In an effort to promote social understanding and dialogue, the EB is proud to present Dr. Ilyas Ba-Yunus, Ph.D., from the State University of New York College at Cortland. Dr. Ba-Yunus' works include The Myth of Islamic Fundamentalism. We are reminded that that Islam is a total way of life with laws and regulations governing every aspect of human life and the institutions of society. Being divinely inspired, Islam provides the only way to maintain a cohesive social structure in an increasingly complex world.
Dimensions of Islamic IdeologyThank You, Dr. Yunas. I stand corrected and will no longer use the incorrect term "Islamic fundamentalist." Instead, I will refer to "Islamic activist" or "Islamic revivalist."
All human beings have two major needs. First, they have to have food, clothing and shelter. These are known as economic needs. To these, we humans at different times and places have also added other things considered to be essential for life (means of communication and transportation, leisure and amusement, cooking and heating, etc.).
Secondly, as we grow up, we develop sexual and reproductive needs. As basic as they are, these needs can not be satisfied without us interacting with, cooperating with and living with other human beings.
However, paradoxically, these very demands also have the potential of great discord and dispute in the presence of others unless we develop some measure of normative control. Polity or the exercise of power, then, is the third major element that we humans need while living a plural life.
Lastly, but not least, we human beings have also shown a great need for the super natural and some way of communicating with Him - individually and collectively.
All societies, however primitive or modern, see to it that these four human needs are satisfied through highly regulated patterns of interaction. Sociologists call these patterns of interaction institutions - of economy, family, polity, and worship. Without first three of these human society is unthinkable. Without all four of them, human society has not existed historically. Together, norms governing these social institutions describe most essential ingredients of social life universally. As dissimilar as these institutional patterns of interaction are, ideally or from culture relativity point of view, they must be interdependent and mutually reinforcing (6).
However, in reality except for the very primitive societies, this is hardly the case. In fact, we may safely hypothesize that as a society becomes more complex, indeed with every new development, its institutions tend to exert centrifugal pressure upon one another.
Last in the succession of Divinely revealed religions of the world, Islam came at the threshold of accelerating societal complexity. Human population was increasingly becoming sedentary. As horticulture was widely replaced by irrigation based civilizations, animal husbandry and nomadism was giving way to agricultural and international commercial settlements while gold standard was already giving rise to a monetary economy almost world wide.
At this juncture in human history, Islam came with full compliment of social institutions essential for human society. We do not know of any other "ism", ideology, or religion which deals with these four indispensable aspects of human life at once - as manifestations of the same source which provides them with organic unity. A common ideological root in Islam, obviously, is meant to keep the increasingly complex society of man from coming apart at its institutional seams. This claim stands in defiance to all other ideologies of the past and the present which have failed to provide a singular design of institutional unity for human society.
When practiced in its totality, Islam aims at creating what the Qur'an calls the "Middle Nation" as against all other "oscillating cultures" which only take extreme positions(7). The centralizing tendency in Islam has the potential of negotiating ideological extremes and providing them a common ground. For instance, in its economic aspects, although Islam respects private property and favors an open mrket system, yet it discourages excessive capital accumulation by prohibiting interest, gambling, profiteering and hoarding. Far from creating a socialistic economy, it ordains transfer of substantial amount of resource from the very rich to the very poor and the needy who are encouraged to seek work and discouraged to subsist on charity. Thus, Islamic economy has a built-in motivation for the individual initiative while commanding dispersion far in excess of what capitalism would tolerate but far below the level that socialism could tolerate. In short, Islam allows capitalism minus material obsession. While defying any socialistic solutions, however, it attacks the very roots of exploitation in a free market economy.
Traditionally, human family has functioned on the basis of extended kinship. It is mainly since the advent of industrialization that the family has become increasingly marriage based. Hence the modern nuclear family. Islam does not commit itself to either form. While there may be few precious tears to be shed on the passing of tribal or clan system, Islam is aimed at creating a web of relationships in which the family of orientation (birth) plays a major role in shaping, accommodating and sustaining the family of procreation (wife and children). Even if arranged marriage is a norm among Muslims, Marriage in Islam can not be solemnized without an explicit consent on the part of the marrying partners in the presence of adult and sane Muslims. Not being a sacrament, marriage in Islam is strictly a civil contract requiring a declaration, witnessing and documentation if possible. In this respect alone, Islamic marriage has preempted modern marriage by more than thirteen hundred years.
