Militant Islam is rife in the modern world1,2. Islamic terrorism is a constant threat to worldwide international stability2, and a string of historical (and ongoing) movements have resulted in uncountable deaths, mostly of innocent victims. Religious persecution is very much worse in Muslim-majority countries; sixty-two percent of Muslim-majority countries have moderate to high levels of persecution and of the 14 worst countries for religious persecution and violence, 13 are predominantly Muslim3. This cause of this is not ethnic or wealth-related; it stems from Muslim teachings and internal movements towards stricter Islam4. Right from the start, "the traditional sources of the Islamic faith - the Koran, the Sunna, the hadiths - provide crystal-clear justification for the entire program of militancy"5. Of the first four successors to Muhammad, three were assassinated1. A 2014 study found 41% of the people in Pakistan supported acts of deadly violence in defense of Islam as did 39% in Lebanon, 15% Indonesia, 13% in Morocco, and 57% in Jordan - "even in Turkey, a member of NATO, 14 percent see some good in terrorism when carried out in the name of Islam".6.
Although much of this violence is directed on Muslims by other Muslims, where strong Muslim communities exist alongside others outwards persecution is common, and often very severe. Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 was murdered by a Dutch Muslim for perceived insults against Islam7. Hundreds of "honour killings" have seen women murdered by their own families for failing to adhere to Muslim ideas on relationships and behaviour. Pressure is exerted against all of the most vocal critics of Islam almost no matter where they are in the world. Antisemitism is strongly associated with Islam across the world, especially in Muslim countries and places in Europe with Muslim communities8.
Many powerful, rich and well-established Islamic organisations support schools of thought that are inherently intolerant. Saudi Arabia pumps "a great deal of money into a variety of radicalizing organizations... as a consequence of their commitment to Wahhabi Islam"9. "What may truly be needed is a wholesale, indigenous reformation of Islam"10 but grassroots movements towards strict Islam rise to counter the beginnings of liberalism in the Muslim world and its moderates are feeble and persecuted11.There is a long way to go before Islam emerges from its Dark Ages.
Fundamentalism is an approach to a religion's doctrine where its beliefs are enforced so strictly and literally that they are no longer compatible with the real-world as it is today. Some religions are more prone to fundamentalism than others12. The uncompromising attitude is a psychological boost, and fundamentalists will happily seek out areas of conflict between their own values and the values of those around them in order to publically highlight their own superior discipline. Also fundamentalists can be accidentally intolerant of others because by sticking so sternly to their own interpretation of the rules, they cannot make room for the diversity of real-life. It can descend into violent extremism but note, please, that some fundamentalist groups (such as the Amish and Jehovah's Witnesses) exist for very long periods with no sign of extremism. It often seems futile arguing with fundamentalists because most arguments against them merely prompt them to re-state doctrine.
Fundamentalist groups seem especially prone to schism and organisational instability, with most such groups being originally part of larger movements. Because personal beliefs are raised to the level of ultimate importance, every possible interpretation of (vague) doctrine will result in two sides who stake their entire religious outlook on the fact that their interpretation is correct13 and often "true believers are obligated to fight against corrupting influences from the broader culture"14 and to fight against any sign of 'false belief' from within their own ranks too, often leading to schism15. Many people push for increased rights for their own religion and for theocracy, 'out of an emotional attachment to their religion'16 but some people take it too far. The declining strength of religion in the face of secularisation means there are fewer middle-ground religionists to rein in fundamentalists. Fundamentalist branches of religion across various religions tend to share certain traits and features17, in particular scriptural literalism, active resistance against multiculturalism and the rejection of human rights.
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Islam has a particular problem with extremism and violence, stemming clearly from its core scriptures and teachings, and spread widely by its institutions with strong grassroots support.
