europe.
The foundation of all the activism I am speaking of today is based on communities such as the esteemed one to whom I address this talk today. You are the cellular make-up of a renewed Islam in Europe. By establishing such communities across Europe, the establishment of Jamaats with Amirs, we really begin the task ahead. As it stands we do have such communities present in many countries across the continent. What we need is the connective activity between these communities. This between the local Amirs and in terms of trade. Lastly it is essential to include the greater Muslim population of these countries as much as is possible. I refer here to find ways to help immigrant communities in their plight as non-citizens using local knowledge and resources as a means to represent them while creating unity between different Muslim groups.