Although monotheism, the core belief of one almighty God, is the essence of Islam, unity for the Muslim nation has never been substantial. Division, instead, has been a dominant feature throughout Islamic history since the end of the era of the caliphs, nearly thirty years after the death of the Holy Prophet, and to this day.
The oldest and most present divide among Muslims is manifest in two doctrines which constitute the main sects in Islam, Sunni and Shiite. Yet, the differences are not limited to the two doctrines, but also apply to groups and creeds in both, which are distinct from each other within the same doctrine as well. These differences have evolved and crystallized over a relatively long history of cultural progress, social changes and the change of times and places. More importantly, they have been emphasized through the ongoing political conflict between the power-fighting forces, which have taken religion as an ideology for managing and winning this conflict.
The question I would like to ask here is: Why did the doctrine of monotheism not lead to unity? Does the reason lie in religion or in the human being whose condition religion came to reform?
This question is based on one of the most important problems of religious psychology, which does not discuss religion in terms of its source and validity, but deals with it on the basis of the behavior of its believers, their human nature and their practical and emotional interaction with their faith, focusing mainly on the religious education they received as children – the purely human activity that might be right or wrong, and may be lacking, deviant and often distorted.
Forcing religion into politics
Improper education often creates an imaginary feeling among a wide range of religious people of their excessive worth, sometimes seeing themselves as superior who are agents of an absolute authority and owners of a “Truth” that they believe it is one and only, thus regarding others as false believers. Here emerges the difference, which may be only internal and personal in its infancy but does not often remain the same.
It becomes even more dangerous when religion is thrown into the political game, making segregation broader and violence more likely to erupt, turning the religion that has come as a mercy for humans to a means of harm.
In the history of political conflict, we look at an important example, when the conflict between the Safavids and the Ottomans intensified, turning to the Twelver Shiite doctrine to be the most powerful pretext for fighting against the Sunni Ottoman Empire, which in turn also benefited from this ideological shift, moving its struggle with the Safavids from a contest for power to a "Jihad."
What I would like to address here is the manifestation of the political use of Islam nowadays, known as "political Islam", in two dangerous schemes that threaten the stability of our region in the first place, although their repercussions go beyond Arab borders to the Islamic world and the globe.
In the lead of one of the two schemes is Iran which has never hidden its imperial ambitions neither before nor after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, claiming the establishment of a global Islamic nation that defends the vulnerable everywhere in the world, and considers Shiites everywhere, regardless of their differences within the sect, to be among those vulnerable groups. Iran's movements beyond its borders are therefore driven by the duty to protect Shi'ite doctrine, interfering in the affairs of other countries, harming their national unity and perpetuating the societal division among their citizens. Examples of this are numerous, whether in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. etc.
Behind this religious-political ideology based on the principle of "exporting the revolution", Iran can increase its influence in Arab and Muslim countries and pave the way for its economic, political and military interests.
But what are the means to achieve this, and what should Iran do to gain access to those countries?
Iran's tactic of employing religion in the service of its objectives is the subject of a study by the Soufan Center, a New York-based intelligence company, to explain what is described as an "Iranian catalog." For 40 years, Iran has followed a very clear approach, choosing one of the troubled countries that are experiencing civil wars or any other conflicts, and then selects a group (that must be Shiite) which is ready to establish ties with Tehran, arming and strengthening it until it becomes a military faction capable of influencing. This faction soon becomes a political party with significant financial and military support, and begins to win parliamentary and then government seats, through which Iran becomes a decision-maker in the target country. Thus, the Iranians are able to hijack the decision of an independent state through Hezbollah in Lebanon, which they are trying to reproduce in Iraq and Yemen as well.
Through exploiting religion and its militias, Iran has destabilized several regions, even threatening world peace as a whole and providing the West with justifications for launching its accusations of so-called terrorism, the matter which is capable of fueling Islamophobia in episodes of violence and counter-violence.
On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood, as a global Islamic political organization, represents the most evident Sunni model of the political use of Islam. Throughout its relatively longer history compared to the Ideology of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has established a transnational political network and enjoyed the support of the authorities of Arab and foreign countries, adopting the same approach of taking religion as a means of gaining power.
