Medieval and Contemporary Islamic Fundamentalism: Program of Action and Othering

Funding source

Swedish Research Council - Vetenskapsrådet (VR)

Project Details

Start date: 01/01/2016
End date: 31/12/2019
Funding: 3180000 SEK


This is a comparative study of fundamentalist Islam. The main focus is the “program of action” related to “othering”, i.e. how “others” are viewed and how they should be treated according to the program of action. The time span of this project runs from medieval Islam until today. Mainly Hanbali oriented interpreters are focused in the medieval era and in the contemporary era a focus is on Wahhabi/Hanbali scholars who base their arguments on medieval sources and who influence contemporary Salafism among minority Muslims in Europe.

Medieval Hanbali authors feared that people strayed from Islam and attempted to remedy this in defining how those not belonging to the ingroup ("the others") should be perceived and treated. Many attempted to impose their polemical views of a moral vision on ordinary people, which resulted in violent rupture. It is a fact that medieval authors have huge impact today on Hanbali jurists, which in their turn influence Salafis in Europe, regarding views on “othering”. Views of being morally superior underlie group identity and divide people into “us” and “them”. Political quietism is being reinterpreted by many and some promote violence as a means (manhaj) to correct society, based on the legal phrase “commanding good and forbidding evil” to enforce moral chastisement.

Comparative content analysis will be used which focuses on ideology production, and history as method concerns the practice of historical narrative, which often appears in situations of conflict and contested claims, serving purposes of legitimization, identity formulation, and drawing boundaries to others. Historically situated narratives are analyzed and compared in regards to “othering”. No similar studies have been made, concerning the importance and influence of medieval sources on contemporary understandings of “othering”. The project stresses the relevance on textual studies and the importance of jurisprudence in order to understand contemporary fundamentalist Islam.

This project will systematize and compare major Ḥanbali authors from medieval and contemporary times focusing on notions of action (manhaj), not theology. The project addresses theoretical issues regarding “tradition” and interpretation and attempt to further our understanding of theological speculation, and not the least show how “others” are perceived and should be treated. Such questions are important in Islamic jurisprudence, and have spread to a larger Muslim public, and even non-Muslims, not least since September 11. A thorough investigation of “othering” in medieval texts, compared to later understandings and usages is an understudied material that has an impact on certain vocal authors’ apprehension of their situation and manhaj. This is connected to the “othering”, related to concepts such as jihād and excommunication. Most research has focused political Islam or contemporary currents (f.ex. “post-Islamism”, “lived religion”), but neglected the pietistic and political, sometimes violent, dimensions of this fundamentalist current, which increases its influence among European Salafis, where the Islamic State seem to recruit new adherents.

The project will also nuance assumptions within the history of religions and contribute to theoretical and methodological insights and developments, useful also in the study of religions in general. It will also show the importance of history, or notions of history, as part of the contemporary development of religious traditions. This project is important in order to deepen our understanding of “othering” among contemporary Islamic fundamentalists, which ranges from being passive and avoiding to jihadist.

The project will run over 5 years with the senior scholar working 40 %. A Ph.D. student will be included. The first 2 years are devoted to medieval sources. The next 2 years will focus on contemporary Hanbali/Wahhabi interpretations and European Salafism. The last year will consist of a final thorough comparison, expanding on the theoretical and disciplinary questions.

Last updated on 2017-27-07 at 12:29