Preface

The structure of this article talks about religious fundamentalism with Islam and Christianity cases. Before all we will need to know the definition of fundamentalism by itself which is a style of thought in which certain principles are recognized as essential ‘truths’ that have unchangeable and overriding authority, regardless of their content. Substantive fundamentalism therefore has little or nothing in common, except that its supporters tend to evince an earnestness or fervor born out of doctrinal certainty. Although it is usually associated with religion and the liberal truth of sacred texts, fundamentalism can also be found in political creeds. Even liberal skepticism can be said to incorporate the fundamental belief that all theories should be doubted (except itself).

Although the term is often used pejoratively to imply dogmatism and authoritarianism, fundamentalism may also give expression to selflessness and devotion to principle. We will see also the general concepts of the ideologies and their historical background and comparison and relationship between them

 

Introduction to the Religious fundamentalism

Religion and politics overlap at a number of points, not least in the development of the major ideological traditions. Ethical socialism, for instance has been grounded in a variety of religious creeds, giving rise to Christian socialism, Islamic socialism and so on. Protestantism helped to shape the ideas of self-striving and individual responsibility that gained political expression in classical liberalism. Religious fundamentalism however is different, as it views politics (and indeed all aspects of personal and social existence) as being secondary to the ‘’revealed truth’’ of religious doctrine. From this perspective, political and social life should be organized on the basis of what are seen as essential or original religious principles, commonly supported by a belief in the literal truth of sacred texts. As it is possible to develop such principles into comprehensive world view, religious fundamentalism can be treated as an ideology in its own rights.

Where does religious fundamentalism come from, and what explains its resurgence at the end of the twentieth century? Two contrasting explanations have been advanced. One views fundamentalism as essentially an aberration, a symptom of the adjustment that societies make as they became accustomed to a modern and secularized culture. The second suggests that fundamentalism is of enduring significance, and believes that it is a consequence of the failure of secularism to satisfy the abiding human desire for higher or spiritual truth.

Forms of religious fundamentalism have arisen in various parts of the world. The significance of Christian fundamentalism, for example has increased in the USA since 1970s as a result of emergence of the ‘’New Christian Right’ which campaigns against abortion, and for the introduction of prayers in U.S. schools and return to traditional family values. In Israel, Jewish fundamentalism, long represented by a collection of small religious parties, has grown in importance as result of attempts to prevent parts of what are seen as the Jewish homeland being seceded to an emerging Palestinian state. Hindu fundamentalism in India has developed to resist the spread of western secularism, and to combat the influence of rival creeds such as Sikhism and Islam.

The most politically significant of modern fundamentalism is undoubtedly Islamic fundamentalism. The idea that intense and militant faith in Islamic beliefs should constitute the overriding principles of social life and politics first emerged in the writings of thinkers as Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) and activities of Muslim Brotherhood. Their goal was to establish of an Islamic state based on the principles of Shari’a law. Political Islam was brought to prominence by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which led to the founding of the world’s first Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-1989). It has subsequently spread throughout the Middle East, across North Africa, and into parts of Asia. Although the Shi’ite fundamentalism of Iran has generated the fiercest commitment and devotion, Islam in general has been a vehicle for expressing anti-westernism, through both antipathy towards theneocolonialism of western powers, and attempts to resist the spread of permissiveness and materialism. This was clearly reflected in the Taliban regime in Afghanistan 1997-2001, and also the growth of jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda, for whom the spiritual quest has come to be synonymous with militant politics, armed struggle and martyrdom.

