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Bryan Acuña Obando

The paradoxes between Islamic quietism and political Islam

- Political Islam or Islamism is confused with Islam as a religious practice. Islamophobes use it as a pretext to attack non-belligerent Islamic communities.

The paradoxes between Islamic quietism and political Islam


In a previous article, the implications of the visit of Pope Francis I to Iraq were mentioned, it was possible to express the importance it had from a religious perspective in terms of the scope of the rapprochement between the Western Roman Church and the Eastern Churches, in a country where The Christian population has decreased due to the persecutions and the ravages of the conflicts in this area close to the Persian Gulf and adjacent to a hot zone of conflicts such as the Syrian region, the Kurdish regions neighboring Turkey and the end of Iranian territory; country that maintains strong tensions in the region and with the United States.

From a political point of view, in addition to an improvement in relations between the Baghdad government and Vatican City, the most notable was the meeting between the Catholic leader and Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Al Husaini Al Sistani, a source of emulation in the Muslim world. Shiite, with whom a rapprochement similar to that achieved with the Sunni Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyib was sought.

With this visit of Pope Francis I to Iraq, an old feeling of competition was awakened between the two most important schools of Shiism, such as the Qom seminary and the Najaf seminary, where the former is headed by the leadership of the Iranian ayatollahs. who move through the wilâiat-ul Faqîd (“guide of the religious jurist”) in a clear political activism of the religious meddling in all aspects of national life while the clerics of Najaf in Iraq prefer to maintain the division between political power and religious power.

This attitude is called political quietism, which is by no means exclusive to the Shiite currents of Islam; Nor is it necessarily from Islam, but there are quietist currents within the Sunni world, and this passivity is not necessarily as drinkable as is believed, where it seems a resignation of the separation between religion and political power.

For its part, there is the concept of political Islam or Islamism, which is sometimes confused with Islam as a religious practice, which is why Islamophobes sometimes use it as a pretext to attack non-belligerent Islamic communities and put them in the same category as radicals. It is due to the latter that both concepts must be clarified and categorized according to the level of intransigence with which they can act or where there is really no danger with these practices beyond an institutionalized prejudice due to intolerance, being mainly in Europe where this is it is given on a larger scale, and becomes the perfect catalyst for those who are radicals to gain strength and “adopt” communities that are being unfairly attacked.

Political Islamism

According to the reference, the term Islamism was first used in the 18th century in both English and French. Unlike religion, it is a designation of a more political nature and its use differentiated from that of spiritual practice balances the use of faith to meddle in the actions of rulers, in Spanish its use becomes more frequent as "Islamic fundamentalism" , which is sometimes mixed with the notion of terrorism, which has a conceptual error in terms of terms, because although terrorism may be born from "fundamentalist" principles, not all fundamentalists practice terrorism (Botta 2007).

At the beginning of the previous century, with the appearance of the Muslim Brotherhood at the hands of Hassan Al Banna in Egypt decisive importance was given to the Muslim identity in the Middle East through pan-Islamist movements that aimed to be a more integrating force than ethnolinguistic origin in the area (Peñas 1996). It could be considered the Egyptian model; which has an important religious weight in the modern Sunni world, is also the promoter of the bases of current Islamic fundamentalism that seeks a pure path of interpretations of Islamic law (sharia) towards social practice.

However, despite the attempts of pan-Islamism and fundamentalism to take that place in society, at some point the political force that Arab nationalism (pan-Arabism) reaches in the region will immobilize the religious movement and it will remain very dynamic, perhaps until the beginning of the 70s, preceding this fall the defeats of the Arab leadership against the State of Israel in wars and, more categorically, the loss of the conflict in 1967, which would be lapidary until a new awakening from the Islamic spirit in the following years (Fuentelsaz and Mustafa 2017).

The notion of "Islamic fundamentalism" and fundamentalism in the 20th century gained a lot of strength at the end of the 70s, mainly with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, where the religious men of Iran seized power and managed to overthrow the regime of Shah Reza Pahlaví and impose the Islam as a fundamental criterion for the administration of the State and, in addition, with the already mentioned concept of "religious jurist's guide" places Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as the highest representative of power.

This purist attitude towards religion infected other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, for example, in Saudi Arabia, which from the 1980s took an even more orthodox position than the one applied up to now despite being one of the the main promoters of Wahhabism[1] for several decades earlier, but the attempted revolts against them and the arrival of religious leadership in Tehran would make the Riyadh government one of the main promoters of political belligerence – religious of a revamped version of the political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood, who also had a presence in the Gulf region.

