Religious fundamentalism is a term associated with the attempts of a segment of Christians, Jews and Muslims to interpret their respective holy books in a literal sense. A literal interpretation of the scriptures of Abrahamic Faiths sometimes creates real problems for the followers of these religions. Most Jews and Christians do not believe in a literal interpretation of the scriptures. Most Muslims, however, do believe in interpreting the Koran literally. The term fundamentalism is currently used to distinguish between those who interpret scriptures literally and those who believe in a subjective interpretation of the scriptures. The term has no utility if there is no inherent conflict between literal interpretations of a scripture on the one hand and logic, science, anthropology, archeology and history on the other hand. The term is also of no value if a particular tradition has hundreds of scriptures like the Hindus, Budhists and other Dharmic Traditions.
Christian Fundamentalism is a reaction by adherents of Protestant Christian Denominations against modernity, secular traditions and science. Although they constitute only a small fraction of Protestants as a whole, they are a well organized and well funded network. It is believed to have been born in the 19th century in England and the United States. They consider evangelization (converting the whole world into Christianity) as a primary duty imposed on them by the Bible, the scripture of Christians.
There are multiple challenges posed by the Christian Fundamentalists to other faiths and especially Hindus and Jews. In general, Hindus and Jews believe in the separation of church and state, a cardinal principle for secular governments. The assault on modernity and science also have implications in such issues such as prayer in schools, abortion, state funding of religious activities, teaching of evolution in schools, selection of books in libraries and a host of domestic and international issues.
Islamic or Muslim Fundamentalism is also a response to modernity, secular traditions and science. Fundamentalists form a major component of Islam Worldwide providing fertile grounds for the recruitment of Jihadi Terrorists. The Taliban of Afghanistan, the fundamentalists groups in Pakistan and Bangladesh and a significant number of Indian Muslims are followers of the fundamentalist Islamic School of Thought founded in Deoband in India during the British Rule. Other major sources of inspiration for Islamic Fundamentalism are the Wahabists of Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. Islamic Fundamentalism is a response to perceived threats emanating from exposure to western culture. Islamic Fundamentalists do not support nationalism because they claim it as a western political concept. They instead look at Islam as a global movement that transcends the idea of nation states. For this reason, the Deobandis opposed the creation of Pakistan. They concluded that it will diminish Muslim Power in South Asia as a whole.
The fundamentalists strive to impose a “purer form of Islam based on Koranic Teachings” on all followers of the faith. They require segregation of men and women in public places, appropriate clothing for women to cover all parts of the body, strict adherence to Islamic rituals such as Namaz, opposition to music and dance (especially western influenced), conformity to Islamic Law (Sharia), aversion to alcohol and modern education and opposition to interaction with other cultures. They seek to convert all Muslim countries to “True Islamic Republics” where the state shall only tolerate Islam. Islamic fundamentalism is the foundation for radical Islam and Jihadi Terrorism.
Jewish Fundamentalism has no known adverse implications for other faiths. Fundamentalist Jews (mostly Orthodox Jews), however, hold the view that a strict interpretation of Jewish Scriptures is essential and believe in the infallibility of certain Jewish Scriptures. However, it is only a very small minority of Jews who believe in fundamentalism. Although they have taken strong positions on issues such as the Jewish Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, the status of Jerusalem and conversions to Judaism, fundamentalist Jews pose no threat of any kind to Hindus or other religions.
The term “Hindu Fundamentalism” is in circulation for the past two decades. However, even if Hindus were to strictly believe the written word in their scriptures, it would not amount to any harm to non-Hindus. Of course, this would be an irrational exercise because Hindus do not believe in one book or one particular form of worship or one particular form of God. Neither do they oppose modernity, secular traditions or science. Hence the phrase Hindu Fundamentalism is an oxymoron.
Anti-Hindu forces, primarily the communist organizations operating in India, have coined this term to denigrate Hindus and their way of life. In recent years, there is growing militancy among Hindus due to various factors. However, militancy among Hindus is not based on any Hindu Scriptures. Hindu militancy is a political phenomenon. No authentic definition of fundamentalism can include Hindus within its scope. Hindus do not believe in any dogma nor have Hindus sought the support of the state to propagate a particular religion, except for a brief period during the rule of Emperor Ashoka who made Buddhism the state religion in ancient India.
Hindus always had a separation between religion and state. Neither do Hindus have any problem with modernity and progress. Hindus consider all areas of human knowledge as a by product of scientific inquiry. At no time in the history of Hindus have there been a confrontation between science and spirituality. Hence, among the faiths that exist today, perhaps Hindus, with the exception of Jews, have the greatest scientific temperament of all. Therefore, the continuous accusation of “Hindu Fundamentalism” by followers of other religions only helps to further weaken the discourse between Hindus and other faiths. That is not to say that there are no extremist elements among Hindus in India. The growing militancy and extremism among Hindus will fade away if Christians and Muslims isolate the fundamentalist elements within them and ostracize anyone who show support for their agenda just as most Christians do in America and most Muslims do in Indonesia. A genuine willingness for reconciliation, understanding and tolerance from these faiths will be met with an overwhelming response from Hindus.