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Islamic Fundamentalism and World Politics: Wahhabi Movement, Muslim Brotherhood & Jihad

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  • 0:01 Definition of Terms
  • 0:55 History of Wahhabism
  • 2:27 Wahhabism of Today
  • 3:52 Muslim Brotherhood
  • 5:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will seek to explain the impact of Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood on Islam and the world's politics. In doing so, it will highlight the Koran and Sharia law and their influence in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Definition of Terms

Most religions of the world have a group of followers who consider themselves to be orthodox. Another term we often use is the word fundamentalist. Both of these terms denote one who upholds a strict interpretation of the tenets of a faith.

In other words, an orthodox member of a religion is one who follows the rules of the faith to the very last speck. If their laws say women should dress modestly, they make sure their girls never show their ankles. If they say consuming alcohol is a sin, they won't even eat yummy desserts that have been marinated in it. To use a rather modern term, they tend to be very black and very white in their approach to religion and life.

In today's lesson, we're going to discuss some of the very fundamentalist or orthodox groups of Islam, specifically Wahhabism and the Muslim Brotherhood. We'll start with Wahhabism.

History of Wahhabism

Wahhabism is definitely considered a fundamentalist sect of Islam because it teaches a very, very strict interpretation of Islamic law. With this, it holds to an extremely stringent interpretation of the Koran, Islam's holy text, as well as Sharia Law, or Islam's religious law.

Founded several hundred years ago in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabism was born out of a desire to protect Islam from outside religions and influences.

Around this time, some in the Islamic faith were practicing Sufism, a mystical form of Islam that incorporates aspects of other faiths. To fundamentalist followers of the faith, this was not to be tolerated. For instance, those practicing Sufism began to believe that they were able to receive direct revelation or wisdom from Allah, Islam's deity.

This is in sharp contradiction to Orthodox Islam's cornerstone premise that Muhammad was the only man who ever did and ever would receive divine and complete revelation from Allah. Adding to this, some in Sufism had begun sort of tinkering with the gods of Buddhism as well as some of the beliefs of Christianity.

Seeing this as blasphemous, the Wahhabi Movement rose up to purge the faith of these heresies. In short, Wahhabism is a purification movement within Islam. With this in mind, its main goal is to bring Islam back into a strict interpretation of the Koran in which only Muhammad's teachings are seen as pure and right.

Wahhabism of Today

For instance, the Koran states that alcohol consumption is forbidden; therefore, Wahhabism does not tolerate it. Adding to this, almost all of Islam calls for very modest dress and prudent living. However, Wahhabism takes it a step further. Men are not allowed to wear silk or gold and things like dancing, music and even public displays of affection are not to be tolerated.

As stated earlier, Wahhabism has its roots in Saudi Arabia. Today it still plays a very large role in the politics of this country. In fact, Saudi religious police, known as Mutaween, have the authority to arrest any who break the rules of, say, modesty or displays of public affection. In modern day times, and as our news stations attest, citizens of Saudi Arabia are still being punished - even executed - for offenses against the Koran or Sharia Law.

As for world politics, the Wahhabi Movement is believed to have given support and shelter to many who the Western world deem terrorists. Desiring to see any and all Western influence expunged from what it considers its Holy Lands, Wahhabism calls for Jihad, or war against infidels, or non-believers of Islam, who have desecrated their sacred soils. Wahhabism has also been firmly linked to the infamous Taliban and the even more infamous Osama Bin Laden.

Muslim Brotherhood

With this we turn to the Muslim Brotherhood. Like Wahhabism, the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to return Islam to its purest sense, in which the teachings of the Koran and Sharia law are stringently followed. Rather than simply seeing Islam as a religion, the Muslim Brotherhood feels it should invade and encapsulate every aspect of a devout Muslim, or follower of Islam's, life.

Founded in 20th-century Egypt by a group who wanted to see Westerners removed from Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood calls for Sharia Law - again, Islam's Holy Law - to be the basis of all of society's laws. They believe only the Koran and Sharia Law will bring peace and stability to their lands.

For much of its early history, the Muslim Brotherhood was seen as a fanatical force within Islam, a force that even Egypt was unwilling to tolerate. However, the organization began to gain in popularity and acceptance as the world's political eye turned to the Middle East. For instance, after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the membership of the Muslim Brotherhood began to swell because many Orthodox Muslims saw the invasion as an offense to their Holy Lands.

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