Shaykh Amin Presents a Model for Collective Action

Shaykh Amin Presents a Model for Collective Action

by Edward Moad

Shaykh Amin’s recent article responds to the question of the hour. In a world stagnant under the stubborn weight of exploitative and violent structures, how can we muster the collective empowerment needed to bring about lasting positive change? In my reading, the Shaykh implicitly compares three competing modes of collective action: anarchic, statist, and Islamic.

The coercive power of the state, in its several forms, appears pervasive, unstoppable, and unresponsive to the range of crises we face, except insofar as they affect an increasingly exclusive class of short term interests. The ‘anti-authoritarian’ or anarchic response is seemingly disempowered by its instinctive rejection of hierarchy as such, which precludes the organization and concerted action required for lasting change. Aside from the Covid-related anti-vaccination movement, mentioned by the Sheikh, we can add some other examples. The Occupy Wall Street movement was also a ‘leaderless’ movement which utterly failed to change the regulation of the financial industry, even after the state paid its gambling debts with the inheritance of a generation. Then came the ‘Arab Spring, the avowedly ‘non-ideological’ movement that went running back to the same oppressive regimes they previously sought to overthrow.

In light of these and other examples, we should consider the extent to which the ‘anti-authoritarian’ tendencies actually serve to reinforce and exacerbate the authoritarian power of the state. Plato’s Republic famously describes the ‘Democratic’ phase of a city, in which all hierarchy is rejected, as the precursor to that of the Tyrant. Nowadays, we are in a position to consider the prospect of a modern, institutional tyranny, as opposed to the pre-modern personal sort he imagined.

The third model is Islam, which the Shaykh introduces as the ‘religious’ mode of collective action, based on ‘faith in the Unseen.’ He does so to specify rather than generalize. That is, not to include the whole mess of whatever falls under the category ‘religion’ as commonly used, but to exclude current notions of ‘Islam’ bereft of its essential reference to God and the Hereafter. For indeed, the communal action that occurs in Ramadan, as well as in Hajj and countless other areas of daily Muslim life, are organized around a vertical axis leading to Allah and the Prophet (saw). These practices have been maintained for centuries independently, and sometimes in defiance of, state power.

As the Shaykh writes: “Ramadan shows that true power extends not from the long arm of temporal governmental authority, but from the voluntary acquiescence of the individual to Allah’s ultimate dominion over Creation.” Muslim activists should therefore see this as a model for organizing effective movements for social justice. While fully voluntary and independent of state coercion, it nevertheless articulates a clear notion of justice rooted in God’s wisdom and the order of His creation. Therefore, it does not depend on the whim of whichever group controls the state apparatus. Nor is it reduced to subjectivity in an anarchic epistemology. People fighting for justice under such a framework know what they are fighting for and why.

This invites the question, then why have we been unable to organize ‘politically’ with the same framework under which we organize ‘religiously’? Why can we organize in Ramadan to suppress our appetites while fighting the hunger of others, but we are unable to organize to remove the systemic structures that suppress so many and render them needlessly hungry? The answer, no doubt, involves the effect of historical and cultural changes of the last few centuries. There is a term for this collective Muslim action for justice, directed by God and motivated for the Hereafter. Because of its abuse and misrepresentation, unfortunately, we avoid it. It was, naturally, the basis of Muslim society, just as state action for ‘justice’ as defined by the state, even under the guise of ‘anti-authoritarianism’ is the basis of secular society.    

Dr. Edward Moad is a philosophy professor currently teaching in the Qatar University Humanities Department.  He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

His research is in the area of Islamic philosophy, metaphysics, and comparative moral epistemology, and coalesces in two distinct yet related projects, which he has named ‘Coherence of the Incoherence,’ and ‘Values without Borders.’

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