Political Concepts

The Arab Revolt: Reflections on the Uprising

In the lexicon of recent history the term ‘Arab Revolt’ evokes a dark chapter from the annals of the Islamic State. For centuries the Ottomans, like their Umayyad and Abbasid predecessors, symbolised the political base of the Islamic State through the Caliphate institution that was established after the death of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. But the power of the Ottomans was on the wane, slowly its influence and grasp on the Muslim World receded, blow after blow the State began to fragment. It received one of its biggest blows in 1916 when the treacherous Amir of Mecca, Hussein Bin Ali, sided with the British and initiated the ‘Arab Revolt’ which would eventually sever the Arab lands from the Ottoman Caliphate. The Ottomans limped on and the biggest blow would come a few years later when the Caliphate was itself abolished in 1924 and the Muslims were for the first time in their history without a Caliph.

In 2011 the term has found new meaning, in recent months we have seen vast populations of the Ummah from the Arab and North African World rise up against tyranny, oppression and corruption. It began last December when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian vendor, set himself on fire – he would later die from the injuries – in protest after his produce was confiscated by the local authorities who had continuously harassed him. This injustice struck a chord with many Tunisians, who had themselves been suffering oppression for years, and they took to the streets in an unprecedented uprising. Their actions gradually gained international coverage and resulted in them ousting President Ben Ali. The uprising then spread to Egypt where the pharaonic tyrant Hosni Mubarak also fell, similar protests have also taken place in Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and at the time of writing this, major uprisings and protests have been taking place in Libya against the dictator Colonel Gaddafi. These unprecedented events have reached a global audience as news channels and newspaper columns have continuously covered the developments. But as the coverage on the mainstream media slowly dies down it’s important that we reflect on these historic changes and take lessons from what we have witnessed in these past months.

From the outset it is important to address what the protestors have been calling for, we’re well aware that the Ummah arose after decades of suffering repression at the hands of these despotic regimes, but many Western media outlets and political leaders have been quick to provide their own narrative. We’ve been told that this has been a ‘secular’ uprising as many commentators have rushed to discern these events from the Iranian revolution of 1979. Many analysts have pointed to the absence of ‘Islamist’ elements in these events to highlight that the call of the people has been of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ as opposed to calls for Islamic revival. One could not be faulted for mistaking this narrative with some sort of policy paper drawn up in Whitehall or the White House. The reality is that after years of oppression the Ummah wants to free herself from the shackles of tyranny and wants to have a corrupt free transparent government that can be accountable. The slogans of ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ represent these wishes and the people are certainly not calling for the liberal systems we find in the West which allow for social behaviours that are seen as reprehensible in the Muslim World. The protests themselves have been organised in Masjids and taken place after Friday Prayers, we’ve seen masses of people offering the prayers in congregation in Tahrir Square, chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’ are clearly audible therefore it seems odd that these uprisings are being labelled ‘secular’. Is the Ummah really looking up to secular values when we’ve witnessed the devastating effects of these values in the last decade through failed forays into Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror, the global economic crisis, social breakdown along with the regular scandals caused by the behaviour of politicians.

We’re sure that these developments have led many Western leaders to suffer from insomnia as they work around the clock surveying the damage and trying to work out which of their stooges is next. However the term amnesia would be more appropriate to describe their behaviour; they have all come out to denounce the likes of Mubarak and Gaddafi but these were the same leaders who were praising the likes of Gaddafi and Mubarak recently. In the past few weeks we have seen numerous expose’s on how politicians and elites from the West have been propping, supporting, funding and arming many of these despotic leaders. The same weapons were and are still being used to kill and maim many who are involved in the uprising.

These events have quietened the naysayers, pragmatists, sceptics and those with a defeatist mentality. For years now many from our midst have said that the Ummah is incapable of bringing about change by citing odd arguments linking our plight to the way – or lack – of performing rituals. Those who have called for change have done so at a cost, for years they said that the only way to bring about change was through compromise; by adopting erroneous systems, ideas and entering un-Islamic institutions. There have been those who have promoted apathy by staying on the sidelines when they should have been actively involved in bringing about change. The Ummah has shown that it still has goodness within it, as many have been martyred in this struggle, it has shown that change is possible and can be achieved by mass organised movements free from the established political frameworks. But these movements need to be given guidance, the Ummah needs to realise that the answer to their ills lies within the very values which they carry. The Ummah needs to be shown that the Islamic system of governance; which has been highlighted in the Quran and Sunnah, is accountable and transparent; and can solve their problems whilst liberating them, freeing them from oppression and providing them with prosperity and hope.

Most of all, these developments have shook the thrones of all the tyrants from the Muslim World, it is a stark reminder to them that their time is nearing to an end. The story of Hussein Bin Ali, who led the revolt against the Caliphate in 1916, should be a cautionary tale for them. This man sided with the colonialists, helped them disunite the Ummah further, and then expected to be rewarded well. However Hussein Bin Ali was humiliated and sidelined by the British a few years later as they gave their support to the Al-Saud family and helped them establish Saudi Arabia. The likes of Saddam Hussein and now Mubarak and Gaddafi, who expected to sit in their Ivory Towers longer, have received the same treatment. Verily it is Allah سبحانه وتعالى who grants power when He wills and takes it when He wills.

Finally we should not be naive to think that everything will be rosy from here onwards, we need to show awareness about the political developments as the power brokers from the West try to slip in another face that will do their bidding, there needs to be an overhaul of the whole system as opposed to a change of face. We must remember that the last Arab Revolt was one of the many events that led to the destruction of the Islamic State and left the Muslims without a Caliph, something that had seemed unlikely and unfathomable only a few years before. This is the main lesson for us now; although it might seem unlikely and unthinkable to some that these uprisings can lead to anything fruitful, perhaps these events will be the beginning of many that will lead to the Ummah uniting and returning to Islam. We pray to Allah سبحانه وتعالى that this is the case.

وَاللَّهُ غَالِبٌ عَلَىٰ أَمْرِهِ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

“Allah is in control of His affair. However, most of mankind do not know.” [Yusuf, 12:21]