Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray
Rachid al-Ghannoushi (b. 1941, Tunisia)—the Islamic leader of Tunisian Renaissance Party (Hizb al-Nahda)—is a significantly influential political leader and thinker of contemporary Muslim World. A prominent voice of political pluralism, democracy, human rights, power-sharing Islam, Ghannoushi’s thought has been conditioned and transformed by multiple influences: “Islamic traditions, the experience of the failures of Arab nationalism and socialism, life under an authoritarian government, the influences of leaders, movements, and events in other Muslim countries, and the experience of exile in the West”.
He has been described by Azzam Tamimi as a “Democrat within Islamism” (2001); featured as one of the nine (9) influential intellectuals in John Esposito and Jon Voll’s Makers of Contemporary Islam (2001) as well as in Esposito and Emad El-Din Shahin’s The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics (2013); and in 1997 Emad Eldin Shahin discussed his life and activities in his Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa. An ‘Activist-in-Exile’ for many years, Ghannouchi has gained much prominence within the Islamic movements of 20th and 21st centuries. There have been some significant works on his life, legacy, thought and activities, as a political leader/ activist and thinker. And, a new addition to this is Mohammad Dawood Sofi’s Rashid al-Ghannushi: A Key Muslim Thinker of the 21st Century. Dawood, a son of this soil (and a budding young scholar), holds a Masters and a PhD in Islamic Studies from Kashmir University and AMU, respectively; and is currently serving as post-doc fellow in the Faculty of Political Science, Ankara Beyazit Yildirm University, Turkey. He has published, in some reputed journals on modern Islamic movements; contemporary trends in Islamic reformist thought; and Middle Eastern politics, especially in Tunisia.
The book under review is a modified version of his PhD, which was published in the mid-2018 by Palgrave Macmillan (Palgrave Pivot—an imprint of ‘Springer Nature’, Singapore). Consisting of seven (7) chapters, including the Introduction and Conclusion, the ‘Foreword’ of this book is written by Professor Cenap Çakmak (Eskisehir Osmangazi University, Turkey). Praised by scholars from AMU and Malaysia to Turkey and UK, the book discusses various dynamic facets of the life of Rashid al-Ghannushi, with a specific focus on his activities, work, and more specifically on his understanding of critical contemporary issues—ranging from question of Islam-democracy compatibility, Islam-West relations, to Human rights, and power-sharing theory. The theme of this book is precisely presented in its description as: it discusses the life, legacy, thoughts and contribution of Rashid al-Ghannushi an eminent and a distinguished Tunisian Islamic thinker and activist; explores Ghannushi’s powerful narrative and approach to Islam-West relationships, human rights and to the crucial issues of Islam-democracy (in) compatibility and the power sharing debate; and it raises fundamental questions related to Ghannushi’s activism regarding its response to the contemporary challenges and reformation of Tunisian society.
Among these issues, the most burning and challenging, for which Muslims have been writing since many decades, is Islam–democracy (in) compatibility issue; and here an assessment of his views on same is presented.
In his ‘Foreword’ Professor Çakmak contextualizes the thought and activities of Ghannouchi (and his movement—Hizb an-Nahdah) within the broader context of Middle East geo-politics and with special reference to ‘Arab Spring’, and thus claims that “al Nahda and its renowned leader Rashid al-Gannushi deserves a thorough academic study”; and thus is full of praises for Dawood’s book, saying that it provides a “balanced approach to the interpretation of the interplay between the Muslim values and West-originated norms and principles including human rights, democracy, and transparent government” in the light of thoughts and writings of Ghanouchi (p. ix).
The Introductory chapter introduces, very briefly, some of those key developments in Tunisia which had a direct impact on the emergence of the Islamic Movement founded by Rashid al-Ghannushi in 1981. It also delineates on the structure and significance of the work, claiming that this work brings forth “an account of a previously little known yet much talked about Muslim intellectual voice in the post-Arab Spring era” (p. 3).
In the next three chapters (2—4) provide an assessment of Life and Character of Ghannouchi, as “a Social Reformer”; his “Sociopolitical Activities” (how he evolved as a refined reformer, activist, thinker, and political leader); and an exploration of his academic works, respectively. This is important, as the author justifies it, because “in order to understand the ideology and thought of Ghannushiˉ, there should definitely be few chapters devoted to study various transitions and transformations in his life. There is a strong relation between the two entities—the society and the Muslim reformer” (p. 6). Among these, the 3rd chapter, for instance, mentions Ghannouchi’ “writings and works” and “makes an analysis and assessment of some of his key crosscutting works”, with a focus on those works “that deal with and discuss the subjects of democracy, human rights, and other such issues” (p. 47). Some of his books/ works are: The right to Nationality Status of non-Muslim Citizens in a Muslim Nation (1989); From the Islamic Thought in Tunisia (1992); Civil Liberties in the Islamic State (1993); Approaches to Secularism and Civil Society (1999); The Woman between the Qur’an and the Muslim Reality (2000), etc.
