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What is Islam, and who is a true Muslim?

These are two fundamental questions of current times and for which the appropriate response is often obscured in light of political correctness and the fear of causing offense. Regularly I will be asked if so and so represents true Islam, because she seems so nice, is hospitable, and rejects the violent past of previous Islamic empires and conquests.

Whenever questioned along this line, I respond with the following. No religion, including Islam, can be defined by the actions of those who claim to follow it. The reason for this is simple: There is a very wide spectrum of belief and practice among adherents of all religions. As an example, many in the United States claim to be Christian, yet regularly travel to Las Vegas where they drink, gamble, and attend risque shows with scantily clad women - all actions that others who also claim to be Christian would never dream of doing, and who further find it offensive that Christians would participate in such activities. The same notion can be applied to Islam and those claiming the title of Muslim. Around the world one can find Muslims who are violent and others who are very peaceful; Muslims who attack Christians and Muslims who defend them from attack by others; Muslims who drink alcohol and those who refrain and consider alcohol a sin; Muslims who devoutely keep the traditional five pillars of Islam and those who are not so devout but are more relaxed and lenient toward them.

So who is a true Muslim? Who is a true Christian?

Neither Islam nor Christianity can be defined from the actions of those claiming the title. Rather, both are defined by a set of scripture and by the example set by the figure head of the belief. For Muslims, true Islam is defined by the Quran, the traditions of Muhammad known as hadith, and the example that Muhammad set for Muslims to emulate. Likewise, true Christians follow the teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament and the example Jesus set for them to follow.