Islamic fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism (Arabic: الأصولية الإسلامية, al-oṣooleyyah al-eslaameyyah) has been defined variously as a movement of Muslims who harken back to earlier times and seek to return to the fundamentals of the religion[1] and live similarly to how the 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] and 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]

Definitions and descriptions

Definitions vary of what Islamic fundamentalism is and how, if at all, it differs from Islamism (or political Islam) or Islamic revivalism. The term has been deemed "misleading" by those who suggest all mainstream Muslims believe in the literal divine origin and perfection of the Quran and so are "fundamentalists",[5] and by others as a term used by outsiders to describe perceived trends within Islam.[6] Exemplary figures of Islamic fundamentalism are 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]

…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.[3]
Differences with Islamism

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


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]


Main article: Khawarij

Extremism within Islam goes back to the 7th century to the Kharijites. From their essentially political position, they 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.[29][30][31]

The modern Islamic fundamentalist movements have their origins in the late 19th century.[32] The Wahhabi movement, an Arabian fundamentalist movement that began in the 18th century, gained traction and spread during the 19th and 20th centuries.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] 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.[36] In many cases the military wings of these groups were supplied with money and arms by the U.S. and U.K.

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 as a success of Islamic fundamentalism.[52][53][54] Some scholars 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, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Indian Mujahideen, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan among many others.

The Islamic State

Caucasus Emirate

Main article: 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

Main article: 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

Main article: 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[64] and it is connected to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.[62]

It partook in the Tuareg Rebellion (2012).[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]

Human rights controversy

Further information: Sharia § Contemporary issues

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".[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


  1. Guidère, Mathieu (2012). Historical Dictionary of Islamic Fundamentalism. Scarecrow Press. pp. ix. Retrieved 22 December 2015.
  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.
  7. "Islamic fundamentalism". Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  8. Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam ISBN 0-19-503340-X
  9. Islamic Radicalism: Its Wahhabi Roots and Current Representation|
  10. Fuller, Graham E., The Future of Political Islam, Palgrave MacMillan, (2003), p. 48
  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
  16. Bruxelles, Simon de (2013-05-30). "Science 'may one day cure Islamic radicals'". The Times (London). London. Retrieved 2013-05-31.
  17. Roy, Failure of Political Islam, 1994: pp. 82–3, 215
  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
  21. Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 117, n. 3.
  22. abou el Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p. 19
  23. 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, p. 4
  24. Dennis, Anthony J. The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996), p. i.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. "Islamic fundamentalism is widely spread". Wissenschaftszentrums Berlin für Sozialforschung. December 9, 2013.
  29. "Another battle with Islam's 'true believers'". The Globe and Mail.
  30. Mohamad Jebara More Mohamad Jebara. "Imam Mohamad Jebara: Fruits of the tree of extremism". Ottawa Citizen.
  32. Dreyfuss (2006), p. 2
    Cooper (2008), p. 272
  33. Cooper (2008), p. 272
  34. Dreyfuss (2006), pp. 1–4
  35. Dreyfuss (2006), p. 4
  36. Dreyfuss (2006), p. 5
  37. Matthews, Terry L. "Fundamentalism". Lectures for Religion 166: Religious Life in the United States. Wake Forest University. Retrieved August 29, 2009.
  38. 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.
  39. Douglas Pratt, "Terrorism and Religious Fundamentalism: Prospects for a Predictive Paradigm", Marburg Journal of Religion, Philipps-Universität Marburg, Volume 11, No. 1 (June 2006)
  40. Dennis, Anthony J. The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West (Ohio: Wyndham Hall Press, 1996) p. 26
  41. 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).
  42. 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).
  43. 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).
  44. 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).
  45. 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)
  46. "Murtad", Encyclopedia of Islam
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  48. What Islam says on religious freedom, by Magdi Abdelhadi, March 27, 2006. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
  49. Fatwa on Intellectual Apostasy, Text of the fatwa by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi
  50. S. A. Rahman in "Punishment of Apostasy in Islam", Institute of Islamic Culture, Lahore, 1972, pp. 10–13
  51. The punishment of apostasy in Islam, View of Dr. Ahmad Shafaat on apostasy.
  52. Appleby (1993) p. 342
  53. Ahmed (1993), p. 94
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  56. Johannes J. G. Jansen (1997). The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism. Cornell University Press. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  57. Jansen, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism, p. 69
  58. Darion Rhodes, Salafist-Takfiri Jihadism: the Ideology of the Caucasus Emirate, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, March 2014
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  60. "Somali group to be banned in UK". BBC News. March 1, 2010.
  61. Armed Islamist group claims control in northeast Mali, AFP
  62. 1 2 "Islamist fighters call for Sharia law in Mali". Google News. Agence France-Presse. 13 March 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
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  67. Tiemoko Diallo; Adama Diarra (28 June 2012). "Islamists declare full control of Mali's north". Reuters. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
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  69. "Terrorist Designations of Ansar al-Dine". United States Department of State. 21 March 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  70. "Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011) concerning Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities QE.A.135.13. ANSAR EDDINE". United Nations. 21 March 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  71. 1 2 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 0-7656-0261-X
  72. Guiora, Amos N. Top Ten Global Justice Law Review Articles 2007. p. 406.
  73. The Economist, Volume 375, Issues 8420-8428. p. 58.
  74. The Lowy Institute Poll Australians Speak 2005
  75. Guiora, Amos N. Top Ten Global Justice Law Review Articles 2007. p. 406.
  76. Coolsaet, Professor Dr Rik. Jihadi Terrorism and the Radicalisation Challenge: European and American ... p. 113.
  77. Mistrust and the Mosque
  78. The New York Times Laments "A Sadly Wary Misunderstanding of Muslim-Americans." But Really Is It "Sadly Wary" Or A "Misunderstanding" At All?


Further reading

External links

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