Some years ago, I wrote in this newspaper about the Pesh Imam from a large mosque near my home, where the prayer-time congregations comprise numerous members of Karachi’s uber-bourgeoisie alongside other ordinary mortals.“The frequent discourse of the Pesh Imam,” I had written, “concerns the Houris in Paradise, in praise of which he becomes quite ecstatic, extolling their various charms in terms that are vividly physical. His other pet topic relates to the valiant warriors in Swat and Waziristan, who are battling against the forces of evil (he is not, let it be noted, referring to the armed forces of our Islamic Republic). He also sometimes speaks of a certain ‘tall Ghazi’ in the mountains, on whom he invokes the Almighty’s Blessings…This holiest of months also brings to my mind a certain exceedingly pious gentleman of my acquaintance. …He greatly admires Hazrat Maulana Rashid Gangohi, the outstanding scholar who was one of the founders of the Deoband Madrassah. The gentleman… is a kindly soul, however, when in the course of conversation I chanced to remark that the most basic virtue lay in kindness towards others, he contradicted me. Kindness, he contended, was reserved for ‘pious, practicing Muslims’. As for others, they should be given a chance to mend their ways, after which “they would be Wajibul Qatal”. Another person I chanced to meet — a finance man, no less — feels that people who do not attend Friday prayers “should simply be killed. Slit their throats!” I argued that “This kind of sanguinary verbal ferocity is very different from the traditions of quiet piety and gentle acceptance in which most Muslims were brought up… However, there are certainly many scholars who hold that this aggressive literalism, popularly but incorrectly referred to as ‘fundamentalism’, is a doctrinal innovation of relatively recent origin.Fundamentalist ideas are also far distant from traditionalist Muslim conservativism, although the two are often confused by unlettered media commentators, both here and in the WestWhat then, is this phenomenon we refer to as fundamentalism? A phenomenon often blamed for so much that has been happening in our country and around the world — and what is its relationship to that other term we keep hearing, extremism? I think the point will begin to become clearer if I refer to the broad nature of the ancient Indic religion of Hinduism. We hear a great deal today about “Hindu Fundamentalism”, which is commonly conflated with Hindutva. Let us understand that Hinduism is not the name of a creed with a single book or a core set of fundamental beliefs. Many complex strands from many diverse sources have come together to form the fabric called Hinduism. Therefore, by definition, there can be no such thing as Hindu Fundamentalism, as there are no “fundamentals” to seek the revival of. Hindutva, is a set of political attitudes, related to identity issues and not really to religious beliefs.The concept of fundamentalism refers to a return to basic fundamentals. It refers to a set of ideas and attitudes preached during the 18th century by Mohammad ibn-Abd’Al Wahhab, whose daughters were married into the House of Saud. The edicts of Wahabbism (or Salafism, as it is sometimes called) seek a radical purification of Islam, involving a purging of the rituals and practices that had evolved in the Muslim world between the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and the four pious Caliphs (PBUT) and modern times. Such denounced practices included, amongst other systems, both Shiaism and Sufism. The scholars with whom fundamentalism in our part of the world is most associated with are Maulana Abdul A’ala Maudoodi and the founders of the Deoband Madrassah. This was in contrast with, and yet shared some concepts with such complex tendencies as Islamic Modernism associated with such names as Jamaluddin Afghani, Mohammad Abduh, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and Allama Iqbal, who sought to reconcile Muslim beliefs with modern science and political realities. In their clear rejection of traditionalist Muslim conservatism as socially and philosophically backward, they sometimes tread the same ground as fundamentalists.Interestingly, as we see, fundamentalist ideas are also far distant from traditionalist Muslim conservativism, although the two are often confused by unlettered media commentators, both here and in the West. So, there we have the three philosophical tendencies within Islam: Conservatism, fundamentalism, and reformism [There are parallel tendencies within two other monotheistic religions, Christianity and Judaism].So, where does this take us? Which one of these are the bad guys, who condone or promote terrorism, and which are not? The answer is — none. Merely arguing over the nature and purpose of Jihad does not make anyone a militant, let alone a terrorist. For that, we must look elsewhere — not to religious philosophy, but perhaps to intensity of religious passion. Most people — in Pakistan, or anywhere — have little real knowledge of their religion or depth in their beliefs. They pray, fast and partake in other rituals because these are customary, part of a heritage and therefore a set of identity markers. Let us, for the sake of our analysis here, call these ‘ordinary Muslims’. On the one side of them are some who are sceptical about one aspect of belief or another, or those who are uncertain. Let us understand that these are not Agnostics; religion matters to them, but they question and explore. On the other side of the ‘ordinary Muslims’ are what I would call ‘passionate Muslims’. The still more ardent further gradation would be the small minority of ‘fanatical Muslims’, or extremists.Now, the first point to note is that one’s religious philosophy — conservative, reformist, or fundamentalist — is a construct separate from the intensity of one’s religious feelings. That intensity may range from sceptical to ordinary to passionate to extremist, regardless of the nature of one’s philosophy.The second point is that, however passionate one’s beliefs, however fundamentalist one’s creed, to pick up a gun or strap on an explosive vest, requires a further set of steps. Preparing someone for such violent acts does not require passionate belief, but intense and prolonged brainwashing… and perhaps even the liberal use of certain psychoactive substances.The third point follows. If we are ever to come out of this horrific terrorist quicksand (and, no, we are nowhere near out of it yet, some early successes notwithstanding), there are a number of very clear answers that must be given by those who dragged us down into this swamp back in 1978. Only then can we look “Donald the Deadly” in the eye and tell him to clean up his own backyard. Tell the truth, and the truth shall set us free.The writer is a poet, author and columnistPublished in Daily Times, February 15th 2018.