by Zwemer Institute
Overviews of the politics of Muslim fundamentalism, responses to evangelism, and religious liberty in Muslim countries.
Here are overviews of the politics of Muslim fundamentalism, responses to evangelism among Muslims, and religious liberty in Muslim countries.
Islam resumes its march
The Economist London (April 4,1992)
Sudanese groups declare a jihad (holy war) against the non-Muslim south, Algerian Islamic radicals are turned into outlaws, Saudi Arabia’s king and Egypt’s president separately denounce fundamentalism. Islamic militancy is again sending an agitated wave through the Middle East.
Is it right to be scared? The reassuring answer is that this movement will, like earlier waves of Islamic assertiveness, dissolve in ripples. (But) it is argued that the populism of the current breed of revivalists, and the fact that the public is fed up with, and humiliated by, the failure of the nationalist leaders, make the new men more threatening than the ones who went before. They are dedicated to purging their societies of the culture that has drifted in from the West; several also want political power for themselves as leaders of states governed exclusively by Islamic law.
"Fundamentalism" is Christian shorthand that evokes born-again Protestants who insist on the literal truth of the Bible; since neither the word nor the concept exists in Arabic, a translation had to be invented. Yet, in a sense, Islam is per se fundamentalist. The guide to every condition and circumstance of life is supposedly contained within the mystifications of the Koran, the sunna (the sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad), and the sharia, a codification of the rules and principles in the Koran and the sunna. In Islam, mosque and state are not to be separated.
Islam’s glory years are long past. The men of God put the decline down to the degeneration of their faith, and to the pollution that blows in from the outside world; they say that things began to go wrong for Muslims when they ceased to be good Muslims. From the middle of the 19th century on, revivalists began preaching a dual message. Since the word of God had been corrupted over the centuries by lip-serving rulers, they called for the recreation of a society that followed the pristine seventh-century principles of the Prophet and his four immediate successors. But, argued these reformists, the baby should not be thrown out with the bath water. If Islam was to win back its old ascendancy it would have to compete in the modern world and absorb the more admirable innovations of foreigners.
The tenor of the message began changing in the second half of this century, first in Egypt and then, with a thump, in Iran. The new revivalists are more radical than their predecessors. They still call for a return to that primitive (and idealized) society but many now speak as demagogues seeking power rather than as scholars sermonizing from the pulpit. Some call for jihad to rescue the umma (the Islamic community of nations) from the secular policies of nationalist leaders and their foreign patrons. Foreigners are seen, at best, as the purveyors of corrupt standards; at worst as the enemies of God.
These new men are clerics, religious laymen and politicians who hitch themselves for opportunist reasons to the Islamic wagon. Many of the dictatorial Muslim rulers-Nasser, Hafez Assad, Saddam Hussein-who allowed no secular opposition hesitated, though not for long, to persecute the men who challenged them from the mosques. While the hesitation prevailed, Islamic militancy was the only reasonably safe route for dissent.
The religious message found a receptive audience, among a wide cross-section of people, from doctors and lawyers to the very rich and, above all, to the very poor. The listeners include the faithful who dream of a pure Islamic state, who are distressed by the loss of old certainties and angered by the cynicism or cruelty of their rulers; it also includes people who see their livelihoods being swept away by imported changes, and the growing number of urban unemployed.
Yet political success has been limited. Since the new brand of radicalism surfaced in the 1950s, the militants have had a revolutionary triumph, a military coup, and an electoral near-miss. First came the 1979 Iranian revolution, inspiring joy and fear but not, as many had prophesied, followed by a series of smaller repeat performances in Arab countries. The fundamentalists’ thwarted victory in Algeria’s parliamentary election in 1991-92 sent fresh tremors through the region. In between, Sudan was turned, by army coup, into an Islamic state that has now adopted sharia criminal as well as civil law.
Most Middle Eastern governments fight their fundamentalists with guns and the occasional pot of cream. All governments pay at least lip service to Islam, but all are afraid of being pushed by militants into radical Islamic ways and several have reacted savagely. Syria’s President Assad, who slaughtered several thousand militants and their families and neighbors in Hama in 1982, leads the brutality stakes. Egypt plays a double-handed game: Fundamentalists are treated harshly-imprisoned and sometimes tortured-when they are not being co-opted into the political system.
Saudi Arabia is the one Muslim country that has never been anything but a classic fundamentalist Islamic state, with the Koran as its constitution and the sharia its criminal and civil law. "Our Islamic faith," said King Fahd last weekend, "includes an integrated system and complete creed." Western-style democracy, he said, was inappropriate.
Islam’s heartland (with apologies to Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia)
West Bank and Gaza
The fundamentalist group Hamas, which rejects coexistence with Israel, is gaining ground from the Palestinian Liberation Organization and winning the support of Palestinians fighting Israeli occupation.
The Welfare Party, seeking closer ties with the Islamic world, fought the October, 1991, election in alliance with two nationalist parties; the alliance won 17 percent of votes, but no seats. Several small fundamentalist groups engage in terrorism.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed and brutally repressed since the early 1980s, but is believed to have residual support.
