Islamic fundamentalism is an expression used to explain religious philosophy, beliefs and principles as seen as supporting a return to the fundamentals of Islam. In order words, Islamic fundamentalism can be termed as revival of Islamic ideologies and beliefs. Islamic fundamentalism is related to miscellaneous political and social movements in Muslim countries of North Africa, Middle East and South Asia aiming at establishing Islamic state and the society to be based on the principles and values of Islam.
The subject of Islamic fundamentalism has concerned the West after the Iranian Revolution of 1978 in which Iran’s ruler Muhammad Reza Shah was overthrown and the foundations of Islamic Republic was laid. The major concern started after the September 11 attacks on United States of America by Al-Qaeda (Abootalebi, 34). The nature of Islamic movements differs vastly throughout the world. Some Islamic movements are related to terrorism while other does not. Some adopt political and economic programs from socialism, while others are more conventional.
Islamic fundamentalism movements also insist that the code of conduct is based on the accurate interpretation of the sacred scripture. They also insist that religion includes all aspects of life and hence religion and politics are not separated. Islamic fundamentalist also believe to fight in the cause of good against their evil enemies (Abootalebi, 36). Characteristics of Islamic Fundamentalist Movements The main objectives of Islamic fundamentalist movements were to revive the philosophies, beliefs and principals of Islam.
Puritanical revivalist movements calling for a restoration of faultless Islam at the time of Prophet Muhammad have appeared from time to time throughout the Islamic history. Muslims have the firm faith that Quran is the unchanged word of God and it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. Islamic fundamentalists believe that Islam is based solely on the Quran, the sayings of the Prophet and his actions and disapproval of customs, traditional values, popular religious innovations, deviations and superstitions.
The salient features of the Islamic fundamentalist movements was to eliminate the superstitious and innovations that prevailed at time. It aims to go back to the original text. Examples of this predisposition are the 18th century reformers known as Shah Waliullah of India and Abd al-Wahab in the Arabian Peninsula. The revival of Islam means the revival of Islamic religion throughout the world and is evident in greater religious piety, community feeling and adopting the Islamic culture, dress, terminology and values of the Muslims.
Revival of Islam means to revive all the rules and regulations of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (Ahmed, 45). Islamic fundamentalism is accepted as a social movement because it comprises of free network of persons and organizations combined by a diverse range of exceptional forms of activities. Rather than being solitary matter based and locally oriented, Islamic fundamentalism frequently aims for alterations on an international level and on variety of issues related to their set of beliefs, principals and philosophy.
Many Islamic fundamentalist reformers have the political object to found a divine order in the community. Some define the community on international levels while others limit it to the Arab regions. Others establish it in their own homes and in their personal life (Ahmed, 49). The common feature that is common in all of the Islamic fundamentalist movement is to bring social change in the community and create a society in accordance with Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. Most of the Islamic fundamentalist movements stressed on the importance of Islamic system of government which concentrates on three issues.
The three issues are Islamic legitimacy, the Islamic worldwide community which will support the Islamic legitimacy and the political authority and control essential for implementing the Islamic legal system. Contrary to other movements, Islamic fundamentalist movements are not restricted to subjects of social fairness or worldly profit but seek to establish a society opposed to secular rule. The movement aims to change lifestyle and even alter the society. For example, Muhammad Abduh supported Pan Islamism to oppose European colonialism.
Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was a political reformer and Islamic nationalist who advocated ideas of political restructuring, invited to return to the fundamental and primary principles and ideal of Islam and for superior harmony and unison among the Islamic people. Muhammad Rashid Rida emphasized on the weakness of Muslim communities against Western colonialism, accusing the sightless imitation of the past for the stagnation of the Muslim community. Islamic fundamentalists also have a problem with secular society, laws and government.
Many of their views have clashed with the rules and regulations of international organizations like the United Nations. The rights of women are also a point of conflict as Islamic fundamentalists have insisted that men are protectors and guardians of women (Ahmed, 29). The interpretation of the Islamic law by the fundamentalists also assigns an inferior role to women such as their testimony being half. Islamic fundamentalists advocate a society in which women would have to cover themselves, cannot leave their houses without male members and cannot obtain jobs (Ahmed, 32).
Islamic fundamentalists advocate the death penalty for apostates or those who leave Islam which is seen as a violation of religious freedom. Islamic fundamentalist movements are characterized by a militant to moderate rejection of Western institutions and ideologies. They have criticized the ruling elite for mimicking the West which has weakened family, religious and social values in Muslim countries. Islamic fundamentalism is not hostile to modernization but it condemns the cultural values of the West.
It also takes a strong stand against secularism since they believe that Islam does not have a separation of church and state (Ali, 59). These movements do not reject science and technology but believe that change should come with the establishment of an Islamic political order. While the majority of Islamic fundamentalists try to work with the system and bring change from inside society, a small minority of radical elements believe that they can achieve change only by resorting to force and holy war.
