The Funda of Fundamentalism

Fundamental Serving as an essential component
Being or involving basic facts or principles

A lot has been said against religious fundamentalism, especially that practiced by Muslims. Fundamentalism, in my opinion, is not terrorism or extremism. Fundamentalism is integral to the understanding and practice of a faith.

What does being a Muslim, a regular Muslim, mean? Do you call yourself Muslim because you were born into a family that identifies with Islam? Or do you call yourself Muslim because you believe in Islam? There is a difference between belief and practice. You may believe in an ideology but not necessarily practice it, for whatever reason. So if you call yourself a Muslim, is it because you believe in it or just because you practice it blindly?

At this point, a distinction between Muslims, as they exist, must be made: there are non-practicing Believers and practicing Believers. By Believers, I refer to those Muslims who believe in the basic premise and principles of Islam, such as the oneness of the Almighty, the authenticity of the Quran, and the prophethood. These Muslims believe in Islam, but they may or may not practice it. And then there are cultural Muslims, who were born into Muslim families, whose parents may also be cultural Muslims, solely owing to the fact that their ancestors were Muslim. Most of these Muslims practice the religious rituals as just that: ritual. Prayer, observances, manners and festivals are all inherent in their traditions, and cannot be differentiated from cultural practices, as the fundamentals of the faith were not passed down to them; only the practices were. When cultural Muslims begin to think deeper about their existence, this ritualistic observation of the everyday minutiae of Islam (eating with the right hand, covering one’s head, abstaining from alcohol) begins to seem meaningless, because it is not associated with any logic or fundamental basis. Believers, on the other hand, remain doubtless about their practice because they know that once the fundamentals have been established, the minutiae does not require in-depth analysis. It only becomes a matter of striving to adopt more and more Islamic traditions into one’s lifestyle as an essential component of faith. It is easy to recant one’s conviction in washing three times for prayer, but difficult to shake one’s faith in the existence of God’s word.

Being a fundamentalist means knowing, accepting and adhering to, the basics of an ideology or a religion. If you are an Islamic fundamentalist, it means that you know the basics of Islam before choosing to follow it. Every Muslim interprets Islam in his or her own personal way. This is not a description of how it should be, but how it is. Interpretation is inevitable. If your interpretation of Islam is based not on the basics or fundamentals of Islam but only on stories you heard from your parents or practices that have been ingrained in you since childhood, then it is not a very strong foundation, because your belief system is inherited and not understood.

The problem arises when people who are not fundamentalists (ie, who do not believe, or even know the basics) follow a religion blindly. When you act without reason or understanding, your acts hold no meaning. If you are not a fundamentalist, if you do not care for the basics, you will not know that the word Islam means peace. You will not know that there is no concept of holy war in Islam. You will not know that according to Islam, killing one human being is equivalent to killing all of humanity. Terrorists are not fundamentalists, because Islam condemns hate crime, holy war, revenge, genocide, massacre. Neither are extremists, because Allah prefers moderation in everything. Why are we so wary of fundamentalism, when it is the only key that will allow us to understand an ideology from its roots instead of a stilted or warped version of it?

The people fighting so-called holy wars today are not fundamentalists. Their wars are in the name of their own agenda. Not in the name of Islam.

Islam is an evolving faith. It is not stagnant, nor must it aim to be. Every generation of Muslims must be treated as the first, and must learn, understand and believe in the faith, not because it was passed down by their forefathers, but because it is relevant to each one of them as an individual message from God, especially aimed at them. Their faith must be kept fresh. Only then can we raise generation after generation of seeing believers instead of hoards of blind followers.

This entry was published on November 2, 2010 at 23:53 and is filed under Introspeculation. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

One thought on “The Funda of Fundamentalism

  1. Shweta on said:

    I think this can hold true for all religions. Communication is a very vital keyword, how it happens between generations within a religion and amongst different believers…!

    As a Hindu I see the same issues, practices and rituals transferred without the understanding.

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