Understanding the Complexity and Impact of Political Islam

85 views 1:14 pm 0 Comments February 14, 2024

What Is Political Islam?

Islamists are people engaged in the pursuit of sociopolitical objectives that use Islamic principles and symbols. This is a broad definition that includes many movements and individuals.

By focusing on the overarching motivators and contributing factors to seemingly isolated, domestic movements, The Many Faces expands understanding of political Islam. It also lessens the misconception that political Islam is monolithic and global in its impact.


The term political Islam has typically been used to describe movements aimed at reshaping the governments of existing Muslim nation-states. While the ideology behind these movements varies, they share common themes and demands. In the broadest sense, they aim to reinvigorate Islamic thought by bringing it into dialogue with modern ideas and developments, and they emphasize the need to respond to perceived threats from Western influence in Muslim societies.

For example, scholars like Muhammad Iqbal and Abul A’la al-Mawdudi advocated a compatibility between Islam and rationalist thought, while others, such as Rashid Rida and Sayyid Qutb, promoted an antimodernist and rejectionist Islamic view that prioritized a return to an idealized form of the religion. The latter was particularly prevalent after World War I, with the rise of movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Saudi dynasty’s strand of Wahhabism worldwide.

Regardless of the differences in their specific ideologies, these various political Islamists have made an important contribution to public debates and social behavior in Muslim communities around the world. They have also influenced the development of many fundamentalist reform movements, including Iran’s velayat-e faqih system and the Deobandi school in South Asia.


Many political Islamists are not interested in establishing an Islamic state, but their activities do influence politics. They often compete with other power-seeking groups and ideologies in their pursuit of political influence.

They have influenced public debates and social behavior in many countries and have deepened the impact of some of their demands on Muslim societies and expatriate communities around the world. Islamist themes and demands tend to center on Islamic solidarity, a vociferous critique of the West and hostility toward Israel. Domestic policy is where their impact has been most visible.

Similarly, they have influenced citizens’ views of the role of religion in their own societies. In some countries, such as Sudan and Yemen, four-in-ten citizens believe that religious clerics should have a say in government decisions. In others, such as Egypt and Jordan, only two-in-ten do so. This competition and influence is a key reason why it is important to study political Islam in the context of global trends rather than as a unique, regional phenomenon.


Despite the defeat of many Islamists in political competition, the movement continues to have significant impact in Muslim societies and among the global diaspora. Its themes, demands and activities continue to shape public debates, social behavior and legal practice in countries all over the world.

While some Islamist movements have attempted to capture the state through direct armed jihad or by competing with existing parties in democratic elections, most pursue a more pragmatic strategy based on reshaping domestic legislation and using non-violent means to influence public discourse. This approach is often inspired by nostalgia for the days when Muslims ruled their own empires and were not subjected to alien, infidel rule.

A common view among scholars and some Islamists is that there is something essentially political about Islam. It is argued that Islam never developed the institutional separation between a corporate “church” and a functional secular state and that Islamic law (shari’a) is deeply associated with public enforcement.


Islamists have shaped the discourse and debate on a host of political issues in Muslim states and communities around the globe. They have sought to present Islam as a political system equipped to speak to the demands of persons’ natural desires and moral psychology. They have also criticized the underlying assumptions of modern Western rationality and democracy.

Although many of these movements have splintered in the post-uprising phase, they have still been a powerful influence on the social and legal fabric of state-level societies throughout the Muslim world. A recurring theme in their narratives is that Islam is the solution for society’s problems.

While the varying perspectives of Islamists make the concept of political islam difficult to define, the overall effect is significant. While events in one nation occur independently of others, religiopolitical movements often share root motivators. The separated accounts of national and engagement strategies lessen the magnitude of religion’s impact on sociopolitical facets of individual societies.

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