The reason for this write-up is because of the rampant confusion in the media that equates fundamentalism with terrorism.  This confusion prevails even within the Muslim community.  For I have heard many Muslims who through a combination of the press brainwash and a lack of dexterity with the English language, end up referring to the terrorists as fundamentalists. And they often do this in front of those who believe all Muslims are terrorists.


This misunderstanding must be corrected loudly and clearly and once and for all. And to do that one must go into the meaning of what fundamentalism means as opposed to terrorism


The word fundamentalist or Fundamentalism takes its root from the word fundamental.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, fundamental is described as: 1) Primary 2) Basic, Essential 3) Radical 4) of central importance: Principal.  The same Dictionary defines the term fundamentalism as a Protestant religious movement emphasizing the literal infallibility of the Scriptures.  The word fundamentalist is the adjective of the word fundamentalism.


The word terrorist on the other hand takes its root from the word terror.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, terror is defined as : a state of intense fear:  Fright.  The word terrorism is defined as: the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion


The above definitions make it abundantly clear that the two terms are radically different. Therefore, there is no justification for the confusion.  As you have seen, one can be a fundamentalist and a pacifist. If not, then the clergy of the protestant order are also terrorists, because they are fundamentalists in respect of their religious beliefs.  So then are Muslims fundamentalists?


Why not? Muslims believe in the infallibility of their divine book the Holy Quran.  Accordingly, they follow the commandments of that book and the example set by their Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBOH).  The Quran and the prophet’s Sunnah are fundamental to the beliefs of Islam. In following their religious beliefs to the letter of the law, they are engaging in fundamentalism just as the protestants do in their implicit adherence to the commandments of the Bible.  Do you get me?


I do hope the above write-up replete with a generous sprinkling of the words, fundamental, fundamentalism, fundamentalist and terrorism, helps in giving our Muslim brothers and sisters the dilemma we face in respect of the two terms. I also hope it provides of explaining our way out of accusations leveled at us in that regard. 


More importantly, it is up to our community and religious leaders to educate the people of this country, the politicians, the custodians of law and the media in a manner that this totally unjustified stereotyping of Muslims stops.  I hope our community and religious leaders will find a way to take time from some of the petty bickering they engage in to do this.



                                                                                    Munawar Merchant

Aug. 24, 2006


[MAT not necessarily endorses all the views expressed in “opinions”]