Linguistically speaking, the word “extremism” refers to an extreme. When we say that someone is an extremist, it means that he is far away from norms and that he has abandoned the limits of thought and got to a point of absurdness which is very dangerous for both the individual and the society.
Going to extremist thoughts is always motivated by underlying disability to understand the existing social structure and the progression of that society. This kind of extremism is very typical of Islamist groups. In this study, we are going to shed light on extremism that is related to religion. We are going to investigate the basis of this extremism from social and political perspectives. In such cases of extremism, the perception of the religious script becomes far away from the relativeness of reality.
The concept of extremism and its background
Wherever it is, extremism constitutes a deviation from rules, conduct criteria and the main course of society. It represents an isolation from the social system, which constantly changes with the development of a society. So, we can say that the extremist thought is just like any other knowledge domain subject to progression: It affects and gets affected by other factors and phenomena that are related to historical, social, economic, religious and political circumstances a society usually goes through.
Extremism is usually characterized by fanatic attitudes and alienation from the social consensus. This trend moves from an ideological aspect to a behavioral one or political movements can develop into terrorist and violent conducts. This is the natural outcome of ideological obstruction.
According to this vision, terrorism is a prejudiced way of thinking, showing no ability to tolerate any other different thoughts. Other people’s thoughts can be tolerated by this repulsive thinking. This condition of extremism can’t coexist without a malicious cognition, which makes terrorists believe that whatever they think is the ultimate reality, because it stems from an eternal script. An eternal script is a holy document and therefore related to God as only God is eternal.
Extremists can never acknowledge the world and life outside their perception of the holy texts, and any deviation from their perception is a kind of atheism and apostasy. This entails the necessity of fighting any deviation from these scripts with all possible means.
Religious extremism tends to stiffen its values and criteria against society and the world. This becomes a repulsive pattern of thinking that never tolerates the other. Repulsiveness is represented by alienation and estrangement, and later it develops into violence and terrorism just to subjugate others who have got a different viewpoint.
This leads us to a critical question about the ideological and sociological properties of the extremists and the political and social condition for their emergence. We also need to think about the mechanisms of ideology that formulate the awareness of extremists’ concepts and identify their patterns of behavior. Therefore, we can say that extremism is a complicated phenomenon that can’t be segregated or interpreted through one correlative. It can only be understood through investigating its various interrelated economic, political, cultural and social aspects.
Referential scripts that are adopted by religious extremism
There is a link between the Islamic extremism and mythology, as religious extremists understand the religious scripts as eternally true transcendental texts. These texts, for extremists, are never liable to any discussion or investigation, as they are applicable every time and everywhere regardless of any change in life conditions or circumstances.
To illustrate the extent to which mythology is connected to religious extremism, we need to refer to the Greek meaning of the term “mythology”, which comes from the two words “Theos” which means God and “Logos”, which means word and writings. By this, the term mythology means the search for God or the science that looks for knowledge of the God’s Ego and its manifestations through the characteristics that stem out from it. The biggest and puzzling question is:
How can we integrate the static with the mobility of life conditions and progression of society?
Extremism, in this context, is based on the total recognition of the static and utter denial of the relative. This approach itself deviates from the core of what religious scripts wanted to say. Religious scripts adhere to the relative correlation between things. This can be clearly noticed through exploring the existence and motion of religious scripts. The unfeasibility of the extremist’s mind lies in its ignorance of the continuous mobility of the universe with all its components. Such mentality makes time out of the life layout. If time is dead or valueless when it comes to religious scripts, then what is the point in having fixed religious scripts with no time limitation? This is the natural determination of the extremist mind, which believes in the worthlessness of time. Therefore, taking religious scripts, as timeless facts outside the context of life changes, will be tampering with the laws set by God with all their variables and motions.
