Conventional wisdom tells us that Muslims who commit acts of violence are acting on their own impulses and for their own complex and misguided reasons. Yet I don’t think this is the whole story. What is missing from the complete picture is the inconvenient truth that by waging jihad and murdering civilians, as occurred in the attacks in Paris and on the beaches of  Tunisia, these individuals are not actually operating outside the boundaries of Islamic tradition. Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are seeking to dominate Islamic discourse. Those unfamiliar with the Islamic tradition and its teachings, including Muslims themselves, the barrage of images depicting inhumanity at the hands of extremists of ISIS, Boko Haram et al could unsurprisingly lead them to conclude Islam does indeed promote violent teachings. However, Islam is not a single set of ideas. Rather, there is an ideological stream within the Islamic tradition that has been exploited to justify violent acts of extremism. In order to understand where this thinking came from, we must go back to the origins of Islam itself.

Islam is a human tradition which began with Prophet Muhammad. The human-ness of this heritage does not preclude the belief that the Prophet Muhammad experienced revelation from Allah. This revelation, which is in a textual form that we know today as the Qur’an, was initially verbal (even the word ‘qur’an’ means ‘recitation’ or ‘reading’).The process which culminated in the text was entirely human, even by admission of the Qur’an itself (80: 11-16). Furthermore, what we now know as ‘Islamic’ literature, also includes the extensive hadith collections (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad), tafsir (exegetical writings on the Qur’an), seerah (biographical literature of the Prophet), fiqh (jurisprudence literature) and other classical texts. Islam is a rich doctrine spanning centuries of conversation and research.

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