by Syarif Hidayat*
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. In Islam, the right to life is an absolute value that is why Islam is against terrorism and killing. “Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone killed a person not in retaliation (in legal punishment) of murder, or (and) to spread mischief in the land – it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. And indeed, there came to them Our Messengers with clear proofs, evidence, and signs, even then after that many of them continued to exceed the limits (e.g. by doing oppression unjustly and exceeding beyond the limits set by Allâh by committing the major sins) in the land!” – Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Maidah, Verse 32.
Contrary to Islam religion that is against terrorism and killing, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or also known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the self-styled Islamic State (or perhaps more aptly, the Un-Islamic State) Takfiri militants have been carrying out horrific acts of violence, including public decapitations and crucifixions, against all Syrian and Iraqi communities such as Shias, Sunnis, Kurds and Christians.
Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh has condemned Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State jihadists as “enemy number one” of Islam, Saudi Gazette reported. “The ideas of extremism, radicalism and terrorism… have nothing to do with Islam and (their proponents) are the enemy number one of Islam,” the kingdom’s top scholar said n a statement issued in Riyadh on Tuesday, August 19.
He cited militants from the Islamic State, which has declared a “caliphate” straddling large parts of Iraq and Syria, and the international Al-Qaeda terror network. “Muslims are the main victims of this extremism, as shown by crimes committed by the so-called Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and groups linked to them,” the grand mufti said, quoting a verse from the Holy Qur’an urging the “killing” of people who do deeds harmful to Islam, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
Omar Shahid in his article titled “How ISIS harms Religion,” published in Muslimvillage.com, February 28, 2015, wrote “One of the signs of the end times, according to Islam, is the inversion of reality – in other words, things being upside-down. For Muslims, there is nothing that more obviously illustrates this than Islam being made to appear bad to the world. For the first time in the history of our faith, an extremist fringe has hijacked the religion and is dominating the headlines, causing havoc and creating a global crisis.”
Gone are the days when the extremists were few; we can no longer ignore them. They are popping up all across the world: Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Iraq. They are also growing rapidly, becoming more organised and better-funded. They pose a real and dangerous threat not just to non-Muslims with their religious intolerance, but also to Muslims too. That they kill Muslims is clear. But more than that, by muddying the image of Islam and making the religion appear violent, backward and completely out of touch with the modern world, they are causing Muslims to leave the religion.
ISIS, also known as the Islamic State (or perhaps more aptly, the Un-Islamic State), is the latest and most pernicious manifestation of this trend. They are nothing short of a global menace and incomparable to any other extremist group in Islam’s history. For months the world has been exposed to their savagery and thirst for blood; coverage of their beheadings and slaughtering frenzies, while joking and laughing about their next victims, has been unprecedented.
The biggest enemy comes from inside
Muslims often think their biggest enemy comes from outside the religion. In fact, the biggest enemy normally comes from inside. Islam’s number-one enemy today is not the US government, nor Israel; it has taken its form in ISIS. The extremist group is the reason why millions of people will have a terrible perception of Islam, why many born into Islam will never accept the faith, and why many Muslims will leave their religion, perhaps even flocking to atheism.
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, an American Islamic scholar, wrote in Q-News after 9/11:
Unfortunately, the West does not know what every Muslim scholar knows; that the worst enemies of Islam are from within. The worst of these are the khawaarij who delude others by the deeply dyed religious exterior that they project… The outward religious appearance and character of the khawaarij deluded thousands in the past, and continues to delude people today. The Muslims should be aware that despite the khawaarij adherence to certain aspects of Islam, they are extremists of the worst type.
Muslim extremists – the thugs of ISIS are a prime example – think they are advancing the cause of Islam, when they are actually doing the polar opposite. Their climate of fear, along with the multi-million-pound Islamophobia industry prospers under its clouds, leads many non-Muslims to hate Islam and causes swathes of Muslims to leave the faith. Extremism, along with the challenges modernity poses, is among the biggest factors in causing apostasy.
Sayeed, a Muslim in his mid-20s from London, lost his faith at university. He tells me what’s stopping him from embracing Islam again. “It’s the damage the extremists have done to the religion,” he says. “It’s difficult to be part of this religion that has such bad press.”
In the face of such negative headlines, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to belong to the Muslim community. The Prophet (peace be upon him) forewarned the difficulty of these times, and is reported to have said that holding on to your religion would be like holding onto “burning embers”. While many Muslims maintain a tight grip on the coal, others are tossing it into the air because of its heat or dropping it when they become fatigued. The rest have let it slip through their hands, unable to grasp it tightly enough.
An agnostic who lives in Indonesia recently asked me: “Why would you choose to belong to a religion in which so many people sharing your faith follow twisted versions and do extreme things?” It’s a question plaguing many Muslims across the world. Some are responding to the question by leaving the faith – they’ve simply had enough.
In late June, a self-proclaimed Arab atheist female from Mecca tweeted (in Arabic): “ISIS (Islamic State): Peace be upon them, they did in one year what atheists couldn’t in a million years.”
Ex-Muslims I spoke to confirm that radicalism drives people away from the religion. “Extremist ideas are a factor for some [to leave the faith],” tweeted the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain. Saif Rahman, an author and notorious ex-Muslim from Britain, told me: “9/11 was a critical moment for a lot of ex-Muslims. We started to think: ‘You know what, I don’t relate to these people [the terrorists]’.”
If al-Qaeda’s actions could cause Muslims to leave their faith, what effect will we see from the actions of ISIS, regarded even by al-Qaeda as too extreme?
