By Amaar Ahmad
We live in perilous times. The rise of ISIS offshoots across the world should be a cause of deep worry for Muslims. In their quests, the extremists have left no stone unturned in sullying Islam's image. There is a growing thought, duly amplified by media, that perhaps there is something inherently wrong within the religion. The irony is that millions of Muslims for 14 centuries could not have entered into a repressive faith that ISIS is eager to cleanse today.
A battery of Islamophobic personalities readily appear on news media and in think tanks who seem to be in unison with ISIS that it is the extremists who have the "correct" version of Islam. If the West is at war with Islam, then it is at war with a billion plus people the vast majority of whom condemn violence in the name of the faith. Conversely, if it is at war with ISIS-type groups then this number is no more than 30 thousand.
To his credit, recently President Obama was at pains to emphasize: "We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam." Such words can help. Accepting ISIS as one of many legitimate versions of Islam only strengthens this extremist cause at the detriment of world peace.
ISIS claims that its acts are based on strict literal interpretation of Quran and other Muslim scriptures. Its not alone in this claim. Admittedly, many so-called Islamic or Sharia laws in numerous other Muslim countries have earned an ill-reputation for human right abuse.
We are 14 centuries after the time of Prophet Muhammad. It is important to note that many of today's Islamic laws have no historical foundation in the faith.
Islam started in Mecca as a persecuted faith much like the mission of Jesus Christ. For 13 long years, Prophet Muhammad and his followers were brutally persecuted to the point that they eventually had to seek refuge in Medina where he was eventually elected as the leader.
He first policy act was to establish a constitution between pagan, Muslim and Jewish tribes to protect the city state from outside aggression. Interestingly, the constitution declared that "Muslims and Jews are one nation."
However, to preserve their old pagan religion the tribal overlords in Mecca, who were threatened by this new faith and consequent loss of prestige, initiated armed aggression against the early Muslims.
As the political head of Medina and spiritual leader of Muslims, Prophet Muhammad had to act in self-defense. Islam's early wars were basically fought in in preservation of religious freedom from tyranny.
Today's opportunistic extremists now pervert that example to justify an open-ended war against "infidels" that are mostly fellow Muslims. To justify this they commit another abomination: Takfir, or declaring fellow Muslims as apostates worthy of being killed. While there is no worldly punishment in Quran for either blasphemy or apostasy, ISIS punishments are quite ironically based on Biblical accounts.
The Quran also states: "There is no compulsion in religion" 2:257.
Here is the verse's context: Before the arrival of Prophet to Medina, numerous families had consecrated their children to be raised in the monotheistic Jewish tradition. After their conversion to Islam, at one point these parents wanted to forcibly take back their children so as to be also raised as Muslims. This verse deals with that story where Prophet Muhammad forbade his followers from forcibly converting their own children.
To defeat ISIS it is necessary to defeat its ideology. That can only happen when its oxygen is cut off by delegitimizing its claim to represent in any way or form the faith of millions of Muslims. By constantly conflating ISIS with Islam, news media and think tanks run the risk of making the monster bigger by alienating ordinary Muslims.