Islamic fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism (Arabic: usul, the "fundamentals") is a term used to describe religious ideologies seen as advocating a return to the "fundamentals" of Islam: the Quran and the Sunnah. Definitions of the term vary. According to Christine L. Kettel, it is deemed problematic by those who suggest that Islamic belief requires all Muslims to be fundamentalists,[1] and by others as a term used by outsiders to describe perceived trends within Islam.[2] Exemplary figures of Islamic fundamentalism who are also termed Islamists are Sayyid Qutb, Abul Ala Mawdudi and Israr Ahmad.[3] Economist 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.[4]



According to academic John Esposito, one of the most defining features of Islamic fundamentalism is belief in the "reopening" of the gates of ijtihad.[5] Graham Fuller describes Islamic fundamentalism not as distinct from Islamism but as a subset, "the most conservative element among Islamists." Its "strictest form" includes "Wahhabism, sometimes also referred to as salafiyya. ... For fundamentalists the law is the most essential component of Islam, leading to an overwhelming emphasis upon jurisprudence, usually narrowly conceived."[6] Another American observer, Robert Pelletreau, Jr., assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, believes it the other way around, Islamism being the subset of Muslims "with political goals ... within" the "broader fundamentalist revival".[7] Still another, Martin Kramer, sees little difference between the two terms: "To all intents and purposes, Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism have become synonyms in contemporary American usage."[8]

American historian Ira Lapidus calls Islamic fundamentalism "an umbrella designation for a very wide variety of movements, some intolerant and exclusivist, some pluralistic; some favourable to science, some anti-scientific; some primarily devotional and some primarily political; some democratic, some authoritarian; some pacific, some violent."[9] He distinguishes between mainstream Islamists and Fundamentalists, saying a fundamentalist is "a political individual" in search of a "more original Islam," while the Islamist is pursuing a political agenda.

Author Olivier Roy distinguishes between fundamentalists (or neo-fundamentalists) and Islamists in describing fundamentalists as more passionate in their opposition to the perceived "corrupting influence of Western culture," avoiding Western dress, "neckties, laughter, the use of Western forms of salutation, handshakes, applause." While Islamists like

"Maududi didn't hesitate to attend Hindu ceremonies. Khomeini never proposed the status of dhimmi (protected) for Iranian Christians or Jews, as provided for in the sharia: the Armenians in Iran have remained Iranian citizens, are required to perform military service and to 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 in the eyes of Islam to employ non-Muslims as experts."[10]

Other distinctions are in

  • Politics and economics. Islamists often talk of "revolution" and believe "that the society will be Islamized only through social and political action: it is necessary to leave the mosque ..." Fundamentalists are uninterested in revolution, less interested in "modernity or by Western models in politics or economics," and less willing to associate with non-Muslims.[11]
  • Sharia. While both Islamists and fundamentalists are committed to implementing Sharia law, Islamists "tend to consider it more a project than a corpus."[12]
  • Issue of women. "Islamists generally tend to favour the education of women and their participation in social and political life: the Islamist woman militates, studies, and has the right to work, but in a chador. Islamist groups include women's associations." While the fundamentalist preaches for women to return to the home, Islamism believes it is sufficient that "the sexes be separated in public." [13]


The term Islamic fundamentalism is often criticized. Bernard Lewis, a leading historian of Islam, had this to say against it:

The use of this term is established and must be accepted, but it remains unfortunate and can be misleading. "Fundamentalist" is a Christian term. It seems to have come into use in the early years of this 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.[14]

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."[15] 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."[16]

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."[17]

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."[18]

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."[19]

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."[citation needed] 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,[21] 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”.[22][23]

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."[24] Among human rights[25] disputed by fundamentalist Muslims are:

Islamic fundamentalist states

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran is seen by Western scholars as a success of Islamic fundamentalism.[36][37][38] Some scholars argue that Saudi Arabia is also largely governed by fundamentalist principles,[39] 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).[40] 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).[41]

Islamic fundamentalist groups

Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood is a fundamentalist[42] Sunni transnational movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states.[43] The world's oldest and largest Islamic political group,[43] it was founded in 1928, in Egypt by the schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna.

The Brotherhood's stated goal is to instill the Qur'an and sunnah as the "sole reference point for ... ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community ... and state".[44] Since its inception in 1928 the movement has officially opposed violent means to achieve its goals,[45][46] with some exceptions such as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to overthrow secular Ba'athist rule in Syria (see Hama massacre). This position has been questioned, particularly by the Egyptian government, which accused the group of a campaign of killings in Egypt after World War II.[47]

The Muslim Brotherhood was banned in Egypt during the previous Mubarak's regime, and members was being arrested for their participation in it.[48] As a means of circumventing the ban, supporters run for office as independents.[49]. Now they have their own political party called Freedom and Justice Party (Egypt).


