A 2008 report conducted by MI5 concluded that the majority of 'Islamic terrorists' are in fact not Islamic at all. In fact a large number of them neither practise their faith regularly nor have any real idea what it teaches. The report goes further to suggest that there actually exists evidence that 'a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.'
To many people this may come as a shock. Aiming to provide a stronger religious identity to a potential religious extremist appears counter-intuitive, foolish even. However those who understand and follow what Islam really teaches are in fact amongst the last people on earth that would ever commit such a senseless act of violence as was recently committed in Paris.
Understanding that every single human life is sacred, the Qur'an compares the killing of a single individual to the killing of the whole of mankind. Not only this, but it also condemns all discussions that have the potential to lead to harm for others, approving only the conferences of such as enjoin charity, or goodness, or the making of peace among men[4:115]. Even when Muslims are verbally attacked, the Qur'an urges them to always be dignified, and respond not with abuse, but to greet them with peace [25:64]. And after all, God describes creating man in His own image, and with each Qur'anic chapter beginning with defining Him as the most gracious, ever merciful, there is truly no scope for theologically justifying terrorist acts.
And before you ask, no, these are not simply 'cherry-picked' peaceful verses that ignore the 'violent' ones. To interpret even a single verse in a violent manner violates the principles laid down by the Qur'an itself. In Chapter 3 it is written:
He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book; in it there are verses that are decisive in meaning - they are the basis of the Book - and there are others that are susceptible of different interpretations. But those in whose hearts is perversity pursue such thereof as are susceptible of different interpretations, seeking discord and seeking wrong interpretation of it. And none knows its right interpretation except Allah and those who are firmly grounded knowledge; they say, 'We believe in it; the whole is from our Lord.' - And none heed except those gifted with understanding. [3:8]
The Qur'an therefore itself clearly lays down rules as to how it should be understood, and evidently ISIS falls under the category of those who 'seek discord' and 'in whose hearts is perversity.' The popular opinion that terrorist groups innocently and validly interpret the true meaning of Islam (a word which literally means 'peace') in a barbaric way, is refuted in this verse. Furthermore, over and over again, The Qur'an repeats phrases such as there is no compulsion in religion[2:257], thus making it abundantly clear that to target or kill peaceful innocent people from a different faith or way or life, is not only contrary to, but in fact the antithesis of what Islam actually teaches.
There is a senseless act of violence and then there is its response. While the act itself is preserved in the annals of history, the nature of its response defines the months and years to come. The reaction of the world is passed down generations, permeating through families and communities, through societies and cultures, either uniting them or dividing and fracturing them further. The best means of preventing future attacks and preventing our society from being torn apart by prejudice, as the MI5 report alluded to, is understanding ourselves what Islam truly teaches, so that we can help potential extremists to do the same.
Let's stick to the facts, not to our preconceptions.