When the word Islam is mentioned, the images that might come to some people’s minds are that of violent and angry extremists. One must question where these images come from and if they represent Islam and the norm in the Muslim world and communities. If our information about the Muslim world is limited to these images then it is likely to taint the lens that we look through. Extreme and sensational behavior is what the media highlights, but these extreme actions not representative of norms or the general population.

Take for example the Jerry Springer show, it begins with Springer sliding down a stripper pole, an audience pumping their hands in the air and cheering his name in anticipation for viewing a violent confrontation between family members. Springer introduces a topic in which we witness different guests confront each other about a relationship problem such as adultery, cheating, fornication, lying and many other atypical situations. Picture living in a foreign country where you are only shown the kinds of Americans that are on the Jerry Springer show. Seeing such images over and over will lead one to conclude that this is the norm in America, while we all know it certainly is not. Or for instance, if all you see about America is white men committing mass shootings against innocent civilians. This will lead to a distorted image understanding of what most of America is. The reality is that the people on the Jerry Springer show or those who commit mass shootings are American, but they represent a small percentage of the American population and are not representative of American values. Likewise, if the only images we see of Muslims is that of extremists, one might mistakenly conclude that all Muslims are inherently violent and out to kill. This mistaken conclusion might be held by many because studies have shown that terror attacks receive five times more coverage if the perpetrator is Muslim. [1]

This leads us to the question of whether groups like ISIS are representative of Islam or the general Muslim population. Let’s look at ISIS in the context of the larger Muslim world and population.



ISIS was founded in 2011. Islam is a religion that is over 1400 years old. If ISIS is part of Islam and representative of the true Islamic teaching, one must question where they have been all this time? The fact that ISIS did not exist before demonstrates that the group did not emerge due to the teachings of religion, but political circumstances. This leads to the next point.



There are over 50 Muslim majority countries in the world. Besides ISIS being a recent phenomenon, this group mainly exists in Iraq and Syria. Why did it emerge in these two particular countries and not in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates? Iraq is a country that was invaded by America despite the protests of many military experts and American citizens and cautioning of the chaos that will be born due to an invasion of Iraq. Syria is a country that suffers from a brutal dictator who uses chemical weapons against his people to save his political position. Chaos will result in chaos. The wars in Iraq and Syria resulted in the deaths of about one million people, destroyed the infrastructure, ruined families, jobs, roads, and the economy. ISIS emerged in these two war torn countries because of the destruction that takes place in them. Therefore, ISIS is an extreme reaction to an extreme political, economic, and social situation. If it were inherently part of Islam than it should have emerged much earlier than 2013 and been prevalent in most of the remaining Muslim majority countries.



According to the CIA, ISIS has between twenty through thirty thousand members. [2] This estimate likely ignores the qualitative difference between terrorists and fighters. For instance, some of those fighting in Iraq and Syria might be individuals who participate in combat activities against the brutal Syrian regime and therefore not the same as terrorists seeking to indiscriminately kill innocent civilians. Nevertheless, even if we accept that estimate, it is minute when compared to the global Muslim population. There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. That means approximately one in every four humans today is a Muslim. If ISIS consists of thirty thousand people, that means ISIS is .0025% of Muslims. This is such a miniscule number that it can in no way represent the main beliefs and practices of the larger Muslim population.



Islam is a very democratic religion in the sense that there is no pope figure and Muslims are free to differ, especially on legal matters. Because difference of opinion and dissent are the norm in Islamic law, when consensus and agreement do occur they bring certainty. Muslim scholars and institutions, both Sunni and Shia, have all come out to condemn ISIS.[3] Furthermore, most victims of ISIS are Muslims. In January 2016, the United Nations released a report which stated that almost 19,000 Iraqi civilians were killed between January 2014 and October 2015 and much of that is reportedly due to ISIS.[4] ISIS has created many Muslim widows, orphans who lost their parents, and parents who lost innocent children. ISIS is not about the tenets of Islam or about Muslims. It is a group that was the result of foreign invasion and destruction of Iraq and a brutal dictator in Syria. Their main goal is power, and just like other brutal rulers and dictators, they will kill as many innocent people as possible to achieve and maintain that power. The only distinction between ISIS and secular dictators who kill innocent civilians is that ISIS misuses religion to justify its brutality.



Muslims are against ISIS and terrorism just like most Christians are against the KKK. Although the KKK will claim to be Christian and use the Bible to justify their actions, no serious person will think that the KKK represents Christianity or Christian teachings. Likewise, ISIS does not represent Islam or Muslims, neither historically or in the global context. When we are constantly fed images of angry young men seeking to kill everyone, it might be wise to zoom out of that image and look at the greater context of the world. That angry individual does not represent the average Muslims who are athletes, doctors, lawyers, teachers, bakers, students, professors, and businessmen and women. These Muslims hate ISIS, fight terrorism, and put their lives on the line to defend innocent civilians against ISIS.[5] Ultimately, it is important to study Islam and Muslims in an objective and contextualized manner.