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Context of Islam and Buddhist Fundamentalism Essay

At its most basic aspect fundamentalism implies attention to the religious fundamentals. According to Martin Marty, groups who feel themselves to be at risk in society return to certain sacred fundamentals as a method for both staving off the attacks of modernity and for reclaiming their own place in a sacred history. Modernity, in this sense, is to be understood in the following context. First, it is to be seen as characterized by the rationalization of authority, and the replacement of a large number of traditional, religious, familial, and ethnic political authorities by a single, secular, national political authority.

Second, it is to be seen as involving the differentiation of new political functions and the development of specialized structure for the performance of these functions and third, it is to be seen as the development of increased participation in politics throughout society. Modernity, in this sense, requires the development of a pluralistic society that enables the development of positive identities as opposed to identities understood within the context of marginalized groups or communities. Within a modernist worldview, fundamentalism is thereby seen as a form of ideology, which refuses the consideration of other perspectives.

In relation to this, Marty contends, “people in such cultures [fundamentalist cultures] were threatened by the erosion or assault of what they considered to be ‘modern’” (276). In addition to this, he further states that such cultures thereby use fundamentalist tenets, as “instruments and weapons for reactivity where…the real or presumed foundational elements of belief and practice, story and law” are utilized in order to enable the “selective retrieval of the past” (Marty 277). If such is the case, fundamentalism may thereby be characterized with a certain form of “conviction in the world of ‘postmodern relativism’” (Marty 377).

However, such a conviction is generally misconstrued as enabling the development of an irrational actor and hence the performance of irrational actions. The practice of fundamentalism has generally been associated with religion hence one is presented with the various forms of religious fundamentalisms such as Catholic fundamentalism, Islam fundamentalism and Buddhist fundamentalism to name a few. As was noted above, such religious groups focus on the fundamental philosophical assumptions of their religion which allows the selective retrieval of a real or presumed history which becomes the basis for fundamentalists’ actions.

Due to this, it is generally assumed that fundamentalists are privy to the commitment of irrational actions. From the onset, it is important to note that such an assumption is based upon a misleading conception of the fundamentalist movement. Furthermore, it is important to note that such a conception of fundamentalism is based on an understanding of fundamentalism based on its function. In line with this, the task of this paper is two-fold. First, it aims to discuss the practice of fundamentalism within Islam and Buddhism and second, it aims to consider the effects of these practices on the rights of the minority members of such groups.

In order to be more specific, the paper will focus on the philosophical assumptions of such movements and how these assumptions determine and affect the rights of the minority members of such groups specifically that of women. As I reckon, an understanding of fundamentalism necessitates an understanding of it content since it is only through the analysis of fundamentalism’s content that one may be able to present an accurate depiction of the inherent power of the ideas within the movement as well as the relevance of the political actors’ normative commitments.

Such an understanding of fundamentalism does not necessarily replace the functional purpose of the ideas within the movement. However, in relation to this, I would like to contend that such an understanding of the movement, which necessitates the separation of the function and meaning, fails to comprehend the dichotomy of meaning and function thereby failing to consider the correlation of meaning and function. Such a failure, on the other hand, leads to the delineation of fundamentalism as form of ideology as opposed to a form of political philosophy.

This is evident if one considers Marty and Appleby’s understanding of fundamentalism. According to Marty and Appleby, the general characteristic of fundamentalism presents the aforementioned movement as “reflecting upon the evocative and defining power of the sacred [in an attempt] to harness this power for…a variety of political, social and religious ends” (qtd in Henston 131). In this sense, fundamentalism may be understood as seeking to “reconsecrate the world” (Henston 131).

In relation to this Heston claims that Marty and Appleby considers fundamentalism as offering a specific “reading of certain texts of the history [a particular] religion and peoples…hence fundamentalism appeals frequently…on sacred space that provides a concrete focus” (131). Such a depiction of fundamentalism with the emphasis on its religious character as well as its aim of reconsecration fails to consider that fundamentalism is characterized by the need for belonging or for security.

