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ISLAM: A Misunderstood Religion
Islam arose among the Arabs who inhabited the arid, millionsquare-mile peninsula that today includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Yemen, North and South. The Arabs are Semitic people, which means that their language is akin to those of the Hebrews and of other peoples of the ancient Near East. At the beginning of the seventh century, their desert homeland, which looms so large on a map of the area, had been somewhat bypassed by the influential currents of world civilization. However Arabian products – spices, perfumes, hides, livestock and dates were in demand. But the centers of world power flourished elsewhere. Among these, two “superpowers” influenced the history of early Islam. To the north and west lay the Byzantine Empire, with its Greek-speaking capital at Constantinople, where Europe and Asia almost touch. To the northeast lay the Persian Empire. These giants were engaged in a constant struggle for power and, as superpowers do, both sought to gain the loyalty and support of the Arabs, by fair means or foul. The Arabs remained apart from events of world politics in part because they were completely disunited socially and politically. Many lived as nomads, and the whole population was organized loosely into tribes, or extended family groupings. They had no centralized authority beyond that agreed upon by the family or by confederations of families.
So, although individuals felt intense loyalty to their tribe, beyond that intimate tie of kinship was little or no sense of social cohesion. Strife between tribes was constant. Each group acted as a law unto itself. In addition to the nomads, with their flocks and herds always on the move, other Arab groups practiced agriculture in fixed locations, and in a few cities artisans and traders followed a way of life much like that in other parts of the ancient world. It was in one of the busiest and largest of these Arabian cities that the story of Islam began. Mecca was a commercial and religious center in the western sector of the Arabian Peninsula, not far from the Red Sea. The Arabs worship many gods (polytheists), and Mecca was a place of pilgrimage, the site of one of their most revered sanctuaries. This shrine, called the Ka’ba, was a cube-shaped structure built around a mass of meteorite material that had been held in veneration for centuries. Looking back at this early period when the Arabs worshipped idols and spirits, Muslims call it the “time of ignorance,” because in general, people had no knowledge of the one true God and no scripture to guide them. Besides the polytheistic worshipers, there were also some Christians living in the Arabian Peninsula. The Greek Orthodox Church was the dominant form of Christianity by the virtue of its identification with the political power of Byzantium. But in areas adjacent to Arabia, the Monophysite Churches and the Nestorians, two branches of
Christianity issuing from a dispute over the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ, challenged Orthodox Christianity. Christians largely inhabited one commercial center, Najran, South of Mecca. There were Jews in Arabia, too –farmers, artisans and merchants who had identified almost completely with Arabian life. They gave their children Arab names and adopted the social organization and customs of the area. Many of them were Arabs who had left their polytheistic faith to adopt the Jewish belief in one God. Zoroastrianism, from Persia, was yet another religious influence in seventh-century Arabia. The birth of Islam considerably changed political and social conditions for the Arabs. Tribes united in loyalty to the new faith and organized their lives around the code of behavior that Islam prescribed. All political and economic activities were integrated and given direction by the faith. This new unity set the stage for Islam to become a world religion. The Muslims – not the Arabs alone, but the many people who joined the new community of faith – were soon to become a “superpower” themselves. THE RISE OF ISLAM Muhammad the Prophet Islam did not just appear full-blown as a religion and way of life. The catalyst of all these developments was a prophet. In the view of Muslims, God revealed the new faith, little by little, to his servant,
raised the boy. He took up trade. In a mountain cave to which he had gone for devotional purposes he was surprised by an apparition saying. but in spite of the disparity in their ages. causing him to fear for himself and to despair. Waraqa.4 Muhammad. At first these experiences troubled him greatly. and later his uncle. On hearing about his revelations. About the age of forty he had an experience that changed his life. Recite!” “What shall I recite?” he replied in despair. We know nothing about any formal education for Muhammad. so his grandfather. “Muhammad. Khadija and her cousin. whereupon Gabriel squeezed him until he almost choked and ordered him to recite the beginning of what became chapter (sura) 96 of the Quran. twenty years older than he. And that faith immersed Muhammad in a highly dramatic series of events covering a span of twenty-three year. beginning work at the age of 24 for a rich woman named Khadija. 570 in Mecca.” He panicked and was considering throwing himself from the mountain when the speaker identified himself: “Muhammad. until Khadija died. a trading city in Western Arabia inhabited by the tribe of Quraysh. Muhammad was born in c. at the age of 25. you are God’s messenger. His employer was a widow. she was attracted by the qualities of Muhammad’s personality that she proposed marriage to him. I am Gabriel and you are the messenger of God. His acceptance. His father died just before his birth. a . led to a long and happy union that lasted another quarter-century.
