In charting Muslim political discourse, a number of terms have been considered by researchers. Terms like "fundamentalist" have been rejected for their pejorative connotations whilst terms like Islamists, though commonly used, harbour other hidden problems. Islamism has been defined as:
- the belief that Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life,
- Islam must be the ideology that guides society as a whole and that law must be in conformity with the Islamic shari'a,
- a movement that seeks cultural differentiation from the West and reconnection with the pre-colonial symbolic universe,
- Islam in political mode,
- the whole body of thought which seeks to invest society with Islam which may be integrist, but may also be traditionalist, reform-minded or even revolutionary and,
- a political ideology that aims to create a state and society in strict conformity with religious doctrine.
Secularists are usually defined in converse to Islamists as "any view that openly rejects Islamism" or "any view that would follow an ideology other than Islam in most areas of public life" - the Quilliam Foundation being amongst the secularists by this definition.
Popular analyses of the term have generally explained it with reference to cultural, religious, or regional concerns, the nature of Arab civilization, the tenets of Islam, the Arab-Israeli conflict. The first problem with these definitions is they assume Islam is not inherently political - which it is. And secondly, they designate groups as diverse as 19th century reformers, mystics (sufis), warriors and educationists through to contemporary movements as broad as Turkey's elected AK Party and al-Qa'ida - assuming all forms of Islamism are politically equal which they are not. Such monolithic definitions do not assist in clarity of thought, debate or policy prescriptions.
As can be gleaned from the vast literature on "Islamism," this term has been used in many different ways by both Muslims and non-Muslims to refer to various "movements" and "ideologies" dedicated to the revival of Islam and its political realization. Related terms currently in circulation include "political Islam," "Islamic fundamentalism," "Islamist purism," and the pejorative "Islamo-fascism."
Although different in causes, responses, strategies and collective identities, various forms of Islamism share the common proclivity to synthesize certain religious elements of their traditional political discourses with certain elements of modern ideologies. Indeed, Islamisms are about the politicization of religion just as much as they represent the sacralization of modern politics.
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