ISLAMIC fundamentalism, which was spawned by the 1979 Iranian revolution, has, in the eyes of the West, come to symbolise terror and perhaps the biggest threat to democratic ideals in the free world. Terrorism, death threats, such as the fatwa imposed on British writer Salman Rushdie and, more recently, calls for the death of Bangladeshi feminist Taslima Nasrin, have instilled fear and outrage in many Western hearts. But for most of the world's Muslims, the word fundamentalism is a misnomer - they would say they live by the fundamentals of their faith, but that doesn't make them extremists. Dr Abu Ameena Bilal Philips, an Islamic scholar who was lecturing in Hong Kong this week, explained: ''What may be called terrorist movements under the guise of Islam has been branded as fundamentalism. But terrorism is against the very fundamentals of Islam. ''The [recent] bombings, for instance, are not Islamic when it is possible to make progress through peaceful means. Islam does not favour war. Islam flourished in times of peace and not in times of war.'' Dr Philips, a Canadian of Jamaican descent who embraced Islam 22 years ago, learning to read and write Arabic to become one of the Islamic world's leading scholars and teachers, knows what it is to incur the wrath of the so-called fundamentalists. He has not insulted the Prophet Mohammed - the accusation fired at Mr Rushdie - and has not called for a thorough revision of the Holy Koran - the charge put before Ms Nasrin. But through his translations of Arabic books, he has challenged the Shi'ite Iranian Government's self-proclaimed right to rule the Muslim world, and as a result was said to be on Iran's hit-list. Dr Philips, 47, who recently completed his doctorate in Islamic studies at the University of Wales, said he has been branded as an enemy of the Iranian revolution. ''Back in the late 80s, some time after the revolution, Iran was exporting its brand of revolutionary Islam. ''It was affecting a lot of ignorant Muslims and I was asked to translate some books which critically explained the fundamental beliefs of Iran - their brand of religion known as Shi'ism and the disruptive role which they played throughout the Muslim world. ''That did make me very unpopular. The rumours were, at the time, that there was a contract out on me.'' Even Dr Philips' 10 days in Hong Kong were not without controversy. A letter was circulated through the local Muslim community condemning him for not teaching support for mysticism, sainthood and the celebration of the Prophet's birthday, which according to scholars such as Dr Philips, are unwelcome innovations in the religion practised in many parts of the Islamic world. He maintains that what he teaches is sourced purely from the Koran and Sunnah (teachings and traditions of the Prophet), which preaches the worship of one god without the need for any intermediaries. Dr Philips was born a Christian and joined a communist movement before embracing Islam. His Islamic life began in 1972 after he searched for what he believed was the perfect way of life that communism could not provide. ''I became a communist in college as I was searching for a programme which would address the ills of Western society as we saw it in those days, like racial equality,'' said Dr Philips, who grew up in Toronto. After embracing Islam, he decided to learn Arabic, leading him to the Arab world. Now he is concerned that the concept of being a fundamentalist Muslim has been obscured by the activities of militants. Dr Philips prefers not to pass judgment on the case of Ms Nasrin, although he says ignorance among Muslims has resulted in women being treated as second-class citizens. ''There is no justification in attacking Islam,'' he said. ''But many Islamic societies have relegated women to a lesser role and deserve criticism. ''But you can't just call for someone's head. One must look at what was really said. So many practices in Islamic societies are in total contrast to what is taught in the Koran. ''If she was asking for a reassessment of modern-day Muslim societies with regard to the teachings found in the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet, then that is okay. In fact that is necessary, because Muslim society has drifted away from the true teachings.'' Dr Philips says that in the West there has been a tradition of exploiting women, while Islamic dress protests women from being used as sex objects: ''In terms of the Islamic point of view, the idea of equal pay for equal work is one of the fundamentals. Women in true Islamic societies are protected while the West views them as maybe being over-protected. ''That is mainly through the mode of dress and being chaperoned. To women in the West, the idea of taking off their clothes is a sign of freedom. If we practically look at the rise in rape around the world it could possibly be correllated to the removal of dress,'' he said. ''Not that a man is justified in attacking a women, but wearing clothes which expose private parts creates an environment for rape. Islamic dress also prevents women from being used as a sex object. It is all for protection purposes.'' Dr Philips says that when the Islamic world started to degenerate in the 14th century, women got pushed into the background. ''This led to women being denied education and their role in the Islamic community being minimalised to one of child-bearing. This is against Islamic principles.'' He believes it is hypocritical that in some Islamic societies women continue to wear the full Muslim garb but are denied basic rights. Dr Philips has written more than 15 books covering topics ranging from Islamic law to the world of jinns (demons). His thesis leading to his doctorate was entitled Exorcism in Islam. But this year, All his personal goals were capped when his parents became Muslims, after 20 years of quiet persuasion.