The Islamic Revival
The word fundamentalist is the most appealing. After the Islamic take-over of Iran in 1979, this word gained popularity, especially in the media. But it had its critics. Bernard Lewis writes:
The use of this term is established and must be accepted, but it remains unfortunate and can be misleading. "Fundamentalist" is a Christian term. It seems to have come into use in the early years of this century, and denotes certain Protestant churches and organizations, more particularly those that maintain the literal divine origin and inerrancy of the Bible. In this they oppose the liberal and modernist theologians, who tend to a more critical, historical view of Scripture. Among Muslim theologians there is as yet no such liberal or modernist approach to the Qur'an, and all Muslims, in their attitude to the text of the Qur'an, are in principle at least fundamentalists. Islamic apologists also balked. John Esposito writes:
I prefer to speak of Islamic revivalism and Islamic activism rather than of Islamic fundamentalism. However, Islamic writers had to admit its usefulness for lack of a better word. Hasan Hanafi, an Egyptian philosopher states:
It is difficult to find a more appropriate term than the one recently used in the West, ‘fundamentalism,' to cover the meaning of what we name Islamic awakening or revival. Since the argument is what to call the Islamic revival, why not call it the Islamic revival? It is common to do just that within Islam. However, the problem becomes obvious. The term Islamic revival means that fundamentalist Islam is just Islam. The implication is that Muslims have become lax or lapsed, that they have practiced Islam in a perfunctory or selective manner with a focus on ritual. The revival means the religion is becoming a vibrant belief system once again and the doctrines are now taken seriously. Of course, this is the case.
Unwilling to see the revival as a return to the essentials of the religion Westerners coined, or revived, another term: Islamism. This term emphasized the political nature of the revival and sought to connote the viewpoint that it was a modern corruption, one which incorporated European totalitarian practices. But there were some who advocated the use of Islamism with a positive take. Back in 1994, Robert Pelletreau, Jr., of the United States State Department (naturally!), for example states:
"Islamists" are Muslims with political goals. We view these terms as analytical, not normative. They do not refer to phenomena that are necessarily sinister: there are many legitimate, socially responsible Muslim groups with political goals. However, there are also Islamists who operate outside the law. The word games are driven by the fact that each time a new word is put into use, the old negative judgments would return. Finding the judgments unacceptable, a new word would be employed. The old word was then said to be a pejorative and social stigma discouraged its use. Perhaps the words aren’t the problem!
1. All quotes are taken from Martin Kramer’s Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?, The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2003, Volume X, number 2