Bayat, Asef (ed), 2013, Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam



This collected volume explores the idea of ‘post-Islamism’, a term coined by the editor, through papers focused on movements and recent developments in various Muslim-majority nations around the world. Amongst many other examples the Arab Spring and the Iranian Green Movement point to a growing post-Islamist vision, beyond the Islamist dream of a hegemonic Islamic state, in which Islam flourishes but religion and rights, faith and freedom, Muslim and non-Muslim are held together in balance.


By Rev Colin Chapman

Having got our minds round ‘Islamism’ in recent years, we now have to be aware that there is such a thing as ‘post-Islamism’. This is the argument of a thoroughly convincing collection of eleven papers describing the development of Islamism in ten different Muslim-majority countries from Morocco to Indonesia. The editor is the Professor of Global and Transnational Studies and a professor of sociology at the University of Illinois.

What is meant by ‘post-Islamism’? The term was coined by Bayat himself in his 2007 book Making Islam Democratic, in which he argued that while Islamism as generally understood ‘was unlikely to embrace democratic order, post-Islamism could and did.’ Reflecting therefore on what has happened in Iran and Turkey since 1979, and asking to what extent ‘the post-Islamist trend [in Iran and Turkey] had found meaningful resonance in other societies of the Muslim world’, he convened a conference in 2009 at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World in Leiden. This volume is the fruit of that conference.

This volume demonstrates how Bayat’s definition of post-Islamism has been tested by being applied to these ten very different contexts and analysed by scholars who are experts in their own areas. His thesis focuses on some clear unifying features of post-Islamism while recognising the unique forms that it takes in the different political contexts. It would be good see a volume of equally rigorous papers describing the different faces of Islamism – for example in Malaysia, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and ‘the Islamic State’ or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Bayat is careful to point out that Islamism and post-Islamism often exist side by side at the same time: ‘In the real world … many Muslim individuals or groups may adhere eclectically and simultaneously to aspects of both discourses. The advent of post-Islamism, as a real rend, should not be seen necessarily as the historical end of Islamism. It should been seen as the birth, out of a critical departure from Islamist experience, of a qualitatively different discourse and politics. In reality we may witness the simultaneous operation of both Islamism and post-Islamism.’

It may be that the struggle between Islamism and post-Islamism that we are witnessing today may turn out to be one of the most significant aspects of what has been called ‘the struggle for the soul of Islam’.


Bayat’s introductory chapter of 28 pages, entitled ‘Post-Islamism at Large’, summarises each of the eleven case studies, concluding that post-Islamist movements and teaching ‘have historically been born out of a transformation and/or critique of some pre-existing Islamist politics that dominated Muslim societies in recent years’, but that they represent ‘a real break and departure from Islamism.’

He defines Islamism as follows: ‘I take Islamism to refer to those ideologies and movements that strive to establish come kind of an “Islamic order” – a religious state, shari‘a law, and moral codes in Muslim societies and communities. Association with the state is a key feature of Islamist politics … The primary concern of Islamism is to forge an ideological community; concerns such as establishing social justice and improving the lives of the poor are to follow only from this strategic objective.’

In his mind, therefore, post-Islamism differs from Islamism because ‘it represents an endeavor to fuse religiosity and rights, faith and freedom, Islam and liberty. It is an attempt to turn the underlying principles of Islamism on their head by emphasizing rights instead of duties, plurality in place of a singular authoritative voice, historicity rather than fixed scriptures, and the future instead of the past. It wants to marry Islam with individual choice and freedom …, with democracy and modernity, to achieve what some have termed an “alternative modernity” … Whereas Islamism is defined by the fusion of religion and responsibility, post Islamism emphasizes religiosity and rights. Yet, while it favors a civil and nonreligious state, it accords an active role for religion in the public sphere.’

All the other chapters describe ‘not one but many different trajectories of change that Islamist movements may experience’, and this is how Bayat summarises their unique features in the ten different contexts:

– In Iran post-Islamism is seen in the program of reconstruction after the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 and the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989, in which many ‘demanded democracy, individual rights, tolerance, and gender equality as well as the separation of religion from the state,’ and ‘called for the secularization of the state but stressed maintaining religious ethics in society’.

