Saturday, March 02, 2013

"Islamism" v. "Muslim fundamentalism"

Ever since graduate school, I've felt the same way about those terms that Juan Cole does here.  In fact, his critique is an exact echo of my own.  I'm probably noticing this so strongly now since a decade ago I would get corrected by people when I used the ostensibly wrong term.
I don’t like the term “Islamism,” which was promoted by French scholars in preference to the American “Muslim fundamentalism,” since they thought the latter too Protestant in inspiration (it has no exact counterpart in French, where “integrisme” is sometimes used by analogy from ultramontane, hard line Catholicism). I think “Muslim fundamentalism” is better because, as the Chicago University project on fundamentalisms showed, it allows us to see the phenomenon in the context of similar movements in other religions. Moreover, I think the term is confusing because it is too close to “Islam” per se, and I don’t agree with figures such as Gilles Keppel who see the “Islamists” as unusually “pious,” implying that they are the real Muslims. Secular-minded Muslims who are nevertheless believers, and Sufi mystics, are also “pious,” and I don’t think social scientists should be deciding who is a better Muslim.
What he says at the end about the Gilles Keppel approach is also true, and might have something to do with the detachment of many modern scholars from serious religious practitioners.  The nearly identical usage which is more common in the U.S. is the term "moderate Muslims," which usually just means that they do not push a political program dependent upon those aspects of Islamic teaching which do not dovetail with the values of a secular political movement.  In other words, if a Muslim focuses on the religion's strong social justice message instead of women's modesty and alcohol, that Muslim is said to be "moderate" with regard to his or her faith, which carries the implicit assumption that the purely religious teachings are what to non-believers amounts to inexplicable cultural decoration.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

though I agree with Juan Cole---to put Islamic religious experience in a "western" context/label is a disservice. I can understand that this may be necessary to simplify matters---but there are real differences in "understanding" the basics.

Christian "fundamentalists" claim their basis on "literalist" interpretations of the Bible which they feel is the actual "word of God". This is what differentiates them from non-fundamentalist Christians. This cannot apply to the Islamic religious experience---as all muslims, regardless of their spectrum---agree that the Quran is a revelation from God---and it CANNOT be understood only "literally"----because the Quran itself says it must not be. Therefore, the difference between what is termed "fundamentalist" and the rest (mainstream and Sufi) is that they claim to go "back" to a "purer" form of Islam....which is why the term "Puritans/Purists" would apply better.
(the spectrum would be (inclusive of both Shia and Sunni)----Puritans, Mainstream, Sufi)

The term-"secular-minded" muslims may also not be completely accurate---as from a muslim perspective the emphasis is on pluralism rather than on secularism. (universalism/pluralism is also a theme in the Quran)

2:33 AM  

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