Today, we are seeing a huge movement in Islam by Muslim fundamentalists. The fundamentalist movement began in the 20th century as a response to colonialism and the Westernized rulers put in place once the colonial powers retreated from these countries. Though these countries had gained their independence, they did not feel well represented by the Westernized rulers who were more likely to favor Western customs and policies than the culture and traditions of their own citizens. Though the struggle between the Western world and the Muslim world has existed for centuries, these situations rekindled these struggles and showcased the West as an enemy.
Because of this, we see “jihadi” conflicts rising up in the late 1900’s as citizens began fighting to overthrow their rulers in favor of a government that was more inclined to their interests. Thus, a 20th century movement of ijtihad, or “reasoned struggle” to accommodate Islam with modern times, was overshadowed by a new, fundamentalist movement in the 21st century.
According to the No-Nonsense Guide to Islam, the fundamentalist movement developed from an innate fear of innovation. Fundamentalists do not want to change how Islam was interpreted or practiced from medieval times. However, the Guide argues that this way of thinking is not actually based on Muslim tradition that can be traced back to Muhammed or the Qur’an; rather, it is based on two central ideas.
First is the belief held by fundamentalists that they possess the Truth, as opposed to believing in the truth of Islam. With this idea, fundamentalists conclude that their beliefs and religion are the only correct way, and anyone who disagrees is not a true Muslim. Secondly, fundamentalists support the creation of an Islamic state, as they view Islam and state as one and the same. However, Islamic teachings emphasize the danger of geographical boundaries and view nationalism as less important as following Islamic teachings, no matter where a Muslim may live.
In any country where fundamentalists have acquired power, sharia law – Islamic law – has been enacted. Very little of sharia is actually based on the Qur’an, but rather was formulated during Muslim imperialism of the 8th and 9th centuries. Thus, rules and traditions contained in sharia reflect the attitudes, beliefs, and ideas of this time.
As we dig further, we can see how the edicts of sharia contradict with Islamic teachings found directly in the Qur’an and from Mohammed. For example, because this was a period of Muslim imperialism, people of other identities or nationalities were seen as lower class. This is reflected in sharia’s clear distinction between fundamentalist Muslims and “all others,” who can even be seen as enemies deserving nothing less than death in the most extreme interpretations of sharia. In contrast, the Qur’an teaches that “there is no compulsion in religion” and that all people are equal, on a lower level than God.
Fundamentalists are also extremely concerned with hudud laws, a portion of the sharia concerned with the maximum punishment to be allotted for certain crimes. Fundamentalists believe that if a nation enacts hudud laws, it is a demonstration that the country is enforcing Islam completely. Thus, we as western societies see these fundamentalist Islamic societies as being “obsessed with punishment.”
However, Islamic societies have not always been so concerned with punishment. As taught by Mohammed, hudud punishments are actually discouraged by Islam, and “can only be given in a perfect and just society where economic opportunity for all and social equality are the established norms.” This means that, only in a society where each person has enough money and resources to satisfy all of their needs, where a person would never need to steal to get by, is hadud punishment acceptable.
Another issue that many in the West cite as a problem is a disrespect for women’s rights, which is not only perpetuated by fundamentalist Muslims but in some cases by other, more moderate Muslims as well. However, beginning in the 1980’s and 90’s, a movement emerged in Muslim countries around the world that is now known as “Islamic feminism.”
As discussed in the essay From Islamic Feminism to a Muslim Holistic Feminism by Margot Badran, there are a few differences between Islamic feminism and “secular feminism.” First, secular feminism emerged as a social movement, focusing on equality in the public sphere through policy and human rights arguments. However, the traditionally-held ideas of the family were mostly left untouched, as these were considered private matters.
On the other hand, Islamic feminism is a religious discourse. Muslim women began their own ijtihad – or religious investigation – looking to the Qur’an to find evidence and create a discourse against the discrimination commonly seen in their societies. This discourse has been most useful in altering Muslims’ beliefs in regards to the family structure. For example, Islamic feminism has played a large role in breaking down the idea that the family is a separate domain from the public and in destroying the idea that Islam and the Qur’an requires a patriarchal family and society. Secular and Islamic feminism have each benefited from the other, and each is still working towards their end goals of equality for women in all spheres of life.
It will be interesting to watch how the Islamic fundamentalist movement will evolve globally. Because many in the US may not have much exposure to the Islamic religion, is important for all people to understand the wide spectrum of beliefs on which Muslims may lie.