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Fundamentalism

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

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    Fundamentalism

    Fundamentalism generally refers to an uncompromising devotion to a particular faith. Originally, fundamentalism was the term applied to a specific Christian experience, especially strong in the United States, which developed in response to modernism in the 1800s. Fundamentalism, however, has since formed a part of every major faith in response to problems associated with modernization. The fundamentalists of some religions believe in the literal and absolute truth of their holy scripture. They reject alternative views of their religion and fear that secular, or nonreligious, forces will weaken or eliminate their faith. To avoid this, they stress the traditional elements of their religion.

    Generating Controversy.

    Use of the term fundamentalist to describe some Muslim groups is controversial. Some say that the term connotes ignorance and backward thinking, and as such, is insulting to legitimate Islamic reform movements. Others argue that there is no exact translation for the term in Arabic or other major Muslim languages. By the 1980s, however, Arabic writers began to use the term usuliyah, a new Arabic word that is based on the Arabic term usul, which means “fundamentals.”

    Roots of Islamic Revivalism.

    Throughout history, Islamic activist movements have promoted a return to the fundamental principles of their religion. The call for revival took on a special sense of urgency in the 1800s when European powers colonized much of the Islamic world, bringing Western influences to the region. Many Muslims perceived colonial rule as a threat to the survival of their faith.

    In the late 1800s, reformers Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh established the Salafi, a movement to reform and renew Muslim life. Both men believed that rigid traditionalism had obscured the original message and was responsible for the decline of Islam. Advocating that reform was necessary to counteract European dominance, they adapted traditional Islamic teachings to modern life, reshaping Muslim education, law, and politics. Salafi principles spread to many Muslim nations in the 1900s.

    Modern Islamic Revivalism.

    Reformer Sayyid Qutb ( 1906 – 1966 ) is considered the founder of the modern Islamic revivalist movement. He called on Muslims to actively fight against secularism, and a religious resurgence swept across the Islamic world in the 1970s. The movement drew support from diverse segments of society, ranging from illiterate and unemployed people to well-educated professionals. Following Qutb's advice, many Muslims withdrew from mainstream society, returned to traditional styles of dress, and became more devoted to prayer and fasting.

    The term fundamentalist has been applied to a wide array of Muslim people, groups, and governments in recent times. Saudi Arabia's so-called fundamentalist government is pro-Western, while in Sudan, the fundamentalist movement supports distinctly anti-Western views. In Afghanistan, the ultra-orthodox Taliban elevated the ulama to positions as government leaders and removed women from public life.

    Islamic groups vary widely in their goals and methods. Many practicing Muslims are part of nonviolent political and social movements within mainstream society. They seek to improve society through the building of schools, health clinics, or mosques. Others have used radical means to achieve their goals. In Iran, for example, Ayatollah Khomeini supported popular demonstrations that brought an end to the Iranian monarchy in 1979 . Some militant (or extremist) groups, such as al-Qaeda, have also engaged in violence to further their cause. See also Abduh, Muhammad; Afghani, Jamal al-Din al-; Qaeda, al-; Qutb, Sayyid; Salafi; Taliban.

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