Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Adam Hoffman and Rebecca Molloy from Wikistrat interviewed Dr. Joas Wagemakers on insights from his latest book, The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.
Dr. Joas Wagemakers is an Associate Professor of Islam and Arabic at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies and specializes in modern Islam, especially Salafism and Islamism. He obtained his PhD in Nijmegen, received the Erasmus Research Prize in 2011 for his dissertation, was a researcher at Clingendael and a visiting research fellow at Princeton University
In this podcast and through his book's detailed account of the Muslim Brotherhood's ideological and behavioral development in Jordan, Joas Wagemakers focuses on the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood's long history and complex relationship with the state, its parliament, and society.
Highlights from the podcast:
The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has gone through three different phases in its history from 1946 until now: The first phase was from 1946 to about the early 1990s, which was a phase of cooperation with the regime; the second phase, from the early 1990s to the late 1990s, was one of contestation; and the last phase is the one we're still in, which is one of confrontation. Today, it is in a situation in which it doesn't even officially exist anymore.
Despite a large Islamist scene, Islamist scholars with an international profile were really lacking in Jordan. As a result, Jordan was very reliant on international Islamic scholars, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar and Rashid al-Ghannushi in Tunisia, for theoretical discussions on Islam, the state and Islamic politics.
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s moderation of its conception of the state was partly the result of international Islamic scholars’ discussions on the Islamic state. The international Islamic scholars realized that they can never achieve what they really wanted (the realization of an ideal Islamic state) but had to attract supporters to be able to at least Islamize parts of society. The result of these discussions was the idea of a civil state with an Islamic authority.
Despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood (in Jordan and elsewhere) has definitely become more democratic over the years, they have not become much more liberal. While it has allowed for more openness toward political participation and democratic practices, this has not equally translated to greater tolerance of women’s rights and the rights of non-Muslim minorities.
While the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has gradually moderated its views on the state, democracy, and political freedoms, it has not substantially moderated its view on women’s freedoms. The JMB justified its conservative views on women’s rights as being a reflection of the view of mainstream Jordanian society. According to the JMB, to go more in the direction of what would be considered women's rights in the West would be unacceptable to Jordanian society
Adam: Welcome to Wikistrat’s current events podcast, in which we discuss ongoing developments and recent global events. This is Adam Hoffman from Wikistrat, and I'm also joined by Dr. Rebecca Malloy, the director of Wikistrat’s Middle East community. We're very lucky to be here today to discuss Political Islam in Jordan with Dr. Joas Wagemakers, who is an Associate Professor of Islam and Arabic at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and he is a specialist on Salafism and Political Islam in Jordan. He just published a new book on the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which I think is a fascinating topic yet often misunderstood and understudied.
So Dr. Wagemakers, just recently, in July, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood was dissolved by Jordan's Court of Cassation on July 18, and the group's legal status in the country has formally ended. So based on your research on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan in your latest book, how would you characterize relations between the Jordanian state and the Muslim Brotherhood since its founding in 1946?
Joas: Yes, well, thank you for inviting me on this podcast. I'm happy to be here. As for your question, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1945 and given a license in 1946. And it basically went through three different phases in its history from 1946 until now. The first phase was from 1946 to about the early 1990s, which was a phase of cooperation with the regime. The second phase was from the early 1990s to the late 1990s, so about a decade, which was one of contestation. And the last phase is the one we're still in and which you could argue as sort of culminated into the decision by the Jordanian Court of Cassation on the 18th of July to outlaw and dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood, which is one of confrontation. Now, the first period was really one in which the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood cooperated a lot.
The Muslim Brotherhood was founded to express the same sort of broad-based lay type of Muslim sentiments that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt also expressed through the works of Hassan al-Banna and the activities that he has played throughout the country. And the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan at the time was mostly very pro-Palestinian and aimed at educating people doing social activities, etc. So this was all rather uncontroversial in Jordan at the time. The first King of Jordan, King Abdullah – the first to reign, until 1951, when he was assassinated in Jerusalem – gave a lot of leeway to the Muslim Brotherhood, because he also felt that he was someone who originally came from Mecca, he did not have clear authority in the country still called Transjordan at the time, and he needed all the authority and all the status and all the sources of authenticity that he could possibly get. And one of the sources of authenticity that he wanted to use was Islam.