Having rejected priesthood, Islam leaves no room for theocracy. By the Divine decree in the Qur'an and according to the Sunnah of the Prophet(p), Shura is the fundamental principle of polity in Islam. Roughly translated as consultation in English language, however, Shura does not mean an advice that could be rejected later. The structure of the Khilafah following the Sunnah of the Prophet(p) shows that Shura constitutes consultation that culminates in binding decisions . This puts Islamic polity squarely between democracy and authoritarianism. After all Shura has its roots in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet(p). Consequently, Islamic polity may elect the rulers who institute laws, make any policies, and introduce any programs as they deem fit only so long as they do not transgress the authoritative limits as laid down in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. In short, the Qur'an and the Sunnah describe constitutional limits of Islamic polity. But, then, who is going to decide whether or not those in authority in Islam acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah? The answer is that the Qadi or the judge does this for you. An independent judiciary specializing in the Shariah, then, is a necessary condition of the process of Shura.
Evidently, this system is not theocracy. Obviously, it does not accommodate monarchy either.
Finally, worship in Islam has broader as well as more specific meanings. In a broader sense, worship or Ibadah in Islam literally means obedience to all the commandments as laid down in the Qur'an and the Sunnah including all institutional as well as extra-institutional rules of conduct. Thus, when a person avoids interest or extramarital involvement, preaches Islam, or participates in and promotes Islamic polity, he or she is worshipping. Likewise, when a Muslim develops his personal character according to the Qur'anic commandments, he or she is engaging worship. In a more general sense, then, worship in Islam means obedience to the Divine commandments.
In a more limited sense, as in its dictionary meanings these days, worship in Islam means observations of the "Five Pillars" - the proclamation of faith or the Shahadah, praying five times a day or the Salat, giving poor due or the Zakat, fasting from dawn to dusk for the whole lunar month of Ramadhan or Saum, and pilgrimage at Makkah at least once in life time or Hajj. These " Five Pillars of Islam" must not be considered to be mere supplications. They are duties imposed on Muslims by their Creator. They are not left at the convenience or whims and wishes of the believer. These duties are to be performed consciensciously at their proper times as practiced and instructed by the Prophet(p). What is emphasized here is that this is not God who needs man's worship and sacrifices. It is man who needs to worship Him in order to strengthen his own moral fiber and personal commitment (Taqwa) to obey the commandments of his Creator.
Because both aspects of worship in Islam belong to the same generic root i.e. the Qur'an, relationship between the two is close and reciprocal. While worship in terms of the Five Pillars is necessary for committing a Muslim personally to the practice of the Islamic institutional order, this commitment or Taqwa itself needs Islamic institutional environment in which to nourish and sustain itself. There is little doubt that without personal commitment or Taqwa, the institutional order of Islam would not last very long.
It is equally true that without an Islamic institutional environment, Taqwa would be rendered useless, goalless, and meaningless.
Personal worship in terms of the rituals, even if performed collectively or in congregations, is characteristic of all religions in which its function is to inculcate in the worshipper personal piety aimed mainly at developing a commitment to do good to others and avoid harming them. But, these religions do not generally go any further than that; and because they do not do so, they do not provide personal piety an appropriate environment which it may promote and in which it may rejuvenate itself. Indeed, in most societies these days personal piety of the worshipper is becoming increasingly irrelevant because contemporary social institutions of modern societies do not have any generic relationship with and, indeed, go against the very spirit of personal piety.
In Islam, as must be evident from the above, personal worship and abidance by the Islamic laws governing other institutions are two sides of the same coin. One can not be without the other. This broadening of the meanings of worship in Islam is unique to it. Above all, what it means is that for all or most Muslims to become pious, personal ritualistic worship at home or in the mosque must be reinforced by the Islamic economy, the Islamic family and the Islamic polity. Thus, those who are afraid of the spread of "Muslim extremism", must understand that peaceful Muslim can be found only in a functioning Islamic order. This is the message that the "Islamic fundamentalists" are trying to convey to their rulers, and to those who are leading the non-Muslim world.
