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Rachid Ghannouchi : A Living Example of Evolution of Islamic Political Thoughts

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[Review]

Rachid Ghannouchi- A Democrat Within Islamism

Author: Azzam S. Tamimi

Publisher: Oxford University Press on Demand, 2001.

In the book titled ‘Rachid Ghannouchi, a Democrat within Islamism’ Azzam Tamimi discusses the ideas of Rachid Ghannouchi, the well-known Islamist political activist who heads Ennahdha Party (Renaissance Party), Tunisia’s most important Islamist political movement and a well-influenced modern Islamic political thinker. Ghannouchi advocates democracy and pluralism with Islamic concepts of governance and social welfare. Azzam Tamimi’s book begins with the biography of Ghannouchi and later it engages with his political thoughts and experimentations. Tamimi pointed out that the biographical version of Ghannouchi leads to an analysis of Ghannouchi’s ideas of democracy and his theory of compatibility between Islam and western democracy.[1]

For this study, Tamimi referred and mentioned the writings and lectures of Ghannouchi in Islamic scholarship. Tamimi tried to read Ghannouchi’s scholarships on the background of his own intellectual base in studies of western democracy, society, religion, power, and authority.  The author kept a strong relationship with Rachid Ghannouchi. Many times, Tamimi worked as an interpreter of Ghannouchi’s lectures and papers in various conferences and he translated Ghannouchi’s articles on Democracy and Islam.These primary sources are clearly listed in the bibliography.

This book discusses heavily from Rachid Ghannouchi’s book, Titled Al-Hurriyat Al- ‘Amma fi Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya (Public Liberties in the Islamic State). The core themes of Ghannouchi’s this work can be seen in this book under the headings and subheadings like Limitations of Western democracy, Liberty and Civil society, Nation state, Islamic minorities and Political upheavals of North Africa and Tunisia.

For Tamimi. Ghannouchi was not only a political thinker, but also an interesting and living example of the evolution of Islamic political thoughts. Tamimi demonstrates a biography of Ghannouchi, which shows the evolution of Ghannouchi’s political thoughts from Nasserism to Salafísm and to Islamist activism. At the time of graduate days, Ghannouchi became Nasserist[2] and he joined in Cairo University. When he was in Damascus University he was searching for more elaborated ideas of Muslim identity. Later Ghannouchi went to Sorbonne University. At Sorbonne days, he was more like an Islamist. When he had met Malik Bennabi from Algeria, Bennabi’s thoughts of Islam and politics influenced on him. Ghannouchi called Bennabi as a pillar of Islamic thought and a successor of great socio-cultural scholar Ibn Khaldun’s Islamic rationalism[3] in ninety seventies he returned to Tunisia and joined in Islamic spiritual movement (Tablig). After one decade, he entered into the political battlefield of Tunisia with a movement titled ‘’ Harakat al-Ittijah al-Islami’’ (Movement of the Islamic Way). Following his radical and anti-government thoughts, he was put behind bars for three years and later Tunisian Government exiled him from Tunisia for a lifelong time. He stayed in London till the time of Arab spring and fall of Tunisian autocratic government of Salih.

Tamimi pointed out that Ghannouchi continuously and critically engaged with his surroundings such as so-called religious studies, American Imperialism, Notion of Secular and Fundamental, the question of Palestinian lives matter and Zionism. As Tamimi said to us, we can see his changing notions and concepts on these issues and establishments in his works, which Ghannouchi started to write from his college days.

Rachid Ghannouchi argued that Islam has potential to accept the western democracy and its procedures. He contemplates Western democracy to be a more distinct improvement over the existing state of affairs in Tunisia and in other Arab countries. Tamimi demonstrated Ghannouchi’s this ideas as a ‘Liberal Understanding of Islam’ and Tamimi argued that Ghannouchi distinguished the ‘’ religious’ and ‘political’ matters through his thoughts unlike Syed Maududi, Syed Qutb, and other radical Islamic thinkers.  Ghannouchi argued this idea of distinction with the evidence from Prophet Mohamed’s history.

He said that Prophet made a distinction while making a contract with people of Medina. Ghannouchi pointed out that the Islamic Governance at that time was not religious and prophet gave rights to each sect of the society.[4]

Ghannouchi tried to argue that the prophet’s refusal to appoint his political successor or Medina State indicates that Islam leaves a Faragh (space or vacuum) for Islamic political institution’s evolution. Ghannouchi forwarded his theory of al-Faragh (space or vacuum), which means that humans are permitted to fill these areas in accordance with the needs of differing times and conditions. Ghannouchi elaborated this idea by highlighting two categories in the activities of the companion: Al Din (The religious) and Al Siyasath (The political). He argued that no supposable dispute could blow up among Muslims on matters that fall within the first category e.g., in matters of Aqidah (faith) and ibadah (worship) since these have been conclusively settled by divine revelation.

Muslim society may disagree on matters falling in the second category, like issues, how to manage their political affairs. It is in this realm that Faragh exists, and Muslims are expected to exercise ijtihad (Research).  TheseFaragh need not necessarily be filled with local ijtihad; Muslims can borrow from others as long as what they borrow is compatible with Islam. Ghannouchi described Caliph Umar ibn al –Khattab as a dynamic mujtahid (Researcher). Umar borrowed the Persian administrative Devan system, and arabaized it into diwan (ministry) and used that innovation in administering the Islamic empire.  In developing his theory of Faragh,Ghannouchi was intellectually indebted to Abu-Ishaq al-Shatibi and his monumental work al-Muwafaqath.

He utilized his theory in addressing the questions related to the position of Islam regarding the participation of its followers in administering a non-Islamic government. He brought some examples of such situations.

Ghannouchi argued that about one-third of Muslims in the world today are minorities and have no hope in good future of governing themselves according to Sharia.(Islamic law)Ghannouchi argued that best option for such minorities is to forge coalitions with secular democratic groups. He also suggested that there are some Islamic groups that exist in countries where Muslims represent a majority but the political power is controlled by elites hostile to Islam. He said that Muslims should work with secular groups to remove that dictatorship and replace it with secular democracy as a preface to establishing an Islamic State

Tamimi pointed out that Ghannouchi treated democracy as a tool of a mechanism for protecting civil liberties. He used the theory of al-Faragh to deny the radical Islamic political thinkers rejection towards the ideas of democracy, pluralism, and secularism. Ghannouchi argued the democracy as the solution for the problems of despotism, held in Tunisia and other Muslim countries.

Tamimi noted that sometimes Ghannouchi was ‘more as a politician and at other times more as a thinker. Tamimi argued that Ghannouchi himself spoke deferent languages for pure strategically tactical reasons.  Tamimi also realizes that Ghannouchi̇̄, theoretically, believes in the concept of Islamic government and its existence and calls the Muslims to establish it wherever attainable. But, he practically endorses and supports pluralism, power-sharing, and multi-party politics.

This book is a thoughtful contribution to the literature on the contemporary trends and upheavals of Islamic political thoughts.The book also provides a clear understanding of a serious and continuing debate on the discourses between democracy and Islam.

[1]Tamimi, Azzam. Rachid Ghannouchi: a democrat within Islamism. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2001.p. VII

[2]Pro towards Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein’s ideas. He was the second President of Egypt.

[3]Tamimi, Azzam. Rachid Ghannouchi: a democrat within Islamism. Oxford University Press on Demand, 2001.p. 31

[4]Ibid.p.95

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