Islamic fundamentalism

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Islamic fundamentalism has been defined as a movement of Muslims who regard earlier times favorably and seek to return to the fundamentals of the Islamic religion [1] and live similarly to how the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions lived. Islamic fundamentalists favor "a literal and originalist interpretation" of the primary sources of Islam (the Quran and Sunnah), [2] seek to eliminate (what they perceive to be) "corrupting" non-Islamic influences from every part of their lives [3] and see "Islamic fundamentalism" as a pejorative term used by outsiders for Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism. [4]

Muhammad in Islam Muslims consider him a master, legislator and the last prophet of the prophets in Islam

Muḥammad ibn ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAbdul-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim, commonly known as Muhammad, is the seal of the Messengers and Prophets of God in all the main branches of Islam. Muslims believe that the Quran, the central religious text of Islam, was revealed to Muhammad by God, and that Muhammad was sent to restore Islam, which they believe to be the unaltered original monotheistic faith of Adam, Ibrahim, Musa, 'Isa, and other Prophets. The religious, social, and political tenets that Muhammad established with the Quran became the foundation of Islam and the Muslim world.

Quran The central religious text of Islam

The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be a revelation from God (Allah). It is widely regarded as the finest work in classical Arabic literature. The Quran is divided into chapters, which are subdivided into verses.

Sunnah, also sunna or sunnat, is the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal, often but not necessarily based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad's companions. The Quran and the sunnah make up the two primary sources of Islamic theology and law. The sunnah is also defined as "a path, a way, a manner of life"; "all the traditions and practices" of the Islamic prophet that "have become models to be followed" by Muslims.


Definitions and descriptions

Definitions vary as to what Islamic fundamentalism exactly is and how, if at all, it differs from Islamism (or political Islam) or Islamic revivalism. The term fundamentalism has been deemed "misleading" by those who suggest that all mainstream Muslims believe in the literal divine origin and perfection of the Quran and are therefore "fundamentalists", [5] and others who believe it is a term that is used by outsiders in order to describe perceived trends within Islam. [6] Some exemplary Islamic fundamentalists include Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Mawdudi, [7] and Israr Ahmed. [8] The Wahhabi movement and its funding by Saudi Arabia is often described as being responsible for the popularity of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. [9]

Islamism set of ideologies holding that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life

Islamism is a concept whose meaning has been debated in both public and academic contexts. The term can refer to diverse forms of social and political activism advocating that public and political life should be guided by Islamic principles or more specifically to movements which call for full implementation of sharia. It is commonly used interchangeably with the terms political Islam or Islamic fundamentalism. In academic usage, the term Islamism does not specify what vision of "Islamic order" or sharia are being advocated, or how their advocates intend to bring them about. In Western mass media it tends to refer to groups whose aim is to establish a sharia-based Islamic state, often with implication of violent tactics and human rights violations, and has acquired connotations of political extremism. In the Muslim world, the term has positive connotations among its proponents.

Sayyid Qutb Egyptian author, educator, Islamic theorist, poet, and politician

Sayyid Qutb Ibrahim Husayn Shadhili was an Egyptian author, educator, Islamic theorist, poet, and a leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, he was convicted of plotting the assassination of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and was executed by hanging.

Israr Ahmed was a Pakistani Islamic theologian, philosopher, and Islamic scholar who was followed particularly in South Asia as well as by South Asian Muslims in the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America.

Wahhabism Religious movement and branch of Sunni Islam

Wahhabism is an Islamic doctrine and religious movement founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. It has been variously described as "ultraconservative", "austere", "fundamentalist", or "puritan(ical)"; as an Islamic "reform movement" to restore "pure monotheistic worship" (tawhid) by devotees; and as a "deviant sectarian movement", "vile sect" and a distortion of Islam by its detractors. The term Wahhabi(sm) is often used polemically and adherents commonly reject its use, preferring to be called Salafi or muwahhid. claiming to emphasize the principle of tawhid or monotheism, dismissing other Muslims as practising shirk, (idolatry). It follows the theology of Ibn Taymiyyah and the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, although Hanbali leaders renounced ibn Abd al-Wahhab's views.

