Islamism — the Political Islam: The Challenge for the 21st Century
It was 8th of June, 632 CE, Muhammad, may peace be on him, had passed away. Yet, nobody around him, seemed able to acknowledge it. This was a strange blindness on their part, regardless of the reasons. Muhammad was 63 years old, after all, a long life for his time. He had been seriously wounded in the battle of Uhud some seven years ago, from which he had completely recovered and survived no fewer than three assassination attempts that we know of. Perhaps those closest to him, who had seen the pervasive Providence of God play out in his life, could not fathom, how a mere illness could bring him down. They required some explanation and quotation from the Quran to comprehend the tragedy.
The Quranic revelation had promised the prophet security from his enemies: “O Messenger! convey to the people what has been revealed to thee from thy Lord; and if thou do it not, thou hast not conveyed His Message at all. And Allah will protect thee from men. Surely, Allah guides not the disbelieving people.”
The prophet could not be taken down by his enemies; this was God’s categorical promise. But, the same was not true for the three of the four Caliphs, who immediately followed him and are titled the four Righteous Caliphs. This distinction between the prophet and what followed stands out very dramatically. Abu Bakr the first Caliph was the only one to die of natural causes. Umar, Uthman and Ali who followed him, were all martyred. In this historical contrast lies the key to understand Islam and its role in our personal lives and in our politics.
During the life time of the prophet Muhammad, revelation took the center stage and managed all aspects of human existence. The divine revelation polished human wisdom and logic, so that after his life, wisdom, logic, the Quran and his practices and the human experiences, can become a guide for the humanity.
Lesley Hazleton, who is a British-American author whose work focuses on the vast and volatile arena in which politics and religion intersect, has a well written book: After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam. In this gripping narrative history, Hazleton tells the tragic story at the heart of the ongoing rivalry between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, a rift that dominates the news now more than ever.
She describes, how Hazrat Aisha, the wife of the prophet was exonerated, after some had slandered her when she was left behind a traveling caravan by accident and had to travel back with a young Muslim, who was also delayed for some other reason. She writes:
“After three weeks of indecision, Muhammad went to Abu Bakr’s house to question Aisha himself. There, even as she swore her innocence yet again, he went into a prophetic trance. As she would tell it, ‘The Prophet was wrapped in his garment and a leather cushion was put under his head…. Then he recovered and sat up and drops of water fell from him like rain on a winter day, and he began to wipe the sweat from his brow, saying, ‘Good news, Aisha! God has sent down word of your innocence.’
It was a divine revelation, perfectly timed. That same day Muhammad proclaimed it in public, in the words that are now part of Sura 24 of the Quran: ‘The slanderers were a small group among you, and shall be punished. But why, when you heard it, did faithful men and women not think the best and say, ‘This is a manifest lie’? If the slanderers had even produced four witnesses! But they produced no witnesses, so they are liars in the eyes of God. … Why did you think nothing of repeating what others with no knowledge had said, thinking it a light matter when in the eyes of God it was a serious one? Why did you not say, ‘This is a monstrous slander’? God commands the faithful never to do such a thing again.’
It was a glorious exoneration of Aisha, and all the more powerful in that it demanded not one but all of four people to contradict her word. Unless there were four witnesses to an illegal sexual act, it said, the accused was blameless, and the false accusers were the ones to be punished.”
The Quranic revelation had defined that honor of every person is sacred and cannot be fiddled with. For a wronged woman, Hazrat Aisha and the early Muslims, there could have been no better teaching or outcome. Yet these same verses have come to haunt the present day Muslims as the teaching has been cruelly turned around and used by conservative clerics to do the opposite of what was originally intended: not to exonerate a woman but to blame women, who are raped.  
If they are unable to produce four eye witnesses of the crime they are to be punished for slander and adultery. Such myopic reading of the Quran does not allow the scientific developments, which now allow DNA testing and sperm analysis for fool proof ways to catch the guilty. Islamism is an obsession with the Quranic text or the early Islamic history, without the wisdom to understand the context and the changing circumstances, a dogmatic refusal to benefit from all the human experiences, wisdom and science and technology that have developed since. Islamism is a myopic reading to serve the political goals of some, whether grounded in ignorance, leader worship, racism or self serving conspiracies.
Hazelton describes the political struggle in the seventh century in her book, which is still relevant today, despite some of the liberties that she appears to have taken with the history or storytelling, in understanding Islamism, if we can remember George Santyana’s words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
What I took from her book is that the holy Quran has to be read in the context of the time, like the verses about the four eye witnesses.  Consider an additional example, that of the Hajj, in the time of the prophet, the pilgrims were supposed to sacrifice animals during the proceedings of the Hajj rituals, as mentioned in Surah Hajj: “And among the sacred Signs of Allah We have appointed for you the sacrificial camels. In them there is much good for you. So mention the name of Allah over them as they stand tied up in lines. And when they fall down dead on their sides, eat thereof and feed him who is needy but contented and him who supplicates. Thus have We subjected them to you, that you may be thankful.” This is no longer physically possible, during the days of the pilgrim, as 2-4 million are performing Hajj these days.
Slavery was discouraged by Islam, even though allowed in the context of the seventh century, and there are several verses of the holy Quran dealing with the issue and with the marriage of the slaves. Every contemporary or recent commentator of the holy Quran believes that slavery was only in the context of the past and those verses are not enforceable in the present day context. Yet many of these same commentators have the audacity to not apply context to many of the other verses of the Quran and push Islamism or Shariah Laws in the public domain in this day and age.
Rather than going on the convoluted path of Islamism, our love for Islam should translate into a zeal for compassion and justice, which leads us towards human rights and human freedoms rather than any specific political system. The fact of the matter is that there is no political system in Islam and many a Muslim scholars have written about that.
Prophet Muhammad linked the sanctity of human rights to the human appreciation of sacredness; as he addressed a sobbing and spell bound crowd of pilgrims, to the very first house ever built for remembrance of one God, at the times of his farewell address, during his last Hajj, “Even as this month is sacred, this land inviolate, and this day holy, so has God made the lives, property and honor of every man sacred. To take any man’s life or his property, or attack his honor, is as unjust and wrong as to violate the sacredness of this day, this month, and this territory.” The echoes of the words would reverberate, with deep emotional conviction, for centuries to come in the known world. This is where the focus needs to be for us in the 21st century, rather than on an obsession over some rule or detail, which could be misunderstood or be out of its context.
Islamism or the political Islam is not a limited subject to be covered in one short article. In every, so called Muslim country, it takes a life and struggle of its own. In the Muslim Times, a Blog Fostering Universal Brotherhood, we have collected a large number of articles on this theme, as we promote secularism in every country of the world and some are linked here, in the references.       
Islamism or the politics of the right wing parties, as they push their agenda, wrapped in religious dressings, is not unique to the Muslim world. The same trend can be seen in an appeal to Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity in the countries, where they are in majority. Sometimes it is easier to recognize a weakness in others than in oneself. With this in mind, for the benefit of the Muslim audience, I link a few articles promoting secularism in India, Israel, Europe and USA.