Two Shiite Muslim groups, Hezbollah and Amal, are supported by Iran and Syria, respectively. Hezbollah is winning the competition between them.
Underground Shiite fundamentalist groups have strong support in southern Iraq, and played a big part in the rebellion after the Gulf war. The largest, Dawa, founded in 1968, has been severely repressed, with many leaders and militants executed.
An Islamic republic since 1979. The government is dominated by a political elite of Shiite clerics and allied laymen. Their hold on power is reinforced by arrests, executions, and the suppression of free speech. Islamic law was introduced in 1983, but its implementation is half-hearted thanks to differences within the leadership. More than 100 offenses carry the death penalty.
Four Sunni fundamentalist parties- Hizb-i-Islami, Hizb-i-Islami-Khalis, Jamiat-i-Islami, Ittihad-i-Islami-and several smaller Shiite groups opposed President Najibullah. Their call for a strict Islamic republic is supported by a minority of Afghans. (Najibullah’s government fell in late April-Eds.)
Independent Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan are going through an Islamic revival, with much mosque-building and religious observance. Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for influence. Some want an Islamic state like Iran; others prefer a secular state like Turkey. The fundamentalist Islamic Renaissance Party has failed to create a single Islamic movement across Central Asia.
The Islamic Democratic Alliance (IDA), which links several Islamic and right-wing parties advocating more Islamization, formed the government after winning 105 seats in the 217-seat parliament in the October, 1990, election. The IDA includes the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami, which seeks an Islamic state. Islamic law has operated since 1979, but Islamic punishments, apart from occasional floggings, are rarely carried out.
Several underground radical groups oppose the fundamentalist Wahhabi regime. In November, 1979, one group took the Grand Mosque in Mecca by force. Saudi judges impose sharia punishments: public beheadings and hands amputated for theft.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest single block in Parliament with 22 seats. It was given five cabinet seats in January, 1991, as the Gulf war approached, but lost them in June, as King Hussein planned peace talks with Israel, which the Brotherhood opposes.
A military junta under Lt. Gen. Omar Bashir came to power in 1989 and is increasingly dominated by the fundamentalist National Islamic Front led by Hassan Turabi. The junta has links with Iran, which has sent 2,000 Revolutionary Guards to Sudan. A new penal code based on sharia law was introduced in 1990, except in three Christian southern provinces, and came into full force this year. Radical groups collect money in Saudi Arabia for jihad against the south.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, has come through periods of militancy and persecution. It is still barred from operating as a political party, but fought the 1987 election in alliance with two secular parties, winning 37 seats. Radical groups, such as Jihad (which assassinated Sadat), operate underground. There are frequent clashes with police; hundreds of militants were arrested this year.
Unstructured Islamic groups are the greatest internal threat to the regime, clashing frequently with security forces. Several hundred militants are in prison.
Tunisia Members of the Ennahdha (Renaissance) party competed in the April, 1989, election as independents. Since early 1990 the party, never legal, has been repressed, its newspaper closed, and militants arrested after clashes with police and the discovery of alleged plans for "Islamic revolution." The leadership split in 1991.
The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), legalized in 1989, won 55 percent of the vote in the June, 1989, regional election, and 49 percent in the first round of the general election in December, 1991. The government canceled the second round. Most FIS leaders were jailed. The party was banned formally in March, 1992, and local councils under the control of the FIS dissolved.
Islamic groups were prominent in antigovernment protests in 1990 and 1991. The biggest, Justice and Welfare, never legalized, was ordered to disband in 1990. Its leader is under house arrest and some members axe in prison. The party has gone underground with other clandestine, more radical groups, such as Islamic Youth.
Evangelism and church growth
By Pat Gate, president and general director, International Missions
One ministry in a poor area has seen some 25 Muslims make decisions for Christ, with many of them baptized. Others, of course, concentrate on the upper classes. A few Coptic priests have had an outreach to Muslims. However, at least four families and three individuals have been expelled for evangelizing Muslims in recent years. Three Muslim converts were jailed and tortured for their faith before finally being released, after much prayer and some political pressure. According to one report that is difficult to verify, there may be some 200 Muslim converts in jail. The government sometimes represses Christians and Muslim fundamentalists at the same time, which shows the fundamentalists that the government is not against them alone.
My studies indicate that among Muslims around the world, Iranians are the most responsive to Jesus Christ. A team working among Iranian refugees has seen more than 50 put their faith in Christ, with more than 40 baptized within three years. In major cities around the world you can find fellowships of Persian-speaking believers. Many of them are Muslim converts. At least four fellowships began last year in the U.S. Within Iran itself, many have come to Christ.
However, the government has increased pressure and torture against Iranian Christians. They have closed the Iranian Bible Society (1990) and the Garden of Evangelism Training Center (1989). In December, 1990, Hossein Soodmand, a Muslim convert pastor with 24 years’ experience, was executed by hanging and his four children taken away from his blind wife, Mahtab.
Jordanian Christians reached out in a very beautiful way to Iraqi, Palestinian, and Kuwaiti refugees during the Gulf war. Many Iraqis have fled to Jordan, where they are stuck, not being able to get visas to Western countries. Most of them are Christians, but among them are Muslims who might be open to the gospel.
