Religion And Politics (V)

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Christian fundamentalism (II)

Regardless of their cultural separatism after 1925 in the USA, the Christian fundamentalists succeeded to build up their own subculture including radio stations, periodicals, publishing houses, Bible colleges, missionary groups, creationist science institutes followed by Christian day schools and academies. Their operative world view, a premillennialist expectation of Christ’s imminent return, encouraged missionary activity and soul-winning, however, rather than political activism.

Nonetheless, the more serious political incarnation of Christian fundamentalism is coming from the alliance of religious and political conservatism in the southern states of the USA. More precisely, from the 1970s on, several groups like the „Moral Majority“ became powerful populist lobbies in national politics of the USA about the issues concerning family policy, welfare policy, defense, and foreign affairs, especially at the time during the Ronald Reagan administration. Fundamentalist religious organizations are a powerful force in the USA and have helped to shape Republican Party policies and rhetoric during the Ronald Reagan and both Bush administrations. However, most recently, Christian fundamentalist groups became successful in mobilizing efforts to change the political platform of the Republican Party in regard to the rights and to help elect a billionaire Donald Trump to be the US President in the 2016 elections.

Christian fundamentalism is, in fact, a reaction against liberal theology and supporters of „secular humanism“ – those who favor the emancipation of reason, desires, and instincts in opposition to faith and obedience to God’s command. It sets itself against the moral crisis wrought by modernization. However, the focal results of the (Western pattern of) modernization are the decline of the traditional family, the threat to individual morality, and the weakening relationship between man and God. Five major problems have political consequences, that moral Christians should be ready to face: abortion, homosexuality, pornography, humanism, and the fractured family.

Christian fundamentalism
Christian fundamentalists have remained consistent in their core beliefs for a century.

The Christian fundamentalists, however, have been innovative in their interpretations of the Bible’s teachings in many segments like about the end days. For instance, in 1909 it was presented their own unique form of apocalypticism that was called dispensational premillennialism – a theory that held that Christ would soon return to punish the nonbelievers. The theory, actually, started with the liberal Protestants who accepted evolution and the higher criticism and lift the true believers directly into heaven. After winning over the Antichrist in the terrible battle called Armageddon, the victorious Jesus Christ will create a thousand-year reign.

Church and State 

Historical relations between Church and State are the institutional form of the relation between the Christian religion and politics in Europe. As a research phenomenon, the relations between Church and State have been and are of particular Western and Christian concern. There are two crucial reasons for this fact:

  • Because of the process of secularization in the West which required the power limitation of the Church and religious authorities in general.
  • Because, it has its historical origins in a much earlier period, in the development of separate Church and State institutions within Christianity which have been natural rivals with rival claims of authority and law implementation to a degree incomprehensible in the realms of other significant religions across the world.

In fact, the rivalry between the German Emperor and the Roman Pope and their supporters in the Middle Ages became a focal feature in the politics of West Europe. For instance, there was a rivalry struggle in Italy between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines in the 12th, 13th, and 14th, centuries that was the greatest contest in the politics on the Appenninian Peninsula at that time. Nevertheless, the conflict, in general, started as a feud between South Germans but became soon a partisan conflict between the papal faction (the Guelfs) and the imperial supporters the Ghibellines.

Battle of Campaldino
Battle of Campaldino

As a matter of fact, West European society is having a long history of conflict between Church and State which has helped foster secular and anticlerical movements since the 18th century. Undoubtedly, many modern and contemporary states, political authorities, and political parties or movements welcome the idea and practice of the separation of Church and State. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic politicians in predominantly Protestant states have been all the time affected with a suspicion concerning such segregation claiming that they and religiously committed to extending the influence of their Church over the State in which they live.

Today, from the beginning of the 21st century on, problems of the relations between Church and State became in many Western societies more contested and problematic than they had been for some time before. That happened for the prime reason that both fundamentalists either Christian or Muslim challenged schools and other public institutions to permit more expression of religious belief. In some West European societies, this long-time conflicting issue is now centered on the wearing of headscarves (especially burkas) in schools or on the display of religious texts or signs on public property and expressions of belief by children in schools. However, in many particular cases, such demands for religious expression have been combined by more militant expressions of secularism and atheism.