So he probably believed that, by supporting explicitly Muslim and Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, he could abet and support his own sources of authenticity with regards to the religion. And as such, he supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood got things from the regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood, in turn, also supported the regime when it needed it most. For example, when he murdered many Palestinians during Black September in 1970, when it was confronted with Nasserism in the 1950s, when it was confronted with certain international plans to counter communism, for example, in the context of the Cold War. So whenever the regime needed support from the Muslim Brotherhood, it more or less gave it to them. And in return, the Muslim Brotherhood was also supported by the regime. Now, this changed in the second phase, which was one of contestation when the Muslim Brotherhood started politicizing more and more and started expressing its opinion not just on the Palestinian question on social issues, but also on political issues and felt that it should also be allowed, and be able, to criticize the regime.
And this was expressed first and foremost in 1989 when the first parliamentary elections were held in the country since 1967, since the June war of 1967, in which Jordan obviously lost the West Bank to Israel. After that war, elections were suspended and were reinstated in 1989. And in those elections, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood did quite well. They won 22 seats out of 80 seats, and also more than a dozen independent Islamists also won seats in that parliament. So they have 34 seats in all, in a parliament of 80 seats, so that's almost half. And as such, the regime, which had allowed everyone to participate, was sort of scared of the Muslim Brotherhood and thought, well, we're not going to do this again. So the next elections in 1993, the Muslim Brotherhood was not only compelled to participate in the elections with an actual political party, the Islamic Action Front, which was founded in 1992, but it also had to conform to certain rules. And these rules included gerrymandering electoral districts, these included giving more votes to rural voters rather than the urban ones in which the Brotherhood mostly relied.
There were several such measures taken by the Jordanian regime, which meant that the Muslim Brotherhood lost its electoral advantages that it had. The Muslim Brotherhood did not really have advantages over other people. But it really lost out, even though the number of people who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood stayed the same or actually grew. So the Muslim Brotherhood was quite frustrated by this. The peace agreement between Jordan and Israel in 1994 was another eyesore to the Muslim Brotherhood, something that they really didn't like. And despite their parliamentary presence, were not able to stop it. So there was increasing tension between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian regime. This turned into the third phase of their relationship, which was one of confrontation, particularly under the latest King, King Abdullah the Second, who grew up to a large extent in Great Britain and in the United States. And as such, was very unfamiliar with the sort of interest groups in Jordan, including tribal groups, and also including the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. And he did not have the ability to walk the tightrope of Jordanian politics, perhaps, as much as his father.
And as such, he was quite skeptical of the Muslim Brotherhood. He started seeing the Muslim Brotherhood less as a political force, but probably more also as a security force. And as such, he shunned the Muslim Brotherhood; he didn't like them as much. And the Muslim Brotherhood sort of reciprocated this by boycotting elections several times. They’ve done this before, in 1997. But they did so again in 2010 and in 2013. After that, it really became clear that they couldn't work with this regime. There was no future for the sort of reform that the Muslim Brotherhood advocated. And as such, the relationship has deteriorated ever since King Abdullah the Second became king in 1999. And eventually, this resulted in a development that was actually present all over the region where the Muslim Brotherhood was being outlawed and dissolved in countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The internal divisions – this is an important part of my book – within the Muslim Brotherhood made the Muslim Brotherhood particularly vulnerable to this kind of thing to regime pressure, and eventually resulted in the dissolvement of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Court of Cassation on July 18, that you started your question with. So the Muslim Brotherhood has gone from cooperation to contestation to confrontation, to a situation in which it actually officially doesn't even exist anymore.
Adam: I know that much of your previous research has focused on Salafi-jihadism and Salafi-jihadi ideologues, such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, on who you wrote a fascinating biography. So how do you see the impact of Salafi-jihadism as an ideological current and Islamic State as a group on the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood?
Joas: Well, I think that jihadi Salafism really has not had a great impact on the Muslim Brotherhood in general. I think that the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to do anything about certain developments within Jordan, most particularly the peace agreement with Israel in 1994 must have disappointed quite a few people. The early 1990s was a very turbulent period in the history of Jordan, with the Palestinian Intifada going on, of course, which was because of the fact that many Jordanians are of Palestinian descent. There was the Gulf War, in which Jordan and many people in the Middle East, not just Jordanians, but many people, saw America coming in and waging a war against Iraq and the Jordanians not having any ability to do anything about it, despite the fact that they were strongly sympathetic towards the regime of Saddam Hussein, with which their own King Hussein was on very good terms at the time.
