How Is­lamic is Is­lamic State group?

Lesotho Times - - International -

CAIRO — Three Bri­tish school­girls be­lieved to have gone to Syria to be­come “ji­hadi” brides. Three young men charged in New York with plot­ting to join the Is­lamic State group and carry out at­tacks on Amer­i­can soil.

A masked, knife-wield­ing mil­i­tant from Lon­don who is the face of ter­ror in videos show­ing West­ern hostages be­headed.

They are among tens of thou­sands of Mus­lims ea­ger to pledge al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State group.

An es­ti­mated 20 000 have streamed into the ter­ri­tory in Iraq and Syria where the group has pro­claimed what it calls a “caliphate” ruled by its of­ten bru­tal ver­sion of Is­lamic law.

But how rooted in Is­lam is the ide­ol­ogy em­braced by this group that has in­spired so many to fight and die?

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has in­sisted the mil­i­tants be­hind a bru­tal cam­paign of be­head­ings, kid­nap­pings and en­slave­ment are “not Is­lamic” and only use a ve­neer of Is­lam for their own ends.

Mr Obama’s crit­ics ar­gue the ex­trem­ists are in­trin­si­cally linked to Is­lam. Oth­ers in­sist their ide­ol­ogy has lit­tle con­nec­tion to reli­gion.

The group claims for it­self the man­tle of Is­lam’s ear­li­est years, pur­port­ing to recre­ate the con­quests and rule of the Prophet Muham­mad and his suc­ces­sors.

But in re­al­ity its ide­ol­ogy is a vir­u­lent vi­sion all its own, one that its ad­her­ents have cre­ated by pluck­ing se­lec­tions from cen­turies of tra­di­tions.

The vast ma­jor­ity of Mus­lim cler­ics say the group cherry picks what it wants from Is­lam’s holy book, the Qu­ran, and from ac­counts of Muham­mad’s ac­tions and say­ings, known as the Ha­dith.

It then mis­in­ter­prets many of th­ese, while ig­nor­ing ev­ery­thing in the texts that con­tra­dicts those hand-picked se­lec­tions, th­ese ex­perts say.

The group’s claim to ad­here to the prophecy and ex­am­ple of Muham­mad helps ex­plain its ap­peal among young Mus­lim rad­i­cals ea­ger to join its ranks. Much like Nazi Ger­many evoked a Teu­tonic past to in­spire its fol­low­ers, Is­lamic State pro­pa­ganda al­most ro­man­ti­cally de­picts its holy war­riors as re-es­tab­lish­ing the caliphate, con­tend­ing that ideal of Is­lamic rule can come only through blood and war­fare.

It main­tains its worst bru­tal­i­ties — be­head­ing cap­tives, tak­ing women and girls as sex slaves and burning to death a cap­tured Jorda- nian pi­lot — only prove its pu­rity in fol­low­ing what it con­tends is the prophet’s ex­am­ple, a claim that ap­pals the ma­jor­ity of the world’s 1.6 bil­lion Mus­lims.

Writ­ings by the group’s cler­ics and ide­o­logues and its English­language on­line mag­a­zine, Dabiq, are full of ci­ta­tions from Qu­ranic verses, the Ha­dith and cen­turies of in­ter­preters, mostly hard-lin­ers.

But th­ese are of­ten taken far out of con­text, said Joas Wage­mak­ers, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of Is­lamic Stud­ies at Rad­boud Uni­ver­sity Ni­jmegen in the Nether­lands, who spe­cialises in Is­lamic mil­i­tant thought.

Mus­lim schol­ars through­out his­tory have used texts in a “de­con­tex­tu­alised way” to suit their pur­poses, Mr Wage­mak­ers said.

But the Is­lamic State goes “fur­ther than any other schol­ars have done. They rep­re­sent the ex­treme,” he said.

It would be a mis­take to con­clude the Is­lamic State group’s ex­trem­ism is the “true Is­lam” that emerg- es from the Qu­ran and Ha­dith, he added.

De­spite its claim to the con­trary, the Is­lamic State group is largely po­lit­i­cal, borne out of the con­flicts in Syria and Iraq, said Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Is­lamic law scholar at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les.

The group, he said, is try­ing to make God “a co-con­spir­a­tor in a geno­ci­dal project.”

Ahmed al-da­woody, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute for Is­lamic World Stud­ies at Zayed Uni­ver­sity in Dubai, agreed.

The phe­nom­e­non of read­ing re­li­gious sources out of con­text “has ex­isted through­out the ages,” he said.

“We should not grant any le­git­i­macy to those who vi­o­late Is­lam, then hi­jack it and speak on its be­half.”

“This is not Is­lamic ter­ror, this is ter­ror com­mit­ted by Mus­lims,” he said.

IS not only mis­reads the texts it cites, most cler­ics say, it also ig­nores Qu­ranic verses and a long body of cler­i­cal schol­ar­ship re­quir­ing mercy, preser­va­tion of life and pro­tec­tion of in­no­cents, and set­ting out rules of war — all of which are bind­ing un­der Is­lamic Shariah law.