If we make a scientific parallel by putting a fixed script against changeable life, we will figure out the defect in understanding this relation. This defect can not be intended by God who created this systematic universe and made laws for its progression. The problem is when ignorant extremists come up with this misconception and attempt to change laws through the adherence to these scripts just to abort time-related change. This inevitable social change of different social layouts is a manifestation of the time-related political and economic change. Thus, resisting this change means opposing the social layouts and push for a prejudiced political layout that is based on the false stability of scripts.
This pattern of relation between the static and the relative will certainly lead us to the controversial relation between what is religious and what is political. This will help us understand the progression of society. But we can’t ignore the controversy of religion and politics in the context of development stages when religion becomes an ideology related to the level of economic and political development.
Understanding the religious text is subject to two trends, the literal interpretation, which focusses on the verbatim of that text and the understanding the intention of that text. The second approach seeks to find out the deep meaning and objectives of religious texts, to enable the reader understanding the message of the text, interpreting it, and analyzing it by using logical scientific ways of thinking and proofs related to historical events and the peculiarity of the time of revelation.
In order to clarify that extremism is not in the core of Islam, we need to refer to some verses of the Holy Quran that call for moderation and tolerance. In verse 142 in Al Bakara Surah, Allah says: “And thus we have made you a just community that you will witness over the people.“ The verbatim of what God says is clear when he used the verb “make” as reference to complete changes. God says that the Muslim nation is a moderate nation. Then how can extremism and fundamentalism come out?
In Al Maeda Surah, verse 77, Allah says:
“Oh people of the Book! Exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by, – who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even way.“
So, it is clear that the scripts of the Quran don’t call for extremism or going beyond the righteous path, which means disobedience to God’s instructions and going astray. This is a mere deviance from the essence of moderate Islam.
In the Al Hadith of the prophet Muhammed Ibn Abbas reported what the prophet said: “Be careful of extremism, because many former nations collapsed due to their extremism.” Nobody can accuse Islam of extremism as it explicitly calls for moderation and tolerance. However, extremism of some Islamic radical groups is derived from other Quranic scripts when interpreting them literally and away from the relativity of the texts and the temporariness of those texts.
Extremists change relative concepts into ultimate ones, going only in one direction that lead to fanaticism. So, we can say that extremism is based on hatred, resulting from the inability to understand the other or tolerate his conceptions.
Extremism of many Islamic groups and organizations can be perceived in the light of environmental factors, including, but not limited to, their narrow-mindedness and their inability to understand the nature of religion. They are unable to understand the relativity of things. Extremists reject thinking and therefore they scorn the intellect. They stick to the verbatim of the text as if life is static and time stopped at the time of the inspiration of these religious scripts to Prophet Muhammed.
Sticking to the very meaning of the text reveals fear of the thought of others and understanding this thought. Due to the extremist’s inability to understand the views of others, they incubate themselves in the concepts of ancestors and the flag of what they call the “Save group”, forcing people to what they think is the righteous thing and punishing them for what extremists think is the wrong conduct. They claim that they want to liberate the Islamic society from superstitions by accusing whoever opposes their ideology. They also accuse other non-compliant people of advocating superstitions.
The social and political basis of religious extremism
Extremism is an intellectual product that comes out as a result of social, political and intellectual circumstances overwhelming society. The reference here is to the structure and nature of that society and the level of development in cultural, economic and political development of that society. In other words, extremism largely depends on many environmental factors that are related to intellectual imbalance on the level of the religious structure in a society.
By learning the underlying social basis of extremism in our Arab societies, we need to shed light on the culture of these social components. We also need to know the level of religious awareness, which is originally dependent on scientific perception and intellectual competence. The judgement of these intellectual capabilities and scientific competence should depend on an objective and subjective basis the religions relied on. Hence, we can understand the reasons for the emergence of Islamic sects and conflicts. These sects of Islam have got different versions of the same ideology. Salafism, for example, scorns the intellect and adheres to what was said by who they call “the righteous ancestors” with all that they said related to legislation. It denies the idea of using the mind and it scorns sciences.
