Louis Palme / Aug 15, 2015

If you suggest to a Muslim that ISIS represents Islam in its purest form, he/she will protest like a wet hen.  Still, ISIS has been able to recruit over 35,000 devout Muslim volunteers from 44 countries around the world.  See interactive map at:  http://www.rferl.org/contentinfographics/foreign-fighters-syria-iraq-is-isis-isil-infographic/26584940.html

These volunteers are not Foreign Legion types or former soldiers longing for more action.  They are “true believer” Muslims who pray, fast, and try to follow the example of Islam’s prophet Muhammad to a tee. Their flag is emblazoned with the Islamic Shahada statement of faith, similar to the proclamations on the Saudi Arabian, Iraqi, and Iranian flags. ISIS volunteers are willing to sacrifice their lives to see the Islamic Caliphate restored, after being defunct for almost a century.

Rather than argue whether ISIS is Islamic or not, a better, Islamic test would be to find an authoritative fatwa (religious edict) making a case against ISIS based on the Quran and on the “good example” and pronouncements of Muhammad.  If you “google” << fatwas condemning ISIS >> you get an interesting mix of articles.  Most of the so-called fatwas are actually statements by Muslim representatives in Canada, the UK, and the US.  These Muslim representatives have almost no history of issuing fatwas on other subjects.  Other fatwas against ISIS by foreign scholars are superficial, complaining about how ISIS hurts the image of Islam, but not providing arguments against ISIS based on the sacred texts.   Finally, one “Open Letter” signed by 125 Islamic scholars is actually a shameful study of hypocrisy and double standards. Let’s look at these fatwas more closely:

Fatwas by Western Muslim leaders

  • In August, 2014, the U.S. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) condemned the “gruesome and barbaric” killing of journalist James Foley by ISIS. In Muhammad’s time, news and rumors were conveyed orally by poets who were analogous to journalists today.  Muhammad had no love for such journalists because they exposed his evil activities.  He ordered the execution of at a least six of these newscasters.  The most gruesome was the murder of Asma daughter of Marwan, a mother of five children, who was stabbed in her sleep while she was nursing her youngest child. Muhammad was quoted saying, “Two goats won’t butt their heads about her.” (Ishaq, The Life of Muhammad, 676)
  • In September, 2014, after complaints that British Muslim leaders have been silent about ISIS, six Islamic scholars issued a fatwa which of accused ISIS of violating international agreements “that everyone, including Muslims, has signed up to.” Obviously, ISIS has never been a party to any international agreements.  The only Quranic support for the Imams’ position was Surah 5:1, “Believers fulfill your covenants,” which was abrogated by Surah 9:1 which canceled agreements with non-Muslims. It proclaims, “A declaration of immunity from Allah and His apostle [Muhammad] to the idolaters with whom you have made agreements.”
  • Also in September, 2014, the National Public Radio website announced that prominent Sheik Abdullah bin Bayyah, a Sufi religious teacher living in Saudi Arabia, had issued a fatwa against ISIS which was praised by President Obama. Bin Bayyah claimed that establishing a Caliphate by force is a misreading of religious doctrine.  He didn’t address the provision in Sharia Law (namely, Reliance of the Traveer, Section o25.4) which states that a Caliph may be invested with the office “through seizure of power by an individual possessing the qualifications of a caliph.”  Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, is actually better qualified to be a Caliph than many of his predecessors.
  • Canadian Sufi imam Syed Soharwardly, along with 36 other Canadian imams and scholars, issued a fatwa against ISIS in March, 2015. The fatwa states, “A few years ago, ISIS/ISIL was created by the funding of Western countries to overthrow the Syrian regime.  These strangers cannot be trusted.” He compared ISIS to the Khawarji (“outsiders”) who rebelled against Caliph Ali in the early history of Islam. The imam goes on to list about seventeen specific evil acts that have been committed by ISIS, but fails to mention that most of these same acts were authorized or performed by Muhammad himself.  Imam Soharwardly had previously ruled that a person cannot be both Muslim and homosexual.  He also said that a few Muslim clergy misinterpreted Surah 4:33 when they say it is OK to beat a wife.

Superficial International Fatwas

  • In August, 2014, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawqi Alam, condemned ISIS with the following statement: “An extremist and bloody group such as this poses a danger to Islam and Muslims, tarnishing its image as well as shedding blood and spreading corruption.” Note that the primary concern was not that ISIS was un-Islamic, but rather that they were damaging the image of Islam.
  • The Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh, stated that ISIS and Al-Qaeda were “enemy number one of Islam.” (Did he mean one and two?)  He also compared ISIS to the Kharijite movement which was responsible for the assassination of Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali bin Abu Bakr.  They believed that caliphs should be democratically elected from among all Muslims, not just the Quraysh of Saudi Arabia.  Remnants of the Kharijite movement today number about 500,000.

Islamic Scholars’ Open Letter to ISIS leader

Probably the most comprehensive Islamic religious edict condemning ISIS is the “Open Letter to [ISIS Caliph] al-Baghdadi” signed by 126 religious scholars from forty countries. It was introduced in September, 2014, in Washington, D.C., by Nihad Awad, Executive Director  of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. One of the signers is Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought.  The English version of this twenty-three page communique can be downloaded at: http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/14/english-v14.pdf .

