Middle East Resources

Islamism as Told (Explained) to My Daughter

By Hamid Zanaz
Translation & Comments by Rev. Bassam Madany


Hamid Zanaz is an Algerian intellectual who posts articles on the Arabic online journal, Al-Awan. He has taught in Algeria and in France; he represents a number of Arab intellectuals who very critical of Islamism, known as Political Islam. On 21 May, 2014, Mr. Zanaz published



Islamism as Told (Explained) to My Daughter

“L’islamisme raconté à ma fille,” de Hamid Zanaz aux éditions Tatamis





Mr. Zanaz chose a section of the book, and posted its Arabic version on Al-Awan’s website. 

The following is my summary of this dialogue between father and daughter.

Daughter: Dad, once you told me that Arab regimes experienced something similar to what happened to Dr. Frankenstein, who created someone, but was unable to control him!

Father: Exactly my dear! I’m very glad that our conversations which have been going on since you were quite young, haven’t been in vain. However, we must add that what has turned out to be out of control had its beginnings at the dawn of Islam. It assumed its present form during the middle of the twentieth century, as the Salafist movement. Your description is quite apropos! I remember once telling you that the Algerian regime “had nursed a viper within its floating robe” as the popular Algerian proverb puts it! [Reference is to the military regime FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) that governed Algeria since its independence and whose policies led to the rise of the Islamist FIS (Front Islamique de Salut) [Islamic Salvation Front)].

Daughter: Does Islamism rise out of poverty and a feeling of hopelessness?

Father: No, I didn’t say that; it’s not that simple. I did say that the bad living conditions had contributed to its rise in certain countries; however it’s a much more complicated topic. Radical Islamism exists in rich Arab countries; in fact there are rich Salafist terrorists who have enjoyed a high degree of education.

Daughter: Like Osma ben Laden?

Father: Exactly my dear. Let’s not forget that Ayman al-Zawahiri, his lieutenant, studied medicine and is now the leader of al-Qaeda. Neither riches, nor education can immunize a person against the virus of Islamism.    

Daughter: Would you please explain what you once said “that it was inevitable for Islamism to rise in Algeria?”

Father: I didn’t mean that it was predestinated; I simply referred to the conditions that accelerated the appearance of Islamism in its violent and barbaric form. Salafism [i.e. FIS] has been responsible for the violent death of more than 200,000 Algerians. It still has its victims nowadays, even though the military phase of Islamism has come to an end.

Daughter: Do you mean that Islamism’s defeat wasn’t total?

Father: Sorry, my dear, the matter is much more complicated. Let’s reflect on how Islamism had risen in Algeria. The vast majority of Algerians were actually leading a traditional non-strict type of Islam. They were, to a great extent, pragmatists in their daily life.

Daughter: I can hardly believe that; so what happened then?

Father: They were spontaneously leading a modern life style; in other words they were unaware of that type of Islam as expounded by the classical Islamic jurists. Your forefathers possessed a popular folkloric genre of Islam that had been handed down orally from generation to generation. After independence, as education became universal, the post-colonial Algerians became acquainted with the contents of “textual” Islam [Qur’an, Hadith, and Sirat Muhammad]. That encounter led to a powerful quest for the Islamization of all areas of life.

Daughter: Were you saying that Islamism had been taught in the government schools?

Father: Yes, Islamism is still being taught, not only in Algeria, but all over the Arab countries, except Tunisia, a country you admire so much for its beaches and its Jasmine bushes!  As the emphasis on the demands of the Sharia progressed, pressure was placed on young women to “bury” themselves under hijab, and thus live within darkness. It all happened within two decades! I must add that the observance of the Fast of Ramadan became extremely strict, whereas in the past, very few Algerians observed the Fast.

Daughter: What’s the difference between a radical Muslim and a moderate Muslim?

Father: A radical Muslim, i.e. an Islamist, endeavors to pattern his or her life, according to the demands of the Sharia; on the other hand, a moderate Muslim is one who distances himself from that tradition as much as he can. Nowadays, however this attempt is very hard to accomplish. Islamists insist that Islam consists of a religious belief and a way of life based on that belief; it’s quite difficult, if not impossible, to separate the two.

There are some who claim that Islamism would disappear with the spread education and standards of living. Unfortunately the facts don’t support this thesis. Have Muslims now living in the West and enjoying a higher standard of living, been secularized? What has happened is the very opposite; most Muslims living in Europe and America are becoming more attached to traditional Islam. And let’s not forget that several rich Gulf Muslims have been great supporters of Salafism! 

 Daughter: Aren’t there serious efforts of some Muslims in Europe to bring about reconciliation between “spiritual and secular” Islam?

Father: Indeed, however these attempts remain formal and lead nowhere as in “L’Islam sans soumission: Pour un existentialisme musulman,” by Abdennour Bidar published in 2008. [Islam without Submission: Toward an Islamic Existentialism]

Abdennour goes far in his attempt to expound the sacred texts, even to the length of abrogating some. He believes in the possibility of modernizing Islam in order to make it compatible with the present age. He hopes to be able to liberate the Muslim from submitting to those texts he considers irrational. However, he forgets that Islam is above all a “recognition of, and submission to the will of Allah.” We cannot harmonize Islam and modernity without altering Islam itself.  The Islamic mind is not capable of modernizing itself.

Daughter: Is there an explanation for that?

Father: Muslims consider their religion as an intellectual system that must be applicable to all areas of life: both social and personal. In other words, the religious belief-system must be incorporated within the very core of the governing political system. The Islamist parties have exploited this point of view in their struggle against the ruling regimes; promising people that they and they alone, can govern Muslims in a peaceful and democratic way, having failed to accomplish that through violence.