– In Turkey by the late 1990s Islamists had abandoned the idea that Islam is ‘a form of ideology that should regulate social, political, cultural and economic domains through an Islamic state.’ Instead ‘they searched for a kind of modern polity that could secure a place for pious subjects. Thus, instead of forging an Islamic state they opted to deepen democracy, pluralism, and secularism against the authoritarian Kemalist state.’ Strong secular opposition to earlier Turkish Islamism forced the Islamists to moderate their positions and adopt ‘a pro-democracy and pro-Europe discourse,’ reorganizing themselves as the Justice and Development Party which has been in power since 2007. The two Turkish contributors offer slightly different interpretations of what has happened since then: one sees the AKP as representing ‘the Turkish path to post-Islamism’, while the other sees it as representing ‘the rise of conservative religious communities … against both … Islamism and the peculiar Turkish secularism or state control of religion.’ While the first sees the AKP as ‘embodying the democratic and post-Islamist shift in Turkish Islam’, the second stresses its ‘authoritarian thrust.’

– In Morocco radical Islam ‘was encouraged by the state as a way of countering the secular Left, which was identified with the Soviet Union and communism.’ While some of the radicals began to target the regime and were persecuted by it, others developed a ‘“reformist” trend, which eventually moved towards legal party politics,’ working with parliament and accepting the authority of the monarch. Post-Islamism is seen therefore in the way the Justice and Development Party ‘has transcended the idea of an “Islamic state”; instead it aims to create a social order where justice is guaranteed through respect for Islamic values. In this process, it recognizes the people’s “rights” and choices rather than merely stressing their “obligations”.’

– In Indonesia after the fall of Suharto in 1998, ‘the violent strategy of militant Islamists gave way after a decade of peaceful da‘wa to promote shari‘a at the personal level, rather than wanting a national state to enforce it’. Thus, while ‘electoral democracy certainly opened space for the growth of Islamism … with the deepening of democracy, Islamism was pushed to the sidelines, primarily through the democratic process.’

– Islamism in Egyptin the 1980s included ‘the reformist Muslim Brotherhood, surrounded by militant Jihadies and al-Gama‘a al-Islamiya’. But in the 1990s ‘the militant and violent al-Gama‘a al-Islamiya put down arms, denounced violence, and opted to work as a legal political party to pursue peaceful da‘wa, even though its Islamist ideology remained.’ The factors which have contributed more recently to post-Islamism are detailed as: ‘the crisis of Islamism worldwide (spearheaded by Iran, the Taliban and al-Qaeda) in the post 9/11 aftermath, the failure of Arab nationalist politics to help tackle Palestinian self-determination, and then the rapid expansion of new communication technologies and social media …’

– In Lebanon Hizbullah began as a movement holding to Khomeini’s doctrine of wilayat al-faqih, but gradually evolved into ‘a political party fully integrated into the Lebanese political structure. Its early idea of establishing an Islamic state in Lebanon has in practice been abandoned in favor of the concept of muwatana, or citizenship, which recognizes the full rights of non-Muslims. Thus Hizbullah has moved from an exclusivist movement considering Lebanon’s Christians as minorities subject to a poll tax into a political entity that has forged partnerships with and garnered support from Christian counterparts in recent years.’ Hizbullah’s support for Iran and the Asad regime in Syria ‘derive less from some ideological principles of the party and more from the realpolitik of survival and self-interest.’

– Maududi’s Jama‘at Islami has been very powerful in Pakistan, but is ‘not a Jihadi, violent, or revolutionary movement; it represents, like the Muslim Brotherhood, Pakistan’s “electoral Islamism.” Yet it is committed to taking governmental power to Islamize the society and the state. In this sense it remains Islamist.’ Alongside this strong Islamist movement there has developed a modernist anti-Islamist line and ‘a more pietistic trend close to Tablighi Jama‘at Islami,’ but these remain weak in comparison with ‘the hegemonic position of the radicals, whose growth is vindicated primarily by Pakistan’s geopolitical position – its relations with Afghanistan, the Taliban, the “War on Terror,” and the intrusive U.S. presence. Indeed, it is precisely this imperial intrusion that hinders the growth of inclusive Islam, including ideas of freedom, choice, and tolerance, because they are easily framed and rejected as imported values associated with the West, the United States, and imperialism.’

