Fundamentalist, militant, radical, extremist. All words commonly applied to Islam and Muslims to describe the element involved in carrying out, encouraging or condoning terrorist or criminal activities. I have issues with some of these descriptions. We often hear the likes of Stephen Lennon claiming that the EDL are at war with fundamental Islam, or terrorists described as Muslim fundamentalists. To me, this just misses the point by such a huge margin and displays such ignorance that it can’t be ignored.
1. serving as, or being an essential part of, a foundation or basis; basic; underlying: fundamental principles; the fundamental structure.
2. of, pertaining to, or affecting the foundation or basis: a fundamental revision.
3. being an original or primary source: a fundamental idea.
5. a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part: to master the fundamentals of a trade.
Synonyms – essential, original, primary.
Using the word fundamental to describe the violent jihadist outlook of terrorists, is quite blatantly insinuating that Islam in its original 7th century incarnation was violent, hostile and barbaric. Anyone who has studied Islam or the history of the Arab world will know how this perception is completely at odds with the truth.
The word Islam is a verbal noun which originates from the trilateral root ‘S-L-M’ (Shin-Lamedh-Mem) which translates as ‘whole-safe-intact’, and is derived from the verb ‘aslama’ which means ‘to give up’, ‘to desert’ or ‘to surrender’. Its religious meaning in the simplest term is ‘submission’ or ‘surrender’, or more poetically ‘entrusting one’s wholeness to another’ namely God. Another word derived from the same root is ‘Salaam’ which means ‘Peace’. ‘Muslim’ is the participle of the same verb of which Islam is the infinitive, and means ‘one who submits’.
It is also important to note that Muhammad was encouraging submission to Allah which is a contraction of the Arabic definite article al- “the” and ‘ilāh “deity, god” to al-lāh meaning “the [sole] deity, God”. So rather than claiming to bring revelations from a new deity named Allah, Muhammad was simply using the Arabic for the God already worshipped by Christians and Jews. For one to devote one’s life to the worship and adherence to the commandments of Allah (become a Muslim), one would need to accept that the Qur’an is the final word of God as revealed to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Naturally, as a prophet of God, Muhammad lived his life according to the message of God and encouraged others to follow his example. It’s logical to assume therefore that the message of the Qur’an, the life of Muhammad and the earliest examples of life under Islam are an accurate indication of the fundamentals of the faith.
Historians, scholars and biographers are quite unanimous in the opinion that the advent of Islam was a blessing for Arabia, and the deeds and words of Muhammad revolutionised Arabian society.
Muhammad approved and exhorted certain aspects of the Arab pre-Islamic tradition, such as the care for one’s near kin, for widows, orphans, and others in need and for the establishment of justice.
William Montgomery Watt states that Muhammad was both a social and moral reformer. He asserts that Muhammad created a “new system of social security and a new family structure, both of which were a vast improvement on what went before. By taking what was best in the morality of the nomad and adapting it for settled communities, he established a religious and social framework for the life of many races of men.”
Bernard Lewis writes about the significance of Muhammad’s achievements:
“He had achieved a great deal. To the pagan peoples of western Arabia he had brought a new religion which, with its monotheism and its ethical doctrines, stood on an incomparably higher level than the paganism it replaced. He had provided that religion with a revelation which was to become in the centuries to follow the guide to thought and count of countless millions of Believers.
According to Lewis, Islam “from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents.”
According to Jonathan Brockopp, professor of History and Religious Studies, the idea of using alms for the manumission of slaves appears to be unique to the Qur’an. Brockopp adds that: “Other cultures limit a master’s right to harm a slave but few exhort masters to treat their slaves kindly, and the placement of slaves in the same category as other weak members of society who deserve protection is unknown outside the Qur’an. The unique contribution of the Qur’an, then, is to be found in its emphasis on the place of slaves in society and society’s responsibility toward the slave, perhaps the most progressive legislation on slavery in its time.”
The Islamic prophet Muhammad encouraged manumission of slaves, even if one had to purchase them first. On many occasions, Muhammad’s companions, at his direction, freed slaves in abundance. Muhammad personally freed 63 slaves, and his wife Aisha freed 67. In total his household and friends freed 39,237 slaves.
The Oxford Dictionary of Islam states that the general improvement of the status of Arab women included prohibition of female infanticide, and recognizing women’s full personhood.
William Montgomery Watt: “At the time Islam began, the conditions of women were terrible – they had no right to own property, were supposed to be the property of the man, and if the man died everything went to his sons.” Muhammad, however, by “instituting rights of property ownership, inheritance, education and divorce, gave women certain basic safeguards.”
