The word “fundamentalist” has now so many different interpretations that it is difficult to understand what exactly fundamentalist means? In universities and colleges most of the 100 series courses are called fundamentals courses, for example, Fundamentals of Physics, Fundamentals of Chemistry, Fundamentals of Zoology, Fundamentals of Computer, Fundamentals of Philosophy, etc…. This means that these courses provide the basic knowledge of the mentioned subjects. Moreover, the education system wants to make sure that the students of these courses must understand the “fundamentals” of these subjects. Therefore, mid term exams, assignments, group discussions and final exams are arranged for assurance. The students of these subjects use this fundamental knowledge to build their academic career and “practice” what they learnt. No one calls these students and their teachers as fundamentalists?
However, when some students and their teachers take a subject called “Religion” and try to understand and use its fundamentals in their lives they are called “Fundamentalists”. Someone may say that the fundamentals of scientific subjects do not develop certain beliefs in a person and religion creates certain beliefs. This is not correct. The best example for this argument is the Evolution vs. Creation theory, which is not developed by religion. Thousands of people believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution which is based upon Darwin’s research and understanding of human development. Then the question arises why a person practicing the fundamentals of science is not called fundamentalist but a person practicing the fundamentals of religion is called fundamentalist. There must be some reasons for this name-calling. The only reason I could understand is that the governments or the society do not get challenged and threatened by a person who practices the fundamentals of Physics or Chemistry or any other science but they get challenged and threatened by a person who practices the fundamentals of religion. The behaviour of Monarchs and Heads of Governments has shown that most of them consider themselves as the highest authority in their respective territories. It is extremely difficult for them to publicly accept someone else’s authority that is higher than they are. Most of the religions especially three major religions of the world, Islam, Christianity and Judaism establish the supreme authority of God (in Arabic Allah) on all things. Therefore, most of the monarchs and dictators always had problems with the religion. Physics, Zoology and other sciences do not establish any supreme authority therefore, if a person practices and preaches the fundamentals of these sciences by writing books, by giving lectures by propagating his/her views about some laws he/she is never called as fundamentalist. In short, the word “fundamentalist” is used only for those who try to bring changes in their lives based upon the religious values.
Presently, the above criteria of “fundamentalist” have further changed. If a person practices the fundamentals of his/her beliefs it’s O.K. for him/her. And if other people also follow the same fundamentals, it is O.K. as well. However, if a follower of a different religion practices the fundamentals of his/her own religion it becomes a problem for the first person and he/she considers the second person as “fundamentalist”. The religious intolerance is the fastest growing intolerance among all kind of intolerances. This intolerance is everywhere. In developing countries it is open and known but in developed countries it is hidden and covered. In developing countries intolerance is spread through open gatherings. In the developed world the intolerance is spread through a “very civilized” way of sugarcoating.
Muslims, Christians, Jews and Fundamentalism
From the recent history of the United States, we know that President Clinton, President Bush senior, President Reagan, and most of the earlier presidents were church going presidents. The sitting President of USA, Mr. George W. Bush has kept the tradition alive. President Bush openly follows the fundamentals of Christianity. Most of his cabinet members are church going Christians. They practice, and advocate the fundamentals of Christianity. Similarly, during the inauguration ceremonies of the President of the United States the church visit and worshipping is an integral part of these ceremonies. Recently, in Quebec City, Canada 34 Head of States gathered to participate in the FTAA Summit. These Head of States gathered to discuss the trade in North, Central and South America. The Summit started on Friday and ended on Sunday. On Sunday morning, according to media reports, all the Head of States went to Church for Sunday worship. Media reported their arrival and departure from the Church. Similarly, among European countries many politicians and political parties openly follow the fundamentals of Christianity. In several European countries the political parties are identified with Christianity, for example, Christian Democratic Party in Germany, The Christian Democratic Party of Norway, etc. In Israel, very practicing Jews headed even the Liberal party’s governments. The present government led by Aerial Sharon openly practices the fundamentals of Judaism.
