The Islamic Awakening's Second Wave
HASSAN AL-TURABI, often referred to as the "second
Khomeini," led the Islamic resurgence in North Africa until placed
under arrest in the Sudan in 2001 by the government, which is trying to
reconcile with the West. For many years, al-Turabi was associated with
Osama bin Laden before bin Laden was forced to leave the Sudan for Afghanistan.
These comments are adapted from an interview with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels
in the summer of 1994.
Khartoum-A new, mature wave of the Islamic awakening
is taking place today from Algeria and Jordan to Khartoum and Kuala Lumpur.
As first evidenced in the Iranian revolution, this awakening is comprehensive-it
is not just about individual piety; it is not just intellectual and cultural,
nor is it just political. It is all of these, a comprehensive reconstruction
of society from top to bottom.
This widespread Islamic revival has been given impetus by the vacuum left
by a bankrupt nationalism, especially Arab nationalism, and African socialism.
The post-colonial nationalist regimes had no agenda but to throw out the
imperialists. Once they achieved their goal, they had nothing to offer
the people. Then they turned to socialism as an alternative to the imperial
West. Now, like everyone else, the Islamic world is disillusioned with
The Islamic awakening began to build in South Asia and the Arab world,
as well as in Iran, in the 1950s-participating in some governments in
the 1970s. Perhaps due to the limitations of language and access to the
sources of Islamic law, the expansion of Islamic consciousness came somewhat
late to North Africa and then south of the Sahara. The Gulf war, which
brought foreigners into the vicinity of our sacred religious centers in
Saudi Arabia, gave an enormous boost to the movement in North Africa,
not only among the general population but also among the elites.
The new and critical aspect of the recent Islamic awakening is that the
elites in the army and government-the so-called "modern" sector-are
themselves becoming Islamicized.
This has already happened in the Sudan and is in the process of happening
in Algeria. In 1985, the Sudanese army intervened to stop Islamization.
But this effort led to an uprising by junior officers who supported Islamization.
I have no doubt the same thing will happen in Algeria. The Islamization
of the modern sector is the prevalent trend throughout the region.
The form this Islamic awakening has taken has depended on the nature of
the challenge from the West. In Iran, the challenge was very sharp, so
the Islamic movement became obsessed with the West. The US identified
so closely with the Shah's effort to introduce the post-Christian-West
lifestyle-materialist, sexually licentious, highly emancipated in terms
of drinking alcohol-that Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers became fixated
on confronting "the Great Satan."
In Malaysia, to take one contrasting example, decolonization came about
rather gently. So the people there focused less on the common enemy than
on common ideals. The awakening there has thus been more constructive
than Iran's revolutionary reaction.
Awakened Islam today provides people with a sense of identity and a direction
in life, something shattered in Africa since colonialism. In the African
context in particular, it offers a sense of common allegiance.
Islam provides a focus for unity and a minimum consensus in the face of
the regionalism and tribalism which have been so devastatingly rampant
in Africa. The idea of the "nation" has offered nothing in this
regard. Everyone knows that African nations are only the legacy of colonialist
Islamic Civil Society | Moreover, the Islamic code of Shari'a provides
the people with higher laws and values, which they obey out of belief
and not because they are enforced by government.
In the wake of the collapse of materialist totalitarianism in the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe, the West has talked endlessly about the rebirth
of "civil society," that sphere of activity beyond the reach
of government. But only when Muslims lost the Shari'a as their binding
law under colonialism did they suffer the bitter experience of absolutist
Under Shari'a, no ruler could suppress his own people. So the individual
was protected and society was autonomous. People felt that the norms that
governed the society were their norms because they were God's laws.
The colonialists did away with that, introducing a sense of alienation
between people and government with their secular laws divorced from indigenous
values and internal norms. That alienation remained as the legacy of colonial
rule. Even if there were formal elections, people just elected their tribal
relatives or voted for those who would give them money. There was no representation.
In the absence of Shari'a in poor, largely illiterate societies like Sudan,
corruption ruled because there was also no accountability or moral checks
on government. The public sector squandered its resources and brought
the people nothing. Only when all subscribe to the moral code of Islam
in public affairs can corruption be eliminated.
Finally, and fundamentally, neither nationalism nor socialism could mobilize
our societies to develop. Religion can be the most powerful impetus for
development in social situations where profit and salary incentives are
In societies that lack opportunity, people have no motivation to go to
school or to seek knowledge. Islam provides that motivation because it
mobilizes people to pursue divine ends. The appeal of God reaches their
heart. The pursuit of knowledge becomes an act of worship.
When people are taught that agriculture is their jihad, their holy struggle,
they will go for it in earnest. Be good to God and develop agriculture.
That is the slogan that is transforming Sudan from near-famine to self-sufficiency
To the rich West that may sound strange. But what role did Puritanism
play in carving America out of the wilderness? What role did the Protestant
ethic play in the development of the European economies? Religion is a
motor of development.
Clash With West | Those who fear (or seek?) confrontation with
the Islamic awakening point to several areas of clashes with the West:
the rights of women, the rights of non-Muslims, the penal code under Shari'a
and the case of Salman Rushdie.
