Islam: A Tool of Exploiting Classes

IslamBy Nasreen Jazayeri [1]

The following article was commissioned by A World To Win magazine [and newsservice] The article appears on the website of the Sarbardaran (the Maoists of Iran) . It does not have a date on it.

Islamic political parties or groups that are in opposition to the ruling cliques in the Middle Eastern countries have played a major role on the political stage for at least three decades. These Islamic forces, claiming to oppose and fight (or wage jihad) against Western imperialist powers and their neo-colonial client states in the Middle East, have been able, at times, and to a significant degree, to influence sections of the social base of new-democratic and socialist revolution – the workers, peasants and semi-proletarians. But neither their ideology nor their programme represent the interests of the masses to the slightest degree.

To bring out this truth has been a continuous and pressing challenge for the revolutionary communist forces in the Middle East in their task to arouse and organise the masses to fight for the goal of overthrowing the reactionary states and ousting imperialism. Over two decades of experience in both Iran and Afghanistan have demonstrated in a crystal clear manner that Islam is not a liberating ideology and that the political and economic programmes of the Islamic forces do not represent any rupture with the ugly oppressive societies of the Middle East, which are semi-feudal, semi-colonial constructs of imperialism in alliance with local reactionary big capitalist-feudal classes. However, as Mao said, “Where the broom does not reach, the dust will not vanish of itself.”

Already for too long the Islamic forces have distorted the struggles of the oppressed masses in the Middle East, wasted their sacrifices and tried to dissipate their tremendous energy with religious ideological shackles and reactionary political programmes. In this way, the Islamic forces have contributed to delaying revolutions in this part of the world, thereby providing great service to world imperialism.

Moreover, the mere fact that US imperialism, the biggest and most vicious enemy of humanity on the Earth today, has proclaimed the Islamic fundamentalists as its enemy (although in reality this is an attack against the masses of the region, under the pretext of going after the armed religious bigots) is creating a certain spontaneous attraction amongst the masses of the so-called Muslim countries towards Islam. The masses always tend to spontaneously uphold whatever is vehemently attacked by their oppressors. But the masses need a revolutionary scientific ideology that can defeat imperialism and advance the struggle to liberate humanity from the clutches of all kinds of oppression and exploitation. This emphasises the double task for the revolutionary communists all over the world: they have to place themselves at the head of the anti-imperialist struggles, lead the masses to overthrow the reactionary state powers and make revolution; and at the same time, as an inseparable part of doing that, in order to be successful, they have to explain to the masses more vigorously than ever that the ideology of Islam (and every other feudal and bourgeois ideology) is an obstacle to liberation and unable to defeat imperialism. To defeat imperialism the masses need to take up communism, which is the only genuinely liberating ideology and programme in the world and in the history of humankind. It is the only ideology that can unite the masses of the world, regardless of their religion, race and nationality, to carry out the most earth-shaking struggles against imperialism – mainly US imperialism – and all the reactionary state powers that are today dominating the Arab and other Muslim countries. Carrying out this ideological struggle is part and parcel of being able to lead the rising masses towards real revolution, and only when the masses actually see models of real revolution will the influence of religion, as a whole, subside.


Contemporary political Islam is a complex phenomenon. It has been used by different arrays of class forces – the Western colonial-imperialist powers, the reactionary regimes of the Muslim countries, the reactionary forces opposing these regimes, and, at times, nationalist forces as a means to mobilise the opposition of the masses to foreign domination. Our focus will be on the political Islam that has flourished in recent decades in the Middle Eastern countries in opposition to the regimes there, and which has overwhelmingly represented the aspirations and objectives of reactionary class forces who have been pushed out of the power structures and have been jockeying for better positions within the existing state structures. Wherever and in so far as the masses have been attracted to these forces, it has not been mainly due to any so-called religious impulse but more because of their reaction to the extreme conditions of injustice that imperialism and their puppet regimes have imposed on the masses.

Political Islam is hardly a new phenomenon. Islam itself was born as a “worldly” political programme using religion as its flag. Originally it was dictated by Muhammad of Mecca in the Arabian peninsula. It was not the word of an Allah, but its appearance in 610 AD was a historically specific product of the socio-political conditions engulfing that part of the world as a whole. [2]

In Europe, after the eighteenth and nineteenth century bourgeois revolutions, the role of religion in state affairs was substantially reduced, however it continued to be a pillar of the state in the feudal Islamic countries. In pre-colonial Islamic societies the Ulama (high-ranking Islamic clergy) were one of two basic pillars of state power – the other pillar being the Sovereign or King. This was an arrangement very similar to European feudalism, where the Crown and the Church shared feudal power and pillage.

This colonial-imperialist subjugation of the Arab and Muslim countries in the nineteenth century was a watershed in the character of these societies. [3] At the century's close, all the feudal elements in the economic base and the social and political superstructure of that society were recast in subordination to, and in the service of, the world imperialist system. Unlike Latin America, in the Middle East the colonisers relied on the local religion itself. The British, during their wars to oust the Sunni Ottomans from Arabia, gave a major political role to the Wahabi branch of Islam in Saudi Arabia and used it as the moral and ethical underpinning for their war of colonial conquest to drive out the Ottoman empire from the region. The Wahabi brand of Islam and Mecca gained its current importance as a centre for Islamic congregation only after the Kingdom of Al-Saud was established in 1932 with the help of British colonialism. The Shiite Ulamas of Iran were close allies of the British in the latter’s rivalry with colonial Tsarist Russia in the nineteenth century. In the early nineteenth century (1816) the British pushed the Shah of Iran to call for a jihad against Tsarist Russia. The first theological book on jihad in many centuries was written in the city of Najaf in Iraq under the orders of the Shiite clergy to create a religious pretext for the war with the Russian Tsar. An old saying that “under the turban of every Mullah is written: ‘Made in England’” captures this British-Mullah alliance in popular Iranian terms.

In the aftermath of the First World War, a major modern Islamic current arose in Egypt – the Muslim Brotherhood founded by Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949). It later became a source of inspiration to other political Islamic forces developing in other Sunni-dominated countries. The original Muslim Brotherhood appealed to a section of the intellectuals because it set itself the task of proposing a modern, native ideology, as against the ethics of the colonialists. It appealed to a section of the masses because of its opposition to the British domination of Egypt and the misery engulfing the masses of the poor in Cairo. But Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood never called for the basic requirements for overcoming backwardness, i.e. uprooting feudalism, in particular by arousing the masses of peasants for agrarian revolution and liberating women from the yoke of patriarchy. In fact, they had a dual message: for the masses of poor there was a call to go back to the principles of the Koran and the Sunnah (Islamic tradition) as spiritual healing; for the intellectuals, disturbed by both foreign domination and by the backwardness of Egypt, the message was different: a modern Islam that provided a “native” or “national” identity whilst allowing for the use of Western management tools in the running of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood experience shows that Islam, like all other religions, is able to accommodate itself to the dictates of modern forms of oppression and exploitation. But it also shows the limitations of a religious flag, as opposed to the revolutionary banner, in terms of overcoming colonial-imperialist domination and economic and political backwardness.

