Fundamentalism is a Christian term at origin and now extended to other religious extremist movements including Islam. Fundamentalism is a disputed term widely used in the United States and other western countries to denote any Islamic movement to favour strict observance of the teachings of the Qur’an and the Shari’a (Islamic law). The term 'fundamentalism’ in the sense of extremism in religious affairs and observances owes its origin to a Christian denomination called 'Fundamentalists’. The Christian denominations like Mormons, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, are all fundamentalists in the sense that they consider every word of the Bible is true and holy and thus must be strictly followed. Fundamentalism is inherent in all old religions developing long doctrinal accretions in course of time in the form of sects and communities claiming special authenticity and trying to impose it on others.

In the belief systems of ancient Indian societies we find the religious non-conformist sects termed by the dominants as xramanas, pasandas, rakhasas and so on, and they were persecuted by the ruling 'correct’ castes. In the Kaliyugas, when the significant number of people deviated from the 'true’ beliefs and practices, it became the job of Kalki to descend on earth and 'correct’ the reformists by way of persuasion, if possible, and by expelling or killing them, if necessary. Burning at the stake for nonconformism (heresy) was a regular practice in the Holy Roman Empire. The medieval history of Europe and Asia is well known for such religious cleansing drives.

The modern stress and strain and consequent dislocations and erosions in the traditional belief systems and ways of life tend to make many to reject the accretions and revive the lost or modified beliefs and practices. Fundamentalism is not just a plan for going back to the 'true’ past. It is at bottom a political phenomenon, though this aspect is often kept in the low key. Fundamentalism is essentially authoritarian, insofar as it seeks to establish all aspects of society and government on original principles of religions considered as crucial or fundamental for 'correct’ human existence. Islamic revivalism, often called fundamentalism, vehemently oppose the infiltration of secular and Westernizing influences and seek to restore Islamic law, including strict codes of Islamic behaviour. They also target political corruptions, which they think, originate from the neglect of Islamic way of life.

We encounter Christian fundamentalism in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Christian fundamentalists violently opposed modernist innovations made in their belief system undermining the Bible. The opponents to innovations and modernity used the term 'fundamentalism’ with a special meaning. It was that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. According to them Christians must lead their lives according to the moral precepts of the Bible, especially the Ten Commandments. They believe that the theory of biological evolution is wrong and that Jesus Christ will return to initiate the millennium, a thousand-year period of perfect peace.

In practicing fundamentalism in their respective faiths, Jews are seen to have been most pervasive and militant. Zionism is considered to be most militant both religiously and politically. The Zionists stress the need for strict conformity to the religious laws and moral precepts contained in the sacred Jewish texts: the Torah and the Talmud. The violators are socially ostracized.

The West invented the concept of Islamic fundamentalism after the unexpected Islamic Revolution in Iran (1978-79), which deposed Reza Shah Pahlavi (1919-80), the US-stooge, and abolished all his reforms. Most importantly, the Iranian Revolution ousted the hegemonistic American presence in Iran by establishing an Islamic Republic based on the fundamentals of Islam and free from foreign influence. More unexpected was the Twin Tower incident (11 September 2001) said to be enacted by Al-Qaeda. These two most inconceivable events produced huge mass of literature on Islamic revivalism and gave birth to the concept of so-called Islamic fundamentalism in the West.

The character of Islamist movements varies greatly from country to country and throughout the historical period. Some Islamist revivalist movements turn to totalitarianism, and some do not. Some turn to even radical political and economic programmes, borrowing ideas from Marxism and other varieties of socialism, while others are more prone to keep Islam of the Khilafatist time unaffected by change. Most Islamists, however, insist on following the code of conduct based on the Qur’an and Sunnah only. They argue that Islam encompasses all aspects of life including the state and state laws, and hence there is no scope for separating Islam from the state in the name of secularism. The Islamists believe that they are morally engaged in a jihad against the internal and external enemies of Islam. In their perception, main enemies of Islam and the Islamic umma are the hegemonistic United States of America and Israel and other Jewish interests in the world. The supporters of US-Jewish combine are perceived as real or potential enemies of Islam. To fight them away is considered to be their bounden duty, and to perform that duty effectively they launched a regenerative movement against the internal modernists.