 

Christian fundamentalism

Christianity is the world's largest religion with about two billion adherents. From its origins in Palestine, it was spread via the Roman Empire throughout Europe and was later exported to the Americas and elsewhere by European settlers. Despite attempts to extend Christianity further by conquest and missionary endeavor, by 1900 about 83 per cent of the world's Christians still lived in the West. However, while during the twentieth century Christian belief declined in the West, especially in Europe, vigorous growth occurred in the developing world, meaning that the majority of Christians now live in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Christianity began as a movement within Judaism. It was distinguished by the belief that Jesus was the messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, and his life and teachings are described in the New Testament. Although all Christians acknowledge the authority of the Bible, three main divisions have emerged: the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches. Roman Catholicism is based on the temporal and spiritual leadership of the pope in Rome, seen as unchallengeable since the promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Eastern Orthodox Christianity emerged from the split with Rome in 1054 and developed into a number of autonomous churches, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church being the most significant. Protestantism embraces a variety of movements that during the Reformation of the sixteenth century rejected Roman authority and established reformed national forms of Christianity. The most influential Protestant movements were Lutheranism in Sweden and parts of Germany, Calvinism in Switzerland and Scotland, and Anglicanism in England.

Although there are many doctrinal divisions amongst Protestants, Protestantism tends to be characterized by the belief that the Bible is the sole source of truth and by the idea that it is possible for people to have a direct relationship with God.

Since the Reformation the political significance of Christianity has declined markedly. The advance of liberal constitutionalism was in part reflected in the separation of church and state, and in the thoroughgoing secularization of political life. Christianity, at least in the developed West, adjusted to these circumstances by increasingly becoming a personal religion, geared more to the spiritual salvation of the individual than to the moral and political regeneration of society. This, in turn, helped to shape the character of Christian fundamentalism since the late twentieth century. Confronted by stable social, economic and political structures, rooted in secular values and goals, fundamentalists have been mainly content to work within a pluralist and constitutional framework. Rather than seeking to establish a theocracy, they have usually campaigned around single issues, or concentrated their attention on moral crusading.

One of the causes that Christian fundamentalism has helped to articulate is ethnic nationalism. This has been evident in Northern Ireland, where an upsurge in evangelical Protestantism has been one of the consequences of ‘the troubles’ since 1969. Largely expressed through Ian Paisley's breakaway Free Presbyterian Church and organized politically by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster fundamentalism equates the idea of a united Ireland with the victory of Catholicism and Rome. Although Paisley himself has never actively promoted violence, he has warned that, should reunification go ahead, it would lead to armed resistance by the Protestant community. By appealing to working-class Protestants as well as fundamentalists, Paisley and his supporters have succeeded in keeping ‘the iron in the soul of Ulster unionism’ and blocking political moves that might ultimately lead to the establishment of a united Ireland. However, the theological basis of Paisleyite resistance is drawn heavily from the USA, the birthplace of evangelical Protestantism and home of the most influential Christian fundamentalist movement, the new Christian right.

 

The new Christian right

Christian right or religious right is a term used in the United States to describe right-wing Christian political factions that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies. Christian conservatives principally seek to apply their understanding of the teachings of Christianity to politics and public policy by proclaiming the value of those teachings or by seeking to use those teachings to influence law and public policy.

In the U.S., the Christian right is an informal coalition formed around a core of evangelical Protestants and Catholics. The Christian right draws additional support from politically conservative mainline Protestants, Jews, and Mormons. The movement has its roots in American politics going back as far as the 1940s and has been especially influential since the 1970s. Their influence draws, in part, from grassroots activism as well as their focus on social issues and ability to motivate the electorate around those issues. The Christian right is notable today for advancing socially conservative positions on issues including school prayer, intelligent design, stem cell research, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, and pornography.

Although the Christian right is usually associated with the U.S., similar movements have been a key factor in the politics of Canada, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Australia, among others.

 

Islamic fundamentalism

With approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world today, Islam is the world's second largest religion and fastest growing. The strength of Islam is concentrated geographically in Asia and Africa; it is estimated, for example, that over half the population of Africa will soon be Muslim. However, it has also spread into Europe and elsewhere. Islam is certainly not, and never has been, just a ‘religion’. Rather, it is a complete way of life, with instructions on moral, political and economic behavior for individuals and nations alike. The ‘way of Islam’ is based upon the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (570–632 AD), as revealed in the Quran, which is regarded by all Muslims as the revealed word of Allah, and the Sunna, or ‘beaten path’, the traditional customs observed by devout Muslims and said to be based upon the Prophet's own life. There are two principal sects within Islam, which developed within fifty years of Muhammad's death in 632 AD. The Sunni sect represents the majority of Muslims, while the Shi'ite or Shia sect contains just over one tenth of Muslims, having dominant positions in Iran, Azerbaijan and Iraq.

