FAQ Terrorism #5

5. How are Islamists different from other Muslims?

A Muslim is any person who believes in the teachings of Islam, a religion founded in the seventh century by the Prophet Mohammed in present-day Saudi Arabia. Because Islam began in the Middle East, the people of this region today are predominantly Muslim. However, there are large Muslim populations elsewhere in the world. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population and India has the second largest. The people of these countries are not Arab, like the Muslims of the Middle East. They have a different cultural heritage and do not speak Arabic, but they do share the same religion. The Islamists are a small group within the global Islamic community. Their religious beliefs are based upon the teachings of a few fundamentalist leaders, mainly from the 20th century, that emphasize an extremely strict interpretation of Islam. Many Islamic leaders outside of the Islamist movement, even those who are quite conservative or traditional, do not believe that the Islamists correctly interpret the teachings of the Koran, or Islamic holy book. With their religious beliefs as a foundation, Islamists have created an entire political ideology that draws heavily from 20th century totalitarian governments and revolutionary movements. They believe that all government is illegitimate unless it is built upon their particular interpretation of Islam and so seek to establish a state that uses their vision of Islamic law as its legal and political foundation. Such a government would control every element of its citizens' lives, including their dress, their professions, their social activities, and their relationship to the state. The Taliban in Afghanistan came closer to the Islamist ideal than any other government, although Iran and Saudi Arabia have been influenced by the movement as well, as evidenced by their restrictive domestic policies.

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