It is well-known that moral regenerative movement of the Islamists calling for a return to the pristine Islam of the time of the Prophet Muhammad (Sm.) and the Caliphate has occurred periodically throughout the Islamic history. In practicing arts and sciences and philosophies, Islam enjoyed a golden age from the eighth to twelfth centuries, when Islamic thoughts and philosophies flourished most and Islamic empire’s domination over other peoples was also at its peak. The price of the glories of the Islamic empire was the accommodation into Islamic polity many values and institutions which were not present in Islam of the Caliphate period. Most new converts to Islam were originally accommodated without requiring them to forsake entirely their former practices. Politically, it was not looked at as a problem, because the political power was in Muslim hands, and hence Islam was not in danger. But being adversely situated politically under the Christian rulers, the Muslim leaders felt it as their supreme duty to introduce the basics or fundamentals of Islam defined by the Holy Qur’an and xariah.

For Bengal, the Islamic revivalist movement was borrowed directly from the Wahabi movement launched in Arabia in the late eighteenth century. Its two very remarkable Bengali followers were titu mir (1782-1831) and shariutullah (1781-1840). The majority of Bengal Muslims were peasants and artisans and relatively new converts to Islam and thus prone to follow a kind of syncretistic Islam. Under the political settings of the Sultani and Mughal regimes, no threat was felt from such syncretism. But under the British, syncretism was felt to be a potential danger to the very existence of Islam in Bengal. It was thus felt that traditionalism must be rectified to enable the Muslim society to face the new challenge from the British colonial rule and the rise of a religiously dynamic Hindu middle class under the British rule. The first person who felt about regenerating the Muslim society in Islamist or fundamentalist line was Titu Mir. He performed Hajj and got influenced by the Wahabi doctrine in Makka. He launched a movement to introduce fundamentals of Islam among the Bengal Muslim peasantry. In propagating his Islamist doctrine, Titu Mir faced resistance from the local zamindars who felt that the Mir’s movement posed a threat to their social control system. Titu Mir built up a resisting force against zamindars and Muslims unwilling or reluctant to practice fundamentals of Islam. He declared jihad against Hindu zamindars and British rule. At one stage military operations had to be launched in order to contain Titu Mir and his followers. In an encounter with the military, Titu Mir was killed (1831) and with his death his militant reform movement came to a halt for the time being.

The other and more influential revivalist leader was Haji Shariatullah (1781-1840), who lived in Wahabist Arabia for many years, learned Arabic and Islamic lore and returned home as a staunch activist of the Wahabi doctrine. Shariatullah invited the syncretistic Muslims to give up their traditional ways of life and follow farz or fundamental rites of Islam strictly. Thus his followers came to be known as Faraizis. Shariutullah’s peaceful method of teaching Shari’a Islam worked well and he became an influential Islamist reformer in Eastern Bengal. But his son and successor dudu miyan (1819-1862) became an extremist in his propagation of the faraizi doctrine. He asked Muslims to keep beard and wear dresses in Wahabi style. To confront the opponents to the Faraizi thought effectively, he revived the traditional self-governing organisation of panchayet system in the Faraizi villages. He asked people to settle local disputes through the panchayet instead of going to English courts governed by British laws. He organised a corps of Lathiyals (affray fighters), which he used in facing resistance to his movement. Besides, Dudu Miah organised the Faraizi hamlets, enclaves and settlements (of say 50 to 500 persons) into core-associations by appointing a gram khalifah (village representative) from amongst them as a coordinator between him and the villagers. The faraizi villages were grouped into a gird (circle) over which was appointed a superintendent called khalifah. The village khalifahs formed a council headed by the gird khalifah and settled local disputes through arbitration. He set up his headquarters at Bahadurpur in Faridpur district and kept around him a number of uparistha (superior) khalifahs to advise him on important issues raised by circumstances or referred to by the khalifahs for final settlement. Thus Dudu Miah had set up virtually an Islamic domain within the British state.

