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

by Bruce Gourley


Religious fundamentalisms formally arose in the twentieth century and have spilled over into the twenty-first century.  By nature, religious fundamentalisms oppose modernity as expressed in contemporary Western morals and social values.  Of the various faith groups which contain fundamentalist elements, Islam has provided the most vibrant and politically active expressions.

Although originating in the twentieth century, the groundwork for Islamic fundamentalism was established during the course of the previous centuries.  The Prophet Muhammad, upon receiving revelations from God which were compiled in the Quran, provided an authoritative perfect text.  In the centuries immediately following Muhammad’s death, Muhammad’s teachings and actions (as compiled in the hadith) provided authoritative guidance for daily living, while Islamic legal schools established a tradition of strict interpretation of Islamic law.  By the nineteenth century, in the face of pressures from Western civilization and recognized internal weaknesses within Islam, revivalist movements were calling Muslims to return to a pure faith based on strict interpretation and application of Islamic law.  The revivalist movements, in turn, led to a focus on the utilization of political force in the twentieth century in ongoing efforts to establish Islamic law at the state level throughout the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

Islamic fundamentalism’s response to Westernization finds form in a number of expressions. Select elements of modernization are embraced even as the West is vilified.  Modern science is placed within the context of and subjugated to the Quran.  The results of modern science (technology and weapons, for example) are utilized despite their Western origins.  Islamic fundamentalists denounce and reject Western society and culture, while simultaneously seeking to purify Muslim society through the forceful implementation of Islamic (sharia) law.  Women are a primary target in fundamentalist’s vision of Islamic law, and are subjugated and persecuted in a variety of ways from clothing to appearances in public to roles in public and religious life.  Globally, the ultimate goal of Islamic fundamentalism is the overthrowing of secular laws and the implementation of theocratic government.

The twentieth century to the present has witnessed rising tensions between secularized states and growing fundamentalist movements, as well as varied instances of compromise.  In general, tensions continue to increase as the number and intensity of fundamentalist movements escalates. Currently, Islamic fundamentalism is most vividly expressed in acts of terrorism by the self-proclaimed Islamic State designed to subdue impure Muslims and force Western nations to abandon principles of freedom and democracy. Political responses, whether from secular Muslim nations or the Western world, have yet to stem the violence in the name of God.

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