Political Islam is any interpretation of Islam as a source of political identity and action.[1] It can refer to a wide range of individuals or groups who advocate the formation of state and society according to their understanding of Islamic principles. It may also refer to use of Islam as a source of political positions and concepts.[2]

Political Islam represents one aspect of the Islamic revival that began in the 20th century, and not all forms of political activity by Muslims are discussed under the rubric of political Islam.[1] Most academic authors use the term Islamism to describe the same phenomenon or use the two terms interchangeably.[1] There are new attempts to distinguish between Islamism as religiously based political movements and political Islam as a national modern understanding of Islam shared by secular and Islamist actors.[3]

Development of the term

The terminology which is used for the phenomenon of political Islam differs among experts. Martin Kramer was one of the first experts to start using the term political Islam in 1980. In 2003, he stated that political Islam can also be seen as tautology because nowhere in the Muslim world is a religion separated from politics.[4][5] Some experts use terms like Islamism, pointing out the same set of occurrences or they confuse both terms. Dekmejian was among the first of the experts who made remarks on politicisation of Islam in the context of the failure of secular Islamic governments while he uses both Islamism and fundamentalism at the same time (rather than political Islam).[6]

The term political Islam has been used in connection with foreign communities, referring to the movements or groups which have invested in a broad fundamentalist revival that is connected to a certain political agenda.[4] M. A. Muqtedar Khan incorporates into political Islam all the Islamic movements promoting a political system based solely on Islam which must be followed by every Muslim.[7] Some of the experts also use other descriptive terms in order to distinguish various ideological courses within political Islam: conservative, progressive, militant, radical, jihadist, etc.[1] Bill Warner, a retired professor of physics and critic of political Islam, defines political Islam as that part of the text of the primary Islamic doctrine (Koran, Sira, Hadith) that affect non-Muslims (Kafirs)[8] and non-Muslim societies.[9][10] He has been criticised for identifying Islam with Islamism[11] and for his methodology.[12] In 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center included him in a list of ten anti-Islam hardliners in the United States.[13]


Islamic scholar Gudrun Krämer, a professor at the Free University of Berlin, writes:

"Political Islam is not synonymous with violent, radical, or extremist Islamism, and it is not restricted to opposition groups. The spectrum ranges from advocates of an Islamic republic to sympathizers of an Islamic monarchy or a resuscitated caliphate, and from self-declared liberals to uncompromising conservatives. Some Islamists are commonly classified as moderate or pragmatic, others as radical, militant, or extremist."[14]

John L. Esposito (Georgetown University) and Emad El-Din Shahin (American University in Cairo) give the following definition in The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics:

"In recent years, political Islam has manifested itself in two diametrically opposed orientations: an increasing involvement in the democratization process by mainstream movements after the success of pro-democracy popular uprisings in toppling autocratic regimes and a growing inclination toward violence by fringe groups. Political Islam here refers to the attempts of Muslim individuals, groups and movements to reconstruct the political, economic, social and cultural basis of their society along Islamic lines. This process involves different views of the place of Shari`ah in society and the approach to bringing about change. While majorities of Islamic movements have engaged in the democratization process in their respective countries, some have embraced violence and terrorism as an ideological and strategic choice, with devastating consequences for the world and for Islam itself."[15]

The Routledge Handbook of Political Islam provides the following definition by political scientist Shahram Akbarzadeh, a professor at the University of Melbourne:

"Political Islam is a modern phenomenon that seeks to use religion to shape the political system. Its origins lie in the perceived failure of the secular ideologies of nationalism and socialism to deliver on their promises of anti-imperialism and prosperity."[16]

In another paper, Rüdiger Lohlker criticizes numerous assumptions surrounding the discussion on Political Islam:

"All the categories we are discussing are affected by this "dubious" assumption that there is a transhistorical essence of religion. "The most dubious" of all these categories may be Political Islam with its background assumption that "true" religion has to be privatised but ignoring that the privatised need for belief is based on a universalised dominance of Christian traditions in public discourse and institutions. Even if political Catholicism may also be regarded as dubious, the notion ignores the fundamental difference of a phenomenon that strives for political dominance (sometimes successful) in the hegemonic European context. Thus, putting majority aspirations and some strands of minority discourses and organisations at the same level is a major failure of analysis. Talking about Political Islam means that we are referring to the ongoing discussion. To rethink this category and others we should think about Islam as a practice, not a transhistorical spectre of religion called Islam that is haunting the Western imaginaire."[17]

In Muslim countries

Some factions in the Middle East have come to associate the idea of modernities with the intrusions of colonial imperialism. In some Muslim countries, especially Egypt and Pakistan, political counter-movements with religious ideological leanings took root. The reasons are multifaceted. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire was a seismic event that created many aftershocks. The region experienced turbulence for many years as Arab countries fell within the cultural and colonial sphere of European nations. Under increasing cultural pressures Muslims asserted their national identities and cultural heritage, and some factions emphasized religious dimensions. In Egypt the weakness of Muslims was blamed on poor adherence to scripture. According to Hassan al-Banna, European culture was materialistic, immoral and based on class selfishness and usury. Other contributing factors may have been opposition to modernizing influences, overall poor governance and low levels of education in the population.[18]