Religious trends like Babism, which was established by Muhammed Reda Al-Sherazi in 1259, or Bahaeyah by Merzah Hussein Ali Muhammed in 1270, Ahmadya by Merza Ghullam Ahmad Al Kadiani in 1318 and others like theMuslim Brotherhood, estrangement and migration movements are all based on different interpretations of the religious scripts. To understand these trends, we need to investigate the intellectual context and the objective circumstances, in which these trends were established.
All the above-mentioned religious sects and trends have got their own different discourse. Each one of them claims to have the only truth to fulfill what Prophet Muhammed started. Each movement claims to be “the true group”, and that allegiance should be pledged only to Allah. They consider any affiliation with a specific race, homeland or any national identity to be fabricated by tyrants. For them, Islam is both a religion and a state and that any statehood should be an “Islamic Caliphate”. Any civil society without an Islamic State Caliphate is considered as a society of misbelievers.
When religious extremism develops into violent sets of behavior or it threatens with violence, it becomes the worst form of terrorism.
We can consider extremism as a form of dogmatism, in which the individual either totally agrees on something or utterly rejects it with no regard to the logic or the content of that thing in question. Therefore, dogmatism is an intellectual representation of conservatism, repulsing any change and sticks to the inherited traditional concepts in behavior and political attitudes. The results of dogmatism are clear in the religious fundamentalism and the inclination to severely punish the other, who are different. People with this trend are extremely intolerant and they usually reject any scientific logic or approach.
The concepts of Islamic extremism find the best environment during time of political turning points. Instead of responding to the necessity of a reform in society, extremists take the chance to reinforce their trend against change and attempt to bring society back to their outdated ideology. Dogmatism is an intellectual static inertia that can never be abandoned by close-minded people. Dogmatic individuals and groups feel safe inside their political, social and intellectual sub-society, and they feel that the introduction of any new idea is a real threat to their conventional thoughts.
Religious extremism is an alienation from the relativity of real world
Religious extremism is the result of many circumstances, including the absence of any religious references or their reluctance to play their role in reforming a society. The existence of such active religious references will narrow the gap between different perceptions of different trends, and thereby mitigate or terminate religious extremism in its cradle, or at least lessen the negative social influence of these trends.
Generally speaking, these religious references are the only authorized entities that can correct the misconceptions and fanatic ideas that constitute the basis of extremism. As extremism is a static intellectual status, producing violent sets of behavior or even terrorist activities, the only objective adversary is the mitigation of this intellectual static status that is liable to lead to violent acts or even terrorist attacks. Religious scripts should not be taken as fixed intellectual value that never correspond with the motion of time and the change associated with this motion.
Extremists have been attempting to subjugate modern life to the values of previous times, time of prophesy, when religious scripts were revealed. This refers to the introversion and static nature of their thought. They want to take people back to the time of prophesy i.e. about 14 centuries.
Extremism is armed with illusions about genuineness and the importance of going back to the time of ancestors. In other words, extremists want to take society away from its current time, with all its political, social and economic conditions, back to a time with all its social, economic and political conditions. This retardation movement insists on the assumption that our ancestors’ thoughts constitute the reference to our contemporary life. It is simply taking our current society with all its values and achievements back to another ancient pattern of life. This is blatant ignorance and scientific illiteracy. It is an estrangement of thought and logic, advocated by extremists’ thoughts that deny any critical thinking or analysis. Extremists abstain from any usage of scientific laws to reach rational conclusions that can help in the distinction between what is right and what is wrong, or terminate ignorance, illiteracy and poverty which all constitute the ground for extremism.
The alienation of these extremist individuals and groups from the relativity of real-life stems from many factors. Oppressive dictatorships that practice terrorism is one of the most important factors, as these regimes create the pretext for extremists, claiming the right to monopolize the truth and advocate their ideology. All this happens in the absence of justice and rationalism, and it leads to the adoption of fanatic religious theories of the ancestors as a means for the rejection of any concept that exists outside this Salafist perception.
