Revisiting Fanaticism in the Context of Wasaṭīyyah

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Ahmad F. Yousif



Fanaticism is derived from the Latin word fanum, which refers to sacred places
of worship such as temples or other consecrated sites. The complete term fanaticus
means “to be put into raging enthusiasm by a deity.”2 In the modern
sense, a fanatic is simply an individual who goes to an extreme, is overly zealous
or unreasonably enthusiastic regarding an issue, idea, opinion, or action.
These ideations do not have to be of a strictly religious nature, but may also
be in regard to a personal or private matter or a larger political, social, or economic
issue. Despite the broadness of its contemporary application, it is most
commonly used in its traditional sense of religious zealousness, intolerance,
and violence.
In today’s literature fanaticism stands not for the content of any particular
religious position, but for a mentality and attitude that can attach an attitude
of radicalism, rigor, and extremism to the content of any ideal or ideology.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it refers to a person “holding extreme
beliefs that may lead to unreasonable (actions) or violent behavior.”3 One feature
of this mentality is the “religious assurance of the establishment of belief
through dogmatic and moral legalism, often founded on a fundamentalist positivism
in matters touching revelation.”4
“Fundamentalism” (uṣūlīyah), on the other hand, is originally a Protestant
term developed in the early part of the twentieth century to refer to Christian
groups that believed in the Bible’s inerrancy, as opposed to those who sought
to make scriptural changes to accommodate the modern world.5 It is somewhat
redundant in the Islamic context; however, some scholars have been trying to
understand the connection between Islam and fundamentalism.6 Theoretically,
the great majority of practicing Muslims are “fundamentalists” because they
believe that the Qur’an remains unchanged from its initial revelation. Therefore,
the following analysis will mainly focus on the concepts of fanaticism
and wasaṭīyah from a comparative perspective that emphasizes their recent
developments and connections to Islam ...

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