Within Islam, it is generally assumed that the most common manifestation of fundamentalism can be seen in the position of the female within society’s hierarchy of power. Holsdon and Rozario note that “Islam is necessarily more patriarchal or more oppressive to women than other religions” (331). The reason for this can be traced to the status given to the female by a literal interpretation of the Qur’an and the Shari’a. Mohammad, himself, describes Islam as “a religion of right-doing, right-thinking, and right-speaking founded on divine love, universal charity, and the equality of man in the sight of the Lord” (qtd in Syed 157).

A literal interpretation of this passage excludes the female from the treatment of equality. Moghissi states, Regardless of the interpretation of the Qur’an and the Shari’a, if the Qur’anic instructions are taken literally, Islamic individuals or societies cannot favor equal rights for women in the family or in certain areas of social life … If the principles of the Shari’a are to be maintained … women cannot enjoy equality before the law and in the law. (140–1) The two most prominent examples of these in Islam can be seen in the allowance of polygamy as well as the requirement that women should be concealed and secluded.

One might note that such conditions may be considered as fostering inequality within Islam religions as it places the female in a subordinate position to the male however, it has also been argued that these do not necessarily lead to inequality within Islam. Agosin argues that such an assumption [that the conditions set within both the Qur’an and the Shari’a leads to female inequality] may be seen as a result of a patriarchal society’s misrepresentation of religion and culture (236). The function of this misrepresentation is to maintain women in a position that best serves patriarchal priorities.

It is important to contextualize such a claim within the basic assumption of Islam’s religious philosophy. The teachings of Islam are concentrated on the notions of faith and duty. The term Islam itself is equivalent to the concept of submission in the English language. Islam may thereby be seen as the religion of submission wherein one submits to the will of Allah as it is stated in the Qur’an. The problem is thereby presented when one considers the contradictory accounts regarding the treatment of the female as it is presented in the aforementioned text.

There are accounts which recognize the equality of both members of the sexes as well as accounts which places the female as a subordinate to the male. If such is the case, it cannot be argued that autonomy may not be granted to the female since a literal interpretation of the aforementioned texts allows instances of freedom on the side of the female. This, however, does not change the fact that Islam operates under the assumption of separate roles and spheres of activities for both men and women.

As opposed to Islam, the practice of fundamentalism may be seen in Buddhist religions in different forms depending on the form of Buddhism practiced by a particular group. In the same way that Islam adheres to a certain form of separate-spheres ideology between men and women, Buddhism controls the female as a result of her dangerous sexuality which is considered as potentially dangerous to men. In order to deal with such a problem, marriages are arranged for women at a young age in order to ensure their chastity.

According to the traditional doctrine, embraced in Theravada movements, every woman must bear three kinds of subordination. The first is “to her father when she is young, to her husband while she married, and to her son when she old” (qtd in Paul 53). Such a doctrine is enforced in reality is punished with certain sanctions. A woman who fails to conform to this approved role is stigmatized and devalued within society. The similarity between Islam and Buddhism fundamentalist movements can traced to the value that they place upon the female subject.

This value however prevents the female’s attainment of autonomy as a result of her assumed natural subordination to the male. The effects of fundamentalism within these movements may thereby be seen as hindering and in fact enabling the subordination of the female. Works Cited Abu-Nimer, M. “A Framework for Non-violence and Peacebuilding in Islam. ” Journal of Law and Religion 15. 2 (2001): 217-265. Agosin, Marjorie. Women, Gender, and Human Rights: A Global Perspective. London: Rutgers, 2001. Hilsdon, Anne and Santi Rozario. “Special Issue on Islam, Gender, and Human Rights.

” Women’s Studies International Forum 29 (2006): 331-338. Henston, A. “Crusades and Jihads: A Long-Run Economic Perspective. ” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 588 (2003): 112-135. Marty, M. “The Future of World Fundamentalism. ” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 142. 3 (1998): 367-77. Paul, Diane. Women in Buddhism: images of the Feminine in Mahayana Tradition. Syed, Ameer. The Spirit of Islam Or the Life and Teachings of Mohammad: Or the Life and Teachings of Mohammed. Np: Gorgias Press, 2002.


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