the position of Muhammad and his followers in Mecca became more and more difficult.5 Christian. he began to gather a little group of sympathetic listeners about him. Urban Mecca bore within it the seeds of social disintegration. Eventually he encountered some Arab . other revelations came in the form of short messages. Muhammad began to preach. Abu Talib. Perhaps the main factor in this rejection was that Muhammad was disturbing the established order of religious and commercial life. As he did so. Creator God and a life lived in the immediate awareness of divine judgment clashed with the Meccans’ sense of priorities and propriety. After the year 619. After sharing what had happened to him with others of his closely knit family. a situation common to commercial cities where family ties were giving way to economic competition and social responsibility losing out to the individual’s advancement. Muhammad’s family became less and less supportive of him. comforted and encouraged Muhammad. gaining some converts but antagonizing most of the pagan Meccans with his monotheistic message. The pagan Meccan made things so difficult for his followers that he had to send some to Ethiopia and look for a place in Arabia where they could establish their own community. Khadija died as did Muhammad’s beloved uncle. first to friends and relations and then more publicly. Muhammad’s call to socially responsible behavior based on faith in a living. which he transmitted to his companions.
he regulated relations between the component parts of the new . In Mecca they had lived by the same rules and as members of the same tribes as the pagans. and he undertook to mold a viable community based on the faith of Islam. About seventy Muslims made the journey north to take up residence in Medina. or hijra. Muhammad declared in a document he drew up shortly after his emigration. Their Prophet became the leader of a disparate. these tribesmen found Muhammad’s message intelligible and invited him to Yasthrib in the hope that he might restore order to the oasis. Muslims begin their calendar at this point. Muhammad and his followers left Mecca. In that document. This was the home area of Muhammad’s mother’s family. scattered population that had been weakened by years of fighting between clans and factions. This invitation set off a notable series of events that changed the center of Muslim activity from Mecca to Yathrib. long torns by tribal conflicts. so that the year of 622 corresponds to the first year of the Islamic era. and are considered the turning point in the early history of Islam. an agricultural settlement some 250 miles north of Mecca with a mixed Jewish and Arab population. These events make up what Muslims call the emigration. In 622 after protracted negotiations.6 tribesmen from Yathrib. but now ‘they are a community to the exclusion of other people”. Familiar with monotheism form their Jewish neighbors. commonly known as the “Constitution of Medina”. later known as Medina.
and the Jews formed an umma ‘together with’ or ‘alongside’ that of the believers in the “Constitution of Medina’. so that they prayed in the direction of Mecca rather than Jerusalem. During the salat prayer. Their opposition was one of the first serious obstacles the Muslims encountered in their new setting. laying down that “whatever you may disagree about shall be referred to God and Muhammad. which stipulated that they were to fight alongside the believers too. but the introduction of Meccan city dwellers into the area increased the potential for economic development. Muhammad’s relations with the Jews of Medina were close: the Muslims prayed in the direction of Jerusalem. This change of qiblah (prayer direction) was a declaration of independence and endowing Islam with its own central shrine.” The inhabitants of Medina were for the most part non-nomadic farmers.7 community called “umma” and its relations with outsiders. many in sincere faith and others merely from self-interest. But some of the Jews in the smaller clans were friendly and enhanced Muhammad’s knowledge of Jewish scripture. Since pagans . he told the congregation to turn around. Most Medinans rallied to the side of their new leader. the Ka’ba. Initially. a large number of the Jewish people in Medina refused to cooperated with the Muslims and actually plotted to overthrow Muhammad. But in 624 he introduced some new to Islamic practice. However.
The Muslims were now ready for Mecca.8 controlled Mecca. The Meccans in 628 entered into a truce with Muhammad and in 630 they voluntarily surrendered. (quote Karen Armstrong) In 627 when the Meccans attacked Medina. Military victories – and defeats – although painful and violent. were occasions for the community to understand and express it identity. Muhammad destroyed the last Jewish tribe. It should be mentioned that according to a recent study of Islam it was argued that Muhammad conflict with the Jewish tribes in Medina was not religious but political. Almost all Muslim nations of today can trace their history back to one of the great Muslim empires stemming from the first Muslim ummah founded by Muhammad in Medina in the 7th century. GOLDEN ERA OF ISLAMDON Emergence of the Caliphate Historical factors have played a key role in the development of Muslim countries around the world. The example of Medina showed the integral relationship between the state and the religion. the men being massacred and the women and children enslaved. and his attempts to do so were accompanied by expulsions of the Jews. The state of Medina was led by the Prophet himself and received its guidance . Muhammad had to conquer it. This example influenced the development of the ummah during the years following Muhammad’s death and continues to be the standard today.
