Fundamentalist Islam

Fundamentalist Islam


What is fundamentalist Islam? Its contradictions seem to abound. On the one hand, it manifests itself as a new religiosity, reaffirming faith in a transcendent God. On the other hand, it appears as a militant ideology, demanding political action now. Here it takes the form of a populist party, asking for ballots. There it surges forth as an armed phalanx, spraying bullets. One day its spokesmen call for a jihad (sacred war) against the West, evoking the deepest historic resentments. Another day, its leaders appeal for reconciliation with the West, emphasizing shared values. Its economic theorists reject capitalist materialism in the name of social justice, yet they rise to the defense private property. It moralists pour scorn on Western consumer culture as debilitating to Islam, yet its strategists avidly seek to buy the West’s latest technologies in order to strengthen Islam.

Faced with these apparent contradictions, many analysts in the West have decided that fundamentalism defies all generalization. Instead they have tried to center discussion on its supposed “diversity.” For this purpose, they seek to establish systems of classification by which to sort out fundamentalist movements and leaders. The basic classification appears in many different terminological guises, in gradations of subtlety.

“We need to be careful of that emotive label, ‘fundamentalism’, and distinguish, as Muslims do, between revivalists, who choose to take the practice of their religion most devoutly, and fanatics or extremists, who use this devotion for political ends.”

So spoke the Prince of Wales in a 1993 address, summarizing the conventional wisdom in a conventional way. The belief that these categories really exist, and that experts can sort fundamentalists neatly into them, is the sand on which weighty policies are now being built.

Fundamentalist Islam remains an enigma precisely because it has confounded all attempts to divide it into tidy categories. “Revivalist” becomes “extremist” (and vice versa) with such rapidity and frequency that the actual classification of any movement or leader has little predictive power. They will not stay put. This is because fundamentalist Muslims, for all their “diversity,” orbit around one dense idea. From any outside vantage point, each orbit will have its apogee and perigee. The West thus sees movements and individuals swing within reach, only to swing out again and cycle right through every classification. Movements and individuals arise in varied social and political circumstances, and have their own distinctive orbits. But they will not defy the gravity of their idea.

The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion—the religion of God—and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power.

That return, to be effective, must be comprehensive; Islam provides the one and only solution to all questions in this world, from public policy to private conduct. It is not merely a religion, in the Western sense of a system of belief in God. It possesses an immutable law, revealed by God, that deals with every aspect of life, and it is an ideology, a complete system of belief about the organization of the state and the world. This law and ideology can only be implemented through the establishment of a truly Islamic state, under the sovereignty of God. The empowerment of Islam, which is God’s plan for mankind, is a sacred end. It may be pursued by any means that can be rationalized in terms of Islam’s own code. At various times, these have included persuasion, guile, and force.

What is remarkable about fundamentalist Islam is not its diversity. It is the fact that this idea of power for Islam appeals so effectively across such a wide range of humanity, creating a world of thought that crosses all frontiers. Fundamentalists everywhere must act in narrow circumstances of time and place. But they are who they are precisely because their idea exists above all circumstances. Over nearly a century, this idea has evolved into a coherent ideology, which demonstrates a striking consistency in content and form across a wide expanse of the Muslim world.

The text above is excerpted from “Fundamentalist Islam: The Drive for Power” (by Martin Kramer, 1997). To continue reading, click here.

Additional Resources:

Fundamentalist Islam: The Drive for Power
By Martin Kramer

Ballots and Bullets: Islamists and the Relentless Drive for Power
By Martin Kramer

Reform vs. Islamism in the Arab World Today
By Menahem Milson
September 15, 2004

The Mismeasure of Political Islam
By Martin Kramer

Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?
By Martin Kramer

Radical Islam’s Goal Is Global Conquest
By Andrew G. Bostom
July 2, 2007

The Study of Political Islam
Interview with Bill Warner
February 5, 2007

Saudi Arabia’s Export Of Radical Islam (Part 1, Part 2Part 3)
By Adrian Morgan
January 2007

The Roots of Muslim Rage
By Bernard Lewis
September 1990

Does Islam Have a Role in Suicide Bombings?
By A.J. Caschetta
Summer 2015

Who is the True Godfather of Islamic Fundamentalism?
By Adrian Morgan
July 30, 2007

Islam: A Threat to World Stability (see pages 24-34)
By The Military Intelligence Division, U.S. War Department
February 14, 1946


There Is No Modern Islam
By Daniel Greenfield
February 18, 2015

Integration Is Not the Answer to Muslim Terrorism
By Daniel Greenfield
April 1, 2016

My Name is Bosch and I’m a Recovered Muslim
By Bosch Fawstin
May 27, 2013

Moderate Islam Is Multiculturalism Misspelled
By Daniel Greenfield
September 2, 2014

The Nice ISIS Jihadist Next Door
By Daniel Greenfield
September 10, 2014


What Catholics Need to Know about Islam
By William Kilpatrick


Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West
By The Terrorism Awareness Project

Islam: What the West Needs to Know
By The Terrorism Awareness Project

Jihad Culture
Featuring Nonie Darwish, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson, and Walid Shoebat

The Next Moves of Radical Islam
By Robert Spencer

Cruel and Usual Punishment
By Nonie Darwish
February 17, 2009

Arab-American Psychologist Wafa Sultan, on Terrorism and Islam
July 26, 2005

The “Islam Is Peace” Campaign
By Robert Spencer

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