Rachid al-Ghannouchi: "Deficiencies in the Islamic movement"

Although the Islamist movement has realized great accomplishments in its attempts to liberate the Islamic community from the legacy of decay and the remnants of destructive Western invasions, it is still far from realizing its ultimate goal — the establishment of the shar‘a of God on Earth…

The greatest responsibility for the deficiency of the Islamist movement lies within the movement itself. It goes back essentially to the prevailing manner of thought within this movement. Despite repeated attempts and partial successes, this thought remains burdened by models from the age of decline. Its only connection to reality is through texts whose understanding became petrified, whose concepts crystallized centuries ago under circumstances quite different from our time. Thus a Muslim of this mentality is afflicted with what resembles paralysis in understanding reality and in appropriating the strategies and energy necessary to progress. We cite two examples of this failure:

The working class: This group came to represent a huge problem for many capitalist regimes and even socialist ones…and yet the Islamists have…failed to mobilize it, leaving the door wide open for the proponents of leftist and rightist ideologies to dominate this sector by claiming to share its problems and to defend it.

The reason behind the weakness of Islamist influence in this sector goes back to their ignorance and insensitivity regarding the political and social problems of the working class — problems which must be addressed before there can be [any kind of] moral ideology. The time has come for the Islamists to act within the working class sector instead of contenting themselves with treating all problems from a moral or ideological stance, leaving only a narrow arena for social issues and repeating slogans of social justice without defining the content of those slogans.

Thus it was only natural that the response to the call among the workers would be limited because the Islamists were broaching problems that were not the same as those of the workers. The problem is that societies have evolved while the Islamists have not, and so it is as if they were calling to the people from a far away place.

The female sector: The impact of this sector on the fate of societies is well known: It suffices to point out that at least half of society is female and the other half is brought up and educated among them.

We must grasp the utmost importance of this sector. Here the influence of the Islamists has been restricted for the same reason: a lack of awareness and insensitivity toward the oppression, degradation, abasement, restrictions of their horizons and roles in the life of society that women have endured during the long centuries of decline. Woman’s personality was obliterated and she was transformed into an object of pleasure — in the name of religion! — until the Western invasion came to sweep away our values in its destructive currents and brought with it the illusory values of freedom and equality.

It was only natural for women to be influenced by the enticements of the West, because she was already suffering under the yoke of an oppressive, false Islam, sustained by the silence of the “men of religion“…Furthermore, it was only natural that the revolution against those abhorrent circumstances should begin outside of Islam because it had been inculcated in the minds of women that for them Islam meant only the veil, seclusion within the house, fulfilling the desires of men, lack of freedom…

For women, there was no path to freedom, knowledge or self-determination except through a revolt against Islam and its mores and the imitation of the West — until the Islamist movement. Before the emergence of the Islamist movement, woman found herself in an unstable and decaying society whose “liberation” was purely superficial: nudity, eroticism, leaving the house and the intermingling of the sexes. So she revolted against these superficial manifestations and called for the return to Islam. But not without trepidation, because for women the return to Islam still portended a return to the circumstances of the age of decline: the harem, self-negation and the inability to determine her own destiny.

It is only natural that the Islamists would decline to broach the issue of women if it were purely in terms of nudity, sexuality, the mixing of the sexes and work outside the home… A social and philosophical approach to the issue of women reveals that [these practices] are not the real issue. The real issue is…Westernization and the oppression and enslavement of mankind as a whole, the denial of the right to decide one’s own destiny and the transformation of mankind into an object, a thing. The West came with its materialist philosophy and promised liberation, but what followed was enslavement. The Muslim woman went from being the slave of the man and the family to being the slave of the capitalist, of political and media institutions, selling her body, making it a pretty adorned doll to be used in advertising to promote products or a prostitute for politicians. What the Muslim woman needs now is a liberation movement to restore her to herself and to her innate nature as a guardian of the heritage of mankind and a companion of man in the jihad to liberate herself and him from the forces of exploitation and oppression in the world and to liberate herself from all control and submission except to God…


Translated by Linda G. Jones


Source: “Islamic Thought Between Theory & Practice,” The Islamic Tendency Movement: The Articles of Rashid al-Ghannoushi (Paris, February 1984), pp. 184-185. All emphases are the author’s.

How to cite this article:

"Document: “Deficiencies in the Islamic Movement” (Rashid al-Ghannouchi)," Middle East Report 153 (July/August 1988).

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