Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies are the authors of the mini-handbook for Islam called The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam. This book is incredibly helpful to students like myself that are not well informed on the ideologies and beliefs of various sects of Islam. For example, they introduce Islamic fundamentalists in chapter 8 in regards to contemporary issues. In terms of the historic foundation of the current fundamentalist “jihadi” movement, it dates back to the 1950s. In the fifties, Muslim countries gained their independence but still ended up being ruled by Westernized elites. Because these leaders were not reformists or traditionalists, the Muslim people felt like their values and attitudes were suppressed. Since then, there has been deep-seeded conflict between the West and those who felt oppressed as Muslims. Sardar and Davies suggest that after the ‘Islamic revolution’ in 1979 traditional scholars were motivated by their success and taste of power. Militant jihadis wanted to create an ideal Islamic state, and the Taliban was an effort towards accomplishing that goal. Now, there are militant jihadis in all Muslim countries and they create uneasiness and fear among their communities. The authors also mention that although this is just the history of the fundamentalist jihadis, 21st century fundamentalists are actually rooted in fear of innovation. These people strive to practice Islam exactly as it was in the medieval times, in hopes that others’ perceptions of Islam will reflect that past time as well.
These fundamentalists take the Islamic law, sharia, very seriously and literally. In their eyes, “everything must be rejected; and everything must be based on the sharia… it is ‘Islamic law’ that makes an Islamic state Islamic” (Davies & Sardar, 2007). Such avid followers of this sharia law are known as puritan fundamentalists because of their belief in following the word of sharia law literally and with little to no context. (Note: Sharia law is not the word of the Qur’an.) Puritan fundamentalists are mainly concerned with the crime and punishment aspects of the sharia law – especially the hubud laws, which are the most extreme punishments possible for a given crime. They prefer to practice the hubud laws “as demonstrable proof that the state is enforcing the whole of Islam” (Davies & Sardar, 2007).
I personally believe that Islamic law has not always been consumed with punishment. Of course, there are aspects of every religion that address conflict management and “punishment,” but I strongly believe it is up to the individual to determine how literally to take these ancient words. As Sardar and Davies explain, even the sharia cannot be taken as “Divine” because it has little to owe to the Qur’an (Davies & Sardar, 2007). Additionally, when Sardar and Davies discuss hubud, they mention that, although cutting off the hands of a thief is part of sharia, it is only applicable and justifiable in an environment in which there is no need to steal and any effort to do so is of evil intent – and we simply do not live in such a world. Therefore, I believe it is the Islamic fundamentalists, who deem certain crimes as worthy of hubud law on their own terms, that have made Islam so centered around punishment in today’s world.
Another interesting aspect of today’s Islam is the concept of “Islamic feminism” which is different from “Western” or “Secular” feminism. The differences between Islamic feminism and Western feminism are clear. Western feminism focuses on separating religion and government and stresses the importance of women’s rights as individuals. Something worth noting is that there seems to be a pattern of Western women arguing for equality in the public sphere but utilizing gender roles in the home (Badran, 2011). Islamic feminism, on the other hand, is built upon the idea of women analyzing and acting on the Qur’an by their own interpretations of the text. Trailblazers for Islamic feminism do not actually like the term itself, they prefer to be recognized as Islamic scholars. It was not until recently that the term Islamic feminist became more widely accepted. Unlike Islamic fundamentalists, Islamic feminists are not hostile when fighting for what they believe – they are activists but lack the militant nature. A group of women in the 1980s in Malaysia started a community called Sisters in Islam. Women in this community were dedicated to investigating the word of the Qur’an, as it is commonly used to justify violence and oppression to women. They have found that several common acts upon women in Muslim families, such as wife beating, are not condoned whatsoever by the Qur’an. The effort to prove such inequalities is now known as scholarship activism and it has become central to the Islamic feminism movement, sparking change in communities and treatment of Muslim women worldwide.
Badran, M. (2011). From Islamic Feminism to a Holistic Muslim Feminism. Retrieved from: https://blackboard.missouri.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-3161660-dt-content-rid-31263463_1/courses/SP2017.GERMAN.4810.01/From%20Islamic%20feminism%20to%20a%20Muslim%20Holistic%20feminism.pdf
Davies, M. & Sardar, Z. The No-Nonsense Guide to Islam. New Internationalist Publications, 2007. Print.