Islamic Revival or Increased Religiosity?

Fundamentalism is a unique and complex phenomenon.  It is seen, on the one hand, as a response to social and political situation, and as an interpretation of sacred texts on the other. This phenomenon exists in almost every religion, such as Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions. However, this kind of religious movement varies from one religion to another. What has been happening in Islam is not exactly the same as that of other religions. Even, within Islam, there are a variety of religious movements, which have different emphases, but what they have in common is a response to changes taking place in their own communities. There are spiritual groups, ritualistic groups, revolutionary or radical groups, Muslim Brothers groups, intellectual groups, and traditional groups (Bagader, 1994: 119-120).

All of these groups are aware that there should be a change in Muslim society, but they differ in terms of the framework, strategy, and the manner in which they believe changes should take place. Therefore, in order to gain a better understanding of this phenomenon, the socio-political contexts in which this kind of movement has emerged should be taken into account. The movement also has to be understood in relation to each country. It cannot be generalized.

The purpose of this essay is to answer the question: What is Islamic revival? Does it simply entail increased religiosity? Why is ‘a return to the Islamic path’ being so widely accepted by the Muslim communities around the world as a solution to the problems of the ‘modern world’?

The Problem of Definition
There is a debate on the proper term used to identify and characterize the religious movements that call for a return to the fundamentals of Islam. Some scholars use Islamic fundamentalism on the grounds that it is a radical group using religion as a symbol of the struggle to reject western values, secularism, and imperialism.

Esposito (1988) avoids using this term because it is misleading. The rise of Islamic movements, he argues, is a cyclical phenomenon, which has occurred throughout the history of Islam. On the other hand, there are scholars who refer to this movement as ‘Islamism’ or ‘political Islam’ (Esposito, 1991; Halliday, 1994; Sayyid, 19). Meanwhile, some scholars refer to it as Islamic revivalism or Islamic resurgence (Nash, 1991; Bagader, 1994; Piscatori, 1986).

I shall argue that the so-called term of fundamentalism is not appropriate to apply to Islam since this term was derived from Christianity, which has its own contexts, meaning someone who believes in the fundamentals of the Bible and the Scripture. In this sense, every Moslem is fundamentalist in the sense that they believe in the fundamentals of Islam, the Quran, and the tradition of the Prophet (Ahmed, 1995: 10).

I prefer to refer to this kind of movement as Islamic revivalism, meaning there has been an awareness of improving religiosity individually or collectively. This claim is on the grounds that the emergence of this movement was originally a response to the dismal situations that the Moslem world community has experienced for a long time.

The defeat of Arab countries in the 1967 war with Israel, for instance, humiliated Islam and Moslems around the world since this was seen as a defeat of Islam. Faced with this situation, they have come to the conclusion that the failure of Arab is caused by their ignorance of the ideals of Islam. Therefore, in order to take back the great victory, which Islam has experienced in the Abbasid Caliphate periods, Moslems must return to the Islamic path and the fundamentals of Islam, the Quran, and Hadith (the tradition of the prophet).

Another reason may be linked to the search for pan-Islamic identity in the changing contemporary societies, such as what happened in Malaysia. Crisis in the morality of Malay Muslims was caused by secularism and industrialization that marginalized them for their religion. They felt strange in this situation and began to search for true identity. They found in Islam what is suitable for their identity.

Thus, Islamic revival is best defined as part of a commitment to Islam, and some Moslems are aware that there is a need for change in their religiosity. This change should be based on the Quran and Hadith as the main sources of Islam since Islam is perceived as a comprehensive and complete way of life and does not recognize the separation between religion and worldly matters. Besides being a religious leader, the Prophet was a political leader. He was not only concerned about rituals but also about establishing an Islamic community with the Quran as its legal preference. This is an indication that Islam from the beginning does not recognize the separation between religion and the world.

 Islamic revival or a return to the Islamic path may be viewed from two different levels; the individual and political level. At the individual level, it can be argued that the return to the Islamic path means a rediscovery of Islamic identity and Islamic values, which are expressed in the form of more prayer, fasting, and other rituals (Esposito, 1988: 162). This is indicated by the fact that there is an increase in the number of Moslems attending mosques, observing the Islamic hijab (headscarf) among Moslem women, and understanding more intensively the teachings of Islam.

