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Islamic fundamentalism: Causes, History and Effects

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Published: Fri, 23 Feb 2018


Filipino Christians tend to relate Islam primarily with the issue of polygamy and jihad. Their objections to polygamy and jihad are very striking because Islam is perceived to be equivalent to these two issues in the Philippines. It is viewed as a religion of violence and sexual promiscuity (a view reinforced in the post-9/11 portrayal of well-known Muslims as global terrorists in international media); and lately, has been associated with terrorism on a global scale.

What accounts for the Filipinos’ understanding of Islam? Why do the images of Filipino Muslims or Moros[1] in particular and Islam in general seem to be reduced to its adherents’ presumed tendency for violence and vulnerability to women? Are these images the result of mass media reports or have Filipino Muslims historically contributed to such overall impressions? Are these images created by the historical conflict between Muslims and Christians in this country? It seems that all Muslims are treated as a homogeneous group in the eyes of Filipinos, but are there differences among the ethnic groups in terms of the Islamic schools of thought that they represent? How do they understand and interpret Islam? Answers to these questions could lead us to begin understanding the dynamics of Islam in the Philippines, which unavoidably cannot be separated from the struggle of Filipino Muslims or Moros.

Religion is oftentimes used as a motivation for its followers to legitimize actions towards the realization of individual or collective interests. In the case of Filipino Muslims, it is reflected in the various Moro struggles or movements such as the emergence of MILF, MNLF, and most especially the Abu Sayyaf [2]

The history of Muslims or Moros in the Philippines reveals how religion became a unifying ideology for self-determination against colonial rule and injustice. If Filipinos tell the story of their nation as a narrative of resistance, subjugation and oppression, and revolt and emancipation, Moros tell theirs as one of continuing resistance and struggle against both colonial rulers and the colonized Christian majority. In their eyes they have always been free and self-governing (David 2002:73). The dichotomy between Moros and Filipinos has shown not only the Moro’s restless and relentless resistance but has also signified that they did not participate in building the Filipino nation. As a consequence, they have found it even more difficult than members of other ethno-religious groups in the country to see themselves as part of this imagined community (See Anderson, 2003 orig., 1983 for an elaboration of the concept of imagined communities).

It is unfortunate, according to Filipino sociologist Randolf David, that Filipino leaders took for granted the membership within the Filipino nation of the sovereign Muslim sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao, trusting that the force of a common racial origin would be sufficient to establish a national bond. It is even more sad that Filipinos who took over from the colonizers continued to practice “the rituals of power of the colonial masters,” treating Muslims differently, aggravating social inequality and alienating them further from the Philippine government. David noted that every post-war administration has launched its own wars of pacification in Mindanao, just as the Americans did (UP Newsletter, Feb. 21, 2003). This situation has pushed Moros or Filipino Muslims to identify themselves as the victims of an unjust and unfair Philippine government. As a consequence, greater self-determination or freedom from the Philippine government has become the pivotal issue in their struggle.

The sociopolitical background of Moros has inevitably influenced the construction of Islam as their religion. Although Filipino Muslims differ in their level of aspiration for an Islamic state, Islam in the Philippines has nevertheless been connected in the public mind to their political aspiration and struggle for self-determination. This is not without basis. Perceived as the solution to the problems of Filipino Muslims, some of their leaders have recently advocated the implementation of Islamic law either under the auspices of the Philippine government or independently of it. Charting alternative futures for Muslim Filipino masses, Islam has begun to constitute an alternative ideology.

The kind of Islam that says religion is inseparable from politics or the public sphere is usually referred to as “fundamentalism” by the western world. Found in countries like Egypt, where it originated as a result of social injustice and lack of equal opportunity for Egyptians[3], Islamic fundamentalism has also gained adherents in the Philippines in the context of persistent socio-political and economic issues that have been the basis of the struggle of Filipino Muslims through time.

In light of a changing socio-political environment aggravated by September 11, 2001 and the resulting War on Terrorism-that Muslims all over the world decry because it virtually equates Islam with terrorism, there is a need to find out whether the fundamentalist perspective of some leaders of Muslim movements like the MILF, MNLF, and Abu Sayyaf is shared by other Muslims. It is also important to explore how Filipino Muslims in the Philippines view the issue of establishing an Islamic state, as well as elements of Islamic law, the position of women, democracy and other related issues, in response to the stimulus of the global environment and social and political actions of a predominantly Christian government in the Philippines.

