What is Islamic Fundamentalism?

"Muslim fundamentalism is fast becoming the chief threat to global peace and security as well as a cause of national and local disturbance through terrorism. It is akin to the menace posed  by Nazism and fascism in the 1930's and then by communism in the 50's"

(The New York Times/International Herald Tribune 9/9/93.)

As the above quote shows, equating Islam with terrorism has been a favourite theme of Western media since long before 9/11, and more than a quarter century ago they accurately predicted that it would become America's enemy number one. Arguably, this is not so much because of some amazing foresight or insights or access to a window into the future, but because the media actually set the policy agenda of what the establishment which owns them wants to happen.

Before discussing the phenomenon of alleged Islamic radicalism, fundamentalism or terrorism further, let's take a look at some definitions of those terms.

According to the Reader's Digest Universal Dictionary "fundamental" means "having to do with the foundation; elemental; basic", and "fundamentalism" an "unswerving belief in a set of basic and unalterable principles of a religious or philosophical nature". The term was traditionally used for Christians who believed the Bible to be the literal truth even when it was found in conflict with modern scientific discoveries. "Fundamentalism" soon became a derogatory term. Sooner or later this type of abuse was also hurled at Muslims in order to charge the discussion emotionally out of fear that a rational discussion would not produce the desired enemy image. Because of the limited benefit in using the term to describe Muslims, however, it eventually was replaced by the term radicalism, for the Muslim relationship to scientific truths differs greatly from that of the medieval church or Christians who read the Bible literally. In fact, Western science is built on the foundation of scientific discoveries of Muslim Spain before the inquisition, and unlike the Bible, the Qur'an has never been proven to contradict reality. The Qur'an encourages scientific research. Somebody believing the Qur'an to be the fundamental or elemental and basic truth, can hardly be accused of being irrational, nor can there be anything wrong with firmly holding on to "basic and unalterable principles" . Modern secular society, for example, has agreed on a Universal Declaration of Human Rights to establish such "basic and unalterable principles". To try and frighten people of Muslim fundamentalism, therefore, make little sense.

So today, we hear more and more about Muslims being radicalised, possibly from an early age, and the need to safeguard children against extremism. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines radicalism as "the opinions and behaviour of people who favour extreme changes especially in government: radical political ideas and behaviour". And Wikipedia informs us that "in political science radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways." Now, it is most certainly true that Muslim want radical change in that they would like to turn a godless society characterised by the shameless exploitation of man by man with a god-fearing one where man's dignity is respected and valued. Revolutionary is defined as relating to thorough or complete change, but it does not in itself imply that such change must be achieved by violent means.

And so on to terrorism. According to Wikipedia, "There is neither an academic nor an accurate legal consensus regarding the definition of terrorism. Various legal systems and government agencies use different definitions. Moreover, governments have been reluctant to formulate an agreed upon, legally binding definition. These difficulties arise from the fact that the term is politically and emotionally charged." The Oxford Dictionary defines terrorism as "The unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims", and the use of the term unauthorised indicates that the Oxford Dictionary excludes state terrorism from its definition. The United States defines terrorism as involving "violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law", and in this definition it becomes clear that only somebody harming the United States can ever be a terrorist, whereas the United States itself can commit violent acts or acts dangerous to human life with impunity provided these have first been sanctioned by Congress. The term thus becomes a derogatory term to be employed against all perceived enemies of the United States. US allies, such as the UK, naturally have similar definitions in place.

So when we look at the definitions for those terms, we learn that they have more to do with on whose side you are on than on whether you are actually a threat to humanity as such. The 2015 "European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report" indicates that out of a total 201 terrorist attacks within Europe, only 2 were religiously inspired. On the other hand, there has been a disproportionate number of arrests for religiously inspired terrorism, the majority of which were due to individuals allegedly wanting to travel to Syria. When it comes to convictions, the numbers of those for religiously inspired terrorism are once against dwarfed by those representing separatist movements, especially in Spain. Thus the facts present a very different picture from the hype commonly encountered in the media. Media frenzy about terrorism thus is emotive rather than factual and intended to generate hostility against a specific group within society, namely Muslims, who are still viewed as undesirable immigrants. In many ways the legacy of the crusades lives on.

This mentality equally expresses itself in state policy. For example, when democratic elections were cancelled in Algeria or when Muslim campaigners for democracy in Egypt were hung without proper trial, it was enough of a justification to brand them as Muslim fundamentalists or potential terrorists. No further questions needed to be asked. Once Muslims were labelled terrorists, they were perceived as a danger and could be eliminated by any means. On the other hand, when Israel bombed civilian areas in Lebanon or when Serb militia massacred innocent Muslim men, women and children in Bosnia, the terms fundamentalism, radicalism or terrorism were never used in the media to refer to Jews or Christians.

