Islamic fundamentalism

Islamic fundamentalism may be defined as a political ideology which aims at islamizing or re-islamizing law, institutions and government. It wants to set up an Islamic state with a constitutional framework and political organisation solely based on Islam with the Sharia or Islamic law as its sole legal reference.

The modern form of Islamic fundamentalism appeared at the turn of this century both as a reaction against modernist movements trying to westernize the Muslim world and as a resistance movement against colonial empires, particularly the British.

Two tendencies surfaced:

  • the reformist or evolutionary (salafiyya) tendency, which was a small minority, advocated a return to the original model of Islamic society which had generated the splendid Arab culture and civilisation. The Sharia is therefore considered as a system of universal reference which must be interpreted and adapted to the realities of today through the opening of the fates of idjtihâd;
  • the conservative or fundamentalist tendency (the English word « fundamentalism » was first applied in the 1920ies to protestant movements in the USA interpreting the Bible in a litteral sense). They advocate going back to the roots of Islam and reject all interpretation of the Sharia which, in their view, should be applied litterally to all fields of life.

Although all Islamic fundamentalist movements share the same objective (the creation of an Islamic state) they have different views on the strategies, structures and socio-political organisation of this type of state. The radical movements think that the Islamic state must be created from the top downwards and if necessary through violent action. They do not want to wait until society gradually becomes Islamic and do not want any compromise with existing regimes (this is the case with the Gamaat Islamiya in Egypt and the GIA in Algeria). The moderate movements on the other hand condemn violence and are open to political dialogue. They consider that Islamisation of society leads to the creation of an Islamic state; therefore education and teaching is highly valued by them. Moderates are found in Egypt (the Muslim Brothers), in Palestine (Hamas), and in Algeria (the FIS and the MSP). They develop in other countries, like for example Adl-wal-Ihsane (Justice and Charity) in Morocco.

As far as the Arab world is concerned, Islamic fundamentalism developed at different periods in time, particularly in the 18th century in the Arabic Peninsula (see Wahabism) and in the 20th century in Egypt (see Muslim Brothers) and in other countries in the seventies and eighties (see FIS, Hamas and Hizbollah) as a reaction to specific challenges. The Iranian revolution (although belonging to Shia Islam) and the war in Afghanistan (see Afghans) played an important role in spreading Islamic fundamentalism.