In light of what happened in Paris, I want to share a few things that I’ve learned about ISIS through my religion class. Granted, I am not an expert and what I am about to say may seem like second hand knowledge to some, but I knew very little about ISIS prior to this class, and what I’ve learned this past week involves understandings that I believe are fundamental in knowing how to approach topics involving ISIS and that have significantly impacted my perception of it:
1. ISIS is linked to Islam
This does not mean that we can generalize all Muslims and associate them with ISIS, because the majority of Muslims practice a peaceful approach to Islam. However, simply dismissing ISIS as a terrorist group reduces our ability to understand who they are. Journalist Graeme Wood wrote a very controversial article titled “What ISIS Really Wants”, but something he wrote that I find to be less disputable is that “the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war”. The Islamic State adheres to “the Prophetic methodology”, which means that they follow the prophecy and example of Muhammad zealously. What sets them apart from other Muslims is that they blame “the erosion of religious belief and practice on the irreligious worldviews and materialistic lifestyles” (Strong Religions 11) that surrounds them. In other words, ISIS is ultraconservative and feels threatened by the rest of the world. Followers of ISIS do not look at other Muslims as members of the same faith but as “luke-warm believers” who need to be eliminated as part of their path to purification. Recognizing that ISIS is indeed strongly related to Islam allows us to better understand their motives and to predict their behaviors.
2. Religions are pluralistic
We live in a pluralistic society, where diverse religions and beliefs coexist, yet we often fail to acknowledge the diversity within a “religion”. Princeton University’s Bernard Haykel says, “As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts”; Islam includes believers who practice different approaches, analogous to the many denominations of the Christian faith. With that being said, knowing that people can have opposing views or beliefs despite practicing the same religion reminds us that not all Muslims are extremists and that extremist groups exist within other religions as well.
3. Fundamentalism is not unique to Islam
To begin, fundamentalism is “a discernible pattern of religious militance by which self-styled ‘true believers’ attempt to arrest the erosion of religious identity” (Strong Religions 17). We often connote religious militance with the on-going violence in the Middle East or with Islam, but think about the Christian Crusades or religious Zionism. Fundamentalist groups deriving their beliefs from different religions have existed throughout history. As a Christian, I do not align myself with the violent approaches of the Crusaders, and realizing that my own religion includes extremists, both historical and modern-day, reinforces the idea that we cannot associate all Muslims with ISIS despite their relations to Islam.
And finally, to all of the people in Paris, my prayers are with you. Using religion as an excuse for violence is not justifiable, and I pray that you all can somehow find justice, peace, and comfort going forward.