Olivier Roy (professor) French political scientist

Olivier Roy is a French political scientist, professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He has published articles and books on secularisation and Islam including "Global Islam", and The Failure of Political Islam. He is known to have "a different view of radical Islam" than some other experts, seeing it as peripheral, Westernized and part of a radicalized and "virtual" rather than pious and "actual" Muslim community. More recently he has written on the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and the November 2015 Paris attacks.

…didn't hesitate to attend Hindu ceremonies. Khomeini never proposed giving Iranian Christians and Jews the status of dhimmi (protected communities) as provided for in the sharia: the Armenians of Iran have remained Iranian citizens, are required to perform military service and pay the same taxes as Muslims, and have the right to vote (with separate electoral colleges). Similarly, the Afghan Jamaat, in its statutes, has declared it legal to employ non-Muslims as experts in the eyes of Islam. [3]

Ruhollah Khomeini 20th-century Iranian religious leader and politician, founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini, also known in the Western world as Ayatollah Khomeini, was an Iranian politician and cleric. He was the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the end of the 2,500 year old Persian monarchy. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country's Supreme Leader, a position created in the constitution of the Islamic Republic as the highest-ranking political and religious authority of the nation, which he held until his death. He was succeeded by Ali Khamenei on 4 June 1989.

Christianity in Iran

Christianity in Iran dates back to the early years of the faith, pre-dating Islam. It has always been a minority religion relative to the majority state religions, though it had a much larger representation in the past than it does today. Christians of Iran have played a significant part in the history of Christian mission. Currently there are at least 600 churches and 300,000–370,000 Christians in Iran.

Persian Jews Jews associated with the Persian and Iranian states

Persian Jews or Iranian Jews are Jews historically associated with the Persian Empire, whose successor state is Iran. The Biblical Book of Esther contains references to the experiences of the Jews in Persia. Jews have had a continuous presence in Iran since the time of Cyrus the Great of the Achaemenid Empire. Cyrus invaded Babylon and freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity.

Martin Seth Kramer is an American-Israeli scholar of the Middle East at Shalem College in Jerusalem. His focus is on the history and politics of the Middle East, contemporary Islam, and modern Israel.

John Esposito writer and professor of Islamic studies

John Louis Esposito is University Professor, Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He was also the Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Center for Muslim–Christian Understanding at Georgetown.

Ijtihad is an Islamic legal term referring to independent reasoning or the thorough exertion of a jurist's mental faculty in finding a solution to a legal question. It is contrasted with taqlid. According to classical Sunni theory, ijtihad requires expertise in the Arabic language, theology, revealed texts, and principles of jurisprudence, and is not employed where authentic and authoritative texts are considered unambiguous with regard to the question, or where there is an existing scholarly consensus (ijma). Ijtihad is considered to be a religious duty for those qualified to perform it. An Islamic scholar who is qualified to perform ijtihad is called a mujtahid.

Differences with Islamism

According to Roy distinctions between Fundamentalism and Islamism (or at least pre-1990 Islamism) are in the fields of:

Sharia, Islamic law or Sharia law is a religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. In Arabic, the term sharīʿah refers to God's immutable divine law and is contrasted with fiqh, which refers to its human scholarly interpretations. The manner of its application in modern times has been a subject of dispute between Muslim fundamentalists and modernists.

Chador traditional Iranian female garment

A chādor, also variously spelled in English as chadah, chad(d)ar, chader, chud(d)ah, chadur, and naturalized as, is an outer garment or open cloak worn by some women in Iran, Iraq, and some other countries under the Persianate cultural sphere, as well as predominantly Shia areas in public spaces or outdoors. A chador is a full-body-length semicircle of fabric that is open down the front. This cloth is tossed over the woman's or girl's head and she holds it closed in the front. The chador has no hand openings, or any buttons, clasps, etc., but rather, it is held closed by her hands or tucked under the wearer's arms.


Islamic fundamentalism (at least among Sunni Muslims) traditionally tends to fall into "traditionalist" and "reformist" tendencies:


Criticism of the term

The term "Islamic fundamentalism" has been criticized by Bernard Lewis, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Eli Berman, John Esposito, among others. Many have proposed substituting another term, such as "puritanical", "Islamic revivalism" or "activism", and "Radical Islam".