Summary and Conclusion
In this paper we have tried to show that expression Islamic fundamentalism which is increasingly gaining currency especially among Western policy makers, intellectuals and the media, is not only misleading, it may also be counterproductive.
The term is misleading because its vocabulary and its imagery is borrowed primarily from Christian fundamentalist movement of the American South. American fundamentalists proclaim a number of dogmas which are not welcome among American liberal church leaders as well as secular elites in the media, politics and the universities.
But, to be scared of the fundamentalist movement in their back yard is one thing. It is quite another to look at Islam in the image of their garden variety. There is no and there has never been any fundamentalist/nonfundamentalist differentiation in Islam during the past fourteen centuries.
As used by American, and now increasingly also by other Western elites, the expression Islamic fundamentalism, and the very negative connotations that go with it, may also be counter-productive. This is because to many a sensitive Muslim ear, it may sound like a deliberate effort to create a new rift in the already fractionated world of Islam. May be most Western elites do not even know that they are victims of the medieval anti-Islamic biases of their forefathers. May be they are falsely afraid of something which may surprise them only if they set their ethnocentrism aside. Even so, during these closing years of the 20th century, the world is waking up to the fact that one does not have to harbor Western values in order to outperform the West (8).
Every ideology, whether religious, economic, political or otherwise, is based on certain fundamental principles. So does Islam. The question is, are Islamic fundamentals dogmatic in the same sense as those of Christianity? A closer look shows Islam to be a surprisingly integrated ideology which has pre-empted modern socioeconomic ideologies by quite a few centuries. Only, Islam does not leave its institutions at the mercy of self-centered and materialistic pragmatism.
More seriously, it must not be overlooked that the primary responsibility of the misperception of Islam in the West and among other non-Muslims lies on none other than the Muslim elites - political, educational, economic and those in the media - of the past and the present.
No teachings of Islam can be equal to experiencing Islam as a living society. However, since deviance from Islam has increasingly become a norm among those who have taken upon themselves to lead the Muslim masses, Islamic norms are becoming deviant in Muslim societies. Consequently, those who call for and are active in trying to reestablish the Islamic institutional order, draw the wrath of the Muslim elites in several different ways - ridiculed in media presentations, criticized in academic and educational publications, ignored in national and international business dealings, and often severely punished by those in control of political power. Compared to the treatment that Islamic activists receive from leaders of their own societies, being labeled as Islamic fundamentalists by the Western elites, may look awfully benign indeed.
However, in the long run existing Western attitude toward Islam is definitely more harmful than any atrocities committed by the Muslim elites. Existing Muslim elites, with a few exceptions, are either dependent on the West for their own claim to power; or they are superficially Westernized to one degree or another, perhaps, less in their convictions than in their action. In either case, most Muslim leaders these days tow the Western line voluntarily or otherwise. Thus, as long as the Muslim elites are able to keep the Islamic activists under control, say, in Algeria, in Egypt, in Pakistan and in the oil rich sheikdoms, Western powers do not have to intervene with force directly. However, sustained Islamic revivalist activity or assumption of power by the Islamic activists (like in Iran in 1978 or in the Sudan in 1992) apparently gives rise to an ancient anti-Western specter in the minds of the Western elites. Now that the Soviet Union, the arch rival of the West for the most part in the 20th century, is gone for good, full attention is being given to Islam - the fallen "enemy" that is trying to resurrect itself. "Islamic fundamentalism" is only relatively a milder expression, which betrays the same old Western antipathy toward Islam.
It must be noted here that any direct Western intervention in the Muslim countries - even at the behest of the government in power - invariably creates an hostile reaction among the masses boosting the appeal of the Islamic revivalist movements - most often the only voice of political dissent in the Muslim world. This is how the West has been contributing to the appeal of the call for return to Islam. There is hardly any empirical data available on the subject, but it is quite plausible to believe that the Western posture toward revolutionary Shia Iran has contributed tremendously to the Islamic call in Sunni Muslim countries. Likewise, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas eve in 1979, created an anti-socialist backlash even among leftist intellectuals in Pakistan, in Algeria and even in such avowedly Marxist countries like Southern Yemen (Ahmed, 1981). Besides, the chronic problem of Palestine, and now Bosnia and the Muslim states under former Soviet Union (Tadjikistan, Chachnia) have undoubtedly been tremendous contributing factors in this direction.