It is the researcher’s desire to see the connection between the religious and political ideas of Filipino Muslims in situ and compare these in the future, to the ideas of Indonesian Muslims, that led to the interest of this student, an Indonesian Muslim, in finding tentative answers to the above questions. After all, there is no single person or institution in Islam has had the authority or the right to decide the one true interpretation of the holy Qur’an and Hadits as the source of Islamic teaching since the death of the prophet Mohammad (d. 632 A.D). This situation is quite similar to what post-structuralists call “the death of the author.” Islam is one religion but its interpretations are as varied as its adherents or those who read its texts. Such condition has produced different strains of Islam such as moderate Islam, revivalist Islam, fundamentalist Islam, etc. As for any other sociological phenomena, one would see that the perspectives of Muslims regarding Islam in general and Islamic fundamentalism in particular, would vary with the geographic and socio-economic realities they are facing. This thesis does not attempt to look at the views of Muslim Filipinos all over the nation because time and logistical constraints prevent a nation-wide study. It tries, instead to focus on those who have migrated to Metro Manila and who live in an Islamic enclave within the old central city.

The economic problems in Mindanao have pushed Moros to migrate to Metro Manila for a “better life”. From a sociological viewpoint, the move away from the Muslim heartland in Mindanao is expected to result in the change of behavior among the rural migrants. Contact with strangers is seen as a potential source of cultural shock, as strange environments disturb homogeneous ideals. The migrants learn not only to tolerate the attitude and customs of other people, but also to accept insecurity and instability as a normal state of the world. These characteristics could potentially work together to increase the incidence of what Wirth (1938) called “the pathological condition” including personal disorganization, mental breakdown, suicide, delinquency, crime, corruption, and disorder. The same contact could also eventually result in secularization or liberalization, as contact with people from different religious persuasion demands greater religious tolerance.

Another factor that could mediate the way Muslim Filipinos in Metro Manila would think and act vis-à-vis Islam is the loosening of kinship ties. Communal solidarity is replaced by a more rational type of solidarity, the kind that Durkheim (1893/1964) called “organic solidarity.” The close-knit community in rural surroundings is changed in an urban setting, tending to individualize experiences. It is important to note, however, that these processes, which in theory could result in a state of anomie as institutions in places of origin tend to diminish in influence and new urbanized institutions are adopted, may be counteracted by processes that enhance primordial identities.

The case of the Philippines and of urban Muslims in Quiapo is a good example of how tensions between individuation and secularization on the one hand, and solidarity around religion and increasing religious fundamentalisms, on the other, are played out.


This study seeks to understand Islamic fundamentalism in its human and social context, and to explore the impact of modernization and urban life (social context) on fundamentalist thought and practice among urban Muslims in Quiapo by abstracting possible observatims from the views of selected key informants. In particular this study wants to explore and describe the forms of Islamic fundamentalism of selected key informants in the Quiapo area and the factors that have shaped them in the context of the historical and social evolution of the Muslim community of Quiapo. This research also wants to explore the effects of the different factors, including urbanization, that shape the forms of Islamic fundamentalism and the way the fundamentalists live and construct their worldview ideologically. Explore further their views on the formation of an Islamic state, secularization, the implementation of Islamic law, democracy, and the position of women, among others.


This study intends to contribute to the literature on Islam in the Philippines, complementing the studies on the “window display” enclave in Quiapo, Manila where Muslim migrants from Southern Philippines now live-a new habitat that differs significantly from the cultural and social environment of Muslim Mindanao. This study thus might not only enrich the sociology of religion in the country but also our initial understanding of urban-based Filipino Muslims, whose population is increasing significantly. More specifically, it will help us explore the modernizing effect of Metro Manila, if any, on the lifestyles, aspirations, and thoughts of selected Filipino migrant Muslims in the national capital region. Such an exploration would lay the groundwork for a systematic study of a more representative sample of urban-based Filipino Muslims in the future.

