ISIS Really Wants Power—Not Islam
Originally published in Patheos
Recently The Atlantic published a piece titled, “What ISIS Really Wants.” The lengthy piece makes numerous fallacious claims about ISIS and its relation to Islam and Islamic doctrine. Accordingly, and significantly, it misses the strategy necessary to counter and overcome ISIS terrorism. Perhaps most frustrating about the article is it offers no new insights, analysis, or solutions. It simply regurgitates baseless claims previously addressed and debunked numerous times by multiple scholars.
It is impractical to respond to every fallacious claim the article makes. These four major flaws, however, should suffice to demonstrate the article’s numerous problems and lack of veracity.
Claim: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
Fact: Nothing about what ISIS does makes them Islamic. ISIS ideology is not based in Islamic scholarship. It is not based on any form of scholarship. Rather, it is based in the ideology of a Pakistani journalist Mullah Abul Al’a Maududi. As I wrote in an article last September titled “The Key To Defeating ISIS:”
Kevin McDonald of The Guardian notes in his September 9 column:
When he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque declaring the creation of an Islamic state with himself as its caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length from the Indian/Pakistani thinker Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term Islamic state.
It is worth noting that Maududi had zero training on Islamic theology. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad nor the Qur’an validate al-Baghdadi’s or Maududi’s warped and self-concocted ideology.
Maududi’s Jamaat-e-Islami terrorist organization has been convicted of war crimes, mass rape, and murder. It should come as no surprise that such a violent organization inspired ISIS. And as I’ve pointed out before, Maududi was called out for his ignorance and promotion of terrorism over a half century before ISIS existed. Last year I wrote about Islamic scholar His Holinses Mirza Tahir Ahmad:
In 1963, Islamic scholar and member of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, wrote a landmark book titled Murder in the Name of Allah. This book dismantled the terrorist Mullah Maududi’s dystopian claim that Islam should conquer the world through violent jihad. Some twenty years prior in 1941, Maududi established his right-wing political party known as Jamaat e Islaami with the goal of establishing an Islamic State to conquer the world.
Unfortunately, by 1963 most Muslim leaders rejected Tahir Ahmad’s work and arrogantly argued that Maududi was right about Islam forcibly conquering the world. [EDIT: Though since many have retracted as evidenced by the ongoing condemnations of ISIS]. Thus, Maududi soon inspired Sayed Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood, then the Taliban, and then Al Qaeda. And now we see the most bitter fruit of Maududi’s labor — ISIS.
Thus, to assert ISIS is “very Islamic” (or Islamic at all) when a bulk of their ideology is derived from Maududi—a man with zero educational training on Islam whatsoever—is dishonest at best.
Claim: “The punishment for apostasy [in Islam] is death. …individual executions happen more or less continually, and mass executions every few weeks. Muslim “apostates” are the most common victims. Baghdadi permits [Christians] to live, as long as they pay a special tax, known as the jizya, and acknowledge their subjugation. The Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute.”
Fact: The punishment for apostasy is not death in Islam. In fact, Islam prescribes zero worldly punishment for apostasy what so ever and ample irrefutable scholarship exists on this subject matter. The problem is neither ISIS, nor anti-Islam pundits bother to read such scholarship.
Moreover, ISIS demonstrates a fundamentally flawed understanding of jizya or when it is applicable. To claim that “the Koranic authority for this practice is not in dispute” is intellectually dishonest. In fact, the Koran lays down numerous specific requirements on when jizya can be collected—and ISIS has met none of them. The interested reader can see a detailed and referenced explanation here. By way of summary:
Jizya served as the sole citizen tax to assure protection from all foreign attacks. Thus, if protection could not be promised, then jizya was impermissible. In The Preaching of Islam, Thomas Arnold records a statement of the Muslim general Khalid bin Waleed: “In a treaty made by Khalid with some town in the neighborhood of Hirah, he writes; ‘If we protect you, then Jizya is due to us; but if we do not, then it is not.’” (Thomas Walker Arnold, The Preaching of Islam: A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith (2007) 6)
Abu Ubaida was a famous Muslim commander of Syria. When he entered the city of Hims, he made a pact with its non-Muslim inhabitants and collected the jizya as agreed. When the Muslims learned of a massive advance toward the city by the Roman emperor Heraclius, they felt they would not be able to protect its citizens. Consequently, Abu Ubaida ordered all the dues taken as jizya to be returned to the people of the city. He said to them, “We are not able to defend you anymore and now you have complete authority over your matters.” (William N. Lees, Futuh ash-Sham ed. (Culcutta: Baptist Mission, 1854), 1/162.)
Al-Azdi records Abu Ubaida’s statement as follows:
We have returned your wealth back to you because we detest taking your wealth and then failing to protect your land. We are moving to another area and have called upon our brethren, and then we will fight our enemy. If Allah helps us defeat them we shall fulfill our covenant with you except that you yourselves do not like it then. (Ibid. 137-38.)
