For some time now, many people outside the Muslim world, especially Westerners, have been struggling to understand what Muslims believe, what motivates them, and if coexistence is possible.
Part of what makes this challenging is that, obviously, not all Muslims are the same. While Islam can be diverse, generally Muslims are divided into three types. There are seculars, who are more mainstream in appearance and social customs. Typically they are not religious. Many will tell you they just want to get along with everyone else. Another segment takes Islam quite seriously. They are devout followers of the faith and believe Islam is a religion of peace.
Then there are "fundamentalists." These are the ones who commit horrific acts of terror. Groups such as Hamas and al-Qaeda are made up of fundamentalists. Other fundamentalist groups include Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, both of whom are supported by Iran.
Many Westerners tend to see the majority of Muslims as peace loving people who covet similar values. They, along with many peace-loving Muslims have accused the fundamentalists of “hijacking” Islam. Westerners also believe fundamentalists make up only a fraction of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims. Yet these viewpoints are not only naïve; they are potentially dangerous.
45 million fundamentalistsThe question is, how many "fundamentalists" are there, and how influential are they? Trying to determine their numbers has been a hotly debated topic for many years. Statistics have been difficult to obtain. However, in 2009 a definitive publication, which provides important details about Muslim demographics, was released and updated annually.
"The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, "an extensive study published by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center, in conjunction with Georgetown University, covers a wide range of details about Muslims and Islam.
One of the topics included is demographics. In this section the various ideological branches of Muslims are defined. According to the study, 3% of the world's Muslims are "fundamentalists" (other estimates put the figure at 10-15%). While 3% may be considered "only a fraction," in raw numbers it becomes quite a different story, amounting to some 45 million fundamentalists.
That's hardly a small number. In fact, if all of them lived in one country it would rank 29th out of the world's 242 countries. Indeed, 45 million represents more than the entire population of countries such as Poland, Argentina, Australia or Canada.
No room for other Gods
It doesn't end there, however. The fundamentalists are not isolated, nor of little influence on the rest of the world. Indeed, quite the contrary, their influence is far reaching. For example, has anyone considered how important “security” has become in the past few decades? Some of us remember how security-free airline travel used to be like compared to today. Yet by now, mass transportation systems worldwide have been forced to take significant steps to protect their patrons. This is just one way the entire world has been “influenced” by fundamentalists.
We also face huge challenges with fundamentalists when it comes to coexistence, primarily because any theological compromise is seen by them as blasphemy and is punishable by death. Those who do not adhere to their ideological beliefs are considered "infidels." They are threatened, and often killed. This applies to other Muslims as well as non-Muslims.
Fundamentalists also view Islam as the only true religion. The Shahada, the Islamic statement of faith, says "there is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger." This distinguishes Allah from any other god. Moreover, those who believe Islam is a religion of peace may be surprised to find the Quran says "war is ordained by Allah, and all Muslims must be willing to fight, whether they like it or not." Indeed, for far too many Muslims, the goal of Islam is worldwide domination.
Sadly a great many Westerners are unconvinced and remain committed to capitulation and appeasement, which only emboldens fundamentalists to stay the course. So the next time someone says fundamentalists are "only a fraction" of all Muslims, and are of little influence, think 45 million, and then ask how much they enjoy the lengthy security check at the airport.
Dan Calic: writer, advocate, speaker. See additional articles on his Facebook page