Exploring the plight and worldview of Muslim urbanites, as gleaned from the experiences of the key informants, could also help enhance the capability of the government and Filipino Christians and those of other faiths to deal with the Muslim minorities in Metro Manila and in the larger Mindanao context in the spirit of greater pluralism. After all, pluralism is the aim of diversified societies in a rapidly globalizing world. Since the problems of Moros are essentially political, economic and social, trying to impose military solutions is doomed to fail anyway. No army, according to Randy David, can end this problem unless it is prepared to commit genocide (p.75). A sociological study therefore is a prerequisite to solving the Moro problems in Metro Manila particularly and in the country as a whole.

This study also aims to find out whether the claim that there is no homogeneous ideology among Islamic adherents is valid. Like any other religion, Islam as practiced and professed is an interpreted faith. Similar to all other interpretations, is mediated by the socio-cultural context of the individuals who interpret it. Appreciation of the fact that there is no single Islam, hopefully, will foster multiple interpretations of Islam and bridge cultures to make for a pluralist and more tolerant society.


This study is exploratory and descriptive in nature. It aims to delineate how the Moro informants, with varying degrees of non-fundamentalist and fundamentalist Islamic views, as urban migrants constituting an ethnic minority in Quiapo, adapt and respond to the new social environment where they live. This study attempts to describe the impact of the modernizing process and complex urban life on the their religiosity (beliefs and practices vis-à-vis Islamic fundamentalism) and aspirations. As such it hopes, as previously noted, to lay the groundwork for a more definitive and representative study of Islamic fundamentalism in the Quiapo area.

Conducted in the Quiapo area among a purposively selected sample living in the barangays surrounding the Golden Mosque and Barangay 648/ Islamic Center, the study focuses on the everyday life of selected Muslims in a small geographic space. Failure to obtain permissions from the Muslim authorities to interview randomly selected respondents prevents the researcher from generalizing the findings. The conclusions in the study are therefore confined to the views of the key informants or the sample respondents and would not apply to Muslims in the Quiapo community, much less in Metro Manila.

It is also difficult methodologically to capture the religious perspectives or worldviews of respondents because these have changed over time. Furthermore, for fundamentalisms that span both religious and political views, the contradictions between such views and between beliefs and practice do not make it easy to arrive at meaningful conclusions about them.

The problem of attributing the observed beliefs and the perceived changes in religiosity to factors found in the urban environment is also worth noting. The study relies heavily on the reconstructions of the respondents of their biographies and the changes in their views from the vantage point of the present. Thus, the observed effects of adapting to life in Metro Manila on the respondents’ religious beliefs and practices as well as views on political and social issues may not correspond neatly to actual changes in these practices and views. At best the study’s findings regarding Islamic religiosity and fundamentalism among selected Muslims in Quiapo and the possible effects of the urban environment on their manifestations explores and presents initial thoughts regarding possible sociological relationships that need further validation by future researchers.

Finally, a major limitation of the study is the researcher`s lack of proficiency in the language of the Muslim community in Quiapo. His interpretations, therefore, are limited by the way he understood the answers to his questions or by the understanding of the translator. Moreover, as an outsider who does not speak the language in the site, he could have failed to fully capture the nuances of the spoken and body language of the respondents, and therefore, could not probe deeply into their worldview. Nevertheless, the proficiency of 80% of the respondents in some Arabic or English provided the researcher with direct access to their answers.

Following the references cited in the literature review below, the characteristics of fundamentalism that were explored in this study are not be reduced to the violent dimension of Islamic fundamentalist religiosity which generally prevails in the mind of the Christian Filipino public. The study focuses on the views of Muslim respondents on five issues: 1) the tahkimiyah (sovereignty) or the secular state vs. Islamic state; 2) democracy and the implementation of syariah/ Islamic law; 3) literal interpretation of the Qur’an, 4) the rights of women, and 5) jihad. Focusing on these issues would allow the researcher to roughly construct preliminary segments of the worldview of selected Filipino Muslims in the Quiapo area and determine the level of influence of fundamentalist thought on them.


The researcher draws from theories and ideas found in the literature in the Sociology of Religion in determining the data to be gathered and in analyzing his findings. This section brings together the literature on fundamentalism, city phenomenon and religiosity.

