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Islam and anarchism

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In the last few years, there has been talk knocking about on the idea of Islamic Anarchism, primarily from the US-based punk Muslim Michael Knight [1]. But there has been sparce evidence of any coherent online presence of Muslim Anarchists, until June 20th, 2005, when Yakoub Islam, a British-based Muslim, published his online Muslim Anarchist Charter [2].

Historical anarchist tendencies in Islam[edit]

Throughout Islamic history there have been Muslim groups, movements, and individuals which could be described as anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, egalitarian, or opposed to the rule of specific governments. Among these, only a few are properly associated with the anarchist label.


An early example of anti-authoritarianism in Islam is Kharijism which dates back to the time of the split between Sunnis and Shias. The Shias claimed Ali Ibn Abu Talib and his descendents were the rightful successors of the prophet Muhammad. The Sunnis believed (at least initially) that the leader of all the Muslims had to be from the tribe of Quraysh but could be chosen by the Muslim community. Sunnism also tended to be conservative in the sense that as long as certain minimal functions were being carried out, it was wrong to rebel against the lawful Muslim ruler, even when they were being sinful. The Kharijites were a third group who initially supported the leadership of Ali but then turned against him when they disagreed with some of his decisions. The Khawarij claimed that any qualified Muslim could be an Imam. They were also more willing to rebel against Muslim rulers.


At least one sect of Kharajites, the Najdiyya, believed that if no suitable imam was present in the community, then the position could be dispensed with. A strand of Mutazalite thought paralleled that of the Najdiyya: if rulers inevitably became tyrants, then the only acceptable course of action was to stop installing rulers.

Sheikh Bedrettin[edit]

Sheikh Bedrettin (1359-1420) (Template:lang-ota) was a proto-Socialist revolutionary Sufi theologian and charismatic preacher who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1416. His full name was Şeyh Bedrettin Mahmud Bin İsrail Bin Abdülaziz.

His writings were condemned by a number of Ottoman religious scholars such as Ismail Hakki Bursevi. Others instead praise the Sheikh. He is a popular figure among Turkey's left. Nazim Hikmet was jailed for inciting rebellion after encouraging military cadets to read Bedreddin's work. The musicians Cem Karaca and Zulfu Livaneli composed a song based on a Hikmet's epic poem, the Şeyh Bedrettin Destanı. In Hikmet's work, Bedrettin and his companions emphasize that all things must be shared "except the lips of the beloved."

Sheikh Bedrettin's proto-socialist ideas emphasised direct action, direct democracy, international and interfaith human solidarity, equality and communal life. He is highly respected among the Turkish anarchists.[1]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan[edit]

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1890 - 20 January 1988) (Pashto : خاں عبدالغفار خاں, ) was a Pashtun political and spiritual leader known for his non-violent opposition to British Rule in India. A lifelong pacifist, a devout Muslim,[2] and a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi, he was also known as Badshah Khan (also Bacha Khan, Template:lang-ps., "King Khan"), Fakhr-e-Afghan (pride of Afghans) and Sarhaddi Gandhi (Urdu, Hindi lit., "Frontier Gandhi").

Ghaffar Khan's Muslim pacifism was based on the anarcho-pacifist ideas of Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy.

Ali Shariati[edit]

An important and influential figure in the 20th century was Ali Shariati, one of the ideologues of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and of whom Jean Paul Sartre said: "I have no religion, but if I were to choose one, it would be Shariati's". After the Shah's regime took on a particularly vicious authoritarian note, Shariati was imprisoned for his lectures, which were extremely popular with the students, and was forced to flee Iran. He was assassinated shortly afterwards.

Although Shariati was not an anarchist, his vision of Islam was one of a revolutionary religion siding with the poor. He believed that the only true reflection of the Islamic concept of Tawhid (unity and oneness of God) is a classless society.

The Green Book[edit]

Some could also argue that Muammar al-Gaddafi advocates a kind of leftist vision of Muslim society which is similar to anarcho-syndicalism. This system is outlined in The Green Book.