During the 1950s and 1960s, political Islam was very marginal among those opposing the status quo. In fact, organised Islam was ridiculed as a foreign puppet project. The post-Second World War period was another watershed in these societies. The imperialist powers forged new semi-feudal, semi-colonial state structures in these countries. In the new set-up, the clergy got a much smaller share of the power. A political trend grew out of the Islamic establishments in different Middle Eastern countries in strong opposition to the ruling regimes. They denounced the ruling cliques, as well as official Islam, as corrupt and irrelevant. In fact, the contemporary political Islamic movements mainly have their origins in this period, even though their ideological forebears started to articulate their political thought even earlier. [4] (This article focuses its critique on the Islamic forces that have been politically challenging the pro-Western Middle Eastern regimes using the religious flag of Islam.)

The leaders and core cadres of these Islamic movements generally come from: the clergy who aspire to be restored to their old place in the ruling structure or seek greater accommodation with the system, disgruntled urban middle class intellectuals, and sections of the feudal-comprador classes pushed out of the ruling structures (i.e. splits within the exploiting, propertied classes of these societies). But their foot soldiers come from amongst the desperate displaced urban masses who from afar are being seduced by the “oppositional” posturing of these reactionaries. What makes these Islamic movements reactionary is not mainly the class origins of their leaders and core cadre, but rather their promotion of an archaic ideology – a religious ideology – that is not based on reality, and therefore is absolutely unable to transform the present day realities of the world. And they are reactionary because they want to preserve the same class-structured oppressive societies, simply making them “more Islamic” (by applying the sharia, which is the Islamic law based on the Koran and tradition, written after the death of Mohammed and subsequently updated many times by each Islamic sect). This can only mean, and has meant, strengthening the feudal-patriarchal elements of society. These movements in different parts of the Muslim world uphold one of the various brands of Islam – Shiite or Sunni, for example. But almost all of them adhere to the basic tenets of Islamic ideology – with unimportant nuances – and derive the future promised Islamic society from the old models established by the original Islamic prophets. Specifically, the society established by Muhammad is cited as the most favourable model by almost all of these trends. All misfortunes of the Muslim countries are explained away as a “deviation” from this early model, which according to them was corrupted after the first four caliphs (successors to Mohammed).

The Islamic fundamentalist forces have been opposing the imperialist powers and the ruling cliques of these countries with hot rhetoric and, at times, violent actions. But they are easily co-opted, becoming the new and at times more ruthless guardians of the same old system. This dynamic took place in a major way during the Cold War, when the US launched its Green Belt strategy to make use of the Islamic countries (Islam is symbolised by the colour green) strung along the southern border of the USSR, to contain and later help dismember its Soviet social-imperialist rival. The US imperialists aided the rapid development of the Islamic fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and it was the US imperialists and their European allies that opened the way for Khomeini and his cohorts in Iran to hijack a great revolution there. Under a false revolutionary mantle, they established themselves as the new ruling clique, quashing the real revolution and massacring the revolutionary and communist forces. It must be brought to light that the 1979 defeat of the revolution in Iran, through the establishment of the theocratic regime, was a product of the collaboration between the Western imperialist powers and the Islamic fundamentalist forces in Iran. US General Huizer was right when he said, “We unplugged the Shah and plugged in Khomeini.” (See the review of his book on the Iranian revolution in AWTW 1986/6.) In the last 25 years, the biggest Islamic jihad was financed by the US imperialists – the war of the Islamic fundamentalists of Afghanistan (the generic name for them was mujahedeen, which is Arabic for fighters) against the Soviet Union. The experience of the last two decades has ripped apart the mask of the Islamic forces and shows that they are neither revolutionary nor anti-imperialist. Islam is and can only be an ideology and tool of the exploiters.

1. World View, Stand, Political Programme and

Political Strategy of Contemporary Islamic Movements

In order to construct their theoretical body of thought, mobilise the masses and legitimise their programme, the political and ideological leaders of the Islamic movements deploy several key concepts. The mere use of the fundamental concepts of Islam and stories from the distant past allows them to mystify the nature of their ideology and programme in the eyes of many desperate masses. It is very important to tear apart this mystification and reveal to the naked eye the very earthly, class nature of their world view and programme: that their world outlook, aspirations and actions represent certain class forces in Muslim societies.

In fact, let us start from right there, with classes.


In the body of thought of these movements, there is no place for the most stark reality of our times – that all societies are divided into classes, that people in all parts of the world are first and foremost divided into categories depending on their relation to the major means of production. Instead of classes, in Islamic thought there is umma – the community of believers, regardless of which class they belong to. The concept of umma covers over the fact that societies are sharply divided into antagonistic classes, with antagonistic economic and political interests. Big landlords and industrialists and bazaar traders, as well as the proletarians with nothing to lose and the impoverished peasants – in short, exploiter and exploited – can all be part of the Islamic umma.

Under Muhammad, the founder of Islam, those who united with him in his fight for power were counted as part of the umma. At the start of his quest for power, the umma combination changed according to the political needs of the moment. As part of the umma he even included the Jews of Medina that united with him in fighting against his opponents in Mecca. Even then, his umma was divided into classes. The Koran (the Islamic scriptures) was written by Muhammad and his associates to administer the new society, which he built out of the scattered Arab nomads. The Koran very clearly reveals the class and social distinctions among the umma: there are the haves and have-nots; there are the slaves and the slave owners; there are the women, owned by, subordinate to, and fully obedient to men; there are warriors who share the plunder of the wars of conquest, with higher economic and social status; and others who toil the land and tend livestock herds. And there is the bigger division between the umma and non-umma: the umma warriors can make their captives into slaves and take their women as concubines. This is an ugly society. Muhammad built a new state power and a new organised religion to enforce new exploitative relations, as well as relations of domination over the populations of foreign lands defeated in war and co-opted into the expanding Islamic empire. The Islamic movements’ deployment of the concept of umma in modern times is meant to mobilise the masses under their flag and gain legitimacy for their cause, whilst keeping them ignorant of the class interests behind this flag and programme.

The concept of umma is not only class collaborationist but also unscientific. At the time this word was coined, modern classes, such as the capitalists and the proletarians, did not exist. There was no such thing as colonial and imperialist powers or oppressed and oppressor nations.

Covering over sharp and antagonistic class interests is hardly a new phenomenon. Throughout the entire history of class society, in their drive for power and class rule the privileged classes have lied to the dispossessed, saying, “My interests are your interests.” It is the kind of demagogy that the imperialist powers and reactionary states employ all the time. Even the rising bourgeoisies of Europe in the eighteenth century proclaimed the “universality” of their vision and aims. And within the oppressed nations, the political representatives of the small bourgeois and landlord classes, which aspire to become part of the power structure, use this line to gain the following of the masses. It is a means for reactionary forces that have been pushed out of state power, to ride on the backs of the masses in a bid to get back in. There is such a thing as umma unity, but it only means the people under the thumb of the Mullahs.