foreign and domestic. The first seven centuries saw the “Golden Age of Islam. However. He was the Commander-in-Chief of the military and oversaw the total affairs of the state. agriculture.9 from divine revelation. as well as the legislative and the judicial authority. Succeeded by the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750) based in Damascus. During this period Islam was on a par with China in its amazing development of art. science. The majority believed that the Prophet had not designated a successor and accepted the selection of his successor (caliph) by Muhammad’s senior companions. For these followers of Ali later called Shii (“partisan). who. as his cousin and son-in-law. This was followed by the fabulous Abbasid Dynasty (750-1258) based in Baghdad. Following Muhammad’s example at Medina. the caliphs tried to maintain control on their states and tried to rule with piety and justice. The caliph was to be the political leader with not claim prophetic authority. The majority opinion prevailed which would become known as Sunni Islam. education. leadership of the Islamic ummah or community was to stay with in the house of the Prophet. . Muhammad served in the state as the chief executive. Muhammad’s death precipitated a crisis in succession and leadership.” which begun with the Four Rightly Guided Caliphate at Medina (632-61). Ali and his descendants were to be the religiopolitical leaders or Imams of the community. was the senior male in Muhammad’s kin. a minority believed that Muhammad had designated Ali.
Imperial Islam After the destructive Mongol conquest. The prevailing worldview was that the world was divided into Islamic territory (the dar al-Islam. and North Africa. Ottoman forces laid siege to Vienna in 1529 and 1683 but did not capture this central European capital. The Ottoman Empire rapidly expanded. three powerful. The Ottomans emerged as one of the strongest empires in the world. and military strategy. while Jews and Christians (People of the Book) were designated “protected people” and paid a special poll tax in exchange for Muslim protection. and the Mughal Empire based in India. conquering most of the Arab Middle East and the Balkan Peninsula. abode of war). However. The new and expensive military was supported by the development of an effective bureaucracy. an infantry using firearms. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 brought an end to the Byzantine Empire. the Safavid (Persia) Empire based in Iran. Muslims enjoyed full citizenship and paid certain taxes. Eastern Europe.10 governance. in both Eastern . employing artillery to support their cavalry and then creating the Janissary Corps. These were the Ottoman Turkish Empire in Asia Minor. beginning of the thirteenth century. abode of peace) and the non-Islamic world (the dar al-hard. The Golden Age of Islam was attributed to Allah and their submission to His will. distinctive Islamic Empires arose to control much of Central Asia.
following the death of Aurangzeb (r. 1502–24). Mughal power rapidly declined. The Safavids. and under the weak leadership of Shah . conquered most of present-day Iran and established a state whose official religion was Shi'ite Islam. under the leadership of SHAH ISMAIL (r. Muslim invaders from central Asia led by Babur (1483–30). and. However. 1658–1707). a military adventurer. Artillery enabled Mughal rulers to control local notables. though the empire technically lasted into the following century. and after the conquest of all of India. Small Mughal armies defeated huge Indian armies through effective use of firearms. significant administrative reorganization during the reign of Akbar (1556–1605) established a major centralized. The early state had a traditional military structure. Aggravated by dynastic disputes after Akbar’s death and attempts to impose a standard form of Islam along with drastic limitations on the practice of Hinduism led to growing conflict.11 Europe and the Middle East the Ottomans remained essentially dominant until the end of the 17th century The Mughals conquered India. Akbar also introduced religious pluralism which antagonized some Muslim Imams. internal conflicts arose between the imperial and traditional military forces. but SHAH ABBAS I (r. 1587–1629) created a gunpowder-based military force that enabled him to further centralize control. In the instability following the disintegration of the empire of Timur-I Lang various tribal and religious groups competed for power.
The rate of expansion and the guidance of Islamic civilization during the Dark Ages of Europe proved the righteousness of Islam in the minds of Muslims.12 Abbas's successors. 1736–47). was the role of Islam in uniting the Arab tribes and providing a just cause for expansion. Islamic empires began to decline in the 17th century. who was a successful conqueror but was unable to establish an effective centralized state. DECLINE OF ISLAM However. There are a number of reasons for the success of Islamic expansion at such an astonishing rate. Among them are: the weakness of the Byzantine and Sassanid empires after years of warfare amongst themselves. Since the incredible success of early Islam. The most important factor. These were namely: (1) geography. The rank and file men in the Caliph’s armies as well as the generals saw themselves not as Arabs fighting for their clans. Nadir Shah (r. the frustrations of the native population with imperial rule and the skill of the Arab warriors in battle. (2) the expansion . the Safavid state disintegrated by 1722 and was replaced by the rule of a warrior-adventurer. but rather as warriors of Islam going in harm’s way to usher in God’s rule on earth. however. Muslims have viewed their civilization and its subsequent achievements as a vindication of the religion itself. There were many factors that contributed to the decline and fall of Islamic empires.