There was the series of economic reforms that were taking place in the early 1990s, which really had a strong impact on Jordanian society. There were the democratic reforms that were taking place in the early and late 1980s, early 1990s. And the fact that many Jordanians were not profiting from that, neither economically nor politically. And that the regime even concluded a peace agreement with the arch-enemy, Israel, must have been very disillusioning to many people. So I think that quite a few people were not just disillusioned but may have even sought solutions to their problems, or their perceived problems, in groups and in ideologies that were quite a bit more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood was. And some of those have ended up with jihadi Salafi groups. So that's one source of impact between jihadi Salafis on one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. But that was not so much impact on the Muslim Brotherhood, but it was really the Muslim Brotherhood was more or less the victim of this.
Another thing that was quite important was the quietest Salafi trend within Jordan. So the ones who do not engage in political activism and do not use violence against the state, but who are very loyal, in fact, towards the state and suddenly have become so particularly in the last 20 years. Those people gain members from the Muslim Brotherhood because the Muslim Brotherhood was seen by them as not pure enough. One person, for example, in Jordan, Mashhur Hasan, who was one of the famous quietest Salafi scholars in Jordan, used to be a Muslim Brother. And he used to be with that organization, but he left them behind because he felt it was not pure enough, it was not correct enough, it was not principled enough. And as such, there were quite a few people who left the Muslim Brotherhood and joined the Salafis. In fact, it was even the case that some people in the Muslim Brotherhood are said to have told their members, “don't go and listen to the Salafi sheiks anymore, particularly Muhammad Nasr al-Din al-Albani”, who was the leader of the Salafi movement in the 1980s and 1990s in Jordan. “Don't listen to the sheiks anymore, because we will lose our members to them if you do.”
So, I think those are two developments where there is crossover from the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand to various types of Salafis on the other. But apart from that, I don't really see a lot of influence, because the two movements have really grown apart. Whereas decades and decades ago, there was still quite a bit of overlap, particularly in countries such as Syria. That is really no longer the case, and certainly not in Jordan.
Adam: Well, that's fascinating, because in some countries in the region, such as Egypt, primarily, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia then since 2013, there is an attempt to link the Muslim Brotherhood and the message of the Brotherhood to the jihadis and to a group such as Daesh [Islamic State]. So, do you see any impact in that of the regional attempt to delegitimize the Muslim Brotherhood on the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood?
Joas: Oh, yes, that certainly happens. There are definitely journalists and others in Jordan who tried to paint with a very broad brush and say, look, all of these are Islamic. All of these take their Islam much further than we would like them to. They are basically one of the same group. The Muslim Brotherhood puts on a friendly face, but it's really the sort of al-Qaeda, Islamic State type of group without the explicit use of violence. I've been told many times, and I've also read in books written by people, Jordanians, who said the Muslim Brotherhood is a sort of destructive force in our society. It wants to grab power, it supports revolutions. So, there have been many attempts to link the Muslim Brotherhood with the Islamic State and with other like-minded groups.
And I would argue that the Muslim Brotherhood has sometimes sort of given people reason to believe that. Not always consciously, perhaps. For example, when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq at the time, was assassinated by the United States in 2006. He was from Zarqa, a city in the east of Jordan, and some members of parliament on behalf of the Islamic Action Front, the party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, went there to give their condolences to the family of al-Zarqawi. They didn't do this because they supported him or supported his ideology. And there was this outpouring of how can you possibly go to the family of this man, this man who only a year before was responsible for blowing up several hotels in Amman killing dozens of people? How can you possibly go there and try to console the family and doing things like that? And they were probably doing their bit as local politicians. So that was an indication that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State or al-Qaeda (because the Islamic State didn't exist at the time), that they were really two sides of the same coin. And other indications can be given as well.