Islamic Fundamentalism

Historical and Doctrinal Survey

One of the most controversial religious terms is fundamentalism. Within Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other faiths, the term is used to refer to the most conservative wing of a religion. Author Karen Armstrong (2000:12) in The Battle for God defines fundamentalism as embattled forms of spirituality, which have emerged as a response to a perceived crisis, namely the fear that modernity will erode or even eradicate their faith and morality. Bruce Lawrence in Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age (1989) views fundamentalism as the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting neither criticism nor reduction; it is expressed through the collective demand that specific creedal and ethical principles derived from scripture be publicly recognized and legally enforced. Jeffrey K. Hadden and Anson Shupe (1989: 109-122), offered the following definition of fundamentalism: it is a proclamation of reclaimed authority over a sacred tradition, which is to be instated as an antidote for a society that has strayed from its cultural moorings. They note that fundamentalists refute the split between the sacred and the secular that characterizes modernist thinking. It also involves a plan to bring religion back to center stage in public policy decisions. For Hadden and Shupe (1989:72) fundamentalism is an attempt to draw upon a religious tradition to cope with and reshape an already changing world. They both argue that around the world there is a “common process of secularizing social change.” This process contains “the very seeds of a reaction that brings religion back into the heart of concerns about public policy. The secular …is also the cause of resacralization…(which) often takes fundamentalistic forms.”

From the definitions above, fundamentalism is seen as a radical reaction to the new social world (modernity) to the purity and originality of religious fundamentals and morality of a certain religion or faith. Modernity is viewed as a corrosive force making religious traditions less and less significant in individual and social affairs. The fundamentalists are anti-modern insofar as they are opposed to the perceived evils of modernity and their negative impact. To consider them anti-modern, however, is problematic due to the ways in which even self-styled fundamentalists are implicated in the culture of modernity. American fundamentalists, for example, come from a tradition of religious pluralism and the separation of church and state; the differentiating rationality of modern times is by no means alien to them.

The attempt within different religions to go back to fundamentals and resist or turn back liberal or secular tendencies in theology, culture and society, regardless of historical religion-cultural origin was inspired either by a religious vision or sacred text.

It is ironic that the globalization of modernity, with its power to change the world through technological developments and widespread communication in cyberspace, is associated with the rise of fundamentalist visions and texts. This phenomenon rejects the assumption of secularist thinkers that religion is a primitive superstition that will be outgrown by civilized, rational man. Some secularist thinkers (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche) confidently predicted its imminent demise. At best they said religion is a marginal and private activity, which could no longer influence world events. The world now realizes, however, that this is a false prophecy. It is true that modernity could undermine the essence of religiosity and to some extent strengthen its separation from social affairs. But modernity could have also created the fundamentalist attitude that reacts to modernity itself. The contradictory outcomes of modernity-the separation of the sacred from the secular on the one hand and their fusion in fundamentalism, on the other hand, makes for the dialectics of social change, which hopefully will result in a better social order.

The term fundamentalism has its origin in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, a series of pamphlets published between 1910 and 1915 [6] that served as a point of reference for groups of conservative American Protestants early in the twentieth century (Lecher, 1998:197, Rakhmat, 1998:260, An-Na’im: Encarta Reference Library, 2003). By and large this was a response to the loss of religious influence and emerged in the context of the traditional revivalism experienced in America during the early twentieth century. This loss of influence, coupled with the liberalizing trends of German biblical criticism and the encroachment of Darwinist theories about the origin of the universe prompted a response by the conservative churchmen. At the time, the authenticity of the Bible, the origin of the universe, the birth of Jesus Christ, the crucifixion as the way of salvation and the second coming of the Christ were reinterpreted by liberal theologians in a new way to accommodate new scientific and technological discoveries. In 1920, a journalist and Baptist layman, Curtis Lee Laws, appropriated the term fundamentalist as a designation for those who were ready to do battle royal for fundamentals (www.religiousmovement.lib.virginia.edu/nmrs/fund.html).