No one has any objections to the above religious activities in USA or Europe or Israel. No one consider these activities as fundamentalism. No one calls these Head of States as fundamentalist. However, when a Muslim Head of State practices his/her religion the western media focuses more on his/her religious activities than his political and economical activities. Media projects Islam practicing government or Head of State as “fundamentalist”. Let me give you just few examples. The present government of Iran is elected by the people. It is a democratic government that practices the fundamentals of Islam. Therefore, the western media always report the Iranian government as fundamentalist. Although, President Muhammad Khatmi is a reformer and the west appreciates his reforms. But media still calls him as fundamentalist Muslim. The reason is clear because he practices his religion openly. He dresses like a Muslim. He speaks like a Muslim and he does not hide his beliefs. President Bush does not hide his beliefs either but he has never been called a fundamentalist.
When Mr. Rafiq Tarar was elected as the President of Pakistan the western media projected him as a fundamentalist because he looked like an Islamic Scholar (AALIM). He has a along beard and does not wear western dresses. President Tarar became fundamentalist because of his appearance but no one called President, Rev. Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti as fundamentalist. He is a priest and preaches Christianity. Have we ever seen western media calling Pope as fundamentalist? He preaches Christianity, Christian values and Christian beliefs freely and openly. But when a Muslim Imam or scholar presents the values and the teachings of Islam the western media calls him fundamentalist.
We are living in a period in which the west dominates the world. No doubt, western countries economically, politically, scientifically, technologically and financially are strong. The formula “mighty is right” always works. Therefore, many Muslims fall into this media trap and disassociate themselves from mainstream Muslims. They pretend that they are secular so that the west can accept them and do not label them as fundamentalist.
In order to please the American and European governments the trend in Muslim countries have changed significantly. Now, our Presidents and Prime Minister try to hide their Islam as much as possible. I am not sure why they want to hide their religious practices? Or why they do not want to practice Islamic values as openly as the American President practices the Christian values and teachings? It is possible that the Muslim rulers may be afraid of getting labeled as fundamentalist, which may result in loosing their friendship with the western governments. Most of our Muslim leaders present themselves as secular. Although, a Christian Head of State can practice and propagate his religious values but a Muslim Head of State is reluctant to do the same. Because he “thinks” that by staying secular he can please the west and hence secure his job.
Few months ago, Arab League held its extra ordinary summit in Jordan. During this summit, did anyone see that the Muslim Head of States went together to a Mosque for prayer? Similarly, Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) had their meeting to discuss the Palestinian crises but there were no media reports that the delegates went to Mosque for prayer. GCC is also an organization of Persian Gulf countries and all of them are Muslim countries. They held their summit recently. Again, there were no media reports that the Head of States went to Mosque for prayer during the summit. However, in Quebec City for the Summit of Americas all 34 Head of States went to Church proudly and openly for Sunday worship. Why the summit of Muslim countries do not include a Mosque going session in their venue?
One may say that worshipping Allah (God) is a very personal activity and there is no need for media coverage of such activities. This is absolutely correct. However, please read my discussion in its context. I am not talking about a private citizen. I am talking about celebrities and Head of States who can influence many people. Imagine a situation when a young Muslim boy or girl who was born and raised in the USA sees American President going Church on every Sunday very regularly. He/She also sees that if a Summit is held on Sunday then all the Head of States go to Church together. When the same boy or girl visit a Muslim country like Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. and NEVER sees on TV or read in the newspaper that the President or Prime Minister of that Muslim country went for Friday prayer. What he/she will be thinking about those Head of States? What he/she will be thinking about Islam? If President Bush, President Clinton, President Reagan, President Carter, etc. go to Church and media reports them regularly, why the media of Muslim countries can not show the Muslim Presidents and Prime Ministers going to Mosque regularly? It develops better image of Muslim leaders and gives more confidence to the new Muslim generation. If no one calls these American Presidents as fundamentalist for openly practicing fundamental beliefs of Christianity why these Muslim Leaders should be called fundamentalists for practicing basic Islamic requirement of praying five times a day?
