“Situations vary dramatically from country to country. It would be foolish to take a one-size-fits-all approach and barrel forward regardless of circumstances on the ground,” said Hillary Clinton in her Keynote Address at the National Democratic Institute’s 2011 Democracy Awards Dinner.
This quote reveals a lot about a cornerstone concept that fundamentalists, radicals, and extremists by and large lack—namely flexibility and adaptability that can never match the sharp stances fundamentalists always adhere to.
Andrew Heywood argues: “religious fundamentalism is characterised by a rejection of the distinction between religion and politics. Politics, in effect, is religion.”
This has usually caused conflict between any religious fundamentalists and the existing power, whether this power comes in the form of political, social, economic, or any other authority. The conflict usually arises regardless of whether religious fundamentalist groups are in power or not. As long as they are present, the conflict remains.
The conflict between religious fundamentalist groups and society seems to be inevitable unless these groups modify or adjust their strategies and ideologies. However, this seems to be exceedingly unlikely. Religious fundamentalist groups assume that religion can answer all questions. Islamic fundamentalists assume that questions about science, family, biology, nutrition, and everything else can be found in the Quran, the Sunna, and the Hadith. The Sunna, according to Britannica, is the “social and legal customs as practised by prophet Muhammad, and the Hadith are recorded sayings of the prophet”. Islamic fundamentalists usually oppose to most practices which are not Islamic. These practices could be political, social, or economic. They also find it difficult to accept arts and entertainment in general.
Fundamentalists are radicals. They want to change everything completely and are more or less revolutionary; therefore, they usually have to confront the status quo. However, this does not necessarily mean that all fundamentalists follow the same strategies and tactics. Cultural backgrounds have their own bearings in every single context.
Heywood states: “in effect, in Ayatollah Khomeini’s words, politics is religion.” This is a very controversial issue.
Politics mainly deals with reality, but reality is constantly changing. It seems that change is the only thing we can be sure about. Greek philosopher Heraclitus said: “The only constant thing is change.” Nevertheless, religious dogma is all about “unchallengeable truth”. Heywood believes: “the pursuit of religious fundamentalists is to apply religious ideas in all aspects of life; even science has to be related to what God says.” They use technology to a great extent, but they do not believe in science. They use religious text to explain scientific information. They claim that most, if not all, scientific information available was already mentioned in the Quran.
Are religious fundamentalists flexible enough to find a solution to the situation where they have to illustrate or explain issues that have not been covered by the Quran? There are issues related to the banking system, open market, adoption, abortion, polygamy, entertainment, plastic surgery, democracy, minority groups, mixing with girls, etc which the Quran leaves unanswered. However, it seems unrealistic to demand the holy book to explain such topics. When the Quran appeared, these issues did not even exist. The fundamentalists are in a position now where they seem to have to explain things they are not even aware of. It seems to be clear that they are against modernity. That explains why they do not only clash with the existing regimes, but also encounter people’s refusal of some of their ideas, if not all of their ideas for certain groups.
Fundamentalists vehemently try to change reality completely. They are seeking to build a new society—one that is based on the Quran, Sunna, and Hadith. They see the established society as infidel and vicious. In their attempts to change the status quo, they have to encounter the existing power.
Yet, the question of fundamentalism may never be answered unless other interrelated serious problems are addressed. Economic factors and education that support critical thinking may help eradicate the radical fundamental mindset that the western world suffered from once. This evidently explains why the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis have always clashed and will always continue to do so with the existing powers and ordinary people. This is a dilemma that may never be solved unless governments encourage alternatives to fill the gap where such radical groups emerge. Will the current Egyptian government and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi realise that security issues have to be resolved alongside real development? Development needs to encompass all areas supportive of creating a real Egyptian mindset that can stand tall and confident against the barbaric attacks of such radical groups.
Sherif Rizq is a researcher in international relations