Ali Abderraziq, Spirituality versus Power in Islam
1 January 2012

In his vision, the Prophet is a spiritual guide for Muslims, not a bearer of political ideas for this world. An Islamic state has never existed, not even for the Ulemas at the beginnings of Islam. And there is no Islamic theological principle that prevents Muslims from creating a state and a society according to the best that human reason and practical political experience has created. The book with which he set out the basis for the development of secular and liberal political ideas among 20th century Muslims, is L’islam et les fondements du pouvoir (Paris, La Découverte, 1994), published for the first time in Arabic in 1925. The book that followed the wave of reforms implemented by Ataturk, who abolished the caliphate, led to disconcerted reactions among the scholars of Al Ahzar, where Abderraziq also taught. They managed to have the book withdrawn from circulation and deprived him of the title of “alim” (wise).

The author of this still republished essay had this honour returned to him in 1946 and was able to continue to exercise his influence on Muslim intellectuals inspired by him, such as Al Jabri Filaly-Ansari. Other Muslim reformist currents arose from other sources and distinguished themselves for not having accepted the radical separation between religion and what is secular, believing that another path can be followed to also achieve democracy and political pluralism through a different interpretation of the same principles of Islamic doctrine, thus welcomed into the political sphere. This is the case of reformist movements within the Muslim Brotherhood.

On this subject, Filaly-Ansary has written that the most important event in Islamic thought’s recent history, was exactly the schism in the reform movement of the Twenties between, on one hand, Hassan el-Banna, the Egyptian famous for founding the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and on the other Abderraziq, also an Egyptian and the precursor of the “critical movement” within Islam. According to Ansar, this emphasises that Islam’s founding principles, obedience and consultation, are not rules for political organisation, but moral values.