Steve Bruce in "Fundamentalism"18 says that "at first sight, Islam may seem unusually violent: three of the four caliphs who succeeded the Prophet were assassinated [and] there is no shortage of examples of militant Islam in the modern world"1. His "but" is that "comparisons need to incorporate a sense of history", and he is correct. Christianity was just as bad. How many early Christian sects were wiped out and their leaders tortured by other Christians? (The answer is: many19). The difference is that Islam is going through its Dark Ages now, whereas, bad though it was, Christianity has emerged from its own. The anti-Muslim rhetoric of many Western critics of Islam fits the global evidence. Methodical statistical analysis reveals that the situation is pretty bad, and stems from a basic lack of tolerance for difference of belief:
“Religious persecution is more likely to occur in Muslim-majority countries than in other countries. Second, the levels of religious persecution are far more severe [and] it also generally occurs at more severe levels. Sixty-two percent of Muslim-majority countries have a moderate to high level of persecution. ... Persecution of more than one thousand persons is present in 45 percent of Muslim-majority countries... compared to 11 percent of Christian-majority countries and 8 percent of countries where no single religion holds a majority. Thirteen of the fourteen countries in [the worst] group are predominantly Muslim.”
The violence isn't restricted to the Muslim world. Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was found in 2002 raising questions about the ability of Muslim to integrate in the West; he was "murdered by a Dutch assailant who 'did it for Dutch Muslims'"7.
Death threats for blasphemy have had fatal consequences too many times. The fear that this engenders in liberals is used to the political advantage of Islamic extremists. Iranian lawyer Ahmad Kasravi was murdered in court whilst defending himself against the accusation of 'attacking Islam'. The same group of Muslims killed the Iranian Prime Minister Haji-Ali Razmara. In 1994 Naguib Mahfouz, a Nobel-prize winning Egyptian writer, was stabbed in 1994 after accusations of blasphemy even while he was under police protection (he was injured so badly, he could hardly write and spent most of his remaining life hiding in his lawyer's office).7. Since 2013 in Bangladesh a horrible spate of killings of freethinkers, secularists and liberals has occurred20. It began with a march of tens of thousands of Muslims on the capital, demanding that the government itself increase censorship of "anti-Muslim" content. Students, community leaders and University professors alike have been hacked to death with machetes as a result of putting content online that is pro-science, pro-secularist, anti-war crimes, or which advocate LGBT tolerance. One extremist group openly published a list of 84 of their targets and in 2016 Apr the rate of murders increased to one a week. The Bangladesh government has done very little to curb the extremists. Murders for blasphemy against Islam do not just occur in Muslim counties; there is a long and unfortunate history of the same occurring in Europe and elsewhere - Theo van Gogh was killed in Amsterdam by a Dutch Moroccan Muslim for making a film criticizing Islam's attitude towards women.
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Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia have the most oppressive and violent attitude towards Jews of all countries21. Likewise in Jordan, Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey the Muslim public have horribly negative opinions of Jews22. Jews in Muslim countries face a host of restrictions and "ceaseless humiliation and regular pogroms"23. In 2004 the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia reported on violent anti-Jew crimes in the EU and found that that largest group of perpetrators were young Muslim males24. The report summarized country-by-country events, including large rallies against Jews by hundreds of Muslims chanting "kill the Jews", and no end of other incidents. Throughout the West, violent anti-Semitism is correlated with Muslim immigration. After a series of saddening attacks against Jews by Muslim terrorists throughout Europe in recent years, the chief Rabbi of Brussels stated "there is no future for Jews in Europe" (Huffington Post, 2016)25. Given the precarious position of the Jews that remain in Muslim countries and the violence they endure there, many observers see this problem only getting worse.26
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An "honour killing" is the name given to murders in which someone kills a family member in order to prevent dishonour to their own family. The types of factors taken into account are barbaric and primitive, and it is rare that it really appears to be anything more than violent prejudice and misogyny. It is very difficult to obtain any statistics for this phenomenon in Muslim countries as it requires a Western mindset to categorize a murder as an "honour killing". In 2006 Bruce Bawer27 mentioned a few of the recent high profile honour killings cases which affected Europeans:28
Although Muslim States have a severe problem with this kind of attitude towards women and the family, it is not a problem invented by Islam, and once upon a time, Christianity also suffered from the same barbarism and the occasional outbreak still occurs: In Sweden in 1994 a Palestinian Christian murdered his daughter because she wouldn't submit to an arranged marriage28.
