There are different sects of Muslims with radically different interpretations of Islam, much the same way we see vast diversity among Christians and Jews. The vast majority of terrorist acts are done by 2 different sects of Muslims... the Salafi Jihadists (also called Wahabis) and the Shia Twelver extremists (such as the Iranian Ayatollahs and Hezbollah)... The Salafi movement started in the 1700’s in Saudi Arabia with Muhammad ibn Abd-Al-Wahab. They are literalists who read the Qur’an and Hadith and come to their own understanding of it’s verses instead of using traditional knowledge and understanding that has passed down over 1400 years via the 4 schools of thought (Madhabs) in Sunni Islam. Traditional scholars of Islam understand the verses in the Qur’an within their historical context of what was happening during Muhammad’s lifetime (during the 23 years in which the Qur’an was revealed) and also have a good understanding of the complexities of Islamic law (Usul al-Fiqh). The vast majority of actions that Salafi Jihadist groups like ISIS, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Muhajiroon, and Al Qaida do are in stark contrast to Islamic law. For example, the killing of civilians, women, children, and the elderly is absolutely forbidden in Islamic law. Also, the destroying of Synagogues or Churches is forbidden. A true Islamic state is obligated to protect the rights of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) to worship and follow their own religions in peace. Another clear violation of Islamic law was the burning of the Jordanian Muslim pilot which is a clear violation of Islam. True Islamic Scholars such as Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf have very clearly condemned ISIS and other such Salafi groups as deviants from Islam and Islamic Law. The Jihadist ideology originated in the 1950’s with the writings of Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. His ideology is in stark contrast to classic scholarship of the last 1400 years.
There are about 1.6 BILLION Muslims in the world or 23% of the GLOBAL population of which only 20% are in the Middle East. Obviously, it would not be proper to generalize almost a quarter of humans on earth or to demonize a whole religion based on the acts of deviant extremists that make up a rather small portion of 1.6 Billion people. We need to take a longer view of history than just the last 60+ years. If we look at History for say the last 1000 years… we see that the originator of such concepts as Killing the Infidel (the non-believer), Holy War, the Compulsion to believe in a religion or be killed, etc. originates not with Islam but rather with Roman Catholicism via the Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, etc. If we look at the Protestant side, we see that Martin Luther was not much better in his treatment of Jews than the Catholics. The point is that these evils that we see are not organic to or originate from Islam, rather in large part; they are attitudes and beliefs that were borrowed from Christians in their treatment of Jews and Muslims over the last 2000 years.
We need to understand that there is as much diversity in the Islamic world as there is in Christianity and Judaism. For example, if we look at the Sufis, the mystics of Islam, who follow the traditional Madhabs of ‘Ahle Sunnah Wa Jamaah’ (Sunni Islam), we see that they have an entirely different approach to Islam than the Salafis do, incorporating Zhikr (Sufi Meditation and Chanting), music and dance into their worship, and totally reject the beliefs and actions of the Salafi Deviants. The Sufis produced such greats as Rumi (the most popular poet in Western Civilization), Rabia Basri, Ibn Arabi, and many other great Mystics.
We need to not take such a simplistic view of Islam to believe that they are so monolithic that they all have the same beliefs, attitudes, and leaders. There is an incredible amount of diversity amongst Muslims in how they interpret the religion of Islam. Any reasonable research into the History of Islam will show that it has almost always been this way. There have always been different approaches and interpretations of the religion. Until the 20th century, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire during WW I, most Muslims followed a madhab and Sufism had a large influence on Muslims. Unfortunately, since then, as a result of the devastating consequences of European Colonialism in the Middle East and India, etc., ruthless dictators were setup throughout the Arab World to oppress their peoples. During the Arab Spring, when the people rose up for Democracy, so that they could elect their own leaders, unfortunately, the Salafi Jihadists saw this as their opportunity (in the absence of strong leadership during this transition) to seize power and cause chaos (which is clearly forbidden in the Qur’an) in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Mali, and Nigeria.
In summary, we need to understand Islamic history and the religion much more thoroughly before we just assume that the actions of the extremists are accurate representations of Islam and Islamic law.
Islam and Terrorism