Fundamentalism is a word we often hear in the media being used against Islam and muslims. But few people know the origin, true meaning and implications of this word. According to the New Webster’s dictionary fundamentalism means: “A belief that the Bible is to be accepted literally as an inerrant and infallible spiritual and historical document; an early 20th century protestant movement stressing this belief; any similar belief and movement”.


In another dictionary (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English), Fundamentalism has been defined as: “Maintenance of the literal interpretation of the traditional belief of the Christian religion, such as accuracy of everything of the Bible’.


Thus, according to these definitions, fundamentalism is only applicable to Christians. The expansion of so called modernism and the consequential depreciation of moral values in the west called into question many of the teachings of the Bible.


To have strong (religious) conviction is considered by many to be narrow-minded, dogmatic, and even fanatic. In addition, other forces in Christianity like science, philosophy, secularism, and materialism played their roles in raising doubts and fostering scepticism about religion and God.


While coming across many schools of thought in Christianity, one can find that there exists controversy as to the exact text of the Bible. With this historical perspective, it becomes evident that the expression fundamentalism was evolved by Christians for Christians having strong religious convictions and belief in the literal meaning of the Bible. In contrast, there is no such doubt about the Quran – in spite of the fact that fringe movements have often tried to distort it to promote their own diverse beliefs.


The Quran was revealed to Muhammad. Upon receiving each revelation, Muhammad memorised it and recited it to his companions and scribes. All the chapters of the Quran were recorded in writing before Muhammad’s death, and many muslims committed the Quran to memory.  With this retrospective, it is obvious that fundamentalism is purely a Christian phenomenon having no relationship with muslims.


Western media started to use this word against muslims, particularly after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, because in recent history it was a major movement illustrating the influence of Islam. Some sections of the media continue to defame muslims and Islam, make false accusations against muslims and, by distorting the history, continue to give these impressions about muslims which are untenable and have no basis in truth. The muslims on their part should treat this word as a calumny against muslims and a deplorable attempt of distorting their and others’ view about Islam and the Quran.


It should be understood that this word has very serious and far-reaching
implications; it may mean that there are muslims who doubt the infallibility of the Quran, when truthfully speaking there is none, for the muslims who believe in the one God and identify themselves with the true message sent by Him to mankind through His messengers. The continuity of belief in Him and the mode of current living with its challenges and influences is a repeated confirmation of His instructions and their universality for all times.


To those of us who use the expression of ‘fundamentalism’ for muslims, as a result of the influence of shallow norms of modern living and also of the media, it is a clear manifestation of deficient belief in God and His messages, and lack of knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the Quran.


At this stage, it is worth considering more deeply the understanding, or lack of it, when it comes to the role of Muhammad. This combined with the facts illustrated above contribute to a tradition of misinterpretation with regard to Islam. What is recognised now as Islam was once commonly known as Mohammadanism; a false term generated from the misconception that Muhammad himself was the founder, not simply a messenger. In tandem with this misappropriation of the founding of Islam, the term denies that the one God founded Islam and also implies that Muhammad alone was responsible for the creation of the Quran. Not only this, but the term Mohammadanism further suggests that Muhammad is an aspect of worship, whereas there is no verse in the Quran that supports this claim.


Firstly, there is the issue of misattributing Muhammad’s role as a messenger. The term Mohammadanism is obsolete, and in truth was never an appropriate term.


More proof, were it needed, of the origin of Islam exists in a verse, which states: “I have brought guidance that is no different from what other messengers brought. I have no idea what will happen to me or to you. I only follow what is revealed to me. I am no more than a profound warner.” [Verse 46:9].


This verse reveals that Muhammad was not even the first messenger to follow the way of life as specified in the Quran. It states that “other messengers” had come before Muhammad and followed the same Deen as he did. This is elaborated further in an earlier passage which reads: “He decreed for you the same Deen; the established Order, that He decreed for Noah and what We reveal here to you and the same that We decreed for Abraham, Moses and Jesus.” [Verse 42:13].


Also those who refer to Muhammad as a ‘prophet’ are also in error as this implies he ‘prophesised’ or foretold the future. There is sufficient evidence in the Quran to confirm this, not least the clear statement “…nor do I know the future.” [Verse 6:50].


Muhammad’s role was that of a ‘profound warner’, and the last in a line of many. The term Mohammadanism is thus proven to be obsolete as there is no support in the Quran of Muhammad as a deity or superior human being; rather he is a man, a messenger with a message. Similarly, the lineage including Jesus, Noah and Moses proves that the timeframe of the origin of Islam significantly predates that of Muhammad.


Such is the straightforwardness with which the lineage of God’s messengers are set out and their role explained, so is the original text of the Quran in essence incorruptible. The perversion of the text by some translators and the exaggeration by the media may be prevalent misconceptions, but the text itself bears no relation to the tag of ‘fundamentalism’. Just as Mohammadanism is an outmoded and archaic term, so is fundamentalism an equally incompatible term for Deen-Islam.


Radicalisation is also a term that has been wrongly applied to Islam by some sections of the media. While it is true that the concepts in the Quran are thorough and far reaching because they seek strict disciplinary measures to overturn corrupt and unjust ideas, it is wrong to say without evidence that they are cruel and oppressive. Radicalisation itself is not necessarily negative but when applied to Islam it is often with the intention of demonising  it.


The Quran does instruct muslims to initiate sweeping changes, and these may indeed be radical in the sense that they are profound. However, these challenges are there to improve mankind’s situation and move it forward to a better future.