World Umma Unity

The Islamic movements call for international unity on the basis of umma. First of all, this is an impossible project because the Islamic umma is divided into tens of different faiths – Islam has been branching out since its inception. Look at the Islamic Republic of Iran and its co-religious brethren, the Taliban of Afghanistan, who were at each other’s throats. Within Iran, the Sunnis are oppressed by Shiite rulers. In Afghanistan, Sunni, Wahabi and Shiite Islamic parties are killing each other. In Lebanon, the Hezbollah (“Hezbollah” means Party of God and is also a generic name for Islamic fundamentalists) claim to fight for the liberation of Palestine, but they cannot even approach the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon because the Palestinian Muslims are Sunni and Hezbollah is Shiite. Secondly, Islamic international unity is reactionary unity. It calls upon the people to believe in a supernatural being and unite on the basis of a faith established fourteen centuries ago. It is reactionary because it divides the oppressed peoples of the world, who share a common enemy, world imperialism, on the basis of the religious faith of their forefathers. Islam cannot even unite oppressed people in one country against imperialist dominators, let alone across countries. Within oppressed nations there are peoples with different religious backgrounds. Look at Palestine: there are Christian as well as Muslims forming the Palestinian people. How can Hamas (the Islamic party in Palestine) possibly unite the entire Palestinian nation against the common enemy, colonial Israel? It has not and will not. And, in fact, it has been an obstacle to such unity. The proletarians from Egypt, Iran, Peru, Spain and the US can and must unite with each other on the basis of their common enemy and common future, whilst they cannot and must not unite with the capitalist and feudal big shots of their countries on any basis, whether religious or any other kind of real or imaginary “heritage”. Calling for Islamic international unity will play into the hands of the imperialist powers – especially the US imperialists – who are calling upon the masses in the West to unite with them on the basis of “the clash of civilisations” – Western civilisation, based on the Judeo-Christian tradition, versus others, such as “Islamic civilisation”, “Chinese civilisation”, etc.

The irony is that the umma preachers easily and comfortably enter into political dealings and unity with the imperialist powers and the reactionary states. Take for example the Islamic Republic of Iran, the first contemporary state born of the Islamic movement. US President Reagan once remarked, “the Mullahs are our friends”. And he was right. Under this regime the flow of petroleum – the linchpin of Iran’s integration within the world capitalist system – was not disturbed for even one day. The Islamic Republic of Iran, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, suppressed the attempts of the petroleum workers to close down the plunder of oil resources by the Western companies, and today, more than two decades later, the Iranian economy is still heavily dependent on the sale of oil on the global market, with sales of over $20 billion annually. Even though relations with the US were apparently cut, the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out all of its services to the Western powers and the world capitalist system through the European states. It carried out joint covert operations with the CIA of the US to help finance the infamous Contras5 against the Nicaraguan people and the Sandinista regime. It secretly continued relations with the Israeli government while denouncing the revolutionary forces in Iran as the “agents of ­Zionism”.

This picture also applies to the Islamic militant groupings in other countries. Take for example the assorted Islamic rulers of Afghanistan who were close allies of US imperialism and other reactionary states, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. According to bin Laden of al-Qaeda, the Saudi king was part of the umma as long as US military forces were not stationed on Saudi soil. According to the revolutionary communists, the Saudi king was a lackey of US imperialism and Saudi Arabia was a neo-colony of the US long before and after the 1990 stationing of US military forces there. And as far as we are concerned it does not matter whether or not the Saudi royal family is still part of the umma. The Saudi regime was not and will not be part of the people and has always been a gang of vicious exploiters that has to be overthrown.

The concept of umma serves as a reactionary united front strategy by the feudal and big capitalist classes who are struggling to get a better deal from the rulers of their countries and the imperialist powers.

The leaders of the Islamic movements have deployed the concept of umma (or united front strategy) with some success. There is a basis for that success, even though it is detrimental to the masses of workers, peasants and all the oppressed. The national subjugation of Muslim societies (by colonialism and imperialism combined with the semi-feudal structure dominating these societies) provides the material basis for the strategy of umma to gain some following amongst the oppressed masses. And the semi-feudal structure in and of itself means that tribal – and religious – affiliations and bonds amongst the people still have influence.

The introduction of class concepts into the political movements within the oppressed nations has always been reviled by the Islamic forces (and even by the secular nationalist forces), because they are not opposed to class oppression and exploitation. They uphold the feudal landlords’ right to own land and on that basis exploit the poor and landless peasant; and they uphold the capitalist ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of the workers. They uphold all kinds of oppressive social relations – most outstandingly, the subjugation of women by men. These Islamic forces do not consider imperialism to be the highest stage of capitalism. They call the Western powers “imperialist” when those powers do not give them enough room in running their respective oppressive social orders.

The fact of the matter is that while the imperialist oppression of these nations makes a national united front against imperialism necessary, experience has proven that if such a unity is forged under the leadership of feudal-tribal and bourgeois forces, it is bound to lead to the selling out of the masses of workers and peasants and even national betrayal. Whether or not the much-needed national unity against imperialism is led by a proletarian vision and programme and a communist party is a matter of life and death for every genuine revolution in the countries dominated by imperialism. Neither Islamic nor even the secular bourgeois-nationalist forces can forge and lead a revolutionary national unity against imperialism that can free the oppressed nations from the yoke of imperialism.

As experience has amply shown, all of these forces would rather unite with the imperialists in order to suppress the revolutionary forces and the workers, peasants, women and progressive intelligentsia. As smaller slave owners, they always tend to unite with big slave owners. Muhammad of Mecca 1,400 years ago called for unity based on a new universal faith in order to break up tribal segmentation and forge a unified state in the Arabian peninsula. Today, the populations of the Islamic societies are not divided into tribes any more. They are divided into classes by feudal and capitalist exploitation, and at the same time they are oppressed by the powerful imperialist nations. Today, these are the divisions that must be overcome and can only be overcome through new-democratic and socialist revolutions.

Fitna: The People do not have the Right to Rebel

Fitna (splitting and intriguing) is another concept that the Islamists use. Any attempt to divide the umma is called fitna. So scientific class analysis is the greatest fitna! All of the above arguments are called fitna because they reveal that the umma is not an indivisible whole. For example, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the workers’ strikes and the struggles of the oppressed Kurds and women for their rights have been called great fitnas. Any attempt by the masses to take their destiny into their own hands has been impermissible. During and in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution in Iran, the liberating fact that the masses of workers, peasants, revolutionary intellectuals and women, all over the country, were occupying the political scene was fitna and dangerous to Islam. Khomeini crushed all these fitnas to consolidate his reactionary rule.

Islam, like religion in general, including the other Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Judaism, is terrified of criticism and innovation and anything that would shake-up sterile, stupid and frozen thinking. Thinking may be tolerated in the exact sciences and the medical sciences but never in the social sciences. The history of human evolution and human society, and most of all the creation of god and religions by man in a certain historical period of the development of the productive forces and human knowledge, are taboo topics in the schools of the Islamic movements and groups. Islam does not see any need for “developing” or for rectifying its shortcomings through self-critical analysis. This is because, like all other religions, Islam claims to be all-encompassing for all times. Frozen ideology versus a constantly changing world and developing human knowledge is dealt with by concepts similar to those of the Christian Inquisition, which in Islam is called nifagh (splitting) or Kofr (blasphemy).6 Any innovation in dominant Islamic thought is called splitting or rebellion. Khomeini did not even tolerate the minor “innovations” that Ali Shariati (a reformer of the Shiite religion)7 or the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran introduced into the doctrine of Islam. He designated them munafigheen (splitters). Every Islamic branch has its own splitters and throughout Islamic history bloody wars have been waged over nifaghs among different branches of Islam. Kafir is the term used for those “outsiders” who are not Islamic or who criticise religious thinking. According to Islam, anybody who attempts to criticise its tenets is kafir and punishable by death. Contrary to claims by those termed “moderate Islamic forces”, this law is inscribed in the Koran. Communists are kafirs.