– In the early 1990s in Saudi Arabia there were signs of the growth of ‘a budding “Islamo-liberal” trend’ which called for ‘reforming of the Wahhabi theology, which was seen as responsible for Saudi’s “political backwardness”’ and for ‘political reform, an elected parliament, a constitution, separation of powers, and fundamental freedoms.’ The Saudi authorities responded by accusing these reformers of terrorism. This strong response from the authorities may not, however, mean the end of calls for reform, since ‘the Advent of the Arab Spring, and the great excitement it triggered among Saudi citizens and the fear it triggered among the rulers, revealed the fragility of the Kingdom’s political theology.’

– The chapter on the Sudan argues that Mahdism at the end of the 19th century represented ‘the first full-fledged Islamist movement’ in the modern period. When it declined after the death of the Mahdi, ‘Islam was tamed and harnessed in favor of a more quietist and spiritual orientation, one that rejected political theology’. This in turn developed into a ‘neo-Mahdism’ which was ‘the post-Islamist movement par excellence.’ Post-Islamist ideas have been kept alive by the Republican Brothers founded by Mahmoud Mohamed Taha and the ‘pragmatic and modernist approach of political leader Hasan al-Turabi.’

– In Syria the Muslim Brothers in the early years, unlike their counterparts in other Arab countries, ‘remained ideologically flexible’ and adopted a moderate, post-Islamist stance as its members ‘became integrated into the liberal Syrian polity of the time.’ After the Ba‘thist coup of 1963, however, the Muslim Brotherhood were outlawed, but their continued opposition to the state led to the Islamic uprising of 1979-1982, which was brutally crushed at Hama in 1982. Some Muslim Brotherhood activist in exile ‘began to adopt a more explicit reformist and pluralist vision. ‘Within Syria itself it was the ‘ulema who continued to promote an Islamist agenda with the aim of “Islamizing” society and politics,’ and they have consistently supported the Assad regime up to the present. While Reformist views have been expressed by a few, they have been ‘harshly attacked by the ‘ulema and the regime, which has exploited conservative religiosity to shield itself against the democratic space that critical, religious thought might open. Thus a renewal of the post-Islamist turn in Syria may be possible … only by weakening the ‘ulema, because as the strategic allies of the Ba‘thist regime, they stand against any expressions of a democratic and inclusive Islam. A new post-Islamism, a religious reform, may come to fruition only on the ruins of the Ba‘thist regime.’

After this summary of post-Islamist developments in the different countries, Bayat concludes: ‘The narratives … show that the forms, depth, and spread of post-Islamist experiences may vary. Yet they all point to some shift in vision. In each of these cases, post-Islamism denotes a critical discursive departure or pragmatic exit, albeit in diverse degrees, from an Islamist ideological package characterized broadly by monopoly of religious truth, exclusivism, and emphasis on obligations, towards acknowledging ambiguity, multiplicity, inclusion, and flexibility in principles and practice.

‘Clearly, then, post-Islamism represents a discursive and/or pragmatic break, a break from an Islamist paradigm. But the direction is not “post-Islamic”, as some erroneously call it; it is post-Islamist. In other words, I am not speaking about a shift away from Islamic faith toward secularism, even though post-Islamism does denote a process of secularization in the sense of favoring the separation of religious affairs from the affairs of the state. Rather, I am speaking about post-Islamization as a complex process of breaking from an Islamist ideological package by adhering to a different, more inclusive, kind of religious project in which Islam nevertheless continues to remain important both as faith and as a player in the public sphere.’

Bayat’s introductory chapter ends with these words: ‘… we seem to be entering a new era in the Muslim world where Islamism – stricken by a legitimacy crisis for ignoring and violating people’s democratic rights – is giving way to a different kind of religious polity that takes democracy seriously while wishing to promote pious sensibilities in society. Ours seems to herald the coming of a post-Islamist Muslim world, in which the prevailing popular movements assume a post-ideological, civil and democratic character. Iran’s Green Movement and the Arab uprisings represent popular movements of these post-Islamist times.’

By the same author:

Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn, 2007

Islam and Democracy: What is the Real Question? ISIM paper, 2007