In recent years, Islamism has become a powerful force that shapes the Muslim world.

With the belief that current Islamic communities are stuck in a state of chaos, Islamists seek a revolutionary transformation of their societies.

Their primary goal is to establish a stricter and religious Islamic state. The rise of Islamism had various social, political, and strategic consequences in our world.

Understanding and analyzing Islamism and its origins may solve modern conflicts and potential threats.

What is Islamism?

Islamism is a term that encompasses both social and political activism that is guided by the principles of Islam. It includes various political ideologies inspired by Islamic symbols and traditions that have the same sociopolitical objective.

Like other political doctrines, Islamism consists of an ideology, movement-organization, and a form of government. It is often synonymous with terms political Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. Islamism has a very positive connotation in the Muslim world.

However, in western media, Islamism refers to groups whose primary intentions are to build a sharia-based Islamic state. They are also often linked with violent tactics and human rights violations, more closely related to political extremism. In the West, Islamism is associated with political groups such as the Algerian Armed Islamic Group or the Taliban.

Islamism Definition

The word “Islamism” was used first by French writers during the end of the seventeenth century. They refer to the religion Islamism and even said its roots were found in Judaism. Before it was an ideology, it was simply a term that meant Islam, the religion founded by Muhammad.

The most dramatic change of the world Islamism happened during the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini’s leadership. Khomeini was the first to establish an Islamist government in the twentieth century. From his revolution, there came terms such as ‘Islamic fundamentalism,’ ‘Islamic revival,’ ‘radical Islam,’ and ‘political Islam.’

From then on, Islamism was differentiated from Islam. The West viewed this particular form of Islam as more violent, political, and harbor grudges towards the West. This form of Islam also is known to be determined to establish regimes in the modern Muslim world, making them very dangerous.

The term peaked use during the tragic events on 9/11 when journalists and politicians have started using the term. By this time, Islamism is a new and independent concept. People have stopped using the term political Isalm or fundamental Islam but used the word ‘Islamist’ extensively. Soon the phrase “international terrorism” would also be synonymous with Islamists and was the new “global devil” in the 21st century.

Difference Between Muslims and Islamists

Muslims call themselves Muslims. Men are called Muslin, and females are Muslima. Plural masculine is Muslimun, and plural females are Muslimat. For Islamists, Muslims are Islamiyyun. The Qur’an uses the term Muslimun but never the term Islamiyyun.

Even the advocate Hasan al-Banna himself referred to other Muslims as ‘Muslims’ and his disciples simply as ‘Muslim Brothers.’ So from here, we conclude that the word Islamists are a western creation.

Many scholars have argued that the western government and other commentators should avoid wrongly labeling Muslims and Islamists. These terms carry good and bad connotations where Muslim means friendly and Islamist hostile. The term has an alienating effect on other Muslims.

Islamic Faith

The word Islam in Arabic means “submission,” and obedience to God is the Islamic faith’s central theme. The monotheistic belief system shared by all Muslims today originates in the 7th century through Muhammad’s teachings, the last of all religious prophets. After Muhammad died in 632, his successors continued his legacy and teachings.

The followers of Islam believe in one God whom they call Allah. Like the Christian bible, they also believe that Adam was the first prophet.

Muslims follow the five pillars of Islam, which are:

  1. The Shahadah – A statement of faith that all Muslims must recite at least once in their lives.
  2. The Salat – A prayer done five times a day.
  3. Zakat – a tax given to the poor and those in need.
  4. Sawm – fast done every month of Ramadan.
  5. Hajj – a pilgrimage every Muslim must do at least once in his life to the Holy city of Mecca.

They also believe in Sharia law. Law that is derived from the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The Sharia Law is a system of beliefs, ethics, morals that covers every aspect of a Muslim’s life.

Based on Islamic theology, Islam is the original and primordial faith revealed through prophets including Abraham, Noah, Adam, Moses, and Jesus. All Muslims follow the Quran and believe in the missions of Muhammad. However, disagreements led to different religious sects within the Islamic faith.

Islam Political Ideology

Contemporary Islamism, one that connects religion and terror, is thought to have started during the ‘Society of Muslim Brothers,’ also called ‘Movement of the Muslim Brothers’ in 1928. According to historians, this was the first Islamic fundamentalism that turned to an international movement claiming to represent Islamic diaspora in the European regions.

The founder, Hasan al-Banna, published a totalitarian jihadist ideology. This doctrine is often the primary source of intellectual terrorism, including the ones authored by Sayyid Qutb, who is now one of the most influential advocates in the Muslim world.

He is often considered the rector spiritus (ruling or guiding spirit) of Islamism. Sayyid Qutb’s works have been translated into various Islamic languages. The ideology of Islam created by Qutb became so widespread that it even became a threat to the West’s secularity during the seventeenth century.

Even if the Muslim Brotherhood was a minority, their movement was a success. With a lot of help from their faith schools and the assistance of Madrassas, they increased in the Islamic world and throughout Europe. The Muslim Brotherhood was able to capture young Muslims’ hearts and minds who accepted their principles of totalitarianism.