One of the shameful chapters of the history of the contemporary Islamic movement has been the assassination of precious intellectuals and literary figures in both Arab and non-Arab Islamic countries. For example, the assassination of Kasravi by the underground Islamic movement in Iran, half a century ago, was a national tragedy. He was an early modern critic and historian, whose excellent books on the history of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution in 1905 are treasures of the people’s history of Iran. Associates of Ayatollah Khomeini killed him because he was a courageous and outspoken critic of religious obscurantism and the reactionary clerical apparatus in Iran. Today, his killer is hailed as a hero by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Systematic elimination or enforced exodus of the people’s intellectuals by the Islamic Republic of Iran has been a national tragedy for Iran, the scope of which is still not widely known. Many writers and artists were assassinated by Hezbollah bigots in the Arab countries as well: Dr Hossein Morovat in 1987; a few weeks later the assassination of Dr Mehdi Amel; the assassination of the famous and courageous Palestinian caricaturist, Naji Alali; and the assassination of Turhan Dursun in the early 1990s in Turkey. All of these intellectuals were accused of serving Zionism, whilst their elimination has been the summit of national betrayal by the Islamists. With these kinds of compatriots, who needs Zionist colonialists?

Under Islamic law, munafigheen,as well as those Muslims who convert to another religion or become atheists, are punishable by death. Under Khomeini’s rule, thousands of communists and Muslims of the Mujahedeen-type were executed. The majority were revolutionaries who had fought to oust the Shah’s regime. Those communists who waged armed struggle against the Islamic Republic of Iran were condemned to death twice: once for being heretics and the second time for Rebelling Against God (Mohareb Ba Khoda).

Taghleed: Leaders and Masses

Taghleed means obeying a Grand Ayatollah8 in all aspects of life. This is mainly a Shiite concept, but with some variance exists in other branches of Islam as well. According to this reactionary concept, the masses are sheep who need shepherds. It reveals that in Islamic theory there is no place for the masses consciously taking their destiny into their hands and fighting for their own interests. The shepherds are the Ayatollahs or the Imam (the infallible leader who is chosen by the Ayatollahs), who assign to themselves the job of thinking for the masses, judging every detail of their lives and instructing them on how to live. The concepts of taghleed and the Imam are meant to drive home this reactionary relationship between the masses and the leaders who are supposedly god’s men on Earth. In the Islamic world-view, one can never find anything close to what we communists call the “mass line” or the concept that “the masses are the makers of history”. Nor even anything close to the rising bourgeoisie’s view of the creativity and ability of human beings to think reasonably and to individually change their lot independent of god or church. In the mid-1980s, Dr Hamood al-Oodie, a professor at the University of Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, published his research on the ancient agricultural system in Yemen, showing that it was a tremendous achievement of the masses in the region. He was ruthlessly attacked by the Islamic forces, who claimed all things on earth are the work and creation of god; they said that this scholar had committed “apostasy” by giving credit to the masses of Yemen. (See Salman Rushdie and the Truth of Literature, by Sadik J. Al-Azm.)

So it falls to the Ayatollahs to herd the people in their daily routines. Each of these Ayatollahs has their own books, which in detail prescribe daily and long-term behaviour for their followers, the bulk of which includes the most oppressive and reactionary ethical codes for, and indictments against, women. These Mullahs, parasites that have never used their hands for earning a living, sweat days in religious debates to formulate their nonsense and stupity with the aim of keeping the masses obedient and ignorant.

Jihad and Shihadat

Jihad is one of the most important tenets of Islam and a requirement for every Muslim. It means waging battle on the path of god: jihad fi sabil allah. But what is it, against whom should it be waged and what is to be achieved on earth? What is the nature of jihad in Palestine? Is it a national war for winning back the land stolen from the Palestinian peasants and people by the colonisers, or is it a religious war for winning back the holy places? What is jihad in Algeria? Why does god (or his representatives) want to massacre thousands of peasants in the name of jihad?

The goals of any war and the way it is fought make clear what kind of society will emerge from it. Since the Islamic fundamentalists like to go back to fundamentals, let us look at Muhammad’s time. From its inception jihad has been extremely political in nature. Muhammad carried out 65 wars in nine years to forge a new state, with new economic and political relations. Many of the Koranic verses on this subject were formulated during this time. Later, his descendants carried out jihads to expand the feudal empire of Islam to other parts of the world. To mobilise the masses as foot soldiers and gain legitimacy for his difficult quest for power, he had to cloak the nature of the war in the mystical garb of religion: that jihad is ordered by a supernatural being. He had to make promises realisable in both the short and long-term: those who wage jihad and do not get killed get to have a share of the war spoils; those who die in jihad get to go to heaven. It is guaranteed. And there are all kinds of “better” material goods in heaven of course, including many “virgin women” and young boys at the disposal of men. This is clearly nothing but doping and bribing the soldiers of Fi Sabil Alah. In jihad, if the vanquished did not accept to pay retribution they were to be killed and their children taken as slaves. This was the kind of society that jihad promised.

In Islamic thought there are none of the modern concepts, such as “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, “class war” or “national war”. There is only war between the “believers” and others: dar-al-Islam against dar-al-harb (the land of Islam against the land of the non-believers). But this does not mean that Islamic fundamentalist movements do not have political goals in their jihad, or for that matter in their other strategies. The ambiguity is preserved for the desperate masses in order to fool them. Obviously, during the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Mujahedeen of Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden would tell the masses that they were “fighting for god”. They were not going to tell them the truth, that they were “fighting for the CIA”. Despite all their shallow boastings and huffing and puffing, forces like bin Laden and the Islamic Republic of Iran will always be the foot soldiers of the big reactionaries of the world.

Some of the Islamic groups have been calling for jihad against the imperialist powers because the imperialists are “infidels” that have dominated Islamic countries. But jihad’s fight against the imperialists is a mockery of the struggle against imperialism. It has nothing to do with the successful wars that have been carried out against the imperialist powers: the Great Russian Revolution in 1917; the Chinese war against imperialist Japan and the US puppet regime in China, which led to the decisive victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949; the impressive defeat that the US army received in 1953 at the hands of the Korean people and the Chinese Red Army in the Korean war; and finally the humiliating defeat of the US army by the Vietnamese. Today, liberating people’s wars in Peru and Nepal are developing through twists and turns, on the basis of a winnable strategy of people’s war and already, even before final victory, have established red base areas where the masses wield political power. The victory of people’s wars do not depend on any god but on the people – on a strategy developed by the proletariat in the twentieth century and tested in practice, on this strategy’s creative application and leadership by a revolutionary communist party, and on the creativity and audacity of the people.