Speaking from the most general point of view, such controversies have been more intense in secular republics compared to those parts of the UK or Scandinavian states which still had established churches. The issue of the so-called „faith’s schools“ is rising the general question in the UK as the problem is should the public budget fund religious schools and even more problematic issue of which faiths.

The Roman Catholic political parties are giving a special spirit to politics in Western societies. They are parties that are fighting to advance the program or policies of the Roman Catholic Church, i.e., the Vatican. If we are taking into consideration the fact that the Roman Catholic Church usually has its strongest following social strata among the poor and devout, the programs of the Roman Catholic political organizations are exclusively conservative on matters to be covered by the Roman Catholic social teaching, but being in favor of redistribution, and generally mildly leftist regarding the economic policies.

Islamic fundamentalism

The issue of Islamic fundamentalism or Islamism is very disputed including the term itself that is used particularly in the USA for the purpose to denote any movement to favor strict observance of the teachings of both the Qur’an (Islamic holy book) and the Shari’a (Islamic law). However, in Europe and the Middle East, there is a preference for the American term Islamic fundamentalism in terms of Islamism, Islamicism, Islamists, or Islamicists in referring to the contemporary activist political trend.

Islamic fundamentalism emerged out of the reform project of the 19th and 20th centuries being started by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and Rashid Rida. The reforms had to incorporate a revitalization of culture, society, and religion by utilizing European science and techniques to be fitting the moral and cultural tradition of early Islam, of the pious forefathers (610−855). The revitalization of both Islam and Islamic society, and its defense, became dominant within the reformation trend for the focal reason that the fate of Islam and Islamic societies have been understood as being in danger due to the West European colonial powers.

The set of Islamic reforms have been general in dealing with the causes of backwardness of Islamic societies compared to West Europe. The reformists in their efforts against the conservative and traditionalist religious forces hostile to reform have been focused on the Islamic forefathers and, subsequently, condemned all innovations introduced into Islam after 855 including the law schools. In fact, the reformers called for a return to the independent interpretation of the sacred sources of Islam (the Qur’an and the Prophet’s Sunna). Therefore, in this way, it would be allowed authorities to pursue what was in the best interests of the Muslim communities in the secular domain of life and as a result never to be in a conflict with either the Qur’an or Sunna. Those arguments created a modern tendency in the Islamic world to focus on the practices of the early years of Islam which remains influential until today. All innovations in Islam after 855 which are considered to cause schisms and acceptance of the local customs, traditions, and habits became forbidden as they led Muslims away from the right way.

Battle of CampaldinoIn the 20th century, religious reformers within Islam of both Sunni and Shiia branches have been advocating the adoption of a new practice by Islamists: 1) Identify; and 2) Persecute the „infidel“ (nonbeliever) but including the personalities who just pretend to be Muslim but, actually, betrayed the true faith by adopting Western attitudes and values. In general, Muslim fundamentalists believe that the only „medicine“ for the growing threat of apostasy (the renunciation of Islam) is going to be to create states governed exclusively by the Shari’a (the law of Allah) that is inscribed in the Holy Qur’an and in the traditions (hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (570‒632 A.D.). Muslim fundamentalists are seeing the world as critically divided between true believers and corrupt sinners. However, one of the focal arguments by the Muslim fundamentalists in the favor of Islam compared to all major monotheist religions is that Islam is unique for the very reason that Muslims have never formally accepted and consequently institutionalized a distinction between religion and the state as it is, for instance, the case in Europe (secularization), or between the public and private domains of society. Therefore, many Islamists believe that the real enemy is the process of the so-called Westoxification – the slow poisoning of Muslim purity by the insinuation of foreign ideas and practices imported from Western imperialistic nations but above all by the USA, UK, and France.

