Understanding (a little bit about) Islamic Extremism

All faiths are a spectrum and at the edges is where it can get dangerous. Islam is no different, and what we’ve seen in the past two months has been the work of the fringe. So it’s important, first of all, to not vilify the whole. No religion has clean hands.

Not every Islamic Extremist sect promotes violence, but most hold a fundamentalist view of Jihad (roughly translated: The Struggle). And Jihad is, of course, what we all think of when we think of terrorism. The popular understanding of Jihad is something like “Holy War” but many Muslims reject this simplistic definition and stress that even Jihad is open to interpretation and does not necessarily entail or promote violence. For many, it is an internal struggle to “live out the Muslim faith as well as possible.” Like most things, it is not the belief that is to blame; it is the interpretation.

Islamic extremists have been at the heart of global terrorism for years, but the fact is the vast majority of Muslims are just as much victims as anyone else — perhaps more so since in the aftermath they are treated as the enemy.

Any faith system is complex, nuanced, and, in the end, personal. The world is often more complicated than anyone wants to admit. We are at a turning point in East/West relations — boiling point might be more accurate — and the more grace we can find for people of different beliefs, the better off our world will be.


Thomas Freely lives and writes in Los Angeles. 

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