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There is no agreement within groups of practicing Muslims about the interpretation of Islam.

“We have 1,436 years in the history of Islam,” he said. “Why do we hand ourselves over to a particular person who picks what he wants from that heritage and says that’s Islam and accept it or you’ve left the faith?”

That hits to the issue of who speaks for Islam, where in the Sunni branch in particular, individual clerics build on centuries of scholarship to argue what the faith requires.

Al-Qaida and the Islamic State group roughly take elements from two relatively modern strands. One is the writing of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood thinker Sayed Qutb, with its tenets that Muslim society has fallen from faith and violent jihad must be waged to bring “God’s rule.” The other is Wahhabism, a reform movement with a strict, literal and uncompromising interpretation of texts aimed at purging Islam of innovations. Wahhabism became the official doctrine of Saudi Arabia, which has promoted it around the Muslim world.

State religious institutions across the region, meanwhile, are widely criticized as stagnant. Government control has undermined their credibility among both liberal Muslims and militants. That was clear when Saudi Arabia’s top religious body, the Council of Senior Scholars, condemned the Paris attack and called it “unacceptable under any justification.”

That prompted a torrent of derision on Twitter from militant sympathizers who accused the clerics of doing the bidding of the U.S.-allied Saudi monarchy and protecting those who insult Muhammad. “The masks fall and reveal those who lick the boots of dictators,” one proclaimed.”