Throughout the history of Islam there has been a conflict between religion and politics, between Islamic leaders who were often secular-minded and flexible in their application of Islamic principles to political life, and fundamentalists who believed in strict adherence to the principles and life-style of the Prophet. Fundamentalism in Islam does not mean a belief in the literal truth of the Koran, for this is accepted by all Muslims, and in that sense all Muslims are fundamentalists. Instead, it means an intense and militant faith in Islamic beliefs as the overriding principles of social life and politics, as well as of personal morality. Islamic fundamentalists wish to establish the primacy of religion over politics. In practice this means the founding of an ‘Islamic state’, a theocracy ruled by spiritual rather than temporal authority, and applying the Shari'a, divine Islamic law, based upon principles expressed in the Koran. The Shari'a lays down a code for legal and righteous behaviour, including a system of punishment for most crimes as well as rules of personal conduct for both men and women. In common with other religions, Islam contains doctrines and beliefs that can justify a wide range of political causes. This is particularly true of Islamic economic ideas. The Koran, for example, upholds the institution of private property, which some have claimed endorses capitalism. However, it also prohibits usury or profiteering, which others have argued indicates sympathy for socialism.

The revival of Islamic fundamentalism in the twentieth century commenced with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 1928. Although Egypt had gained nominal independence in 1922 and its full independence was recognized in 1936, the UK retained a powerful economic and military presence in the country. The Brotherhood was founded by Hassan al Banna (1906–1949) with a view to revitalizing what he believed to be a corrupted Islamic faith and providing the faithful with a political voice, a party of Islam. The Brotherhood sought to found an Islamic government that would provide an alternative to both capitalist and socialist forms of development. Such a government would transform the social system by applying Islamic principles to economic and political life as well as personal morality. This process of spiritual purification would also involve the final liberation of Egypt from foreign control, and the Brotherhood envisaged the ultimate liberation and unity of all Islamic peoples. The Brotherhood spread into Jordan, Sudan and Syria, where it set up branches containing mosques, schools, youth clubs and even business enterprises. It trained young people physically and militarily to prepare them for the coming jihad, crudely translated as ‘holy war’, through which they would achieve their objectives.

However, fundamentalism remained on the fringe of Arab politics while Arab leaders either looked to the West or, after the rise of Gamal Nasser in Egypt, supported some form of Arab socialism. Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 and, after surviving military intervention from the UK, France and Israel, became the undisputed leader of the Arab world. Nasser's socialism encouraged him to forge a close diplomatic relationship with the Soviet Union and to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Egypt's defeat in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 greatly discredited the ideas of Arab socialism and provided an opportunity for the growth of the fundamentalist movement. Despite the ending of colonial rule, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa were acutely aware of their continued economic dependence on the West or the Soviet Union, and of their political impotence, symbolized by the survival of the state of Israel. In those circumstances, resurgent nationalism once again took the form of Islamic fundamentalism. Since the 1970s fundamentalist groups sprang up in most Islamic countries and attracted growing support amongst the youth and the politically committed.

The focal point of this process has been Iran, where in 1979 a popular revolution brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power and led to Iran declaring itself an ‘Islamic Republic’. The son and grandson of Shi'ite clergy, Khomeini received a religious education and was one of the foremost scholars in the major theological center in Qom until being expelled from Iran in 1964. His return from exile in 1979 sparked the popular revolution that overthrew the shahdom, leaving the Ayatollah (literally, ‘gift of Allah’) as the supreme leader of the world's first Islamic state until his death.

Although Khomeini raised the idea of Islamic government as early as the 1940s, his notion of institutionalized clerical rule, the basis of an ‘Islamic republic’, did not emerge until the late 1960s. Khomeini's world-view was rooted in a clear division between the oppressed, understood largely as the poor and the Third World, and the oppressors, seen as the twin Satans: the USA and the Soviet Union, capitalism and communism, the West and the East. Islam thus became a theo-political project aimed at regenerating the Islamic world by ridding it of occupation and corruption from outside.