There is also a growth of neo-Sufism and of new Islamic association committed to religious reform.  This awareness is usually spurred on by the fact there is a crisis of morality and ethics among Muslim societies that are more or less influenced by western lifestyles and secularism. Therefore, the need to call them to return to the Islamic path is perceived as necessary.

Tablighi Jama’at in Pakistan and India, and Darul Arqam and the Kelantan groups in Malaysia, to some extent, have contributed significantly to healing moral ailments in some Muslim countries. These groups are very concerned with how to behave in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah (the tradition of the Prophet). For male Moslems, wearing a turban and being bearded is recommended. Female Moslems are encouraged to wear the Islamic hijab or purdah with a chador (face covering).

The method used by Tablighi Jamaat in Pakistan, according to Ahmad (1991: 513-4), is to organize and send some persons to visit villages and invite the local people to gather in the mosque. Thus, the messages were delivered in the form of reciting and knowing the meaning of shahadah (“there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet”), saying shalat (obligatory ritual prayer), learning basic teachings of Islam and performing dhikr (ritual remembrance of Allah), paying respects and being polite to fellow Muslims, preaching Islam by traveling to other areas, and doing all of above for the sake of Allah. The same is true of Tablighi Jamaat in Indonesia. They are basically not interested in political matters. Although these groups are not politically active, they have considerable impacts on the social and political fabric of society.

In addition, in Malaysia, the call for a return to the Islamic path was welcomed primarily by university students and professional women in the cities, particularly in the 1970s after the implementation of New Economic Policy that induced a massive exodus of people from rural areas to the city for employment and study. At that time, we could easily find women wearing the Islamic veil as a symbol of pan-Islamic identity, and young people with an intensive understanding of the basic teachings of Islam.

The reason for their return to Islam was that they felt insecure dealing with their new roles in a secular society. They began to search for a pure identity and a model to follow in this heterogeneous environment (Nagatta, 1995: 111; Sleboda, 2001: 1). Thus, they found in Islam something comfortable and suitable for their identity, and enthusiastically learned Islam and adopted proper Islamic veiling.

In Indonesia, the phenomenon of Islamic revival, in part, may be reflected in the growth of foundations and organizations that are concerned with Islamic teachings. In contemporary Indonesian society, as a part of the search for Islamic identity, more Muslims have entered Sufism clubs, in which they can cultivate their faith by learning the ethics and morals of Islam. Yayasan Tazkiyah Sejati (the Foundation of Soul Purification), Klub Kajian Agama (Club for Islamic Studies) “Paramadina” and Indonesian Islamic Media Network, may be included in this group. These groups are interested in studying tasawuf (arts of purifying the soul). 

On the other hand, spurred on by the present social and political situation, there are also more radical movements, such as Laskar Jihad (Soldier of Holy war) and Front Pembela Islam (Front of Islamic Resistance), which think that Islamic law (shariah) should be implemented in Indonesia. In dealing with the ethnic conflicts between Muslims and Christians that have occurred in parts of Indonesia, such as Ambon (in Maluku) and Poso (central part of Sulawesi Island), these groups called for Muslims to do jihad. This call was condemned by other Muslims as ridiculous since this conflict was not religion-based, but was more likely to have been caused for economic and political reasons.

At the political level, Islamic revival is characterized by attempts to Islamize law, institutions, and governments. To establish an Islamic state in which shariah (Islamic law) can be implemented totally is the main goal of this kind of movement. However, the way to reach this ultimate goal varies from one group to another.

There are radical or revolutionary groups that think the only way to set up an Islamic state with a constitutional framework and political organization solely based on Islam with shariah as its legal reference, is through revolution and if necessary, through violent actions. They do not want to wait until society gradually becomes Islamic and do not want any compromise with the existing regimes.

In Egypt, this radical movement is represented by such organizations as the Military Technical College Organization, the Society of the Muslims (Jamaat al-Muslimin), the Jihad Organization, and Al-Jama’a Islamiyya (Ramadan, 1993). In Algeria, GIA (The Armed Islamic Group) is part of this radical movement. In establishing the Islamic republic, GIA more frequently uses violent actions. This group was accused of being responsible for most of the assassinations of journalists, intellectuals, and political activists who were opposed to their point of view.

On the other hand, there is a moderate movement that condemns violence and is open to political dialogue. Their belief is that the Islamization of society is a process leading to the creation of Islamic society. In order to realize this goal, education and teaching are absolutely necessary. Similar to the radical movement, this movement also considers shariah as a system of universal reference, which must be interpreted and adapted to the realities of today through the opening of the gates of ijtihad. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, and FIS (The Islamic Salvation Front) in Algeria may be included in this kind of movement.

Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) was founded by Hassan al Banna in 1929. Its first goal was to fight against the secular Egyptian institutions like the government, to obtain an Islamic state. This organization has had considerable influence over many of the Islamic movements around the Muslim world. Hamas (Harakat al-Mouqawama al-Islamiya; Islamic Resistance of Movement), for instance, was philosophically linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Its main goals are to liberate Palestine from Israel’s occupation and to set up an Islamic state.

In addition, FIS emphasizes Islamic values, meaning all legislation must be derived from the imperative of the shariah in all fields of life. FIS, thus, becomes a political party opposed to the government. Furthermore, there are Islamic movements, which have worked within the parliamentary democratic system as in the case of Jordan, and which have succeeded in attaining power as in the case of Pakistan (like Jama’at Islami) and Sudan.

  The reasons for the return to the Islamic path being widely accepted by Muslim communities cannot be generalized. The emergence of the Islamic revival may be associated with the dissatisfaction of Moslems with the modern, urban, pluralistic, and secular world. This milieu was described as sensual, corrupt, neurotic, ephemeral, and trivial (Nash, 1991: 695).

This is true of the Islamic movement in Malaysia. People were reluctant about the development process that led to the marginalisation of Muslims from their religion and the moral degradation among them. Islam offers values that could be accepted by Moslems. Islam is perceived as a system of life that covers all aspects of life. As the Quran (al-An’am 38) says: “Nothing have we omitted from the Book”. This verse is understood to mean that not only does Islam speak about cults and rituals, but also about politics, economy, science, and otherworldly matters. The Kelantan groups and Malaysian Dakwah were, in part, spurred on by this phenomenon.

In addition, Western ideologies, such as socialism and capitalism, and secularism, which have been practiced in some Muslim countries for years, are seen to have failed to resolve the socio-economic and political problems in a Muslim society (Ferdows and Weber, 1992). These ideologies have even created conflict and tension between the ruling class and the grass-roots people. Moreover, the secularist leaders and rulers who relied on the West and tried to modernize their countries have been left with social disorder, upheaval, and confusion in society (Sayyid, 1997: 19).

This forced the population to begin questioning the legitimacy of the political establishment and to search for an authentic and indigenous ideology, which they found in Islam. In Iran, for instance, the overthrow of the Shah was very much related to his attempts to westernize Iran. The Shah believed that in order to make progress and become modernized, people must hold western values. Therefore, Iranian women were forcibly unveiled in the public sphere, such as in schools and the workplaces, since the veil and the practice of veiling were perceived as a barrier to the process of modernization.

This, in part, led to the revolution in 1979 that has inspired many Islamic movements throughout the Muslim world. Male and female Muslims, regardless of their status and background, went hand in hand to overthrow the Shah’s regime. Women in Iran also took the veil as a symbol of solidarity to Islam and opposition to the Shah.

Turkey has had also the same experience in the sense that westernization have become a threat to Islam and Moslems. The emergence of the Turban’s Movement was associated with this westernization by the government. This movement represented the rejection of western values characterized by the adoption of Islamic veiling. According to Gole (2000: 469, 481), Islamic veiling in Turkey is the result of a new interpretation of the sacred texts by Muslims as a symbol of pan-Islamic identity, in addition to a refusal of westernization. It is also a symbol of the Islamisation of the self and society.

CONCLUSION
From the above discussion, it can be concluded that Islamic revival may be understood as part of a commitment by Muslims to their religion. It can be argued that there is an awareness of returning to the Islamic path. This return should be looked at two from different levels; individual and political. At the individual level, Islamic revival is reflected in an increase in Islamic observances, which are expressed in the form of more prayer, fasting, and trying to understand the basic teachings of Islam.

At the political level, Islamic revival is represented by the increase in religio-political movements, whose aims are to establish an Islamic state. This movement can be divided into radical and moderate movement. Both movements differ in strategy and method, although they have similarities in their ultimate goals.

Islamic revival is caused primarily by the failure of Western ideologies and secularism in resolving the socio-economic problems of Muslim society. Islam has been found to be a proper ideology for sorting out the problems. Another reason is related to the search for identity among Muslims in the changing contemporary society, which were seen as secular and corrupt.

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