Presentation by Prof Dr Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. Deputy Dean for research and Post-graduate Affairs, Kulliyah of Medicine, International Islamic University, Malayasa at an Islamic Training Program in Petaling Jaya in March 1997


I would like in this brief presentation summarise my views about the strategic options for the Islamic movement in Bangladesh. These views should be accepted as those of a concerned Islamic worker who does not have a complete or even accurate picture of the situation inside Bangladesh. They are extrapolations based on the general political and economic trends in the world today. These views should only be used as points that can start a discussion and not as solutions to current problems.


The conclusions or recommendations at the end are based on two premises: (a) current local and international political and economic trends and (b) organisational and ideological trends in Islamic movements.



The economy is the driving force at the moment. It is re-shaping the political and social situation. With the collapse of the Soviet union and the economic failure of socialist systems, the laissez-faire capitalism of the 19th century is being reborn. Under this system government has a very limited role in the economy. Those with capital and technology think globally, invest where they will get maximum profits, and intervene to make sure that the local situation favours their economic interests.


The globality of the system requires that all countries provide the following conditions: privatisation of the economy and opening it up to international investment, limited government regulation of the economy, free movement of capital, free markets, and a consumer western secular culture. Depending on the local situation the powerful economic forces in Europe and America may insist on political and human rights conditions. They may insist that local governments be elected democratically if they think they can manipulate the political process to suit their interests. They may also raise what they claim to be human rights issues and put pressure on the government in order to serve their interests; they turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in countries ruled by regimes that serve their interests. They will not hesitate to support dictatorial and oppressive regimes either openly or in a clandestine manner if that serves their economic interests.


Two aspects of this new world order have relevance to Islamic movements: privatisation of the economy and limited government role. Under privatisation, Islamically-oriented individuals and groups can increase their economic and thence political power without necessarily being inside the government; they can set up their own educational, cultural, and economic institutions and are able to make a direct impact on the society. Government positions lose a lot of their prestige and power and the brightest and most hard-working go to the private sector. Governmental power is no longer the sole vehicle for bringing about social change because under the new international order the government’s role is limited internally by its loss of control over the economy and it is constrained in its actions by international forces.


The Islamic movements must therefore re-think their strategic priorities regarding obtaining governmental power in order to work for social change. It is clear that the government is now no longer the powerful institution it was before. On the other hand privately-controlled social, cultural, and economic institutions are capable of influencing and changing society.



Islamic movements in many parts of the world including Bangladesh have not yet changed their organisational structures, basic strategy and policy to take into account their practical experiences of the past 50 years of struggle.


These movements started as protest movements against secularising colonial and post-colonial governmental and social institutions.  They have been very successful in forcing a major change in all Muslim countries. Islam is now accepted as a major force in national and international issues to be reckoned with and can not be ignored as it was 50 years ago. Many of the issues raised by the movements 50 years ago such as shariat application, promotion of Islamic culture, control and suppression of un-Islamic cultural and social institutions are now no longer looked at as weird but are taken seriously even among those who do not believe in them seriously to the extent that all politicians today claim or pretend to derive part of their legitimacy from Islam of course each according to his or her interpretation of Islam. We must therefore credit for bringing Islam into the national and international mainstream.


Islamic movements have in some cases failed to realise the need for change of strategy from opposition movements trying to get the Islamic agenda accepted as part of the national agenda to movements that have and promote a new blue-print for societal reconstruction. Most movements can not adequately answer the following hypothetical question posed by an ordinary citizen: ‘ Now that I am convinced that Islam is the best way, show me how it can solve my daily problems like food, health, security, transport etc’. The movements are challenged to re-orient themselves to be able to address this issue.


Movements have not been able in some cases to change their strategy to survive in the new climate of political and social pluralism. While they were protest movements in the opposition, it was easy to define the problem as the un-Islamic governance and social institutions and Islam was advanced as the solution. The thinking was that Islamic movements were the answer. The experience of the past 50 years has shown that this was a simplistic approach. Islamic movements can not and should not on their own try to carry the burden of social reform. They need to recognise that there are other social forces and institutions in the society with which they will have to build winning coalitions. Neither can Islamic movements alone claim to have Islamic legitimacy; there are other sources of such legitimacy in the society; they need to be identified and brought into the grand Islamic coalition. This grand coalition could also include sincere individuals and groups in the society who want to bring about reform but may not share the Islamic ideology presented by the movements.


The current Islamic movements were started by very charismatic leaders who because of their strength were able to lead to all the successes achieved in the past half-century. Many have become old or passed away. Many movements have all of a sudden found themselves with a leadership vacuum. This vacuum could not be filled easily because there were not enough workers trained to shoulder this great responsibility. A question may be asked ‘how come that ideological or tarbiyat movements could not train enough potential leaders?. A tentative answer may be that during the prolonged period of political struggle when all the energies of the movements were engaged in the political struggle, tarbiyat and training did not get enough attention. The charismatic founding leaders did not have enough time to personally train new cadres and pass on their thought and experience. There is no personal blame to be placed on the leaders; they were most of the time either engaged in political programs or were in prison or exile.



The original movement organisation should confine itself to dawah, tarbiyat, and ideological orientation. It should create sister organisations to specialise in the following fields: electoral politics, economic development, social & cultural, women & youth, mass media, and trade unions. These specialised institutions should be legally independent from the mother body but should be under its moral and ideological guidance. The mother body will train cadres for the new organisations and keep them supplied with quality people all the time.


The strategy of social reform should not focus on getting government power alone. The movement must through its specialised institutions penetrate into society and work for bringing about change from the bottom which is the only permanent change.


The political organisation should feel free to engage in the political game using the rules of that game. This may include entering into electoral alliances and making strategic compromises that the mother organisation can not make because of its very clear and rigid ideological standards.


Getting full control of the government should no longer be a main strategic objective. A coalition government is always the best. The movement should aim at having just enough political muscle to protect its institutions working to reform society. The economic, security, and social conditions in most countries are so bad that they can not be solved quickly even by a good Islamic government. If the Islamic movement has full control it will also have full responsibility and accountability. The population is eagerly waiting for results. If an Islamically-dominated government fails to deliver results quickly to an impatient population, it may lose some credibility and even Islam itself could be attacked.

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule July 1997