As world leaders try to counter the killing spree of the militant group Islamic State, better known as ISIS, they should take note of this trend: More Muslim leaders are challenging the group’s core message that faith can be compelled by the threat of violence.
The basic error in the group’s message is more than simply that terror in the name of religion – in this case Islam – is permissible. Rather, the Islamic State is also mistaken in a more fundamental way: It demands an outward conformity in behavior, such women being veiled in public or men wearing beards, as a necessary first step for a person to achieve an understanding of doctrine.
In other words, doing religion will necessarily lead to believing in it. Action somehow begets spiritual thought. And if a person does not act with certain physical signs of faith, then killing is justified.
Many religions have fallen into this trap of trying to compel understanding through coerced deeds. But debunking it is crucial to countering IS. The more Muslims stand up for the idea that faith is first from the heart – a personal commitment to the peace and selflessness that all major religions teach – the more likely is it that young Muslims will decide not to join IS.