'Fundamentalists', J. J. G. Jansen reminds us, 'select a limited number of the precepts of their religion and make these absolute.'555 Not only do they make them absolute; they anoint them as sacred. ' Abd al-Salam Faraj, one of those who assassinated President Anwar Sadat of Egypt (i9i®-®i), made the position extremely clear:
To carry out God's prescripts [is] an obligation for the Muslims. Hence, the establishment of an Islamic State is obligatory . If such a state cannot be established without war, then this war is an obligation as well. The laws by which the Muslims are ruled today are [not the laws of Islam but] the laws of unbelief. The rulers of this age are [hence] in apostasy from Islam. An apostate has to be killed even if he is unable to carry arms and go to war.556
K. N. Pandita detects 'an international agenda before the extremist Islamists the world over to destabilise civil societies and regimes against whose interests they work in one way or the other'.557
The 'problem' of Islamic fundamentalism has been viewed as a response to diverse phenomena which range from alienation and globalisation to exclusion from a particular society. Scott Thomas does not believe that it is any of these.55® Its true definition for him is much starker and far less simplistic: 'It is a cultural and religious response to secular materialism'.559 As such, it chooses to sacralise and hold sacred not just its perceived telos, who is God Himself, but also the means to that end.
Modern scholars have endlessly debated the origins of such a passionate and focussed dwelling upon, and articulation of, contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. Robert Irwin, Middle East editor of the Times Literary Supplement, identifies the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb (i906-66) as a leading contender for the title of 'Father of Islamic Fundamentalism'.560 The latter held that it was legitimate for Muslims to resist by force those supposedly Islamic regimes which fell short of the ideal.56I (The
'sign' of perfection is part of the modern semiotics of Islamic fundamentalism.) His political trajectory is very well known, his life being terminated by hanging on 29 August 1966 under the Egyptian Nasserist regime.562
His literary trajectory achieved equal prominence and significance. Sayyid Qutb wrote one of the most famous tafasir, exegeses, of the Qur'an of the twentieth century, a multi-volume work under the title of Fi Zilal al-Qur'an (In the Shadows of the Qur'an).563 In these volumes, he insisted over and over again on the idea that the demands made upon the Muslim community are non-negotiable. The inescapable conclusion was that corrupt Muslim regimes should command no obedience; rather, they were to be outlawed in any possible way.564 Sacred goal and intransigent means became thus merged in a sacred whole.
It is a truism that both the ordinary and the extraordinary can become sacralised by ritual.565 Prominent among such sacralising rituals are those which pertain to ritual purity. In both Judaic and Islamic society, for example, menstruation is considered to render women unclean.566 The Book of Leviticus puts it thus:
Whenever a woman has a discharge and the discharge from her body is of blood, she will remain in a state of menstrual pollution for seven days. Anyone who touches her will be unclean until evening.567
Sexual intercourse is prohibited during menstruation.568 A modern commentator on Leviticus 15 notes that 'the kinds of impurity here dealt with include not only contagious venereal disease but also normal seminal discharge and menstruation. Everything connected with conception and birth is sacred and mysterious.'569 Islam embraces a similar ethic:
Concerning women's courses. Say: They are A hurt and a pollution So keep away from women In their courses, and do not Approach them until They are clean.570
The distinguished anthropologist Mary Douglas held that the diverse rituals concerning purity and impurity practised in various societies were responsible for fostering a sense of unity of experience. They could make an actual contribution to such concepts as atonement and become a public display of the 'symbolic patterns' inherent in any social or religious system.571 Places and objects which are held to be sacred must be preserved from that which is impure.572 It follows that anyone bent on what is deemed a sacred mission will have a similar care about cleanliness and purity rituals. W. Lloyd Warner in 1937 suggested that 'masculinity is inextricably interwoven with ritual cleanliness, and femininity is equally entwined with the concept of uncleanliness, the former being the sacred principle and the latter the profane'.573 Whether or not one chooses to espouse such an extreme view, it is interesting to note the obsession with cleanliness and ritual purity exhibited by
Mohammed Atta, one of the '9/11' suicide bombers, who wrote in his will: 'I don't want pregnant women or a person who is not clean to come and say goodbye to me because I don't approve of it. I don't want women to go to my funeral or later to my grave.'574
War may also be sacralised, by the concept of the Just War in the West and that of Jihad in the East.575 After 11 September 2001, journalists analysed the usage of the 'Just War' concept by politicians who sought to justify a military response and bombing of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Quoting the American Civil War general William Sherman that 'war is cruelty and you cannot refine it', Michael Gove showed, nonetheless, that many had tried to do just that.576 Their fountain of inspiration, of course, was St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74).577 And for 'refine' we can also read 'sacralise'.
Gove noted, however, that 'Aquinas' theory has since been honoured as much in the breach as in the observance. Many wars, including those of religion, such as the Thirty Years' War, have encompassed great brutality towards civilians.'578
Writing on 13 October 2001, barely a calendar month after the 9/11 attacks, a former Permanent Under-Secretary at the British Ministry of Defence observed that 'the legitimacy of taking military action is beyond dispute by most of these [classical Just War] criteria: Just cause, Right intention, Proper authority, Proportionality, Last resort'.579 Not only did such criteria, for their proponents, serve to justify war ('jus ad bellum: the justice of going to war'580) but they served to cleanse and sacralise what was proposed.
Not everyone was convinced. The view that the journalist and famous commentator on Middle Eastern affairs, Robert Fisk, heard aired in Pakistan ran as follows: 'If, as Mr Bush claims, the attacks on New York and Washington were an assault on "civilization", why shouldn't Muslims regard an attack on Afghanistan as a war on Islam?'581 Jihad may be shown to have a sacred character as well.
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