Religious Fundamentalism: Monolithic or Diverse and Fragmentary?

Christopher Hurtado —  December 22, 2008 — Leave a comment
Religious Fundamentalism: Monolithic or Diverse and Fragmentary? | Christopher Hurtado

As seen in recent campaigns, there is a tendency among politicians to conflate all religious fundamentalist movements into one. Wahhabism is widely perceived as the beginning and end. Did religious fundamentalism arise in the Middle East with Wahhabism, inaugurating a continuously expanding, homogeneous and monolithic Islamic fundamentalist movement under unified leadership? As a matter of fact, no, it did not. Middle Eastern religious fundamentalism is much older than Wahhabism, heterogeneous, and fragmentary.

 

Religious fundamentalism did not arise in the Middle East with Wahhabism. Abdul Wahhab, the eighteenth century founder of the neo-orthodox Wahhabism movement was influenced by late thirteenth century to early fourteenth century Islamic fundamentalist, Ibn Taymiyyah. In the four centuries between them there were other movements as well.

Middle Eastern religious fundamentalism is not homogeneous. Wahhabism was atypical because it was not a Sufi movement like most were. There are also Jewish settlers, Shiite fundamentalists, and even some Sunni movements that are religious fundamentalists who do not come out of that tradition. There are as many Islamic fundamentalist movements as there are sects in Islam. This is often due to the fact that these sects do not recognize each other as orthodox. There are also as many religious fundamentalist movements as there are religions in the Middle East. In addition to Islamic fundamentalist movements, there are also Jewish and Christian fundamentalist movements. Thus, not only are many of these religious fundamentalist movements independent of one another, many of them are also natural enemies.

There is no monolithic Islamic fundamentalist movement under unified leadership. Islamic fundamentalism from late thirteenth century to early fourteenth century Harran’s (modern-day Turkey) Ibn Taymiyya to early twentieth century Egypt’s Hasan al-Banna’s Muslim Brotherhood is heterogeneous and fragmentary. While all Islamic fundamentalist movements share some commonalities by definition, such as advocating a return to the shari’a, they differ in many ways as well, especially in terms of geography and the context in which they arise. Different Islamic fundamentalist movements have arisen in different parts of the Muslim world at different times in response to different issues. Islamic fundamentalist movements have also diffused geographically, sometimes changing in character in the process.

Religious fundamentalism did not arise in the Middle East with Wahhabism, inaugurating a continuously expanding, homogeneous and monolithic Islamic fundamentalist movement under unified leadership. Attempts by politicians to conflate all religious fundamentalist movements into one are born either of ignorance or deceit. Middle Eastern religious fundamentalism is much older than Wahhabism, heterogeneous, and fragmentary.

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

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