Far from striking fear in the hearts of the imperialist powers, the jihad of the Islamic fundamentalists has been mainly successful in raining terror against the masses of people. Take for example Iran, Afghanistan and Algeria. In the jihads of the Islamic groups against the ruling cliques of the Middle Eastern countries, how many of the Algerian, Saudi and Egyptian army commanders and soldiers or the occupying forces of the imperialists in the Middle East have been killed? Not many at all. On the other hand, there are the wholesale massacres of political prisoners by Khomeini in 1987, the massacre of the Kurdish people in Iran, the burning and looting of the neighbourhoods of minority religious groups, such as the Baha’i, the secret assassinations of progressive intellectuals and the banning of their works, and the wholesale massacre of the masses in certain villages of Algeria by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). In Afghanistan, the invasion of the Taliban and Northern Alliance of each other’s areas during the last decade, in which they have indiscriminately killed the masses and raped little girls and women as a prize of jihad – these are the al-hamdo-lel-lah – “praise be upon God”– fruitful jihads. The big jihads of the last two decades – the war between Iran and Iraq, the war of the Afghanistani Mujahedeen against the occupying Soviet army – were aided and fought with the advanced “God sent” weaponry dispatched from the arsenals of the Western imperialist powers and with the aid of their satellite intelligence. What makes jihad reactionary in nature is not waging armed battle. The world amply shows that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. It is the political and social objectives of jihad and the way it is fought that makes it reactionary.9

In the 1980s, the Islamic fundamentalist movements called for jihad for the seizure of political power and the establishment of Islamic sharia societies. But their calls have changed to some extent. Now most of them are calling for jihad as a way of striking blows at the enemies of Islam and for the sake of Islamic self-purification. The success of jihad is no longer guaranteed, but it is said that victory will be granted whenever god decides – toufigh men allah. This kind of superstitious talking to the people has a ring of modern-day politics to it. It is telling the masses, “Let me use you efficiently and don’t ask why things are not changing or when victory will come.” There have been two shifts that have influenced this change in the perspective of the Islamic fundamentalist movements. 1) These movements have lost their big allies amongst the imperialist powers in the aftermath of the Cold War. 2) The bankruptcy of the Islamic states in Iran and Afghanistan, where not only poverty, dependence on imperialism and all sorts of social injustices have continued for the great majority of the masses, but the enforcement of sharia has made the lot of the people even worse. These Islamic projects have proven that the promised Islamic society is not Eden but the continuation of backwardness, poverty, debilitating ignorance and all kinds of discrimination, as well as national subjugation and humiliation.

Along with jihad there is a complementary concept of shihadat or martyrdom for the cause. There is a wide gulf between shihadat and the revolutionary concept of daring and readiness to sacrifice one’s life for revolution. The latter is in the service of the clear aim of achieving victory – the seizure of political power by the workers, peasants and all the other oppressed masses and the overthrowing of private appropriation and exploitation. In shihadat, achieving an earthly political aim is secondary, and ascending to the summit of “closeness to God” is primary. In fact, in Islam shihadat is the highest goal of jihad. Becoming a martyr (shahid) is an end in itself, preparation for travelling to the other world and securing well-being and happiness in the other world. This is what makes the doctrine of shihadat reactionary.

The appalling conditions that the masses face provide enough reason for them to want to strike at the enemy by any means possible. In fact, in Palestine the Islamic Hamas group, by promoting a series of suicide missions, only gives vent to the anger of the masses and leaves them spectators to individual acts, however spectacular, instead of taking the more difficult road of finding the way to make them active participants in sustained collective armed struggle. Shihadat is based on, and nurtures, desperation and the masses’ lack of hope that they can actually change this world. The masses need a revolutionary and scientific ideology that can raise their sights and enlighten them about real winnable war strategies against their powerful enemies. The masses of the Middle Eastern countries do not need jihad. Since it is the product of an ancient oppressive society, jihad would only bring more suffering. Plus, with the hocus-pocus of jihad, the masses cannot rid themselves of powerful reactionary state powers and their imperialist masters. The masses need to scientifically see how an enemy as strong as the imperialist powers can be brought down by a correct strategy. And for taking the enemy by strategy there will be a huge need for audacity and sacrifice by the masses, including laying down one’s life. But laying down one’s life is not the goal. The goal is to lay down the enemy’s life and to destroy the system of exploitation by destroying the powers that guard it – at the heart of which lie their state powers and their armies.

Religious ideology is injected into the masses as a fantasy escape route from this horrible world. Marxism teaches the masses to face the world as it is and change it accordingly. Marxism is completely based on the realities of the world and, therefore, is capable of changing it. Marxism teaches the masses that there is no supernatural being to aid them. The masses do need “magic”. But this magic has always been and can only be a conscious human product. And today it can be produced if the masses wield the only ideology and science that belongs to them. Marxism, being thoroughgoing materialism, has to, and has been, constantly developing; without this development it would die out. Marxism has developed through epoch-making revolutions and by absorbing the advancing knowledge that human beings acquire through production and scientific inquiry – it has developed to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is the powerful scientific revolutionary ideology of the proletariat. It is this class that, under the leadership of its greatest representatives, Marx, Lenin and Mao, has been able to produce a scientific world-view, a political, military and economic line that truly reflects the interests of the exploited masses. For the first time in the history of class society, the exploited masses do not have to resort to ideologies that come from the ancient or modern arsenals of the exploiting classes.

2. Factors Giving Rise to Islamic Forces

Three decades ago the overwhelming majority of the political forces opposed to the ruling cliques in the Middle Eastern countries and their imperialist backers were secular – genuine communist forces, pro-Soviet phoney communist forces, and secular nationalist forces. Look at Iran, Egypt and Palestine. After the Second World War, in Iran two major political forces opposing the Shah’s regime and its imperialist masters were the pro-Soviet Tudeh Party and the National Front led by Mossadegh, who was toppled in 1953 by a CIA-led coup, with the help of the Mullahs. In the Arab countries, it was mainly secular nationalist forces. In Egypt, these forces were led by Jamal Abdul Nasser, who picked up the flag of opposition to foreign domination whilst suppressing genuine revolutionary forces. In Palestine, it was secular nationalist forces and Palestinian left-leaning forces that led the struggle against Israel, while the Islamic forces gained influence mainly in the 1980s. This raises the question of what factors have been fuelling the Islamic movements. The following must be examined: 1) How Islamic political forces were brought onto the political stage by deliberate imperialist policies. 2) How the destructive workings of the imperialist system have provided a framework for the development of these forces. 3) How the bloody suppression of, and failures of, the revolutionary communists left a vacuum to be filled by them.

One of the obvious reasons for the growing influence of the Islamic forces has been the deliberate policy of the Western imperialist powers and their client states in the Middle East to contain the revolutionary masses, as well as the advances of their Soviet imperialist rivals, by fanning Islamic forces. In the 1970s, throughout the Middle East, a network of mosques was developed with the consent and encouragement of the respective regimes. In 1977 General Zia ul-Haq carried out a US-backed coup against Bhutto in Pakistan and inserted sharia into the Pakistani constitution. In Iran, the Monarchical Philosophy Association headed by Western-educated Islamic scholars was founded with the thesis that Iranian society needed a new ideological identity with a heavy dose of Islam. While the revolutionary communist forces were hunted, killed, imprisoned or pushed into exile by the Shah’s regime, all kinds of Islamic discussion forums were made available for spreading Islamic thought among the intellectuals. The alliance of the clergy with the bazaar merchants and usurers was allowed to expand the network of mosques and house-to-house Islamic preaching, and they were even given considerable freedom to mix in criticism of the Shah. Only a small underground Islamic-left guerrilla organisation, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, did not enjoy that freedom. In 1980, after the military coup in Turkey, fanatical pro-Ataturk, secular-minded generals went to Switzerland to bring the Islamic leader Arbakan back from the exile that they had imposed on him earlier. He returned to form the Islamic Refah Party. The Islamic forces were given room to establish their control over the basic masses, and granted millions of dollars for Islamic schools. During the counter-insurgency against the Kurdish upsurge, hezbollah forces were used extensively by the Turkish army.

