First of all, we would like to stress the fact that fundamentalism is not originally an Arabic term. It is a term that is alien to our culture as Muslims.
Speaking about the origin of the term ‘fundamentalism’, the prominent Muslim scholar, Sheikh `Abdel-Khaleq Hasan Ash-Shareef, states the following:
“Fundamentalism or Usuliyyah is not originally an Arabic term. It is a foreign one used in referring to people whose follow the traditional way of thinking.
The word ‘fundamentalist’ is used by Western scholars to refer to a Muslim who sticks to the tenets of his faith. They have succeeded in enticing even some of our fellow Muslim brothers to dub the righteous as ‘fundamentalists’ in order to dissuade people from the tenets of faith.”
Shedding more light on the different connotations of the ‘term’ in Islamic and Western contexts, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states the following:
“Fundamentalism is one of the terms more common in today’s Western media. Every now and then they coin certain terms to alienate people from modern Islamic movements that tend to awaken the Muslim Ummah from its deep slumber, and resuscitates Islamic thought. We, Muslims call this phenomenon Islamic Revival, due to its noble goal of drawing Muslims back to the true Islamic message as revealed in the Glorious Qur’an and clarified by the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
Here, I would like to mention that Westerners use the term ‘fundamentalism’ to find faults with Islam and defame its doctrines. They, sometimes, describe Islamic Revival as
Islamic extremism or Islamic radicalism. In other contexts, they call it ‘backwardness’. Thus, to the West the term ‘fundamentalism’ is equivalent to ‘extremism’.
It stands to reason that fundamentalism as a term is traced back to the West as they use it to refer to refer to puritanical Christians or those who are strict in observing Christian teachings and doctrines, and whose approach tend to be somehow violent and aggressive. At later stages, the word was used by Westerners to defame modern Islamic Revival so that people may turn away from this Islamic trend.
In Islamic context, the term ‘fundamentalism’ is a good term. It is derived from the Arabic word Usul, i.e., roots or basics. Referring to this, Allah Almighty says: “ Seest thou not how Allah coineth a similitude: A goodly saying, as a goodly tree, its root set firm, its branches reaching into heaven.” (Al-Anbiyaa’: 24)
Fundamentalism as stated by the verse is a good and pleasing term, for if one is not interested in referring to his basic principles, one’s thought will be regarded as superficial, and one will be distracted by branches and secondary matters while deviating from the roots and basicse.
Moreover, we have Islamic related terms driven from the word “Usul” like Usul-Uddin or Principles of Islamic Theology, Usul-al-Fiqh or Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence. In addition, great Muslim jurists were sometimes described as well-versed in Usul (i.e Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence.)
Hence, We Muslims accept nothing short of adhering to Usul or the basic principles of Islam), and if ‘fundamentalism’ means sticking to the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, then we are proud to be ‘FUNDAMENTALISTS’.
According to Islam, the word Usul refers to the basic pillars of Islamic doctrine which include, belief in Allah, His angels, His Books, His Messengers and the Last Day, in addition to the practical pillars on which Islam is based which include performing daily Prayers, paying Zakah, fasting in Ramadan and performing Pilgrimage.
Also, among the Usul of the Islamic religion are the basic good manners which the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was sent to complete. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said, “I have been sent to complete the good manners.”
Likewise, decisive laws of Shari`ah, such as the permissibility of sale transaction, the prohibition of Zina (adultery or fornication), and drinking alcohol, the permissibility of marriage, the legal rules of inheritance and other laws, belong to the BASIC principles of Islam.
Accordingly, if the meaning of ‘fundamentalism’ is sticking to ‘the main Islamic principles and doctrines’, then one should implore Allah saying:
“O Allah make me ’Usuli’ ‘fundamentalist’ in my life and let me die FUNDAMENTALIST and resurrect me on the Day of Judgment among ‘Usuliyyien (i.e. the FUNDAMENTALISTS).”