02/08/2017 02:43 EST | Updated 02/08/2017 02:43 EST

We Must Understand The Necessary Distinctions Within A Religion

Youssef Boudlal / Reuters
Nathalie Dube, Canada's ambassador to Morocco, lays flowers at a memorial in front of the Embassy of Canada in Rabat February 6, 2017, during a tribute to victims killed at a Quebec City mosque. REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal

Let us think back to the U.S. Presidential election of 2012 when Mitt Romney was the Republican candidate. I am sure we all remember the commotion, as there was great concern about such a devout Christian becoming president. Would he consult the Pope in regard to all his decisions? If he was elected, how much power would this non-American, the Pope, then have within the government of the United States? Wait a second -- What???

What, you exclaim -- where am I coming from with such a ridiculous assertion and memory? That, of course, did not happen. Mitt Romney is a Mormon, not a Roman Catholic -- and his faith has nothing to do with the Pope. But he is a Christian and don't all Christians accept the authority of the Pope? Silly Rabbi, Christianity is not monolithic; the great umbrella term we refer to as Christianity actually encompasses many different faith perspectives.

Roman Catholic Christians accept the authority of the Pope; Mormon Christians do not. Just because we apply the broad term 'Christian' to a certain individual does not mean that this person necessarily shares the same views as another person to whom we apply the same broad term.

We recognize that attaching the simple term Christian to an individual does not really tell us much about that person's faith. That is why, if we wish to identify a person's faith (for whatever reason) we apply more precise and specific terms. Is the person a Catholic? Baptist? Methodist? Anglican? Mormon? And we recognize the vast distinctions that exist between these variant perspectives.

There was even a time in history when Christians persecuted other Christians because of these differences in faith. In regard to this period after the Reformation, though, we do not speak of Christians fighting Christians but rather, for clarity, of wars between Protestants and Catholics. We would actually find it ridiculous to ignore these distinctions in any discussion of religion and religious persecution. Yet we apply such ridiculousness in regard to Islam.

I think back to that tragic video of a Jordanian pilot being burned to death by ISIS terrorists. This pilot was actually a devout Muslim who was being persecuted -- to death -- because his form of Islam did not correspond to the Islam of ISIS. This was a case of religious persecution -- but many avoid this perspective because they will not recognize that Islam is not monolithic and that any discussion of this umbrella grouping must demand further clarification of its sub-groupings.

To deny the role of religion in this persecution -- in regard to both those persecuting and those being persecuted -- actually prevents us from properly responding to the problem. To challenge those who persecute, we must correctly define their specific religious constructs and apply them in battling them. Similarly, it is most necessary to recognize those, who because of their specific religious convictions, are also being persecuted albeit that they are, pursuant to the broadest umbrella definitions of the group, Muslims. To treat all Muslims the same is similar to describing Mitt Romney as a Roman Catholic.

My words apply to both the left and to the right. Of course, all Muslims should not be included in the same religious grouping as the members of ISIS -- and that Jordanian pilot to whom I referred above should constantly remind us of that. How heartrending it would be if someone who shared the faith of this pilot suffered because another assumed that he/she, as a Muslim, must share the same views as ISIS.

Yet to attempt to avoid this problem by not referring to ISIS as a specific religious grouping within Islam (and at odds with other understandings of Islam) is just as problematic. I saw another video of an ISIS soldier approaching a woman he just 'bought' at a slave auction, informing her that he was the one who would be, effectively, raping her that night -- but that it was acceptable because his religious mentors told him that it was.

To not refer to religion in this case and thereby not recognize the role of religion in this thinking only hinders one's ability to combat such individuals. What is necessary, though, is to correctly define and label this sub-grouping of Islam so that we are aware of their creed and leanings, and do not mistake them for other sub-groupings of this broad faith.

I am horrified by what happened in Quebec last week. Innocent people were killed and injured because someone indolently grouped together all sub-groupings of a faith into one broad category. The answer, however, will not be found in just ignoring the existence of such sub-groupings who are persecutors. Our goal, obviously, must include the avoidance of the improper treatment of sub-groupings who themselves can also be identified with the persecuted. To truly accomplish this, though, we must understand and apply the necessary distinctions of faith within the broader grouping.

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