In this case, the ignorance of the basic religious intentions and rules pops out to the scene. Before extremism comes out, it usually co-exists with the outstanding social and religious layouts. This co-existence with the social, political and economic patterns dominated the scene in the Arab world in one of its progression stages, but the conditions for this existence are no longer there.
The important is question is:
What are the real reasons for the emergence of extremism?
Extremism is a very complicated and challenging phenomenon, for which there are many factors and reasons that entail personal and psychological factors interacting with other cultural, political and economic circumstances. All these interact to produce extremism and terror for the fullfilment of extremists’ objectives through violence and death as a means of settling any dispute with other rivals. It is a culture of estrangement and exclusion.
In the context of efforts for fighting extremism, a conference on fighting terrorism was held in Riyadh back in 2005. The conference attendants concluded that extremism is the outcome of economic, political and legal problems related to poverty, social structure, injustice, corruption, foreign occupation, exploitation, religious extremist thoughts, systematic violations of human rights, economic exclusion and the domination of global culture.
Dismantling the thought of religious extremism
Religious extremism finds a fertile environment when societies go through internal conflicts that breed armed groups under Islamic titles and slogans. These armed groups commit the most horrific terrorist crimes by killing people, according to their classification of them. The problem is that these terrorist groups claim that they adhere to the spirit of Islam.
These extremist religious groups base their political and religious discourse on the utter denouncement of the modern formula of societies that are the basis of civil life. A civil society is a vicious phenomenon for extremists., because they blame a modern society for dismantling the aspired Islamic family and society. For them, civil society promotes individualism and encourages the satisfaction of individuals’ lusts at the expense of religious values.
Such thought breeds the estrangement and apostasy culture, which is a very dangerous one with its historical roots in the Islamic thought since its very beginning, especially the Khawarej  era. To confront such extremist ideology, we should have a clear vision of an action plan for strategic measures to solve problems that breed extremism, especially poverty, education, building of intellectual capacities. Individuals should be given the chance to take part in decision-making and planning the future of their countries. More is required regarding renovation of religious discourse. This doesn’t mean changing the fundaments of religion, rather it makes the religious discourse respondent to the needs of social, political and economic developments. We need to ensure that religion is estranged from its fundamentals and the recognition of limited human mind. Peculiarities should be objectively taken into consideration.
Dismantling the mentality of religious extremism depends on identifying the problem of the linkage between religious discourse and the essence of religion and its doctrines. This religious discourse should be updated to suit contemporary life, and it should entail respect for other cultures with which religion should engage in a continuous dialogue. Multi-religious societies should be recognized in order to avoid the possibility of destroying national identity and going to the idea of affiliation with a religious group. Such religious affiliation is an isolation and estrangement from reality. The economic situation has always been a key factor in breeding extremism or anticipating it, therefore economic development is a necessity for the obstruction of terrorism. We need to remember that there is a dialectic relation between economic prosperity and violence: The more economic reform is achieved, the less violence will occur.
Dismantling extremism requires dismantling the reasons for this extremism or the economic, political and intellectual reasons, that push people to become extremists. This strategy requires a holistic vision, narrowing the space for affiliation with religious groups in favor of national affiliation and national identity.
The concept of extremism
Cultural debate – Morocco – Al Rebat
Safaqes: Scientific symposium on understanding the real intentions of religious scripts to resist extremism 15 April 2019 by Munsif Karimi
Extremism, between reality and allegations
Essmat Nasar: Islamic extremism puts the Islamic identity on Dyonisus Alter
Libyan International Magazine 25 September 2017 : Extremism and religious fanaticism, reasons and factors, by Dr Ismaeel Sadeek Othman
Internal reasons for violence and extremism by Dr. Hana’a Sedeek Al Kallal, 13 February 2015
 – This group appeared at the end of time of the fourth Rashidi Caliph, Othman Ben Affan. They deviated from Ali Ben Abi Taleb and they were fought by him in many locations. They considered that killing Ali Ben Abi Taleb as a sublimation to God. They consider any sin to be enough for estranging a person. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them should be killed. They are strong believers in estrangement of Muslims for any sin committed.