Who Is a ‘Fundamentalist’?
By Dr. Zakir Naik
A fundamentalist, by definition, is a person who follows the fundamentals of a particular subject or a particular field. For example, if a person wants to be a good doctor, he should know and he should follow and practice the fundamentals of Medicine. Unless he is a fundamentalist in the field of Medicine he cannot be a fundamentalist doctor i.e. he cannot be a good doctor. For a person to be a good Mathematician, he should know, follow and practice the fundamentals of Mathematics. Unless he is a fundamentalist in the field of Mathematics, he cannot be a good Mathematician. For a scientist to be a good scientist, he should know, follow and practice the fundamentals of science. Unless he is a fundamentalist in the field of science, he cannot be a good scientist.
One should not paint all fundamentalists with the same brush stating that all are bad or that all are acceptable. Depending on the field and nature of application in which the person is a fundamentalist, we have to label him or her accordingly. For example, if a person is a fundamentalist robber, whose choice of profession or vocation is to rob, then such a fundamentalist is not a good person for the society – he is a bane for the society. On the other hand, if we have a fundamentalist doctor, who saves hundreds of human lives, he is a boon for the society, and hence he is a good fundamentalist. Hence, based on the field, a person is a fundamentalist. Based on the nature of the impact of the fundamentalist’s actions on society, we should label him or her accordingly.
As far as I am concerned, Alhamdulillah (i.e. Praise be to Almighty Allah), I am proud to be a fundamentalist Muslim. Why? – Because I know, I follow and I strive to practice the fundamentals of Islam and because I know that each and every fundamental of Islam is in favor of humanity.
I challenge any person to point out a single fundamental teaching of Islam which is against humanity as a whole. There may be certain teachings or fundamentals of Islam, which certain non-Muslims may feel, are against humanity because of their own ignorance and lack of knowledge of the background of that teaching of Islam and of its benefits to human society. They may not be aware of the statistics of the world on that aspect of Islam. But the moment you respond to their queries and misgivings and give them the logical reasons behind that teaching or fundamental of Islam they appreciate the beauty and practicality of that Islamic teaching. There is not a single person on the face of the earth who can point out a single fundamental of Islam which is against humanity as a whole.
The Term ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Mischief Perpetrated by the Oxford Dictionary:
The Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English language (published by Konemann) says that ‘fundamentalism’ was a term which was first used to describe the Protestant Christians in America in the earlier part of the 20th century. Earlier the church believed that the complete message of the Bible was from God. But Protestant Christians protested and said that not only is the message of the Bible from God, but every word, every letter of the Bible is from Almighty God. If any person can prove that every word and every letter of the Bible is from Almighty God, then this movement of fundamentalism of the Protestant Christians is a good movement. On the other hand, if someone can prove that the Bible is not the word of God, then this movement of fundamentalism of the Protestant Christians is not a good movement.
So initially, this word ‘fundamentalism’ was used to describe a group of Protestant Christians in the early part of the 20th century in America, who protested against the Church and said that the complete Bible, verbatim, is the word of Almighty God.
According to the earlier edition of the Oxford dictionary, a ‘fundamentalist’ is a person who strictly adheres to the ancient teachings of any religion. But the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (published by Clarendon Press) has changed the definition. This second edition says that a ‘fundamentalist’ is a person who strictly adheres to the ancient teachings of any religion, especially Islam!
So the word Islam has been added in the revised edition of the Oxford dictionary to describe the word ‘fundamentalist’. This implies that the moment any person hears the word fundamentalist, he or she starts thinking of a Muslim as a fundamentalist or a terrorist.
Who Is a ‘Terrorist’?
I tell people that every Muslim should be a terrorist. But, what is the meaning of the word ‘terrorist’?
A ‘terrorist’ by definition means a person who causes terror. Whenever a criminal sees a policeman, he is terrified. So for the criminal, the policeman is a terrorist. So in this context, every Muslim should be a terrorist for criminals. Every Muslim should be a terrorist to the anti-social elements in society.