Originating historically within the Christian tradition, the term fundamentalism in Islam has been criticized and its use is regarded as misleading. John L Esposito (1996:43) of Georgetown University pointed out that the term fundamentalism is laden with Christian presuppositions and western stereotypes, and it implies a monolithic threat. More useful according to Esposito are the terms Islamic revivalism, Islamic activism, and political Islam, which are less value-laden and have roots within a tradition of political reform and social activism. Garaudy (1991:1) might sharpen the suggestion of Esposito by saying that the term ‘fundamentalism” is not merely limited to religion, but is also related to politics, society and culture. For him fundamentalism is the worldview erected on the basis of conviction (belief) whether it is religious, political or cultural, practiced and indoctrinated by the founder of that belief (1991:1). Akbar S. Ahmed further criticizes the appropriateness of using and applying the term fundamentalism to Islam.

As we know it, in its original application, it means someone who believes in the fundamentals of religion, that is Bible and the scriptures. In that sense every Muslim is a fundamentalist believing in the Qur’an and the prophet. However the manner that it is used in the media to mean a fanatic or extremist, it does not illuminate either Muslim thought or Muslim society. In the Christian context it is a useful concept. In the Muslim context it simply confuses because by definition every Muslim believes in the fundamentals of Islam. But even Muslims differ in their ideas about how, and to what extent, to apply Islamic ideas to the modern world (Living Islam: 18-19).

In light of the objections and considering the need to sharpen the meaning of fundamentalism as applied to Islam, observers use the term rigorism or in French integrisme to describe fundamentalism phenomenon. Referring originally to Catholic traditionalist group, integrism aims to integrate all aspects of life into religion and vise versa (Nasr, 1987:304; Watt, 1988:2; Gellner 1992: 2). Fundamentalism as integrism would then refer to reintegrating a social order under the canopy of one all-encompassing sacred tradition. Salvatore called those who looked at Islam as both a religion and a state, the equivalent of French integrists, the solutionists/ conflationist. For this group, Islam is the solution (Islam huwa al-Hall) for individual and social order (1998:84). The underlying idea for Islam as for any given faith is to be upheld firmly in its full and literal form or free of compromise, reinterpretation or diminution (Gellner 1992:2).

The positive view of fundamentalism as a term used even within the Islamic tradition is expressed by Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im (2003). The origin of the term according to Na’im should not preclude its application to movements in the Islamic, Jewish, Hindu or another religious tradition if they share the same salient features and important traits. The defining characteristic of American Protestant fundamentalist movement for the author was firm, principled, and militant opposition to the inroads that modernism, liberalism, and higher Biblical criticism were making into the Protestant churches, and the supposedly Bible-based culture of the United State at large.

Islamic fundamentalists according to Na’im hold sufficiently similar beliefs in relation to Islam and the Qur’an. Moreover Islamic movements in North Africa and the Middle East use the corresponding Arabic term Ushuli/ Ushuliyya to describe themselves and their beliefs, and not simply as a matter of recent translation of the American term.[7] The call to affirm and implement the “fundamentals” of the faith, as distinguished from its incidentals, is an established and recurrent theme in Islamic theological and political discourse, as can be seen from the title of the book by al-Ash’ari (d. 935) al-Ibanah ‘an Ushul al-Diniyyah (The Elucidation of the Fundamentals of the Religion). Other scholars who emphasize this theme in their work include al-Ghazali (d.1111), Ibn Taymiyyah (d.1328) and Ibn Abdul Wahhab (d. 1787).

Adding legitimacy to the use of the term fundamentalism in Islam, Lawrence Davidson argued that there are two reasons for using it in analyzing Muslim movements: (1) The expression Islamic fundamentalism has come into wide usage in the West as well as in the Muslim world, where it is rendered in Arabic as al-Ushuliyyah al-Islamiyyah. Here the word ushuli can be translated as fundamentalist. In fact, it is so generally accepted that it is now the main descriptive expression recognized by all interested parties to describe the Islamic revivalist movements. (2) The term ” fundamentalism” is sufficiently accurate to describe Muslims who see themselves as adhering to the ultimate fundamentals or foundations of their religion, and also to a literalist interpretation of the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an (Davidson, 1989: 16-17).

Following the arguments for the use of ‘fundamentalism’ to refer to Islamic revivalism, this thesis applies the term ‘fundamentalist’ to Filipino Muslims who struggle for the unity of church and the public sphere including the state in the ideology of the independent Islamic state and society for Muslim Mindanao.