While it is true that those running the oppressive societies in the Middle East had a deliberate policy of placing Islamic forces on the political stage, the question remains as to what underlying workings produce and reproduce them. It must be said that these forces cannot be reduced simply to “echoes of the past”, even though they pledge to roll back their respective societies. They are products of the modern structures of the Middle Eastern societies, which are in turn products of the deep imperialist penetration of these societies that has reorganised and integrated them into the world-wide web of the imperialist system. This has been a very tumultuous process and one of the ugliest in history, in terms of the human suffering inflicted. This is an ongoing process that breeds crisis and suffering on a massive scale for the peoples of the world – “globalisation” being its latest chapter.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism reflects the incurable crisis of the neo-colonial states in this region, their massive permanent poverty, whilst tremendous riches are pumped out of this region into the West. It reflects the spasmodic rise and fall of the middle classes; the displacement of populations from one end of their country to the other, and from inside to outside of their country; and the never-ending clash between being stuck in the pre-capitalist era and being dragged into the maelstrom of world capitalism. These countries are in constant turmoil. Even the reactionary classes are beset with bitter splits and ruthless competition.

Islam has been the ruling ideology in Middle Eastern societies for a long time. And the religious establishment has been a part of the ruling structures – both before and after the domination of the Middle East by the colonialist and imperialist powers of the West. However, their position in the ruling structures underwent some changes in the aftermath of the First and Second World Wars. After the First World War, the British carried out major transformations in the various countries they dominated. They resorted to what is now called “nation building” in imperialist lingo: establishing centralised states with modern armies and police forces, roads and railroads, etc. This was part of building fortresses against the newly born socialist Soviet Union, and gave rise to figures like Reza Shah of Iran and Ataturk of Turkey. After the Second World War came another nodal point. Taking over from British imperialism, the US carried out major economic and political restructuring in several key countries it now dominated. The result was a new class configuration: the working class expanded, and a modern school system churned out modern intellectuals, some of whom became state functionaries and technocrats, whilst others joined the progressive and revolutionary milieu. A big part of the religious establishment was alienated, and in most of the countries their veto power over legislation was overturned.

The Islamic forces that seized power in Iran in 1979 had been shaved off from the power structures following the Second World War. After the First and Second World Wars the feudal economic base and its corresponding superstructure were dealt heavy blows in separate waves of imperialist penetration. The clerical establishment, which had been a powerful pillar of state power, was pushed aside in several waves, first after the First World War when the British introduced a semi-colonial centralised state structure, and then again after the Second World War. The US sponsored land and other reforms that the Shah of Iran carried out in the 1960s under the name of the “White Revolution”. These weakened the clergy to a considerable degree. But the White Revolution did not uproot feudalism, it simply reorganised the semi-feudal mode of production and linked it to global imperialist relations. Moreover, because the further penetration of “modern” relations was on a capitalist basis and was concerned to preserve the existing state structures, it did not seek a decisive showdown with feudal representatives, ideas and institutions, but instead sought compromises with them so as to integrate them into the neo-colonial system. Ayatollah Khomeini protested two chief features of the Shah’s White Revolution: the distribution of land among the peasantry, limited though it was, and the granting of the right to vote to women. When the “modernisation” drive hit the rocks, the Islamic forces that had been pushed out of the power structures came back to hound the Shah and his US masters. This imperialist modernisation created a lopsided and disarticulated economy to such a degree that it not only inflicted suffering on millions of people, but it even became dysfunctional.

Similar dynamics developed in other countries such as Egypt. Starting in the 1960s, the so-called modernisation drive there uprooted the peasantry in vast numbers, but bureaucrat capitalism could not absorb them into the token modern factories, agri-businesses and infrastructure construction activities.

This was a major phenomenon throughout the Middle East. The big cities swelled with populations displaced from the countryside. The urban middle class, which had grown in the 1960s – one expression of this was growth of the secular school system and the number of university students – started to feel the squeeze. The Islamic movements, originating from clerical centres, used all of their wits to connect with the rage of the poor masses, who were swelling the cities, and a section of the urban intellectuals.

The revolutionary communists, obscurantist religious forces and nationalists found themselves on the same side against the Shah of Iran and its US masters for a short but intense and turbulent period. A section of the urban poor – largely the displaced peasantry – followed Ayatollah Khomeini. It is not true that this displaced poor is inherently Islamic. It is the case that Islamic ideology spontaneously boils from the semi-feudal structures of the society and is there to be resorted to by the distressed masses. But a similar crowd of urban poor to that which greeted Khomeini in 1979 in Tehran, the capital of Iran, had marched there a decade earlier in mourning for a popular woman singer-dancer called Mahvash.

The third and extremely important factor is the crisis within the communist movement internationally. The restoration of capitalism in the ex-USSR in the mid-1950s was the first source of this crisis. Islam did not gain such a prominent place among the masses opposing the status quo because of its political vigour, theoretical clarity or practical radicalism. The crisis within the international communist movement created a huge vacuum of leadership among the masses, which was filled by the Islamic forces who in turn were being virulently promoted by the Western imperialist powers. Just as the socialist revolutions in Russia (1917) and China (1949) and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966) had tremendously boosted the growth of communist and revolutionary secular movements in the world as a whole, including in the Middle East, the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and the betrayal of the national liberation movements by it and the pro-Soviet so-called Communist Parties was a blow to the genuine communist forces. On the basis of Soviet foreign policy interests, the pro-Soviet parties started to collaborate with reactionary regimes. For example, they “discovered” “progressive” elements in the Shah of Iran and in Arab socialism and Islamic socialism in the Arab countries. The revisionist coup in China (1976) was a second major blow, which in the 1980s caused tremendous crisis in the communist movements in these countries, as well as on a world scale. These defeats, along with bloody suppression of the genuine revolutionary communist forces by the reactionary regimes and imperialists, gave an opportunity for the growth of opposition under Islamic flags. When there is no powerful alternative to idealism, obscurantism and imperialism, then assorted reactionaries seize the opportunity.

When China was a red power base, it provided a resounding argument for revolution and a revolutionary vision of society. It was a powerful magnet for the oppressed masses everywhere. It was a flag for the people that dared to change the world themselves and not wait for some god to decide whether he wants to bother. It was a shining example of internationalism, aiding all the struggles of the people around the world. It gave heart to the world’s oppressed.

Imperialist Lunacy Is Not Better Than Islamic Fundamentalism

In reaction to Islamic fundamentalism, there is a trend among the intellectuals of the Middle Eastern countries to proclaim that the first and foremost problems of these countries come from “within”; that “we can’t blame it all on the foreigners”, in other words, on colonialism and imperialism. This argument has some truth to the extent that it calls attention to age-old problems strangling Middle Eastern and a great many other countries – namely, vast feudal remnants. But the bigger truth is that since the integration of these countries into the world imperialist system, these “internal” and “external” problems have become intertwined – the problem comes from the rule of certain classes and their ruling ideology and political power that today are intrinsically interwoven with imperialist economic and political domination. These classes have their roots in the capitalist and feudal exploitation of the workers and peasants, and at the same time they are integrated into a world system. The current problems of these countries cannot be sought in their distant history, because the contemporary Third World countries are constructs of the imperialist era. Without correctly identifying the obstacles to the progress of these societies, one cannot find solutions. Both the Islamic forces and those who whitewash imperialism are wrong in their conception of the root causes of the problems. Therefore, their solutions are wrong. The first proposes going backwards with reactionary programmes. The second closes its eyes to the savagery of imperialism because its bombs are supposedly the seeds of modernisation and enlightenment being spread over these countries. This pro-imperialist line has always existed among the upper echelons of Middle Eastern intellectuals. Often, despite their own intentions, it has made them technocrats of imperialism.