For example, Muath al-Kasasbeh, the Jordanian fighter pilot who was burned alive by the Islamic State several years later. He was missing for some time and Hamza Mansour, the leader of the Islamic Action Front, in the early 2010s, was asked, do you condemn the terrorism of the Islamic State? This is how the question was phrased. And without giving a straight yes or no answer, he said, we condemn all terrorism. And they said, yeah but do you condemn the terrorism in the Islamic State? And he said, no, we condemn all terrorism, probably because he didn't want to single that out. And then, the day after or two days after, or something like that, the video of Muath al-Kasasbeh being burned alive by the Islamic State was shown on, perhaps not on television, but was suddenly available on the internet and became known. And there was an outpouring of grief and of solidarity with the family. And everybody said he's our martyr, our hero. It was in the newspapers every day. And suddenly, here was Hamza Mansour refusing to explicitly condemn the terrorism of the Islamic State. And a few days later, this Jordanian fighter pilot – could be anybody's brother or some[thing] – is being burned alive by this very organization whose terrorism he refuses to condemn explicitly. So then he immediately obviously said, oh, no, I do condemn this. But this was not a very clever move, perhaps.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are the same thing. They are not – they are very different. But there have been many attempts by the group's opponents – or, perhaps I should say, enemies – to paint them as if they are.
Adam: This apologetic or more ambiguous ideological message is fascinating. And I’d like to move the conversation to Rebecca to add some more questions on that.
Rebecca: So, thank you, I thought that your answer just brilliantly kind of moved the conversation to the next question, which is why or how have the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood as well as their political arm, the IAF, moderated their conception of state, political participation, freedoms? My personal interest is particularly regarding women’s status in the last two decades. So I guess I wanted you to contextualize it against what you just talked about, kind of highlighting how the JMB has moderated, or can be analyzed to have moderated, their positions.
Joas: This is one of the main parts of my book, how they've moderated particularly with regard to the state and political participation. And before I answer your question directly, it's perhaps important to know that in Jordan, there are really very few, if any, important scholars of Islamism. So people like Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Qatar and Rashid al-Ghannush in Tunisia. And obviously, people such as Mohammed Al Azadi in Egypt, these were all lacking in Jordan. There were some scholars, of course, and people writing books, and many people wrote newspaper articles. But really, scholars with an international profile were really lacking in Jordan. And as a result of that, Jordan was very reliant on international Islamic scholars, such as the ones I just mentioned. And these international Islamic scholars have come up with ideas of moderating views on the state.
And now with regard to the state, it really started out as views on the caliphate. So people really at first, if you read, for example, the book Du'at la Qudat, authored by Hassan al-Hudaybi, who was the second general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It's very, very clear that he really has the caliphate in the back of his mind. So he's really describing an Islamic State. But he's describing it as a sort of a state with all the trappings of the caliphate. He doesn't seem to be able, willing, perhaps, to let go of the caliphate, despite the fact that the caliphate had not been in existence anymore for about 40 or 50 years. So whereas he was still very much preoccupied with the caliphate, later Muslim scholars, including the ones I mentioned, really let go of the caliphate and seem to realize that this ship has sailed it's not going to come back. So they focus on the Islamic State and confronted all kinds of challenges to the Islamic State.
So what does that mean, for example, for non-Muslims? And how can we achieve an Islamic State when there's clearly no realistic prospect of our doing that? How can we do that without overthrowing the regime? How can we do that through elections? How can we make sure that we reach our goals? All of these factors played a role in moderating the groups and the international Islamic scholars’ views on the Islamic State because they realized that they can never achieve what they really wanted. And they also believed, but in order, of course for people to continue to support you, you have to be able to reach some sort of goal, you have to be able to achieve something.
So all of these factors came in, and they started reinterpreting ideas on the Islamic State. So they started introducing the idea of what an Islamic State is, never really what sort of a Christian state was in medieval Europe. So there was never the idea of a sort of a clerical state, led by the Roman Catholic Church, a theocracy. That was not what they wanted. They said, and we don't want a military state either. So what they came up with was the idea of a civil state, a civil state with an Islamic authority. And what does this Islamic authority mean? It means that we basically have a civil state, but that it is informed by Islam.
And that went from the Sharia should be the only source of legislation to things, like it should the most important source of legislation, to it should be a source of legislation. And some scholars even went so far as to say, particularly Rashid al-Hamush for example, to say, “Well, God has basically entrusted Muslims the Ummah as a whole, to act as the caliph and to interpret the Sharia as they see fit. And as long as they stick within certain boundaries, then whatever they do as Muslims must be the Sharia. So the Ummah, the Muslim community, as a whole acts as the caliph through which God applies the Sharia through which God establishes his Islamic State.”