The most interesting, insightful, and significant pasts of this work are presented in following three chapters (5—7): Rashid al-Ghannushi on (i) Islam–West Relationship and Human Rights (pp. 57-75); (ii) Democracy and Power-Sharing Debate (pp. 77-105), followed by the ‘Conclusion’ (pp. 107- 112). In these chapters, Dawood first explores the views and arguments of Ghannouchi related to issue(s) of Islam–West relationship and human rights, by putting forth the main argument that “while in the style and approach of Rashid al- Ghannushiˉ the dose of ‘pragmatism’ dominates the dose of ‘cynicism’, the need and acceptability of selective synthesis of Islam and Western global norms is preached” (p. 75).
Similarly, in chapter 6, he explores his views on Islam-Democracy compatibility and (political) pluralism through a critical and deep examination of Ghannushis ‘Power Sharing Theory’, and attempts to find out that on what grounds and what sort of motivations and contestations made him to favor the theory of ‘coexistence and cooperation’ among various political identities. This is followed by his succinct conclusion which provides some concrete reflections regarding the intellectual activism of Ghannushiˉ, major findings and a summary of the general approach of Ghannushi. For example, calling Ghannouchi “a dominant voice, calling for reconsideration, rethinking, and reorientation of Islamic traditions, values, and institutions” (p. 109), Dawood has summarized his thoughts on Islam-democracy compatibility in these lines: “In case of Islam-democracy compatibility, Ghannushiˉ is well known for his pro-democratic character. … He has highlighted, in case of democracy, the importance and application of Shura [Mutual consultation, referring to Quran 3: 159 and 42: 38] that forms one of the very significant traditions of Islam. He tries to convey to the Muslim population that several Islamic practices and traditions like Shura, Ijma‘, and Ijtihad are attuned with democracy and thus, in a way persuades them to look for common objectives and goals between Islam and the West. … It signifies that his style and approach regarding Islam-Democracy compatibility or incompatibility is quite different from that of other Muslim thinkers, particularly when viewed in the context of his emphasis and acceptance of Western form of multi- party system that neither marginalizes nor rejects religion” (pp. 109-110).
From the study of this book, what becomes evident is that in the 21st century, Ghannouchi has emerged as “one of the dominant entities who cogently expresses the Islam-Democracy compatibility”; he has been an active contributor in “championing the trend of democratization”, and thus has been rightly described as “one of the leading Muslim figures heavily engaged in blending Islam with democracy” (p. 82).
One of the major findings of the author is that the “overall approach, methodology, and thought of Ghannushi reflect, however, that the extent to which change and transformation occurs in him is conditioned by sociopolitical contexts and realities and his twin roles as a thinker and leader of an Islamic Movement” (p. 111). He also puts forth, as a forecasting, that “Ghannushiˉ… has brought about the transformation of al-Nahdah’s worldview from old to new. … His political and intellectual activism, still ongoing, will definitely witness further development and maturity and will form in the future core strand of thought throughout the world” (pp. 111-12; italics in original).
The book meets the criteria of precision, lucidity, cogency, and overall theme, content, and subject; it truly delivers what it promises. It also justifies, what Professor Cenap Çakmak and Anne Wolf (University of Oxford), among others, remark in its praise, respectively: “This is a fine work that sheds light on the compatibility of Islam and such notions as democracy, transparency and human rights with a particular reference to the Tunisian political thinker and activist Rashid al-Ghannushiˉ. The book is very timely contribution”; “Sofi provides important insights into the particular ideological and intellectual evolution of Al-Nahda’s ideologue and thinker, Rashid al-Ghannushiˉ, and shows how he has engaged with democratic politics”.
Though slim in size, the price is unaffordable for a common reader. But, keeping that aside, Dawood’s “Rashid al-Ghannushi: A Key Muslim Thinker of the 21st Century” is a perceptive addition to previous works on Ghannouchi; an interesting and thought-provoking work that will prove helpful for everyone, and anyone, interested in knowing the life, works, activities, thought, and ‘transformations’ of Ghannouchi from an ‘Islamist” activist to a moderate political leader and thinker. I a n a nutshell, it is clear-cut read on the thought, legacy and activities of Ghannouchi from a ‘Democrat within Islamism’ to a ‘Muslim Democrat’.
–The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Pulwama, Kashmir. He can be reached at :email@example.com