Anarchism and Islam

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Islamic anarchism is based on an interpretation of Islam as "submission to God" which either prohibits or is highly critical of the role of human authority.

Historical anarchist tendencies in Islam[edit]

Throughout Islamic history there have been Muslim groups, movements, and individuals which could be described as anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, egalitarian, or opposed to the rule of specific governments. Among these, only a few are properly associated with the anarchist label.


An early example of anti-authoritarianism in Islam is Kharijism which dates back to the time of the split between Sunnis and Shias. The Shias claimed Ali Ibn Abu Talib and his descendents were the rightful successors of Muhammad. The Sunnis believed (at least initially) that the leader of all the Muslims had to be from the tribe of Quraysh but could be chosen by the Muslim community. Sunnism also tended to be conservative in the sense that as long as certain minimal functions were being carried out, it was wrong to rebel against the lawful Muslim ruler, even when they were being sinful. The Kharijites were a third group who initially supported the leadership of Ali but then turned against him when they disagreed with some of his decisions. The Khawarij claimed that any qualified Muslim could be an Imam. They were also more willing to rebel against Muslim rulers.


At least one sect of Kharajites, the Najdiyya, believed that if no suitable imam was present in the community, then the position could be dispensed with.[1] A strand of Mutazalite thought paralleled that of the Najdiyya: if rulers inevitably became tyrants, then the only acceptable course of action was to stop installing rulers.

Sheikh Bedrettin[edit]

Sheikh Bedrettin (1359–1420) (Ottoman Turkish: شیخ بدرالدین‎) was a proto-Socialist revolutionary Sufi theologian and charismatic preacher who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1416. His full name was Şeyh Bedrettin Mahmud Bin İsrail Bin Abdülaziz.

His writings were condemned by a number of Ottoman religious scholars such as Ismail Hakki Bursevi. Others instead praise the Sheikh. He is a popular figure among Turkey's left. Nazim Hikmet was jailed for inciting rebellion after encouraging military cadets to read Bedreddin's work. The musicians Cem Karaca and Zulfu Livaneli composed a song based on a Hikmet's epic poem, the Şeyh Bedrettin Destanı. In Hikmet's work, Bedrettin and his companions emphasize that all things must be shared "except the lips of the beloved."

Sheikh Bedrettin's proto-socialist ideas emphasised direct action, direct democracy, international and interfaith human solidarity, equality and communal life. He is highly respected among the Turkish anarchists.[2]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan[edit]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890 – 20 January 1988) (Pashto : خاں عبدالغفار خاں,) was a Pashtun political and spiritual leader known for his non-violent opposition to British Rule in India. A lifelong pacifist, a devout Muslim,[3] and a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, he was also known as Badshah Khan (also Bacha Khan, Pashto: lit‎., "King Khan"), Fakhr-e-Afghan (pride of Afghans) and Sarhaddi Gandhi (Urdu, Hindi lit., "Frontier Gandhi").

Ghaffar Khan's Muslim pacifism was based on the anarcho-pacifist ideas of Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy.

Sayyid Qutb[edit]

(9 October 1906 – 29 August 1966) Although being seen as a Islamist Qutb vouched for what he called the final Islamic nation where all authority and government would be eradicated and the only one with authority and the only one we would submit to would be Allah . He believed this society would be achieved through a vanguard that would lead the Muslims into the fight against tyrannical forces . He also believed in Social justice and complete economic equality where the Muslim Ummah would throw away materialistic things in order to worship spiritually and look after each other .

Ali Shariati[edit]

Main article: Ali Shariati

An important and influential figure in the 20th century was Ali Shariati, who was considered the principal theoretician and leader[4][5] of the popular movement that ultimately culminated in the mass uprisings that led to the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow and dissolution of the Imperial State of Iran on 11 February 1979.