In his book "Pity the Nation" on the long conflict in the Lebanon, Robert Fisk, one of the longest serving British Middle East correspondents, spells out how emotional and ambiguous this use of language is. He says: "But 'terrorism' no longer means terrorism. It is not a definition; it is a political contrivance. 'Terrorists' are those who use violence against the side that is using the word. The only terrorist whom Israel acknowledges are those who oppose Israel. The only terrorist the United States acknowledges are those who oppose the United States or their allies. The only terrorists Palestinians acknowledge - for they too use the word - are those opposed to the Palestinians. To adopt the word means that we have taken a side in the Middle East, not between right and wrong, good and evil, David and Goliath, but with one set of combatants against another. For journalists in the Middle East, the use of the word 'terrorism' is akin to carrying a gun".

Yet, The Times he worked for and The Independent he wrote for still happily "carry a gun" and shoot at "Muslim Fundamentalists" or "Muslim terrorists" instead of objectively reporting the news. Prejudice against Islam is deep seated, because nobody bothers to find out what Islam really means and what code of conduct the Qur'an prescribes for a Muslim.

Here, then are some of the "fundamentals", "basic and unalterable principles" of the Qur'an, Muslims believe in.

There is no compulsion in religion. Right and wrong are self-evident. One who rejects idols and believes in Allah holds on to a reliable link which cannot break, and Allah listens and knows. Surah 2 (Al - Baqarah/The Cow), verse 256

And We gave Luqman the wisdom to be grateful to Allah, and whoever is grateful to Allah is grateful to himself, and whoever is ungrateful, Allah is rich and praiseworthy. And when Luqman said to his son, admonishing him: my dear son, do not associate anything with Allah, for this association is a great wrongdoing. And We instructed man regarding his parents - his mother carried him with increasing weakness, and his weaning took two years: be grateful to Me and to your parents, to Me is the journey. And if they argue with you to associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, then do not obey them, and accompany them in this world with good conduct and follow the way of whoever turns to Me, then your return is to Me and I will inform you of what you did. Oh my dear son, if there is the weight of a mustard seed inside a rock or in the heavens or on earth, Allah will bring it out, for Allah is kind and informed. Oh my dear son, keep up prayer and command good conduct and forbid wrongdoing and be patient with what befalls you, for that is one of the firmest things (to do). And do not brush off people and do not walk carelessly on earth, for Allah does not love an arrogant show-off. And be measured in your walk and subdue your voice, for the most disliked of voices is the voice of the donkey. Surah 31 (Luqman), verse 12-19

Oh mankind, We have created you from male and female and made you into clans and tribes so that you know each other. The most honoured amongst you before Allah is the most aware (of Him) amongst you, for Allah is knowing and informed. Surah 49 (Al - Hujurat/The Chambers), verse 13

Say, oh people of the Book, come to a common word between us and you that we serve none but Allah and do not associate anything with Him nor take each other as overlords instead of Allah. Then if they turn away, say: Be witnesses that we have submitted. Surah 3 (Al - Imran/The Family of Imran), verse 64

Say: We believe in Allah and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismail (Ishmael) and Ishaq (Isaac) and Yaqub (Jacob) and the tribes and what was given to Musa (Moses) and 'Isa (Jesus) and the prophets from their Lord, we make no difference between any of them, and we submit to Him. Surah 3 (Al - Imran/The Family of Imran), verse 84 Say: Do you dispute with us about Allah, when He is our Lord and your Lord, and our work is for us, and your work is for you, and we are sincere to Him. Surah 2 (Al - Baqarah/The Cow), verse 139

Those who believe and the Jews, the Sabeans, the Christians, the Zoroastrians and the idolaters, Allah will judge between them on the day of resurrection, for Allah is a witness to everything. Surah 22 (Al - Hajj-The Pilgrimage), verse 17

These then, are the fundamentals of Islam. Can you find anything fundamentally wrong with them? Do they make you feel afraid? Do you feel endangered by someone who follows them? Surely not.

When the second caliph of Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab, may God be pleased with him, conquered Jerusalem whose inhabitants had surrendered after a long siege, he put these fundamentals into practice by giving them in a pact, signed by him and the patriarch Sophronius: "an assurance of safety for themselves, for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted." The Christians of Jerusalem accepted Muslim rule because they knew they did not have to fear injustice from them. The contrast to the behaviour of what is often called the "only democracy in the Middle East" today is striking.

So next time, somebody talks about "Muslim Fundamentalism", "Islamic Fundamentalism" or "Radical Islam", laugh at them, because you know better, and they don't know what they are talking about. Let no-one frighten you about Islam, which literally means "a religion of peace through submission to God". And if any Muslim group you hear or read about behaves in any other way, then rest assured that they misrepresent Islam and its fundamental truths.

Sahib Mustaqim Bleher was born in in 1959 in Heidelberg, Germany into a protestant Christian family. During his school days he took an Interest in newspaper journalism which became his later career. He embraced Islam in 1980, and later moved to Britain. He has translated several titles of Islamic Literature from Arabic to German and published numerous articles and pamphlets on Islam in English. The verses of the Qur'an quoted above are taken from his own English translation of the Qur'an soon to be published by IDCI .