The failure of the sepoyrevolt (1857) led the Islamist activists to rethink about their relations with the British rulers. Immediately before the Revolt, a group of ulema gave a fatwa that Islam was not safe under the British, and hence jihad against the British was only the way out for them to save Islam. The failure of the Revolt led another group of ulema to issue a counter fatwa declaring that Islam was safe in British India. The British government got this fatwa endorsed by the Sharif of Makka. Round this view, Bengal Muslims rallied and thus militancy in the Islamic fundamentalist movement in Bengal and beyond was abandoned. The Madrasa established at Deoband (1867), a country town north-east of Delhi, subsequently played significant role in the propagation of revivalist or Islamist ideas by peaceful means. Deoband is also the place wherefrom the Tablighi Jama’at, a non-political, peaceable organisation started its mission to purify Islam from within without resorting to militancy. Jama’at’s mission was to renew Islam, and convert non-Muslims to Islam by peaceful motivation, and all by peaceful means.

Against the backdrop of Western imperialism, colonialism, imperial wars, general poverty and dislocations in social and economic spheres, a Hindu fundamentalist movement called xuddhi was launched. Led by Dayananda Sharashati, the Shuddhi movement’s aim was to re-convert the people who formerly left Hinduism for other religions including Islam. The considerable success of this movement made the Tablighi-Jama’at more active in teaching fundamental tenets of Islam to poor Muslims vulnerable to Shuddhi re-conversion movement. Tablighi-Jam’at’s idea of strengthening Islam in Bengal by peaceful means became popular in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Their peaceful outlook contributed significantly to the establishment of Hindu-Muslim amity in politics in the early twentieth century. According to Tablighi-Jama’t, real enemy of Islam was not the bidah (innovations) but the British rule itself. The peak of inters and intra communal peace and harmony was the period of Khilafat and Swaraj movements (1919-25) which were actively supported by Gandhi and the Congress. However, the environment of Hindu-Muslim amity collapsed in the late 1920s.

Muslim nationalism was the basis of Pakistan. The Muslims imagined that Pakistan was to be a safe abode for Islam and for the Islamic community. But subsequent developments disillusioned the people of East Bengal. Being frustrated and disillusioned, they abandoned the Pakistan concept and developed in its place the idea of secular Bengali nationalism. However, during the war of liberation (26 March 1971 – 16 December 1971), a section of Bengali and Bihari Muslims felt threatened that in the proposed secular state of Bangladesh, Islam might not be safe, because the four basic principles of the new state did not include Islam as an ideology. Hence they found reasons for opposing the War of Liberation and supporting the Pakistani occupation army. To alleviate their fear about the safety of Islam and Islamists, it was repeatedly clarified officially after independence that secularism and socialism were never to affect Islam in Bangladesh.

But in spite of their hostile stand during the War of Liberation, the brands of Razakar, Al-Shams, Al-Badr brigades, Muslim League, Jamaat-i-Islami, who were known for actively collaborating with the enemies, were granted general amnesty by the Government of Bangladesh with the expectation that they would be penitent for their conduct and join the nation building processes of the new nation. Mainly to alleviate their anxiety and improve relations with other Muslim nations, Bangladesh joined the Organisation of Islamic Conference (1974). An islamic foundation was established in 1975. Larger government grants than ever before were given to madrasas and mosques. Teaching Islamic Studies at secondary and college levels was encouraged. An Islami University was set up in Kushtia (1980). The constitution was amended a number of times to accommodate the demands of the Islamists. In 1988, Islam was made the state religion of Bangladesh. But in spite of all these accommodative concessions, the worry of the Islamists about the safety of Islam never subsided. The geo-political situation and challenges of western hegemonistic globalization processes drove them to resort to Islamist movement as a panacea for the security of Islam.