reaching 100m by 1600. Islamic societies. including Alexandria. The temperate-zone Turkic lands did somewhat better demographically than the Arabic desert regions. and Mecca.000 people. Its population grew sharply after 1000 AD. Cairo (Fostat). the demographic balance shifted decisively in Europe's favour. . and (3) internal political instability. increasing sharply towards the end of the 19th century with the advent of the industrial revolution and the technologies that it brought. The Islamic lands boasted many of the world's largest and most dynamic trading cities. and not coincidentally the Islamic leadership passed from Arabia to the temperate-based Ottoman Empire. were hemmed in by aridity and lack of resources such as forests for timber and firewood. Their population remained nearly unchanged for centuries. at roughly 30m each. by contrast. The confluences of these factors led to the fall of Muslim empires. the populations of Islamic and Christian European lands were about equal. When Islam was in the ascendancy in 800 AD. Baghdad. Britain (UK) and the United States (USA). but also developed technologies such as the moldboard plough to farm the heavy soils of the northern European forests. Europe not only regrouped politically under a more stable feudal structure. Over the course of centuries. There were 13 Islamic cities of more than 50. Western Europe had only Rome.13 of modern western empires led the France.
Tunisia was occupied in 1881. It began in Mughul India by the British. and would assert control over the Suez Canal and the associated ocean-based trade through military occupation and financial control. except in the Indus Valley. Bonaparte wanted to control the Suez with the objective of cutting the British sea-route to India.14 Outnumbered. it was too late for Islam. and Libya and Morocco in 1912. Europe had already won. European conquest of the Islamic civilization was not uniform. the French had tried to set up an empire of their own when Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops occupied Egypt in 1798. which was subdued between 1843 and 1849. the gradual decay of Islamic empires was nearing its final stage as the Ottoman Empire . the Sudan in 1889. especially by Vasco da Gama. by treaty or by military conquest. but it was thorough and successful. Between 1798 and 1818. And by the time the Suez Canal restored trade through the Red Sea in 1869. Islamic control over Indian Ocean trade similarly fell to superior European naval power. British rule was established throughout India. Egypt in 1882. thereby connecting Europe and Asia through oceanic trade that entirely bypassed the Silk Road and Red Sea routes of central Asia and the Middle East. France occupied Algeria in 1830. In the meantime. By the 19th century. and Britain Aden in 1839. The European powers colonized one Islamic country after another. Islam was also outmaneuvered. who found the sea route around Africa to Asia.
mainly France and Great Britain Western Empires’ superiority over the Muslim empires was the development of a new economic basis. The Modern Western Civilization discovered the power of technology. The once vast Ottoman Empire was now the single The great Persian Empire of the state of Turkey covering Anatolia. Instead of relying upon a surplus of agricultural produce. it was founded on modern technology and an investment of capital that enable the West to reproduce its resources indefinitely. As time went on. But there were internal factors within the Muslim Empires that weakened any sustained resistance to the Western invasion of Islamic . By 1900. at the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Europe had coal. After World War I the measure of European dominance in the Islamic world became evident in the world map. Muslims around the world found themselves facing the onslaught of a European expansion that challenged their Islamic identity and unity. hydropower. and iron ore. The rest of the Islamic world now belonged to West European powers. The Islamic countries had few stocks of these 19th-century necessities for industrialization.15 became the sick man of Europe and the Indian subcontinent was placed under formal colonial rule. timber. capital and market motivated by individual and personal gains (profits). Safavids was now Iran with minimal central authority. The oil fields were discovered and exploited only after the Europeans had seized colonial control.
1995). Muslim views to the European threat varied from feeling a sense of hopelessness to admiration at what the Europeans had managed over a couple of hundred years.16 world. The last option that some chose was called Islamic modernism. Violent confrontation was an option in the minds of some Muslims but the superior military strength of Europe meant that holy war would be doomed even before it started. Islam. MODERN REVIVALISM OF ISLAM Modern Islamic revivalism was more of a response to European domination of Muslim countries that began in the late 19 th century. One internal weakness was the division of the Islamic civilization into the Ottoman. Those who admired Western culture and society sought to imitate their rulers and become educated in the Western ways. 101 . The alternative was to reject all things Western and stick with what they had known all along. Safavid and Mughal. Their responses to colonialism ranged from outright rejection and withdrawal to imitation and conversion to a secular society to Islamic modernism. Their idea was to create a modern secular society with the knowledge of the West that could effectively deal with it. Another was the backwardness of the agrarian feudal economy which failed to generate sufficient resources to sustain the material needs of the military and the empire bureaucracy. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press. 1 It sought to bridge the gap between traditional and secular reformers. Modernists 1 John L. Esposito.
