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Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-

Emad Eldin Shahin
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-

Rāshid al-Ghannūshī(b. 1941) is an Islamic thinker, activist, and political leader in Tunisia. Born to a peasant family in Tunisia, Rāshid al-Ghannūshī (often spelled Ghannoushi in Western literature) is the head of the Ḥizb al-Nahḍah (Renaissance Party; formerly called Ḥarakat al-Ittijāh al-Islāmī, or Islamic Tendency Movement) and is its chief theoretician. Ghannūshī grew up in a religious household and received his early education in the traditional Zaytūnah schools. In 1968 he received a degree in philosophy from the University of Damascus, Syria. After a year in France, Ghannūshī returned to Tunisia to become a secondary-school philosophy teacher, and to establish—along with a group of young Tunisians increasingly at odds with the secular policies of Habib Bourguiba 's regime—an organized Islamic movement. In 1981 he was sentenced to eleven years ’ imprisonment for operating an unauthorized association; he was released in 1984. In 1987, he received a life term of forced labor but was discharged in 1988. In the early 1990s Ghannūshī was living in Europe as a political exile.

Ghannūshī 's thought reflects a masterly understanding of Western and Islamic philosophies and a genuine concern for reconciling the basic tenets of Islam with modernity and progress. Ghannūshī maintains nontraditional views on several issues. He evaluates the West within the philosophical dimension of East-West dialogue. Unlike Sayyid Quṭb of Egypt 's Muslim Brotherhood, he perceives the West as an ideological counterweight to Islamic doctrines: the West is considered neither superior nor inferior to Islam. Ghannūshī sees coexistence and cooperation as the basis for the relationship between the two. What sets the two worlds apart, however, is the difference in their perception of the fundamental concepts, or “effective ideas,” that move their cultures: the value and place of humanity in the universe. Islam replaces the Western “man-god” formula with an Islamic one, “man the vicegerent of God on earth”; Islam posits God as the ultimate value in the universe; it acknowledges the material and spiritual essences of humanity and attempts to reconcile them; and it directs human activities according to the divine regulations and concise values embodied in the sharīʿah (law based on the Qurʿān).

Ghannūshī acknowledges that the system of democracy was a direct consequence of a particular Western experience. He perceives democracy as a method of government and as a philosophy. In his view, the Muslims ’ problem is not with democratic institutions themselves, but with the secular and nationalistic values behind democracy. Islamic democracy is distinguished from other systems by its moral content as derived from the sharīʿah.

Ghannūshī makes an important intellectual contribution by linking Westernization with dictatorship. He believes two common characteristics dominate the political systems of the Arab and larger Muslim world—Westernization and dictatorship by ruling elites. Because of its alienation from the masses, the Westernized elite resorts to violent and repressive means to impose its foreign-inspired models and perpetuate its rule.

Ghannūshī advocates an equal role for women in society and their right to education, work, choice of home and marriage, ownership of property, and political participation. He considers the veil a matter of personal choice that is not to be imposed by the state.

Because he takes a gradualist stance in advocating social and political change, Ghannūshī seeks to inspire a more vital cultural model. He relies on orthodox ideas while in fact reinterpreting them to accommodate the modern issues of his society. His ideas, though sometimes controversial, are paid much attention by Muslim activists and intellectuals. Ghannūshīʾs intellectual contributions and political activism have gained him prominence within the contemporary Islamic movement.



  • Esposito, John L., and John O. Voll. Makers of Contemporary Islam. New York, 2001. Contains a biography of Ghannūshī.
  • Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-. Fī al-Mabādiʿ al-Asāsīyah lil-Dīmuqrāṭīyah wa-Uṣūl al-Ḥukm al-Islāmī (The Principles of Democracy and the Fundamentals of Islamic Government). Tunis, Tunisia, 1990. Comparison between Islamic and Western perspectives on the principles of democracy and government.
  • Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-. Maqālāt (Essays). Paris, 1984. Collection of articles written by Ghannūshī from 1973 to 1982.
  • Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-. Ṭarīqunā ilá al-Ḥaḍārah (Our Path to Civilization). Tunis, n.d. Insightful interpretation of the causes of the decline of the Muslim nation and ways to its recovery.
  • Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-. “We Don 't Have a Religious Problem.” Interview with Wendy Kristianasen. Middle East203 (September 1991): 19–20.
  • Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-, and Ḥamīdah al-Nayfar. Mā Huwa al-Gharb? (What Is the West?). Tunis, n.d. Critical overview of the West and its basic philosophical values.
  • Ghannūshī, Rāshid al-, and Ḥasan al-Turābī. Al-Ḥarakah al-Islāmīyah wa-al-Taḥdīth (The Islamic Movement and Modernization). Beirut, Lebanon, 1980. Important analysis of contemporary Islamic movements and the strategy of Islamic activism.
  • Shahin, Emad Eldin. Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa. Boulder, Colo., 1997.
  • Shahin, Emad Eldin. “The Restitution of Islam: A Comparative Study of the Contemporary Islamic Movements in Tunisia and Morocco.” PhD diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1989. Study of the evolution, composition, and dynamics of the Islamic Tendency Movement in Tunisia and an analysis of Ghannūshī 's thought.
  • Tamimi, Azzam S.Rachid Ghannouchi: A Democrat within Islamism. New York, 2001. Full-length biography of Ghannūshī and analysis of his impact on contemporary Islam.
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