Lewis, a leading historian of Islam, believes that although "the use of this term is established and must be accepted":

It remains unfortunate and can be misleading. "Fundamentalist" is a Christian term. It seems to have come into use in the early years of last century, and denotes certain Protestant churches and organizations, more particularly those that maintain the literal divine origin and inerrancy of the Bible. In this they oppose the liberal and modernist theologians, who tend to a more critical, historical view of Scripture. Among Muslim theologians there is as yet no such liberal or modernist approach to the Qur'an, and all Muslims, in their attitude to the text of the Qur'an, are in principle at least fundamentalists. Where the so-called Muslim fundamentalists differ from other Muslims and indeed from Christian fundamentalists is in their scholasticism and their legalism. They base themselves not only on the Qur'an, but also on the Traditions of the Prophet, and on the corpus of transmitted theological and legal learning. [21]

John Esposito has attacked the term for its association "with political activism, extremism, fanaticism, terrorism, and anti-Americanism," saying "I prefer to speak of Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism." [4]

Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, a critic of those called Islamic Fundamentalists, also finds fault with the term because:

[M]any liberal, progressive, or moderate Muslims would describe themselves as usulis, or fundamentalist, without thinking that this carries a negative connotation. In the Islamic context, it makes much more sense to describe the fanatical reductionism and narrow-minded literalism of some groups as puritanical (a term that in the West invokes a particular historical experience) [22]

Eli Berman argues that "Radical Islam" is a better term for many post-1920s movements starting with the Muslim Brotherhood, because these movements are seen to practice "unprecedented extremism", thus not qualifying as return to historic fundamentals. [23]


In contrast, American author Anthony J. Dennis accepts the widespread usage and relevance of the term and calls Islamic fundamentalism "more than a religion today, it is a worldwide revolutionary movement." He notes the intertwining of social, religious and political goals found within the movement and states that Islamic fundamentalism "deserves to be seriously studied and debated from a secular perspective as a revolutionary ideology." [24]

At least two Muslim academics, Syrian philosopher Sadiq Jalal al-Azm and Egyptian philosopher Hassan Hanafi, have defended the use of the phrase. Surveying the doctrines of the new Islamic movements, Al-Azm found them to consist of "an immediate return to Islamic 'basics' and 'fundamentals'. ... It seems to me quite reasonable that calling these Islamic movements 'Fundamentalist' (and in the strong sense of the term) is adequate, accurate, and correct." [25]

Hassan Hanafi reached the same conclusion: "It is difficult to find a more appropriate term than the one recently used in the West, 'fundamentalism,' to cover the meaning of what we name Islamic awakening or revival." [26]


In 1988, the University of Chicago, backed by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, launched The Fundamentalism Project, devoted to researching fundamentalism in the worlds major religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It defined fundamentalism as "approach, or set of strategies, by which beleaguered believers attempt to preserve their distinctive identity as a people or group ... by a selective retrieval of doctrines, beliefs, and practices from a sacred past." [27] A 2013 study by Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin für Sozialforschung finds that Islamic fundamentalism is widespread among European Muslims with the majority saying religious rules are more important than civil laws and three quarters rejecting religious pluralism within Islam. [28]


The modern Islamic fundamentalist movements have their origins in the late 19th century. [29] The Wahhabi movement, an Arabian fundamentalist movement that began in the 18th century, gained traction and spread during the 19th and 20th centuries. [30] During the Cold War following World War II, some NATO governments, particularly those of the United States and the United Kingdom, launched covert and overt campaigns to encourage and strengthen fundamentalist groups in the Middle East and southern Asia. These groups were seen as a hedge against potential expansion by the Soviet Union, and as a means to prevent the growth of nationalistic movements that were not necessarily favorable toward the interests of the Western nations. [31] By the 1970s, the Islamists had become important allies in supporting governments, such as Egypt, which were friendly to U.S. interests. By the late 1970s, however, some fundamentalist groups had become militaristic leading to threats and changes to existing regimes. The overthrow of the Shah in Iran and rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini was one of the most significant signs of this shift. [32] Subsequently, fundamentalist forces in Algeria caused a civil war, caused a near-civil war in Egypt, and caused the downfall of the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. [33] In many cases the military wings of these groups were supplied with money and arms by the U.S. and U.K.

