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Who Are the Players? The Islamists

Some Muslims are highly participative in their religion, while others are not. Some people grow up as Muslims but are lukewarm in their belief systems, while their neighbors down the street become virulent jihadis. Some people believe in one way to achieve goals, and other people believe in different directions to achieve similar goals. While you will find these degrees of intensity in any organization or institution, I refer to these different levels of belief and participation as aspects of being "players" in the game. So, what are the different types of players that make up the religion?


The Players

Scholars classify Islamic adherents into just a few different levels of players. Players are the people who participate, make things happen, and work together with their peers. Some players are highly involved in their religion; they represent intense assimilation and do anything to further its reach. Some players have characteristics like moderate Christians. They are open-minded and consider all the variables of what their religion offers versus what fits their needs. In the simplest terms, they are doing what it takes to meet their values, which we need to study.


There are five different types of players in the hierarchy of the Islamic faith. These players represent groups of people, i.e., constituencies, and their position relative to other players and can be envisioned on a map as a series of nesting circles similar to what I posted in the opening diagram. While each constituency is responsive to leaders in the broader audience of which it is a part, individual and charismatic leaders at each level shape and direct their followers. The Players are identified as mainstream Muslims, Islamists, Salafis, Jihadis, and Ulema.


The Islamists

An Islamist is an Islamic political or social activist who wants Islamic law, sharia, to be the primary source of governance and cultural identity in a state. For the most part, these players are more liberal than traditional Muslims working for both social reform and political reform in Muslim countries. Each Islamist group promotes Islam, and Islamic values differ widely from group to group, given their local circumstances. Many of these adherents belong to the Muslim Brotherhood or Brotherhood-inspired organizations willing to embrace new ideas such as technology to enhance the religion's traditional values. The main difference between a mainstream Muslim and an Islamist is the degree of passivity. Mainstream Muslims are occupationally focused and become passive to the ever-present needs of Islam. Islamists are activists or active in their religion, helping organizations that meet the community's needs.


Two forces have strained Islam, one being the radical imams who condemn mainstream believers as straying from Islam's core principles. The second is the introduction of Western ideas and concepts in law, politics, civics, and government. First, Islamists feel the need to modernize the educational and religious practices and challenge the puritan strand of Islam that dominates the Middle East. The political reformer Islamist prioritizes such issues as popular participation, institution-building, constitutionalism, and elections. The general theme behind the Islamists is as follows:


  • The rejection of terrorist activities in Muslim countries and the West except for Israel.


  • The advocation of peaceful political participation.


  • Rejecting the use of takfir or ex-communication from the religion as a strategic lever.


  • The acceptance of plurality and tolerance with other non-religious groups to achieve group goals.


  • The establishment of an Islamic state governed by sharia, using proselytization on the local level and legislation on the national level.


  • Using hierarchical organizations to project power and conduct face-to-face interactions nationally.


  • The manipulation of social networks such as mosques, charities, and organizational systems generates public recognition and, ultimately, voter turnout.


While Islamists portray themselves as non-violent and non-confrontational, and willing to work within the system, there should be no illusions about the ideological commitments. The crux of the debate between Jihadists and Islamists is not over the ends, "but rather how to realize the greater goal of Islamic governance throughout the Muslim world."

So, how does that affect non-Muslim Westerners? We must recognize that the Muslim politicians elected to city councils, school boards, appointed to court benches, and elected to Congress will work within the system with a hidden purpose to achieve Muslim political goals. As I stated in my manuscript, Muslim Mechanics, the purpose of any Muslim is to implement sharia, and sharia begins with the Qur'an. Islamists are willing to accept peaceful political participation in the short run. They are willing to tolerate the apostasy of democracy in order to achieve sharia. The other players, Salafis, Jihadists, and the Ulema, will tell you that there is no acceptance of democracy in no uncertain terms. Democracy demands political pluralism, something Muslims will never accept in the long run.


Next week, we will look at the Salafis.

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