17 realized the need for the Western ideas and technology. Among them are the perception of a Muslim culture threatened by the secular ideals of the West. The effects of westernization has only trickled down to the vast countryside in most Muslim countries. 2 Ibid. They sought to capture the best of both worlds and incorporate into a single society that was self-sufficient. often permissive and promiscuous societies and in general. These cultural factors have laid the foundation for the psychological impact of modernity in these countries and that impact is being felt all around the world today. from dress. Blind emulation of the West has permeated the very culture base of the Muslim world. Along with the historical factors. language and education down to simple table manners and greetings. 16 . but did not want to give up their Islamic ideals and values. Urban areas have gone through such physical and institutional changes that the society has lost touch with its rich Islamic heritage. a breakdown of the Muslim family structure. a state of spiritual malaise from westernization.2 One of the problems with this cultural transformation is that it has taken place mainly in the urban areas among the elite of the society. where a good portion of the population still live the same way they did when they gave their allegiance to a sultan instead of a president. a number of cultural factors have also influenced the development of various Muslim countries around the world.
A History of the Modern Middle East. Modern Egypt provides an outstanding example of the balance between the sociopolitical impact of Islam and that of the secular West. Since the revolt of the Free Officers movement to oust King Faruq in 1952. fraternity. they found the identity. 2000). but the poverty in urban slums and shantytowns have only aggravated their conditions. and cultural values to counter the psychological shock of western secularization and a way to cling to their roots of Islamic tradition. Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. They have found their answers in the one constant they have had all their lives. the spiritual relief of Islam. In Islam. It has long been regarded as the most modern country in the Arab world. Contemporary historians agree that Egypt played a significant role in the modern revivalism of Islam. 295. while the 3 William Cleveland. . The impacts of Islamic revivalism are evident in most Muslim countries of today. political and economical problems using a religious revival of Islam. The loss of the rural identity coupled with the breakdown of extended family ties has alienated many urban migrants. Egypt has been the center of Islamic revivalism under Gamal Abdel Nasser. 3 The government of Egypt has used Islam to vindicate its authority. 2nd edition (Boulder: Westview Press. Egypt is the political and cultural leader in the Arab world as well as the rest of the Muslim world. The rural migrant and the lower middle class have both found a way to solve the social.18 The poor from the rural areas have moved to the urban centers to pursue a better life.
. No longer restricted to the lower or lower middle class. John Esposito describes the trend: The most important characteristic of Islamic revivalism in Egypt in the nineties is the extent to which revivalism has become part and parcel of moderate mainstream life and society. led by the Muslim Brotherhood. women and men. peasants and professionals. 5 Karen S. 2000).5 However Islamic fundamentalism was initially a movement for reform of Islamic society.4 ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM There is another form of Islamic response to Western domination and secularization that began in the early eighties. 6. educated and uneducated. Esposito. This is the Islamic fundamentalist movement. young and old. Islam: A Brief History. Armstrong.19 opposition. 4 John L. The key difference of Islamic revivalism in Egypt is that it is not a movement on the fringes of society always looking to subvert the government. renewed awareness and concern about leading a more Islamically informed way of life can also be found among the middle and upper class. rather than a marginal phenomenon limited to small groups or organizations. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press. 1995). The anti-Western and anti-secular feature of Islamic fundamentalism is a modern feature. (New York: The Modern Library. 100. but rather a movement among the mainstream population dedicated to bring about a balanced social order. has used Islam to show the faults of the government.
and stones. He made the central point of his reform movement the idea that absolutely every idea added to Islam after the third century of the Mulsim era (about 950 CE) was false and should be eliminated. and using votive and sacrificial offerings. and a primary focus of his efforts. These included praying to saints. Some scholars have identified Wahhabism to be the forerunner of the modern fundamentalism. or "unitarians. making pilgrimages to tombs and special mosques. The reason for this extremist stance. He was further dismayed at the widespread laxity in adhering to traditional Islamic laws: questionable practices like the ones above 6 .20 Today ‘s Islamic fundamentalism is an admixture Islamic tendencies from the 17th century Islamic natavistic movement for reform and the twentieth century movement against western imperialism. In contrast to such popular superstitions. caves. or bida.6 Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (d. It is a reaction of to Western domination of the Arab World led by the United States. al-Wahhab emphasized the unity of God (tawhid). was a number of common practices which he regarded as regressions to the days of pre-Islamic polytheism. This focus on absolute monotheism lead to him and his followers being referred to as muwahiddun. 1792) could be considered the first modern Islamic fundamentalist." Everything else he denounced as heretical innovation. venerating trees.
