01/15/2015 08:41 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

Claiming Islam Does Not Make it So

Last year, Frank Ancona, the Ku Klux Klan's Imperial Wizard, told NBC 12 in Virginia, "We don't hate people because of their race. I mean, we're a Christian organization."

What may appear to many as absurdity run amok, Ancona's statement raises the question: What constitutes a "Christian organization"?

Does one simply need to declare oneself a Christian organization and it is made so? Are there certain precepts that one must adhere?

The Klan experienced its largest membership between 1921-1925, with an estimated 4-5 million white men nationwide. It did not gain its popularity by overtly advertising lynchings, church bombings, and cross burnings.

Instead, Klan recruiters persuaded pastors by offering free membership and a leadership position within its local chapters.

With the blessings of the pastor, the Klan would recruit church members using the symbolic language of Christianity and so-called American values. They added a dose fear by "othering" anyone who was not white and Protestant.

Does this qualify as a Christian organization?

Birmingham's Public Safety Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor became the face of Jim Crow segregation during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Connor infamously used high-pressure fire hoses and vicious dogs to attack unarmed children in the streets of Birmingham.

When Connor was not attacking unarmed children or helping the city of Birmingham garner the nom de plume "Bombingham" for the number of unsolved bombings of black churches, businesses and homes over a 10-year period, he taught Sunday school.

How could it be that Connor and Martin Luther King claimed the same faith?

But this peculiar strand of Christianity was reinforced by writings such as those by Carey Daniel, pastor of First Baptist Church of West Dallas, titled "God the Original Segregationist."
It seems paradoxical that one could participate in acts of domestic terrorism to defend segregation while claiming Christianity as their faith.

Would it not seem rather nonsensical to demand that other Protestant Christians, regardless of denomination, denounce the Klan or Conner in order to prove they did not embrace these examples of domestic terrorism? Did anyone suggest the acts of the Klan et al were symbolic of the Christian faith?

Why then, must this sophomoric approach be the litmus test bestowed on Muslims? Too often, this is the assessment levied whenever terrorist attacks occur by someone claiming to follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Why does not viewing the Klan as the embodiment of Christianity seems perfectly understandable, but to do likewise with Islam can be too much of an intellectual stretch for some? Is it the ignorance of the faith or are there other factors?

Following the Paris attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah,said Islamic extremists have insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad more than those who published satirical cartoons mocking the religion.

At the Paris unity march, many Muslims carried signs that read: "Je suis Juif--Je Suis Charlie" (I am Jewish I am Charlie) in honor of those who died during Charlie Hebdo shooting and the attack at a kosher store.

Shadi Hamid, author of Temptations of Power, argues that before any democratic ideals can take hold authentically, the Middle East must go through its own form of Enlightenment period.

Given the age of Enlightenment represented a political, philosophical, and scientific reorientation during the 18th century, similar would need to take place in the Middle East so that extremist under the pseudonym Islam are marginalized from within. But such efforts take time -- a characteristic that does not always avail itself in the West.

It is easier to develop our own unexamined definition by continuing to conflate Arab and Islam, without factoring most Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia, opting instead to place everyone in the same theological box comprised of our worst assumptions.

The Middle East is not the only place that could use a dose of enlightenment. Because someone says Islam does not make it so anymore than members of the Klan or Bull Connor claiming to be Christian.