Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity

This review explores the ideas put forward by A.S. Khan about Islamic Fundamentalism. By showing that Islamic Fundamentalism is not a monolithic affair – there are many different movements and states of Islamic Fundamentalism in terms of the application of Islamic values, governance and attitude towards the West, the book allows the reader to see beyond the common belief that ‘Fundamentalism’ in Islam leaves little or no place for peaceful relations. By going through the discourses given by several fundamentalists, one is given basis and solid arguments behind the concepts and points made in the various chapters.

Audience for the Book:

The audience for this book is widespread, and it is difficult to finger one or two targeted groups since the book explains the meaning of Islamic Fundamentalism by delving into its history and outlining its adherents over time. It also analyzes what Islamic fundamentalists believe and want.

Content Thesis:

Islamic Fundamentalism is a phenomenon that has evolved in two phases since the beginning of Islam. The author interprets the First phase as the positive phase – where Islamic Fundamentalism was looked upon as an optimistic and exemplary period, to be studied and put to practical use in the present. At the same time, the second phase took a complete U-Turn and the period is marked as one of decline. It constitutes corruption, loss of territory, military defeat and the advent of Western colonialism. The reason of the stark change and loss in this phase is attributed to the loss of religious piety and faith.

The author consequently takes a journey through history to trace the roots and evolution of Islamic Fundamentalism and how it has changed over centuries – its perceptions and its consequences. He argues that the advent of fundamentalism was a consequence of the failure of Muslims in resolving their problems in the face of an ever changing modern world. Muslims simply stood watch as non-Muslim influences eroded their religious values, culture and polity. Centuries of moral and political decay became the happening in the public and private lives of Muslims. The environment that thus dominated the world of Muslims ‘fractionalized the Islamic Community through the creation of both imperially imposed national boundaries and a westernized upper class alienated from its own Muslim cultural roots. ‘ As a result, the true Muslim values and dictates lay forgotten somewhere in the pages of history.

One must not however, confuse Islamic Fundamentalism with a simple belief or culture dominant in the Islamic World – the author points out. It has, over the centuries and its evolution, found itself as a sociopolitical force that has often displayed revolutionary tendencies. As such, it is habituated by the process of multi-faceted dialectical relationships, and nine such have been identified by the author. Select examples are Secularism vs. Theocracy, Establishment Islam vs. Fundamentalist Islam, Sufi Islam vs. Fundamentalist Unity, etc.

Fundamentalist thought in any religion is characterized as a return to the basic and puritanical foundations of the faith. In Muslims, it ranges from a distinctly conservative and military oriented Islamic thought to a basis in historical precedents that have marked history as revolutionary events and movements. Beginning with Shiites and Kharijites, fundamentalism took on the guise of ideology for opposition against those in power. However, some contemporary movements do not simply focus on the past, but strive to incorporate new practices and values to their original beliefs as demanded by the change in time and to strengthen their viability in the current modern world context.

In this context, the author presents thesis on discourses by Islamic Fundamentalist Leaders and provides different viewpoints on the Islamic interpretations of Philosophy, the text and its meaning and significance in the framework of modern life, Political Islamic Activism and Democracy. A point to be argued in this context is – does Politics inform all doctrines? What should be the discourse and method for integration and disintegration of state and society. The interpretation of text is always conditional and tentative, but most leaders support the idea of modernizing Islam and Islamizing modernism – a two way change through which western political thought is harmonized with Islamic. After all, not every Western Doctrine is secular or communist and on must keep pace with the changes in the world over time.

That is not to say, though, that some Muslim groups do not commit crimes through acts of violence and terrorism against other religious groups whom they consider ‘kaafir’, and in some cases, even fellow Muslims whom they believe have ‘strayed from the righteous path’. Consequently, violence and terrorism are two main worrisome aspects for both the Muslim World, and the Western World.

Assessment – Review:

The writing of the author is effective in the manner that before arguing anything, the author has provided a short summary of the historical evidence and emergence of Islamic Fundamentalism and how and what factors had attributed to its dawn. By tracing the steps in history, he provides a background and logic to the thinking possessed by the supporters of fundamentalists and how their views differ from group to group, and what beliefs their values are etched upon. Consequently, the writer has provided a new and mayhap truer interpretation of fundamentalism, using the discourses by Islamic Fundamentalist figures – proving to many, that violence is not the fa├žade or depth that goes hand in hand with fundamentalism.

As the author suggests, the interpretation of the Islamic text is up to a person’s discretion and his own conditioning. What may seem right to one may not be so to the other – and that is why it is unfair to judge any such belief or custom. While Al-Turabi may supplement one belief and Al-Banna may support another, both have their own interpretations of it according to Islam as they understand it. Giving the practical examples of Radical Islam in Libya, and Conservative Islam in various countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf States, the writer provides a picture of how Islamic beliefs and their interpretations have been derived in the world of today. Through this neutral depiction, one is given clearer understanding of Islamic beliefs and their interpretation. Once again, to judge one view as right and another as wrong is simply not possible – there are always two sides to a coin, but neither may necessarily be superior to the other.

Another example that has been used and can be quoted is how the state of women’s rights in different countries differs. Some interpret the modern ‘working woman’s’ concept as un-Islamic which leads to the imposition of strict practices of ‘wearing the veil’ and ‘observing strict dressing’. Moderate Muslims and the Western world, of course, view this as an antithesis of the Western civilization and a practice that is not necessarily Islamic in spirit. While it cannot be argued that all of the Western Cultural is beneficial to Islamic Society and must be adopted, there are several practices of the Western World which are an evolved version of basic Islamic practices and the adoption of which may prove to be a great help in the modernization of Islamic Society without the loss of its true core values.