Scholarly Analysis

Lawrence (1989) views fundamentalism in the context of a struggle with modernism and modernity. To clarify the active “defense of God” from the inside, Lawrence examines how actors bring the resources of their tradition to bear on problems they encounter. Aspiring to bring the kingdom of God to the earth as a whole, the ‘defenders of God’ have become important actors in this global scene. From Lawrence’s analysis we clearly see that fundamentalism is not a necessary consequence of something inherent in a religion. As a code of ethics and guide to the people on how to live in accordance with God’s will, religion’s hold is either undermined by a modernity that directs people to live according to human reason and freedom or enhanced by it.

Fundamentalism represents modernity’s giving rise to a deepening of religious faith. As modernity eroded the influence of the sacred, Lawrence argues that the Defenders of God actively called for a return to fundamentals. Jeff Hayness (1999) also asserts that religious fundamentalists, feeling that their way of life is under threat in the modern world, aims to reform society in accordance with religious tenets, to change laws, morality, social norms and sometimes the political configurations of their country.

From another angle, Risebrodt (1993) noted that the increasing inability of traditional cultural milieus to reproduce themselves under modern (concretely: urban) conditions is the source for the birth of fundamentalism, a kind that he conceptualizes as a radically traditionalist movement. Risebrodt considers fundamentalism as the failure of traditionalists to adapt to modernizing projects. One can conclude from the literature that fundamentalism emerged as cultural and sociological reaction or an antithesis to social change from pre-modern–with traditionalist characteristics–to a modern era. When modernity erodes the traditional values, which are the characteristics of a pre-modern era, and traditionalists are unable to reproduce themselves under the modern era, “fundamentalism” is viewed as a viable and possibly the only alternative to choose.

Other observers saw fundamentalism as one of the symptoms of or religio-political expressions in a post-modern era (Ahmed: 1992; Ahmed & Donnan 1994). In 1988, Richard Falk (1988:379) observed that “ours is a period of unexpected, varied, and multiple resurgence of religion of political force.” He asserts that politicized religion (fundamentalism) is a form of post-modern protest against the mechanization, atomization, and alienation of the modern world. Religion, he argued, provides the materials with which to move beyond purely instrumental rationality and address core issues of the current human situation (Falk 1988: p.382).

Tracing the rise of Islam revivalism and fundamentalism to modernity or post-modernity, the view of Islamic fundamentalism as a form of religio-political expression in the postmodern era can be seen as a-historical and a-sociological. In fact the Wahabiyyah movement led by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703-92) in the Arabian peninsula, which is so often been seen as prototype of Islamic fundamentalism, arose before the European penetration into that area.

Moreover the raison d’être of the Wahabiyyah movement is an internal purification-that is, the purification of Islamic practices at that time. The movement was thus born not as a reaction to western penetration, much less to modernization projects. It existed long before the modern and post-modern stages or at least in the early stages of modernity. To relate the birth of Islamic fundamentalism merely to Western influence is therefore a simplification of the complex religio-social realities of Islam. In fact, the ideological awareness of postmodernism as a rejection of modernism is found among only a few Muslims. The sociological situation of most contemporary Muslims worldwide, unlike their Western counterparts, puts them in “pre-modern” or “modern periods rather than in a postmodern phase. Only Muslim intellectuals would comprehend the failure of modernity’s projects and the return to religious fundamentalism as part of a postmodern outlook. And even if they do, the rejection of al-Maududi (1903-1979) or other Islamic fundamentalist movement and the modernization of Islam is only beginning, making a “postmodern” interpretation of fundamentalism an epistemological question rather than corresponding to a postmodernism stage of civilization.

Fundamentalism in Islam is more appropriately seen as an extreme form of Islamic revivalism or Islamic awakening in Qutb’s term. If the orientation of Islamic revival takes a form of religious intensification inwardly (inward oriented) at the individual level, the intensification in fundamentalism is aimed outwardly as well (outward oriented). Islamic revivalism or inward-intensification has involved the escalation of individual attachment to Islam while fundamentalism entails high commitment not only to transform individual life, but also communal and social life. Hence Islamic fundamentalism is often esoteric, emphasizing more on lawfulness or unlawfulness based on the Islamic law (halal-haram complex).

In this regard, th

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