Research in Europe

In July 2020, the Austrian government made up of the ÖVP and the Greens set up the Documentation Centre Political Islam,[19] an organization to research "religiously motivated political extremism" related to political Islam and to monitor related networks and social media.[20][19] It was financed by the Austrian Foundation and through the 2015 Fund Act.[21]

In the wake of the Mahsa Amini protests in Iran, the Austrian organization produced a report on the efforts of the Islamic Republic to exert influence abroad in the cultural, religious and educational sectors in Europe through foundations and religious centres, including the Islamic Center in Hamburg and the Imam Ali Center in Vienna.[22][23] In 2022, the organization also investigated the Islamic Association in Austria, an organization that runs a mosque in Vienna's Jewish neighbourhood that is allegedly responsible for propagating antisemitism, anti-Israel hatred, and support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.[24][25]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Voll, John O.; Sonn, Tamara (2009). "Political Islam". Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets. doi:10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0063. Archived from the original on 2020-02-23. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  2. ^ Krämer, Gudrun. "Political Islam." In Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Vol. 6. Edited by Richard C. Martin, 536–540. New York: Macmillan, 2004. via Encyclopedia.com Archived 2018-07-13 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Jocelyne Cesari (2018). "What Is Political Islam". www.rienner.com. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-62637-692-2. Archived from the original on 2023-01-06. Retrieved 2023-01-01.
  4. ^ a b Kramer, Martin (2003-03-01). "Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?". Middle East Quarterly. Archived from the original on 2015-01-01. Retrieved 2017-05-26.
  5. ^ Kramer, Martin (1980). "Political Islam". The Washington Papers. VIII.
  6. ^ Dekmejian, R. Hrair (1980). "The Anatomy of Islamic Revival: Legitimacy Crisis, Ethnic Conflict and the Search for Islamic Alternatives". Middle East Journal. 34 (1): 1–12. JSTOR 4325967.
  7. ^ Khan, Muqtedar (2014-03-10). "What is Political Islam?". E-International Relations. Archived from the original on 2020-08-20. Retrieved 2023-01-01.
  8. ^ Warner, Bill. "Learn about Political Islam". www.cspii.org. Archived from the original on 2022-11-16. Retrieved 2022-11-16.
  9. ^ Bill., Warner, Sharia Law for Non-Muslims, ISBN 978-1-936659-37-1, OCLC 1099523781, retrieved 2022-11-24
  10. ^ Mohanty, Nirode (2018). Jihadism : past and present. Lexington Books. p. 264. ISBN 978-1-4985-7597-3. OCLC 1107447247.
  11. ^ Bale, Jeffrey M. (2017). The Darkest Sides of Politics, II: State Terrorism, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," Religious Extremism, and Organized Crime. Apple Academic Press. pp. 217–231. ISBN 978-1138785625. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  12. ^ Khan, Aysha (2019-07-16). "A Push to Deny Muslims Religious Freedom Gains Steam". religionandpolitics.org. Archived from the original on 2022-04-17. Retrieved 2022-06-15.
  13. ^ Steinback, Robert. "THE ANTI-MUSLIM INNER CIRCLE". splc.org. Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on 10 May 2019. Retrieved 12 February 2018.
  14. ^ Krämer, Gudrun (2016). "Political Islam". In Martin, Richard C. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World (2nd ed.). Farmington Hills: Macmillan Reference USA. p. 895. ISBN 978-0-02-866269-5.
  15. ^ Esposito, John L. (2013). "Introduction". In Esposito, John L. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Islam and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-19-539589-1.
  16. ^ Akbarzadeh, Shahram (2021). "Political Islam under the Spotlight". In Akbarzadeh, Shahram (ed.). Routledge Handbook of Political Islam (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 1. ISBN 978-1-138-35389-3.
  17. ^ Lohlker, Rüdiger (2023). "Islamic Fundamentalism: Beyond Islamism, Extremism, and Political Islam". In Marko, Joseph (ed.). Religious Diversity, State, and Law. Leiden: Brill. p. 342. ISBN 978-90-04-51585-7.
  18. ^ Ataman, Kemal. "Forerunners of "Political Islam":An inquiry into the Ideologies of Al-Banna and Al-Mawdudi". Uludag Universitesi Ilahiyat Fakultesi Dergisi.
  19. ^ a b Austria takes 'pioneering' approach to tackle influence of political Islam Archived 2023-01-12 at the Wayback Machine The National News, Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  20. ^ "About us". Dokumentationsstelle Politischer Islam. Archived from the original on 2023-03-28.
  21. ^ Dokumentationsstelle Politischer Islam nimmt Arbeit auf Archived 2023-02-03 at the Wayback Machine Bundeskanzleramt, Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  22. ^ Dokumentationsstelle sieht Einflussnahme des Iran in Österreich Archived 2023-01-13 at the Wayback Machine msn.com, Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  23. ^ Dokumentationsstelle sieht iranischen Einfluss Archived 2023-02-06 at the Wayback Machine orf.at, Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  24. ^ Austria launches probe into ‘antisemitic’ mosque Archived 2023-01-12 at the Wayback Machine The Jewish Chronicle, Retrieved 2023-01-10.
  25. ^ ‘Cursed Zionists’: Austrian Authorities Order Investigation into Rampant Antisemitism at Vienna Mosque Archived 2023-02-06 at the Wayback Machine Algemeiner, Retrieved 2023-01-10.

Further reading