Islamic Fundamentalism: Implications for Missions By Nabeel Jabbour - Jul 15, 2006

(Adapted for Perspective course)

Looking at a Picasso painting and finding out that it was sold for a huge sum of money is a cultural shock. Why would anybody pay so much money for such a "strange" painting? Of course it has tremendous value as an investment, but I have a hard time finding the beauty in that art. If this reveals anything, it reveals my ignorance when it comes to that kind of art. I need someone who understands the genius of Picasso to interpret his art for me.

Islam, like a Picasso painting, is a "strange" phenomenon to most western minds, while Islamic Fundamentalism is even more difficult to understand. There is a tendency "to judge the Fundamentalists' dedication as extremism, their willingness to lay down their lives for serving God as fanaticism, their holistic view of life as rebellion against the state, and their hatred of, and desire to punish, sin as bloodthirstiness, their convictions as dogmatism, their solidarity as exclusiveness, and their sense of dignity and honor as haughty pride..." (quote from The Rumbling Volcano, p. 8)
If we come with our preconceived ideas and project our prejudices on Muslims, then we will experience fierce antagonism from them in general, but especially from the Muslim Fundamentalists in particular. The challenge for us is to dare to enter their worldview, share their consciousness, explore its interior, and look at their world through their mindset, while at the same time, retaining our own perception and worldview.

Resurgence in Egypt as Example

In my book, The Rumbling Volcano, I have attempted to study the phenomenon of Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt, and its implications for the Arab world, as well as for the wider Muslim world. Egypt is a strategic country in the Middle East. If Egypt should become an Islamic state similar to that of Iran, then sooner or later many other countries will follow.
This article is a summary of the political, religious, economic, social, and psychological factors that play a role in attracting young people to Fundamentalism. Although these factors mainly reflect the situation in Egypt, the principles are applicable to a great extent in Algeria, Indonesia, and other Third World Muslim countries.
In Egypt there has been a series of ebbs and flows between secular waves and Islamic resurgence. The first wave started at the end of the nineteenth century, when Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, followed later by Muhammad Abdu, responded to the westernization process resulting from the strong colonialism of the nineteenth century. The second wave was caused by the same factors and manifested itself in openness to western culture and education through Hasan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The third wave came in response to the secularization brought about by Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution, resulting in the humiliating defeat of the 1967 war with Israel. This third wave started right after that war, and is continuing into the present, in response to the successive failures of socialism and capitalism, as well as in response to man's basic needs, of which most Egyptians have been deprived.

Characteristic of this resurgence is the comprehensiveness of Islam. Islam is deen wa dawla (doctrine, life, and politics), and it includes all the various aspects of the life of the individual and of the nation. Economics, politics, theology, as well as the judiciary system, are part of an all-inclusive and comprehensive Islamic system.

In Egypt, the Fundamentalists are recruited mostly from active youth in their twenties and thirties, university students and graduates who tend to be conscientious and ambitious. Furthermore, most of these recruits spent their childhood in villages and little towns. R.S. Ahmad agrees that Fundamentalism in Egypt is most appealing to these groups, yet he states that in later stages of its development, the resurgence will penetrate the various strata of the society. In Iran, its Islamic revolution was not limited to students and young graduates, but appealed to a wide spectrum of society. Resurgence is attractive because it gives the recruit the sense that he belongs to an attractive and powerful solidarity, and the conviction that his faith is the only true faith because it is alive and in a state of growth and expansion.