Islamic fundamentalism is a recent phenomenon. While studying it we must first of all understand that the term ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ has not been derived from the Islamic scriptures, nor does any group of Muslims approve of being given the appellation of ‘Islamic fundamentalists.’
This term is somewhat similar to that of ‘Uncle Sam’ as applied to Americans by non-Americans. Americans do not identify themselves with this term.
Though non-Muslims gave this term to Muslims, the phenomenon for which the term Islamic fundamentalism is used is indeed a reality.
There is a considerable number of Muslims in the world of today whose thinking and actions add up to what is meant by the term fundamentalism.
That is why a detailed study of its principles and practices must be made in order to evaluate this way of thinking and the movements spawned by it, which are highly active all over the world under one name or the other.
Let us first of all find out what is commonly meant by fundamentalism. I would personally prefer to call this phenomenon ‘Islamic extremism,’ rather than ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ although those engaged in extremist activities would, like the fundamentalists, prefer not to be called extremists. However, what is important in this connection is that the phenomenon of Islamic extremism can be explained from a Quranic verse.
It says: “Do not transgress the bounds of your religion (4:17).” One modern form of transgression, as forbidden in the Quran, is what is now called Islamic fundamentalism.
There are certain Muslims who say: “Yes, we are fundamentalists. And what is wrong with being fundamentalists?” They take the word “fundamentalist” in its literal sense of laying emphasis on the basic teachings of Islam.
Thus, attaching importance to the basic teachings of Islam is to fulfill the very demand of Islam. So why should anyone have any objection on this score?
But herein lies a fallacy. That is, if one takes fundamentalism in its literal sense, then it should be the same basic teachings of Islam as are emphasized in the Islamic scriptures themselves.
This cannot mean that any individual may declare, through personal interpretation, some self-styled teachings to be the basic teachings or the fundamentals of Islam, and then launch a violent movement aimed at establishing these so-called Islamic fundamentals. Unfortunately this is what these fundamentalists are doing.
Now what is the basic teachings of Islam? The principle concern of Islam is monotheism. According to an orientalist, “the central focus of Islam is Allah.
That is to believe in one God; associating all one’s feelings of love and fear with Him; and worshipping Him alone.
Then adhering strictly to justice in one’s dealings with other human beings, returning good for evil, and so on.
In Islam, according to a hadith, actions are judged by their intentions. That is why Islam lays the greatest of stress on the subjection of human beings to greater and greater degrees of purification. According to a hadith the Prophet Muhammad e observed: “Listen, there is a part made of flesh in the human body.
If that is purified and therefore in good order, the whole body is in good order. And if rot sets in in this part, the whole body is defiled. Listen, this piece of flesh is the heart.” (Sahih Al- Bukhari, Hadith No. 52).
Through this symbol of the body, the example of Islamic reform has been expressed.
This means that just as through the reform of the heart the human body is reformed, similarly, if a man’s thinking and his intentions are virtuous, in respect of his whole existence, he will acquire that character of virtue which is seen as desirable by Islamic standards.
What is Fundamentalism?
Fundamentalism is the laying of emphasis on strict adherence to the fundamental principles of any set of beliefs. The term was originally applied to a particular group of Christian theologians who gained prominence in the United States in the nineteenth Century.
They published a series of booklets between 1909 and 1915 called The Fundamentals: Testimony to the Truth. In these booklets they defined what they believed to be the absolutely fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
The core of these doctrines was the literal inerrancy of every word of the Bible. Those who supported these beliefs during the debate of the 1920s came to be called fundamentalists.
The term “fundamentalism” began to be applied to Islamic resurgence by the final quarter of the twentieth century.
However this term was not used for Muslims in exactly the same sense as it was applied to Christians. There is also some difference of opinion on this point among scholars.
However, without going into the details of this, I would like to say that the term Islamic fundamentalism is applied to two different kinds of movements. One is like that of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwanul Muslimun), which rose to bring about a political revolution.
The other is the type, which advocates a return to the pristine fundamentals of the faith, for instance, those defined by Ibn Taimiya in the fourteenth century. This latter aim is still the driving force behind the Salafia and Wahabiya movements.
Now the aim of the first form of the Islamic fundamentalism, that of Ibn Taimya is to put an end to additions and innovations (bid‘a) in religious matters and to replace them with the sunnah, the original form of the Islamic Shariah.
The aim of the other form of fundamentalism is to put an end to non-Islamic political set-up and replace that with an Islamic political set-up. Both the forms of fundamentalism are totally different from one another.
The sphere of the struggle against innovation (bid’a) is confined only to matters of belief and worship.
Violence does not, of necessity, accompany movements of this nature. Furthermore, it is aimed at and concerned with the internal reform of Muslims. Thus, in the relevant activities, there is no possibility of coming into conflict with non-Muslims.
But so far as fundamentalism of the other kind is concerned, it has been directed from the very outset against political rulers, and whether the inevitable confrontations have been with Muslim or non-Muslim rulers, by its very nature such a movement has demanded the use of violence.
This is where the principle of jihad has been distorted and bent to political ends. It must be stressed that the word “jihad” has nowhere been used in the Quran to mean the waging of war.
The Quran is imbued with the spirit of peace and tolerance. Its culture is not that of war but of mercy.