Hamas (an acronym of Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamat al-Islāmiyyah, meaning "Islamic Resistance Movement") is a fundamentalist Islamist Palestinian organization with a socio-political wing and a military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.[50][51] Canada,[52] Israel, the European Union,[53][54] Japan,[55][56] and the United States[57] classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Based largely upon the principles of Islamic fundamentalism that were gaining momentum throughout the Arab world in the 1980s, Hamas was founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987, during the First Intifada.[58][59] The Hamas affiliated military wing was responsible for the majority of violence and killings attributed to Hamas and conducted numerous attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. Tactics have included rocket attacks and from April 1993, until they ceased in January 2005, suicide bombings. Hamas violence has been directed at Israel, Egypt, and rivaling Palestinian movements in the West Bank and Gaza.[60]

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 Islam 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".[61]

The Cairo declaration followed years of limited acceptance of the Universal declaration by predominantly Muslim states. As an example, in 1984, Iran’s U.N. 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."[61] 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 the Islamic Republic of Iran, human rights in Saudi Arabia, and Taliban treatment of women for specific examples.

See also


  1. ^ Bernard, Lewis, Islam and the West, New York : Oxford University Press, c1993.
  2. ^ " 'The Green Peril': Creating the Islamic Fundamentalist Threat," Leon T. Hadar, Policy Analysis, Cato Institute, August 27, 1992.
  3. ^ Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam ISBN: 019503340X
  4. ^ Eli Berman, Hamas, Taliban and the Jewish Underground: An Economist’s View of Radical Religious Militias, UC San Diego National Bureau of Economic Research. August 2003, page 4
  5. ^ Esposito, John, Voices of Resurgent Islam ISBN: 019503340X
  6. ^ Fuller, Graham E., The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, (2003), p.48
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Coming to Terms, Fundamentalists or Islamists? Martin Kramer originally in Middle East Quarterly (Spring 2003), pp. 65–77.
  9. ^ Lapidus, Ira, Islam, Politics, and Social Movements, p.823?
  10. ^ Roy, Olivier (1996). The failure of political Islam. Harvard University Press. p. 215. ISBN 0674291417, 9780674291416. 
  11. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 1994. p.82-3, 215
  12. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 1994. p.59
  13. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 1994. p.p.38, 59
  14. ^ Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p.117, n.3.
  15. ^ John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 8.
  16. ^ Dennis, Anthony J. "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996), p. i.
  17. ^ Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, "Introduction," in Martin and Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 3.
  18. ^ Sadik J. al-Azm, "Islamic Fundamentalism Reconsidered: A Critical Outline of Problems, Ideas and Approaches," South Asia Bulletin, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 1 and 2 (1993), pp. 95–7.
  19. ^ Quoted by Bassam Tibi, "The Worldview of Sunni Arab Fundamentalists: Attitudes toward Modern Science and Technology," in Martin E. Marty and R. Scott Appleby, eds., Fundamentalisms and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 85.
  20. ^ Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam, Harvard University Press, 1994. p.31
  21. ^ Matthews, Terry L.. "Fundamentalism". Lectures for Religion 166: Religious Life in the United States. Wake Forest University. Retrieved August 29, 2009. 
  22. ^ Bassam Tibi, The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder. Updated Edition. Los Angeles, University of California Press: 2002. Excerpt available online as The Islamic Fundamentalist Ideology: Context and the Textual Sources at Middle East Information Center.
  23. ^ Douglas Pratt, Terrorism and Religious Fundamentalism: Prospects for a Predictive Paradigm, Marburg Journal of Religion, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Volume 11, No. 1 (June 2006)
  24. ^ Dennis, Anthony J. "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996) p. 26
  25. ^ See Dennis, Anthony J. Fundamentalist Islam and Human Rights pp. 36-56 in "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat of the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996).
  26. ^ See Dennis, Anthony J. "The Attack on Women's Rights" pp. 40-44 in "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996).
  27. ^ See Dennis, Anthony J. "Strange Bedfellows: Fundamentalist Islam and Democracy" pp. 31-33 in "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996).
  28. ^ See Dennis, Anthony J. "The Attack on Freedom of Expression" pp. 47-56 in "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat of the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996).
  29. ^ See Dennis, Anthony J. "The Attack on Other Religions" pp. 44-47 in "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West" (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996)
  30. ^ "Murtad", Encyclopedia of Islam
  31. ^ Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri: "Not Every Conversion is Apostasy", by Mahdi Jami, In Persian, BBC Persian, February 2, 2005. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  32. ^ What Islam says on religious freedom, by Magdi Abdelhadi, BBC Arab affairs analyst, March 27, 2006. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  33. ^ Fatwa on Intellectual Apostasy, Text of the fatwa by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
