Views on Contemporary Islam: Fundamentalism and Sufism
AKAHORI Masayuki
"Islam means fundamentalism and fundamentalism means Islam." The way the world has viewed Islam over the past quarter century can be summarized, in simple terms, in one word-"fundamentalism."

       Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, the term "Islamic Fundamentalism" has been used to categorize numerous political movements that have seized or attempted to seize power under the slogan of realizing Islamic law, as was seen in Sudan, Algeria, and Afghanistan. This term has also been used to explain the incidents of violence, including the assassination of President Sadat of Egypt (1981), the shootings at Luxor (1997), and the tragedy of September 11 (2001).

       In response to the circumstances prevalent in the latter half of the 1990s, there has been a large number of studies of Islamic fundamentalism. As a result, it can be said that our understanding of Islamic fundamentalism as a politico-religious movement became fairly coherent in this period.

       Those who contributed to these studies included scholars of contemporary thought, political scientists, historians, and area studies specialists. A number of contributions were also made by anthropologists. In his book Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia [Chicago University Press, 1968], Clifford Geertz already foresaw the fundamentalist conditions that were bound to follow. His interpretation is appropriate even in the present scenario. Other anthropological researches in the 1980s and 90s on issues such as the rise of religious faith at the grassroots level, including the voluntary wearing of the veil by women, bridged the gaps in the macroscopic and expedient analyses of "Islamic fundamentalism."
       The gist of Islamic fundamentalism as revealed in these studies can be summarized as follows. First, the leaders of Islamic fundamentalism are definitely not anti-modern reactionaries; rather, they are individuals who, having received modern education, use it to resist Western modernization and take the standpoint of seeking a form of modernization specific to Islam. Second, the above orientation manifests itself over a very wide range of aspects-from personal mental attitude to movements centering on education and the economy, to lawful political activity and, moreover, to radicalized armed struggle. Within this spectrum, terror and coups d'etat occupy only a minor part. Third, Islamic fundamentalism did not suddenly reveal itself extensively in the 1970s. Rather, it forms part of the history of the Islamic world's acceptance of Western modernization since the 19th century. In that sense, the origins of Islamic fundamentalism and its later development can be understood as part of the flow of modernization in non-Western countries, including Japan. Finally, the movement that embraces Islamic fundamentalism as well as the counter culture movement in western countries is one that began in the 1960s as a statement of protest against conventional modern values. As such, this movement is not limited to the Islamic world but is a phenomenon that has occurred in various forms in various parts of the world. It is a movement, so to speak, that lends color to the sunset of an era of modernization.
       However, despite the establishment of this kind of understanding, in the mass media and elsewhere, arguments that equate fundamentalism with Islam itself are vigorously put forth. Moreover, discussions on the Palestinian problem and the Saddam regime in Iraq are often mistakenly based on the axis of Islamic fundamentalism. Such contentions, which must be viewed as being fairly inaccurate, are not yet on the wane. What is noticeable with regard to Islamic fundamentalism is the big gap that exists between the understanding of scholars of Islamic Studies and the perception of society in general. It follows that although the problem may have been settled in scholarly terms, since it is of great concern to the politics and economy of the contemporary world, circumstances continue to demand that scholars should not remain silent on the issue.

       In the case of anthropology, the long-overlooked field of Islamic Studies has gradually developed since the end of the 1960s. Later, in the 1980s, with the movement of anthropologists toward the consideration of topics such as "the nation state" and "the modern," and with the trend toward examining the politics and power relations of knowledge (here, I must acknowledge the great influence of the late Edward Said), "fundamentalism" has become a topic that cannot be neglected.

       It is true that, when examining the present state of Islam, the necessity of discussing "fundamentalism" is an undeniable reality. However, a question has gradually arisen over the past few years as to whether we should abandon our examinations that concentrate solely on fundamentalism.

       For the present, although no fixed orientation is apparent, I suggest that we should begin an examination of modern Sufism.

       This kind of faith and practice, which is often characterized as "Islamic mysticism," was often a popular focus of discussion in pre-modern times; however, it has fallen into desuetude in the modern era (the same point can be made with regard to the discussion of religion itself). Even amongst Muslims, Sufism is regarded with hostility by those who are inclined toward a fundamentalist tendency, and those who claim to be modern intellectuals often regard it with scorn. Furthermore, within the field of Sufism studies, the central position is occupied by scholars of Islamic thought who consider the former times as their subject. In anthropology, however, research thus far has focused on psycho-anthropological issues employing concepts such as the trance.
       However, the reality is that Sufism today continues to exist and attract a number of Muslims who are exposed to the rough waves of modernization. This is a circumstance that modern Islamic Studies scholars including anthropologists cannot possibly overlook. Moreover, research, some of which has produced fruitful results, suggests that by providing people with an opportunity to compromise with or transcend the times they live in, Sufism has related to "the modern" in a way that is different from "fundamentalism".
      Thus far, in the discussion on "fundamentalism" and the process of accepting Western modernization, debate has focused on the rivalry between the "Salafist" view that correct Islam is a necessary component of modernization (which was subsequently linked to "fundamentalism" with a type of distortion) and the secularist perspective that Islam is unnecessary for modernization (in particular, an anti-religious nationalist view). Even despite the acceptance that Islam is necessary for modernization, little attention has been paid to the point that Muslims have not yet arrived at an agreement with regard to what they would consider as the "correct Islam" for this modernization. We should pay attention to the fact that a Sufi viewpoint, which is different from Salafism and the later "fundamentalism," has existed from the 19th century.
      "Fundamentalism" usually excludes Sufism from its concept of correct Islam for the reason that Sufism was not yet in existence during the Salaf period (the period of the first generations). However, a tendency to eliminate aspects of esotericism and empiricism from Islam denotes the fact that "fundamentalism" is greatly influenced by the rationalism and materialism of Western modernization even as it attempts to counter it. This may be one of the reasons why "fundamentalism" subsequently reached an impasse after the rapid growth during the 1970s and 80s. The attempt by Sufism to emphasize spirituality might provide sufficient grounds for the discussion of a contemporary and future Islam different from that of fundamentalism.
         Furthermore, research on contemporary Sufism may lead to a general and wide view that Islam is not synonymous with fundamentalism and that fundamentalism is not the only kind of Islam that flourishes today. In other words, studies of Sufism should not be independent of research on "fundamentalism," but can be viewed as the next step for gaining a more comprehensive understanding of how Islam would accept the "modern" and find the harmonious path in the contemporary world.

      At present, this concept is restricted to my individual research agenda. However, from 1997, a joint research project has been launched with the help of Professor Yasushi Tonaga (Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University) and others. Under this project, experts on anthropology, history, and Islamic thought are cooperating and attempting a new approach toward Sufism. The project is achieving some definite results. Fortunately, it has obtained a positive response at several symposiums in Japan and abroad, including the first World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies held in Germany in 2002.
The publication of substantive research results began in 2003, and the first fruit of our joint research was published in Japanese under the title Sufism and Saint Veneration in Islam [University of Tokyo Press, 2005]. We are currently planning to publish some more books in Japanese and English, and the opinions of researchers from various fields-area studies in particular-will be appreciated.
As has been mentioned at the beginning, Islamic Studies pursued by anthropologists or by Islamic Studies specialists working with anthropologists is a relatively new field in both Islamic Studies and anthropology. At present, a sense of underdevelopment cannot be denied. However, I am convinced of its potential and would like to invite many more experts to willingly participate in it.