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Islamic State Is Islamic

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Although Western leaders as well as Muslims in the West have repeatedly said that the Islamic State is not Islamic, this is not the case.

As Graeme Wood, in his seminal article, What ISIS Really Wants, writes:

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.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.

Wood extensively quotes Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the Islamic State’s theology, who told Wood that Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion.” Further, Haykel says, they neglect “what their religion has historically and legally required.”

Haykel says the texts being quoted by the Islamic State are shared by all Sunni Muslims. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else,” he says.

“Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel says. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

Saudi Arabian Sheikh Aadel Al-Kabani, a former imam in the Grand Mosque in Mecca, said in a tweet, “ISIS is a true product of Salafim and we must deal with it with full transparency.”

In a comprehensive article, Middle East and Islam specialist Raymond Ibrahim says that Western proclamations that the Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam begs a question.

Rather, one must understand how, “How does one determine what is – and is not – Islamic” vis-à-vis any given action or idea of the Islamic State.

This is a process, says Ibrahim. First, one goes to the core texts and scriptures of Islam. Questions such as, does the Koran, which is “believed by Muslims to contain the literal commands of Allah,” justify the act/idea in question? Do the hadiths and siras, which are said to be the recorded sayings and deeds of 

Mohammed, justify the act/idea in question? Finally, if there is still ambiguity, Islamic tradition then turns to the tafsirs (interpreters) comprised of Islam’s most learned men (the ulema).

It is in this context that Ibrahim address the most contentious issues associated with the Islamic State: beheadings, crucifixions, slavery and rape, massacres and dhimmitude.

As concluded by Haykel as well, Ibrahim shows that, “in the context of jihad,” each of these actions is rooted in Islamic tradition.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org