It is the world capitalist system – imperialism – that is preserving the reactionary states in the Third World countries, condemning so many of the world’s people to misery and starvation, and robbing the whole world of the enormous potential power of the all-round development of the creativity and cultural and scientific ability of the masses. This world system is structured in such a way that it does not allow the masses of the Third World to empower themselves. Imperialism and feudalism have locked the oppressed countries into backward conditions. Look at this simple fact: the US forces landed in Afghanistan with bags of dollars to buy the political and military allegiance of the tribal leaders in order to establish the kind of political arrangements their empire needs in that part of the world. The dollar is a social relation. It shapes the socio-economic conditions in the world. The structure of relations between the imperialist countries and the oppressed nations is part – and in fact a decisive part – of the world capitalist system. It is imperialism that is the main force shaping the internal class and social relations within the oppressed nations. The reactionary classes within these oppressed nations – i.e. the big landlords, industrialists, traders and bankers – are class allies of the world capitalist system. They are imperialist “operatives” within these nations. Sometimes the relations between the master imperialist and the local reactionary classes become tense. Yet, in the final analysis, their lives as feudal comprador classes depend upon their diverse connections with the imperialists. It is, therefore, not possible to separate “internal” and “external” problems because they are not separate. Both must be overthrown at the same time.

There is widespread feudalism both in the economic base and the superstructure of these societies. Basically, they are passing through a long, slow and painful transition period from the feudal to the bourgeois epoch. The intertwining of religion and state, the status of women, the strong patriarchal social relations and nepotism are all manifestations of this situation. But these societies have been under the thumb of imperialism for a long time. The imperialists have been the foremost agent of whatever modernisation exists in these countries and, at the same time, have integrated these countries’ backward economies in a subservient way into their world web of capitalism. Whilst introducing modern productive forces, they have imposed a lopsided economic development, where advanced sections of the economy exist as small detached islands surrounded by vast backward areas. The very workings of the world capitalist economy have devastated the local economy of these countries and have left them at the mercy of the violent swings of the world market and changing ecology. At times, the imperialist powers have deliberately adopted the policy of strengthening the forces of feudalism. Afghanistan is a glaring example of this. What has dictated, and will dictate, the penetration of imperialism into these countries is profit, greed and political dominance. Only an anti-feudal and anti-imperialist strategy and programme can open the doors for the all-round development of these societies.

New-democratic and Socialist Revolution – The Only Solution

Political Islam has failed. Wherever it came to power, it failed to establish anything new for the masses. It kept the old oppressive relations intact. The rich stayed rich and the poor stayed poor, and the grip of the imperialists on the economy and political power remained as strong as ever. Political Islam does not represent a cover for the coalescence of traditional ethics and tribal unity under a new regime. It mainly and fundamentally represents specific class aspirations in Muslim countries. It is the banner of a section of the exploiting classes raised in order to gain incorporation into the ruling power structures. These class forces care about the masses only so long as they need foot soldiers. As Lenin emphatically put it, today even the reactionaries need the masses to carry out their projects. The rise of Islamic forces signifies a grave crisis among the reactionary states in the Middle East. Political Islam has not, and cannot, cure this disease. With or without an Islamic cover, these states are crumbling. That is the main reason that their guardian – the US – has been compelled to land its military forces in the Middle East. It must now deal with this situation in person. The US can show off its air power as much as it desires. But on the ground the angry masses are besieging its neo-colonial client states. What is lacking is strong Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties capable of putting themselves at the head of these masses, organising their unquenchable thirst for liberation and their tremendous energy in powerful people’s wars, and leading victorious new-democratic revolutions. This is the only way to both uproot feudalism and solve the centuries-old problems suffocating these countries, and to cut off the strangling yoke of imperialism once and for all.


1 A supporter of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist).

2 Ilya Pavlovitch Petroshevsky, Islam in Iran. This authoritative Marxist source book on the history of Islam presents valuable scientific analysis of the socio-political roots of Islam. To paraphrase Petroshevsky, the emergence of Islam at the beginning of the seventh century AD is inseparably connected with the developments in class society and the beginning of a complicated social and political movement among the Northern Arabs. Islam became the ideological mantle that led to the establishment of an Arabian state and its military and political expansion throughout Arabia.

Muhammad was an intellectual from a family of small merchants in Mecca. His family (the Bani Hashem family from the well-to-do Ghoreish tribe) were the guardians of a collection of idols worshiped by different tribes and families. Mecca had a strategically important geographic location. It was a centre for foreign trade, including the slave trade. The trading routes connecting India and the Byzantine empire (Syria, Palestine and Egypt) passed through Yemen (in the South) and then Mecca (in the North). Iran under Sassanid captured Yemen in the sixth century and diverted the transit route in its favour. Foreign trade diminished in Mecca. Mecca was also a centre for internal commodity exchanges between Arab nomads, who traded dairy products for dates, grain and craft items from Mecca. The Ghoreish tribe lived in Mecca. Some of its member families became very rich from trade and usury, through which they ruined smaller families and merchants (such as the Bani Ommayeh family, initially the main enemies of Muhammad, but who later united with him and led the expansion of the Islamic empire). Others were modest merchants and agriculturalists (such as Bani Hashem, Muhammad’s family). All of them ruthlessly traded slaves from Ethiopia, and exploited them in agriculture as well. The disintegration of the tribal community and the development of private land ownership, and the consequent increasing gap between the rich and the poor of each tribe, shook up the Northern regions of Arabia. A tremendous social and economic crisis engulfed them. Muhammad took it upon himself to unite the scattered, warring tribes of the Arabian Peninsula to deal with the crisis. For this, a unified state for all of Arabia was necessary.

3 Defeats by the Western colonialists during the nineteenth century loom large in Islamic literature. The British consolidated their hold on the Middle East in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and during that same period dismantled the Ottoman Empire. Tsarist Russia went into the Caucasus and Central Asia in 1857. That half-century was a turning point. It ended the centuries-old balance between the Muslim and Christian empires. The Christian world had surpassed feudalism. But the Muslim world was still grappling with the past.

Various Islamic forces that are less fundamentalist and closer to nationalism use nostalgia for the pre-colonial past as an ideological banner for uniting the people: marching through the streets of Ramallah carrying a portrait of Salahedin Ayubi (a celebrated victorious fighter for the Islamic empire against the Crusaders); fantasising about the Ottoman empire, even though the Arab feudals and kings happily helped the British to oust it; and endless nostalgia about how Islamic civilisation was more advanced than European, which was still in the Dark Ages (which is true, but let’s take care of the future!). This history has given way to a lot of debate over “why the Islamic portion of the world was not able to compete with European colonialism”. This in itself is a big subject of historical study and analysis among the intellectuals in Muslim countries, but this debate is beyond the scope of the present article. Nevertheless, a correct proletarian approach would start from the point that, while it is important to explore this aspect of the development of human society, the proletariat does not struggle against today’s ruthless reactionary empires (i.e. the imperialists) with the objective of restoring past empires. First of all, the proletariat did not even exist then, so it does not have any lost empires to cry over or fight to revive. Secondly, these past empires – in the East and West and regardless of religion or ethnicity – were oppressive and not worth getting nostalgic about. The proletariat can freely say, as Marx did: let the dead bury the dead (in other words, let the bourgeois and feudal class forces cry over their own past). We have the future to fight for, a future society completely different from all previously existing class societies.