“The biggest danger facing the stability of our modern post-millennial world is the phenomenon of the extremist Islamic cult or sect that has arisen questionably in the name of God. Islam is now providing a breeding-ground for extremism and fanaticism, in much the same way that Christendom spawned them in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and then called the Crusades. The modern Islamic fundamentalist cells are largely anarchic and fragmented, without any clear centralization or formal structure, which makes them extremely hard to deal with. They are generally opposed to the principles of democracy and are committed to violent struggle in order to secure a future world bound by the strict conditions of sharia law and religious totalitarianism.”
“The different strains of Islamic fundamentalism can be distinguished from one another according to whether they rely on the achievements of the Islamic legal tradition, or whether they reject them in favor of a direct relation with the Qu'ran and the Sunna. The former includes movements as diverse as the Deobandi, the Barelvi, and Jamaat Al-Tabligh. In the latter category are the Wahabi and Salafi movements.”
For fuller descriptions, see: Islamic Denominations, Schools, Movements and Groups.
Wahhabi. Founded in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Wahhabi is an extremist form of Islam29 that is so well-funded by Saudi Arabia that not a single Muslim population goes unpressured by its organisations30,9. It calls for Muslims "to return to a purer faith of the early centuries of Islam" and to reject any further thought and interpretation of scripture in the light of modern knowledge31. They focus on a direct and literal reading of the Qur'an29. "It is Wahhabism that motivated Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban"31. Wahhabism is outlawed in several Muslim countries including those as different as Iraq and Montenegro31. It is particularly responsible for the persecution of Sufi Islam in Saudi Arabia32.
Salafi. Founded in the 19th century. A fundamentalist puritanical Islamic movement with a literalist outlook towards the Qur'an, arising as increased literacy meant that more people than ever could read the Qur'an. They reject mediation through interpreters and juridical schools of thought. "The literalist character of this approach gives this trend an equally traditionalist character that insists of reference to the Texts but forbids any interpretive reading"33. Salafist groups are "in constant communication with scholars based primarily in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, or Syria)"33.
Deobandi. Founded in Deoband, India in 1866CE by Haji Mohammad Abi. The founder of this fundamentalist29 movement "established his Darul Al Ouloum (Knowledge Center) in 1866. [...] It is estimated that there are an additional 5,000 or more Deobandi schools scattered throughout the Indian subcontinent. While they insist upon an extensive knowledge of Hadith, they reject sufi practices and saints as innovation (bida'). The Deobandi is primarily concerned with the teaching and transmission of Islam through the creation of its Qu'ranic schools. The Taliban in Afghanistan took the Deobandi as their inspiration"29 and Jamaat Al-Tabligh also emerged from Deobandi Islam.
Barelvis. Founded in India in the late 19th century by Ahmed Raza. Ahmed Raza (1856-1921) founded this fundamentalist29 movement to "emphasize the figure of the Prophet and [teach] that the souls of the prophet and saints act as mediators between believers and God"29.
In the 20th century, two new aggressive organisations rose to the fore, facilitating the spectre of international Islamic terrorism:
Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in Egypt in 1927/8CE by Hassan al-Banain9. Scholar Neil Kressel says "most contemporary manifestations of Islamic extremism can trace their earliest organizational roots to two movements"9, one of them being Jamaat-i-Islami and the other the Muslim Brotherhood.
Jamaat-i-Islami. Founded in India in 1941CE by Mawlana Abul Aala Mawdudi9. Scholar Neil Kressel says "most contemporary manifestations of Islamic extremism can trace their earliest organizational roots to two movements"9, one of them being Jamaat-i-Islami and the other the Muslim Brotherhood.
There is heavy grassroot support for extremism amongst ordinary Muslims. Or to be more precise, the things that they support and expect are, to outsiders, seen as radicalist.
“Some Muslim countries permit and even sponsor extremist education and socialization. Most Muslim countries lack meaningful constitutional protections for religious diversity.”
