What can we learn from ideological links between Marxism and political Islam?
While there are clear and substantial differences between Islamic and Marxist ideologies that could potentially hinder the two to harmonise, there are structural elements that appear in both. The essence of the likenesses is illustrated in the common ideologies found in Marxism and Islam, or to be more precise, what has been deemed political Islam.
We cannot overlook the glaring differences between Islam and Marxism. Islam is a universal monotheistic religion with sacred and divinely infallible teachings. In terms of faith and belief, Islam’s doctrines transcend space and time, and therefore the limitations of history. However, the same cannot be said for Islamic interpretation and application, which is made by scholars of various cultures and reasoning, which is categorically situated in the material world. The advent of Marxism, an ideological theory formulated by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and other theorists, coincided with the emergence of capitalism and served as a response thereto in advocating the formation of the working class. Being a secular ideology, Marxism is therefore subject to criticism, accountability and evaluation.
The emergence of Islam as an ideology, one that contains a set of concepts and tools used as a mobilising force of the people, stripped the religion of its universal values and undermined its divinity. In other words, Islam was used politically as a way to both obtain and maintain power in the same way that Marxist concepts influenced power structures throughout the world.
Years ago, I read a book by Abdel-Salam Farag Al-Manon entitled, “The Neglected Duty.” As I neared the conclusion, I realised that the author was clearly familiar and influenced by Lenin’s works. According to Farag, there is an indispensable duty to seize power in order to reform society and force it to follow the Islamic path. He asserted that authority must be given a sort of carte blanche during the developmental stage of society and public interest, as it is essential to defer to leadership when re-establishing society. Lenin’s ideas were cast in the same mould. I wanted to confirm my suspicion, so I asked specialists in Islamic movements who confirmed that both Maoist and Leninist books were found in Farag’s possession.
Political Islam emphasises the need to create “an organisation,” as it is the embodiment of power and efficiency in state and society. Moreover, this organisation is seen as a tool for Islamic recruitment, mobilisation against the infidels and ignorant society, and a mechanism that is equipped to establish and enforce an Islamic state. This objective was the impetus for the formation of myriad Islam organisations and groups, whether established either secretly or publicly. Duties were assigned to such organisations that were considered the backbone of the political and operational process that would lead to the eventual establishment of an Islamic state.
Similarly, there was an elite among the comrades within the Leninist party that parallels the idea of an Islamic vanguard. This vanguard is responsible for endorsing the concept of political struggle in the Islam purview, while specifying the nature of the challenges, and finding ways of confronting them. Some Islamic theorists from Egypt, Iran and other countries went so far as to claim that those who struggled to spread Islam resemble their Trotskyist counterparts. In their arguments regarding political Islam, these theorists mirrored Marxist ideas by stressing the need to pair the theory with application on the ground. The combination of addressing reality, recognising the best methods to tackle problems, and widening the struggle is imperative to establishing an Islamic state.
In summation, political Islamic ideology was affected in terms of theory and application by the methods and innovations of secular ideologies, and followed their tactics of mobilisation. However, in doing so, political Islam adopted a totally different perspective: one that allows Sharia law to rule the Islamic state as a theoretical and practical alternative to a modern democratic state that is based on the principles of citizenship, equality and rule of law.