Islamic Fundamentalism: A Brief Survey (Part 6 of 7)

by Bruce Gourley

ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM:  RESPONSES TO THE SECULAR STATE

The larger goal of Islamic political fundamentalism is to overthrow secular states and impose theocratic political law.  Only under theocratic law can the dangers of Western science and society effectively be eliminated.  Only under theocratic law can the sovereignty of God be extended into that realm of existence which is now controlled by the “ignorant.”

The Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 provided a model of how Islamic fundamentalists could achieve national political dominance.  Against the backdrop of rapid modernization on the one hand and a repressive state on the other, the masses in Iran, incited to action by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a fundamentalist Islamic cleric, revolted against Prime Minster Bakhtiar.  When the military declared neutrality, Khomeini assumed leadership of the nation, installing a theocratic government based on his interpretation of Shi’ite jurisprudence.[61]  The manner in which Shi’ite law was imposed into state governance provides insight into the ongoing struggles between advocates of strict Islamic political law and advocates of secular rule.

In theory, Iran was ruled by a constitutional monarchy for most of the twentieth century to the present day.  Constitutionalism, however, was a political product of Western Europe.  Thus when constitutionalism arrived in the Muslim world in the late nineteenth century, the concept underwent modifications which made it compatible with the Islamic faith.  In Iran, the result was a constitutional monarchy more in name than in practice.  By the late twentieth century, however, Islamic fundamentalists throughout the Muslim world, including Khomeini, were convinced that state constitutions were too accommodating of other faiths and were thus diluting the purity and power of the Islamic faith.

Iran’s current constitution as crafted by Khomeini dealt with this problem by radically breaking with all other modern constitutions.  Entitled “The Fundamental Law,” it is an ideological and thoroughly Islamic document based on the “Mandate of the Jurist,” Khomeini’s belief that a religious jurist has the right to establish the governance of a nation-state and demand allegiance of other religious jurists.  The constitution defines the purpose of the nation-state in terms of imposing the worldview of Islam, restricts the civil liberties of individuals, assigns sovereignty and legislative powers to the One God as interpreted by clerical jurists, and establishes social order based on a strict understanding of Shi’ite basic articles of faith.[62]

Islamic fundamentalists have met with varying political successes in other nations.  As previously mentioned, Saudi Arabia with its Wahhabi revivalist heritage has long been ruled by a version of sharia law, while at the same time welcoming Western influence and the material benefits thus afforded to the ruling royal family.  In addition, Afghanistan, under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, was governed by a mixture of sharia law and local tribal customs which sought to eradicate all Western influence while enforcing strict Islamic law upon Afghan society in an effort to tightly control social behavior.[63]

Within many other Muslim countries, fundamentalist pressure on government structures has increased significantly in the decades following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.  In Pakistan in 1977 General Zia, a devout Sunni, seized control of the country and immediately invoked an Islamization program to establish Islam as the official ideology and identity of Pakistan.  His larger purposes were to legitimize his military dictatorship and quell calls for democracy.  In so doing, he made alliances with Sunni clerics and fundamentalist groups, including the Jama’at-i-Islami.  Although Zia sought to establish an Islamic constitution in Pakistan, he was ultimately unable to do so without destabilizing his regime, and thus settled for an informal common law system based upon Islamic law.  In the 1980s, Pakistan’s government encouraged the military training of seminarians (“taliban”), who in turn created an Islamic state in neighboring Afghanistan following the Soviet withdrawal from that nation.  Today, Pakistan is still a harbor for Islamic fundamentalists.[64]

In Sudan, the Muslim Brotherhood has championed the imposition of sharia law since the country’s independence in 1956.  Despite independence, civil war between Muslims in the North and non-Muslims in the South raged on into the seventies.  Accordingly, political upheavals and attempted coups kept the issue of sharia law on the back burner.  By the 1970s, Hassan al-Turabi, a local Muslim Brotherhood leader and high-profile spokesperson for the fundamentalist cause, had secured a prominent role in Sudanese politics.  At the same time, the long running civil war came to an end, marked by the implementation, under President Jafar al-Numayri, of the 1973 Sudanese Constitution which recognized the rights of Islam, Christianity, and traditional religions, and forbad the usage of religion as a constitutional means of limiting citizens’ rights.  However, ten years later Numayri did an about-face and began pursuing a policy of Islamization in an effort to co-opt the growing influence of fundamentalists.  The tactic split fundamentalists in Sudan, with many supporting Numayri, who one year later, in 1984, proclaimed himself to be the nation’s Imam (supreme religious leader and authority).  Numayri’s hastily implemented Islamization program had his own version of sharia penal law as its centerpiece.  The hybrid sharia law code soon became unpopular and led to his downfall in 1985.  Since that time, fundamentalists have continued to play a powerful role in what is now effectively a failed state divided North and South.  The Sudanese legal system is a combination of English common law and Islamic law, with the later being imposed on all residents of the northern states since 1991.[65]

In other countries, Islamic fundamentalism has been historically active, but as of yet unable to achieve significant political gain.  Egypt epitomizes the difficulties that fundamentalists face in their campaign to implement their radical agenda into government structures.  Despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood originated in Egypt over seventy years ago and in 2012 briefly attained national power, sharia law is not the law of the land.[66]

The current Islamic State represents a response to the unevenness of sharia Law in Muslim nations. Primarily based in Iraq and Syria, in June 2014 the Islamic State proclaimed itself to be an Islamic state and worldwide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being named its caliph, the political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad. Epitomizing Islamic fundamentalism, the Islamic State’s stated goal is to bring the world under the dominion of God. The group frequently resorts to acts of terrorism in Western nations and against impure Muslims, in addition to utilizing modern media and propaganda to radicalize others in the hopes of furthering its terrorist agenda against the forces of secularization.

 

Continue to Part 7 — Conclusion

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[61]  BBC World Service, “The Story of the Revolution,” http://www.bbc.co.uk/persian/revolution/ (accessed 04/26/03)

[62]  Said Amir Arjomand, “Shi’ite Jurisprudence and Constitution Making in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” in Fundamentalisms and the State, The Fundamentalism Project, Volume 3, eds. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 88-109.  Ann Elizabeth Mayer, “The Fundamentalist Impact on Law, Politics, and Constitutions in Iran, Pakistan, and the Sudan,” in Fundamentalisms and the State, The Fundamentalism Project, Volume 3, eds. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 110-123.

[63]  Kushner, 357-359

[64]  Ann Elizabeth Mayer, “The Fundamentalist Impact on Law, Politics, and Constitutions in Iran, Pakistan, and the Sudan,” in Fundamentalisms and the State, The Fundamentalism Project, Volume 3, eds. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 123-132.

[65]  Ibid., 132-144.

[66]  Abdel Azim Ramadan, “Fundamentalist Influence in Egypt: The Strategies of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Takfir Groups,” in Fundamentalism and the State, The Fundamentalism Project, Volume 3, eds. Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 152-183.