Hardline was a radical violent deep ecology movement with Islamist tendencies. It ultimately led to the creation of several more explicitly Muslim organizations like Ahl-i-Allah (The People of Allah) and Taliyah al-Mahdi (The Vanguard of the Mahdi)

Contemporary Movements and Figures[edit]

Islamic punk[edit]

Taqwacore is a genre of punk music dealing with Islam and its culture, originally conceived in Michael Muhammad Knight's 2003 novel, The Taqwacores. The name is a portmanteau of hardcore and the Arabic word Taqwa, which is usually translated as "piety" or the quality of being "God-fearing", and thus roughly denotes fear and love of the divine. The scene consists mainly of young Muslim artists living in the US and other western countries, many of whom openly reject traditionalist interpretations of Islam.

Michael Muhammad Knight is an American Muslim novelist, journalist, anarchist and performance artist. His writings are popular among American Muslim youth.[3] The San Francisco Chronicle described him as "one of the most necessary and, paradoxically enough, hopeful writers of Barack Obama's America." Within the American Muslim community, he has earned a reputation as an ostentatious cultural provocateur.

The first bands to use the term taqwacore are The Kominas, Vote Hezbollah and the Sagg Taqwacore Syndicate.[4] Other bands on the scene include Diacritical, Secret Trial Five, and Fedayeen.

Hakim Bey[edit]

Peter Lamborn Wilson, who writes under the pen-name Hakim Bey, is a self-identified Anarchist who has traveled extensively in the Muslim world and has practiced Islam as a Shia and as a member of the Moorish Orthodox Church of America. He is most known for his concept of Temporary Autonomous Zones. He has written a great deal about Muslim heretical movements, pirate utopias, antinomianism and the concept of the Imam-of-one's-own-being.

Yakoub Islam[edit]

On June 20, 2005, Yakoub Islam, a British-based convert to Islam, published his online Muslim Anarchist Charter. The charter asserted a set of basic principles for anarchist thought and action founded on a Muslim perspective.

The charter asserted a set of basic principles for Anarchist thought and action founded on a Muslim perspective. These reaffirm some of the core principles of Islam, including a belief in God, the Prophecy of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the human soul, but assert the possibility that a Muslim's spiritual path might be achieved by refusing to compromise with institutional power in any form, be it judicial, religious, social, corporate or political. Muslims are thus challenged to establish a society where spiritual growth is "uninhibited by tyranny, poverty and ignorance". It is in the fervent assertion of the principle of no compromise, driven by a utopian vision of humanity living in peace and co-operation, that the faith of Islam and the politics of Anarchism are said to meet.

Yakoub, formerly Julian Anderson, originally discovered Anarchism in the 1980s through the works of the punk band CRASS, but distanced himself from the anti-religious, drug-enfeebled British punk Muslim scene in the late 1980s to explore academic learning, eventually converting to Islam in 1991. A lack of commitment and understanding saw him retreat from religious practice during 1990s, returning to Islam only at the turn of the Millenium when he began working with Muslim children in inner city schools. Over the last 18 months, Yakoub has become an increasingly visible cyber activist at the same time as caring for his 12 year old son, who is profoundly autistic.

Almost from the beginning of his journey into the Muslim faith, Yakoub was disturbed by a patriarchal authoritarianism dogging much Islamic thought and practice. After discovering the writings of the radical progressive Muslim Farid Esack, Yakoub initiated an online project based on Carolyn Ellis'sconcept of autoethnography called TGP. Initially, Yakoub took solace in and published on the Progressive Muslim discourse of Muslim Wake Up, including an article based on interviews and research on Britiain's LGBT Muslims. Yet Yakoub experienced a growing satisfaction with Muslim Wake Up's allegiance to the more mainstream Progressive Muslim Union of North America, and consequently sought to develop a more politically radical perspective, more forthright in challenging the Pax Americana and equally less derogatory of the wider Muslim traditions.

Yakoub is cautious in describing himself as a Muslim Anarchist (or an Anarchist Muslim), rather than talking about Islamic Anarchism, because the evidence from social research points to a considerable diversity within the Muslim community or ummah, with some anthropologists reluctant to talk about a single 'Islam'. Neither is there, of course, a single 'Anarchism', and the publication of the Muslim Anarchist charter marks the beginning of an intellectual and political discussion, rather than the creation of a new political or religious ideology, insha Allah.

See also[edit]

Related movements

Relevant individuals

Social groups/places

Related concepts

Other religious anarchisms


  2. An American Witness to India’s Partition by Phillips Talbot Year (2007) Sage Publications ISBN 978-0-7619-3618-3
  3. Maag, Christopher. Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book The New York Times. 22 December 2008

External links[edit]