Historically, this has happened before. In the year 661, Muawiyah took over the Islamic Caliphate after Ali, who was a just ruler. Muawiyah was a known tyrant and became the ruler by force.
He was also the originator of Islamism.
Muawiyah used Islam not as a faith but as a political force for expansion, political power, oppression of minorities and even other Muslims.
During Muawiya’s reign, basic human rights were denied to people. People were not free to express their opinions, spies were employed to terrorize people, and the army and police spared no opportunity to crush the people and silence their voices.
Ira M. Lapidus, a professor emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic History at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that by the 10th century, some governments in the Muslim world had developed an effective separation of religion and politics due to political control passing “into the hands of generals, administrators, governors, and local provincial lords; the Caliphs had lost all effective political power.
“These governments were still officially Islamic and committed to the religion, but religious authorities had developed their own hierarchies and bases of power separate from the political institutions governing them.”
If we take a look at some of the Muslim countries where pluralism and tolerance were once promoted, we see that Islamism has started to infiltrate deeply.
First, it should be noted that Islamism is about power: Islamists are obsessed with power to the extent that this obsession becomes pathological.
In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a wannabe caliph. Turkey, which used to be a symbol of hope for the Muslim world in terms of its secularism, is being turned into an Islamic caliphate by Erdogan.
His latest move to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque speaks volumes about Erdogan’s leanings towards Islamism.
Hagia Sophia (Greek for “holy wisdom”) was built in the sixth century in Constantinople — today’s Istanbul — and remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly 1,000 years, until the Ottoman Turks conquered the city.
In 1453, the Ottoman sultan Mehmet II converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque after taking Constantinople from the Byzantines, and until 1934, the Hagia Sophia remained a mosque.
The Turkish Republic, under its first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, turned the Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935, some say out of respect for Christians.
Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, was once a place where minorities thrived. Under President Suharto, who ruled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, political Islam was suppressed in support of the ideology of pancasila, the founding philosophy of the Indonesian nation which states a belief in “the absoluteness of One God” but does not place Islam as the only religion in the country.
Now, under President Joko Widodo, there is great concern about the rights of religious and sexual minorities. As Indonesia moves closer to implementing sharia law, cases of blasphemy are rife against those who protest for their rights and freedoms that have been taken away.
In a brilliant essay titled “A Short History of Islamism,” Robin Wright notes in Newsweek that Islamists now take many forms, from the “moderates” in Tunisia to the militants of ISIS:
“In 1992, after a decade underground, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah led the Shiite party into Lebanese elections. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood ran for parliament in 1995, after a decade of competing under cover of other political parties.
“Jordan’s Islamic Action Front became the largest opposition party elected to parliament. From scenic Morocco and sleepy Kuwait to teeming Yemen, Islamist parties captured the imagination of many voters.”
Iran, which became an Islamist country in 1979, Qatar and Turkey are leading the charge in pushing Islamism worldwide, funding organizations and individuals to promote this ideology.
Islamism is also on the rise among Muslims in the West. Clarion Project’s short documentary “By The Numbers” (see below) shows that the mindset of a majority of Muslims supports Islamist ideology.
One can argue that not all Islamists are violent, but it does not take long for Islamists to resort to terror and violence to achieve their goals by pushing aside the faith and promoting their political agenda.