From the 1950s and on, Shariati was continually persecuted and often imprisoned in solitary confinement by the Imperial authorities with the support of the mainline Shi'a clergy who feared that Shariati was poised to become a national leader in the same vein as Mohammad Mossadegh. Shariati's anticlerical and populist interpretation[6] of Shia Islam was strongly influenced by the nationalist republican historian and philosopher, Ahmad Kasravi, who had advocated a secular reformist interpretation of Islam, intertwined with a detailed study of the history of the Iranian peoples. However, while Kasravi was a conservative nationalist, Shariati was on the opposite end of the spectrum, embracing both the far left and the radical traditionalists. Shariati was one of the very few national figures who was popular and respected across the diverse ethnolinguistic spectrum of Iran, as loved by the Sunni Kurds and Baloch as he was among the Shia.[7]

The continuous persecution of Shariati by both the Imperial State and the followers of Ruhollah Khomeini began to take its toll on his health. After his last incarceration, having spent eighteen months in solitary, Shariati spent the next three years under close surveillance and his freedom of movement highly restricted under virtual house arrest. On 20 March 1975, under the stipulation that he remain in exile permanently, Shariati was granted permission to leave Iran for the United Kingdom. Three weeks after his arrival in London, Shariati suffered a heart attack and shortly thereafter died.

Although Shariati was not an anarchist, his vision of Islam[8] was highly influenced by the Third Worldism that he encountered as a student in Paris — ideas that class war and revolution would bring about a just and classless society — from one side, and the Islamic puritanism (or the Islamic Reformation) movements of his time from the other side. He is said to have adopted the idea of Gharbzadegi from Jalal Al-e Ahmad and given it "its most vibrant and influential second life." [9] was that of a religion based upon the values of social justice, women's rights, minority rights, redistribution of land to the farmers and agrarians, advocacy for the poor and indigent, as well as a direct democracy that would allow for self-governance instead of having to rely on career politicians and elected representatives. He believed that the only true reflection of the Islamic concept of Tawhid (unity and oneness of God) is a classless society.


Main article: Hardline (subculture)

Hardline is a radical deep ecology movement with roots in vegan straight edge hardcore punk, absorbing several influences from Islam and with some followers being Muslims themselves. It ultimately led to the creation of several more explicitly Muslim organizations like Ahl-i-Allah (The People of Allah) and Taliyah al-Mahdi (The Vanguard of the Mahdi).[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Related movements

Relevant individuals

Social groups/places

Related concepts

Other religious anarchisms


  1. ^ Crone, P. A Statement by the Najdiyya Khārijites on the Dispensability of the Imamate. Studia Islamica. No. 88 (1998), pp. 55-76
  2. ^
  3. ^ An American Witness to India's Partition by Phillips Talbot Year (2007) Sage Publications ISBN 978-0-7619-3618-3
  4. ^ Abrahamian, Ervand. 1993. ‘Ali Shariati: ideologue of the Iranian revolution’. In Edmund Burke and Ira Lapidus (eds.), Islam, politics, and social movements. Los Angeles: University of California Press. First published in MERIP Reports (January 1982): 25-28.
  5. ^ Gheissari, Ali. 1998. Iranian Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century. Austin: University of Texas Press.
  6. ^ Nasr, Vali, The Shia Revival, Norton, (2006), p. 129
  7. ^ Ostovar, Afshon P. (2009). "Guardians of the Islamic Revolution Ideology, Politics, and the Development of Military Power in Iran (1979–2009)" (PhD Thesis). University of Michigan. Retrieved 26 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Shariati, Ali, "A Manifestation of Self-Reconstruction and Reformation", (1975), p. 394
  9. ^ Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet : Religion and Politics in Iran, p. 330

Further reading[edit]

  • "Imagining an Islamic Anarchism: A New Field of Study is Ploughed" by Anthony T. Fiscella, published in Religious Anarchism: New Perspectives (2009) by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos ed.
  • "Varieties of Islamic Anarchism: A Brief Introduction" by Anthony T. Fiscella, zine, downloadable at Alpine Anarchist

External links[edit]