The cultural divide between the religious rights and political liberals clearly surfaced in 1994 on the issue of a publication of a highly controversial feminist writer, Taslima Nasreen. While the liberals just disapproved of her outlook in her book Lazza (shame), the Islamists branded her as a murtad (apostate) and put up prize money on her head. They organized hartals, long marches, rallies and put up pressure on government to pass an effective blasphemy law forbidding any malevolent insult to Muslim religious feelings by individuals, groups, parties, press and so on. The counter protests organized by the liberals further heightened the divide and since then, it has been ever growing. Taslima’s Lazza led to an alliance of thirteen Islamist groups excluding Jamaat-i Islami Bangladesh to form a United Actions Council (UAC) and observe Koran Day in Dhaka on July 29, 1994. The alliance, ostensibly with little popular support, severely criticized the NGO drives to emancipate women from poverty and gender discrimination. They argued that many NGOs in cooperation with their local co-horts were engaged in anti-Islamic activities under the cover of international cooperation and development. A number of NGOs supported by their American counterparts came under their attacks in the countryside.

Some fundamentalist groups declared their terrorist aim for the first time in June 3, 1999 when hand bombs were thrown to a cultural function of the Udichi in Jessore killing ten people on March 7, 1999. It was their formal notice to the liberals about their determination to go ahead with their fundamentalist and militant agenda. Their preparedness was declared audaciously on August 25, 2005, when they set off bombs simultaneously in all district headquarters of Bangladesh except one in one night, though apparently without any intention to injure any for the time being. The terrorists made judiciary a target for their attack, because the existing laws and legal system, according to them, are unislamic. They hurled bombs with casualties at several cultural functions including the Bangla New Year Day functions at Ramna in which eight persons were killed on April 14, 2001. Four cinema halls received bomb throws with casualties in Mymensingh on December 21, 2002. They killed two judges of Jhalakathi district on November 14, 2005. The leading perpetrators were caught, tried and executed.

The fundamentalists are divided into many parties and sub-parties and some groups operate clandestinely and trans-nationally. Among the constitutionalist Islamist parties, most organized is the Jamaat-i-Islami Bangladesh. Of late, this Islamic party has withdrawn from its constitution some theocratic declaration of its politics with a view to receiving recognition from the election commission as a bona fide and peaceable political party. Most other fundamentalist groups, however, maintain that Qur’an and Sunnah must be the basis of the state constitution and state laws. They include the Islamic Oikya Jote, Islamic Constitution Movement, Khilafat Majlish, National Musalli Committee, Ahl-e-Hadith, Ulema Commitee, Islamic Chatra Sena, Jamiatul Modarrasin, Nezam-i-Islam, Muslim League and others. Their goal is to make the Bangladesh constitution Islamic.

But there are some underground groups which want to achieve the same goal with militant means. They make contacts with their foreign counterparts, collect fund and caches of arms. They take para military training to make bombs and use them against their targets. They are tremendously secretive and maintain close contact with other international militant groups. Among them most noted are Jam’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJIB), Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Allah’r Dal and Movement of Islamic Holy War. All these are now banned legally. There is no reason to believe that these groups hold significant following and popular support. There is reason to believe that while moderate Islamists are gaining in support, the militant fundamentalism is certainly on the declining trend as of now. [Sirajul Islam]

Bibliography MA Khan, History of the Fara’idi Movement in Bengal (1818-1906), Pakistan Historical Society, 1965; MA Khan, Selections from Bengal Government Records on Wahabi Trials (1863-1870), Asiatic Society of Pakistan, Dacca 1961; W.W. Hunter, Our Indian Musalmans: Are they bound in conscience to rebel against the Queen? London 1871; Barbara D. Metcalf, “Traditionalist” Islamic Activism: Deoband, Tablighis, and Talibs, in; Masudul Haque, Moulabad, Christianism, Hinduism O Ohabism, Jatio Sahitya Prokash, Dhaka, 2010.