The question of whether militant Islamists are true followers of their faith, rather than deviants from it (as is often claimed by politicians), is probably one of the most pertinent today. Certainly it has been taxing this commentator on the Middle East for over thirty years. The difficulty remains in how we set out to answer it. Should we go back to the Koran for its original commandments and study how the founder of the faith himself interpreted them? Or should we try to see how, down the ages, those principles have been put into practice by Muslim leaders, including those who only pretended an attachment to the faith out of expediency?
My own tendency has been to believe that Islam’s own ‘cadres’, clerics who devote their lives to studying the Koran and the life of its founder, have a strong claim to know best. Who was, say, the late Shah of Iran to argue with his nemesis, the Ayatollah Khomeini, that