Some people may say “what kind of English is Dr. Zakir Naik speaking”. But let’s look at the reality. According to the Times of India newspaper, Mumbai edition, (Times News Network, Wednesday August 20, 2003), we have a special squad in the Mumbai police force which has been formed for the specific purpose of tracking down the most notorious elements of the underworld. The newspapers in Mumbai in their various reports have stated that the moment the underworld hear the name of Inspector Angre, they are terrified. So according to the newspapers in Mumbai, Inspector Angre of the Mumbai police force is a terrorist for the underworld of Mumbai. To quote the Times News Network report of August 20, 2003: “Mr. Angre is amongst the five officers, who between them, have gunned down more than 300 alleged criminals in the past five years. The very mention of their names evokes terror in the underworld”. Such Inspectors are called ‘encounter specialists’ in the police force.
So, it is in this context that I always advocate that every Muslim should be a terrorist to anti-social elements. Whenever any anti-social element, whenever any robber, whenever any thief, whenever any rapist, whenever any criminal sees a Muslim, he should be terrified.
I am aware that more often this word terrorist is used when a person terrorizes an innocent human being. In this context, no Muslim should ever terrorize any innocent human being – it is forbidden to do so in Islam. We should specifically terrorize anti-social elements and criminals.
Differing Perspectives Lead to Different Labels
Many a times, we find that two different labels are given to the same activity of the same individual. For example all of us are aware that before India got its independence in 1947, there were many Indians who fought for the freedom of our beloved country. These Indians who fought for the freedom of India were called ‘terrorists’ by the British Government and by the Britishers but the same Indians have been called patriots and freedom fighters by us Indians. So here you have the same people and the same activity, but two different labels given to the people, based on two different viewpoints.
If you agree with the view of the British Government that it (the British Government) had a right to rule over India, then you have to agree with their view that our freedom fighters were militants and terrorists. But on the other hand if you agree with our view that the Britishers who came to India for trade and business had no right to rule over us then you have to agree with our view that these Indians were freedom fighters and patriots. So it’s a question of view-points and perspectives – same people, same activity, two different labels.
Hence before giving a label to any particular individual we should first try to ascertain and find out the reason for which that person is striving. For what reason is the person struggling or fighting?
Let’s take another example. Nelson Mandela, the former President of New South Africa, was called a militant and a terrorist by the earlier White Apartheid regime and government. He was imprisoned in Robin Islands for more than 25 years. If you agree with the view of that Apartheid South African Government that the color of the skin makes one superior, that the white color of one’s skin makes one superior, and it is wrong to fight against this so called white supremacy, then you have to agree with their view that Nelson Mandela was one of the biggest militants and terrorists. But if you agree with our view and also of that of the indigenous South Africans that the color of one’s skin does not make one superior, then you also have to agree that Nelson Mandela’s striving was for a just cause and he was not a terrorist.
The Glorious Qur’an says in Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13“O mankind, indeed We have created you from a male and a female, and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Surah Al-Hujurat 49:13]
The Qur’an thus clearly states that the criteria for assessing nobility in the sight of Allah (swt) is not wealth, nor color, nor caste, nor gender but it is ‘taqwa’ i.e. God-consciousness, piety and righteousness.
Hence if you agree with the view of the indigenous South Africans and/or the view of Islam and the Qur’an, then you will also agree that Nelson Mandela struggled and fought for a just cause. The former white Apartheid Government called Nelson Mandela a terrorist and imprisoned him for several years, but later on the world gave him a Nobel Prize for peace! Isn’t it an irony that the ‘terrorist’ of yesterday becomes a Nobel Prize Winner of today?
Let us take another case in point – the former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachim Begin, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1978 even though he was responsible for the killing of thousands of Palestinians. Imagine a winner of the Noble Prize for Peace killing thousands of innocent human beings.
So it’s a matter of perspective and viewpoint. The media plays a major role in the formation of impressions, view-points and perspectives. Once a person is branded a terrorist, then he becomes a Nobel Prize winner. And the person who is a Nobel Prize Winner, later on becomes a terrorist. Hence before we brand a person or give a label to any individual, first we have to find out the reason and the cause for which he/she is striving.
(The author, Dr. Zakir Naik, is a well-known international orator and scholar of Comparative Religion. He is the President of the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation. He may be reached at: email@example.com)
Dr. Zakir Naik had delivered the lecture, ‘Terrorism and Jihad: An Islamic Perspective’ on October 04, 2002 at the Kamaraj Memorial Hall, Chennai, India.