Islamic Fundamentalism, Islamism and Extremism – Introduction


“The mere fact of adherence to Islam has profound political consequences.” – Daniel Pipes, In the Path of God: Islam and Political Power.

The topic  of Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism, and extremism is being widely studied, discussed, and researched in academia, in almost all the top secular Western universities, parliaments, media, and communities. Its prominence came in the wake of the Oklahoma bombings and the 9/11 incident. The rise of attacks on the West and Western tourists visiting Islamic countries and the rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIL has shown new battlefronts emerging and new generations entering into conflict because of ideologies developed from the Quran. Even within Islam, there is no consensus over these ideologies. There is no clarity and many Muslims are increasingly getting radicalized by preaching they hear from radicals invited to preach in their mosques. What makes Muslims become suicide bombers or join ISIS? What drives them and motivates them to kill people with whom they have no personal issues? What lies behind the hatred of the West in many in Islamic societies? Does an average Muslim support extremists?

 “There seems to be no immediate resolution to the debate among traditionalists, Islamists, and intellectual reformers on Islam and democracy.”   — Ali R. Abootalebi,  Islam, Islamists, and Democracy

The radical preacher calls for Jihad against the infidels, the Westerners, and their permissive societies. He claims that it is the duty of every Muslim to join this struggle against the West that supports Zionism, so that the new world order according to the Quran can be established. This establishment of the “new Islamic Order” is at the core of the radical Islam.

“The following may be regarded as the major components of Islamism: Umma, Khilafa, Sharia and Jihad – all of which have become excessively politicised. Umma (nation) translates for Islamists into an obsession with the “Muslim people” and its imagined suffering worldwide (the blessings are never counted, only the problems) that in turn becomes a firmly entrenched victimhood and perpetual sense of grievance. Conflicts involving Muslims with others are continually cited – Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iraq – while ignoring savage internecine Muslim conflicts, such as the Iran-Iraq war or the current wars in Darfur and Syria, or the appalling persecution of Christians in many Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. Khalifa (caliphate) for Islamists is the idea that they are duty bound to establish “Islamic states” – described by vague, theoretical, idealistic platitudes – that would then be united in a global, pan-Islamic state or “new caliphate”. Sharia (law) for Islamists is the idea that they are duty-bound to implement and enforce medieval Islamic jurisprudence in their modern “Islamic state”. Jihad (sacred struggle) for Islamists is an obsession with violence, whether of a military, paramilitary or terrorist nature. Their Jihad aims to protect and expand the Islamic state. Extremists even dream of conquering the whole world for Islamism by militarily defeating the US, Europe, Israel, India, China and Russia.”   —-  Dr. Usama Hasan, Viewpoint: What do radical Islamists actually believe in?


The liberal or moderate Muslim does not believe in the establishment of a new order. He is liberal because he sees Islam as evolving and adapting according to the time and place of its location. Thus many liberal and moderate Muslims are Sufis. When I was in Ukraine as a PG student in the city of Dnipropetrovsk, I shared a hostel room with many Arab students. They lived like “liberal Westerners” with multiple girlfriends and some even converted their Ukrainian girlfriends to Islam. This having sex before marriage is punishable by stoning according to sharia law. But these are the liberal moderate progressive Muslims. All they need to believe is that “Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his prophet”.  A lot of other teachings are modifiable according to the place and times in which they live.

“If the majority of Muslims were not moderate, Islamists would have destroyed the Western world a long time ago. Despite its technological lead, its nuclear power, and all its armies, the Western world would never be able to face an Islamist world entirely convinced by the terrorist cause. One billion people supporting Al-Qaeda would reduce the rest of the world to ashes. Islam contains violent texts that need not be applicable today. Islam is a religion of moderation. I know because I studied theology for four years.” —- Mohamed Sifaoui: “I Consider Islamism to Be Fascism”, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 13-17

Historically, Islamic fundamentalism arose as a reaction to Sufism. Sufism evolved into praying to saints as intermediaries in shrines built for that particular saint.  Fundamentalists called for a return to the teachings of the Quran and the prophet and tradition of the first three generation of Muslims. The first three generation of Muslims were called ‘Salafs’, and these fundamentalists came to be called ‘Salafi’. ‘Salafism’ is the fundamentalist School of Islam. It calls for a return to the purest form of Islam as practiced by Prophet Mohammed and the first three generations. One of the Salafist school of Islam is called Wahhabism. Wahhabism made a political agreement with the Saud dynasty, the rulers of Saudi Arabia. The partnership still exists and forms the framework on which Islam in Saudi is lived out. The discovery of crude in Saudi Arabia and the subsequent wealth helped the spread of Salafist Islam in the form of Wahhabism to different parts of the world. Today Saudi Arabian sheiks allocate a substantial amount of petrodollars for the printing and distributing of Qurans and building mosques in different parts of the world. They also have various scholarships for foreign students to study their brand of Islam and politics, and thus fundamentalist thought has spread far and wide.  One glaring example of this is Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda. This marriage between fundamentalist Islam and political power gave rise to Islam as a political ideology called Islamism. Islamism in its effort to obtain political power and establish the new order, adopted extremism or terror tactics. This also was a reaction to Western incursion into Middle East politics, especially the establishment of Israel, by Western powers. The recent apparent success of ISIS is a good example of the rise of fundamentalist Islam as a political ideology, i.e Islamism. Not all fundamentalists are Islamists, but all Islamists are fundamentalists.

The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion–the religion of God–and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power. That return, to be effective, must be comprehensive; Islam provides the one and only solution to all questions in this world, from public policy to private conduct. It is not merely a religion, in the Western sense of a system of belief in God. It possesses an immutable law, revealed by God, that deals with every aspect of life, and it is an ideology, a complete system of belief about the organization of the state and the world. This law and ideology can only be implemented through the establishment of a truly Islamic state, under the sovereignty of God. The empowerment of Islam, which is God’s plan for mankind, is a sacred end. It may be pursued by any means that can be rationalized in terms of Islam’s own code. At various times, these have included persuasion, guile, and force.”  — Martin Kramer, Fundamentalist Islam at Large: The Drive for Power, Middle East Quarterly

Some scholars have compared Islamism, the political ideological Islam, to fascism.

“Fascism, without evoking all its particularities, bears similarities to trends also present in Islamism. I am, of course, making a reference to their will to exterminate the Jews. On this point, the Islamists may go even further in their doctrine than the Nazis did, considering that the end of the world could only occur when there are no Jews left on earth.”   —  Mohamed Sifaoui: “I Consider Islamism to Be Fascism”, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 13-17

All these developments are nothing new. The Islam of Prophet Mohammed was Fundamentalist Islam. He was an Islamist who acquired political power. He advocated extreme measures against enemies and people of other faiths both idol-worshipers and people of the book. The first three generations who spread the Islamic faith by sword in all of Arabia and North Africa can also be termed fundamentalists. That was the original Islamic expression of political power and order. That is the ‘order’ the Islamists of today are seeking to bring back.

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