Islam is not merely a religion. It is a total and complete way of life, providing guidance in every sphere of human existence – individual and social, material and moral, legal and cultural, economic and political, national and international. In Islam, then, politics and religion are two sides of the same coin. However, the notion of a fusion between Islam and politics has assumed a more radical and intense character due to the rise, since the early twentieth century, of ‘Islamism’ (also called ‘political Islam’, ‘radical Islam’ or ‘activist Islam’). Although its ideas are embraced by only a small minority of Muslims worldwide, Islamism has had a dramatically disproportionate impact. Its central belief is in the construction of an ‘Islamic state’, usually viewed as a state based on divine Islamic law, the sharia. As such, Islamism extracts a political programme from the religious principles and ideals of Islam. A distinction is therefore usually drawn between the ideology of Islamism and the faith of Islam, although the relationship between Islamism and Islam is deeply contested. Islamist ideology is characterized by, among other things, a revolt against the West and all it supposedly stands for. Some commentators, indeed, have gone as far as to suggest that Islamism is a manifestation of a ‘civilizational’ struggle between Islam and the West. The most controversial feature of Islamism is nevertheless its association with militancy and violence.
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