“According to an important study conducted in 2005, 25 percent of the people in Pakistan - a country with a population of 166 million - now support 'suicide bombings and other acts of violence in defense of Islam.' For the researchers who conducted the poll, this was actually good news, because a year earlier, the figure had been 41 percent. Throughout the Muslim world, appallingly large numbers of people now see terrorism 'in defense of Islam' as acceptable: 39 percent of the population in Lebanon, 15 percent in Indonesia, 13 percent in Morocco, and 57 percent in Jordan (sometimes billed as our closest Arab ally in the Middle East.). Even in Turkey, a member of NATO, 14 percent see some good in terrorism when carried out in the name of Islam. [...] Many of the pro-terrorist survey respondents were probably thinking about Jews or Israelis as the principal targets of the militants' attacks in the name of Islam, though the study did not specify. [...]
“These acts of terrorism were no isolated incidents. They were part of a growing movement - a movement that believed Muslims had departed from their proper faith, were being taken over by Western culture, and were being governed treacherously by Muslims complicit in this takeover. [...] The terrorists base their ideology on religious extremism - and not just any religious extremism, but a specifically Muslim version.”
"A Battle for Global Values" by Tony Blair (2007)35
Brian J. Grim and Roger Finke36 agree:
“In our analysis of the cases, we find that persecution in Muslim-majority countries is less often associated with ethnic conflict and more often associated with such things as the vision that differing religious groups have for their society.”
In some Muslim majority states like Turkey there is a clear battle between moderates and fundamentalist Islamists. The former sometimes dream of democracy and tolerance towards non-Muslims, whereas the latter continually push for complete intolerance, Islamic dominance, and the increasingly strict Islam that opposes democracy and human rights. But given that many oppose the growth of extremism, how does it happen that as a country becomes more Muslim, it inevitably becomes more fundamentalist? The answer is in the calculated form of protest and outrage that Muslims stage. In the West, it tries to wedge open any cracks that appear in liberalism as a result of a desire for tolerance and peace, especially where secularism lacks full strength. In the East, the pressure is political: organized and well-funded extremists infiltrate (and create) grassroots movements, and intimidate and scare the present government into adopting increasing hardline stances, in order to appease 'the people'. And all over, globalisation allows hardliners to operate "fetching" marriages, whereupon Western communities are gradually infused with 'fresh' extremists from Islamic states, therefore preventing integration with local community and culture. Families and individuals that would otherwise live a naturally moderate life face angry, aggressive and increasingly threatening pseudo-officials in their own communities. So that's the theory on how Islamic extremists push the boundaries and gradually suppress dissent and any fledgling liberalism, but what does it look like in reality? London is one of the most multicultural and tolerant cities on the planet, so we start there to look at how Muslim communities face pressure from within.
London, UK: The Guardian (2011)38 reported on Dr Usama Hasan, who for 25 years served a Leyton Mosque in Middlesex. He delivered the Friday prayers and was vice-chairman. His lectures at his mosque questioned hardline Muslim values, saying that women had a right to refuse to wear the veil if they did not want to, that they could have their hair uncovered in public, and, that the theory of evolution wasn't a completely ridiculous idea, as it is supported by mountains of evidence. It is awkward that such things still need to be said in the 21st century, but, in his position of authority, he could doubtlessly influence people for the better and he commented on those topics. Although most of the community didn't disagree, the hardliners arose in angry protest against him. He was subject to intimidation, death threats (not the first time, either), and he and his wife and children were put under security protection by the police. An organized group of 50 hardliners appeared at his Mosque and handed out leaflets against him, and, disrupted proceedings by shouting in the Mosque for his execution. The leaflets specifically quoted Muslim religious authorities saying that any Muslim who believes in evolution is an "apostate" who "must be executed". It doesn't matter that these aggressive and organized protestors were not a majority. What matters is that their tactics are successful: everyone knows that such pressure simply does not let up. Dr Usama Hasan stopped delivering lectures, and issued a statement apologizing for his own "inflammatory" statements and officially withdrew them. Now, his good work was gone, but worse, all in the community saw that not even him, one of the most influential and long-standing members of their community, could stand up to the extremists. He worries that the Mosque could fall into the hands of the hardliners and he knows he will need to take caution for the rest of his life. Even worse, some may even have convinced themselves that evolution was bad and contentious, and that women aren't free to wear whatever they want. Intolerance and fundamentalism, even in the midst of the most culturally diverse cities, tightens its grip on those minorities a little more.
That's how it works with local communities, but the same tactic works on much larger scales.
