The word "fundamentalist" was originally used, as is well known, to describe an American Protestant movement which is said to have arisen out of the millenarian movement of the 19th century, and which came into its own in the early twentieth century "in opposition to modernist tendencies in American religious and secular life" The term is derived from a series of tracts, The Fundamentals, published in the USA in 1909.
However, fundamentalism in the sense of a return to the fundamentals of a religion and a rejection of secularism, was soon discovered to be a world-wide phenomenon. There are among adherents of all religions of the world some who have been disillusioned with secularism and who have decided, therefore, to go back to their respective religions, and not only to reject secularism but to organize themselves and fight it, each from the point of view of his religion, and to provide alternatives to it. Thus there are fundamentalist Jews, fundamentalist Buddhists, fundamentalist Hindus, and so on. But the fundamentalism that is always in the news, and with which Western scholars, journalists, and policy makers are more concerned, is without a doubt Muslim fundamentalism. It would be a gross mistake, however, to think, as some people do, that Islamic fundamentalists form a homogeneous movement with common beliefs, common objectives and a united leadership. No groups which call themselves Islamic are farther apart from each other than the Shi‘i fundamentalists and the Sunni fundamentalists. But even within the Sunnis, and also within the Shi‘is, there are disparate groups and movements, all of which are dubbed by Western media fundamentalist.
What is it, then, that justifies the use of this one term to describe these diverse Muslim groups and organizations, and even states? Rejection of secularism is, no doubt, common to all of them; but in this rejection they are at one even with non-Islamic fundamentalist movements. Religious fundamentalism is by definition anti-secular.
But because so-called Muslim fundamentalists, as well as their opponents in the Muslim world and in the West, usually confuse anti-secular with anti-Western, or anti-American, the defining characteristic of Muslim fundamentalism has come to be that it is anti-Western, and thus a threat to Western civilization. It is paradoxical that this position is often taken, even by some in the West, who are themselves opposed to the extremes of secularism in their own countries. This equation of Western with secular does not, in my opinion, do justice to the West itself, since there is much in Western civilization that is more important and of greater value to the West, as well as other nations, than secularism.
And because the emphasis in characterizing Muslim fundamentalism has come to be placed on this supposed anti-Western standpoint, it was easy to move from that to dubbing as fundamentalist any Muslim individual or group that takes a non- Western position on any vital issue, policy or principle. Take, for example, the important question of democracy. No sane person would condemn everything democratic, because there is much in democracy that is of fundamental importance to human beings qua human beings; but it is surely chauvinistic to assume that any people in the world are enemies of the West who do not have democratic institutions and values that are identical with those that happen to be preferred by Western nations in the twentieth century.
Worse still, Islamic fundamentalism has come to be associated in many people's minds with terrorism, while the truth is that some of those actions which are truly terrorist, make a genuine Muslim shudder, first because he is a human being with a feeling heart, and second because the killing of innocent people who do not engage in actual combat with Muslims is strongly condemned by the Prophet of Islam, even when Muslims are actually at war with an enemy.
But to say all this is not to deny the fact that there is a phenomenon in the Muslim world which can be described as fundamentalist. The question is about the proper characterization of that phenomenon, not about it existence.
source: islamic awakening