Sunday, March 27, 2011

Islamic Liberation Theology?

This passage from an article in the Monthly Review by Qalandar Bux Memon suggests that liberation theology may not just be confined to Catholic Latin America. The article is called "Blood on the Path of Love: The Striking Workers of Faisalabad Pakistan," which you can read in its entirety here.
Bawa Lalif Ansari is famous among workers for his oratory and in particular for leading an energizing tarana [a call and response between leader and crowd.]. He is an entertainer and pedagogue, who hosts most of the workers’ rallies for LQM [Labour Quami Movement]. Bawa is of short and slim stature, with long black hair carefully combed backwards and a small and trim jet-black beard—a look that made more sense to me as our conversation developed.
“I used to be part of Lashkar-e-Taiba. I joined them when I was young.” LeT is a militant Islamist organization, suspected of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. It is banned in Pakistan but continues to operate openly in many areas. Sipah-e-Sahaba, another extremist organization, he tells me, was founded in the Jhang area, which neighbors Faisalabad, and is where he has been working with the LQM. He explains,
They have a strong grip on the people and tell the poor to direct their frustration against the Shi’as. The local feudals and zamindars, who are extremely rich, are generally Shi’a, while the common bounded laborer is Sunni. The hate manifested over years of exploitation can easily be directed by these originations against all Shi’as. But many Shi’a are also laborers and workers, as are Christians. I came across Mian Qayyum and the LQM and their analysis made more sense. The religious parties wanted me to merely seethe with rage but didn’t tell me how my material situation was going to change. What good does it do me to hate someone for being a Shi’a or a Sunni or a Christian? They too are poor people trying to work and feed their children. What good does it do a worker to fight a worker. I didn’t agree with this.
Bawa believes in Islam, but for him, it is a radical philosophy of liberation [my emphasis]. A few hours later, at a workers’ gathering he said, “God is sovereign and god asks us to fight for justice. The bosses are nothing; we will not bow to them, these pharaohs. What we work we should be paid fairly for.” Lashkar’s loss has been the Labour Quami Movement’s gain.
Religion, with its concern for the poor and disadvantaged, is a natural ally of Marxism. Surely Catholics aren't the only ones that have made the link.

Update (April 12, 2011): It turns out I was right; there is Islamic liberation theology out there! Dr. Ali Ashgar Engineer, a Pakistani Islamic scholar, has a book, available online, with just that title.

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