Let me respond. First, on women. It is true that a very powerful tradition
developed in some Islamic countries that segregated women from men and
deprived them of their rights of sharing equally and fairly in society.
With the new revival of Islam, women are gaining their rights because
no one can challenge the Koran in the name of local custom or convention.
In Sudan in particular, the Islamic movement campaigned for giving women
their political rights. Now, women not only have equal educational chances
but are playing substantial roles in public life-some have gone to parliament.
Women returned to the mosque as well.
As a way to protect women, since they might constitute a temptation to
men, there was a time when convention had it that they should stay home.
But that is not what religion taught. Of course, accordingly, women must
dress modestly, covering their heads and bodies in public. Men also have
to dress decently. Both must act properly toward each other.
Forcible female circumcision, another customary practice in parts of the
Sudan that often led to the death of women, has faded away due to the
Islamic awakening. To the extent it is practiced at all today, it is practiced
symbolically. Many in the West have identified this cruel custom with
Islam. But it has nothing to do with Islam. It was, in fact, called "Pharaonic
On the rights of minorities, under Shari'a there is a guarantee for non-Muslims
of freedom of religion and cult. Private life, including education and
family, is immune from interference by Islamic state law. Under Shari'a,
if they happen to live together in one area, a minority is entitled to
a large measure of administrative autonomy. Its relationship to the Muslim
majority can be organized according to a covenant that spells out and
regulates reciprocal duties and obligations, defining what is common and
what is private.
Under such covenants in Islamic history, for example, alcohol was free
to be consumed in the Jewish or Christian quarters while prohibited in
The Shari'a itself is not one standard code observed worldwide in a monolithic
way. It is applied in a decentralized way according to varying local conditions.
Different Muslim communities have different schools of law. These Islamic
principles of governance are being invoked to settle the war with the
non-Muslims of southern Sudan.
Shari'a will be applied in the north, where the Muslims dominate, but
in the south, where Christians and pagans make up the majority, the criminal
provisions of Shari'a will not apply.
On the penal code, when Maj. Gen. Gaafar Mohammed al-Numeiry applied the
Shari'a penal code in a makeshift manner back in the 1980s as a political
gesture to demonstrate his Islamic commitment, it brought worldwide condemnation
of cruelty and abuse of human rights. As a result, many in the West think
that, under the rule of Shari'a, every act of theft will result in such
punishments as the severing of hands or even execution.
That is not true. Over the past two years or so there have been only two
such sentences because, under properly administered Islamic law, the degree
of proof required is very high. And there are other considerations-the
value of the stolen property, the absence of any extenuating circumstances
like dire need, or repentance and restoration of property.
The whole idea is to associate severe punishment with major theft as a
deterrent in order to morally educate the people. Petty theft is punished
no more severely than in most of the world. In spite of the severity of
punishment under Islam, the crime scene in the US, with all its violence,
is a worse alternative.
Homicide law is even more flexible under Shari'a than the English law,
which was formerly enforced in Sudan. For example, even when the charge
is intentional homicide, if there is conciliation between the parties
or compensation paid, the perpetrator may actually be pardoned and go
free. Shari'a also de-emphasizes prison sentences because such punishment
is subversive of character and extends beyond the culprit to the innocent
In Sudan, Salman Rushdie could not have been convicted of apostasy. Although
Islam is very universal in its implications, it does accept territory
as the basis of jurisdiction. Thus, the jurisdiction of an Islamic state
does not extend beyond that state. Those living abroad are not subject
to Islamic law but to international treaty obligations between states.
Within Muslim states, it has been a traditional view that public apostasy
is punishable by death, subject to trying to persuade the perpetrator
to change his mind and recant. But, from the early days of Islam, apostasy
completely coincided with treason, because warring societies were based
on religion and someone who publicly abused his religion would objectively
join the other party as a combatant.
Today in the Sudan such intellectual apostasy as Rushdie's is not punishable
by death. It must involve active subversion of the constitutional order.
Against Terror | No doubt, because of the African and Arab aspect
of Sudan as well as our well-articulated programs and theories, the Sudanese
example does radiate. But we have no money to finance revolution abroad
or spread it by military conquest. The Sudan is not engaged in subverting
other nations. Sudan itself cannot export revolution.|
As for harboring terrorists, let me say this: We have no interest in terrorism.
The Koran is very explicit against individual acts of terrorism. It says
that the Islamic cause must build patiently, even in the face of persecution,
until acquiring statehood. Then the Islamic state is entitled to defend
Most of the terrorist movements in the Middle East were far closer to
European leftism and nationalism than to the tradition of Islam. They
were inspired by groups in France, Germany and Ireland. As far as I am
concerned, Islam can have nothing to do with terrorism.
The Islamic awakening has reached a new stage. It is no longer interested
in confronting the West, in fighting with the West. The West is not our
preoccupation. We are concerned with the constructive regeneration of
our societies by mobilizing our souls and our minds, not fighting "Great
Satans." Except when a policy is directed against Islam, the West
is not the enemy for us.