Daughter: Well, wouldn’t that lead to a Reformation in Islam and to the rise of a genuine democracy?

Father: Let’s say that Islamists manage to save us from the old regimes; but who would then help us to get rid of the Islamists should they fail to deliver on their promises? This is the real dilemma. Once Islamists arrive at power through democratic means, they consider democracy as the ships that Tariq Bin Ziyad set on fire upon landing in Spain, so that none of the invaders would think of going back, as one critic put it.

[In 710, the Arab Islamic armies crossed the narrow strait separating North Africa from Spain, under the command of Tariq Bin Ziyad. It is claimed by Muslim historians, that after the landing, Tariq told his soldiers, after burning the ships: “the enemy is before you, and the sea is behind you; there is no choice but to attack.” In European languages Gibraltar became the name of the Strait, based on the Arabic phrase: “Jebel Tariq,” Tariq’s Mountain, reference to the giant Rock on the Spanish side.]

Daughter: Let’s go back to Muslims living in the West. Haven’t they been influenced by their modern environment to the extent that they managed to transcend those obstacles placed on them by their religious beliefs, and become assimilated in Western societies? Didn’t the freedoms they enjoyed in the West afford them the opportunity to reconcile Islam with modernity?

Father: I guess it may be possible to work out such a solution, an idea that’s current among many Muslims. However, modernity is essentially quite different from Islam for anyone who cares to acknowledge the difference. According to the Islamic worldview, man’s life is to be spent under Allah’s surveillance; it is He who guarantees man’s freedom. On the other hand, according to modernity, man makes the rules for his life; he relies only on his mind, using his critical faculties, and bears his own responsibilities. Has Islamic jurisprudence ever encouraged this type of thinking and championed freedom of thought? The real question remains: would the Islamic mind be ever willing to accept the basic principles of modernity?”


Hamid Zanaz’s dialogue ended without much hope for a beneficial change in Islam’s teachings that would foster the rise of a humane relationship with its own people, and with the rest of mankind. His personal “jihad” against Islamism goes on unabated as one may read any of the 622 articles and essays he had posted on Al-Awan. In his latest posting, he manifested his exasperation with the Muslims’ inconsistencies:

لماذا يتبنّى المسلمون بيسر وسرور الجيل الرابع من الهواتف الخلوية

!ويعسر عليهم هضم الجيل الأول من حقوق الإنسان، بدعوى أنها غربية؟

“Oh why are Muslims so quick and eager to appropriate and use the latest models of cellular phones, while at the same time are unwilling to “digest” the simplest forms of human rights, just because they consider them as Western inventions?!”


The dialogue between Hamid Zanaz and his daughter has been enlightening even though inconclusive!  He speaks as a secularist who notes that Islam’s God surveilled people.  It is an interesting point to make because Islam’s unitary god, unlike the Trinitarian God of Christians, is quite incapable of personal interaction with his creatures or has the capacity to love.  No doubt this can explain why so many of Islam’s radical true believers bow down in total submission to such a malevolent dictator of the universe as they have determined him to be from their holy book, the Quran, and want to make sure everyone else becomes submissive to their vision about the deity too.  Mr. Zanaz does not get into theological ruminations per se but we can read between the lines to determine for ourselves what motivates Jihadists.  We learned that the rise of Islamism since the second half of the 20th century was in a sense inevitable. Islam’s encounter with Western modernity began quite early in the 19th century, and lasted during the colonial era until the 1950s.  Colonialism fostered Arab nationalism leading to rudimentary constitutional regimes.  Most did not have success in these more democratic undertakings and coups and upheavals followed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. The eventual failure of these revolutionary regimes resulted in economic and political instability which had a part in the rise and spread of Islamism or Jihadism. In more recent days, hope was engendered by the “Arab Spring” but such hopes have for the most part vanished only to be replaced with ruthless jihadis and terrorists taking over the movement.  The popular Intifada of the Syrian people that began spontaneously in mid-March, 2011, was met with a brutality that’s hard to describe. It’s reminiscent of the savagery of Saddam Hussein, or the horrific rule of Romania’s Ceausescu. 

The civil war in Syria is now in its third year and the hopes of the more democratic elements of the uprising for a change in the ruling party have all but died.  Instead almost every imaginable type of Jihadist group such as Jabhat al-Nusra (The Victory Front and the ISIL Caliphate which is doing its utmost to spread its hegemony throughout the rest of the Arab world. Its ideology is shared by the radical Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and by other terrorist groups in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

While all the ongoing turmoil goes on in several Islamic lands, European and American political leaders and some intellectuals keep telling us that Islam has nothing to do with Islamism! The media keeps repeating the same mantra!

In conclusion, I would like to quote from an article I published on the Fourth of July, 2014:

“Lessons the West Should Remember from the History of the Past Century As We Face the Resurgence of an Islamic Caliphate.”

“In spite of all the incontestable facts of history regarding the expansion of Islam through conquests and the assimilation of conquered lands under one imperial regime, most politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, parrot the mantra that Islam is a peaceful religion. The trouble is not with the adjective “peaceful” but with the noun, “Religion” The Islamic “religion,” has never operated merely as a religion, like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and Shinto. No sooner than Muhammad settled in Medina in 622 A.D., an Islamic State came into being, with its army, its lunar calendar, and its distinctive vocabulary! The flag of Saudi Arabia testifies to this fact with its two swords and the Islamic Credo: La Ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad Rasool Allah. Lately, the Jihadist ISIS that has metamorphosed into the Islamic Caliphate flies its black flag with the same words in calligraphic Arabic.

To read the article please follow this link:


The URL for the Arabic text of the dialogue between Hamid Zanaz and his daughter