To Islamists, the world is both repressive and wrong. The current world doesn’t correspond to Islamic political ideology and principles; furthermore, Islam is no longer the predominant power. They also do not like that non-Muslims occupy Muslim territory and that some Muslims live under an anti-Islamic government. To make the world right, Islamists want to restore the Caliphate. They view it as the first step towards the ‘Islamisation’ of the world.

Their options for reaching their goals see no end. They use peaceful indoctrination, expansion through propagation, and even violent methods such as terrorism and massacre. However, the use of violence is not customary. Most do not use violence, and only a small number of Islamists are extremely violent. The Islamic Liberation Party in Europe is an excellent example of an Islamist group that is non-violent.

Islamist Movement

Islamic movement refers to religious and political organizations guided by the principles of Islam. They are often characterized as anti-modern or driven by a pre-modern ideology that poses a threat to the Western way of life.

Throughout the 1990s, Islamic movements were always seen as a threat to the West. Western scholars believed that Islam posed a political, demographic, and civilizational threat to the world.

History

The Islamist movement started in the late 19th century. This happened when the Islamic world is undergoing a massive transformation as it engages with Enlightenment and modernity ideas. This is followed by mass literacy and the rise of print technology which facilitated the spread of new ideas and offered more people access to Islamic materials, including the Qur’an. The increase in these educational materials undermined religious scholars’ authority known as the ulama, who frequently taught their interpretations of the scripture.

It also saw its decline during the peak of Western colonialism. Before the West was considered the leader in scientific achievement and intellectual endeavor, the Islamic world was the most influential. It led to the intellectual movement in various institutions.

Islamist movements spread like wildfire in the Arab World after many Arabs were disappointed with the failure of Pan-Arabism. Muslim Brotherhood grew from Middle Eastern territories such as Iraq, Jordan, Syria to Palestine territories. Today, most Islamist movements state that revolution is their primary objective.

Islamism after 9/11

The 9/11 suicide attack was often known as the “worst international terrorist attack ever.” This was the time the Muslim world was labeled as the main threat to the West. It has replaced communism as the main threat to the world.

After the 9/11 attack, there was an anti-Muslim and public rage all over the world. It was so intense that it created Islamophobia during the years that followed. From North America to Europe, thousands of migrants of Arab and Muslim descent were detained for minor crimes. In North America, mosques and Muslim schools were attacked and set to fire. The 9/11 event brought even deeper division and religious violence to both the Muslim world and the Western world.

A Divided Movement

Islamism is far from being a monolithic movement. They do not have a center and overall radical leadership. Many would even compare Islamism as a movement similar to fascism and communism. Like fascism and communism, Islamism has different variations. To summarize the divisions of Islamism, we’ll talk about the two axial pillars: division by sub religious affiliations and division by scope of claims and ambitions.

In the division of sub-religious affiliations, Islamism is divided into three main branches: Shia, Sunni, and Wahhabi.

  1. Sunnism has four theological and juridical schools. They also represent the vast majority of Islamists. They also believe that the first four caliphs are the legitimate successors of Muhammad.
  2. The Wahhabi is mainly found in Saudi Arabia. Their religion is deeply rooted in Muhammad Abd al Wahab’s instruction, who influenced Ibn Taymiyya during the Middle Ages.
  3. Shia Islamism is mainly linked to Iran, where the population is 80 percent Shia Muslims. They are the second-largest branch of Islam who believes only the caliph Ali and his descendants. Both Shia and Sunni have violent relations due to political contexts.

Islamist Countries

Islamist countries are primarily located in Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. There are around 50 countries whose population is Muslim. Today, Islam is the world’s second-largest religious group, with more than 1.8 billion people worldwide who identify themselves as Muslim. The country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, with 84 percent of people identifying as Muslim, roughly around 230 million people.

Some of the core figures in twentieth-century Islamism include Abul A’la Maududi, Sayyid Qutb, Ruhollah Khomeini, and Hassan al-Banna.

Summary

  • Islamism rose to become a powerful force in the Muslim world. Islamists seek a revolutionary transformation of their societies. Their primary goal is to establish a stricter and more religious Islamic state.
  • The rise of Islamism had various social, political, and strategic consequences in our world.
  • Throughout the 1990s, Islamic movements were always seen as a threat to the West. Western scholars believed that Islam posed a political, demographic, and civilizational threat to the world.
  • The word Islamism earned negative connotations during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 9/11 attack.
  • After the 9/11 attack, there was an anti-Muslim and public rage all over the world. It was so intense that it created Islamophobia during the years that followed.
  • In western media, Islamism refers to groups whose primary intentions are to build a sharia-based Islamic state. They are also often linked with violent tactics and human rights violations, more closely related to political extremism.
  • Islamist countries are primarily located in Central Asia, Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. There are around 50 countries whose population is Muslim.
  • Today, Islam is the world’s second-largest religious group, with more than 1.8 billion people worldwide who identify as Muslim.
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