Religious Influences: Descriptions of Core Beliefs, Rites and Rituals -
Jihad and Islamic Fundamentalism

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The concept of jihad is often misunderstood in the West. The term jihad comes from the Arabic root 'jahada' meaning to struggle. The most famous use of the word jihad is as Holy War. Islamic guerrillas fighting state authority in various Muslim countries use it freely to describe their struggles.

Many Muslims interpret jihad to mean any struggle that has a spiritual significance. A loose definition of jihad can include the struggle to give up smoking or to control one's temper. The internal personal struggle is designed to purify the personality. Jihad is also recognized as the duty of all Muslims, as individuals and as a community, to exert themselves to realize God's will. Muslims are asked to lead good lives, and to extend the Islamic community through such things as preaching and education.

The definition of jihad as a personal struggle is termed the "greater jihad." All Muslims are engaged in a greater jihad, which is largely non-violent. Jihad also carries the definition of Holy War or in defense of Islam. This "lesser jihad" involves struggles with outside forces such as state power or tyrannical armies. The lesser jihad war is commanded by Allah but is expected to be carried out according to strict rules. It is important to note that the lesser jihad, or Holy War, is not about converting others to Islam, but about the defense of Islam [13].

Islamic Fundamentalism

School in a madrassahIslamic fundamentalism is used to describe religious ideologies advocating a return to the "fundamentals" of Islam. Just as religious customs and fashions come and go in the Western world, they do in the Islamic world as well. For the past few years, Islamic fundamentalism has been on the upswing. Along with the downfall of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s and the establishment of the fundamentalist Islamic government, the fundamentalist movement has made itself felt throughout the Islamic world, even in such secular countries as Turkey. Many young Muslims are more devout than their parents. Female university students in many Islamic countries have returned to the practice of covering their hair in public, and many areas that had loosened up with regard to Islamic strictures (such as availability of alcohol) have tightened them up again [14].

One fundamentalist sect is Wahhabism, known as Salafis. The Salafi follow an austere form of Islam that calls for a literal interpretation of the Qur'an in every aspect of life. It teaches that the Salafi are the chosen people who will go to heaven and that the Sunni and Shi’a are not really Muslims. Wahhabism started in Saudi Arabia and has been introduced to Pakistan through the Taliban who have been building Wahhabist madrassahs. The word Madrassah means "school" in Arabic and can be used to refer to any school, religious or not. Religious madrassahs are schools that are intended for the education of underprivileged youth, and the majority are charitable institutions that offer education, shelter, and food. Some though have evolved into schools teaching war against non-believers.

Excerpt from an extremist Wahhabist madrassah textbook: "The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews, and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, 'Oh Muslim, oh, servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him" [15].

It should be noted that the majority of madrassahs are not connected to terrorism, though a few do teach extremist ideas like the excerpt above.

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