This argument boils down to defining the single, true and pure meaning of a particular religion. This is an impossible task. Muslims are as unlikely to agree on the true meaning of Islam as any other religion. This is despite having a text, written in the original language that they all agree is the word of God. Shias, Sunnis, Sufis (and at least 8 other sects of Islam) all disagree on its interpretation and within each sect there are many sub-sects.
And even individuals in each sub-sect will disagree on the correct interpretation of any particular passage in the Koran. I was recently having dinner with a group of 8 Muslim friends (4 men and 4 women) and we discussed a passage in the Koran that allows a man to take up to 4 wives, so long as he treats them all equally. Bear in mind that polygamy (only for men of course) is legal in all Muslim Countries. So it seems that this interpretation of the Koran has been universally accepted. However the next passage in the Koran states “but of course he can never treat them all equally”. To the women in the group and at least one of the men this changed the meaning to the opposite view i.e. that a man cannot have more than one wife.
The point about anything as irrational, superstitious and unsubstantiated as religious belief is that you can infer anything you want from their ancient texts and then justify your actions by claiming God’s will. They would not be alone in cherry picking convenient facts to support an entrenched view of the world. Followers of political and social movements do the same. “In the messenger of God you have a beautiful model of behaviour” states the Koran. It matters just as much to jihadists and “moderate” Muslims who would never contemplate violence that validation for what they do is indeed to be found in biographies of Muhammad. Politicians and journalists who take it on themselves to define what is and is not “authentic Islam” are buying into the notion that such a thing actually exists. Unless one is a fundamentalist believer, it does not. The concept of accepting that there is a single authentic interpretation of Islam plays into the hands of violent extremists who want the world to believe just that.
In any case, what Islam was meant to be is irrelevant. I remember having a discussion about the practice of communism in the former Soviet Union with my parents during my philosophically idealistic youth. I felt that it was unfair to dump the extreme human rights abuses of the Soviets on the doorstep of Communism because they weren’t actually following “proper” communism. It was called the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) after all. However my parents dismissed this argument saying that what we saw in Russia and Eastern Europe was practical Communism. Whatever it was meant to be, this is what you got.
A review of the Muslim world of the last decade or so makes lamentable reading: 9/11 trade center attack; 7/11 tube bombings; Madrid train bombings; genocide, public executions and public beheadings in Syria and Iraq; mass slaughter of Pakistani school children; murder of non-Muslims in shopping malls in Muslim Africa; ethnic cleansing, kidnapping and sex-slavery of school girls in Nigeria; Malaysian nightclub bombings; Bali nightclub bombings; US embassy bombings; USS Cole; Lee Rigby; Russian airline bombing; 2 Paris massacres, massacre at a Kenyan University…..
It seems that Islam is currently more open to a violent interpretation than other mass religions.
We must remember that Islam came out of the xenophobic and violent Arab / Bedu culture of Saudi Arabia. It was then spread violently by conquest throughout the Middle East, Far East, North Africa and into Southern Europe. The sword on Saudi Arabia’s flag celebrates this fact. The prophet Muhammad is said to have owned a sword whose name can be translated as “Cleaver of Vertebrae”. We used to say that there was nothing more dangerous than a fool with a cause. Well, a fool with a cause who believes they are carrying out God’s will is literally capable of anything. Any genocide, any atrocity, any sacrifice.
Conversely, the violence we are seeing in the Muslim world may well be against the true meaning of Islam for most of its followers. But so what? They don’t have a monopoly on the true meaning any more than their violent, murderous, Jihadi brethren.
What we have around the word is practical Islam. Whatever Islam was meant to be, this is what you get.