Shiism, the Shiites, and the Sunni Muslims

A famous sociologist Max Weber thought that a traditional religious system like Islam can undergo a major revival and become the foundation of important political developments. This is exactly what happened in Iran since the 1978−1979 Islamic Revolution. From the end of the 20th century, Islamic revivalism has spread, with an important influence on other regions around Iran like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Afghanistan, or Nigeria. In order to understand such phenomenon, it has to be looked both to aspects of Islam as a traditional religion and to secular changes which affected contemporary societies where its influence is seen as pervasive. Islam (Christianity too) is such a religion that has permanently stimulating activism. For instance, the Qur’an is full of instructions to believers to fight in the way of God. However, this fight is against both unbelievers and those who introduce corruption into Muslim society. Historically, over the centuries there were successive Muslim reformers, and, therefore, Islam became (like Christianity) internally divided.

Shiism split from the main body of orthodox Islam in its very early history and left to be influential up today. Shiism is the official religion of Iran (Persia) since the 16th century and has been the focal source of the ideas behind the 1978−1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution. The Shiites are tracing their beginnings to Imam Ali who was a 7th-century religious and political leader. His descendants are considered to be the rightful leaders of Islam as they have been held to belong to the Prophet Muhammad’s family, unlike the dynasties in actual power across the Islamic world. The Shiites believe that the rule of Muhammad’s rightful heir is going to be finally established, doing away with the injustices and autocratic regimes associated with existing Muslim ruling authorities. They believe as well that Prophet’s heir is going to be a leader directly guided by God and governing in accordance with the holy texts.

Except for Iran, there are Shiites in other MENA countries like Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, India, or Pakistan. However, in these countries, political and Islamic leadership in the hands of the local Muslim majority – the Sunni. The Sunni Muslims are following the „Beaten Path“ – a series of traditions deriving from the Qur’an which tolerate a considerable diversity of opinion, in contrast to the more rigidly defined views of the Shiites.

In sum, the reformers of Islam believed that by returning to the pure practice of both the Prophet and the forefathers of Islam (until 855), the traditional structures of Muslim society including the secular domain is going to be more easily exposed to new cultural and social trends leading to reform. Islamic revivalism in its fundamentalist forms is seen as a renewal of traditional ideas and lifestyle. Nevertheless, traditional practices and modes of life are revived, but, however, they are combined with concerns that relate specifically to contemporary times.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its brainchildren

Within the society of Sunni Islam that is some 90% out of all Muslims (the Shiia Muslims are some 10%), the Islamic fundamentalism first emerged in the work of Hasan al-Banna (1906‒1949) who was an Egyptian schoolteacher and a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928. The reason was that according to his opinion, the Islamic religious scholars in Cairo had sold out to the interests of the UK, for instance, allowing night clubs, advertising, the consumption of alcohol, and some other un-Islamic activities and habits. After the Muslim Brotherhood combined religious education with social services like child care centers, medical clinics, orphanages, or schools the movement started to spread fast across the Arab Muslim world.

In the 1950s the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood started to oppose President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918‒1970) for the reason he jailed and tortured many young Muslim activists. In 1981, one group of Islamists called Islamic Jihad, assassinated in Cairo Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (b. 1918) as a blood feud for the peace treaty he signed with the Zionist Israel in Camp David (September 17th, 1978) as this group understood the treaty (accords) as a flagrant betrayal of Islamic interests to the religion’s greatest enemy in the face of Israel. Recently, Saudi Usama bin Ladin, who was a direct spiritual and intellectual organizer and founder of a terrorist al-Qaida network, was seeing himself as a direct successor to the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Today, the Muslim Brotherhood movement followed by its radical splinter groups are active in Egypt, Palestine, Sudan, Nigeria, Algeria, and some other Muslim countries. Many experts claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is, in fact, a separate and distinct organization and no longer dedicated to the violent overthrow of corrupt Arab Muslim regimes. In other words, the group rather today prefers to compete with secularists with the existing political system. However, there are those other political analysts who claim that the Sunni Islamists simply diversified in the 1980s and 1990s, with different levels and adopting different tactics. Therefore, for instance, there are the radical Jamaat groups that are going underground and fomenting violent revolution for different ideological and political reasons. For instance, one of the reasons is to reach the same ultimate goal of replacing the existing states with Islamic authorities and judicial systems based on Shari’a.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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