Review Chasing a mirage (13-09-08)


Many myths regarding existence of an Islamic State have been demolished brick by brick by Tarek Fatah in his well-researched book “Chasing a Mirage – The tragic illusion of an Islamic State.” His basic thesis is that there is no concept of an Islamic State in Islam — there is no Islamic State in the world and there never was.


The book has drawn considerable interest among the intellectual circles and has been reviewed by leading newspapers in the West. From the internet community Tarek got a mixed response — accolades and threats.  


Writing from a perspective of an open-minded Muslim at the very outset he explains: “In this book I attempt to draw a distinction between Islamists and Muslims. What Islamists seek and what Muslims seek are two separate objectives, sometimes over-lapping but clearly distinct. While the former seeks an ‘Islamic State,’ the latter merely desires a ‘state of Islam.’ One state requires theocracy, the other a state of spirituality.”


I have always been of the opinion that the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) should be renamed as Organisation of Muslim Countries, because they are basically countries with Muslim majority and their commonality ends there. Tarek touches this issue to set the course of research: “Most Muslims too believe that countries with majority Muslim populations are Islamic countries with a distinct character. However, this is not how the Islamists see the world. From the perspective of those who follow the doctrine of Wahabism or Salafi Islam or even the ruling ayatollahs of Iran, a country can be labeled an Islamic State only if it is governed by the laws of Shariah. Thus neither Turkey nor Indonesia is an Islamic State in the eyes of the Islamists.”


Tarek has devoted chapters on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which claim to be Islamic states, and has argued that there was nothing that proves the claim of these countries that they are Islamic states. Maintaining his blunt style he has broken the myth that these states have tried to build around themselves. He maintains that the institutions of Saudi Monarchy supported by Wahabi clergy and Iranian Velayat-e-faqhi (a religious institution which is supreme and above the elected parliament) have no place in Islam.


He rejects the two-nation theory which was considered as the basis of creation of Pakistan. To him: “The biggest losers in this great game of divide and rule were India’s Muslim. In the name of Islam, they were divided into three separate parts and cut off from each other.”


To support his argument that there was no concept of Islamic State in Islam, Tarek has quoted extensively a number of Muslim scholars, who were hounded by the Islamists through out the Muslim history. He quotes Ali Abdel Al-Razik an Egyptian scholar of 1920s, who was harassed by the extremists. Al Razik had concluded in his book ‘Islam and the fundamental of Authority’ that:

“(1) Government of political authority, as necessary as it might be seen to realize Islamic ideals and obligations, was not the essence of Islam and had nothing to do with primary principles of the faith; and (2) Islam left Muslims free to choose whatever form of government they felt could solve their day-to-day problems with civil society minus an official state religion being best able to offer such a solution.”  The book draws on a number of such scholars including Allama Mohammad Iqbal, who opposed the revival of Caliphate on the grounds that it was an obstacle to the modernization of the Muslim world.


Quoting from the Holy Quran and Prophet Mohammad’s’ (PBUH) sayings Tarek has maintained in his thought provoking book that if God or his Prophet had felt the need of setting up an Islamic State this issue would have been dealt in the Holy Scripture. Al-Razik had quoted the Holy Quran to prove his point: “Whoso obeyeth the Apostle, in doing so hath obeyed God, and who turneth away from thee: We have not sent thee to be their keeper (chapter 4. Sura al-Nisa verse 83). This message is repeated in other verses also where it has been said that God had not sent the Prophet as ‘custodian’ or ‘warden’ over people.


Drawing extensively from the Muslim history Tarek has boldly treaded on a dangerous path by narrating the events that followed the death of the Prophet and the struggle for Caliphate in the coming years. His view is that an Islamic State model did not exist even after the Prophet’s death. The very fact that it was decided to choose the Caliph on the tribal basis from among the Quraysh of Mecca was against the teachings of Islam that one should rise above tribalism and righteousness should be the criteria.


He is not challenging or showing any disrespect to the companions of the Prophet but making a point that unfortunately tribalism took over the Muslim society soon after the death of the Prophet. He has praised some of the actions of the companions of the Prophet and the Muslim intellectuals who followed in history where it was due. But he has not shied of challenging the contradictions and myths that have been promoted by ‘some all-is-good scholars.’


Tarek’s book establishes that the acceptance of one tribe’s superiority over others and their right to Caliphate is the basis of the Saudi Arab’s arrogance that is suffered by other Muslims of the world.


The book has challenged that there was any ‘Golden Islamic era’ in the last 1400 years which the Islamists are chasing today. The whole history, even when looked at from the Muslim historians’ perspective, Tarek argues is the history of various dynasties, which were most of the time intriguing and fighting with each other. He has drawn a vivid picture of palace intrigues, ruthlessness and intra-fighting among the Muslim rulers and asked what was Islamic about these empires? Then answers that there was nothing Islamic about them, these dynasties ruled like any other in the contemporary period. Most of the rulers had their own set of clerics who would find Islamic justification (or Fatwa) for the convenience of their respective. Those who did not were either killed or exiled on the orders of the rulers.


His contention is that the Shari’ah which today’s Islamist want to implement is man made and has evolved, but most of it is Arab customary law. He argues how come it has been given sacred status and any discussion or development is often considered blasphemous by the Islamists.


As Tarek Fatah is now a Canadian of Pakistani origin he has a fair knowledge of the prevailing hypocrisies among the Muslims who have migrated to the western countries. He is well known in Canada for taking radical stands against the demands of some Islamists. He has exposed them in detail in Chasing the Mirage. He is also equally critical of the leftist, who have become apologists of the Islamists and consider their struggle as anti-imperialist. The book is a must read for all such Pakistani intellectuals also because we don’t have dearth of people who justify or romanticize the Jihadis.


He has written this book when the violent movement inspired by Hasan al Banna, Syed Qutb and Abu Ala Maudoodi’s writings and led by Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar is in full swing. Qutb’s Signpost which can be called “Islamists (Jihadis) Manifesto has clearly stated that an Islamic state can only be established through ‘movement’ and not just by propaganda. This doctrine preaches that only revolutionary violence can bring an end to the rule ‘Jahiliyya.’ Chasing the Mirage by Tarek Fatah is a brave attempt to counter this doctrine and open the eyes of the Muslims to come out of the ‘tragic illusion of Islamic State.’


(As the book has challenged many myths and fables of Islamic history, it seems that book stores in Pakistan are shy to import it. But it is available on Amazon)


Chasing a Mirage – The tragic Illusion of the Islamic State

Written by: Tarek Fatah

Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Canada

Pages: 410   Price: US$ 28.95


(Tarek Fatah, a well-know leftist student leader of Karachi in the late sixties and early seventies who migrated to Canada via a few years stint in Saudi Arabia).



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