A Critique of Fundamentalism

These are thoughts about a certain interpretation of Islam – the one we refer to as fundamentalist. This interpretation is to be found in many places, and there is much to suggest that the extent of its adherents is growing.

What characterizes fundamentalist Islam? Several things, perhaps fanaticism, spring first to mind.

The fanatic follower of Islam has no understanding of other people’s viewpoints. He rejects and dismisses these, and in addition, despises them. He sees the world divisible in two: those who "believe", or those who share his viewpoint, and the infidels who do not. The first are close to God, like himself, while the others belong to Evil.

The latter can in principle as a consequence be annihilated.

How contrary this is to the heart of Islam! Where man is seen as God’s vice-regent on earth! Ali ibn Talib, who is one of the foremost personalities in Islam, had this to say about the relationship: "The other is either your brother in faith, or your brother in creation!" We belong to a community.

Islam’s foremost ideal, the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), like Jesus (peace be upon him), loved his enemies! This rarely comes through, but is nonetheless true (Qur’an 3:119).

The fundamentalist has a closed mind. He repeats old thoughts, and lives a spent life, willingly, from a period of decline.

How contrary to the Qur’an’s command to always hone the intellect! Think, evaluate, reflect, reason! These words are among those most used in the Koran.

Indeed, the worst creatures before God, it says, are those that do not use their reason! (8:22)

The fundamentalist does not see the intellectual imperative. Thus he seldom has anything to contribute.

The Koran says: Follow the best of the Book! (39:18). But isn’t everything that comes from God "the best"? – Best, at any given time,

and best in the current situation. We are commanded to make use of thought.

The fundamentalist is formalistic. He is bound to the outer forms of what he believes are important commands about how to dress, eat, drink, greet people, lie, sleep, awake and cut his beard. Formalism kills religion’s soul.

How contrary this as well is to Islam! The Qur’an cares little for outer forms. It is not important, it says, whether you "turn your faces towards east or west". But it is important to believe! and to do what is right! (2:177)

Finally, with regard to good deeds: the fundamentalist is not concerned with ethics, or, he confuses ethics and formalism. In his opinion, it is "right" to greet people in a correct manner, say the "appropriate" religious phrases and otherwise make an outward show as prescribed, according to traditions of etiquette.

He knows little of genuine ethics.

This is contrary to the Qur’an, where speaking to Muslims, it says: Compete with them (Christians and Jews) in doing good (5:48). And manifest Islam’s golden rule: Repel evil with something that is finer. (41:33). While we are reminded that if we act rightly, it is to our own good, and if we do evil, it is to our detriment (45:14).

The Qur’an promises tenfold in return for each fine deed, while an evil deed stands alone. (6:161)

And this is a point. I recently saw an article where a "learned scholar" of Islam was asked the following questions:

”Is it permissible for a woman to work in a home for the elderly, where both men and women live? Where workers must bathe both men and women and change their diapers? Where she may have to serve them forbidden drinks and meals containing pork? May a Muslim woman work in this place if she avoids serving people alcohol and haraam meat? Also, please note that she is not allowed to wear anything but a scarf on her head and a knee-length shirt over trousers. Some people have said that doing this kind of work is better than being dependent on the social benefits given to families whose head is out of work.”

The woman was advised not to take such work! She must be properly covered. Furthermore, in washing the elderly and changing their diapers, she might be lead to see their private parts! and touch them!

She would be dealing with impure things.

No, it was better to accept help from the social security office, was the response. (Even if the benefits came from "infidels".)

What should one think about such "ethics"? The Qur’an speaks against this when the outer appearances are placed before morality. This applies even to prayer – one of the most important things for a Muslim.

The Qur’an says: Woe to those who pray, but who are oblivious of their moral duties! (107:4-5)

Of course it is a moral duty to care for elderly women and men!

And, with regard to the humiliation of applying for help from a social institution, the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) has this to say: It is better to collect wood and carry it on your back for sale than to ask for help from others, who will give to you or not give to you.

But it was going to talk about fundamentalism, and this is what I am doing. Formalism, narrow-mindedness and close-mindedness – rigid and uninspired – are the nature of fundamentalism.

If it grows and becomes strong, it will threaten both you and me.

18970cookie-checkA Critique of Fundamentalism