The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said that people of these types would emerge. There would be khawarij who would appear from Iraq, would appear to be devoted worshipers and would be the worst of creatures.
ISIS, who act like a cult with gang-like behaviour, have nothing to do with Islam; they do not represent Muslims across the world. The vast majority of Muslims are united in their condemnation of the group, and no religious authority has given them any legitimacy.
The inability of the mainstream to retake the initiative has caused the mess we are in today. Yet it’s also important not to despair. Yes, everything may seem upside-down right now. But in the end, those who have faith know that good will prevail, Omar Shahid concluded.
Igor Volsky and Jack Jenkins in their article titled “Why ISIS Is Not, In Fact, Islamic” posted on September 11, 2014 in Thinkprogress.org, wrote “Conservatives reacted harshly to President Obama’s claim that the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) “is not Islamic,” accusing the commander-in-chief of naiveté and ignorance. “What kindergartner briefs the President on terrorism?” Ron Christie, a GOP strategist tweeted. “ISIS says it’s Islamic, lots of people say it’s Islamic, only the president won’t,” George Will told Fox News shortly after the speech.
But the full context of Obama’s remark points to an important distinction between Islam and the extremist ideology that’s sweeping parts of Iraq and Syria. “No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim,” Obama said. “ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
Indeed, even from the viewpoint of a casual observer, ISIS is an abomination to Islam. Explosions tend to capture the media’s attention more than peaceful coexistence, and a minuscule minority of extremist groups claiming to be Islamic have exploited this fact as a way to reinvent Islam as a “violent” religion. But just because you shout God’s name while committing murder doesn’t make your actions righteous. Islam, as millions of Muslims can attest, is a peaceful religion that calls on its followers to choose community over conflict, or, as it says in Surah al-Hujurat of the Qur’an (49:13): “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise [each other]).”
But ISIS clearly has little regard for this or other fundamental tenets of Islam. They have sparked the rage of Iraqi Muslims by carelessly blowing up copies of the Qur’an, and they have killed their fellow Muslims, be they Sunni or Shia. Even extremist Muslims who engage in warfare have strict rules of engagement and prohibitions against harming women and children, but ISIS has opted to ignore even this by slaughtering innocent youth and using rape and sexual slavery as a weapon.
And despite the conservative backlash, Obama’s analysis has received support from an unlikely voice: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). During an appearance on Fox News’ Hannity, the potential 2016 presidential candidate, praised the president for differentiating ISIS ideology from the beliefs of Muslims in America and around the world. “Well, I think there was one important point that he was making about them not being Islamic or a form of true Islam,” he said. “I think it is important not only to the American public but for the world and the Islamic world to point out this is not a true form of Islam. This is an aberrant form that should not represent most of the civilized Islamic world.”
Granted, it’s always a tricky business decrying a religious tradition that is not your own. Also, while many faiths have internal hierarchies with judges that decide what is or isn’t proper behavior, Islam is a decentralized religious tradition that — as much as ISIS claims otherwise — lacks a single religious authority. But just as the diverse collective of Protestant Christians listen to each other, the opinion of a broader Islamic community always matters, and President Obama’s condemnation of ISIS is backed up by a global chorus of Muslim voices that are working to rebuke the group’s claim on Islam.
Virtually every single American Muslim organization has publicly disavowed both the ideology and the practices of ISIS, and just hours before Obama’s address, dozens of Muslim American clerics and community leaders distanced their religion from the beliefs of the terrorist extremists. “ISIS and al Qaeda represent a warped religious ideology,” Faizal Khan, imam of the Islamic Society of America mosque in Silver Spring, said during a press conference with Muslim-American leaders from Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Sudan and Trinidad. “Either we reject this violence in the clearest possible terms, or we allow them to become the face of Islam and the world’s perception of us for years to come.”
Countless Islamic groups around the globe have also vehemently rejected ISIS. French Imams are blasting the militant group from their pulpits. Britian’s largest Mosque has declared them “Un-Islamic.” Sunni and Shia clerics in Iraq have distributed a fatwa to nearly 50,000 mosques announcing that ISIS is “not in any way linked to [the Muslim] faith” and warning that failing to stand up against the group is effectively a sin. Even Egypt’s Grand Mufti has lambasted the group, and Dar al-Ifta, one of the most influential Muslim schools in the world, has launched a global campaign to strike the word “Islamic” from ISIS’s title, seeking to rebrand it as “al-Qaeda Separatists in Iraq and Syria,” or QSIS, saying the organization has “tarnished image of Islam across the globe.”
As one Libyan tweeted: “If you think Muslims aren’t condemning ISIS, it’s not because Muslims aren’t condemning ISIS. It’s because you’re not listening to Muslims.”
This issue, of course, isn’t unique to Islam. The Ku Klux Klan burns crosses and preaches hate in the name of Jesus Christ, and the ostensibly Christian “Lord’s Resistance Army” regularly ravages villages and recruits child soldiers in Western Africa. Hindu extremists burned mosques and sparked violence in India in the 1990s. Buddhist extremists exist, and are spewing hatred in several parts of Asia. But in all of these cases, the vast majority of believers worked or are working to disavow the actions of fanatics and preserve the core, peaceful principles of their faith — just as Muslims are now doing with ISIS.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not one is or isn’t religious is left up to God Almighty Allah. But we are all tasked with religious life here on earth, where the opinion of a religious community should matter, and Muslims the world over have made their position clear: “No matter how many people they kill to gain power, how many fellow Muslims they terrorize into submission, or how loudly they scream their self-righteous blasphemy to the heavens, ISIS is not — nor will ever be — Islamic.” (T/P3/P2)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)