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<2003 : Religious fundamentalism : As-Sayyid Hani Fahas>
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Religious Fundamentalism

A paper by As-Sayyid Hani Fahas

Religious fundamentalisms are prone to ever more sharply distinguish themselves from each other. Muslim and Christian fundamentalisms were originally complementary, but now it is hard to thread one's way onto the ample common religious ground they share ... . Perhaps the sufficient cause for this divergence is that the relationship between fundamentalists and their religious sources is predicated upon the hypothesis that one religion (any one religion) contradicts another (any other). Fundamentalism ... works toward denial and demolition. So whenever a fad of religious fundamentalism arises, contestation, exclusivity, and denial of the other come into play and distinguish the divider from the divided. We may accept this idea as a working hypothesis although it does need further substantiation.

Diversity within Christian fundamentalism is very clear and generalized, while Islamic fundamentalism's diversity is less apparent and generalized. ... Over against Islamic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism's foundational urge to divide and separate things has resulted in a face-off against Islam and Muslims generally. As a result it has found itself spontaneously cast into the lap of Jewish fundamentalism in its secular guise, Zionism. The limited and natural difference or opposition between Islam and Christianity has been artificially bloated and has overshadowed the more profound contradiction between Judaism and Christianity.

Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalism's urge to divide off Christianity was achieved by bringing into play the notion of apostasy and by blurring the difference between Judaism and Christianity. It ignored the principle of synthesis to which Islam is committed. Islam's juridical decisions stipulate cooperation between monotheists (the principle of the “People of the Book”). Add to this the Islamic juridical structure that distinguishes between one sort of “book” people and another on the basis of whether they are in a war posture or at peace [with Islam]. On this basis it is easy to distinguish between Christians and Jews given the fact that the base for Christians is peaceful and the base for Jews is belligerent.

Islamic fundamentalism's blindness to this distinction and its subsequent actions have given some Christian fundamentalists—loosely organized in churches, groups or spontaneous gatherings that espouse their ideas—justification or an excuse to see aggressive action against Muslims as a viable option. At the same time, the actions of Islamic fundamentalism have had a negative impact upon Christians who, from their monotheistic faith stance, are concerned about peace, justice, love, and freedom for all people. These Christians are strongly motivated to adopt a common stance with Muslims in their difficulties with the Jewish undertaking.

That Jewish undertaking, in its turn, was a product of western pressure exploiting intrinsic and pragmatic Jewish propensities. That pressure resulted in the Zionist movement. With callous cultural and existential pressure the West pushed it to settle upon Palestine, chosen by the West because it was the point around which the Islamic and Arab world coalesced and therefore must be kept disorganized. This accords with how western imperialism is being fleshed out stage by stage. Its is now increasing the stakes through rhythmic American efforts to assert hegemony, and to lay the groundwork for a tightly focused imperial state of affairs to which all things must adhere.

The message of Islamic fundamentalism in dominantly or exclusively Islamic regions shows no sign of being aware of the ambiguous relationship between Christianity and Islam—Afghanistan and Pakistan, for instance. It finds it easy to divide the world into two exclusive camps, and quite unabashedly stuffs both Christianity and all of Judaism into one camp.

Islamic fundamentalists of all stripes in regions where pluralism is the order of the day are sometimes aware of Christian partners and their sensibilities. But their polite speech and writing, typically ambiguous, is suspect, disingenuous and apologetic. In this situation, fundamentalists question those engaged in dialogue about whether dialogue is justified. They think it must be broken off unless its goal and objective is to convert people to Islam. Fundamentalist preachers or those personally addicted to evangelism are no less foolish when they hold the advocates of dialogue responsible for those Muslims who convert to Christianity.

At this point it is not out of order for those who have taken the gamble and engaged in dialogue to suggest a thesis that pulls things together and straightens out relationships. It may be the only thing that assures a future between Muslims and Christians, and it is both the source and the receptacle for concern and anxiety. Assuming we can finally transform Palestine into a shared Christian-Muslim thing, then we will have removed from before the people of both religions the major obstacle to their coming together.

If only by dint of coercive power, the West is represented by a dominant America that is Christian. Its politicians work on two lines. On one, they intend to take control of the Christian religion; on the other, they intend to subvert it. Having achieved the similitude of identifying with it, Christianity then becomes a pretext for pursuing their goals that now go well beyond Palestine and into the depths of the matter. Responsibility for the events of September 11th is cast upon the shoulders of Islamic culture as a whole with the result that this culture is now a candidate for a campaign of extermination that will conclude only when the map has been redrawn, when things are divided up so as to weaken and achieve total domination. This means giving preference to the dangers of globalization over its good features.

There is very real danger in the confrontation between Christian and Muslim fundamentalisms. But out of this danger there rears up another and more potent danger. If the natural distinctions or differences between religious groups are raised up into full-blown barriers, then it becomes very difficult to confine or limit the confrontation to the Islamo-Christian environment within which it arose. It switches into something like a persistent reference to similar events in the frame of one group's memory—that is, either the broader Islamic community or the broader Christian community. The fundamentalist motivated division that grew out of a common root then begins to deteriorate further without there being any logical (or, in some cases, “mechanical”) justification adduced for this complex chain-reaction of division. With the heavy multiplication of sensitivities, recollections and historical or doctrinal precidents, this general fundamentalism, moved by intellectually or doctrinally conditioned historical instances of division that go beyond what religious doctrine requires, evolves into several separate and mutually destructive fundmentalisms. That is, they get to the stage of barrier-building and political proliferation that cannot justify itself save through elevating difference to the level of full-blown division, to the level of an ideology that unites a group in denial. This process gets to the moment of sufficiently bloated awareness when religious doctrine (or part of it) is set over against and cancels out the other's doctrine (or part of it).

Valid Islamic thought, from the founding fathers of the various Islamic doctrinal streams on down, establishes and explains the obligation to be objective and moderate when dealing with God's singularity and human unity. The political fundamentalist or the secular politician who needs fanaticism in order to establish his authority leaves behind this historically well-founded and accepted doctrinal and juridical structure. He stirs up the religious sensitivities of his group, raising sociological differences between it and other groups with which it shares citizenship to the level of insurmountable barriers.

It is up to us to discern the psychological driving force of fundamentalism in the doctrinal and juridical difference that drives it. That is, the difference that always justifies consensus on the need to review the indicators of juridical decisions and renew awareness of them.

Translation by Lew Scudder


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