So it was ideas such as that one that sort of constitutionalize the Sharia. By that, I mean that it changed the Sharia from a set of detailed rules into a set of more or less very broad guidelines within which people could come up with their own rules. They provided the space for the development of a new idea of an Islamic State and be one that did not simply apply a set of rules, but one that basically said, “Okay, we already live in an Islamic State, we just need to reform it a bit more.” And that is when some people within the Muslim Brotherhood also adopted the idea of an Islamic State when there is an authority, so to be the civil state with an Islamic authority. So that's how they moderated with regard to the state.
With regard to political participation, they changed certain concepts and saying… Look, at first, they said, “We do not want democracy, we want Shura (mutual consultation). Because that is an Islamic concept. It is a Quranic concept. And it is vastly preferable to democracy because democracy means, it's like Western freedoms and Western rights, and we don't want that; we want something authentically Islamic.” But that gradually changed into a situation in which they said, “Well, democracy in Shura is really the same,” because people used to say, “Well, Shura is like an Islamic form of democracy so that people can choose what they want, but they have to stick to the rules of the Sharia.” But if you start reinterpreting the Sharia as being a broad set of guidelines, rather than a sort of big book of rules, then obviously that opens the door to saying, “If we allow the people to have a say, and if we allow the people have a saying on a lot more issues than we thought possible at first, then we can also say the democracy in Shura it's really more or less the same. So whenever we say Shura we mean democracy, and whenever we say democracy, we mean Shura.”
And the result being that if you read the most recent election manifestos that the Islamic Action Front of the Muslim Brotherhood have published over the years, over the last few decades, they've really come up with solutions that really phrase things in terms of freedom and democracy. So that is another area where they have moderated their views. And with regard to the freedoms with regard to women, this is an area where they have not moderated their view so much. And the reason for that is basically threefold.
Firstly, with regard to the state and political participation, the Muslim Brotherhood was very divided, there were always people who represented the sort of the most conservative point of view, and there were people who represented the most liberal point of view. And because of that very broad spectrum of views, people never had to leave the Muslim Brotherhood to stay within the movement and shift to a different position within the movement, that was always possible because it was a very broad and very plural form and very heterogeneous movement. That was not the case with regard to women, freedom of speech, and the rights of non-Muslims. So the lack of unity [sic!] on these issues was one reason why it was difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to shift from one position to the other because they were basically united in their positions.
Another reason was that Jordan is a very conservative society. And precisely because the Muslim Brotherhood wants to come across as democratic, it not only builds on the sentiments that live in Jordanian society but also wants to reflect those sentiments. And as such, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood can say, “Look, as a democratic group, we can't say that women should be allowed to go out and have a job without their husband’s permission. We can't say that, because that is unacceptable in Jordanian society.” So, for them, to go beyond that point of view, and to go more in the direction of what in the West would be considered women's rights, whatever broad meaning that is given to that in the West, that will be unacceptable to Jordanian society. So from a democratic point of view, they said, “Look, we need to reflect society. This is really a non-starter, we're not going to do this.” And that’s probably right, by the way, because polls have shown that Jordanians are already quite conservative with regard to these issues.
And a third reason is that the texts in the Quran and in the Sunnah on issues with respect to particularly women I would say, but also the other issues in the sort of societal rights and freedoms part of this question, are quite a bit more fixed, quite a bit more rigid in the sense of they are less open to multiple interpretations. Now clearly, they are still open to multiple interpretations, the Quran being the brand, it's obviously always quite possible to come up with a different interpretation as it is with other religions. But this is less the case than with regards to politics, where the texts are really quite vague. And as such, it is probably more difficult from a textual perspective or a Quranic perspective, to come up with more reformist and moderate points of view. So, whereas the pluriformity and the heterogeneity of the Muslim Brotherhood facilitated reform with regard to the state and political participation, its relative ideological unity hampered that very reform in other areas.
Rebecca: Brilliant. So if I could restate it and ask it in a different way… Looking at the MB’s gamut of viewpoints, would I be able to characterize the Sharia-centered brotherhood as less flexible than the Ummah-centered Muslim Brotherhood? And if that's the case, we're talking about a Muslim Brotherhood that is more like an umbrella organization. However, despite their diversity in opinion on a great range of issues, as you said, we find unity, particularly on women's rights.
Joas: Right, yes, that's true. I mean, the Sharia-centered ones. I call them Sharia-centered because they have really privileged the Sharia and the rules of the Sharia over the Ummah. Whereas the Ummah-centered ones are precisely opposite. They look at the Sharia through the prism of the Muslim community. And the Sharia-centered ones are, indeed, less flexible than the Ummah central ones, as you say. But with regard to certain issues, for example, and most particularly women's rights, they are quite united. I'm not the first one to conclude this, by the way. Someone like Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, for example, has written an excellent book on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and has made comparisons with other countries in the region.
