At the mention of September 11, 2001, most people’s minds instantly flash back to the visual of planes flying, buildings smoking, immense pain, and the hateful acts of United States enemies. This date in history has been defined as the occurrence of an act of terrorism that was carried out by members of the Islamic faith. Terrorism has become associated with the ideas of brutality, hate, and tyrannical killing of innocent souls; the stereotype is that Islam encourages and supports these acts, and it has led to Western dissent towards the religion. A Pew poll from September 2007 showed that 35% of Americans possessed an unfavorable perception of Muslims, and an August 2007 Financial Times/Harris Poll found that 21% of Americans consider the presence of Muslims in this country as a national security threat.
Furthermore, a 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that 39% of Americans wanted Muslims to hold special identification cards and found that almost half of Americans feel that Muslims are extremists. Nearly one-fourth of those polled expressed not wanting a Muslim as a neighbor. Less than half think that Muslims would stand the test of loyalty to the United States. These numbers have only risen, as a 2009 Washington Post/ABC poll found that 48% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam ad nearly 30% thought that Islam encourages violence. This number has since doubled in light of recent developments in terrorism.
As Colin Chapman points out in his book Islamic Terrorism’ Is there a Christian Response, we must question if this perception represents the truth and ask: do we understand in its entirety how terrorism relates to Islam? Many scholars have written on this issue, discussing how the common perspective of terrorism characterizes Islam as violent and clouds it’s identity as a peaceful religion.
In his book Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea, Shiraz Maher argues that there is an urgent need to better understand the beliefs that underlie Islamic terrorism, especially with the modern-day relevance to the struggle for power and propagation of religion in the Middle East. These Islamist acts of terror can be traced to the roots of Salafi-Jihadism. Some people view all Muslims as under the umbrella of violent Islamists based on examples seen in the media of individuals like Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the radical Islamic State (ISIS). On the other hand, some individuals such as George W. Bush viewed Islam as a religion of peace.
The essay has a two-fold agenda. First, I argue that there is strong evidence that Islamist Terrorism is rooted in Qur’anic text and Jihadist religious belief. The work of Shiraz Maher has defined and addressed Salafi-Jihadism in the context of terrorist ideology, and other Islamic scholars have also introduced and dissected the different beliefs and practices of violent and nonviolent Islamic groups. Second, I argue that Islam is not a religion of sole violence or sole peace, and that the reality lies somewhere in the middle.
Violent extremists and pacifists in the faith draw their ideologies from similar religious texts and ideologies, however it is their interpretation of these texts that leads to the variation in belief and practice among members of the faith.
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