and at the same time connected his contemporary society with the sort of thing Muhammad worked to overthrow. This resulted in indifference to the plight of widows and orphans. By doing so. Obviously. In taking this position. adultery. an important term in Islam which refers to the barbarism and state of ignorance which existed prior to the coming of Islam. and participatory democracy. whereas the religious devotions which Islam did require were being ignored. particularly with regards to topics like gender relations. family law. These movements worked to reinterpret aspects of Islamic law in order to bring it closer to standards set by the West. and failure to allocate shares of inheritance fairly to women. Because so many Muslims really lived (so he claimed) in jahiliyya. Wahhabi religious leaders reject any reinterpretation of the Qur'an when it comes to issues settled by the earliest Muslims. lack of attention to obligatory prayers. All of the above he characterized as being typical of jahiliyya. because only they still followed the path laid out by Allah. they place themselves in opposition to a variety of Muslim reform movements which developed in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. . he accused them of not really being Muslims after all. Only those who followed the teachings of al-Wahhab were still truly Muslims. he identified himself with the Prophet Muhammad.21 were allowed to continue.
and religious rights. Even today. for example. Islamists use the term when referring to the West and at times even to their own societies. family. As Osama bin Laden comes from Saudi Arabia and is Wahhabi himself. whether they call themselves Muslim or not. Western notions regarding issues like gender. though its influence is greatly reduced in the rest of the Middle East. Modern Islamists follow the Wahhabi example by opposing any attempt to reconcile traditional Islam with modern. even though Wahhabism is a minority position. This can be seen with a couple of factors. With it. Also. first of which is al-Wahhab's use of the term jahiliyya to vilify a society which he does not consider pure enough. Although Wahhabism allows for new interpretations when it comes to issues never decided upon by early jurists (say. Wahhabism is the dominant Islamic tradition on the Arabian penninsula. .22 Today. the relative morality of socialism or capitalism). Wahhabi extremism and radical ideas of purity have obviously influenced him considerably. many of the fundamental influences of the West don't touch upon them. A second influence is demonstrated by the strict Wahhabi opposition to any reinterpretation of traditional Islamic law. it has nevertheless been influential for other extremist movements throughout the Middle East. they can justify overthrowing what many might regard as an Islamic state by essentially denying that it is truly Islamic at all.
23 On the other hand two Muslim intellectuals have articulated an extreme anti-western and anti-secular Islamic ideology namely (1) Hassan al-Banna (1906-49). . who was 7 John L. and their teachings would later influence other Islamic fundamentalists. a journalist and organizer of the Jamaat-I-Islami in India in 1941. An apparent distortion of Islamic doctrine. they were required to take orders from no human beings. and was the first Muslim to declare jihad a central tenet of Islam. this extreme and potentially violent alteration of the faith would fit the modern definition of fundamentalism. a school teacher and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928 and (2) Mawlana Abul Ala Mawdudi (1903-79). equivalent to the five Pillars. and the secularist threat put the Muslims on the defensive. in that since God was sovereign. Mawdudi called for a jihad against the Western colonial powers. The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press. 129-133. They proposed a liberation theory of sorts.7 The two became aware of the growing power of the West encroaching upon their Islamic enclave in the form of colonial power. Among the primary teachings of al-Banna and Mawdudi were the following The teachings of the two developed separately but would converge in the person of Sayyid Qutb ( 1906-1966). Esposito. 1995).
but at the same time misleading. it somewhat descriptive. The press and scholars have used to identify the reassertion of religion into politics. Qutb changed his views and began to preach against the secular government of al-Nasser. The term fundamentalism is not always the preferred label for the phenomenon it is used to describe. The term is First. He took himself further than Mawdudi by stating Muslims should model themselves after Mohammed. suggests that all those who desire for a return to the foundational beliefs (fundamentals) of a religion could be labeled fundamentalist. After his imprisonment by alNasser three years later. The radicalization of the Islamic fundamentalism was a result of state repression.24 influenced by Mawdudi and became a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953 with the intent of trying to somewhat harmonize Western democracy and the Islamic faith. fueling the movement he helped to establish. He was executed by al-Nasser in 1966. Qutb believed this intolerance could occur only after Egypt was cleansed of its secularism and became a true Muslim state. who accept the . This description could literally include all Muslims. and then engage in a violent jihad. Qutb failed to also preach that Mohammed was non-violent and that the Koran advocated tolerance and opposed coercion in religious matters. an extreme and anti-secular approach to a given religion. separating from mainstream society. However.