The Saudi government for decades promoted the Salafi Islamist political action that returns to the original sources of the teachings of the first three generations of Muslims and their practices, for which reason this return is advocated, in addition to a literalness of the sacred texts and the normative interpretations.

There are three basic levels of this Salafi practice which are:

  • Political: linked to political organizations and parties.
  • Revolutionary: those who make use of force and armed actions through the so-called "lesser jihad" (of the sword).
  • Quietist: it is applied with preaching and religious invitation (Dawa), disconnected from political and military action directly but it is an activist in promoting a pure way of life.

Saudi Wahhabism promoting its version of political and revolutionary Salafism[2] was supporting Iraq in its war against Iran in the 1980s, as well as the war against the Soviets through the Taliban. (BBC 2015) Saudi Arabia has also been accused of being one of the main promoters of Salafist groups that are still present in the West itself, through the financing of illegal organizations. In many cases, they are not organizations that have a radical aggressive behavior, but rather a passive-aggressive attitude, since they trust in the purity of Islamic law behavior and try to follow it, despite the opposition of non-Islamic governments, but They do not necessarily have revolutionary responses or active political action in the countries; although the latter does not apply in all cases as will be mentioned below.

[1] Wahhabism is a political-religious current of Sunni Islam, originating from the Hanbali school. Created by the religious Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) in the 18th century, its rise is due to his early relationship with the House of Saud; founder of Saudi Arabia and the mutual support they gave each other.

[2] The difference between Salafism and Wahhabism is that the former deny the right of existence of a monarch as occurs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The passive-aggressive practice of political quietism

A man shouts anti-government slogans during a demonstration organized by Salafists, Tunisia, November 6, 2012 (AP Photo by Amine Landoulsi)

Not every apolitical position is necessarily aggressive or pacifist by itself, sometimes the preaching carried out by clergymen internally opposed to political or social behaviors does not directly convey a feeling of activism, but rather they can really consider that the path traced is not the right one. more "adequate" and they will use the pulpits to show this discontent that will ultimately lead their parishioners to put pressure on the powers that are responsible for changes.

This behavior is also called religious "quietism" and although it is generally in opposition to active political movements mixed with the power of the clergy, it is of course not ruled out that the influence of their religious words and actions will not ultimately have an impact on the political establishment itself.

Even so, there are diverse attitudes to religious quietism such as the one that occurs in Iraq that maintains the social balance of the country. After the fall of Saddam and with the US invasion, Ali Al Sistani, Iraqi quietist leader from Najaf; mentioned in the previous article, he became the link to the moderation of the forces maintaining his position of not mixing religion and power, however, it is clear that his words and those of his followers have socially weighed on the time to make political decisions.

It is worth remembering that quietism is not necessarily an exclusive attitude of Shiism, nor is Islamic radicalism, of course, since there are quietist versions in most Islamic branches and each one has a different attitude in its approach, not activist or belligerent.

From the above it follows the existence of quietist or preaching Salafism (as-salafiyya al-da'wa) where seeks to return to the raw sources of teaching not totally separated from politicization but waiting to have from the religious sphere the tools to promote change by meddling passively in political affairs, when they manage to obtain greater power, they regularly leave aside their passivity and leave in order to gain control of the main forces of governments, or of communities and clans.

The so-called "jihadism" itself, from the interpretation of the Salafists and Wahhabists, is a potentialization of the minor jihad (called the sword) when they lose military power and forces in some towns and cities, they choose to continue maintaining their active doctrines, but from a passive and more proselytizing position, filling the heads of his followers with radical ideas, in versions of "sleeper cells".

When DAESH had its official awakening in Iraq, work had already been done for several years Quietist mode of jihadism, the bases of the work that they were to carry out, also had the "school" of Al Qaeda, which for years has promulgated Salafist thoughts throughout the countries of the Levant and who, having lost strength after the death of their main leaders, , they chose to return to an active non-belligerent position, many were confined to small clans in some countries, but the vast majority moved to poorly policed areas in Yemen or are embedded in zones of belligerence in the midst of failed states such as Libya, countries of the Sahel and East Africa.

