Islamic Fundamentalism

Topics: Islam, Islamism, Jihad Pages: 23 (7274 words) Published: July 1, 2013
Islamic Fundamentalism: Myth and Reality Confronted?

Dr Zaniah Marshallsay
School of International Studies University of South Australia

Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference University of Adelaide 29 September – 1 October 2004

Zaniah Marshallsay: Islamic Fundamentalism

Introduction Language is power, and terms consistently used take on a reality that truth belies. Thus with the term Islamic fundamentalism, which has been bandied about and used lightly and interchangeably with Islamism, Political Islam, Radical Islam, and even Islamic terrorism. But, do they mean the same thing? In much of the literature (including media reports) on Islam and the political activities of certain Muslims, the tendency is to depict the phenomenon of fundamentalism as the spectre of religious fanaticism which gives rise to terrorism, and in the process induces fear of Islam, the religion. However, as many writers have pointed out, not only is the term used as a blanket description of the militant ideology of contemporary Islamic movements, but subsuming the various Islamic movements (political, social, cultural, economic and local) under the general rubric of Islamic fundamentalist movements blinds us to the divergencies, internal divisions and evolutionary nature of the various groups. It also prevents us from engaging in a dispassionate analysis of the subject.

This paper argues for the need to make specific distinctions in the usage of terms/words such as Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism, political Islam among others so that their meanings, connotations and limitations are made clear. The starting point of this paper is that the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism is part of the world-wide religious phenomenon encompassing militant piety, and to understand it, we need to see it as part of the contemporary Islamic resurgent movements of which the militant and fanatical is but one of its diverse forms. While there is undoubtedly a religious renaissance among Muslims in many Muslim societies as expressed in strong commitment to Islamic belief, rituals, religious devotion and experiential religiosity (Hassan 2002, 73), nonetheless it is the presence of diverse strands of Islamic groups generally categorized as Islamic fundamentalist groups calling for the implementation of policies and programs in the name of Islam that has caused much concern. The first section of this paper reviews the concept of fundamentalism and how Islamic fundamentalism fits into the general understanding of fundamentalism. The different connotations and manifestations of Islamic political and social movements in contemporary times make it imperative that correct terminology be used in discussing movements that consciously and

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Zaniah Marshallsay: Islamic Fundamentalism

determinedly use an Islamic doctrine and who are more radical or militant in their orientation and activities. It is these diverse strands of Islamic groups that in this paper are referred to as radical Muslim groups or Islamists that the remainder of this section focuses on. This leads to the second section which discusses the major concepts and issues that are the main points of contestation between conventional understanding of Islam and that of Islamism. This contestation is not surprising as among Muslims, debates on what constitute Islam are still continuing, and concepts central to Islamic belief, doctrine and theology are hotly contested by different groups and individuals. The different interpretations of the issue, particularly that projected by the Islamists who have put into actions their ideologies and thus strengthening their claims to speak for Muslims in general, need to be understood as the power to mould what people think. Fundamentalism and Islamic Fundamentalism First, we need to look at the term ‘fundamentalism’ itself, a term generally associated with militant piety that has arisen within the major...

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