Majid Khadduri writes that under the Arabian pre-Islamic law of status, women had virtually no rights. Sharia (Islamic law), however, provided women with a number of rights.
John Esposito states that the reforms affected marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Women were not accorded with such legal status in other cultures, including the West, until centuries later.
Nancy Gallagher, Encyclopedia of Women & Islamic Cultures, Infanticide and Abandonment of Female Children: According to some scholars, Muhammad’s condemnation of infanticide was the key aspect of his attempts to raise the status of women.
Maya Shatzmiller (1994), Labour in the Medieval Islamic World: The labor force in the Caliphate were employed from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, while both men and women were involved in diverse occupations and economic activities. Women were employed in a wide range of commercial activities and diverse occupations in the primary sector (as farmers, for example), secondary sector (as construction workers, dyers, spinners, etc.) and tertiary sector (as investors, doctors, nurses, presidents of guilds, brokers, peddlers, lenders, scholars, etc.). Muslim women also held a monopoly over certain branches of the textile industry, the largest and most specialized and market-oriented industry at the time, in occupations such as spinning, dyeing, and embroidery. In comparison, female property rights and wage labour were relatively uncommon in Europe until the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Jamal Badawi, The status of women in Islam: Women’s rights in the Qur’an are based around the marriage contract. A woman, according to Islamic tradition, does not have to give her pre-marriage possessions to her husband and receives a mahr (dowery) which she is allowed to keep.
Dr. Jamal A. Badawi: The position of women in Islam: In Islam, in some circumstances, a woman can initiate a divorce. According to Sharia Law, a woman can file a case in the courts for a divorce in a process called “Khal’a”, meaning “Break up”. However, under most Islamic schools of jurisprudence, both partners must unanimously agree to the divorce in order for it to be granted. To prevent irrational decisions and for the sake of the family’s stability, Islam enjoins that both parties observe a waiting period (of roughly three months) before the divorce is finalized.
The Qur’an rejected the pre-Islamic idea of children as their fathers’ property and abolished the pre-Islamic custom of adoption.
Sociologist Robert N. Bellah (Beyond Belief) argues that Islam in its 7th century origins was, for its time and place, “remarkably modern…in the high degree of commitment, involvement, and participation expected from the rank-and-file members of the community.”
The concepts of welfare and pension were introduced in early Islamic law as forms of Zakat (charity), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, under the Rashidun caliph Umar in the 7th century. This practice continued well into the Abbasid era, as seen under Al-Ma’mun’s rule in the 8th century, for example. The taxes (including Zakat and Jizya) collected in the treasury of an Islamic government were used to provide income for the needy, including the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled.
Islam reduced the devastating effect of blood feuds, which was common among Arabs, by encouraging compensation in money rather than blood. In case the aggrieved party insisted on blood, unlike the pre-Islamic Arab tradition in which any male relative could be slain, only the culprit himself could be executed.
The Cambridge History of Islam states that the nomadic structure of pre-Islamic Arabia had the serious moral problem of the care of the poor and the unfortunate. “Not merely did the Qur’an urge men to show care and concern for the needy, but in its teaching about the Last day it asserted the existence of a sanction applicable to men as individuals in matters where their selfishness was no longer restrained by nomadic ideas of dishonour.”
Islam teaches support for the poor and the oppressed. In an effort to protect and help the poor and orphans, regular almsgiving — zakat — was made obligatory for Muslims. This regular alms-giving developed into a form of income tax to be used exclusively for welfare.
Sometime after 622 Muhammad drafted the Constitution of Medina. It constituted a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib (later known as Medina), including Muslims, Jews, Christians and pagans. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community.
The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a haram or sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, a judicial system for resolving disputes, and also regulated the paying of blood money.
Hisham Ramadan: Understanding Islamic Law: From Classical to Contemporary: The Medina Constitution also instituted peaceful methods of dispute resolution among diverse groups living as one people but without assimilating into one religion, language, or culture.
Welch in Encyclopedia of Islam states: “The constitution reveals his Muhammad’s great diplomatic skills, for it allows the ideal that he cherished of an ummah (community) based clearly on a religious outlook to sink temporarily into the background and is shaped essentially by practical considerations.”
The Basic Principles of Sharia
Respect for Divine Revelation – Classical Islamic scholars interpret this to require freedom of religion, which means that each human has the right freely to seek truth.
Respect for the Human Person and Life – This principle provides guidelines for what in modern parlance is called the doctrine of just war.
Respect for Family and Community – at every level all the way to the community of humankind as an important expression of the person.