The response that the people of Hims gave to the Muslims further substantiates that as dhimmis they were not in any way oppressed but instead lovingly embraced:
Verily your rule and justice is dearer to us than the tyranny and oppression in which we used to live. (Ibid., 1/162.) May God again make you ruler over us and may God’s curse be upon the Byzantines who used to rule over us. By the Lord, had it been they, they would have never returned us anything; instead they would have seized all they could from our possessions. (Ibid., 138.)
Blinded by their own egos, the leaders of ISIS ignore this beautiful history. Professor Bernard Lewis observes that dhimmis welcomed the change from Byzantine to Arab rule. They “found the new yoke far lighter than the old, both in taxation and in other matters, and that some even among the Christians of Syria and Egypt preferred the rule of Islam to that of Byzantines.” (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (2002), 57.)
Thus, the early Muslims treated those non-Muslims living in their rule with immense compassion, permitting full religious freedom and expression. To compare the barbarians known as ISIS to the early Muslims is akin to comparing Adolf Hitler to the Nazarenes.
Claim: “The last caliphate was the Ottoman empire… To be the caliph, one must meet conditions outlined in Sunni law—being a Muslim adult man of Quraysh descent; exhibiting moral probity and physical and mental integrity; and having ’amr, or authority. This last criterion, Cerantonio said, is the hardest to fulfill, and requires that the caliph have territory in which he can enforce Islamic law.”
Fact: The last Caliphate was not the Ottoman empire. This statement ignores a significant history. Tens of millions of Muslims have pledged allegiance to His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam, Mirza Masroor Ahmad.
His Holiness leads the world’s single largest Muslim community on Earth—spanning 206 nations and in existence for over 126 years. Once again, this Atlantic article ignores this basic fact of history in an attempt to paint ISIS with any sort of legitimacy.
Moreover, Prophet Muhammad clearly defined how the Caliphate would be re-established, and was adamant that the Khalifa is a spiritual title, not political or dictatorial. Most significantly, however, the Caliphate returned to the Muslim ummah over 100 years ago. Here are six things every person should know about the Caliphate. In summary:
The Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad answer this question specifically. In short, the Khalifa is appointed by God. He is God’s man on earth. The Qur’an declares, “Allah has promised to those among you who believe and do good works that He will surely make them Successors in the earth, as He made Successors from among those who were before them; and that He will surely establish for them their religion which He has chosen for them; and that He will surely give them in exchange security and peace after their fear…” (24:56, emphasis mine).
This verse explains not only that God will establish a successor among those who do good works, but also explains what that Khalifa will facilitate: “security and peace after their fear.” Thus, any notion that the Khalifa will create violence, terrorism, and bloodshed is a concept alien to the Qur’an.
Prophet Muhammad further foretold that after his death, Khilafat would be established, then soon end, but then one day return to Muslims once more just as it did the first time — on the precepts of prophethood. A brief look at Islamic history demonstrates that Prophet Muhammad foretold precisely what Muslims have endured.
The ISIS leader was most certainly not established on the precepts of Prophethood. Rather, he is self-concocted and backed by the military, not by Divine claim. But ISIS’s ignorance to basic Islamic tenets, basic history, and basic Islamic shariah should not be of any surprise. It is a mere reflection of what Prophet Muhammad warned of when he declared 1400 years ago:
Their clerics will be the worst creatures under the heaven. Discord will rise from them and will come right back to them. (al-Baihaqi as quoted in al-Mishkat Kitab-ul ‘Ilm, Chap. 3, pg. 38 and Kanzul ‘Ummal, Chap. 6, pg. 43.)
In my Ummah an era of fear will come, and people will turn to their clerics for guidance, but will find them as monkeys and swine. (Kanzul ‘Ummal, Vol. 7, pg. 190.)
[A time will come when] there will be nothing left of knowledge. People will make the ignorant their leaders and will seek guidance from them in matters of religion. These leaders will issue fatwas without any knowledge. They will themselves be misguided and will lead others astray. (Mishkat, Kitab ul-Ilm, Chap. 3, pg. 38.)
No group of people on Earth is better described in these ahadith than ISIS, the ignorant clerics who rule ISIS, and the ignorant and frustrated youth who join ISIS in a misguided attempt to attain peace. Meanwhile, a thriving caliphate exists and has existed for over 126 years—uniting Muslims of all sects and nationalities under one flag of peace. This is not unexpected, but exactly as Prophet Muhammad foretold.
Claim: “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.
Fact: Haykel, nor ISIS, have much of idea what Shariah actually is or how it should function in society. Every word of the Qur’an is as valid today as it was 1400 years ago. The difference, however, is that ISIS and Haykel themselves play selective adherence and refuse to apply the Qur’an as a whole. Accordingly, they pretend it is permissible to apply verses that permit self-defense without having fulfilled the required steps to fight in self-defense.
