Post-Islamism between Asef Bayat and Ali Harb

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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In a recent television interview with France 24, Ali Harb spoke about his book, ‘Jihad and its End – Post-Islamism’. He starts with his well-known critical ideas.

Harb has reached the peak of critical production in the early years of the millennium as he produced writings and bold commentaries beyond the projects of modernity. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Harb has been engaged in analyzing violence, extremism and fundamentalism, but his approach is more that of someone who wonders and contemplates rather than that of someone who narrates what he knows about the complexities of Sharia and the details of Fiqh arguments, as his colleagues do.

As such, the content of his book presents post-Islamism in the same way he discussed post modernism, post reality and post-deconstruction. Islamism with its phenomena and movements is blown away by the winds of changes, new intellectual horizons and advanced methodological tools; only when Islam is a symbolic of a network of unifying values.


With a different approach, closer to historical analysis and the foresight of transformations of Islamic movements, Asef Bayat supervised an important book entitled ‘Post-Islamism: The Changing Faces of Political Islam’. The book which was released in libraries two years ago aims to prove there were changes and transformations in Islamic movements.

Bayat, the supervisor of the book which 10 researchers have contributed to, says that diagnosing “post-Islamism” has been taking shape since the mid-1990s, “when post-Islamism, ever since its emergence, has sparked lively debates among scholars and activists in the field of political Islam. What’s surprising is that these debates began in Europe followed by discussions in Muslim-majority countries, especially Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco and Iran”. He then refers to his other book ‘Making Islam democratic - Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn’.

Each researcher has focused on his field of study in the book. Ihsan Dagi wrote about transformations in the Turkish movements’ activity. Cihan Tugal wrote about retrenchment of Turkish conservatism and Sami Zemni wrote about Morocco and the chapter was entitled Moroccan post-Islamism: Emerging trend or chimera. Noorhaidi Hasan wrote about Islamist politics in Indonesia, Bayat wrote a study on Egypt and Joseph Alagha about what he called “Hizbullah’s Infitah” (Hezbollah opening up).

Movements are reshaping themselves and moving towards making dangerous waves. Every discussion concerning the end of these groups is nothing but a mixture of false dreams.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Humeira Iqtidar wrote about post-Islamist strands in Pakistan, Stéphane Lacroix wrote about Saudi Arabia and the limits of post-Islamism Saudi Arabia, Abdelwahab El-Affendi wrote about Islamism in Sudan and Thomas Pierret wrote about Syria and Islamist reformism.

Despite the fact that I don’t agree with the book’s method and results, it deserves to be read and discussed starting from the obvious “openness”, “transformation” and “changes” that the researchers have imposed in an unjustified methodological deviation, especially in the research on Turkey where the researchers have exaggerated in mixing up ideological intellectual changes with expansionist strategies and patterns of political pragmatism prevailing in the history of Islamic parties in general and in the Turkish experience in particular.

Contradictions in theory

Of course, the title of the book put by Bayat stems from a conviction and a hypothesis inherent in the way of thinking that Islamist movements are in the process of change in response to the pressure of the world hence they are forced to enter the work of civil institutions and engage in the era, developments and its trends. At the same time, the book gives room to justify possible fundamentalist waves where he says in his research that one should not, at least in the short term, rule out the possibility of a religious rise led by social forces that have been subject to suppression for so many years by secular, undemocratic regimes. In fact, he claims, the overthrow of these dictatorial regimes has opened the social and political sphere to all kinds of ideas and movements.

This contradicts with the post-Islamism concept he proposes as he talks about an armed activity against “secular dictatorships”, while he explains the meaning of post-Islamism by saying: “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”.

Flawed methodology

Bayat here is no longer talking about the theoretical legitimacy of the armed movements in the face of secular and dictatorial regimes to explain the meaning of the modern Islamic state, which is a subject that researchers have gotten bored discussing starting from the Malaysian experience or even the Turkish one, since they are considered as models of pride for these movements. However, Bayat and other important researchers should have explained the meaning of the Islamic state itself, and explained the content of the Islamic state in terms of laws and regulations before addressing the identity, since post-Islamism experiences now suffer from terrible economic failure, while others are troubled amid a popular fundamentalist domestic and foreign wave.

Rushing to anticipate a reality in which the Islamist situation perishes does not reflect a strong analysis. Bayat has presented forward-thinking analyses to understand changes in ideologies and strategies. This has led the work to suffer from many methodological issues as in the case of “the privatization of Islam” and the negation of “liberal Islam”, where he addressed a book that I have already talked about by Charles Kurzman entitled “Liberal Islam”.

What is most clear is that movements are reshaping themselves and moving towards making dangerous waves. Every discussion concerning the end of these groups is nothing but a mixture of false dreams.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

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