This entire conflicting situation has created a very strange and bizarre situation. On one side, the west wants to be recognized as a FREE society. Laws have been made to curb the discrimination based upon colour, religion and ethnicity. On the other side, the west does support and help those governments that are against creating a democratic society in their own countries.
Religious Freedom in the West
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not trying to give you a rosy picture of the West. Majority of Muslims living in the western world is visible minority. Their colour, accent, culture, dress and even food dishes are different from the majority of the population. The western society is still far away from a true multicultural and true multi-faith society. However, in my humble opinion, we (Muslims) in the western world have more religious freedom than the religious freedom in the Muslim countries. In North America, Europe and Australia Mosques are built daily. Even small towns now have mosques. Muslims are freely allowed to go to mosque for their five prayers. Muslim ladies can wear HIJAB (Although, they still face problems especially on university campuses and work places), Halal meat is available in all major cities of the non-Muslim world. Muslims can grow beard and wear their own native dresses. If a Muslim is discriminated he/she can go to court and most of the time gets justice. In Toronto, when a bust driver discriminated against a Muslim woman who was wearing Hijab, she filed the case and won the case. Similarly in Europe Hijab wearing is now understood. Recently, the UK police department has allowed Muslim police officers to wear Hijab. There are several cases in USA where the Muslims sued and won the cases.
Let’s see what is happening in the Muslim world. This week Turkey which is a Muslim country banned HIJAB in schools and universities. Turkey’s parliament dismissed an elected Muslim lady from the parliament because she was wearing Hijab. Muslims are fighting for the Hijab in the west while Hijab has been banned in a Muslim country. Turkey’s government is trying to prove that Islamic teachings (Hijab is one of the critical requirement in Islam) can not be practiced in Turkey. The government thinks that by banning Islamic activities they can please the European governments and Turkey will be allowed to join the European Union, a very old Turkish government’s desire. On the other side, UK, a Christian country, is allowing Muslim ladies to wear Hijab and practice what they believe in. Looks very strange to me.
If a Muslim young man starts growing beard and start praying five times a day in a Mosque, the intelligence agencies in Tunisia, Algeria, etc. gets suspicious of him and start interrogation. They consider that this person may become fundamentalist because he has grown beard and visiting mosque five times a day. That person becomes threat to the government.
There is a big misunderstanding in the west about Islam practicing Muslims. The west sees Islam practicing Muslims as fundamentalists and threat towards west. I strongly believe that the true Islamic governments in Muslim countries will be more open and friendly to the west than most of the present hypocrite governments in the Muslim countries. At least the west would know about the true Islamic governments where they stand on issues and conflicts but no one knows about most of the present Muslim governments where they stand. Therefore, it is also in the interest of the western world to help in establishing the true Islamic governments in Muslim countries. If the USA and European governments do not want to repeat what had happened in Iran when Shah of Iran left, it is extremely important for the them to let democracy flourish in the Muslim countries. In future, when the present dictators will be gone from their countries, there is a potential that the similar situation may arise which was faced by Iranians some twenty years ago. That will be bad for the west. A smooth transition of power from these so-called secular governments to Islam practicing governments will eliminate creating a sudden crises like we saw in Iran twenty some years ago. West should not see Islam as threat. The reason of presently growing extremism in the Muslim world is because of the dictator governments. These governments use Islam as a shield to protect their rule on the country, otherwise, they are neither sincere with Islam nor with Muslims nor with west.
Soon or later true Muslim leaders will form the governments in the Muslim countries regardless what west thinks about Islam. Muslims will rise once again. These undemocratic governments in Muslim countries will leave one day. Therefore, it is in the long-term interest of the western governments not to oppose Islamic governments in Muslim countries and do not see Islam as a threat.
Lets pray to Almighty Allah to make us the best human being on the face of earth by giving us the courage to practice what we say and believe in. May Allah give us the righteous leaders who fear no one but Allah? Ameen.