Europe: The Victims of Intimidation report by Douglas Murray and Johan Verwey profiled nearly 30 Muslim-heritage Europeans. They state that those supporting reform in Muslim communities, and those critical of Islam, are being silenced and suppressed by extremists. European governments must help such individuals, says the report, otherwise, the entire project of fostering a tolerant version of Islam in Europe will never succeed.
“The report details the substantial threats and violence they have faced as a result of critical inquiry into aspects of their faith or lifestyle. Included in those under threat for expressing ideas that Islamic extremists don't approve of are two of the NSS's Secularist of the Year award winners, Maryam Namazie and Mina Ahadi.
Other people named as victims of this intimidation include politicians, journalists, writers, artists and human rights activists. Their personal stories are diverse and wide-ranging. [...] All, however, have been targeted on the pretext that they have broken Islamic rules and traditions.
Many ... have suffered physical assault and are forced to live under constant police protection as a result of their words and actions. Several tell of community and religious leaders' failure to support proponents of moderate Islam. Others warn of ineffectual government responses to coercion by extremists.”
“Several thousand hardline Muslims protested outside [Indonesian] President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's palace in Jakarta on April 20th  demanding that he ban Ahmadiyah, an unorthodox but moderate Muslim sect founded in 19th-century India that claims around 200,000 members across Indonesia. At an earlier meeting of one of the groups involved, a leader was filmed chanting 'Kill Ahmadiyah! Kill! Kill! Kill!' Far from having these extremists arrested for inciting violence, Mr Yudhoyono was this week considering pandering to them by issuing a decree to restrict Ahmadiyah [...]. The president nodded his approval as the MUI, [an collection of hardline Muslim clerics given sanction by the government], issued fatwas against 'deviant' sects. On April 23rd Abdul Salam, a self-proclaimed prophet who leads another unorthodox group, al-Qiyadah al-Islamiah, was jailed for four years for blasphemy. [...] Suppressing al-Qiyadah al-Islamiah would be more likely to damage Indonesia's stability and unity than letting their members worship freely. The country's many Hindus, Christians and members of other faiths would surely be asking themselves: 'Are we next?''”
The Economist (2008)40
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Unfortunately "the traditional sources of the Islamic faith - the Koran, the Sunna, the hadiths - provide crystal-clear justification for the entire program of militancy"5. The same author continues:
“Frankly, there are many verses that we call political and military verses, that is, 'verses of the sword,' that are connected to circumstances that existed in the past but exist no longer...”
“The higher levels of religious restrictions and persecution in Muslim-majority countries [come from the concept of] the "realm of submission" to God, which is known as Dar al-Islam. Central to the concept of Dar al-Islam is that society is regulated by Islamic faith and practice, with the implementation of Sharia law as the means to ensure fidelity to Islam and a well-ordered society. We find that most of these movements are aimed at reviving "true" Islam and restoring the rule of Islamic law. [...] For Lewis  this clear distinction between Dal al-Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (House of Unbelief or the House of War) resulted in an inevitable conflict between Islam and the West.”
The Qur'an propounds a harsh and violence doctrine, promoting the idea of an constant struggle between Muslims and others that can only be ended when everyone has converted to Islam, normally by going through a phase of paying a tax to Muslims after submitting to them, or, if all else fails, through being defeated through war or trickery. Now it might seem contradictory to also point out that there a great number of verses in the Qur'an that preach against Muslims trying to convert others to Islam, but the contradiction isn't that great because, whether or not you actively try to convert them, non-believers can still be fought against and subjugated, and the conversion can just be assumed to start happening "naturally" during that process. The Qur'an does not take a rational or tolerant stance - its very definition of "non-believer" and "disbeliever" is skewed against any chance of amicability, for example in Qur'an 38:74 Satan is called an "unbeliever" yet is standing there talking to God. This is an incorrect use of the word "unbeliever". Satan clearly believes that God exists, hence, is a believer. "Unbeliever" simply means "anyone who doesn't toe the line" - and with such a wide definition of the enemy, there is little scope for peace or human rights within Islamic communities, let alone between Muslims and others. There is little to give hope to liberal proponents of peace and tolerance in the hundreds of verses discussed on this page.
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