Fundamentalism and Muslims

Muslims across the globe are reacting in different ways to the label of fundamentalism, unilaterally imposed on them by west. Former Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr. Mahatir Mohamad is correct when he says that indeed we are fundamentalists, because a Muslim cannot remain a Muslim unless he follows strictly the fundamentals of his faith. The former President of Pakistan Sardar Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, is equally correct when he says that he is not a fundamentalist, because this label carries the connotation of being rigid and backward. Of course, it would be much simpler if west would use simple word, and not such a loaded term as ‘fundamentalism’, which means different things to different people.

The situation is complicated still further by the fact that historically the term ‘fundamentalism’ has been used in different contexts by western scholars of Christianity and of Islam.

In the context of Christianity, the term ‘fundamentalist’ was first used in the 1920s in the United States for a group protestant communions who believed in the verbal truth of the Bible. This group arose primarily to defend orthodox Christian values against the onslaught of the liberals and the modernists, who attempted to assimilate the work of 19th century Biblical criticism and to make the Church relevant to the social dilemmas of that era.

A half century later, while modernism and liberalism disappeared, fundamentalism has survived and is still flourishing in the United States. However, due to pejorative association of their rigid stand against Darwinism, fundamentalism began to call themselves Evangelicals and enjoy an impressive influence in many protestant denominations, as demonstrated by the popular saying: ‘Scratch a protestant and you would find, a fundamentalist’.

Most fundamentalists do not smoke or drink or usually do not dance or watch movies or plays. Thus, while in their outward traits, Christian and so-called Muslim fundamentalists may have certain similarities, they differ greatly in their inner content because the fundamentals of religion are same for all the Muslims, while in Christianity they differ from denomination to denomination. In the context of Islam, the western Islamic scholars (the Orientalist) have used the term ‘fundamentalism’ in a broad framework of four basic issues on which an intellectual and social battle has continued to rage within Islam. These four balanced tensions, while causing much instability, remain in creative and renovating motion and represent Islam’s unique and enduring mechanism for constant renewal.

Ahnaf Ishaq

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