Développement de l’autonomie et du leadership des femmes pour la democratisation

Are we falling into religious fundamentalism?

By Shafiqah Othman

“Muslim fundamentalism is an ideology which stands against choice, hope, change, and humanity. Islamism is a danger for the Muslim population. It is a danger for us.”

So what is Islamism and Muslim fundamentalism? These two terms are often interchangeable and most times mean the same thing. We see it being used a lot, but what does it really mean?

Marieme Hélie-Lucas, Algerian sociologist and founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, described fundamentalisms generally as “political movements of the extreme right which in a context of globalisation… manipulate religion… in order to achieve political aims.”

Now that we have established the meaning of fundamentalism, it is important to now understand that Islamist movements are primarily political, not spiritual. So if you think that their aim is to guide you to the “right path”, think again.

Islamism is a type of Islam that uses religion as an ideology to create a totalitarian political platform, which means creating a centralised government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinion. This kind of rule exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life, including the will or thought of the people of its nation.

To fundamentalists, their social model is the only one that can exist, it is the “absolute truth”.

The most common line you’d hear from a fundamentalist would be, “This is Islam, and you cannot question it!”

They deny the possibility of interpretation and reinterpretation, even though their adherents have been a part of it for centuries. I mean, how else could you explain the emergence of the different schools of thought? 

Fundamentalists embrace absolutism and refuse to accept questioning, insisting on a monolithic system of Islam based on their beliefs, and prosecuting you for thinking against their conventional thoughts.

Islamists denounce secularists, often painting those who support secularism as anti-religion. They are against an ideology that promotes religious harmony because they wish to govern the state under their own rules, in this case, “Islamic rules”.

In a Muslim-majority country, what easier way to make people succumb to you than by using religion as a tool to garner support? 

Fundamentalists aim to bring political religion into all spheres of life. They will police, judge and change anyone that is Muslim into their monolithic system. Sometimes even going overboard and demanding non-Muslims to conform.

A lot of times, they aim sharply at women’s rights, policing and restricting our clothes, speech, and career, but this is usually bolstered with the soothing language of respect and protection. No doubt, there are women fundamentalists who advocate for these movements, but usually they don’t realise that they do so at the expense of other women as well.

Most people associate Islamism and Muslim fundamentalism with violence, advances that are physical. But there is one type of fundamentalism that is just as deadly, and that fundamentalism is given the term “diffused fundamentalism.” This kind of fundamentalism is naturalised into your daily lives, and most times we don’t even realise it.

They are absorbed and then spread through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the internet, television, radio, sermons and word of mouth.

A lot of times, they are being spread as forms of entertainment. Shows on who is a good Muslim or who is not, talk shows in which you can enquire about what kind of sex you can have with your spouse and still “be a good Muslim”, pronouncements (with a little bit of humour added in) on how to talk, walk, dress, eat, sleep and all the little things you do in your daily lives. 

This fundamentalism is invisible in its pervasiveness and that’s what makes it so dangerous. Once absorbed and socially accepted, they become hard to combat and overturned. Diffused fundamentalism has essentially taken the beautiful and aesthetic religion that I grew up with, and turned it into a series of bodily functions.

Diffused Muslim fundamentalism is dangerous because it is the seed that supports the growth of a society that condones violence and discrimination. It is the seed that sprouts the mentality that excuses the actions of Islamist groups such as ISIS, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. It is the seed where it all begins.

Any kind of fundamentalism creates an oppressive environment. That, we all know. It’s not rocket science. After everything that we have seen so far, in the news and media, are we falling into religious fundamentalism?

You be the judge.

Just always remember: Go into politics with Islamic values, but never politicise Islam.

* This is the personal opinion of the author.

Shafiqa Othman works for Sisters in Islam in Malaysia, and with the international Musawah network.  Shafiqa attended WELDD's workshop on "Culturally-Justified Violence Against Women: Resistance and Sustaining Our Activism" in Jakarta, Indonesia in August 2014. This piece originally published by The Malay Online.

Political and Public Participation
Culturally Justified Violence Against Women