It would also include many Christians and Jews that are literal in their interpretation of the Bible or Torah. and extremist. it is these few that pose the real threat to the West. and is defined by Webster’s Ninth New College Dictionary as “…emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching. The Islamic Threat. such as the desire to revert to a more religious society. fundamentalism is not a movement just restricted to Islam. They all may share several things. Many are well educated. Second. the root of the word fundamentalism stems back from early American Protestantism. Esposito.25 Koran as the literal word of Mohammed and use it as a model for how to live their lives. 7. retrogressive. Extreme anti-Americanism and even terrorism are tenets found in very few fundamental leaders and organizations. (New York: Oxford University Press.” This situation may be the case for many Christians. Lastly. Yet few Middle Easterners fall into this category. and have progressive intents in creating modern institutions within society like hospitals and schools. Hinduism. have high positions in society. but they differ in the matter in which 8 John L. and even Confucianism. yet a majority of mainline or even liberal Christians find the term fundamentalism disparaging. 1992). fundamentalism is also found in Sikhism. and view those who are such labeled as static. Religious scholar Karen Armstrong points out that in addition to existing within the Christian and Jewish faiths. many have come to associate the term fundamentalism with political activism. .8 As noted earlier. However.
169. because in their disappointed with the modern experience. They are extremely fearful of modernity. As seen in the case of Sayyid Qutb. most likely because modern culture took root in the Muslim world long after it had in Christianity and Judaism.26 they arose. and these secularists look to those groups that do have more significant views towards their faith as extreme. highlighting the somewhat 9 symbiotic relationship between secularism and Armstrong. he concluded that Islam was insoluble with the West and took extreme measures in response. the reformer first tried to harmonize Western thought and democracy with his religion. adding a religious angle to Western thought to better apply it in the Muslim state. . The Muslim fundamentalist movement began as a reaction to the West. and they are Fearful. with its advancements in rights and freedoms. drawn out process. but rather a slow. It was not an immediate occurrence. When these two things could not be easily reckoned. Islam is also unique from the other religion’s fundamentalist organizations in that it developed much later. in the 1950’s and 1960’s. and as a result of the extreme secularism Qutb was exposed to in Egypt. eyes secularist Western societies place a diminishing role on religion.9 All fundamentalist movements share several things in common that might give a better insight into their ideology and reason for existence. is not as satisfying as their faith is. They are disappointed in the fact that modern society.
the fundamentalists highlight those aspects of their beliefs that go most directly against the modern culture in which they live in.”10 The one thing the movement has contributed is pushing religion into the center. to what degree is this true. MODERN TERROISM Fundamentalism should be distinguished from terrorism. of an imminent conflict over ideologies that clash. religions that contradict. There are a good many people who think that the war between communism and western democracy is about to be replaced by a war between the West and Muslims. Fundamentalism is a religious phenomenon while terrorism is a political strategy or tactics. and how much is simply myth? 10 Armstrong.27 fundamentalism. . “The fundamentalism community can thus be seen as the shadow-side of modernity.” and “terrorism. Media have unfairly associated Islam to two words that most often come to mind in many Filipinos namely “fundamentalism. As a result of their dissatisfaction. and values that are nowhere similar. such as repression of women and in some cases the suppression of free speech. 166. However. it can also highlight some of the darker sides of the modern experiment.” Often times the Christians look to the Arab nations with a sense of foreboding. drawing attention not only to their extreme views but also highlighting the breach that society has made from religion in general.
Sixty-two anti-US attacks occurred in Latin America last year. These numbers represent the terrorist trend and not an anomaly. whatever it means. . Even though the Middle East was home to fewer terrorist incidents than Latin America and Europe. issued earlier this year. The Red Army Faction in Germany. 21 in Europe and 6 in the Middle East. it is still regarded as the region where terrorism is rooted. In the court of public opinion. and a bad impression is left when Islam is reported in the daily headlines. 92 in Latin America and 45 in the Middle East. 272 terrorist events occurred in Europe. the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. whereby the majority of perpetrators are not linked to the Middle East or Islam. Patterns of Global Terrorism.28 We know that images and terminology influence public opinion. The term "Islamic fundamentalism" or “Muslim terrorist”. the Basque Separatists in Spain. The problem stems from negative images about Islam. for example. has been repeated enough times in relation to violent incidents that naturally. According to a recent US State Department report. Islam is guilty until proven innocent. the Shining Path in Peru and the National Liberation Army in Columbia are not viewed with the same horror as terrorist groups of Muslim background. any thinking human being has to be uncomfortable with the fact that the Philippines is home to a vibrant Muslim community in the South.