In this connection, Shi'ite fundamentalism inspired fundamentalist groups in many parts of the world. In 1981 the Muslim Brotherhood assassinated president Sadat of Egypt; and the leaders of several Islamic countries, for example Pakistan and Sudan, under growing pressure from fundamentalists, introduced Shari'a law. Fundamentalism was particularly prominent in Lebanon in the 1980s, divided as it was by a civil war between Christians and Muslims, and occupied by Israel in the south and by Syria in the north. Parts of Beirut fell under the control of fundamentalist groups such as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which carried out a number of well-publicized kidnappings of western hostages.

The subsequent advance of Islamism has taken a variety of forms. In Turkey, a constitutional form of fundamentalism has gained prominence through the electoral success in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), formed the previous year from previously banned Islamic groups.

In Afghanistan, however, the strength of revolutionary fundamentalism was demonstrated by the Taliban regime, established in 1997 but overthrown by US-orchestrated military action in 2001. The Taliban exemplified a radical new fundamentalism that refused to compromise with any ideas, Islamic or otherwise, which departed from their world-view. This was based upon an extreme form of Deobandism, a brand of Sunni Hanafi Islam that developed in British India but had its deepest roots in Pakistan. The Taliban attempted to root out all forms of ‘non-Islamic’ corruption and to enforce a harsh and repressive interpretation of Shari'a law. Women were entirely excluded from education, the economy and from public life in general. Censorship was so strict that all forms of music were banned. Taliban rule was highly authoritarian, with political power being concentrated in the hands of a small group of senior Taliban clerics, under the supreme leadership of Mullah Omar.

A range of new ‘jihadi’ groups that have emerged since the 1990s – the most significant of which has been al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden – has also given expression to this radical new fundamentalism. For these groups, commitment to Islam takes the form of jihad, understood as a holy war, carried out in particular against the USA and Israel (the ‘Jewish-Christian crusaders’) and with the removal of foreign influence from Saudi Arabia as a key goal. Such militant Islamism portrays terrorism and suicide attacks, such as those which took place on September 11, 2001, and the bombing in Bali in 2002, as legitimate, indeed purifying, expressions of political and social struggle. Critics of Islam have seen such developments as evidence of a basic incompatibility between Islamic values and those of the liberal-democratic West. From this perspective, Islam is inherently totalitarian, in that the goal of constructing an ‘Islamic state’ based upon Shari'a law is starkly anti-pluralist and incompatible with the notion of a public/private divide. The use of terror and violence, it is argued, is merely an extreme manifestation of this totalitarian potential.

However, such a view of Islam seriously misrepresents its central tenets, which offer no support for terrorism but, instead, are committed to peace, respect and justice. According to the Prophet Mohammad, for instance, the ‘greater jihad’ is not a political struggle against the infidel, but an inner struggle: the struggle to become a better person though moral discipline and commitment to Islam. In common with all religious traditions, Islam contains such a variety of views and is open to such a range of interpretations that it could be used to justify almost any cause or action. What distinguishes religious fundamentalism, after all, is that it advances a novel interpretation of religious teachings and then claims for it unquestionable authority.

 

Islamic fundamentalist groups

Islamic fundamentalist groups include Al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, Ansar al-Islam, Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, Army of Islam, Boko Haram, Taliban, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jemaah Islamiyah, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, Harkat- ul-Mujahideen, Indian Mujahideen, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan among many others.

 

Conclusion

Christian, Jewish or Islamic Fundamentalists have a concept of being a chosen people, directed by divinity to establish God's kingdom on this earth and prepare for the day of a Messiah to rule. Compared to Humanists, these "believe in the equality of all races, that no one is inferior nor superior, that all are created equal, that everyone has basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If fundamentalists are successful in their drive for power they would eradicate humanism, while the dominance of Humanist power permits fundamentalist freedom of expression and the freedom to try to become theocratic dictators”.

 

 

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