Radical Islamic groups like Al Qaeda advocate the overthrow of pro Western governments which are seen as apostate and corrupt agents of the West. They justify acts of terrorism and suicide bombings against the United States and Western countries. They believe that the United States supports the state of Israel against the Palestinians. They also have problems with the deployment of American forces in the Middle East and support for dictatorships which are labeled as moderate. For radical Islamic fundamentalists, the current global conflict is an ongoing war since the Crusades and European colonialism (Ali, 67).
Radical Islamic fundamentalists believe that Islam provides the politics and theology which must be implemented by all true Muslims. Anyone who resists the imposing of such an order becomes an unbeliever or enemy of God. Idealism or realism Some ideas of the Islamic fundamentalists are idealistic because they are based on utopian ideas of a perfect Islamic society during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. Islamic fundamentalists seek to revive Islam and create a society which existed at the time of the Arabian Prophet and his four rightly guided caliphs.
This is a fallacy since there has been no successful emulation of seventh century Arabian society in any part of the Islamic world after the assassination of Caliph Ali. Further Islamic fundamentalists today face many obstacles and hurdles in their path to adopt Islamic law. The division of the Muslim world into ethnic groups, sects, tribes, social classes and political ideologies would create much resistance towards the establishment of an Islamic fundamentalist society. Islamic fundamentalism also has to compete with the forces of nationalism which are strong in many parts of the Islamic world (Arjomand, 32).
Muslim ethnic groups like Kurds and Turks refer to nationalism as their political ideology rather than any religious interpretation of a common nation. The Taliban control of Afghanistan is an example of how the Islamic fundamentalists were more idealistic. Instead of reconciling or pushing for national harmony, the Taliban began a harsh campaign to Islamize society. The result was devastating as many widows were not allowed to take jobs while educational opportunities for girls declined. Many ethnic groups like the Hazara, Uzbek and Tajik were victims of ethnic cleansing and massacres.
The Taliban regime had to face stiff resistance in the implementation of Islamic rule. Another ideal of the Islamic fundamentalist movements is the political unity of Muslims. However again this is difficult to implement because most Islamic countries today have foreign and political policies which are based on self interest rather than based on religion. Islamic fundamentalists today speak of a global conflict between Islam and the West. This is also not correct because many of the foreign policies of the United States are based on their national interests.
However their criticism of US support for Israel and corrupt Arab governments is even echoed by many Western analysts. Further the United States and Western countries enjoy good relations with many Muslim countries. The West has assisted many Islamic countries in developing their economies and reducing poverty. Some beliefs and values of Islamic fundamentalists are realistic. Their views that the Muslim world is in stagnation and needs revival are correct. Most of the current Muslim governments are incapable of solving the problems of their countries (Arjomand, 34).
Islamic fundamentalists have a realistic belief that these corrupt governments must be reformed in order to end the stagnation and decline of the Muslim world. Their opposition to Western cultural influences can be seen as realistic because they do not want their society to have the social problems of the West. Implications of the establishment of an Islamic fundamentalist State An Islamic fundamentalist state could be like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sudan. It could have a pro Western government like that of Saudi Arabia. Internally it could close its society and allow selective influence of Westernization under its process.
A hostile Islamic fundamentalist state can be a potential threat to American and Western interests. For instance, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had become a base for many radical Islamic groups. Many regional countries were threatened by the export of revolution from Afghan borders (Arjomand, 52). A sympathetic government could provide assistance to insurgent and terrorist groups to wage their own holy wars. An Islamic fundamentalist state could even be a potential threat to the world if it acquired nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Iran is a fundamentalist state which has an active nuclear program and support for regional terrorist groups. If Islamic fundamentalist groups seize control of the oil producing states, many of them could hold the world hostage by their leverage on oil and gas supplies. An Islamic fundamentalist state would violate the rights of women, minorities and political dissidents. Women rights would be trampled as they would be prevented from going out without a male member and not have access to education and employment.
Barbaric punishments like cutting of hands and stoning to death could be implemented in these societies. There would be no freedom of religion and freedom of speech under an Islamic fundamentalist state. Some Islamic fundamentalists might not be hostile towards the West and pursue pragmatic policies which would be based on the security of their country. Conclusion Islamic fundamentalism is a global phenomenon which has arisen due to the social, military, political and economic weakness of the Islamic world.
Two hundred years of European colonialism, creation of state of Israel and US foreign policy has bred resistance and resentment against the West. Islamic fundamentalism as a movement is a desire by Muslims to create a political society which is based on their holy scriptures. These movements have a militant to moderate view on Western values, ideas and ideologies. Only a small minority of Islamic fundamentalists are a threat to West. Most of the Islamic fundamentalists want a peaceful transformation of society using political and diplomatic means.
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