And she also draws the same conclusions that, for example, with regard to the idea of tribes being allowed to murder women who have been raped, rather than getting them to marry the person who raped them. And this is a very problematic issue for the Muslim Brotherhood, not because they condone rape because they don't, and not because they think this is a fine issue or that none of this is bad, but because they think that if you allow women who have been raped, not to marry their rapists, then that is, in a way, condoning extramarital sex. And that is something that they will really not accept. And as such, they have really resisted for a long time giving in to this demand and saying, look, we should stop this practice from happening. Because a man raping a woman, presumably they're not married, that is in a sense, extramarital sex, and that's wrong. Because they oppose that so much, they resisted this. So this was one thing that women's rights activists in Jordan were really opposed to, saying this is really bad.
Generally speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood is quite united on women's rights issues. And as a result of that, it seems almost like their philosophy of reading scripture and taking it seriously and reading it within its context, and having Sharia scholars who interpret these texts for them, sort of traps them into a limited number of different interpretations and traps them into a certain box that they cannot escape from. And whereas with the other subjects, there is a lot of leeway that the texts may have wildly differing interpretations they can't escape from that. But with regards to women's rights, it's simply not the case. And I think that is certainly not the only reason, as I just mentioned, but it's certainly a reason why they've not been able to come up with more moderate solutions.
And it's interesting to see the Muslim Brotherhood has definitely become more democratic over the years, not just in Jordan, also in other contexts, but they have not become a lot more Liberal. I mean capital Liberal, and I'm not talking about classical liberalism here, because that's a completely different issue. But they've not become more capital Liberal, in the sense that we use the term in Great Britain and the United States. So that's really an area where you could argue that they still have a lot of room for improvement. I'm not saying that would suggest that I think that they should change. It's not my job to say in what direction they should reform. But this is clearly an area where they could still moderate further if they choose to do so.
Rebecca: Great, thank you. We had one more question: how does the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood case specifically show pluriformity in Islam? You've basically illustrated this, but perhaps you can expand a bit more on the idea of the Ummah-centric and the Sharia-centric groups. How would that look on an issue of your choice? Whether it's freedoms, rights of minorities, or political participation. What would their opinion divergence look like?
Joas: Well, take, for example, non-Muslims in Islamic society. The Sharia-centered people would say, “Look, the Prophet has said, whoever changes his religion, kill him. So that's what we need to do.” So if anyone converts from Islam to Christianity, or Judaism, or at all becomes an atheist, then this person should be killed. Full stop. That's it. [On the other hand,] the people on the sort of the Ummah-centered side would say, “Look, that's not true. There are lots of caveats here. And we should basically let the interests of the Ummah decide, and if people are converting to Christianity, or Judaism, or becoming atheist, there must be something wrong. We should perhaps pour more money into education or something like that.” But that is not really what they're saying.
The critics of the Sharia-centered point of view are really not Ummah-centered, but really the balanced ones. So the people who oscillate between the two extreme positions, as it were, and I don't mean extreme in a negative way, I just mean the two sides. In the sense that they say, “Look, we need to take the Sharia into account, we need to argue on the basis of these texts.”
So they come up with the idea of saying, look, “There is also a saying of the Prophet Mohammed, in which he says, anyone who leaves the religion, and leaves my community, that's referred to as a sin. So a person who leaves the community, those people should be killed.” So they say, “There is a social component, a sort of communitarian component to leaving the religion. It's not just an inward change of heart that you say, okay, I'm not going to go to mosque anymore on Friday, but I'm going to go to church on Sunday, that's not it or I'm not going to pray to Mecca anymore, we're to Jerusalem.” It's not as that type of inward change of hearts, but it's also a change of community and that is how it should be interpreted. But they still take the texts as their starting point. And these texts are interpreted in such a way that they say, for example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi is one of the people who said this.
