Radical adherents of religion may interpret their faith in an extreme way, sometimes not according to the religion's original intent. Islam's Prophet Muhammad advised, according to reputed narrator Imam Al-Bukhari, "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately .... Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target [of paradise]." The word "moderation" is mentioned many times in the Prophet's speeches, called hadith.
Islam is a diverse world religion, followed by some 1.8 billion Muslims of different sects and schools of thought. This great number of followers leads to a variety of interpretations of Islam's holy book, the Quran, and of hadith and sunnah, the life of the Prophet. Therefore, whether practices can be called "extreme" or "moderate" is highly subjective.
A topic that inspires controversy regarding moderate or radical practices is the choice of Muslim women to cover their hair, face and body. The Quran commands women and men to be modest in manner, and states that women should cover their beauty in public and "draw their veils over their bosoms." The verses are not specific regarding whether women's hair should be covered, although the Prophet's wives reportedly covered their hair, and many Muslims believe this is necessary.
The word "veil" (hijab) was also used more generally in religious texts to refer to a curtain concealing women or to her general style of dress. This vagueness has resulted in varied interpretations, from covering the body and leaving the hair exposed to covering everything except the eyes.
Wahhabism, the state sect of Saudi Arabia, and Salafism, a popular sect in North Africa and the Middle East, are examples of radical interpretations of Islam. These ideologies are not accepted by mainstream Muslims, who view these perspectives as extreme and inaccurate according to Islam and to principles of human rights. Both sects played a part in influencing the violent ideology of Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.
The Quran and hadith define jihad as a "struggle" that brings blessings when defending Islam against attack or undergoing personal struggles in general. Mainstream Muslims believe Islam prohibits killing another human being except in self-defense, while some radical sects have interpreted the Quran as endorsing killing of infidels. Jihad has therefore assumed a narrower definition in media parlance, meaning only holy warfare, usually associated with attacks on innocents.
In Islamic tradition, jihad is in fact an important religious duty that applies to all situations in life, such as quiet efforts to practice Islam, building a Muslim society and educating non-Muslims about the faith. Some scholars note that its references in the Quran regarding war refer to a time when Islam was under attack by warring tribes in seventh-century Arabia. Also, Islamic Shariah law maintains strict laws regarding the conduct of war.
Another area in Islam sometimes considered to be radical is less tangible and deals with customs and behaviors of individuals, families and communities. Given the numerous interpretations of Islam around the world, opinions differ sharply on such subjects as prayer habits, attire, celebration of Muslim holidays and how children should behave and dress. Opinions can be supported by a scholar's declaration or fatwa, or based on an interpretation of the Quran and the Prophet's traditions. For example, a woman choosing to walk down a street in Tehran without covering her hair and body would be considered radical but in another Muslim country, such as Turkey, it would not be considered radical.
- Sahih Bukhari: Vol. 8, Book 76, Hadith 470
- The Noble Quran: Surat An-Nur, 24:31
- The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life: Mapping the Global Muslim Population
- Sahih Bukhari: Vol. 7, Book 62. Wedlock, Marriage (Nikah)
- Global Security: Wahhabi
- Wahhabism, Salafism, and Islamism: Ahmad Moussalli
- BBC Religion: Islam; Jihad
- The Noble Quran: Jihad
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