This article is one of many lately that try to show that the Islamic State is not Islamic — not to dissuade young Muslims from joining the Islamic State (there are no articles devoted to doing that), but to reassure non-Muslims that they have nothing to worry about in regard to rapidly increasing numbers of Muslims in their countries, and to keep them ignorant and complacent regarding the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat.
And while it would be just great if the Islamic State weren’t Islamic, this article reveals itself to be a useless exercise that doesn’t deliver on its title when it notes that there are “tens of thousands of Muslims eager to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group,” and that “an estimated 20,000 have streamed into the territory in Iraq and Syria.” For when “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” and “then misinterprets many of these, while ignoring everything in the texts that contradicts those hand-picked selections,” those clerics are saying that tens of thousands of young Muslims are so poorly instructed in their faith that they cannot recognize the Islamic State’s interpretation of Islam as a cherry-picked, misinterpreted travesty of the real thing.
If this “vast majority of Muslim clerics” can so easily explain this to non-Muslim journalists and politicians, why have they so signally failed to explain it to these 20,000 Muslims who have already streamed into the Islamic State’s territories, and to the tens of thousands of Muslims eager to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State?
“How Islamic is Islamic State group? Not very, experts say,” by Lee Keath and Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press, March 2, 2015:
CAIRO (AP) — 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. 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 Jordanian pilot — only prove its purity in following what it contends is the prophet’s example, a claim that appalls the majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
Beheading captives: “When you meet the unbelievers, strike the necks…” (Qur’an 47:4)
Taking women and girls as sex slaves: “Certainly will the believers have succeeded: They who are during their prayer humbly submissive, and they who turn away from ill speech, and they who are observant of zakah, and they who guard their private parts except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed” (Qur’an 23:1-6). “O Prophet! Lo! We have made lawful unto thee thy wives unto whom thou hast paid their dowries, and those whom thy right hand possesseth of those whom Allah hath given thee as spoils of war” (33:50).
Burning the pilot to death: “So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you.” (Qur’an 2:194) If the pilot had dropped incendiary bombs on the Islamic State, this verse would justify their burning him to death: assaulting him in the same way he assaulted them.
Writings by the group’s clerics and ideologues and its English-language 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 specializes in Islamic militant thought.
Muslim scholars throughout history have used texts in a “decontextualized way” to suit their purposes, 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 emerges from the Quran and Hadith, he added….
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.
These passages are all in there. The problem is that some Muslim authorities maintain that no non-Muslim can be innocent, and as per the Qur’an (“Muhammad is the apostle of Allah. Those who follow him are merciful to one another but harsh to unbelievers” — 48:29), mercy is not to be extended to them. In other words, the Islamic State can make a case that it is not ignoring or misusing verses counseling mercy — and simply to posit their existence doesn’t change that or refute their case.
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.
Indeed. In fact, they haven’t done so at all. Everyone in power in the West assumes that this case has long been made. It hasn’t.
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.”
“Moderate clerics counter that these verses are linked to specifics of the time ” — this argument is specious on its face, since the Qur’an is supposed to be valid for all times. Also, it is non-traditional: Islamic authorities through the ages have held just the opposite, that the violent verses were the ones that were always valid. Muhammad’s earliest biographer, the eighth-century Muslim Ibn Ishaq, explains that defensive war was not Allah’s last word on the circumstances in which Muslims should fight. Ibn Ishaq explains offensive jihad by invoking a Qur’anic verse: “Then God sent down to him: ‘Fight them so that there be no more seduction,’ i.e. until no believer is seduced from his religion. ‘And the religion is God’s’, i.e. Until God alone is worshipped.” The medieval scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292-1350) also outlines the stages of the Muhammad’s prophetic career: “For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.” In other words, he initially could fight only defensively — only “those who fought him” — but later he could fight the polytheists until Islam was “fully established.” He could fight them even if they didn’t fight him first, and solely because they were not Muslim.
Nor do all contemporary Islamic thinkers believe that that command is a relic of history. According to a 20th century Chief Justice of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Humaid, “at first ‘the fighting’ was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory.” He also distinguishes two groups Muslims must fight: “(1) against them who start ‘the fighting’ against you (Muslims) . . . (2) and against all those who worship others along with Allah . . . as mentioned in Surat Al-Baqarah (II), Al-Imran (III) and At-Taubah (IX) . . . and other Surahs (Chapters of the Qur’an).” (The Roman numerals after the names of the chapters of the Qur’an are the numbers of the suras: Sheikh ‘Abdullah is referring to Qur’anic verses such as 2:216, 3:157-158, 9:5, and 9:29.)
And as for the idea that the Qur’anic statement that “there is no force [or compulsion] in religion” (2:256) establishes that the Islamic State is un-Islamic, here again there are traditional Islamic authorities who support the Islamic State’s view. According to an early Muslim, Mujahid ibn Jabr, this verse was abrogated by Qur’an 9:29, in which the Muslims are commanded to fight against the People of the Book. Others, however, according to the Islamic historian Tabari, say that 2:256 was never abrogated, but was revealed precisely in reference to the People of the Book. They are not to be forced to accept Islam, but may practice their religions as long as they pay the jizya (poll-tax) and “feel themselves subdued” (9:29). 2:256 in this view doesn’t contradict the Islamic imperative to wage jihad against unbelievers because the aim of jihad is not the forced conversion of non-Muslims, but their subjugation within the Islamic social order.
This is not to say that these authorities are right and that the moderates are wrong. But the moderate clerics’ disagreement with the Islamic State doesn’t establish that the Islamic State is not Islamic. To establish that, these moderate clerics would have to show how the Islamic State is actually misinterpreting the Qur’an and Sunnah — but the “misinterpretations” they delinerate in this article are actually positions held by mainstream Islamic scholars through the centuries.
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.
Neither the Islamic State nor al-Tayeb originated those punishments. They’re from the Qur’an: “Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment” (5:33)
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.
There is no one who can determine the “correct” interpretation of Islam’s holy texts. What moderate clerics need to do is confront and refute on Islamic grounds the jihadists’ understanding of Islam. Instead, they generally ignore the evidence upon which the jihadists base their case, and then flatly assert to people like AP reporters that the jihadists are un-Islamic.
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 terrorize 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.
Yet the Islamic State has obviously not ignored that part of the verse: they offered to ransom Foley and the Jordanian pilot, and were rebuffed. But the fact that they made the attempt shows that they do understand ransom to be one of the options they have for captives.
And so this is yet another in an endless barrage of articles claiming that the Islamic State is not Islamic but not dealing with the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah upon which the Islamic State makes its case. Despite their failure, there will be many more such articles, because with every new jihad atrocity, reality threatens to break through. It wasn’t accidental that Hitler’s Reich had an entire Ministry of Propaganda: lying to the public is a full-time job, as the cleverest of propaganda constructs is always threatened by the simple facts.