But these groups not only carry out religious activism, but to gain followers and strengthen parts of their discourses, they opt for social aid and assistance to populations at risk, just as drug trafficking and organized crime groups do in other parts of the world. gaining the favor of the populations before the carelessness of the central governments. (Haynes 2005) Through this assistance they lead by "example" their version of Islam and convince groups of people to swell their ranks of adherents until they have a well-structured organization and retake power, quietism is relative to the level Whatever power they possess, the goal of religious meddling in aspects of political and social life is a goal in itself.

Quietist Salafism in the West

Abu Hamza leads the prayer in the vicinity of the Central Mosque in north London (Reuters)

The same happens with this quietist jihadism and the sponsorship of Islamic study houses in Western countries, mainly in Europe, where they begin with a process of social assistance, strengthened by preaching and invitation; Dawa (Wiedl 2009), until they reach the conviction that the return to the purity of Islam is the correct path, and if necessary and having sufficient strength they choose to carry out specific attacks, many of which are born from the same heart. European inspired by clerics in the Maghreb, the Sahel or the Middle East; also sometimes from religious leaders in the very heart of Europe.

Data of this religious extremism has been seen in cities such as the municipality of Moleenbeek Saint Jean in Brussels from where they have also taken hold attacks in Spain, [France]( /20201113/fcpcmrzm5jetbo2niu6ncqjivm.html) and in [Belgium] itself ( Radicalized cells dismantled in Catalonia, [Stockholm]( /news/20180213/sweden-accused-of-the-stockholm-attack-pleads-guilty-beginning-of-trial/1677813.shtml), [Parisian] suburbs ( -justice/2021/02/01/projet-d-attentat-les-deux-strasbourgeois-pieges-par-ulysse) or [berliners]( nach-paristerror-sicherheit-erneut-thema.html) among others.

The truth is that unlike traditionalist political Islam that is subject to the authorities by submission or obedience (as occurs in [Morocco]( Boundi.Proyectos.689_700.pdf)), the fundamentalist and Islamist versions in some cases, given their passive aggressive nature, generate many problems when they stop being a minority force and become true agents of conflict in both Islamic and non-Islamic societies.

Of course much of this behavior is limited to the interests of the leadership, and one could never compare the quietist thinking of Iraq's Ali Al Sistani with the quietist thinking of Salafi groups who see in such non-politicized behavior a strategy of empowerment. Sistani, being a disciple of the Grand Ayatollah Abu Al Qasim Al Khoei, maintains an immovable position of the separation between political power and religious power (Hadi and Mahdi 2016). However, it is clear that not all quietists are like Al Sistani and, on the contrary, there are those who, taking advantage of this supposed passive spirit, pull out their claws when they least expect it to seize control of political power and also have an expansionist scheme for in the midst of a political system governed by purist Islam, where perhaps the clearest example was during the era of DAESH Islamists in the Levant Mediterranean wanting to promote a [caliphate]( /2006/01/14/reunified-islam-unlikely-but-not-entirely-radical-span-classbankheadrestoration-of-caliphate-attacked-by-bush-resonates-with-mainstream-muslimsspan/c537a6c6-2530-417b-8d0d -005ebad630a9/) from Al Andaluz in Spain to Jakarta in Indonesia.


    BBC. BBC. 22 de diciembre de 2015. (último acceso: 1 de abril de 2021).

    Botta, Paulo. «CEMOC.» enero de 2007. (último acceso: 3 de abril de 2021).

    Fuentelsaz, Jorge, y Abduljalil Mustafa. La Vanguardia. 31 de mayo de 2017. (último acceso: 1 de abril de 2021).

    GE Sabet, Amr. «Dalarna University.» Cambridge University Press, diciembre 2011: 69-87.

    Hadi, Mohammad, y Seid Mahdi. «Transmitters of Hadith of Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei in General Reliability.» Editado por Canadian Center of Science and Education. Journal of Politics and Law 9, nº 10 (2016): 95-102.

    Haynes, Jeffrey. «Islamic Militancy in East Africa.» Third World Quarterly 26, nº 8 (2005): 1321-1339.

    Peñas, Julián. «IEEE.» 1996. (último acceso: 1 de abril de 2021).

    Wiedl, Nina. Hudson Institute. 14 de diciembre de 2009. (último acceso: 3 de abril de 2021).

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Acuña, Bryan. “Las paradojas entre el quietismo islámico y el islam político.” CEMERI, 13 sept. 2022,