4 Among the ideologues of the current Islamic movements are: Khomeini, Motahari and Taleghani from Iran, Seyyid Qutb from Egypt, Maududi from Pakistan and Al-Turabi from Sudan.

5 In the 1980s, the CIA under the Reagan administration carried out covert operations against the new Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. The reactionary Nicaraguan and Cuban mercenaries, who were run by the CIA’s Oliver North, were called the Contras. This operation was funded by revenues from cocaine smuggling and the selling of arms to Iran through Israel. The scandal was called Iran-Contragate.

6 Especially since 11 September, there has been an enormous amount of propaganda in the Western media, including in the liberal intellectual press, arguing that Islam is different from other religions, that it is inherently more rigid and less open to inquiry than the other major religions, and that this is the reason why the Arab and Muslim world is so poor and has such backward leaders (feudal sheikhs and the like). This implies that the people in the West are so much luckier because they live under regimes based on the much more open-minded Judeo-Christian ethic, and that in turn is why they enjoy more prosperity and greater liberty. This is a Western chauvinist argument. In terms of the scriptures and traditions of Islam it is necessary to call attention to the fact that the Koran and Islamic tradition is in many ways simply an updated and concretised extension of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and traditions – as well as others such as Zoroastrianism, Greek philosophy, etc. All these religions are equally oppressive and reactionary.

It is ahistorical to say that Islam is inherently incapable of reform. Throughout its history, Islam has responded to changing social conditions. In fact, many varieties of Islam are products of mass rebellions, invasions, power struggles, great debates, the flourishing of science in parts of the Islamic world, learning from the Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians, advances in mathematics, astronomy, etc. It is also true that the Islamic world was in many ways scientifically and intellectually more developed than the world of medieval Europe. When the Muslim empire was established in the seventh century, Europe was in the Dark Ages. In the following centuries, Christianity went through the Inquisition, burned heretics at the stake, and so forth. However, the hold of religion and feudalism was overthrown by capitalist revolutions in Europe, whilst feudalism continued to maintain its grip on the Islamic lands. But capitalist development in the West was not Christian-ordained. Some say that if it had not been for Protestantism and Calvinism, capitalism would not have developed in the West. But it is the other way around. When capitalism developed (which did not have to happen the way it did, i.e. emerging in Europe first), it forged a unified world history. And in this process Islam continued to be part of the superstructure of societies that are both oppressive and subordinate. When European and American colonialism and imperialism penetrated these countries, it gave rise to the semi-feudal, semi-colonial, lopsided societies that we see today. The domination of Islam in the superstructure of these societies represents both the strong presence of feudalism and colonial-imperialist bondage. This is how history developed, and it is ahistorical to argue which religion is better.

Another ahistorical view is that Islam should catch up! It cannot and should not try to “catch up”. The world is saturated with imperialist-capitalist countries already. And the Islamic countries do not need to produce Islamic Luthers or Kants. That era has passed and attempts to reproduce it are bound to be reactionary.

7 Ali Shariati, an Iranian, is one of the most famous Islamic thinkers. He tried to forge a modern revolutionary Shiism. He is the founding father of a new trend among Shiites. Ayatollah Khomeini considered him an eclectic.

Shariati goes back to the origins of Shi’ism to claim that it has an immense revolutionary potential. He injected this new reading of Shi’ism with modern sociology, including aspects of Marxism, to produce what is portrayed as an anti-colonial, native identity, called “Coming Back to Self” after the title of one of his most important writings. He lumped the exploited and exploiters in the West together as “others” and portrayed Fatemeh, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, as a role model for modern Muslim women.

His political aim was to counter the growing influence of Marxism among Iranian intellectuals.

8 In the nineteenth century the hierarchy of the Shiite faith was institutionalised like this: Grand Ayatollah at the top, followed by the Ayatollah and then the Hojat-ul-Islam. Only Grand Ayatollahs can practice Taghleed.

9 A word should be said here about the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran, since it differs in certain respects from most fundamentalist Islamic movements. It was founded in the late 1960s as an anti-imperialist guerrilla organisation and fought against the Shah and US imperialism. It had clearly defined political goals – the overthrow of the Shah and the ousting of imperialism from Iran – and its perspective for future society was a “classless Towhidi society”, a classless society where everything belongs to god. At its inception, it was a radical petit-bourgeois organisation, which felt required to resort to Islam in order to gain legitimacy among the Muslim population and to distinguish itself from the Marxist political organisations. At the same time it felt the need to incorporate Marxist notions, such as classes, exploitation, imperialism, etc., into its theory to distinguish itself from the reactionary clergy and Islamic fundamentalists.

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  • Guest - Jaroslav

    Quick note on the date: this article appeared in <i>AWTW</i> #28 in 2002 (not sure what month). Also the news service did not exist until 2003 so it's not actually correct to say the NS also commissioned it. Also by the way, note correct spelling of 'Sarb<b>e</b>daran' (not 'Sarb<b>ar</b>daran').

    The article was also posted on <i>AWTW</i> site <a href="/" rel="nofollow">here</a>, where it has the intro as following:

    <blockquote>The following article was commissioned by <i>A World To Win</i> to examine the role of Islam as a political force in the world today. Dealing with Islam is only part of the task of revolutionaries confronting the recent rise of religion, which is undergoing a revival that would have seemed unthinkable only a few decades ago. Religion appeared to have been relegated to a private concern in large areas of the world, in part due to the rise of socialism and scientific Marxism. But the world changed. The revolutions in the USSR and then China were defeated. The wave of national liberation struggles that shook the 1960s ebbed. Also importantly, science fell into further discredit, as it became identified in the eyes of millions with horrendous weapons of mass destruction and luxury gadgets for the wealthy, while the poor groan under the ever heavier burden of the intensified production and immiseration associated with technology-fuelled imperialist “globalisation”.

    The new wave of religiosity is, therefore, closely linked with the defeats inflicted on world revolution and the horrors inflicted on the masses.

    Religion has also continued to be used as a weapon in the hands of those who rule. The appointment of Christian fascists to key posts in the US government by Bush junior is indicative of the importance the US imperialists give to using religion to shore up their legitimacy, to anaesthetise the masses to the real cause of their suffering and to mobilise hard-core reactionaries behind the “core values” of bourgeois rule. Just as Hitler used anti-Semitism to rally Germany to war, so too the US imperialists are turning to Christian fundamentalist ideology to gear their subjects to their ambitious new imperial quest at home and abroad. Thus Bush calls for a “crusade” against the Islamic fundamentalists and for the Chinese to embrace “faith”, while respectable US Senators commemorate the victims of 11 September by reading from the Bible to give their god’s guidance in such circumstances. Indeed, with respect to the role religion has played as a standard-bearer for reactionary crimes, Christianity still has no rival.

    The reason this article focuses on Islam is not because of any belief that it is in some way fundamentally different from other religions. On the contrary, from an ideological viewpoint, Marxism treats all religions equally. But Islam does have influence among an important section of the world’s oppressed. In contrast to the world’s imperialists, who have targeted Islamic fund­amentalism out of chauvinism, the Maoists seek to unveil the actual interests behind the Islamic religious forces so as to unleash the masses in important parts of the planet to fight the imperialists and reactionaries with greater determination and thoroughness.</blockquote>

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