Islamic Center Hamburg
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NewsID : 62642
Date of publication : 11/12/2014 5:04:56 PM
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Between Fundamentalism

Exploring the concept of fundamentalism Yasser Ahmed describes the connection and similarities between two modern forms of fundamentalism; Western-Liberal and Islamic

The term 'fundamentalism' now associated with extremist Islamic groups, finds its origin in the lexicon of American Christian sects in the late 19th century who proposed a revaluation of the "fundamentals" of their faith against modernism and renovation in theological studies, which in their opinion, led towards relativism and syncretism. Later the term came to be used to describe the attitudes of a number of Islamic groups and schools (often in dispute among themselves) that emerged around the 1920s and developed around the 1960s and 70s. They assume the application of a juridical-normative framework generated through a precise interpretation of Islamic sources; the Qur'an and the Sunna (Tradition), without any exegetical elaboration, claiming to reinterpret Islam in order to return to its original purity.

Such attitudes are analogous to developments within some Christian sects that from the Middle Ages to the Reformation and up to our days have proposed a 'return to the origins' of the `Early Church of the Apostles'.

This is not to say that there has never been a "fundamentalist expression" within Islam before now; in fact such expression can be identified in the exclusivist theology of the Kharijite movement in around 654 CE during the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abi Taleb. This movement had neither the support of the first and second generation of the Prophet's companions, nor that of later scholars.

On the whole the Islamic funda mentalisms of today represent a new phenomenon that can be qualified as "modernist" even when they claim to refer to a remote past. The date of their birth and development can be located between the end of the Second World War and the Arab defeat in the "Six Days War" in June 1967 when the Arab and Islamic world which had accepted almost enthusiastically, at the end of the 18th century, the proposals for modernisation that came from the West, found themselves repeatedly deceived, betrayed and humiliated.

In this context arose almost spontaneously the idea of returning to the purity of the Muslim tradition as the only refuge and the only basis for a new start; spiritual, social and political. But the implausibility of the fundamentalist thesis consists in the impossibility of the application of the rules of the Qur'an and Traditions based on a narrow literal and normative interpretation which divides the world into two contrasting classifications; believers and unbelievers.

This is an interpretation that undermines the foundation of a real civil society and is rejected by the vast majority of the Islamic world which has been able to provide alternative progressive views, (such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or Malaysia with its `economic miracle') within their own cultural and religious frameworks.

The kind of fundamentalism that characterises these groups and indeed other religious fundamentalism is based on intolerance towards those who think differently and are therefore perceived as a dangerous enemy. Their theology is dogmatic, representing a refuge in a systematic doctrine, spelled out in details and affirmed with unquestioned authority. It is intolerant in the

affirmation of convictions and refuses any critical verification. Fanaticism is the consequence of intolerance lived actively in the refusal of contrary opinions and those who hold them.

The fanatical attitude can run in a person or may be reflected in family life, with someone who becomes a tyrant being the sole holder of 'the guiding values'. It becomes dangerous when it takes on a social character and is expressed as an absolute claim with a mission to eliminate dissenting voices.

The paradox of this 'modern' form of fundamentalism is that it embodies a reading of traditions in an almost anarchical way without the benefit of any consensus derived from and built upon a body of centuries-old knowledge. The use of religious texts and religion in general is put at the service of a political design aiming at keeping control. It

reduces the religious message to a tool for criticism and more often towards the use of weapons.

However fundamentalism is not a prerogative of a specific time or people; in fact it can arise even from the `progressive thinking' of our modern western age.

Western fundamentalism is born out of the characteristic intolerance of the Enlightenment Age disguised as broadminded but in reality carrying a profound conviction that the world of the liberal democracies and economic liberalism is the best possible one, the ultimate final necessary goal of any human culture. In fact we are confronted with a new form of totalitarianism in the making. The German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt argued that totalitarianism as such necessitates a 'metaphysical enemy'. So we had the 'bourgeoisie' for Communism and the 'Jews' for Nazism.

Unfortunately in the light of developments in the 'Liberal West' during the last 50 years we can say that the West is moving towards a form of totalitarianism. Despite the absence of explicit signs such as the way consensus is orchestrated, masses are manipulated etc.., it appears that the West cannot do without a 'metaphysical enemy'. Such were and remain Nazism and Communism with all their variants. With the defeat of these two monsters the 'Liberal West' went through a period of discomfort until it was able to identify a new mortal enemy: Islam.

To turn Islam into a real enemy it needed to be reduced to a single basic monolithic structure. Therefore the liberal fundamentalist theorists have decreed and propagated that Islam, in its entirety, is in nature fundamentalist or susceptible to becoming so and all fundamentalist groups are terrorists or potential supporters and sympathizers of terrorism.

We have been subjected to a real intellectual, mass media contagion with any voice of dissent being branded as support of terrorism. We are approaching a new era of McCarthyism.

The image of Islam as a 'millennial opponent' of the West is widespread in a misinformed world with superficial knowledge of history.

To this we must add the tragic events of 9/11 and the behavior of some Muslims who are themselves very poorly informed about both the substance of their faith, and the very complex political and cultural reality of the western world.

In this way both fundamentalisms, Western-Liberal and Islamic, play into the hands of terrorist agents whose aim is to translate into practice the ominous prophecy of Samuel Huntington and bring about the 'Clash of Civilizations .

Have we reached a point of no return or is there a solution to all this?

Closed societies of the past, in which there existed a strong social control but also a general solidarity based on a deep sense of belonging and some shared values, no longer exist. They were homogeneous, because there was concurrence and sharing between religion, ethics and social behavior.

New economic forms, social mobility and network communications have opened up ethnic groups and nations, making them interdependent and interconnected.

Back in the 1960s Marshall McLuhan spoke of "planetary man" and "global village" to indicate how societies can now be found living next to each other in reciprocity of relationships and influences.

The new perspective of the open society, in which different identities coexist, is undoubtedly contentious, because in it are manifest ideological disputes, conflicts of interest, with several wills to control or power. To idealize the open society then is counterproductive, not least of all because of the inevitable conflicts that arise and develop in it. The emphasis should therefore be on "managing conflicts" so that they are productive and not destructive. In order to do so we must consider the importance of the cultural and educational spheres.

There is a need to multiply the occasions for encounters, to deepen our respective identities and at the same time to study and learn more closely those of others. It is necessary to believe in the mutual interest and sympathy that arise from the comparison between traditions and cultures conducted with mutual respect and the desire to strengthen one's own identity through the acceptance of what is acceptable in other cultures and the enrichment that can be derived.

A good relationship between Islam and the West is possible if we all act with wisdom and moderation on both sides. Certain western fundamentalist quarters have made full use of the venomous and demagogic campaign orchestrated by 'Islamic' neo-fundamentalists. People from the West must take their politicians to task and ask them to engage positively with the vast majority of Muslims who wish to articulate a relationship of coexistence between Islam and modernity, working together to solve some crucial international problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A politics of sanctions and censure against the so-called 'rogue states' is colonialist in nature, imprudent and serves only to prevent a peaceful and harmonious coexistence.


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