But, under the setting sun of the 20th century two momentous developments are taking place, one of them in the Muslim world and the other in the West. First, the Islamic revivalism is fast taking root in the newly independent Muslim countries especially among the intellegentia many of whom received their higher education in some of the most renowned seats of learning in North America and Europe. Toward the end of the first half of the 20th century, there was only one visible Islamic revivalist movement in the Muslim world - Jamaate Islami of Pakistan. The Ikhwan al Muslimoon of Egypt were already in ruins and scattered at the behest of the British in 1948. At that time undoubtedly there were many in the Muslim world who would subscribe to the views of these two movements. However, by 1950, Jamaaat was the only organized movement of its kind left in the Muslim world.
But, toward the end of the second half of the 20th century, today nearly all major Muslim countries from Indonesia and Malaysia to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and nearly all of North African countries have active Islamic movements. Additionally, Iran (a Shia state) and Sudan (a Sunni state) are already functioning Islamic states. Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen seem to be next in line. Should this happen, other Muslim states may not necessarily fall like the dominoes. Which and how many other Muslim states will adopt Islamic polity shall to a great extent depend upon how already Islamicized states behave and are allowed to survive. In any case, in as much as the West stricken Muslim political elites have so far spectacularly failed in seeking solutions to the chronic problems of their respective societies, Islamic revivalists armed with most advanced education and training that the modern world can offer, seem to be the most formidable and able adversaries to their brittle regimes. Last forty years saw the emergence of two Islamic states (Sudan and Iran), and two (Algeria and Afghanistan) nearly succeeded in doing so. Next forty years may see the emergence of four or five more such states. It means that by the 2030's, there may be six or seven functioning Islamic states in the world.
Two patterns of international relations may be predicated regarding this development. First, provided Western ambivalence toward Islam is not abated, these Islamic states, like Shia Iran and Sunni Sudan today, would go out of their way to cooperate among themselves and support one another politically, economically and otherwise, notwithstanding their sectarian differences. Secondly, despite Iran's hostility toward the West which is more situational than ideological, these Islamic states would love to create a happy symbiosis with the West (as well as with others) i.e. unless others continue to attack and subverse Islamic revivalism. None of the Islamic revivalist movements, not even the hated Ikhwan of Egypt and the Jamaat of Pakistan have been inherently anti-Western in the same sense as the socialist ideology or the Soviet Union was.
Second event of great significance that is going on at the time of this writing is the transformation of the Western religious landscape. With a world wide migratory movement from technologically less developed countries of the so-called Third World toward industrially developed nations of the West, both Europe and North America are homes not merely to the Christians and the Jews. They are also now hosting Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and scores of other large and small belief systems. Of these, Islam undoubtedly is the fastest growing community. This growth of Islam in the West is not due to immigration alone. In significant respects, it is also because of DAWAH (invitation to Islam) and conversion to Islam (see Ba-Yunus and Siddiqui, 1994). Future of this community in the West on the one hand, and quite significantly, the nature of the relationship between the West and the future Islamic states on the other hand, shall to one degree or the other depend on the resourcefulness, organization and political and social savy with which Muslims in the West compose themselves. With their high level of education, professionalism, and income especially in America and Canada what is needed is unity in organization, resource mobilization and social and political policy before they would be perceived as "model minorities" recreating the correct image of Islam, making their presence felt and wisely exercising their political clout.
In short, given the disgraceful attitude toward Islam and Muslims especially on the part of many a Western policy and opinion maker, some one has to take an initiative to correct the situation. While Islamic revivalists are doing their share in the Muslim world, Muslims in the West especially those in North America have to do their share in this endeavor. That their potential to do so is increasing by the day, there is little doubt about it.
I have no doubt that this will be a more peaceful world when Islam reigns supreme and the precepts of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH) are observed and kept by all. It's the interim period that I am worried about.
Christian Science Monitor: Q&A Islamic Fundamentalism
Doc's Talk: Islam is not a religion nor is it a cult. A very interesting breakdown and observation on Muslim demographics and corresponding "revival" activities.