Muslim critics of Islamic fundamentalism often draw a parallel between the modern fundamentalist movement and the 7th century Khawarij sect. From their essentially political position, the Kharijites developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims. The Kharijites were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death. [34] [35] [36]

Interpretation of texts

Islamic fundamentalists, or at least "reformist" fundamentalists, believe that Islam is based on the Qur'an, Hadith and Sunnah and "criticize the tradition, the commentaries, popular religious practices (maraboutism, the cult of saints), deviations, and superstitions. They aim to return to the founding texts." [20] Examples of individuals who adhere to this tendency are the 18th-century Shah Waliullah in India and Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula. [20] This view is commonly associated with Salafism today.

Social and political goals

As with adherents of other fundamentalist movements, [37] Islamic fundamentalists hold that the problems of the world stem from secular influences.

Some scholars of Islam, such as Bassam Tibi, believe that, contrary to their own message, Islamic fundamentalists are not actually traditionalists. He refers to fatwahs issued by fundamentalists such as "every Muslim who pleads for the suspension of the shari'a is an apostate and can be killed. The killing of those apostates cannot be prosecuted under Islamic law because this killing is justified" as going beyond, and unsupported by, the Qur'an. Tibi asserts, "The command to slay reasoning Muslims is un-Islamic, an invention of Islamic fundamentalists". [38] [39]

Conflicts with the secular state

Islamic fundamentalism's push for sharia and an Islamic state has come into conflict with conceptions of the secular, democratic state, such as the internationally supported Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Anthony J. Dennis notes that "Western and Islamic visions of the state, the individual and society are not only divergent, they are often totally at odds." [40] Among human rights [41] disputed by fundamentalist Muslims are:

Islamic fundamentalist states

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran is seen by some scholars[ who? ] as a success of Islamic fundamentalism. [52] [53] [54] Some scholars[ who? ] argue that Saudi Arabia is also largely governed by fundamentalist principles (see Wahhabi movement) [55] but Johannes J.G. Jansen disagrees, arguing that it is more akin to a traditional Muslim state, where a power separation exists between "princes" (umarā) and "scholars" ( ulama ). [56] In contrast, Jansen argues Khomeini came to power advocating a system of Islamic government where the highest authority is the hands of the ulamā (see Wilayat al Faqih ). [57]

Islamic fundamentalist groups

Islamic fundamentalist groups include Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Ansar al-Islam, Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, Army of Islam, Boko Haram, Taliban, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jemaah Islamiyah, Hamas, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Indian Mujahideen, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan among many others.

Islamic State

Caucasus Emirate

Caucasus Emirate is a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group residing primarily in the North Caucasus of Russia. Created from the remnants of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) in October 2007, it adheres to an ideology of Salafist-takfiri jihad [58] that seeks to establish an Islamic caliphate within the North Caucasus and Volga region (primarily the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan). Many of their fighters are also present in jihadist battlegrounds such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and throughout Central Asia. Many plots involving Chechen and other indigenous ethnic groups of the North Caucasus have also been thwarted in Europe over the recent years.


Al-Shabaab, meaning "the Youth", is a Somalia-based cell of the militant Islamist group al-Qaeda, formally recognized in 2012. [59] Al-Shabaab is designated as a terrorist group by countries including Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, [60] and the United States.

Boko Haram

Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad (Arabic: جماعة اهل السنة للدعوة والجهاد Jamā'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jihād), better known by its Hausa name Boko Haram (pronounced [bōːkòː hàrâm], "Western education is sinful"), is a jihadist militant organization based in the northeast of Nigeria. It is an Islamist movement which strongly opposes man-made laws and westernization. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2001, the organization seeks to establish sharia law in the country. The group is also known for attacking Christians and bombing Mosques and churches.

The movement is divided into three factions. In 2011, Boko Haram was responsible for at least 450 killings in Nigeria. It was also reported that they had been responsible for over 620 deaths over the first 6 months of 2012. Since its founding in 2001, the jihadists have been responsible for between 3,000 and 10,000 deaths.