The Qur’an specifically rejects the acts of ISIS and literally nothing in the Qur’an validates their violence. While the following link provides the Qur’anic proofs to demonstrate ISIS exists in total contravention to the Qur’an, in summary as I’vewritten before:
Islam is defined first by the whole Qur’an, then by the Sunnah (or actions of Prophet Muhammad), and finally by the ahadith (or sayings of Prophet Muhammad) — in that order. Prophet Muhammad himself commanded Muslims to maintain the Qur’an as the primary and final authority on all things Islamic.
And while the Sunnah and ahadith do not validate any act of ISIS, the above rule is critical. Terrorists and anti-Islam extremists often twist ahadith in an attempt to validate ISIS while shamelessly ignoring the Qur’an and the aforementioned rule of Islamic jurisprudence.
The Qur’an categorically condemns any form of religious compulsion and ensures universal freedom of conscience remains free for people of all faiths and no faith. In fact, the verse following 2:257 [which declares there shall be no compulsion in religion] further clarifies that those who still reject God can only be punished by God — no human being has that right.
ISIS, meanwhile, uses weapons to force people to submit to its beliefs. This is in total contradiction to Islam and Prophet Muhammad. But none of this is new. His Holiness the Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad has loudly declared multiple times, “The actions and statements of ISIS and other extremists who pretend to represent Islam, whilst all the while spreading hatred and violence, run entirely contrary to the peaceful teachings of Islam.”
ISIS and those who try to legitimize ISIS have a fundamental misunderstanding of what Shariah is, and is not. The fourth Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, beautifully explains Shariah’s relationship to politics. Significantly, he gave this explanation while leading an international Muslim community of then 10 million Muslims in over 150 nations—a size exponentially larger than ISIS’s paltry count of 20,000 or so. While the full lecture on Shariah is a must read, in summary the Khalifa Mirza Tahir Ahmad stated:
The fact is that the concept of government in Islam, is a very important issue which must be resolved before we proceed further.
I have studied this issue in depth. I have studied the Muslim scholars of the past century who have spoken on this subject and written a lot on it, and who have NOT been able to resolve the issue properly. If Islam proposes a government which is representative of God, then the issue is to be looked at from a different angle altogether.
If, on the other hand, Islam proposes a system of government which is common to various denominations of religions and different people, then an entirely different outlook would appear.
In my opinion, the first is NOT the case. Because Islam pleads for the secular type of government more than any religion and more than any political system.
Now, this is surprising for some. But I can quote from the Holy Qur’an and prove the point. The very essence of secularism is that absolute justice must be practised regardless of the differences of faith and religion and colour and creed and group.
This, in essence, is the true definition of secularism. And this is exactly what the Holy Qur’an admonishes us to do in matters of state, how things should be done and how the state should be run.
You can read the Khalifa’s full answer at the above link. Advancing this Islamic concept of secular governance based on absolute justice, His Holiness the current Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad states:
“Khilafat has no relation to government or politics. When [Islam] Ahmadiyyat spreads far and wide the Khilafat will play no role in government and will never interfere with matters of State. We have no political ambitions or desires. We believe entirely in a separation of religion and matters of State.”
In the past critics claim that such a statement is not valid because His Holiness does not command an army. No, he does not, and as I’ve written before:
Critics attempt to dismiss His Holiness’ leadership and influence, remarking that he commands no army and rule no nation. Such foolish critics forget, that is the whole point of separation of mosque and state. Without worldly force, His Holiness wields immense influence for the good of humanity by maintaining absolute justice in all affairs and relentlessly serving humanity through altruism.
Ultimately, the oppressive narrative of Islam destroys itself, and any hope of ever establishing a Khalifa. Meanwhile, Muslims who follow the just Islamic narrative create an undeniably progressive present, and an equitable future worthy of envy for all mankind.
Thus, the Khalifa of Islam presents a pristine, practical, and correct example of what Islam represents—personal spirituality, secular based just governance, gender equity, and universal service to humanity.
ISIS may firmly believe whatever it is they believe, but nothing about what they do makes them Islamic. Their understanding of Shariah, Islam, the caliphate, and even the most fundamental Islamic tenets is pathetic at best. It was also troubling the article’s author sought out support for ISIS ideology with ignorant bigots like Anjem Choudry. Such an act is akin to finding support for the KKK as a legit Christian organization by citing David Duke or neo-Nazis.
The key to defeating ISIS is not waging a religious war of any sort. Instead, treat ISIS as the war criminals they are, act to counter their extremist ideology with a better ideology, and work in conjunction with world governments to put an end to their madness.
What ISIS really wants is what any dictatorial regime wants—power and money. Had they wanted Islam, it was for their taking—no force was needed. Yet, force has become ISIS’s hallmark. This fact undermines Prophet Muhammad’s greatest act of compassion when he forgave, without retribution, all Meccans for their two decades of terrorism against Muslims on the single condition that they accept universal freedom of conscience. At a time when Muslims had authority the Qur’an declared, “There shall be no compulsion in religion.” Such a fundamental Islamic concept is entirely lost on ISIS.
Indeed, ISIS has no idea what Islam is, and has made a mess of countless lives. Western media must stop using ignorance and half-truths to attempt to further legitimize ISIS terrorism.