He said, “Look, if you have a religious change of heart, and you convert to a different religion, but you just do it quietly, nobody's going to persecute you, no one is going to kill you, let no one try to kill you. We may persuade you to change your mind, but that's it. But if you really vent your frustration about Islam, or turn it into a societal issue, and go on television and say, well, I used to be a Muslim, but now I'm a Christian, and this is a much better and really sing the praises of Christianity and criticize Islam…” He said, “That's wrong. And if you do that you create Fitna you create civil strive and chaos in society. And that is what this role of killing an apostate is meant for.” But that still leaves the situation, of course, that someone like Salman Rushdie who he mentions by name, by the way, should be killed. So that is not exactly an Ummah-centered point of view where the particular person speaking, in this case, he was for Yusuf al-Qaradawi, takes the interests of society first and privileges those over the Sharia.
So, what these people do is they make a decision that really takes the texts into account on the one hand, but are unwilling to fully focus on the interests of the community in a such take a sort of half-hearted position in between which I refer to as balanced. And the text that I just mentioned, by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is one example. But there are many examples like this with regard to civil rights and freedoms, where they are unwilling to abandon the literal reading of the text to such an extent that he provides more rights and their freedom, so significantly more rights and more freedoms for citizens of another country.
Adam: Dr. Wagemakers, we're almost out of time for this podcast, but I'd like to ask you just one final question, which, in a way, summarizes many of the key points that you just mentioned here. So much has been written on this, the question of the liberalism and illiberalism of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam, more generally, especially since the Arab Spring events of 2011. So, what do you see as the main contribution of your book to this existing broad literature on the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam generally, through the focus on the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood?
Joas: Well, I see my contribution is really threefold. First of all, it's a highly detailed study of Islamic ideology going all the way back to the Prophet Mohammed. The first chapter really focuses on Islamic thought, political thinking in Sunni Islam. And it shows that the same type of issues that were used, let's say, in the 10th century, are still used now but reinterpreted constantly by the Muslim Brotherhood, not just the one in Jordan, but also in other countries is part of that and builds on that, so that there is a continuing tradition of Islamic thought that underpins whatever the Muslim Brotherhood is doing. That is not to say of course that is the only source of influence. There are many other sources of influence, as well, as I point out in the book. But from the point of view of intellectual history, there is a clear thread running through that entire history. And I think that nobody has done that in a detailed way as I have in that book.
That's actually the most important thing I will say about the book, and the detailed analysis and the shifting, I use the concepts and the terminology by Michael Freeden, a political theorist who's written extensively about ideology. And I really map out the different ideological fields, and how different concepts are contested within the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology in a way that makes sense in a way that does not break with tradition, but shifts his emphasis as well. And I think that is the most important contribution of the book that I make.
The second contribution is obviously that it's a highly detailed study of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. You might expect that from a book entitled “The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan” when I think it brings up with the goods. So that's not a problem. I think it simply is the most detailed publication on the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, in English, certainly.
And thirdly, it contributes to the debates in political science about how strongly ideological movements and organizations can be integrated into a political system. This is a debate called the “inclusion-moderation thesis”, which suggests that if you include groups then they will moderate their ideological views. And there are some people who say that is actually happening, inclusion leads to moderation. There are other people who say no, it's actually repression that leads to moderation. And I argue in this book, that in the case of Jordan, that generally speaking, inclusion has led to moderation but to such an extent that when repression came along, mostly in the last two decades, that in that context.
Even though the Muslim Brotherhood was severely repressed sometimes, the language and the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood had already moderated to such an extent that in order for them to take a more radical position, they would have to move either outside of the Muslim Brotherhood altogether, or take up one of the more radical positions within the Muslim Brotherhood. But because the Muslim Brotherhood becomes so moderate throughout its 70-year history, the most radical position that you could take within the Muslim Brotherhood itself was to say, “We're going to boycott the elections.” So I argue that within a general tendency of inclusion leads to moderation. Repression also led to moderation. So because repression, in the case of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, led to actually the Muslim Brotherhood making concessions and compromising, and that was sort of really build on the work of Jillian Schwedler who has done excellent work on this with regards to the inclusion-moderation thesis. And Shadi Hamid, who has also done so, but who both came to opposite conclusions. And I really show in my book that they are really both right.
Adam: That's really fascinating. I think that really leaves so much room for thought, in terms of trying to understand both Political Islam far more broadly, and specifically the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which is really the focus for your book. So Dr. Wagemakers, thank you so much for your time and for these fascinating insights. And I strongly recommend whoever is listening to this podcast to get a copy of Dr. Wagemakers’ latest book. We'll be very happy to keep talking with you in these podcasts in the future. Thank you so much.