What Does Fundamentalism Really Mean?
by Macksood Aftab, April 1995, Managing Editor of The Islamic Herald

In the past decade almost all Islamic revivalist movements have been labeled fundamentalists, whether they be of extremist or moderate origin. The widespread impact of the term is obvious from the following quotation from one of the most influential Encyclopedias under the title 'Fundamentalist': "The term fundamentalist has ... been used to describe members of militant Islamic groups." Why would the media use this specific word, so often with relation to Muslims?
Before the term fundamentalist was branded for Muslims, it was, and still is, being used by certain Christian denominations. Most of them are radical Baptist, Lutheran and Presbyterian groups. The Southern Baptist Convention is one such group, they take pride in being called the Fundamentalists. Because, according the them, they have gone back to the fundamentals of Christianity. They preach absolute Biblical inerrency and Millenarianism (belief in the physical return of Christ to establish a 1000 year reign). These radical groups form only a minute minority of the total Christian population, although they may be the most vocal. They want the Church to be the only authority. This reminds the modern man of the Dark Ages in Europe when the Church was in fact supreme.

What most of these groups don't realize is that the term Fundamentalist is actually derived from a series of essays published from 1910 to 1915 under the title The Fundamentals by British and American evangelists. The purpose of this 12-volume collection was to determine which churches, according to the authors, held up to genuine Christian doctrine and the ones that did not. Nevertheless the term Fundamentalist, in the Christian world, is synonymous with the 'Bible Thumpers' and the tele evangelists.

To apply the same terminology to Muslims is neither fair nor valid. Because in the case of Islam all Muslims believe in absolute inerrency of the Quran, since it is a basic Islamic tenet. Therefore the media would have to use the word fundamentalist for all Muslims! which it does not do. It only uses the word Fundamentalist for both the extremist and terrorist groups, and the true moderate Islamic revivalist movements. Both these definitions are incompatible with each other. Using the word fundamentalist for the former may be acceptable, since it does have some parallel to the Christian definition. But if that definition is to be used, however, then using the same word to describe the latter would be erroneous and completely unacceptable. It is this dual definition that is unfair to the Islamic faith. Therefore the media should either stop using the word Fundamentalist to describe any and all Islamic organizations, or be much more careful in its usage.

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