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Is the Islamic State Truly Islamic?

Destroying important cultural artifacts in the name of religion is not new. Protestants destroyed statues they considered idolatrous, or against their Christian faith in the 16th century.

Now, a video is showing members of the Islamic State group destroying ancient treasures in Iraq. The group called the treasures “un-Islamic.”

Senators spoke out against their actions at a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.

“This is not 1015 -- this is 2015. And as I speak people are being crucified, people are being burned alive, they’re being beheaded.”

Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, led the hearing on the Islamic State group. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to be the caliph of a re-established medieval Muslim empire that existed hundreds of years ago.

Conservative Christian activist Jay Sekulow believes the Islamic claim is authentic, or real.

“That’s what they call themselves. They call themselves the caliphate. Khalif(a) Ibrahim believes he’s the leader of worldwide Islam. So whatever we wanna call them, in one sense is irrelevant, because that’s who they are.”

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are struggling to find the best way to respond to the militant groups. Meanwhile, public figures are debating over whether the Islamic State group should be seen as part of Islam, or a deviation from the faith.

John Esposito is a professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

“From my point of view, what, what you’ve got is the hijacking of religion.”

Professor Esposito says the militants misunderstand the command in the Quran to kill unbelievers wherever they find them.

“When that scripture was uttered, it had nothing to do with Christians and Jews at that point. It had to do with pagan Meccans who were at that point persecuting Muslims. And God in the Quran was saying to them: If they’re fighting you, you have a right to fight back.”

Some observers say that Islam needs a Reformation, like when the Protestants separated from the Catholic Church. They say that such a reformation would reject the traditional understanding of scripture.

But John Esposito warns that these observers should be careful what they wish for. After all, European history has had many conflicts over religious ideas and values.

“They’ll say: ‘Islam needs a Reformation.’ I sometimes say to some of my Muslim friends, what they’re really saying then is, genocide ought to take place, or close to it. Because we think of the Reformation as the Enlightenment and we forget the Hundred Years Wars.”

Mr. Esposito says throughout time, people have used religion to support political power and warfare.

I’m Anne Ball.

Jerome Socolovsky reported this story from Washington. Anne Ball adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

artifact n. an object made by people in the past

idolatrous adj. relating to idolatry, the worship of a picture or object as a god

empire n. a group of countries or areas that are controlled by one ruler

authentic adj. real, not copied or false

deviation n. an action or behavior that is different from what is usual or expected

Now, it’s your turn. Tell us what you think. Is the Islamic State truly Islamic? Leave a comment below.

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