It is thus foolish for the Obama administration — as it was for the Bush and Clinton administrations, and as it is for Republican as well as Democratic leaders in Washington — to become enmeshed in the futile effort to define the “true” Islam. There probably is not one. Even though the scriptures are troublesome and unvarying, the practice of Islam — the interpretation of and degree of adherence to those scriptures — varies widely around the world.
There is also likely to be continuing upheaval as reformers square off with fundamentalists, so the “true” Islam could change. Moreover, our politicians are elected by an overwhelmingly (probably over 97 percent) non-Muslim country. Muslims by and large do not care what nonbelievers think the essence of Islam is. And if it were not for terrorism, most of us would neither give Islam a second thought nor care what Muslims thought about America and its Judeo-Christian roots. (How much time do you spend wondering what Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes is the “true” Christianity?)
We can sincerely hope that President Sisi and other reformers bring about a long-overdue Islamic Reformation. We can sincerely hope that they discredit and marginalize the sharia supremacism of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
But whether the Islam of the jihadists is “true” or “false” is irrelevant to us. What matters about sharia supremacism is that many millions of Muslims believe in it. It is a mainstream interpretation of Islam that has undeniable scriptural roots and inevitably breeds violent jihadists.