The group became known internationally following sectarian violence in Nigeria in July 2009, which left over 1000 people dead. They do not have a clear structure or evident chain of command. Moreover, it is still a matter of debate whether Boko Haram has links to terror outfits outside Nigeria and its fighters have frequently clashed with Nigeria's central government. A US commander stated that Boko Haram is likely linked to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), although professor Paul Lubeck points out that no evidence is presented for any claims of material international support.

Ansar Dine

Ansar Dine is an Islamist militant group in the country of Mali that wants Shariah law in Mali. [61] [62] It opposes Sufi shrines. [63] Its main support comes from the Ifora tribe of Tuaregs. [64] The group is connected to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. [62]

It took part in the 2012 Tuareg Rebellion. [65] They destroyed the tomb of a Sufi saint which was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. [66] It managed to take control of Northern Mali, [67] and they formed a pact with the MNLA forming the Islamic Republic of Azawad. [68]

It is designated a terrorist group by the United States Department of State [69] and the United Nations Security Council. [70]

Ansar al-Sharia

Human rights controversy

Fundamentalist Islamic states and movements have been criticized for their human rights record by international organizations. The acceptance of international law on human rights has been somewhat limited even in Muslim countries that are not seen as fundamentalist. Ann Elizabeth Mayer writes that states with a predominantly Muslim population, even when they adopt laws along European lines, are influenced by Islamic rules and precepts of sharia, which cause conflict with international law on human rights. According to Mayer, features found in conflict include severe deficiencies in criminal procedure, harsh criminal penalties causing great suffering, discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and prohibition against abandoning the Islamic religion. In 1990, under Saudi leadership, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a group representing all Muslim majority nations, adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which substantially diverges from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Cairo declaration lacks provisions for democratic principles, protection for religious freedom, freedom of association and freedom of the press, as well as equality in rights and equal protection under the law. Further it stipulates that "all the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic shari'a". [71]

The Cairo declaration followed years of limited acceptance of the Universal declaration by predominantly Muslim states. As an example, in 1984, Iran's UN representative, Said Raja'i Khorasani, said the following amid allegations of human rights violations, "[Iran] recognized no authority ... apart from Islamic law.... Conventions, declarations and resolutions or decisions of international organizations, which were contrary to Islam, had no validity in the Islamic Republic of Iran.... The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which represented secular understanding of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, could not be implemented by Muslims and did not accord with the system of values recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran; this country would therefore not hesitate to violate its provisions." [71] These departures, both theoretical and practical, have resulted in a multitude of practices and cases criticized by international human rights groups. See human rights in Iran, human rights in Saudi Arabia, and Taliban treatment of women for specific examples.

Opinion polling

In a 2005 Lowy Institute for International Policy Poll 57% of Australians indicated they are worried about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. [72] [73] [74] Amos N. Guiora noted that this is equivalent to the number of Australians who perceived American Foreign Policy as a threat, he further noted that not just Muslim countries have an unfavourable opinion of the United States but a large number of western countries such as: France, Germany, Great Britain and Spain and concluded that Australia was not an outlier on this regard. [75] The Lowly Institute claimed that the result "raised eyebrows."

See also


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  2. 1 2 DeLong-Bas, Natana J. (2004). Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad (First ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, USA. p. 228. ISBN   0-19-516991-3.
  3. 1 2 Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 1994: p. 215
  4. 1 2 John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 8.
  5. Bernard, Lewis, Islam and the West, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  6. " 'The Green Peril': Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat," Leon T. Hadar, Policy Analysis, Cato Institute, August 27, 1992.
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  8. Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam ISBN   0-19-503340-X
  9. Islamic Radicalism: Its Wahhabi Roots and Current Representation|
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  11. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 1994: p. 83
  12. Remarks by Robert H. Pelletreau, Jr., Middle East Policy Council , May 26, 1994, "Symposium: Resurgent Islam in the Middle East," Middle East Policy , Fall 1994, p. 2.
  13. Lapidus, Ira M. (2002). A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 823. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  14. Coming to Terms, Fundamentalists or Islamists? Martin Kramer originally in Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2003), pp. 65–77.
  15. Esposito, John, Voices of Resurgent Islam ISBN   0-19-503340-X
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  18. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 1994: p. 59
  19. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 1994: pp. 38, 59
  20. 1 2 3 4 Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 1994: pp. 30–31
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  22. abou el Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p. 19
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    Cooper (2008), p. 272
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