The king is clearly open to progressive reforms as a result of the war and is being attacked by popular fundamentalist preachers on tapes, which are rapidly being distributed, a method Khomeini used successfully to overthrow the Shah of Iran. Saudi Arabia is one of the four least-reached countries in the world, and perhaps the most restrictive of Christian activity. However, never before have there been as many Christians in Saudi Arabia as during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Many of these Christians shared the gospel and Bibles with Saudis. Visas are available to "tentmakers." Christian maids from outside Saudi Arabia have had a significant influence by praying for the sick in their Saudi families. God clearly has answered prayer in Saudi Arabia with some amazing conversions since the war.
Things could change as a result of increased knowledge, prayer, and wider distribution of Bibles. The influence and prayers of Christians from the Philippines, Pakistan, and India, as well as the West, could continue to blossom.
Former Soviet Central Asia
The six Islamic republics are wide open. In one school, 1,000 people are on a waiting list to study English. Some places will take any native English-speaking person to teach English. Some observers believe that Kyrgyzstan is the most promising field. At least two house churches have begun there, made up of former drug addicts. The lack of depth of Islam makes it easier for people to come to Christ.
In several republics, Muslims have been seen going into churches made up primarily of ethnic German Christians. However, many of the Germans are leaving, so we are losing people who have both the language and the cult-are to reach Muslims. Also, because of ethnic unrest, the current religious freedom may not last long. The "Jesus" film has been translated into most of the Muslim languages. Generally, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan seem to be two of the most open republics.
Zwerner Institute weighs religious rights of Islamic nations
Saudi Arabia and Sudan were the most religiously intolerant nations from among the 33 that were evaluated by researchers from the Zwerner Institute of Muslim Studies, Pasadena, Calif., last year. On the other hand, three West African states-Mali, Senegal, and Niger-were credited for the most toleration in 1991, along with Lebanon and Jordan.
Muslim minorities in Burma, India, Israel, and Yugoslavia are caught in bitter struggles in which they are defending themselves against an aroused Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Christian Serb-Croat nationalism.
The highest single possible score of 10 for "widespread communal violence with multiple loss of life" was obtained by Sudan for its "holy war" against non-Muslims in the south.
Slavery is making a comeback in several nations, including Sudan, Mauritania, Pakistan, and even in the new Central Asian republics of the former U.S.S.R. A poorer tribe or family, or even an individual, submits to an "owner" out of severe economic distress.
Other scores were added by examining the nation’s constitutions to determine how committed they were to Islam and sharia (Islamic law). All four of the nations that were rated "very intolerant" had instituted sharia-Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan. The majority of Muslim nations have incorporated a statement into their constitutions designating sharia as "a principal source," or "source of the law."
Democratic institutions, pluralism, and secular societies are still new and untried ideals by Muslims, but their strong religious identity could open up some opportunities for them to examine the sources of their religious toleralion, as well as their intolerance toward other religions, women, and other minorities. Much of the activity of the post-Cold War era will focus on human rights, and there are many within the world Islamic community who hope that changes will take place in their political and religious systems.
Non-Muslims and Muslims will be looking more critically at religious rights in She coming year than in previous decades. The Zwerner Religious Toleration Seals establishes a base for measuring any improvements or further abuses of religious rights in Muslim nations.
The Zwemer Religious Tolerance Scale (ZRTS) consists of 100 possible points, the score for the most intolerant of nations. The parameters of the scale cover several scoring devices that are applicable to other nations of the world; but taken totally, the ZRTS is reserved for countries where there is a 51 percent Muslim plurality.
The components of the scale are:(1) the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights-25 percent; (2) individual countries’ constitutions-23 percent; (3) other specifically Islamic practices in the nation- 25 percent; (4) the Restricted World Ministry Handbook (Issachar, 1991)- 12 percent; (5) records of communal unrest-10 percent; (6) nation’s signatures and ratification of three United Nations human rights documents-5 percent.
Very Intolerant—Saudi Arabia (83), Sudan (81), Iran (73), Maldives (67), Mauritania (65), Pakistan (64).
Intolerant—Iraq (61), Malaysia (60), Afghanistan (58), Djibouti (58), Oman (58), Egypt (56), Brunei (54), Libya (54), Morocco (54), Algeria (53), Tunisia (53), Kuwait (52), Syria (52), Somalia (52), United Arab Emirates (51), Qatar (48), Comoros (48), Indonesia (47), Turkey (46), Bahrain (45), Bangladesh (44), Yemen (40).
Tolerant-—Jordan (32), Mali (25), Niger (25), Senegal (22), Lebanon (21).
Areas Where Muslims Are Under Threat—Burma (Araka State), India (Kashmir), Israel, Yugoslavia (Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina).
Nations With Muslim-Christian Unrest—Nigeria, Ethiopia, Philippines, Azerbaijan-Armenia.
Muslim Minorities (1990-91)—Bulgaria, China, Great Britain, France, United States, Central Asian Republics of the former U.S.S.R.
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