29 There is no moral justification for terrorism regardless of the ethnic or religious background of the perpetrator or the victim. Much of the rhetoric stirred up regarding the threat of fundamentalism is done so by the Muslim governments themselves. Certainly the threat does exist. They are in Columbia and Germany. 2001. especially in congressional hearings on terrorism. The fears materialized for all on September 11. They are not even Muslim countries outside the Middle East. The conflict between parts of the Muslim world and the West may have replaced the tensions between the West and communism. the presence of Muslims with extreme views and the threat they pose to Christian society. They use the danger posed by the threat of radicalism within their country as a reason to persecute . but much of it is due to a lack of understanding on the part of the West and a misperception of the extent of fundamentalist groups. now more so than ever. and most significantly. havens for drug lords and neo-Nazis. but the factual basis of terrorism has been either hidden or twisted in the public's perception of this policy problem. when Americans watched with utter disbelief as an attack was carried out on their own soil against American civilians. The countries with the worst terrorist records in the world are not in the Middle East either. and since that day the American people have been given a course by the media in Islam: its beliefs. The perpetrators were Islamic fundamentalists.
People are forced to resort to terrorism and terrorism abounds because of circumstances. it has contributed to growth of fundamentalism. and violating human rights. intellectuals and members of the middle class. And there has been plenty of discontent to go around. Whoever fundamentalism is not synonymous with terrorism. gaudy consumption rubbing elbows with desperate want. . Its roots lie in political repression. Forms of public discontent thus have tended to take on religious accents. imprisoning activists. 173. specifically from countries where there is the absence of democracy that has caused a vacuum that Islamic militants alone were able to fill. Islam enjoyed the use of an inviolable space (the mosque) a tribune (the preacher's pulpit) and a sacred public language (religious discourse). the alienation of the urban young. threatened 11 Esposito.30 and suppress Islamic movements by banning certain organizations. economic dislocation and inequality. 11 Whether those in power use this rationalization to gain Western favor or as a useful reason to limit those who might challenge their authority or present a dissension within their country. And many of these terrorist organizations emerge and flourish not from the US and Europe but from third World countries and the Muslim world. While governments silenced all dissident political speech.
to the resort to violence: its moral language and its fusion of the political with the religious. in some instances. but not shared enjoyment. conquest and martyrdom. starvation and even slaughter.31 by the globalization of their domestic economy and yearning for the certainty and stability that seems so much a thing of the past. The perception in the Middle East is that US policy does not serve the peoples interests. not homogeneity. not consensus. which could turn earthly arguments about right and wrong into holy debates on good and evil. For the influx of images and goods from the West may well create shared wants and desires. its classical imagery of warfare. the state's suppression of almost all forms of peaceful dissent. The priorities in the Middle East for the US are not . it protects Israel and friendly Arab dictators even when they violate human rights. its self-perceived status as an oppressed religion long besieged by non-Muslims (from the crusades to colonialism to Western support for Israel to America's war against Iraq). resulting in suffering. It is only one of the many paradoxes of globalization that it comes hand in hand with cultural disparity. both its characteristics and the repressive conditions under which it has had to operate contributed to the radicalization of politics and. polarization. while it slaps sanctions on and takes military actions against countries whose dictators misbehave. all in the name of teaching the tyrants a lesson. Islam having thus become the privileged channel of protest.
That is a distinction that makes all the difference. To solve the problem of terrorism requires addressing its roots: internal constraints. of economic injustice with faithlessness.32 human rights and democracy. A war on terrorism is not likely to end terrorism. dictatorships sponsored by the West and the economic backwardness and mal-development that results form neo-liberal globalization. There is a leap from these feelings of resentment and even violence that exist among the many of the poor. There is no such thing as Islamic terrorism. anti-American sentiment increases. The rise of radical. impoverishment and widening inequalities. anti-Western Islamic Fundamentalism is the product of several psychological associations. The terrorist groups succeeded in laying hands on the resentment and the disenchantment of these people. deprived and exploited people. whether justified or not: of Westernization with conspicuous consumption. I suggest that terrorism will wane in the face of the evolution of modern . There are Muslims who happen to be angry and terrorists who happen to be Muslim. but rather oil and Israeli superiority. Consequently. what they then choose to do with both is something hardly any of us can genuinely comprehend. All this helped transform Islamic movements into vehicles of radical insurgency – against repressive regimes. against the American superpower that backs them.
33 Islamic public spheres that might challenge religious fundamentalism and extremism. .
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