The most significant rift that has plagued the Muslim Brotherhood's ideology since the expansion of their political activity regionally and then internationally was the pursuit of an uncontrolled pragmatism in establishing their alliances and concluding their agreements around the world. Their frantic quest for horizontal spread also led to their lack of unity and established identity, quite the opposite of the ideology of the Iranian Islamic Revolution. All of this contributed to contradictory alliances that were sometimes short-lived, losing the ability to achieve long-term strategic objectives. They have also been characterized by double standards and ambiguity of position on many of the issues that have occupied the Arab region in the last decade, the most important of which are terrorism and armed terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Al-Nsira and others. All of this has been accompanied by what might be called embedded intentions that have made the Brotherhood a potential threat to the policies of the countries of the region and the security of their people.
On the other hand, the ideologies of political Islam represented by the Muslim Brotherhood and other lesser groups are based on a takfiri approach (whether against political regimes or people) that is not as explicitly declared as other armed-oriented Islamist factions, but is circulating and being employed on the ground, through social events, aid systems and media channels available in many places.
Therefore, given the claim that these groups are the opposite of what they really are, it was no surprise that previous U.S. administrations, particularly democratic ones, considered that the Muslim Brotherhood could be, for several reasons, a good alternative to countries where Washington saw a threat to their interests during the so-called "Arab Spring".
Serving narrow interests
Americans believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is the best to preserving their interests, as they, unlike al-Qaeda, do not believe in caliphate or internationalism and are ready to act as a political party within the nation state, accepting coexistence with Israel without wars. "The U.S. administration has assessed the various Islamic currents in the Muslim world, considering that in the Arab world there are currents that all carry the word 'Islamic', but there are very big differences between them, so we need to know which currents to support," Wilson Scott said in a 2010 Washington Post report as part of a U.S. review of Islamist groups.
In her memoirs, Hard Choices, Hillary Clinton expressed her surprise at Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in her first meeting and how he proved to her in their first meeting that he was keen to continue implementing the Camp David Accords, and sought to prove his flexibility with the United States, which seemed to reverse his populist speeches as the slogan "On Jerusalem going, martyrs in millions.” However, US-Islamic relations dates decades back. In 1953, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower received the heads of various Islamist groups, on top of which was the Muslim Brotherhood, specifically leader Saeed Ramadan, a sibling of the group founder, Hassan al-Banna. The aim of the visit was to make sure that these leaders would support the United States against the Soviet Union.
With the decline in acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood in several Arab countries and their lack of U.S. enthusiasm, they have found in present-day Turkey a haven and a new-old ally at the same time. Turkey is not much different from Shiite Iran on more than one level, although the former has bigger ambitions and wider areas, for even if Iran expands in the Muslim world, it is constrained by sect and generally confined only to Shiite-majority areas. However, the sect does not hinder Turkey's expansionist ambitions to restore ancient Ottoman influence. In order to achieve this goal, Turkey must have a way of supporting Islamist currents around the world, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, since the religious bond is the most influential for Turkey and can give it a large and complex communication channel to achieve its influence in the entire Muslim world, not just the Arab world. Even if the Ankara-backed Brotherhood does not come to power, they could at least be a useful cat claw for Turkey as they are in northern Syria, or as a pressure card to be played when necessary, such as its attitude toward Egypt manifest by hosting and embracing the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey.
In general, the ideologies of "Islamic movements", no matter how much they try to maintain elements of cohesion and modernity, remain threatened with decay and failure, which hinders them from gaining power or maintaining it when gained. This is due to the fragility of the political experience of these movements, their weakness and their reliance on weak forces and elements that do not carry practical programmes or rely on backdated philosophies or religious justifications that have nothing to do with the discourse of reality and the daily demands of common people, as well as the inflated interest in metaphysics at the expense of the actual construction processes that ordinary man would crave.
Islam is the greatest victim of the enmity between the sultan's caliphate and the guardianship of the jurist. The religion of mercy, love, coexistence and peace will continue to be hunted by the charge of terrorism unless it is ceased to be employed to serve narrow political interests, and a separation between "the things which are Caesar's and the things that are God's" is established.