Many main­stream cler­ics com­pare the group to the Khawarij, an early sect that was so no­to­ri­ous for “tak­fir,” or declar­ing other Mus­lims heretics for even sim­ple sins, that it was re­jected by the faith.

The Is­lamic State group de­nies that, but it draws heav­ily from 20th-cen­tury the­o­ries of “tak­fir” de­vel­oped by hard-lin­ers.

Part of the prob­lem in coun­ter­ing the group’s ide­ol­ogy is that mod­er­ate cler­ics have strug­gled to come up with a co­he­sive, mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion, es­pe­cially of the Qu­ranic verses con­nected to Muham­mad’s wars with his enemies.

Mil­i­tants of­ten point to the Qu­ran’s ninth sura, or chap­ter, which in­cludes calls for Mus­lims to “fight polythe­ists wher­ever you find them” and to sub­due Chris­tians and Jews un­til they pay a tax.

Mod­er­ate cler­ics counter that th­ese verses are linked to specifics of the time and note other verses that say there is “no force in reli­gion.”

And while mod­er­ate cler­ics counter the Is­lamic State group’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion point-by-point, at times they ac­cept the same tenets.

Sheikh Ahmed el-tayeb — the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-azhar, one of Sunni Is­lam’s most pres­ti­gious seats of learn­ing — de­nounced the burning of the Jor­da­nian pi­lot as a vi­o­la­tion of Is­lam.

But then he called for the per­pe­tra­tors to be sub­jected to the same pun­ish­ment that IS pre­scribes for those who “wage war on Is­lam” — cru­ci­fix­ion, death or the am­pu­ta­tion of hands and legs.

This turns the de­bate into one over who has the author­ity to de­ter­mine the “cor­rect” in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam’s holy texts.

Since many of the most prom­i­nent cler­ics in the Mid­dle East are part of state-run in­sti­tu­tions, mil­i­tant sup­port­ers dis­miss them as com­pro­mised and ac­com­mo­dat­ing au­to­cratic rulers.

The Is­lamic State group’s seg­re­ga­tion of the sexes, im­po­si­tion of the veil on women, de­struc­tion of shrines it con­sid­ers hereti­cal, ha­tred of Shi­ites and con­don­ing of pun­ish­ments like lash­ings or worse are ac­cepted by cler­ics in U.s.-al­lied Saudi Ara­bia, who fol­low the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Wah­habi in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam. But IS goes fur­ther. For ex­am­ple, most mil­i­taries in the era of Muham­mad — the 7th cen­tury — be­headed enemies and en­slaved pop­u­la­tions they cap­tured in war, in­clud­ing tak­ing women as con­cu­bines. There are ci­ta­tions in the Ha­dith of Muham­mad or his suc­ces­sors order­ing be­head­ings, and verses in the Qu­ran set out rules for deal­ing with slaves.

Piv­ot­ing off th­ese, the Is­lamic State group con­tends that any­one who re­jects be­head­ings or en­slave­ment is not a real Mus­lim and has been cor­rupted by mod­ern West­ern ideas.

One Is­lamic State cleric, Sheikh Hus­sein bin Mah­moud, wrote a ve­he­ment de­fense of be­head­ings af­ter the killing of Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist James Fo­ley.

“Those who pervert Is­lam are not those who cut off the heads of dis­be­liev­ers and terrorise them,” he wrote, “but those who want (Is­lam) to be like Man­dela or Gandhi, with no killing, no fight­ing, no blood or strik­ing necks.”

Is­lam, he wrote, is the reli­gion “of battle, of cut­ting heads, of shed­ding blood.”

To sup­port be­head­ings, the group cites the Qu­ran as call­ing on Mus­lims to “strike the necks” of their enemies.

But other cler­ics counter the verse means Mus­lim fighters should swiftly kill enemies in the heat of battle, and is not a call to ex­e­cute cap­tives.

More­over, IS ig­nores the next part of the verse, which says Mus­lims should set pris­on­ers of war free as an act of char­ity or for ran­som.

The Is­lamic State group “ap­pears to have adopted vi­o­lent ideas first, then searched books of re­li­gious in­ter­pre­ta­tion to find a cover for their ac­tions,” said Sheikh Ha­madah Nas­sar, a cleric in the ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive Salafi move­ment.

In June, the ex­trem­ists de­clared a caliphate, or “khi­lafa” in Ara­bic, in the lands it con­trols in Iraq and Syria, with its leader Abu Bakr alBagh­dadi as the caliph — a dec­la­ra­tion roundly ridiculed by Mus­lim cler­ics of all stripes.

But here too, the group went fur­ther, say­ing that Is­lam re­quires the ex­is­tence of a caliphate and any­one who re­fuses to rec­og­nize its dec­la­ra­tion is not a true Mus­lim.

“The hopes of khi­lafa be­came an un­de­ni­able re­al­ity,” the group pro­claimed in its on­line mag­a­zine, Dabiq.

“Any Mus­lim who re­fuses IS author­ity will be “dealt with by the de­ci­sive law of Al­lah.”

Af­ter that, the stream of IS re­cruits swelled by thou­sands. — AP

The leader of the Is­lamic state group abu Bakr al-bagh­dadi.

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