Fundamentalism

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

مدونة رقم ٣٨

What is Fundamentalism?

Islamic Fundamentalism, or more precisely, Islamic Radicalism[1] has common features apparent in all religions. The fundamentalists are disenchanted with modernity. They believe in the literal truth of their text, and they commit to fundamentals. They believe in a cosmic struggle, and that they witness its climax and the coming of their redeemer. Lastly, they are uniquely aware of a major world conspiracy.[2] One might add their tendency to adopt violence, and end up liquidated by the beneficiaries of the status quo. This blog looks briefly on three thinkers, Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taimiyya (1263-1328), Hasan al-Banna (1906-1947) and Sayyid Qutub (1906-1966), share most of these common features of fundamentalism. Ibn Taimiyya fits the criteria best.

Ibn Taimiyya witnessed an age of decline and defeat of Muslims by less civilized invaders. Crusaders then Mongols who ended the fragile Abbasid Caliphate. The Islamic institutions survived their presence. Materialistic and scientific Modernity went mostly from Muslims to these invaders. Ibn Taimiyya fought the heretical modernity and innovations embodied in Sufi worship of saints and Pantheism. He thought of them as the vanguards of the anti-Christ. He stated that Sufis precipitated the catastrophe of the Mongols as God’s punishment. Ibn Taimiyya denounced philosophers’ search for knowledge outside the revelation.[3]He strongly promoted Unitarian belief and the supremacy of the revelation over consensus, Ijma’ and logical analogy, Qiyas. He attacked bars and broke bottles of wine. He lived in an Islamic state that he sought to revive. Finally, he died in prison.

Hasan al-Banna was also a fundamentalist but with different priorities. He focused on liberation of Egypt and of Muslims and on creation of a free Islamic state.[4] Egypt was under direct and full control of the British, who installed their systems in government, education, and justice.[5] Banna established the most successful modern Islamic party, The Muslim Brotherhood. Banna appreciated this invader’s superior scientific, industrial and military achievements. He directed Muslims to stick to fundamentals and reject the British delinquent life and cultural influence. His group grew fast. The Muslim Brotherhood opened offices all over Egypt and offered medical care and basic needs. He adopted military struggle against corrupt officials and the British. The Brotherhood also supported the Palestinians in their fight against the Zionists.[6] The security police of the royal regime believed to have assassinated Banna. Sayyid Qutub succeeded him.

Sayyid Qutub leadership of the Brotherhood lived under Naser, a secular Egyptian ruler who imprisoned Qutub. This radicalized him watching his fellow Muslims tortured and killed. Qutub saw the world going back to Jahiliah or the time before the revelation,[7] and “buried under the debris of man-made traditions of several generations.”[8] . He stated that Democracy and Marxism are on the decline and Islam has the needed values to lead the world.[9] Qutub valued western scientific and industrial progress. He also preached using force against tyrants. Naser ordered him executed.

In conclusion, among the three thinkers Ibn Taimiyya was the closest to fundamentalism. Their focus changed according to their conditions. While Ibn Taimiyya called on followers to activate Islamic institutions of a corrupt Muslim state, others called for building of an Islamic state. Banna and Qutub echoed the thoughts of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-1896) of pan-Islamism and rejection of western culture while accepting western scientific modernity. The thoughts of these thinkers still dominate and inspire various Islamic movements across the Muslim world.

نسأل الله التوفيق والرشاد

خالد الكيلاني

[1] Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taimiyya, “Against Heretical Innovation” (14thCentury), in John Alden Williams, ed., The Word of Islam (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994), 164-69. Cited in The Middle East and Islamic World Reader, edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar (New York: Grove Press, 2012), 297

[2] Sebastian Prange, Nationalism and Fundamentalism in The Twentieth Century, UBC HIST280 Course, Lecture on Mar 23, 2015.

[3] Thaqi al-Din Ahmad ibn Taimiyya, “Against Heretical Innovation” (14thCentury), in John Alden Williams, ed., The Word of Islam (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1994), 164-69. Cited in The Middle East and Islamic World Reader, edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar (New York: Grove Press, 2012), 299

[4] Hasan al-Banna, “Between yesterday and today,” (late 1930s), in Five tracts of Hasan al-Banna, edited and translated by Charles Wendell (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978), 27-28, 31-34. Cited in The Middle East and Islamic World Reader, edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar (New York: Grove Pres, 2012), 301.

[5] Hasan al-Banna, “Between yesterday and today,” (late 1930s), in Five tracts of Hasan al-Banna, edited and translated by Charles Wendell (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978), 27-28, 31-34. Cited in The Middle East and Islamic World Reader, edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar (New York: Grove Pres, 2012), 300.

[6] al-Banna, “Between Yesterday and Today,” 300.

[7] Sayyid Qutub, Milestones (1964, rev. ed,.Cedar Rapids, IA: Unity Publishing Co., n.d.), 7-13. Cited in The Middle East and Islamic World Reader, edited by Marvin Gettleman and Stuart Schaar (New York: Grove Press, 2012), 303.

[8] Qutb, Milestones, 305.

[9] Qutb, Milestones, 304.

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