  34. ^ S. A. Rahman in "Punishment of Apostasy in Islam", Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore, l972, pp. 10–13
  35. ^ The punishment of apostasy in Islam, View of Dr. Ahmad Shafaat on apostasy.
  36. ^ Fundamentalisms and Society ... – Google Books. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  37. ^ Islam, globalization, and postmodernity – Google Books. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  38. ^ Cultural anthropology: an applied ... – Google Books. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  39. ^ Challenges of the muslim world ... – Google Books. September 11, 2001. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  40. ^ The dual nature of Islamic ... – Google Books. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  41. ^ The dual nature of Islamic ... – Google Books. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  42. ^ Davidson, Lawrence (1998) Islamic Fundamentalism Greenwood Press, Westport, Conn., ISBN 0-313-29978-1 pp. 97–98;
  43. ^ a b The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood, Robert S. Leiken & Steven Brooke, Foreign Affairs Magazine
  44. ^ "Principles of the Muslim Brotherhood". 
  45. ^ "Egyptian Regime Resasserts Its Absolute Disrespect of Law". February 6, 2007. 
  46. ^ History of Muslim Brotherhood Movement Homepage. 
  47. ^ Chamieh, Jebran, Traditionalists, Militants and Liberal in Present Islam, Research and Publishing House, 1994, p.140
  48. ^ "Egyptian Brotherhood mass arrests". BBC News. February 15, 2007. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  49. ^ "BBC: Scores arrested in Egypt election". BBC News. November 20, 2005. Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  50. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions About Hamas." May 15, 2009.
  51. ^ * "This is particularly the case in view of the scholarly debate on the compatibility of Islam and democracy but even more so in view of Hamas's self-definition as an Islamic national liberation movement." The Palestinian Hamas: vision, violence, and coexistence, by Shaul Mishal & Avraham Sela, 2006, p. xxviii [1]; *In this way the PA has been able to control the economic activities of its political adversaries, including the Hams and other Islamic opposition groups. Investment in peace: politics of economic cooperation between Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, by Shaul Mishal, Ranan D. Kuperman, David Boas, 2001, p. 85 [2]; * "Hamas is a radical Islamic fundamentalist organization that has stated that its highest priority is a Jihad (holy war) for the liberation of Palestine ..." Peace and war: the Arab-Israeli military balance enters the 21st century, by Anthony H. Cordesman, 2002, p. 243 [3]; * "One of the secrets behind the success of Hamas is that it is an Islamic and national movement at one and the same time ..." 'Hamas: Palestinian Identity, Islam, and National Sovereignty', by Meir Litvak, in Challenges to the cohesion of the Arabic State, by Asher Susser, 2008, p. 153. [4]; * "Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist movement founded in 1987..." Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues, by Gus Martin, 2009, p. 153 [5]; * "Hamas is an Islamic jihadist organization..." Why Israel Can't Wait: The Coming War Between Israel and Iran, by Jerome R. Corsi, 2009, p. 39. [6]; * "The Islamic Resistance Movement (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islam- iyya), known by its acronym Hamas, is an Islamic fundamentalist organization which defines itself as the military wing of the Muslim Brethren." Anti-semitic motifs in the ideology of Hizballah and Hamas, by Esther Webman, 1994, p. 17. [7]* "Understanding Islamism", Crisis Group Middle East/North Africa Report N°37, March 2, 2005 * "Hamas leader condemns Islamist charity blacklist". Reuters. August 23, 2007. Retrieved January 28, 2009.  * Hider, James (October 12, 2007). "Islamist leader hints at Hamas pull-out from Gaza". London: The Times Online. Retrieved January 28, 2009.  * The New Hamas: Between Resistance and Participation. Middle East Report. Graham Usher, August 21, 2005 * "Council on Foreign Relations". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  52. ^ "EU blacklists Hamas political wing". BBC News. September 11, 2003. Retrieved May 27, 2010. 
  53. ^
  54. ^ EU blacklists Hamas political wing. BBC
  55. ^ If HAMAS is a Terrorist Organization, What Does That Make Israel? Intifada: The Voice of Palestine. July 11, 2010
  56. ^ Israel At 'War to the Bitter End,' Strikes Key Hamas Sites December 29, 2008, Fox News
  57. ^ "Country reports on terrorism 2005", United States Department of State. Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. US Dept. of State Publication 11324. April 2006. p 196
  58. ^ Higgins, Andrew (January 24, 2009). "How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas". Retrieved August 24, 2010. 
  59. ^ "Hamas: The Organizations, Goals and Tactics of a Militant Palestinian Organization". Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  60. ^ "Hamas's Tactics: Lessons from Recent Attacks". Retrieved November 14, 2010. 
  61. ^ a b Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islamic Law and Human Rights: Conundrums and Equivocations, chapter 14 in Carrie Gustafson, Peter H. Juviler (eds.), Religion and human rights: competing claims?, Columbia University seminar series, M.E. Sharpe, 1999, ISBN 076560261X

Further reading

External links