Fractured Fundamentalisms

Extremism exists in every major faith, and sometimes turns violent

Continued from page 2

Jewish fundamentalists have committed acts of terror: the plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the Hebron massacre, and the assassination of President Rabin are examples. And Muslim fundamentalists have committed the suicide bombings that culminated in the appalling action of the 11th September.

It must be emphasized, however, that the vast majority of fundamentalists in all three religions do not take part in acts of terror, but are simply struggling to live a religious life in a world that they feel is inimical to faith.

In all three faiths, history has shown that suppression tends to make fundamentalists more extreme, providing them with more proof that society wants to destroy religion. And these movements all distort the faith and tend to the kind of nihilism we saw in New York and Washington last week.

  • How do Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism differ?
  • What kind of Muslim is Osama bin Laden?
  • Does fundamentalism inevitably cause violence?
  • What does the Qu'ran say about violence?
  • Why don't top Muslims reprimand terrorists?
  • Why are there so few Islamic democracies?


    What kind of Muslim is Osama bin Laden? What is the background of his movement?
    Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, where a particular form of Islam, Wahhabism, is practiced. Wahhabism was an 18th century Muslim reform movement, not unlike Puritanism in Christianity. It wanted to get back to the sources of the faith, get rid of accretions and additions, and all foreign influence. Thus Wahhabis wanted to eliminate the practice of Sufism, the mysticism of Islam, which developed after Muhammad's time; it was deeply opposed to Shiite Islam, another later development. And Wahhabis wanted to rid Islam of all foreign influence. Instead, they wanted to go back the bedrock message of the Quran, and renew the faith by going back to the sources.

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    Bin Laden believes that the Saudi rulers are corrupt and that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not living up to the purity of the Islamic ideal. Like most Sunni fundamentalists, he has been influenced by the Egyptian ideologue Sayyid Qutb, who was executed by President Jamal Abdul Nasser in 1966.

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