On the surface, this document looks like a formidable attack on the whole concept and activities of ISIS – a self-proclaimed resurrection of the Islamic Caliphate.  It includes a detailed list of twenty-four forbidden activities of ISIS and reasons why ISIS is not a part of the Islamic community.  But the entire document is a study in hypocrisy and double standards.  Almost every act and theological position taken by ISIS was modeled by Muhammad or sanctioned by the Quran.  According to Sharia Law, “good” and “bad” in Islam are determined by what Muhammad (and Allah) permitted to be done or asked not to be done.  (Reliance of the Traveller, Section a1.4) Set forth below are just a few of the so-called forbidden activities:

  • It is forbidden to kill journalists -- As pointed out above, Muhammad ordered the assassination of six poets who were the journalists of his day. The Committee to Protect Journalists has tracked over 1,100 journalists who have been killed since 1992. (See https://cpj.org/killed/ ) Of the twenty deadliest countries with respect to journalists, 11 are member countries of the Organization of the Islamic Conference who base their laws on Islamic Sharia Law.  Said another way, OIC countries are twice as likely to be on the “deadliest countries” list as United Nations countries in general.
  • It is forbidden to harm or mistreat – in any way – Christians or any “People of the Scripture” -- Muhammad personally oversaw the execution of 600 to 900 Jewish members of the Banu Qurayzah tribe in 627 on trumped-up charges of disloyalty.  The women and children were sold into slavery. The final major surah in the Quran is quite specific about fighting the People of the Scripture: “Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His apostle [Muhammad] have forbidden, and do not embrace the true Faith [Islam] until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.”  (Surah 9:29)
  • The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam – Eight of the last ten countries to officially abolish slavery were all Muslim countries – Qatar (1952), Niger (1960), Saudi Arabia (1962), Yemen (1962), UAE (1964), Oman (1970), Mauritania (1981), and Niger (2003). Slavery is still practiced in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, where there are almost as many Black slaves today (500,000) as total number enslaved in the United States during the 18th and 19th Centuries (645,000).  The Quran links slaughter with taking captives in Surah 8:67: “It is not for any Prophet to have captives until he hath made slaughter in the land.” (Pickthall)
  • It is forbidden n Islam to force people to convert – Before Muhammad died, he sent emissaries to surrounding countries, including Christian Syria, with this clear message: “If you accept Islam you will be safe . . . if you turn back [against Islam] the sin of the husbandmen will be upon you.”  [The husbandmen in Matthew 21:33-41 were all killed because of their defiance of the landlord.]  (Source: Ishaq, cit., pg. 655.)  The Quran also acknowledges that some people will have to be converted by force:  “Are they seeking a religion other than Allah’s, when every soul in the heavens and the earth has submitted to Him, willingly or by compulsion?” (Surah 3:83)
  • It is forbidden in Islam to torture people – In 629, Muhammad and his followers attacked the Jewish enclave in Khaybar for booty. The chief of the tribe, Kinana b. al-Rabi, refused to divulge the location of the city’s treasure, so Muhammad ordered a fire to be kindled on his chest in order to extract the information.  When the Kinana was nearly dead, Muhammad delivered him to another follower so he could strike off his head. (Source: Ishaq, cit., pg. 515)  Surah 8:12 urges Muslims to kill and torture non-Muslims: “Allah revealed His will to the angels, saying: ‘I shall be with you. Give courage to the believers.  I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers!’”  (Fingers were used to shoot with a bow and arrows.)
  • It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims – Since the untimely death of Muhammad, Islam has had a continual problem with orderly succession. The ideal of “consensus from all Muslims” was broken with the appointment of Abu Bakr as Muhammad’s immediate successor, because that decision split the Sunnis who favored Bakr from the Shi’ites who favored Muhammad’s son-in-law Ali.  Over the past 1,400 years, there have been numerous violent take-overs of the Caliphate.  There was no “consensus from all Muslims” for the Ottoman Caliphs from 1251 through 1517.  The Ottoman “sultans” were self-appointed or appointed by the emperor with little input from the world-wide Muslim community.  By the time the Caliphate was abolished in 1924, the caliphs were basically figureheads with only ceremonial duties.

The impossibility of establishing a Caliph with “consensus from all Muslims” was made quite clear at the Cairo Caliphate Congress in May, 1926.  The goal was to establish an international Caliph in lieu of the Saudi Arabian King ibn Saud’s self-declared role a Keeper of the Two Holy Mosques.  He had taken Mecca and Medina by force from the Hashimite family in 1926. The congress was a fiasco because few international Islamic leaders showed up.  A rival conference, the Mecca Congress, was scheduled just two months later by ibn Saud.  The subject of an international caliphate wasn’t even on the agenda.  Instead the Saudis were pushing a new system of Islamic Public Order which was essentially a system of sovereign, independent national governments – a complete reversal of the Islamic concept of a world-wide Islamic ummah.

Looking at the Muslim world today, the largest Muslim nation is Indonesia.  Indian, Bangladesh, and Pakistani Muslims constitute about 30% of world-wide Muslims. Fewer than 15 percent of Muslims are Arab.  The Shi’ia branch of Islam consists of mostly Persian (Iranian) Muslims who are fierce rivals of the Arab Sunnis. To achieve a consensus of opinion among these rival Muslim factions would be impossible.
(See:  http://www.pewforum.org/2009/10/07/mapping-the-global-muslim-population/ )


The entire thrust of the Open Letter is a case of “the pot calling the kettle black.”  Why couldn’t these 125 Islamic scholars find better reasons for condemning ISIS?  Because, when all things are considered, ISIS IS ISLAM.

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