Islamic fundamentalism is not a marginal phen

image: This image shows protests against the Paris attacks in Place de la Republique in the French capital.
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Credit: Olivier Ortelpa

Last week’s attacks in Paris, committed in the name of a god, reopen a badly healed scar in Europe. The world is once again turning to religious fundamentalism. A new study shows that hostility towards other outgroups is not an isolated phenomenon among Muslims living in Europe; but neither is it a synonym of violence. According to the author of the study, Ruud Koopmans, director of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center (Germany), “Islam is not the problem”.

The attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – which sold five million copies of its last issue worldwide on Wednesday January 14 – was not only an act of aggression against freedom of expression and against life human; it was also an attack on the religious values ​​of a large majority of Muslims living in the European Union, whose ideals are peaceful and even flexible among the younger members of the community.

For Ruud Koopmans, sole author of a study published in early January in the ‘Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies‘ and director of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center (Germany), religious fundamentalism is defined in three ways: that believers must return to the eternal and immutable rules established in the past; that these rules allow only one interpretation and are binding on all believers; and that religious rules must take precedence over secular laws.

The sociologist insists on the fact that religious fundamentalism – also interpreted as strict religiosity – is an ideology, that is to say a set of ideas that refer to attitudes towards the way of seeing life.

“Fundamentalism does not necessarily include or justify violence, because it is a form of behavior and not an ideology,” Koopmans explains in a phone call from Berlin (Germany). The specialist compares this fundamentalism to fascism and communism, other ideologies which are not synonymous with violence.

Nevertheless, “religious fundamentalism can encourage radicalization. In general, it should not involve violence, although hostility to the outgroup may be evident”, continues the expert.

But religious fundamentalism is not unique to Islam: the term originated in an early 20th-century Protestant movement in the United States, which propagated a return to the “foundations” of the Christian faith and an interpretation literal Bible rules.

Extensive but not universal ideologies

Koopmans’ study, based on a 2008 survey of 9,000 Europeans, compares the religious fundamentalism of immigrants and the children and grandchildren of Turkish and Moroccan Muslim immigrants (Sunni Muslims and to a lesser extent Alevites) from Turkish and Moroccan origin and native European Christians (Catholics, Protestants, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Pentecostals) in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, countries with a long history generational immigration.

“Roughly between 40% and 45% of European Muslims have fundamentalist religious ideas, that is, they agree with all three definitions of the term. Austria is the country with the highest percentage highest, 55%, while Germany has the lowest percentage, 30%,” says Koopmans.

According to the scientist, fundamentalism is not a marginal phenomenon among Muslims in Western Europe. “Although a majority of Muslims have a more liberal vision of religion, this minority of fundamentalist Muslims is significant”, underlines the researcher who adds that if these attitudes are widespread “they are not universal among European Muslims”.

The results show that if we consider the first and second generations and if each definition is taken independently, almost 60% would return to the roots of Islam, 75% believe that there is only one possible interpretation of the Koran to which every Muslim should stick, and 65% say that religious rules are more important to them than the rules of the country in which they live. “However, among second-generation Muslims, the levels are slightly lower (between 50% and 70%)”, specifies the expert.

According to the study, Islamic fundamentalism, also known as Islam, prevails in Europe over Christian fundamentalism, in which only 4% of Christians share the ideas of the three definition statements. Among Protestants, fundamentalism reaches 12%. “All fundamentalists are strictly religious, but that does not mean that all strictly religious individuals are fundamentalists. Strict religiosity is more frequently associated with Islamic fundamentalists than with Christians,” the author asserts.

In addition, Christian and Islamist fundamentalisms decrease when social and economic status is higher, “and this is all the more true within the Muslim community”, indicates the sociologist. Nevertheless, “if in Europe religious fundamentalism is more widespread in Islam, in the USA it is Christian fundamentalism, especially among Protestants, which has the most support”, observes Koopmans who underlines that the data from the study cannot be extrapolated to the rest. of the world.

In Spain, with a more recent history of immigration, and for this reason not included in the study, followers of religious fundamentalism, especially Islam, reach similar figures. A study conducted by the American research center PEW revealed that Islamic fundamentalists make up more than 30% of followers. “In fact, there is not much variation in European countries,” says the researcher.

Hostility towards out-groups

The reactions to the latest attacks in the French capital have only reinforced growing Islamophobia and rejection of Muslims. “But Islam is not the problem. Nor is it true that a majority of Muslims have fundamentalist ideals,” says the expert.

Religious fundamentalism is not new. Since the 1990s, these attitudes have been found among Christians and in Islam, remaining stable in the case of the latter.

“What is relatively recent is the rise in violence, linked to the situation in Syria and Iraq, which has aggravated the problem,” Koopmans said. Other studies claim that between 10% and 15% of Muslims in the EU are willing to use violence to defend their faith.

Although violence is not necessarily part of this ideology, hostility towards other external groups, including homosexuals, Jews and Westerners (in the case of Muslims) or Muslims (in the case of Christians) is obvious. Overall, Muslims are more hostile towards the three outgroups mentioned above, with between 25% and 30% rejecting these groups. Christian hostility does not exceed 5%.

However, independently, Christian fundamentalists show greater hostility towards Muslims (over 50%) and towards Jews (between 30 and 35% of Christian fundamentalists were hostile). In the case of Islamic fundamentalists, more than 70% of followers feel hostility towards homosexuals, Jews and Westerners.

Religious fundamentalism is closely linked to hostility towards other external groups,” explains Koopmans. But social and economic levels also have an impact. People with high social and economic status are more tolerant and less xenophobic.



Koopmans, Ruud. “Religious Fundamentalism and Outgroup Hostility: A Comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western EuropeJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 41(1):33-57 DOI:10.1080/1369183X.2014.935307, 2 Jan 2015

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