Respect for the Environment – concerns the relative priorities in protecting the environment versus protecting the other essential purposes of human life.
Respect for Economic Justice – This requires respect for the rights of private property in the means of production, which is a universal human right of every human being
Respect for Political Justice – including the concept that economic democracy is a precondition for the political democracy of representative government.
Respect for Human Dignity – This principle states that the most important requirement for individual human dignity is gender equity. In traditional Islamic thought, freedom and equality are not ultimate ends but essential means to pursue the higher purposes inherent in the divine design of the Creator for every person.
Respect for Knowledge – The last universal or essential purpose at the root of Islamic jurisprudence is respect for knowledge. This can be sustained only by observance of the first seven principles and also is essential to each of them.
The second-order principles of this maqsad are freedom of thought, press, and assembly so that all persons can fulfil their purpose to seek knowledge wherever they can find it.
The word Islam has the same origin as the word for peace. Islam through Muhammad improved life for women, children and slaves. He reformed womens rights in marriage, divorce and inheritance, outlawed infanticide and encouraged and practiced the emancipation of slaves. He introduced the concept of welfare and social security through a tax system to benefit the needy, including the poor, elderly, orphans, widows, and the disabled. He ended the blood feuds by introducing financial compensation in it’s place. He ended the constant battles in Medina by instigating a constitution that ensured the security of the community, religious freedoms, the barring of all violence and weapons, the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, and a judicial system for resolving disputes. His revelations and example were also the cornerstone of the basic principles of Sharia which stand up to scrutiny as a precursor to modern human rights guidelines.
These are examples of the effect that the fundamentals of Islam had on the Arab world. The basic, pure, uncorrupted principles at the core of Islam. The likes of the EDL attempt to evade accusations of discrimination by claiming they’re not against Islam, only the barbaric 7th century version practiced by extremists. They see cruel, inhumane and discriminatory acts being committed in developing or third world countries and assume their form of Islam is less evolved and therefore closer to the original version. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Poverty, lack of education and oppression means that a huge number of these people have never even owned or read the Qur’an. They are at the mercy of conservative clerics, corrupt authorities and Taliban style militias who use their own distorted versions of Islam and political views to subjugate and manipulate the public. The ideology espoused by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda has deviated so far from the principles and morality of Islam that it ceases to be Islamic. In fact it could be argued quite convincingly that their motives are entirely political, and religion is only used dishonestly to justify their actions.
I want to have a look at the other adjectives that are often used to describe Muslims.
Radical – deviating by extremes, extremist, fanatical, rebellious, revolutionary.
Militant – belligerent, hostile, barbaric, aggressive, offensive.
Extreme – beyond reason and convention, fanatical, irrational, rabid, unreasonable.
How can someone adhereing to the fundamentals also be rebellious and beyond convention? How can someone follow the original theology but also deviate by extremes? Islam forbids aggression and excess and encourages moderation, even in religion.
‘We have made you a nation justly balanced’ (2:143)
‘Do not overburden yourselves, lest you perish. People [before you] overburdened themselves and perished. Their remains are found in hermitages and monasteries’ (Musnad of Abu Ya’la).
Muhammad once said to his close Companion Abdullah ibn ‘Amr: ‘Have I heard tight that you fast everyday and stand in prayer all night?’ Abdullah replied, ‘Yes, 0 Messenger of God: The Prophet said, ‘Do not do that. Fast, as well as, eat and drink. Stand in prayer, as well as, sleep. This is because your body has a right upon you, your eyes have a right upon you, your wife has a right upon you, and your guest has a right upon you (Bukhari, Muslim).
Islam only permits fighting in self defence, and commands to cease if the opponent surrenders.
Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.
But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.
If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear (the punishment of) God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves.
“If you kill one person unjustly it is as if you killed the whole humanity, and if you saved once person it is as if you saved the whole humanity.” (Quran Surah 5 Verse No 32)
Therefore a militant form of Islam which encourages hostility, aggression and barbarism is a departure from the fundamentals and un-Islamic. Just as Christians claim that someone acting in an un-Christian manner is by defenition no longer a Christian, the same must apply to Muslims. It may be a trivial point. It’s not going to stop extremists being extremists. But I thinks it’s crucial in changing the perception of Islam and understanding the situation. The belief that the problem with Islamic extremism is a dogmatic adherence to a barbaric 7th century religion is common even among non-Islamophobes. But it is clearly not true. The need for Islamophobes to make the link between Islam and crimes committed by its adherents means that we need to be clear on the these facts to be able to counter their claims. The best way I can think of putting it, even as an atheist, is by quoting Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) when he said that the problem isn’t too much Islam but too little.