Only recently a Muslim who had declared his allegiance to ISIS drove a lorry into a crowded German Christmas market. He was not many days later killed in a gunfight with Italian policemen. But around the same time there was a group of Muslims going round my own city of Greater Manchester, UK, giving Christmas presents to homeless people, the numbers of whom are a damning criticism of my misgoverned land. We also saw on television a food bank distributing food aid to the poor, at least one of whose helpers was a Muslim woman. If we condemn the killer, we are morally bound to praise the charity worker. Honesty demands no less.
Islamic political movements that use terror tactics, for example Islamic State and Al Qaeda, all derive their ideas from a small number of sects in the Sunni branch of the religion. These sects include the Wahabis,a puritanical Islamic movement that holds power in Arabia through the the fact that the House of Saud, the Saudi royal family, supports it. The terrorism that has emanated from Saudi sources is driven to a great degree by Wahabism. There is also the Salafi movement, which sometimes gives rise to terrorism, but not always. Salafism and Wahabism are hard to pull apart in some circumstances. Basically,Salafis look back to the early years of Islam as the ideal time, and model their lives on the practice of the Umma,Islamic community, of that period. They also hark back to the time of Islamic imperium, when many lands were under Muslim dominion, such as Spain and India, and they believe that these lands should be returned to Islamic rule, a recipe for aggression among some Salafis.
Yet there are Muslim sects and movements that are gentle and non-violent. The Sufi movement, a living stream in Islam composed of a multitude of sects that have a leaning to mystical spiritual practices, has a long tradition of non-violence and harms no one. Of the many sects belonging to the Shia branch of the faith the Ismaelis, followers of the Aga Khan, have a long record of peaceful behaviour.
The Ahmadiyya movement, considered heretics by orthodox Muslims due to the fact that they seem to award prophetic status to their nineteenth century founder contrary to Muslim teaching that Muhammed is the last prophet, have a long and noble tradition of non-violence, but they are themselves victims of serious persecution by fundamentalists,who in Pakistan have been known to attack their mosques in murderous onslaughts using suicide bombers. Many Ahmadis have fled abroad to seek safety. But even there they have not always been safe. There was one murdered in the UK not too long ago for his views, and his Muslim killer did not go without sympathy from some in his community who supported him.